She Could Be “The Stiletto Gumshoe”…

by mike redman

So well composed and deceptively simple looking, this piece by UK artist Mike Redman is almost as much a graphic design as it is an illustration. I think it always catches my eye because it reminds me so much of my own in-progress work on ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’, Sharon Gardner (real name Sasha Garodnowicz) described as “more comfy atop a barstool than behind a receptionist’s desk”.

This art pops up frequently at Pinterest, Tumblr and random blogs…it’d be nice if Redman’s name accompanied the image more often…

The Decade’s Best (Make That Bestsellers)

by brittany markert

Normally I bypass many of the end-of-year ‘best-of’ lists populating so many blogs, newsletters and sites that I follow. This year, pad the count with extra end-of-decade best-of lists. Skimming a couple right before the holidays was enough for me, though they’re still popping up on my screen. Much as I enjoy reading reviewers’ opinions, I know that my faves won’t be yours and vice-versa, and ‘best’ will be one thing to one reader and something else to another.

That said, one list did catch my eye, albeit not a ‘best of’ list at all: John Warner’s 1.5.20 Chicago Tribune Biblioracle column, “Top Bestsellers Rail Against Patriarchy” listed the NPD Bookscan top-selling books of the decade, and he opened by asking the reader to guess the top-selling book of the 2010’s. Warning: You may not like the answer.

Yes, it was E. L. James Fifty Shades of Grey. But it gets worse. The number two and three titles? Also E.L. James, with her sequels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Now this was a bestselling list, not a ‘best-of’ list. If you’re disappointed that cumbersome mommy porn sold so well when your own lovingly crafted projects may have languished in relative obscurity (consider that just the returns for the Fifty Shades books surely dwarfed most writers’ total sales), there’s still news in the decade’s top-sellers. In order, the top selling books in the 2010’s according to NPD Bookscan were:

Fifty Shades Of Grey, E.L. James

Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James

Fifty Shades Freed, E.L. James

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

The Girl on The Train, Paula Hawkins

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

Divergent, Veronica Roth

brittany-markert

Whether you read or liked all or even some of the list, you can see that it’s overwhelmingly dominated by women writers and with books featuring female protagonists. Noteworthy? You bet. Someday, tallying women writers vs. men writers simply won’t be a topic, any more than women directors, musicians, artists, etc. Someday. But for now, there are still decades (centuries?) of male dominated pop culture and fine arts to rebalance. After all, the publishing marketplace (publishers, editors, literary agents, etc.) is comprised mostly of women. And, most books are bought by women. So, there should be no big revelation in the decade’s top seller list.

No one’s saying the books’ protagonists are all heroic women or even positive role models. It would be a stretch to claim that each title on the decade’s bestseller list necessarily ‘railed against patriarchy’, as John Warner put it in the Tribune. That’s the makings of another conversation. Still, the stats are illuminating, and it’ll be interesting to revisit this ten years out when we see what the 2020’s top ten will be, who’ll have written them, and what changes may or may not have occurred in readers’ tastes and the industry’s output.

Photos: Brittany Markert

 

The Landlady

Landlady 1961

“Landlady” from 1961, by west coast beat-scene and proto-hippie counterculture chronicler Wallace Berman (1926 – 1976). Let’s guess she had some troublesome tenants, seeing as how she’s taking a nap with a revolver in hand.

Taking A Moment…

Hammett 1

Just before shutting off the writer’s cave lights before heading to bed last night, I paused for a moment to browse one particular shelf on one of too many bookcases. Spines out, there were my Dashiell Hammett books lined up, a fancy hardcover Chatham River Press novel omnibus edition, a couple frail vintage paperbacks, and various Vintage Crime/Black Lizard trade paperbacks, the handsomest of the bunch in my opinion.

When it comes to the granddaddies of hard-boiled private-eye/crime fiction, I’ll concede here that I’m more Chandler than Hammett, more Marlowe than Spade. Still, yesterday was the anniversary of the day Dashiell Hammett passed away from lung cancer back in 1961. A moment of reverence seemed in order.

Hammett 3

Pinkerton Agency operative, US Army vet in both WWI and WWII, staunch anti-fascist, Hammett was blacklisted and even served time in federal prison for contempt during the 1950’s communist witch hunts. He published over 100 short stories, story collections and novels, created The Continental Op, Nick and Nora Charles and of course, Sam Spade, and wrote for the silver screen as well, such as the screenplay for his long-time partner Lillian Hellman’s play Watch On The Rhine (a particular favorite film of mine). And yet, he wrote his final novel at age 40, more or less turning his back on fiction decades before his death, his novel and short fiction output penned primarily in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. It was a puzzlingly brief career, but one that obviously influenced the mystery/crime fiction genre far beyond its duration.

