The Rules.

The Rules

If you stop by here at The Stiletto Gumshoe, there’s no way you’d be unfamiliar with Elmore Leonard. There’s a good chance you’ve liked his work. I know I do. A lot. Enough, in fact, to have multiple editions of some of his novels. I may be notoriously acquisitive, but I’m no collector. Nonetheless, I just couldn’t pass some up, figuring I could use redundant copies for re-reads, which certain Leonard novels are bound to get. Case in point: I read (and still have) my hardcover of Up In Honey’s Room, but how could I pass up the saucy little paperback edition that’s tucked right beside it on my bookshelves?

Up In Honey's Room

Up In Honey's Room 2

Born in New Orleans in 1925, raised mostly in Detroit, Elmore Leonard did three years in the Navy Seabees during WWII, went to college after the war and worked as an ad agency copywriter for several years, even once he’d begun writing. Originally penning westerns – Hombre, 3:10 To Yuma, Joe Kidd being some of the better known titles, he later moved to crime fiction and thrillers. Get Shorty, Be Cool, 52 Pickup, Mr. Majestyk and Out Of Sight are just a few better known novels and among Leonard’s stories and books that have been adapted to films. He passed away in 2013, following complications from a stroke that he looked to be recovering from. No surprise, his books have sold tens of millions of copies.

Elmore Leonard’s style was distinctive from the start but became even more so after he began writing crime and thrillers. The prose is spare, straightforward and unadorned, textbook examples of a highly skilled writer employing less words but only the absolute right words. Elmore Leonard’s “The Rules” are seen often, memorized by some writers, no doubt, and were the basis for what became his Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules For Writing.

Stop over at Crime Reads (link below) for an intriguing and deeper look at Elmore Leonard’s “Rules” from a 1998 conversation with Martin Amis. For the writers among you (this being “A Writer’s Blog That’s Not”), Leonard’s “The Rules” are shown yet again above. They’re kind of like the Ten Commandments, and I for one, strive to adhere to them. This past Friday would’ve been Elmore Leonard’s 94thbirthday. We can’t be overly saddened when a person gets 80++ good years, but we certainly can still mourn the loss, and think about the words left unwritten.

https://crimereads.com/celebrating-elmore-leonards-rules-for-writing/

Chicago 1946 – 1957

46 chicago

Late 1950’s Chicago wasn’t much on my radar back in 2000 when Steve Monroe’s ’57 Chicago came out. I’ve probably seen it on shelf in used bookstores, even recently when I’ve been laser focused on 1959 Chicago for my own projects (as in, The Stiletto Gumshoe). Even if I have spotted Monroe’s debut novel, I probably decided to pass, not being much of a fan of the boxing scene, which is the what that novel deals with.

But, it’s on order through my local bookseller now, in the newer 2015 trade pb edition. I requested it along with some other books when I was barely 20 pages deep into Monroe’s second novel, ’46 Chicago from 2002, which I recently bought at a used bookstore. Boxing scene or not, if Monroe’s debut is even half as good as his follow-up, I know it’ll be good.

’46 Chicago deals with semi-rogue cop Gus Carson, recently returned to the force after a harrowing time in the Pacific war, only to find himself suspended over an off-duty shooting in a whorehouse. Where he was a patron at the time. So, let’s be clear: Gus is no angel. Tempted by five hundred easy but obviously suspicious dollars from a Chicago bigwig endorsed by the police brass, Gus is tasked with locating the man behind the numbers game on the south side…who’s been kidnapped. Or, may be dead already. Who’s behind it? The cops? Rivals? The mob? Gus’ search drags him down through the underbelly of the city and up to the sprawling estates of the North Shore’s millionaire power brokers, forced to confront his own violent and less than honest past along the way. He may solve this mystery, but there’s no redemption for Gus Carson at its end. It’s all loosely based on the Chicago mob’s real-life takeover of the south side numbers/policy racket, engineered by Sam Giancana under Tony Arccado’s leadership.

