Dark, Dangerous And Crazy-Good.

The to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable looked ready to topple over by late August, mystery/crime fiction titles strangely absent in the imposing stack. Though I expected late Summer to be short on reading time (due to day job and daily life stuff rudely intruding) I’ve managed to work through most of the heap, from a depressing list of current events/politics titles to Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste – The Origins Of Our Discontents, and winding up with a real change of pace for me, Lisa Morton and Leslie Klinger’s new anthology Weird Women – Classic Supernatural Fiction By Groundbreaking Female Writers 1852 – 1923. But even while I whittled the pile down, I’d phoned in over a dozen new books to the local indie for curbside pickups, ordered a few more direct from their specialty press publishers, and still more – ‘pre-owned’ books and POD-only editions – from the Seattle behemoth. Some of these are showing up quicker than expected, the to-be-read pile re-growing quickly. 

‘Course, that doesn’t mean I can’t always make room for more…

Linked via Crime Reads, Greg Levin’s 9.9.20 “12 Neo-Noir Authors Too Good Not To Be Crazy Famous” at Criminal Element (link below) was just what I needed to help with the replenishing. Levin looks at a dozen edgy contemporary noir writers, like Sara Gran, one of my faves, though as much as I love her Claire DeWitt series, her third novel Dope (2006) eclipses even those for me and remains one of my all-time beloved books. Craig Clevenger, Lindsay Hunter, Holly Goddard Jones and others have spent time on that same to-be-read pile in the past, and Levin’s article prompted me to add a couple of them to my current book ordering frenzy (have to get ready for Autumn, don’t I?) even if they’ll be re-reads. But in particular, Levin prompted me to look at Will Christopher Baer, maybe the darkest on his neo-noir list, and for me, way overdue for a re-read. More about Baer’s magnificent Phineas Poe novels in the next post…

All Off-Topic.

The writing lair’s to-be-read endtable is fully restocked now, two stops on the rescheduled Independent Bookstore Day over the weekend loading me back up on pre-ordered titles that had arrived and some routine browsing discoveries. But as I pile the books up on the endtable (in two wobbly stacks, no less) I suddenly realize that there isn’t a single one there that’ll ever get a mention on this site. It’s not for lack of trying, at least while cruising the store aisles and table displays. It just worked out that way. An impressive display commemorating the 75thanniversary of the end of WWII yielded a couple of pricey history books that will hopefully provide some lessons from the immediate aftermath of that conflict. And let’s face it, there are a few things going on these days that demand attention, from the pandemic to politics and more. Now I don’t know if reading all my new purchases will keep me away from the nightly cable news shows, and even if they do, some of these books are just as likely to make head explode anyway. 

Ahh, to get back to those cozy, comforting mystery/crime fiction books brimming with good ol’ fashioned violence, murder and mayhem…

Photos: Kim Novak in 1956; Paulette Caillaux by Roger Berson, 1952

Dangerous Dames Are Heading My Way.

Dangerous Dames Ordered

The to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable is usually stacked high, but I’d been whittling it down the past week or two, and got caught empty-handed just as we were all directed to burrow into our shelters. No libraries. No local indies or Barnes & Noble, no Half Price Books, no comix shops…nothin’.

So, I spent some weekend time burning through my credit limit for items from multiple sites from small press publishers to Amazon, for curbside bookstore pickup and elsewhere. First up: Some nifty noir-ish and pulpy anthologies spotted at The New Thrilling Detective Web Site with handy links to Amazon for these (presumably) used OOP gems.

“Twelve Lively Ladies…Twelve Deadly Dolls!” it says up above on the cover of 1955’s Dangerous Dames.  Okay, I’m in, even if it’s a pretty fair assumption that ‘Mike Shayne’ had no hand in the selection process. I’d have probably gone for The Dark End Of The Street based on the cover alone, and I’m kinda miffed that I missed that one before. “New Stories Of Sex And Crime” sounds like a nice mix of the noir and the naughty, and who couldn’t use that when we’re all so social-distanced?

Dark At The End Of The Street Ordered

I know I’ve seen Otto Penzler’s Murder For Love but don’t know why it’s not in my bookcases.

Murder For Love Ordered

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins may seem like a puzzling duo to some, but thank goodness the scribe from Iowa befriended everyone’s hard-boiled hero while Spillane was still among us. I definitely did not know about this particular anthology, and very much want to see how those two managed to narrow things down to only twelve “hard-boiled, hard-hitting women writers”.

