Writer’s Digest In Jeopardy?

Writer's Digest

Seen in the current issue of Publisher’s Weekly, and then corroborated in Forbes and various business press publications: F+W Media filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection about two weeks ago, listing only $2.5 million in cash on hand against over $100 million in debts.

Who is F+W Media? That’s the publisher of Writer’s Digest magazine and Writer’s Digest books. Actually, F+W Media is the publisher of over 40 special interest/enthusiast magazines and some 2,000 books. Between work and home, I subscribe to three F+W Media titles: Writer’s Digest, Print and HOW magazines, and was about to renew a lapsed subscription to The Artist’s Magazine (may take a wait and see on that renewal though). And sitting beside my keyboard right now is the 28th Annual Edition 2019 Guide To Literary Agents.

Art Magazine Montage

The why’s and how’s should be no mystery. Since 2015, subscriptions to their many titles have declined from around 33 million to just over 21 million, while ad revenues dropped from nearly $21 million to just shy of $14 million. Creditors include printers, paper companies, leaseholders and software companies, between 1,000 to 5,000 creditors, like R.R. Donnelley, Adobe and others.

F+W Media’s name comes from its earliest publications: Farm Quarterly and Writer’s Digest. In addition to art and professional graphic design magazines, they publish diverse titles about antiques, collectibles, crafts, sewing, hunting, and even Gun Digest. Whether a friendly savior will appear, or if individual titles and the book business can be successfully sold is unclear. I can live without a beading magazine or Gun Digest, but some can’t. But Writer’s Digest magazine was launched in 1920, long before I or anyone seeing this was around, and many of the very writers talked about here once (and perhaps still) read it, were interviewed in it or even wrote for it. It would be hard to imagine a world without Writer’s Digest magazine, should that occur.

Going To Glendale?

2019 Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show

While I’m about to step out for some quick Saturday AM errands (which might include a bookstore stop…maybe) I’m not planning any two thousand mile treks this weekend. Anyway, there’s an annual vintage pulp, paperback and collectibles show ‘round these parts each Spring, if I was so inclined. I’ve gone to a couple of these shows to see the original cover art and illustration art exhibits, but kept my credit cards safely tucked away in my wallet. Fortunately, (being a fan of retro illustration and postwar crime fiction) I’m rarely gripped by the collector frenzy, which can be as dangerous as a gambling addiction for the weak-willed. But for those of you in the Los Angeles area, the Vintage Paperback Collectors Show & Sale in Glendale this Sunday sure looks like the place to be. And I do like that Robert McGinnis illustration chosen for their poster!

8 (Not ‘Eight’) Million Ways To Die

8 Million Ways To Die Poster

(See the preceding post about Lawrence Block and John K. Snyder III’s excellent graphic novel of Eight Million Ways To Die.)

The way to look at 8 Million Ways To Die, Hal Ashby’s 1986 film adaptation of Lawrence Block’s hard-boiled Matthew Scudder novel Eight Million Ways To Die, is simply to forget that the movie has anything at all to do with Block’s novel. Which is pretty easy to do, since so little of the book was retained. The Oliver Stone script (with an assist by Robert Towne) transplants an ode to 1980’s New York to Los Angeles. Oh, some character names are retained, former cop Scudder struggles with his drinking, and there is still a prostitute who comes to the unlicensed P.I. to help her escape the life, yet winds up dead. But that’s about where it ends. As Lawrence Block has noted in interviews, he did cash the check, and film studio dollars can pay mortgages the same as publisher’s royalty checks. All writers can learn from Block’s experience, and he’s not the only big name to offer wise counsel about the perils and pluses of dealing with Hollywood.

Montage

8 Million Ways to Die can be lumped together with a whole series of neon-lit and sun-drenched So-Cal neo-noir-ish action and crime thrillers, like To Live And Die In L.A., Tequila Sunrise and others from the 1980’s-90’s. The film was done by top-notch talent, and featured excellent actors, including Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette and Andy Garcia in his first major role. Block’s dark and brooding murder mystery is gone, as are the shadowy Manhattan streets, dingy bars and grimy walkups.

Rosanna Arquette

Still, Garcia is delightfully slimy (his little pony tail a constant visual treat), no one does troubled-but-stoic like Jeff Bridges, and Rosanna Arquette…well, lets just say there’s kind of a crush there. A good movie? Apparently reviewers didn’t think so, nor did movie-goers, since it was a box office flop. That said, if it popped up unexpectedly late at night during a final once-around-the-channels with the cable remote, I’d stay up and watch it again.

Eight (Not ‘8’) Million Ways To Die

Eight Million Ways To Die

You’ll hear it said by novelists time and again, whether from relative unknowns or the frequent bestseller list residents: When the rights are sold to Hollywood for a project, just cash the check and forget about it.

Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Lawrence Block knows that all too well, and can point to the 1986 film adaptation of his 1982 hard-boiled Matthew Scudder detective series novel Eight Million Ways To Die as a prime example, right down to the film’s inexplicable title change to “8 Million Ways To Die”, as if audiences needed the numeral instead of the word for some strange reason. There are understandable pragmatic reasons studios modify novels for the big screen, length and location costs the most common. Sometimes it’s merely a screenwriter’s or director’s whim or conceit. And sometimes it’s just who-the-hell-knows-why?

Now, to be clear: Unlike many, I don’t hate the Hal Ashby 1986 film starring Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette and a young Andy Garcia in his first leading role. It garnered some pretty bad reviews and wasn’t a box office success, though not for lack of trying with then-popular stars, a script by no less than Oliver Stone and Robert Towne, some thrilling sequences and no shortage of retro-eighties style sexy violence, sexy voyeurism…and just sex. I’ll admit that I’ve always like Bridges’ many brooding and cynical performances, and happen to consider Arquette one of the 1980’s – 1990’s under-rated talents. But the minute you see palm trees and the sun-drenched Pacific beaches on the screen, you have to wonder what the hell the studio was thinking.

John K Snyder III Matthew Scudder

Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways To Die, the 5th Matthew Scudder novel, takes its title from the Oscar winning 1948 film noir The Naked City and the 1958 – 1963 ABC television series of the same name, it’s concluding narration one of the mystery/noir genre’s many memorable lines: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

Eight Million ways To Die MontageNo one would ever accuse prolific writer Lawrence Block of being lazy. Since pounding out paperback originals in the 1950’s under various pen names, he’s earned shelves full of awards and launched multiple series, the Matthew Scudder hard-boiled detective series nearing twenty novels as of 2019. The Scudder books are New York books, and Eight Million Ways To Die is 1980’s New York in every way. Just as we stereotype the 50’s as bobby sox and poodle skirts, the 60’s with either mods or flower children and the 70’s with John Travolta in a white polyester suit on a lighted dance floor, we tend to see the 80’s through a filter of VHS taped clichés from teen sex comedies and neon lit erotic thrillers, all dressed up in fuchsia spandex and over-moussed mall hair. But Block’s novel is the real New York of the 1980’s…Ed Koch’s New York, teeming with Wall Street white-collar embezzlers and pimps and dealers working the streets beneath the elevated tracks. It’s dark, wet, grimy, dirty and dangerous. And it’s a hell of a place for a struggling alcoholic with a gun and no P.I.’s license.

John K Snyder III Eight Million Ways To Die 2

Hollywood took Block’s novel and didn’t even bother keep the name intact, much less the plot or setting. But John K. Snyder III honored this book in one of the most impressive graphic novel’s I’ve ever read, rivaling the very best of Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’ work, and for me that’s saying a lot.

Eight Million Ways To Die - Noir City Article

The IDW Publishing 140 page+ hardcover is a work of art from front to back, sticking painstakingly close to Block’s novel, lifting text and dialog direct from the book, and rendering it all in an utterly sumptuous painterly style that’s incredibly moody and relentlessly dark, like the source material itself. I’d read about this graphic novel at Crime Reads and the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine (screen grabs from its article shown here), couldn’t wait for its release, and wasn’t disappointed. And, in a weird way, I’m pleased as could be for writer Lawrence Block, not that someone of his stature needs this unknown blogger and writer-wannabe’s well wishes. But his iconic P.I. character and one of the series’ very best books finally got its long-overdue treatment. Not in a movie, but in a graphic novel that could serve as a ready-to-shoot storyboard for a properly done film.

John K Snyder III Eight Million Ways To Die

If you’ve read Block’s book, you’ll still enjoy this graphic novel. If you haven’t read the novel and want an intro to Block’s Matthew Scudder character, this is just as good a place to start before you pick up one of the Scudder series books. So, enjoy Block and Snyder’s graphic novel, but still…go get a Matthew Scudder novel too.

Alain Gourdon: “Aslan”

Une Filles Des Rues Art

I previously posted about the French illustrator Michel Gourdon (Euro-Pulp: Michel Gourdon, 2.1.19) known by some for his pinup art and by others for his numerous euro-sleaze paperback and pulp digest cover illustrations, including Italian Giallo digests.

Michel’s brother was also an artist: Alain Gourdon (1930 – 2014), better known as ‘Aslan’, and like his brother, followed a similar career path, generating numerous euro-pulp, paperback and digest cover illustrations, though better known in Europe and even in the U.S. as a pinup artist.

Une Fille Des RuesAlain Gourdon’s pinup art rep is largely due to his long association with the French men’s magazine Lui (adapted as Oui, in the U.S.) for which he contributed a monthly pinup illustration…particularly explicit illustrations, actually, none of which will be posted here. When American fans of retro-kitsch say ‘pinup’ art, they picture relatively benign (though still a little troubling) postwar era ‘Good Girl Art’ and think of the nod-and-a-wink illustrations from Gil Elvgren, Art Frahm, Alberto Vargas, Zoe Mozert and others. European postwar pinup art, particularly by the 1960’s, was something altogether different. Brown & Bigelow calendars and countless American manufacturers’ posters may have been hung up on military barracks and repair shop walls across the U.S. from the 1930’s through the 60’s. But I can’t imagine where an Aslan pinup could be hung without offending…well, everyone.