57 chicago

Monroe’s novel is truly harder than hard-boiled, darker than the most noir-ish of noirs, utterly grim and gritty throughout. I just finished ’46 Chicago after work tonight (Tuesday), and now I’m itching for ’57 Chicago to arrive, so I can dive in to that one, fight scene and boxers or not. But only three of the five books I’d ordered have come in so far (those picked up today), ’57 Chicago still en route. Steve Monroe did one more novel in 2015, Pursuit, in what looks like a contemporary setting. According to his website (stevemonroebooks.com) there are a couple more languishing in a file cabinet, including a sequel to ‘46 Chicago. I don’t know if Monroe’s retired (he is or was a successful real estate broker) or if the current publishing/bookselling marketplace conditions have those projects permanently stuck in limbo, but I hope they see the light of day. Some day.

Side note: I did buy ’46 Chicago at a used bookstore, my copy a like-new hardcover with a perfectly clean dustjacket. Only a little way in, what should tumble out from between the pages? The author’s own day-job business card, which may well have been hiding in there since the book’s release in 2002. (The company’s since been absorbed by another in a mega-merger.) And based on the card and his title at the time, I don’t think Mr. Monroe’s hurting for a tight-fisted publisher’s advance minus agent’s commission. Just guessing.

 

Writer’s Digest’s Good News

wd - nov-dec

While it’s always a treat to discover a new issue of Writer’s Digest magazine in my mailbox, I was doubly pleased to find the November/December 2019 issue after a particularly unpleasant day-job grind this Thursday. I’ll still revisit the magazine over the weekend to read a couple articles more carefully, but the issue got a cover-to-cover browse-through over a very late dinner (Two hot dogs, in case in matters…it was gourmet night. And I put ketchup on one, but don’t tell anyone. They hang you ‘round these parts for putting ketchup on a dog.)

Right upfront editor-in-chief Ericka McIntyre’s column announced WD’s June 2019 acquisition by California-based Active Interest Media, a multi-division lifestyle, outdoors and special interest magazine group. So readers can rest easy after some worrisome silence following the bankruptcy of WD’s former parent company, F+W Media. AIM is promoting Writer’s Digest magazine and writersdigest.com on its site, so let’s assume the venerable publication will be around to celebrate its upcoming 100th anniversary. Unclear if AIM also acquired Writer’s Digest Books, publishers of numerous writers’ how-to titles and annual directories. Ads for WD books were noticeably absent from this November/December 2019 issue.

“The Truth Issue” is solid throughout, and while it may just be my imagination, I detected a more serious editorial tone, right down to the Amy Jones interview with author Amor Towles (Rules of Civility and A Gentleman In Moscow). Well, real or only perceived, evolving tone or not, I was just pleased to hear all will be well for Writer’s Digest, it being hard to imagine a writer’s world without it.

The Secrets We Kept

via laraprescott dot com

Though she was profiled in this week’s Sunday New York Times Book Review, I had no idea that Reese Witherspoon hosted her own book club. Worse: I didn’t even notice the “Reese’s Book Club” icon on the front cover of Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept, and once I did, wasn’t even sure what it was. Guess I have to bone up what’s going on in the media and entertainment world. But why, when I can be immersed in incredible novels like Prescott’s debut instead?

The Secets We Kept Lara Prescott

Spanning a period from 1949 to 1961, The Secrets We Kept by the aptly named Lara Prescott provides an intriguing look at post-WWII era young women armed with formidable educations and noteworthy skills, but shunted off to steno pools and typist jobs, their comparably equipped male counterparts now their supervisors, ripe with all of that period’s dismissiveness and even blatant abuse. For these portions of Prescott’s complex multi-POV novel, you may be reminded of Renee Rosen’s Park Avenue Summer and White Collar Girls, or Fiona Davis’ The Dollhouse and The Chelsea Girls. But then mix it up with Ian Fleming. No, check that. More like Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series, or Jane Thynne’s Clara Vine novels. The Secrets We Kept isn’t about underwater spear gun battles, no one brandishes a Walther PPK, and it’s no simple espionage thriller.

