Crime Reads: The State Of The Mystery

The State Of The Mystery

Linked from Crime Reads (crimereads.com) via Literary Hub: Part One of a must-read roundtable discussion among twenty mystery writers — specifically, the 2019 Edgar Award nominees — on everything from topics like genre ghettoization to publisher consolidation, their own earliest influences and some sage advice to newbie writers. The second part of this dialog will be posted tomorrow, 4.25.19. If you’re a mystery/crime fiction fan or writer (which I’m guessing you might be if you’re reading this) or not, it’s a lively and informative read, with interesting comments from Lisa Black, John Lutz, Leslie Klinger, Lori Rader-Day, Jacqueline Winspear, Lisa Unger and others. A link is below for the first part…you can follow up on Part Two on your own, I’m sure! But do check it out.

https://crimereads.com/the-state-of-the-mystery-a-roundtable/

No Hoods Left In The Hood?

Noir Gentrification

Background research on settings? Search engines can only yield so much, and eventually you just have hop on a bus or get in the car, ready to pound the pavement if you really want to get the look and feel of a place for whatever it is you’re writing about. Obviously that’s a problem if you live in Newark and your project’s set in Novgorod. But if it’s just another neighborhood in your home town, you’re good to go. For some (me, for example), the trick is accessing a time machine in order to capture not just a place, but a place-in-time.

Adam Abramowitz, the Boston writer of A Town Called Malice and Bosstown, had a terrific piece in the March 19th CrimeReads (link below), “Noir In The Era Of Gentrification: What Happens To Spenser & Scudder When Their Cities Are Gone?” He opens by recalling childhood trips to neighborhoods that were ripe with danger and which later became settings for his writing. But in the ensuing years, those blocks once lined with strip joints, gin joints and sundry other joints populated by lethal predators were gentrified building-by-building into rehabbed lofts and pricey rebuilds, the strip joint now a Starbucks, the gin joint a trendy bistro, and the only predators still lurking about are snooty sales clerks in fancy boutiques.

“Big city noir is under siege,” he writes. “As a noir reader, I become as attached to a city as to the main character working those pitiless streets…(Gentrification) threatens to render our stories sentimental and nostalgic until we all sound like a lamenting grandparent: Back in the bad old days.” Abramowitz refers mostly to New York and Boston, but acknowledges the same for James Lee Burke’s New Orleans and even Chandler’s and MacDonald’s Los Angeles.

Here beside the coast of the ‘inland sea” (the Great Lakes), it’s no different. Endless blocks south and west of Chicago’s Loop seemed destined for permanent skid row status after WWII. Now the South Loop has exploded with residential hi-rises, and west of downtown where independent food service distributors stretched for a mile beneath the Lake Street El and the Fulton Market strip, McDonald’s erected its new headquarters, just over from Google’s Chicago HQ, and suburban corporations are elbowing each other aside, determined to find suitably sized industrial lofts to gut or tear down so they can erect faux-rehabs. The SRO’s and their hoboes, homeless, hookers, pimps, muggers and wino’s have been pushed a couple miles south and west once again, and if the migration continues, eventually they’re going to cross the border into Indiana or be halted at the Mississippi.

Brighton-Archer

My own work is set in a very particular time and place, and while that place has changed considerably, it definitely hasn’t been gentrified. 1959 landmarks like the sprawling Miami Bowl 24/7 100-lane bowling complex or the once-luxurious Brighton Theater are long gone, along with countless Mom & Pop storefront bakeries, bars, hardware stores, dress shops, jewelers and deli’s (and all of the loan sharks, card games and B-girls that worked their back rooms). Some are no-brand phone stores and vaping shops now, others just vacant. The discreet Mowimy Popolsku signs in their doors have been replaced by a different language, perhaps, but I’m sure there’s no shortage of punks, thugs and crooks around. They’re just busy spray-painting their colors on garage walls before they get down to business these days. Now the word is that retiring Yuppies and monied Millenials from landlocked Chinatown are buying up two flats as investment properties. Not exactly gentrification, but enough change to make it hard to recognize anything from the old B&W photos sourced online.

