The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown - Richie Fahey Cover art

There’s a long list of George Pelecanos’ projects that I adore: Novels, short stories, television scripts.

But my favorite remains The Big Blowdown, his 1999 tale of two Washington DC friends (including Nick Stefanos, the Pelecanos character who’s crossed-over into more than one project) set in a post-WWII world of realistically drawn blue-collar Greek neighborhoods filled with rich renderings of everyday people who live and work alongside the small-time mobsters who really run things. Some have compared Pelecanos’ early novels to James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, and I won’t argue. They share a spare yet darkly poetic writing style and focus on a specific time, place and cast of characters. How he continues to create excellent books while concurrently working as a writer/producer for high-visibility projects like The Wire, The Pacific and The Deuce among others is beyond me. A person can only do so much. Somehow, Pelecanos does still more.

For me, this particular novel has been a kind of tutorial on how a master wordsmith handles an ethnic milieu, something I’m working with (different ethnicity, but still) in my own projects. Obviously, Pelecanos does it better than many, and better than anything I could ever hope for.

The Big Blowdown will get a careful re-read someday. I’ll just need to give it some time so I can forget the specifics and discover it all anew. As an aside, the nifty Richie Fahey cover art on my well-worn trade pb edition shown above doesn’t hurt.

Devils In Blue Dresses

Devil In A Blue Dress 1st

Maybe one way to judge the importance of a book is by the number of editions. A continually popular book, an important book – and Walter Mosley’s first published novel and the first in the Easy Rawlins series, Devil In A Blue Dress from 1990, has never been out of print to my knowledge – is available in multiple countries (rightly so), print and audio, and has been re-issued in various editions. Up top is what I believe is the original first edition (which I don’t have, my copy only a lowly paperback re-issue). Below, a sampling of other editions. Mind you, these aren’t all, by any means, just the first few I screen-grabbed out of curiosity in a quick search. Mighty impressive.

Devil In A Blue Dress - Multiple

You Write.

you write copy

I’ve seen this image darn near everywhere: Tumblr’s, Pinterest boards, random sites and blogs. And I’ve held onto it myself, always liking the message, and doubly so when coupled with the striking photo of a harried looking writer who seems poised to press that very first keyboard key.

I think this may have originated at Jonathan Gunson’s BestsellerLabs site, which may no longer be active, directing you to anther blog/site that seems to be on hold. So I don’t have a clue if Mr. Gunson created this or simply re-posted it from some other source. I’ll risk posting it, though, just because I love it. The message rings true for any endeavor, and it’s a simple but meaningful one for writers.

The secret? You write.

Original Sins – Trade Secrets Of The Femme Fatale

original sins

Kim Krizan started out as an actor (Dazed And Confused and other films) but is surely better known as a writer, including the Oscar nominated screenplays for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and a surprising amount of work in the comics field. She garnered quite a bit of ink with her 2012 Kickstarter efforts to self-publish Original Sins – Trade Secrets Of The Femme Fatale, and I’d say that the contributors’ funding was well invested. It’s a handsome book in a sturdy library style binding, filled with photos and illustrations.

“We all feign roles so as to survive and achieve our desired ends,” she writes. “The Fatale takes control of her life by telling her own story and co-opting powerful symbols. She creates her own publicity, circumvents the lousy constricting roles she doesn’t wish to play, commands the attention she desires, and gets what she wants – or has fun trying. A femme fatale is a creature not born, but made. Key to the Fatale’s power is that she makes no apologies for being female.”

Skim the book and you’ll come away with a detailed (if tongue in cheek…I think) guide on what to wear when murdering your husband, for example. Really plunge in, though, and you’ll enjoy Krizan’s flippant tone and naughty sense of dark whimsy as she surveys femmes fatales throughout history, pop culture and, in particular, film noir. It’s all peppered with sidebars and bulleted insets providing a femme fatale wannabe with specific instructions on what to drink, what to drive, where to live and mostly, what to wear in order to commit mayhem in style. And in doing so, Krizan provides a nifty look at so many seminal crime melodramas and noir classics, focusing on the female characters instead of Mitchum, Garfield, Bogart and crew who’ve been covered before.