It’s really about three women: Irina, a typist, Sally, a receptionist, both at the Cold War era CIA. And then there’s Olga, the mistress of famed Russian poet and novelist Boris Pasternak. But the receptionist is really a glamorous international spy. The typist is recruited to become one, while Pasternak’s ever loyal lover endures torture in Lubyanka prison and then the Gulags to protect the writer. The unfolding story is actually about the smuggling of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago manuscript out of Soviet era Russia, its publication in Europe, and once finally translated into English, smuggling copies back into Russia so his countrymen could actually read the Nobel Prize winning but banned novel. And like Zhivago and Lara in Pasternak’s epic novel, love can sometimes feel utterly doomed in Prescott’s book, with Olga suffering unimaginable horrors while forced to share her beloved with the novelist’s pragmatic but shrewish wife, while Irina and Sally fall in love, but in a time and place that simply won’t tolerate their relationship.

Sharing a first name with Pasternak’s iconic Lara, Prescott may have been destined to write this novel. It’s a thick, rich 350-page book, but I devoured it in two days, unable to put it down and admittedly enthralled from the first page. At first it took a little getting used to the author’s shifting points of view from one chapter to another, but it was well worth the effort. It’s quite a debut, and it looks like Prescott’s book is already on the bestseller lists, so let’s just guess that we can anticipate a movie version in a year or two. I just hope Hollywood doesn’t find some way to muck up this intimate and intriguing tale of three women by stuffing it full of out-of-place action. Explosions and super-villains won’t be needed. “Lara’s Theme” from David Lean’s 1965 movie version of Doctor Zhivago wouldn’t hurt, though.

lara prescott by travor palhaus

http://www.laraprescott.com/

Author photo: Trevor Palhaus

Tools Of The Trade

Freja Beha Erichsen by Paolo Roversi

Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Jack London, Ray Bradbury, John Lennon and even Helen Keller’s braille machine – those are just a few of the authors’ typewriters on exhibit in “Tools Of Trade” at the American Writers Museum, running through June 2020. Who knew there was a collector’s market for antique typewriters? Actor Tom Hanks has over 250 of them, and claims to type every day. There are a surprising number of writers who prefer to work on typewriters, indestructible manuals in particular. I completely understand, there being a magical musical rhythm to the sound of those keys clacking away, and for someone working in retro era crime fiction like myself, it’d be a perfect fit. But, being one of those for whom ‘writing-is-rewriting’, I’ll have to stick with switching back and forth between my desktop and my laptop, Apple gear, MSWord software, hyper-speed two-fingered tap dancing across the keys.

1958 rudy garcia cover

We have a typewriter at the day job. No weighty metal Royal, it’s just one of those grey plastic blobs from a big box office supply store. Still, it amuses me to see new hires with the ink still wet on their design diplomas ogle the thing like it’s an alien artifact. The intricacies of Adobe Illustrator and InDesign don’t intimidate them. Typing a 3×5 mailing label or No. 10 envelope on a typewriter does. Go figure.

American Writers Musuem

The American Writers Museum (link below) is just up the street from Millennium Park and The Chicago Cultural Center, which used to be the main Chicago Public Library. Crime film fans have seen that building in Brian DePalma’s 1987 The Untouchables, standing in for a courthouse and a convenient rooftop for Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness to toss Billy Drago’s Frank Nitti off the roof. Well, no one said that film cared much about historical accuracy.

https://americanwritersmuseum.org/

Photos: Freja Beha Erichsen by Paolo Roversi, Perry Mason 1958 paperback with a Rudy Garcia cover, America Writers Museum photos from the AWM site.

Mosley’s New One.

elements of fiction

When a writer’s first published novel is a literate hard-boiled masterpiece like Devil In A Blue Dress (1990), that’s a person with something to tell us and we all ought to listen, writers and readers alike.