Still, there’s no substitution for actually walking the main streets, side streets and even the alleys (which were only paved with cinders from the nearby ComEd plant back in the era I’m writing in). The sights, sounds and smells are all a little different from what my characters experienced in 1959, I suppose. But as Adam Abramowitz writes in his CrimeReads essay, “Don’t cry, noir lovers. Change is cyclical and as long as the slums of the heart keep burning, there’s always going to be material to mine.”

https://crimereads.com/noir-in-the-era-of-gentrification/

A Matter Of Perspective

PW Montage 1

So maybe you can think of better ways to spend $250. That’s the cost of an annual subscription to Publishers Weekly magazine (well, shave off a buck – it’s actually $249). Maybe I could too, but I still consider it an investment and I’m certain that I squander way more than $250 every year on a lot of foolish things.

Some writers consider Publishers Weekly mandatory reading while others see it as far removed from their interests or experience, particularly when sitting all alone in front of their keyboard. As for me, I’m closer to the ‘mandatory reading’ side, and actually feel a little adrift when I’ve let my subscription lapse (I’m not lapsed these days). Is it because I want to daydream about big deals and mega-star author status? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Reading Publishers Weekly grounds me.

PW Montage 2

Six and even seven figure book deals and film/subsidiary rights along with business news about corporate mergers, paper prices and distribution networks provide me with perspective on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Skimming those articles reminds me that I write simply because I want to (or have to, depending on the mood), not because of any naïve expectations that it’ll pay off with meaningful contributions to my income, or invitations to pontificate about whatever in high-profile interviews and genre-con panels. Once you realize that agents, editors, publishers and booksellers alike may be much more worried about Ingram buying portions of Baker & Taylor, or do the math in your head about just how much dough Michelle Obama’s book really brought in at retail — well then, it’s a lot easier to deal with any normal writerly frustrations and indignities.

There are purely pragmatic reasons to subscribe to Publishers Weekly. The extensive weekly reviews are tagged with the agent/agency for each, which is helpful to note when you’re querying projects. Even self and hybrid author/publishers are no longer ignored, the magazine acknowledging an evolving marketplace with a monthly multi-page “BookLife” feature dedicated to that segment of the industry.

This week’s issue includes articles on Spanish audiobook production, social media’s effects on poets and poetry, and a feature on new books by and about TV, music and sports celebrities…not one of which interested me in the least. But that’s not the point. When my fingers start pounding the keyboard tonight, I’ll know why I’m doing it, and I’ll be at peace with the teeny-tiny part I play in a vast marketplace and the shared endeavors of countless people like me. And I’m cool with that.

Do Not Disturb Unless Bleeding.

busy-writing

If you’re shopping a project around (like me, again), you probably are well aware of the Manuscript Wish List site.

MSWL Masthead

A week ago the MSWL email newslteer included a cute item from The Manuscript Academy (manuscriptadacemy.com) — a downloadable/printable “Busy Writing” file, perfect for your writing room door (if you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated writing room, of course) or wherever. As it says: “Busy Writing: Do not disturb unless bleeding and/or on fire”. Go to the Manuscript Academy’s site to download yours, and pin that darn thing up somewhere. Obviously if someone’s bleeding, you’ll want to help right away (after you hit save on your file). If they’re actually on fire, I say get some pictures first.

Manuscript Academy Masthead

Closing In On A Hundred Years.

Writers Digest Masthead

Writer’s Digest magazine put out a call from their website at writersdigest.com for readers, subscribers and contributors to share their memories of how the magazine has impacted their writing, all in anticipation of celebrating the publication’s 100th anniversary starting in January 2020.

If you spotted my post from a week ago, Publisher’s Weekly and various business publications reported that Writer’s Digest’s parent company F+W Media is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since earlier this month, which makes that 100th anniversary landmark suddenly sound a little ‘iffy’. But I choose not to overreact. Chapter 11 can enable reorganization, often in conjunction with the sale of selected assets, liquidation of money-losing operations, negotiations with creditors and a leaner but more stable organization as a result. Still, sometimes it’s just a prelude to something worse. Business works in mysterious ways.