 

And, More About Mavis…

The Bump & GRind Murders 1964 originally

And more About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding posts):

The early Mavis Seidlitz novels were published with pretty typical paperback original crime fiction style cover art. I don’t think any single artist handled the series, but I’ll leave that to the collectors and experts to clarify. In the 1960’s, the books were ‘branded’ with consistent designs featuring provocative glamor girl paintings by master illustrator Robert McGinnis. No doubt, the fetching cover art had a lot to do with the series sales, even if they had little to do with the novels’ plots, often as not. McGinnis actually did just shy of 100 Carter Brown books. By the 1970’s, original cover art paintings remained popular in romance, western, science fiction and sword & sorcery/fantasy genres, but had largely fallen out of favor for general fiction and the mystery genre. Carter Brown titles, including the Mavis Seidlitz series, were reissued then in photo covers.

More in the next post…

none but the lethal heart (1959 originally)

the loving and the dead (1959 originally)

Tomorrow Is Murder 1960 originally

 

More About Mavis…

and the undead sing 1974

More About Carter Brown’s Female Private Detective, Mavis Seidlitz (see the preceding post):

Mavis Seidlitz appeared in a dozen paperbacks written between 1955 and 1974 by ‘Carter Brown’, pen name for English-born Australian writer Alan Geoffrey Yates (1923 – 1985), who wrote over 320 ‘Carter Brown’ novels alone, selling more than 120,000,000 copies in over a dozen languages. Check those numbers: three-hundred-and-twenty novels. Additionally, Yates wrote science fiction, westerns and other crime novels under alternate pseudonyms, including Todd Conway, Raymond Glenning, Sinclair MacKellar, Dennis Sinclair and Paul Valdez. He favored U.S. settings, yet he’d already written more than 30 detective novels set in America before ever visiting the States.

Prolific? Driven? It’s unclear, but for a while, Yates was under contract to deliver one short novel and two long novels to his publishers each month. Nonetheless, he was an admitted procrastinator and frequently suffered from total writer’s block, often sitting down at the typewriter mere days before a manuscript’s deadline and plowing through (allegedly) with the aid of a little Dexedrine.

What writer wouldn’t be humbled by Yate’s prodigious output? The writing, publishing and bookselling marketplaces are very different today than they were in the postwar heyday of paperback originals. Now writers hope their small press publisher’s 2,000 to 5,000 copy trade paperback print run will sell out in a couple years with tolerable returns. Self-published and hybrid authors obsessively monitor anemic Amazon sales-ranks. A lucky few achieve bigger mass-market levels, but do so via a shrunken network of independent book retailers, one online behemoth and only one viable national chain.

But just how can any writer get their head around the notion of selling over 120 million books?

More in the next post…

The Bump & Grind Murders - Photo cover

Easy Innocence

Easy Innocence 2008 ed

Easy Innocence was the first first Libby Fischer Hellmann novel I read, later reading Toxic City (a prequel, if I recall), An Eye For Murder and still eager to dig deeper into her dozen other books. Hellmann’s a Washington DC transplant to Chicago, but depicts both the city and the ‘burbs like she was born here. Novels that feel like they’re set in Anytown, USA sometimes can disappoint. Hellmann does an artful job of creating a sense of place here. In fact, the disconnect between the city and the tony North Shore lakefront suburbs plays a key part in Easy Innocence’s plot, where privileged ‘mean girls’ let an easy mark take the fall for the brutal murder of one their own, which will eventually reveal more than just unexpected violence among the mansions, manicured lawns and snooty prep school crowd, but something even more surprisingly sleazy and sinister. This was the first in the Hellmann’s Georgi Davis series, Davis a former cop turned private investigator. It was a great read…look for it.

Easy Innocence 2002 limited edition

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