I reserved a copy of Walter Mosley’s new Elements of Fiction last week, due in on the 17th or 18th along with some other books I ordered at the same time. But there it was calling out to me from the new releases shelf during a library stop last weekend. Oh, what the hell.

Elements of Fiction is a short book, though not necessarily a quick read. Mosley calls it a monograph. The dustjacket labels it a treatise. To me it felt as if I’d signed up for an intimate lecture series with the crime fiction master. This isn’t at all like his previous This Year You Write Your Novel, or most other writer’s how-to books, for that matter. No bullet points, infographics, charts and tables, so some might think it’s targeted to experienced writers and the aloof MFA program crowd more than a newcomer. I’d disagree. Newbie or pro, there’s rich and endless inspiration and guidance here, focusing on process, showing how to channel your thinking when it comes to plot, dialog, character and all the other fundamentals. And after all, isn’t helping others to learn how to think what most good teaching is really all about?

Well, I plowed through the short 115-page hardcover on Sunday, and back to the library it’ll go this weekend. Yes, I still got my own copy mid-week when my multi-book order arrived at a local bookseller, and yes, I’ll read it once again and soon. A man who can come up with Easy Rawlins is a man to heed. Walter Mosley’s Elements of Fiction will be sitting out by my work area for a while, I suspect, ready to turn to when the mood strikes or the writing goes bad. Perhaps it’ll be like reading The Bible for the religiously inclined…flip it open anywhere and darn near any page will offer something inspirational.

 

The N-Word In The Writers’ Room.

Walter Mosley

I’ve been away for a few days, a mix of offsite day job chores, personal work and routine R&R, but feeling disconnected and nearly off the grid in a spot where broadband is a foreign word. On the plus side, I was insulated from the daily tweetstorm from Pennsylvania Avenue, though it was a ten-mile trek just to buy a Sunday newspaper.

You may not be able to link to Walter Mosley’s Sunday 9.8.19 New York Times editorial section piece, “Why I Quit The Writer’s Room” (link below) since the NYT, like most newspapers, needs to encourage you to subscribe, so sometimes articles don’t open, and I get that. So, if you have any problem linking, you can also get to it via Crime Reads (crimereads.com). But do get to it, however you like, because Mosley’s piece is well worth the effort.

If you visit or follow here, then there’s no way you could be unfamiliar with Edgar Award winner and Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Walter Mosley, the prolific novelist who’s made up for lost time (he started writing in his mid-thirties) with over 40 novels, plus non-fiction books, plays and screenwriting credits. Mosley’s perhaps best known for his magnificent Easy Rawlins series, which includes his first published novel, Devil In A Blue Dress from 1990, later made into the 1995 film by the same name starring Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals. His latest non-fiction writer’s book, Elements of Fiction just came out last week.

Mosley’s op-ed piece held the top space of the NYT’s Op-Ed section back page, and finds him at work in his current show’s writers’ room when he received a call from the network’s Human Resources Department. “Mr. Mosley, it’s been reported that you used the N-Word in the writers’ room,” the H.R. staffer said. Incredulous, I assume, Mosley replied, “I am the N-Word in the writers’ room.” And then he quit. There’s much more to it than this shorthand description, of course, but why read about it from me when you ought to get it firsthand from Walter Mosley himself? It’s a thought-provoking piece, crafted as only Mosley could.

As for me, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what I can learn in Mosley’s Elements of Fiction, my copy due in the local bookstore Tuesday.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/opinion/sunday/walter-mosley.html

It’s C.J. (Not that it really matters).

C.J. THomas

I was pleased as could be a couple weeks back to see The Stiletto Gumshoe site mentioned with a link at J. Kingston Pierce’s essential The Rap Sheet blog (8.9.19). It was only later that I realized that my still new-ish blog was referred to as “the anonymously composed blog”.