Hammett 2

My to-be-read pile is disturbingly tall at the moment. No, I don’t plan to squeeze in a re-read of The Maltese Falcon right now. But then I am reading Loren D. Estleman’s new When Old Midnight Comes Along, an Amos Walker mystery, and can feel the echoes of Dashiell Hammett’s work from eighty and ninety years ago in even that beloved private eye’s story.

Worth The Wait: Mystery Scene.

Mystery Scene 162

The Mystery Scene 2019 Holiday Issue (No. 162) appeared in my mailbox right before Christmas, but I set it aside for a leisurely read when I’d be out of town on a short holiday-over-the-holidays.

Okay, I’m fibbing. I cracked it open right away. But that was only for a quick skim to browse the 2019 Gift Guide For Mystery Lovers while there was still time before the 24th.  There was no point in snooping the books, as it turned out, because I already had or was about to get most of those included in this year’s guide: Joyce Carol Oates Cutting Edge, Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Reel Murders, Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal: Bad Weekend. The novelties and more gifty items were cute enough but not targeted for my Christmas stocking or well-intended gift giving.

Publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin officially announced the magazine’s switch to a quarterly starting this year. It’ll be tough to wait longer between issues, but the promise of an increased page count while keeping the subscription price untouched was welcome news.

Mystery Scene Lesbian Mysteries

Along with the must-read reviews, John Vaerli’s interview with former librarian, publishing PR exec and editor Domenica de Rosa, better known by her Elly Griffiths pen name and her Magic Men mystery series, and Nancy Bilyeau’s article on Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) were particular treats, as was Catherine Maiorisi’s look at contemporary lesbian mysteries, which flagged a couple writers who weren’t on my radar (but are now). As always, both the reviews and the ads launched a list of books to watch for, including Damien Angelica Walters’ The Dead Girls Club, Loren D. Estleman’s When Old Midnight Comes Along – An Amos Walker Novel, Timothy J. Lockhart’s Smith and Laird Blackwell’s Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine And The Art Of The Detective Story, to name just a few.

So, it’ll be a longer wait now for the next issue. Guess I’ll just have to savor it that much more once it arrives.

More Than Barbarians (If Given A Chance).

boris vallejo 1967

Several cult-fave illustrators like Frank Frazetta, James Bama or Basil Gogos, will always be linked to SF/Fantasy and Horror. Even moreso with Boris Vallejo, known almost exclusively as a fantasy artist, with infrequent forays into movie poster work (though even those were clearly assigned to capitalize on his fantasy style).

Boris Vallejo was born in Peru in 1941, started painting at age 13 and got his first paying work at only 16. He attended the Escuela Nacional Superior Autonoma de Bellas Artes on a five-year scholarship, then worked locally for a few years before emigrating to the more lucrative U.S. marketplace in 1964. The U.S. is also where Vallejo met his partner and, ultimately, wife-to-be, Texan Julie Bell, a fellow fantasy artist with her own considerable rep, though in recent years she’s been transitioning into an award-winning wildlife painter.

Hatchett 1976

Yes, we know Boris Vallejo for sword-wielding nearly-naked winged fantasy femmes. But seeing what the master illustrator could do with other subjects makes me wish he (and others among the comics and fantasy art scenes) took a crack at crime/pulp/noir subjects more often. I’ve previously shown Vallejo’s cover art for Lee McGraw’s 1976 hard-boiled private eye novel Hatchett (link below and an image above), and this post also shows “At The Door” from 1994 (below) and an intriguing bit of pencil work from 1967 at the top. There’s almost a familiar hint of Robert McGinnis or Ron Lesser evident in that sketch, and I’m liking it.

At The Door 1994

I’ll always appreciate the skill employed by so fantasy artists’ elf maidens, aliens, angels, demons and warriors, even though the SF/Fantasy genres aren’t my thing. But when I see those talented illustrators’ work, it makes me wish that more would take a closer look at the thugs, gumshoes, femmes fatales and midnight lovers lurking in the noir shadows.

https://thestilettogumshoe.tumblr.com/post/188674058874/just-a-few-years-too-early-perhaps-lee

Always Falling For The Bad Girls.