Vengeance Is Hers

Last up, an oldie from the Martin Greenberg anthology factory, which put out some terrific as well as some been-there-done-that anthologies in its heyday. But then, who knows how long the great sheltering may last…apparently past Easter Sunday, contrary to some hare-brained podium bluster. I’m betting I’ll find something I like in a book titled Tough Guys And Dangerous Dames.

Touch Guys And Dangerous Dames Ordered

I tried for Dolls Are Murder, a 1957 pocketbook from The Mystery Writers Of America, but someone else got there first and it was no longer available.

More books are en route from elsewhere and via pickup, and the writing lair’s to-be-read endtable shouldn’t look quite so forlorn pretty soon.

Readaholics

Readaholic 1

Possessed by books, or perhaps it’s the books themselves that are possessed?

Models Dorothea Barth Jorgensen, Madisyn Ritland, Nimue Smitand and Viktoriya Sasonkina are shot by master lensman Steven Meisel for Alberta Feretti in 2009.

Readaholic 2Readaholic 3Readaholic 4

They Just Keep Trying, Don’t They?

By Jessica castro, ia Unsplash

While Presidents submit their proposed Federal budgets each year, the “power of the purse” – the authority to appropriate money – rests with Congress, and most Presidents’ budgets are more or less ignored, except as a blueprint for that particular administration’s or the party’s agenda.

The Stiletto Gumshoe is more or less a politics-free zone, however passionate my own positions may be (and what they are…well, we won’t get into that here, unless they’ve peeked through unintentionally in prior posts). Nonetheless…

For each year of this current administration, the President’s proposed budget called for the complete elimination of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, which funds research and provides grants to museums and libraries. The IMLS is the primary source of federal funding to public libraries. Not their primary source of funding, mind you, which typically will be local property taxes, but the primary source of federal funding. Also, the proposed 2021 budget – “A Budget For America’s Future” – calls for the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (the NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (the NEA).

I have my points of view and you’ll have yours about erecting walls, detention camps, cozying up with dictators, billing taxpayers for resort stays, launching a Satellite Sam space force, gutting or cutting Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S.D.A., the State Department and…well, you get my point. And I’m sure there are political persuasions that will rail against the NEH and NEA as promoters of particular ideologies they vehemently oppose. (Or choose not to understand.) So, let’s just agree to disagree.

But it’s pretty hard to argue against public libraries.

I whine about my own local library often, a lovely and well-appointed facility that unfortunately is woefully short of actual books. But complaining doesn’t mean you won’t find me in there every week or so, and leaving with books in hand.

Despite the repeated attempts to defund or eliminate the IMLS, NEH and NEA altogether, Congress has not only re-appropriated funds in each of the past years, it has actually increased funding. Sincere support or pandering, who knows?

ALA

Whether you come up a few bucks shy on your next bookstore visit, or faint when you see the online bookseller charges on your credit card statement, or routinely take advantage of your local library like me, consider popping over to the American Library Association site at www.ala.org for a handy link to reach out to your own congressional representative to voice your concern about where your tax dollars go. Or, where they don’t go. I mean, we’re talking about your local public library, for goodness sakes.

John Warner’s 2.10.20 Biblioracle column in the Chicago Tribune, “Libraries Most Popular Attraction, And For Good Reason” (link below) references a December 2019 Gallup Poll of Americans’ most common cultural activities. Surprise: Going to the library topped the list, coming in at nearly double the rate of going to the movies, and way more than attending sporting events, zoos, casinos, concerts, etc., used most frequently by lower income households and, surprisingly, shows the highest use by the 18 – 29 year old demo (and incidentally, highest regional use in the Midwest…go Flatlanders!) Warner’s column concludes with a simple message: “We don’t want a world without libraries”.

Amen to that, brother.

(Photo: By Jessica Castro, via Unsplash)

https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/books/ct-books-biblioracle-0216-20200210-fdrdtzhlafct3jbmmohjcy3txa-story.html

Straight Talk From Courtney Maum.

Montage Half

It’s all very romantic to imagine ourselves trading witticisms with fellow creatives in a fin de siècle Paris café, Weimar Berlin cabaret, postwar Greenwich Village coffeehouse or any burg’s Boho meeting spot. I can count numerous artists, photographers, writers, musicians, actors and dancers among my coworkers, friends and even family members, past and present, and as much as we might like to picture ourselves pontificating on frightfully weighty cultural and aesthetic topics, my own real-world experiences and observations are quite different.