Certain that I’d introduced myself early on, I scrolled all the way back through December 2018 posts to double check. Uhm…ooops. No such post. But remembering that The Stiletto Gumshoe was originally launched at Tumblr and only lingering there for a few weeks before migrating over to WordPress (though now cross-posting back to Tumblr, with WordPress and Tumblr soon to be some sort of siblings anyway), I did introduce myself in one of the original Tumblr blog’s first posts. But not every Tumblr post made it intact to WordPress when I relaunched things here.

So, not that it ought to matter much to anyone, but the name’s C.J. Thomas (as the visual above suggests). It’s only a pen name, but if it’s good enough at the top of a manuscript or signed to the bottom of a query, it’s good enough here. You’ll understand if I daydream about seeing it emblazoned in 72 pt. type across a book’s front cover.

Pen Name Infographic Screen Cap

Some writers wouldn’t dream of publishing under their own name, while others can’t understand what all the fuss is about. I got a kick out of Scott McCormick’s recent piece at the Book Baby blog, seen via Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, a pretty reliable daily read for all things writerly. (Links below.) McCormick’s “Pen Names: How And Why To Use Them” covered familiar ground for many writers, listing famous scribes who’ve employed pen names and providing some guidance on how to come up with one of your own. I’m intrigued by writers who’ve adopted pen names simply because they considered their own names too long or too foreign for the English language market, as illustrated by the cute pen name infographic included in McCormicks piece, which highlighted some well-known writers’ names going back to the 1700’s. Not that I considered Isak Dinesen’s name that easy to pronounce (I’d just as soon not say it out loud and have some smarmy literary type correct me with a snicker), but seeing as how her real name was Karen Christence Dinesen, Baroness Blixen-Finecke, I kinda get it.

Naturally the church’s choirmaster will want a pen name for her sizzling Kindle erotica shorts, and a school board member might feel a little queasy putting her real name on a blood-soaked cops-n-robbers shoot ‘em up series making the rounds. Sometimes it’s just a handy way to keep the day job and ‘real life’ separate from writing endeavors – in-progress or published — and sometimes it’s as simple as a do-over on a long, clunky or perpetually mispronounced name. For the record, my own is only one syllable, yet people have been butchering it since grade school. Go figure.

Nonetheless, hello from C.J. Thomas, host of The Stiletto Gumshoe, and hopefully the name that’ll appear in jumbo type on the front cover of a book by the same name. Well, someday.

https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2019/08/29/pen-names-how-and-why-to-use-them-by-scott-mccormick/

https://blog.bookbaby.com/2019/08/pen-names-how-and-why-to-use-them/

 

Dorothy Gets The Last Word.

Dorothy Parker Quotes - Writers Digest

Pleased as always to see a new Writer’s Digest magazine tumble out of my mail box, this one the Annual Agent Roundup issue with multiple articles and interesting dialog with literary agents about their wants, pet peeves, and more. If you’re a writer currently ‘enjoying’ the humbling querying process or about to be, I suppose it’s kind of a must-read. If you’re not, then Ericka McIntyre’s Alice Hoffman interview alone makes this WD issue worth looking for.

Writers Digest

Though I follow Writer’s Digest’s e-newsletter and blog posts via an aggregator, I confess that I don’t read every single one. Poetry? Screenwriting? Memoir? Not every thing is my thing. Blogs and e-newsletters like theirs have to please a diverse audience, after all. But you don’t even have to be a writer to get a kick out of “10 Dorothy Parker Quotes For Writers And About Writing” in the 8.20.19 edition. Not everyone’s a Parker fan, and there are still some Parker detractors out there. But count me on the fan side. Sharing a Dorothy Parker bon mot or two may not make any friends at your next writers’ coffeehouse whine-fest or score points at a university writing program’s after-class soiree, but you’ll feel a kinship with one of the writing profession’s most acerbic wits. Check it out (link below).

writersdigest dot com

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-dorothy-parker-quotes-for-writers-and-about-writing

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