Crime Reads - Strong Women In Mystery

Caroline and Charles Todd, authors of the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford mystery series, chatted about memorably strong women literary characters in the January 7thCrime Reads. Whether hero or villain, and without any implicit ratings (like least to most), their informal list ranged from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Rachel in My Cousin Rachel to Harper Lee’s Scout and Bronte’s Catherine Earnshaw, and closer to home in modern mysteries, Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. Their list isn’t intended as a comprehensive chart of powerful female literary characters, but more of a dialog prompt for readers. They list a few with their reasons, then close with, “…How would you change our list? Or add to it? And more importantly, why.”

Crime Reads Montage

Their prompt worked, and got me thinking. The first few who immediately came to mind were Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction, Judith Rashleigh from L.S. Hilton’s Maestra novels and even Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Harley Quinn from the comics world. I stopped once I realized that I was coming up with nothing but villains, completely ignoring the long list of heroic cops, district attorneys, private eyes and plucky amateurs who comprise so much of my own reading (and writing: as in, the ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’ herself). Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel? Stumptown’s Dex Parios? James Ziskin’s Eleanora Stone or Robert Eversz’ Nina Zero? Kara Danvers or Kate Kane? Nope. Troublemakers are the women who automatically popped into my head first, whether from novels, film, comics or TV.

There must be a message there, or something I should reckon with.

Caroline and Charles Todd wondered how readers might change or add to their list of memorably strong literary women, and why. Me? I’m still scratching my head and wondering why I thought of bad girlz before the heroes came to mind. And I’ll keep wondering, but you should go to Crimereads.com to read the Todd’s short article.

 

The Mic’s Art, Not The Book.

love thief 1962 Micarelli

Oh, Orrie. Another ‘shattering novel of a nymphomaniac’. I can guess how Orrie Hitt’s 1962 Love Thief  goes, having read my share of Hitt’s novels, and I’ll wager this is one of those postwar paperbacks boasting a cover that’s way better than the book itself.  The art’s often listed here and there as uncredited, but is attributed to Clement Micarelli in some locations. Well, I’m going with that.

Nicknamed Mic to family and friends, Micarelli took his first Rhode Island School of Design figure drawing class at age 12 in 1941, and vintage paperback and retro sleaze enthusiasts have treasured some of his late 1950’s illustration gems for years since. The artist passed away at age 79 in 2008.

Love Thief 1962

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?

Fay Weldon’s Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook For The Rejected Writer was a library find from this past weekend, but I’ll get my own copy now to keep on shelf beside the very few other writer’s how-to books I cherish like Stephen King’s On Writing (my favorite), Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel From Plot To Print To Pixels, Elements Of Fiction by Walter Mosely or Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton.

It would’ve been easy to browse right past this little gem of a book, only 4.5” x 7” with extra-heavy carboard covers like a children’s book. But I’m so glad I spotted it. Weldon’s book is a quick read, compiling a series of essays addressing the many, many reasons a writer’s projects are rejected (or simply overlooked), including all the common mistakes writers make from manuscript through submission, while also probing publishing industry issues that inevitably work against writers. The tone’s light-hearted and chatty, particularly in the first third of the book. Weldon’s wise words will get their share of knowing nods from writers in the trenches, cruel truths relayed along with more than a few chuckles. I challenge anyone – writer or not – not to laugh at Weldon’s imaginary literary agency meeting in her sixth chapter.

Fay Weldon Books

I often forego writer’s books that I probably ought to read, in-store skimming suggesting the content’s the same ol’ stuff and not worth the money, or just as often, unsure what I’ll learn from a how-to book’s author with a skimpy resume of their own (no shortage of those among Kindle and e-books). Maybe that’s why I keep returning for re-reads with King, Block, Grafton, Mosley and a few others. Fay Weldon may not be as familiar a name in the U.S as in the UK, but she’s been at it since the 1960’s, with thirty novels to her credit along with story collections, children’s books and non-fiction titles, all those following a career as an advertising copywriter and work in serial fiction, radio and teleplays. Oh yeah…and she was made a CBE, which makes her a Knight or a Lady (not sure which, but then we did fight a revolution over here so wouldn’t have to worry about those things). Suffice to say she’s been at it a while, knows what she’s talking about, and is generous with anecdotes throughout this book.

Why Will No-One Publish My Novel – A Handbook For The Rejected Writer came out in the UK in 2018, but took a while to pop up on my library’s shelf. (Technically, a nearby library. My library only has half a dozen writer’s books, if that.) I’ll be glad when I get my own copy – this one’s a keeper.

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