Writing Mysteries 2nd Edition

When I wrote that previous post, I had the Writer’s Digest Books 2019 Guide To Literary Agents sitting beside my keyboard. Right now I have the second edition of Writer’s Digest Books’ Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton (RIP), an older but pretty pristine 2002 edition from a used bookstore, packed full of helpful guidance from a long list of the genre’s heavy hitters, and sitting in that very same spot in front of me.

F+W Media owns some crafting, outdoors and collectibles publications that could vanish without my noticing, though their subscribers might not agree. But it’s hard to imagine a world without Writer’s Digest magazine, or Writer’s Digest books for that matter. 100 years? That’s one heck of a legacy. So lets all keep our fingers crossed that the magazine, its subsidiary businesses and the parent company find a solution to their current problems.

 

David Goodis

Goodis Midnight Classics

Hard-boiled, noir, pulp, crime novelist and screenwriter David Goodis was born today, March 2nd back in 1917.

My own introduction to Goodis’ work was The Blonde On The Street Corner and The Moon In The Gutter in used bookstore 1990’s trade paperback editions from Midnight Classics (wish I still had those). From there I looked for more of his work, and confess to finding it a little uneven. Digging deeper, I discovered I wasn’t alone in that conclusion.

Four David Goodis Novels

Goodis, apparently, almost seemed to emulate one of the characters in the bleak, noir-ish world of his writing, hanging out in lowlife taverns and greasy spoons, poorly dressed, prone to depression and bouts of anger, and unlucky in love. But after laboring for years over low-paying aviation and adventure pulp magazine stories, Goodis was finally at the top of his game by the mid-1940’s. He had a couple successful hardcover novels to his credit, a lucrative six-year Warner Bros. screenwriting contract, and a hit movie based on his own novel, Dark Passage, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Yet within a couple years, he left Hollywood behind, had to move in with his parents in Philadelphia, and spent the remainder of his life cranking out paperback originals for Gold Medal and Lion Books along with – once again – pulp magazine stories. A lawsuit against the producers of the hit TV series The Fugitive, which Goodis asserted was based on his work, wasn’t resolved until just after his death. And by that time, not one of his books was even in print in the U.S. Yet, he was revered in Europe, with nearly a dozen critically acclaimed novels in France alone.

Goodis A Life In Black & White

David Goodis: A Life In Black And White by French writer Philippe Garnier was published in France in the mid-eighties, but wasn’t translated and published in the U.S. until 2013. It’s available through the Film Noir Foundation (it was edited by Eddie Muller), and at Amazon. In the mean time, you’ll find that “The Mysterious Life Of David Goodis” by Andrew Nette in a February 2015 edition of the Los Angeles Review Of Books (link below) provides a terrific capsulized overview of who Goodis was, what was great and not-so-great about him and his work, and even why European readers honored him so much more than his own American compatriots.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/mysterious-life-david-goodis/ – !

Pulp Fictioneers

Pulp Fictioneers John Locke

I suspect that many had-boiled crime fiction fans – readers and writers alike – tend to romanticize the legendary writers from the mid-twentieth century pulp and paperback originals era. I know I do. We have this image of a grizzled wordsmith in a dumpy third floor cold-water walkup, street noise and curbside trash smells wafting through an open window and rattling the yellowed venetian blinds, a second hand desk or wobbly card table with a pint of no-name rye whiskey on one side, a pack of unfiltered Luckies beside an overflowing ashtray on the other, and a temperamental Underwood in the middle, the writer pounding away some first-draft-is-the-only-draft tale of murder and mayhem oozing with just-sexy-enough-to-get-by eroticism, the wrinkled pages headed for Startling Detective or Women In Crime magazine.

And then you think about what that all really would’ve been like, and have to wonder what’s so damn good about the imaginary scenario.