That said, Alain Gourdon, who ultimately left France and retired in Canada, had a good run earlier in his career with mystery novels, racy romances and even children’s book series, a few of which are shown here. His style and their overall look was much darker than those from his brother Michael, often as not with stark black backgrounds. THey’re quite different from what was being done at the same time here in the U.S., but in their way, perhaps a bit more noir-ish, you think?

Dossier HathertonEstocade A StockholmMatch NulRazzia Sur Anvers

L.A. Noir

LA Noir 1

Rene & Radka shoot Lauren Cohan in a classic pulp story or noir film come to life for S Magazine in 2014, the photo suite appropriately titled “L.A. Noir”, complete with the trench-coated private eye and the cocktail lounge chanteuse who trades a microphone for a revolver.

(The very striking final image below is one I see all too frequently at Pinterest boards and elsewhere, posted as a retro film noir still. )

LA Noir 2LA Noir 3LA Noir 4LA Noir 5

Battelli’s Lonely (And Dangerous) Beds

Lucrezia Batteli - StudyThey say a bed with only one person in it at night can be the loneliest place in the world. Maybe so, if you’re still licking your wounds. Maybe not, if you never intend to let it happen again.

lucrezia battelli

Beautiful artwork from the talented artist-illustrator Lucrezia Battelli, who also goes by Lulu Battelli. Look for more at @doclew on Instagram and for art prints at inprnt.com.

Femme Noir

SunBurn Femme Noir

“It creates a whole new category…’femme noir’.”

I can’t accuse a publisher of well-intentioned marketing hyperbole, since the quote comes from a Wall Street Journal review of Laura Lippman’s 2018 novel Sunburn.

Not that Lippman’s neo-noir homage to fellow Baltimore writer James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce isn’t ‘femme noir’, because it certainly is, but only that writers like Sara Gran, Vicki Hendricks, Megan Abbott and quite a few others might rightfully argue that ‘femme noir’ has been thriving for more than a couple decades before Sunburn’s release a little over a year ago. So lets agree that Lippman’s novel – and really, her entire body of work, including the essential Tess Monaghan detective series – builds on, enriches and strengthens the continually expanding ‘femme noir’ category.

Sunburn had been on my end table’s ‘to-be-read’ pile longer than it deserved till an Anna Holmes Topic interview link from Lit Hub reminded me that the book was still waiting for me. Holmes’ interview, “The Accidental Crime Novelist” (link below) covers a lot of ground with the writer, including her transition from reporter to writer and the genesis of the initial Tess Monaghan detective novel, which in a way mirrored Lippman’s own career path at that time, to her thought-provoking remarks about where the mystery/crime fiction genre is — and has been — and its peculiar (and overdue for reassessment) reliance on women as anonymous victims. Consider Holmes’ excellent interview a companion piece to Laura Lippman’s own January 2019 Topic.com Monologue, “The Problem With Dead Women” (link also below).

Sunburn

Lippman’s one of those writers who unintentionally makes me (and many others, no doubt) feel woefully inadequate and ready to delete all works-in-progress from my computer. There are masters of language who can write with an economy of words, yet somehow choose the right words all the time. Is it magic, God-given talent, or the result of endless editing and rewriting to purge all the fluff and writerly nonsense? Presumably, it’s some combination of all three. Sunburn is a prime example of this skill at work. Just shy of halfway through, I’d be challenged to point out an unnecessary paragraph, wasted phrase or random word that could’ve been deleted. Yet, every word is precisely the right word. Doing just that is what I aspire to.

Some online reviews have whined about Sunburn’s pace or complained that it takes too long to get going, but I think they miss the point. ‘Noir’, whether ‘neo-noir’, ‘femme noir’ or any other sub-category of this ever-expanding thing we call ‘Noir’ isn’t necessarily the same as mystery. It often includes a mystery, just as it may include private eyes, cops, crooks, femmes fatales and murders or other sundry forms of mayhem. But there doesn’t have to be a body discovered by the end of the first chapter or a colorfully quirky investigator on hand to solve the crime. Holmes deftly draws that from Lippman in her interview. So many of the best writers working in Mystery’s various sub-categories know it well, as Lippman clearly does.

You’re probably more on top of new releases than I am, so I’ll bet you read Laura Lippman’s Sunburn months ago. Even so, do check out Anna Holmes interview with the writer, and Lippman’s Topic.com monologue.

https://www.topic.com/the-accidental-crime-novelist

https://www.topic.com/laura-lippman-the-problem-with-dead-women

 

Sienkiewicz’ Natasha

bill sienkiewicz black widow

Call her Natalia Alianovna Romanova, call her by her alias, Natasha Romanoff. Better still, call her Marvel’s Black Widow, here rendered by artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

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