Shoehorn a group of artists into a barroom booth and the talk will most likely be about which art supply store has a Grumbacher promotion running or a BOGO on brushes. Writers will be trading info on paying market submission opportunities, cents-per-word rates and grousing about delayed payments…even if it’s only in contributor copies. The conversations run more or less the same among the garage band and barre-and-ballet shoe crowds.

For all the stereotypes, creatives are more pragmatic than you’d assume, even if only out of necessity – that is, the usual struggles to pay the rent, buy groceries and set aside some beer money like everyone else, but compounded by the need to fund their artistic pursuits, whether they’re buying pre-stretched canvases, stocking up on toner and 20 lb. bond, saving up for Danskins without holes, or worse, replacing a blown-out amp.

Before And After The Book Deal

I thought about all of this as I read Amy Brady’s interview with Courtney Maum, author of Before And After The Book Deal – A Writer’s Guide To Finishing, Publishing, Promoting And Surviving Your First Book at the Chicago Review of Books (link below). Intrigued, I headed to the bookstore right after work, presuming I’d be ordering Maum’s new book, but thrilled to spot a copy already on shelf. One extra-large coffee to-go later, I’d already plunged in, continued through dinner later this evening, but still have a long way to go. But I’m liking this book so much I wanted to share, so I paused to bang out this post.

Browse the writing section in a good-sized library or bookstore and you’ll likely see no shortage of inspirational titles interspersed with a few annual directories and some very elementary how-to books for total newbies and writer-hobbyists. Flip through some writing magazines and you’ll likely see your share of motivational stuff about digging deeper to find your voice, creating three-dimensional characters or crafting dialog that ‘sparkles’. But I suspect many if not most writers are desperate for more straightforward nuts & bolts info about the submission/sale/publication process and are eager for frank discussion about dollars and cents issues. Because that’s precisely what they talk about in person. As do the artists, musicians, dancers and actors.

Courtney Maum’s Before And After The Book Deal is precisely that. And for all its info-packed no-nonsense explanations, it’s incredibly readable, extremely entertaining, and downright funny in a lot of spots. Example: Early on she addresses how writers have to be ready to endure rejection. A lot. She writes, “…you must make friends with rejection in order to survive a professional writing life. Rejection is going to be your zany roommate who never does her dishes, has really loud obnoxious sex, gets drunk and eats your leftovers, and uses strong perfume. Except for that one delightful year that she studied abroad in Cartagana, she’s always going to be living with you in one way or another, so make peace with that chick, now.”

Of course, any scribe whining about the indignities of the query and submission process ought to chat up some musicians, dancers and actors about auditioning.

Though Maum has three novels to her credit, many might rightly ask her “So who appointed you to tell us all about writing and publishing?” But while the author relates her personal experience and provides valuable insights, she’s certainly not adopting a professorial stance and also relies on the wisdom of over 150 contributors who are quoted throughout, from authors and agents to editors and more, all of them “sharing intimate anecdotes about even the most taboo topics in the industry”, as the book touts.

Unless her book takes an unexpected turn in the second half, I’ll wager this one can stand proudly beside Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel: From Plot To Print To Pixel,  the standard for a truly practical writer’s book, IMHO. Pro, newbie, or somewhere in between like most, still an ‘armchair novelist’ or midway through a writer’s MFA program, you ought to get this book. Just sayin’…

https://chireviewofbooks.com/2020/01/20/finding-clarity-and-a-sense-of-humor-in-the-publishing-process/

 

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

 

See You In The Next Decade.

Montage copy

The Stiletto Gumshoe will be away till the next decade (2020), enjoying an overdue holiday-over-the-holidays.

This eerily foggy Christmas Eve morning feels more like Autumn than December, likely to hit the mid-50’s this afternoon. But last I checked, there’s just a whisker-shy of two feet of snow on the ground where I’m headed, and that ought to be suitably seasonal. While I won’t exactly be ‘off the grid’, I’ll be darn close, with no cable, satellite dish, streaming or internet/email, and wi-fi’s a ten-mile drive away. Heck, cell/text is a bit spotty. That might not sound good to you, but I can’t wait. The halls have already been decked with boughs of holly…or at least, a tree, wreaths and other stuff. Ample provisions have been stowed away, a good supply of firewood piled up, a selection of Xmas CD’s and movies have been packed, the latter a mix of Christmas classics and darker noir and neo-noir-ish faves set at Christmas time (The Stiletto Gumshoe can’t survive on White Christmas alone).