Pulp Fictioneers – Adventures In The Storytelling Business edited by John Locke (Adventure House, 2004) goes a long way to dispelling some of the nostalgic romance. This intriguing read collects over one hundred articles, letters and miscellany from Writer’s Digest, Writer’s magazine and Author & Journalist from the 1920’s through the 50’s which provide a real-life glimpse of the pulp era from both the writers’ and publishers’ perspectives. Low per-word pay rates, production snafu’s, fly-by-night publishing scams, story rejections, puzzling writers’ guidelines, declining newsstand sales and much more – the pieces all make for a compelling read about sides of the marketplace that have nothing to do with The Shadow or Dan Turner Hollywood Detective. One thing’s clear here: Writer’s groused about editors and the markets then as much as they do now, and like all creatives, felt the world was treating them most unfairly. For those of us so entranced by the garish H.J. Ward and Norm Saunders covers and the shoot ‘em up stories, Pulp Fictioneers provides a healthy antidote to romancing bygone eras.

The Dealer

 

Dealer - Collins

I’m a Max Allan Collins fan, enjoying the very prolific Iowa writer’s partnership on several unfinished Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer novel manuscripts, his three-book 1950’s comics-scene mysteries (A Killing In Comics, etc.), the before-its-time Ms. Tree comics and one Ms. Tree novel, Deadly Beloved, The Road To Perdition graphic novel and subsequent sequel novels, and most of all, the entire Nathan Heller series – novels and short fiction alike. In fact, those Nate Heller books are among my favorites, and a few have been read more than once…just cuz.

There are some Collins’ works I haven’t read, including a few standalone novels and TV/film novelizations. But one group in particular that I’ve neglected is his Quarry series, dealing with a Viet Nam war era U.S. Marine sniper who becomes a professional assassin, and including 14 novels. The series was made into a short-lived Cinemax series only loosely based on the actual books, which ended in 2017. Most of the 1970’s Quarry novels have been reissued as handsome pocketbook style paperbacks by Hard Case Crime, when the imprint was on its own and still now under Titan Books’ ownership. But not this one, apparently.

Just spotted it this morning at the incredible and long running Not Pulp Covers blog (companion to the Pulp Covers blog), and I guess it’s time to hunt up a copy and see if Collins can hook me on his hit man the way he’s done so well with Nate Heller, Ms. Tree and other memorable characters.

Ruined Words Relegated To The Back Of The Lingerie Drawer.

TRANS-SIBERIAN EXPRESS by Norbert Schoerner Vogue UK 2005

Back in January, Ashley Holstrom wrote a short but fun piece that appeared at Book Riot (bookriot.com), “Words Romance Novels Have Ruined For Me”.

She begins, “If you read romance novels, you know how it goes: Words get new sexual meanings, because euphemisms are fun! And then the word is ruined in your brain forever.” Recently reading a non-romance book, she came across the word “mound” and automatically wondered if the book was about to take an unexpected sexy turn. In fact, it only referred to a mound of ants. Nonetheless, the word “mound” had been permanently imbued with a sexual meaning for her (and for many others, I’d bet), so frequently employed euphemistically in romance novels.

Holstrom provides a brief list of words similarly impacted. I’ll bet you could add your own to the list, culled from romance novels, erotica, or just as likely, “PG-Rated” novels awkwardly wrestling with a sex scene. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can almost feel the author’s reluctance to allow their fingers to type a few obligatory “sexy” words. Hence, euphemisms. Ashley Holstrom’s list includes routine words which any writer will need to employ in purely pragmatic applications and which hopefully can retain their real meaning without being eroticized: Center, core, delicious, electric, enter, explode, growl, length and even wet, for instance.

But her list also includes some words that have been used to death as euphemisms till they may, in fact, have become permanently compromised: Bud, chiseled, erupt, essence, folds, thrust, erupt, moan, nectar, rigid and throbbing, to name a few. She even lists “supple”, a word I’ve always liked, have few enough uses for, but just enjoy the sound and the ‘feel’ of it. But I guess it’s stuck in the ruined list.

Writers will grope (oops, that’s probably one, too) for words they’re comfortable with when the thought of typing the basics like the three big C’s (rhymes with flit, flock and…flunt?) give them the vapors or threaten to make their keyboard melt. And readers can chuckle to themselves when they encounter euphemisms used in cringe-worthy ways. But damn it, it’s a shame when perfectly good everyday words have to be retired, like being tucked away next to the sex toys way at the back of the lingerie drawer.

And I still intend to use supple whenever the hell I want to.

Image: ‘Trans-Siberian Express’ by Norbert Schoerner for Vogue UK, 2005)

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