Family will be close at hand. No skiing or snowmobiling planned, but with an aged but beloved furry four-footed friend likely to be having his last Christmas, there’ll be some romps among the snow-covered pines, I’m sure. What there won’t be are day job commutes, last minute client emergencies-that-aren’t, mall trips, parking lots, UPS/FedEx tracking of overdue presents, obligatory extended family get-togethers or jousting with MAGA hat wearing relatives. And no querying, blogging, texting or emailing. If I get the urge, I can always fire up the laptop to pound some keys beside the tree. Fireside reading in a comfy chair? I’m bringing Benjamin Moser’s hefty 800+ page bio of Susan Sontag, Sontag – Her Life And Work, Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon and Marcos Martin’s Batgirl – Year One: The Deluxe Edition hardcover and my first-ever Danielle Steele novel, her new release, Spy. And odd mix? Yeah, I suppose so.

There’ll be a merry missive here tomorrow, but that aside, this is it for 2019. So, my very sincere holiday wishes to all visitors, lurkers and especially my followers here at thestilettogumshoe.com both at WordPress and Tumblr. See you in 2020!

Order Up.

Lit Hub Screen Grab

Katie Yee’s 11.8.19 Literary Hub piece “Here’s Why You Should Preorder All Your Books From Independent Bookstores” opens by asking “Who doesn’t love an independent bookshop?” and reminds us about charming bookstores from popular films like You’ve Got Mail, Notting Hill and Funny Face. Yee’s article (link below) directs us to Andrea Bartz’ recent Twitter on this very topic as well as Celeste Ng’s 2018 “Bookstores Are The Center of The Literary Ecosystem”, both strongly encouraging (or even admonishing) book buyers to make their purchases from independent booksellers, preordering forthcoming titles in particular, since preorder data can impact booksellers’ ordering choices and even bestseller lists. For those who shrug and point out that they simply don’t have an indie bookseller nearby (which I’m certain comprises a lot of people) there are still alternatives like Indiebound.

Booksotre 2

There was a time not so long ago when you couldn’t pass an urban shopping strip or suburban mall without a chain bookstore. At their peak (if I’ve read accurate sources), there were over 3,200 chain bookstore locations in the U.S. Now there are fewer than a thousand, those being some 600+ Barnes & Noble and 250+ Books-A-Million locations.

B. Dalton (a B&N subsidiary), Borders, its Waldenbooks subsidiary, Crown, and Hastings have vanished. The book distribution arena has also changed, with consolidation among some smaller and regional distributors, and most notably, Baker & Taylor departing the trade book business altogether. Until quite recently, there wasn’t a single independent bookstore near me. I now have one very close by, and a charming store it is. There’s another not too far away, part of a small local chain, though neither of these can boast superstore level title selections. I do have three Barnes & Noble locations reasonably close to home or work.

Support local independent booksellers? I do, and encourage you to do so too. But I won’t hiss at anyone who also shops Barnes & Noble and/or Amazon.

Bookstore 3

I don’t go along with the anti-superstore attitude. Like it or not, Barnes & Noble (under new ownership itself now) is the only standalone operation with enough muscle to pose any credible opposition to Amazon’s complete takeover of the bookselling marketplace. And while I never chase discounts, I do buy from Amazon as well, though typically oddities or OOP titles unavailable elsewhere. Friends and family members in remote rural regions rely on Amazon for books and more, and I suppose if I resided elsewhere, I would too.

I’ll continue to pester bookstore clerks with my screen-cap printouts and scribbled notes to order/preorder books, some few that they’ll be getting anyway, some others that require deep digging to locate. But I won’t feel guilty strolling the aisles at Barnes & Noble, particularly the sprawling magazine racks. And if I can only get some smaller-than-small press title or ancient used book from the behemoth in Seattle, I’ll be glad Amazon exists. Where I get my books isn’t my problem.

Where the hell to keep them all at home is the real challenge.

https://lithub.com/heres-why-you-should-preorder-all-your-books-from-independent-bookstores/

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