In A Man’s World.

The Innocent Bottle

Lucy Beatrice Malleson (1899 – 1973) wrote general fiction under the Anne Meredith pen name, but more famously as “Anthony Gilbert”, with over 70 mystery novels to her credit, most of those featuring the somewhat groundbreaking (kind of hard-boiled and vulgar) London lawyer Arthur Crook, that long running series beginning in 1936 and continuing to the last novel in 1974, released after the author’s death. Several of Malleson’s Anthony Gilbert novels were adapted to British films in the 1940’s, as well as a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, and two of her short stories were Edgar Award nominees.

Breaking into the crowded field of what many consider the ‘golden age’ of both British and American crime fiction, Lucy Malleson decided to adopt a male pen name and stuck with it, apparently quite successfully…going so far as to pose for her author photo dressed as a man.

Anthony Gilbert Books Montage

I first spotted her re-released Orion Publishing memoir Three-A-Penny — In A Man’s World: The Classic Memoir Of A 1930’s Writer, with a new introduction by Sophie Hannah, at the Crime Fiction Lover blog’s e-newsletter. It looks like the UK edition comes out before Christmas, though a U.S. trade paperback isn’t due till April, 2020. Not sure I can wait till Spring for this one. Methinks some bookstore clerk’s going to be pestered once again this week.

Three-A-Penny

 

And I Haven’t Read A Single Story Yet.

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It’s over a month ago that I reserved a copy of Otto Penzler’s The Big Book Of Reel Murders – Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films, warned at the time that it might not arrive till mid-November. In fact, I got it almost two weeks ago and have been burrowing through this nearly 1,200-page monster of a book since.

And yet – so far, I haven’t actually read a single story.

The Big Book Of Reel Murders

Each of the 61 stories by writers like Robert Bloch, Ian Fleming, Dashiell Hammett, Dennis Lehane, Sinclair Lewis, Daphne du Maurier, W. Somerset Maugham, Budd Schulberg, Cornell Woolrich and others was the basis of a mystery/crime/noir film. Some you’d know, of course. Some, perhaps not. (I’d never heard of a few!) The movies inspired by the anthology’s tales include Woman In The Dark (1934), The Big Steal (1949), Fear In The Night (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), Tip On A Dead Jockey (1957), Mr. Dynamite (1951) and many others — some stills, publicity shots and posters for those shown here with this post.

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Many anthologies seem to be hastily put together, with little more than a brief genre celebrity preface, editor intro and — if the reader’s lucky — author bio’s. Not this book. Each of the 60+ stories are preceded by a two or three-page introduction providing author, story or publication background info, plus details and anecdotes about the film inspired by that story. Add it up: These intro’s almost form a book on their own, with the insights into familiar films being informative treats, the others being prompts to hunt up the movies as yet unseen.

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Oh, I’ll go back and read the stories, of course. The Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie tales I already have elsewhere and have read more than once might be skipped, but there’s some choice material in this big book. And though it might seem a little weird, some of the choicest content is actually the story introductions, as much as the stories themselves.

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Nobody Move.

nobody move

We’ve been here before with writers and filmmakers like Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino (quotes from both of whom lead off this novel). But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth another trip through So-Cal Neo-Noir, especially when we’re in the hands of a talented storyteller, and based on this debut novel (or so I assume it to be), that’s precisely what Philip Elliott is.

Action-filled stories like Nobody Move’s plot are hard to summarize, but I’ll give it a try: What ought to be a routine collection call by a couple of low-level enforcers goes bad, resulting in a pervy narcotics distributor and his innocent wrong-place-wrong-time mistress shot dead, their bodies none too well hidden (and promptly discovered) in the hills. And that results in the dead man’s much-more-dangerous brother arriving from Texas and out for vengeance, and a world-weary single mother homicide detective assigned to the case. Meanwhile, an enigmatic young woman shows up, hunting for the half-sister gone missing from their South Dakota Oglala Reservation home (who was the murdered mistress, of course), and the crime lord who initiated the whole affair is determined to silence everyone involved…permanently. Bottom line: Everyone’s looking for Eddie, the inept crook who stupidly pulled the trigger and set things in motion. Colorfully quirky characters provide ample cannon fodder for the sudden bursts of explosive violence that erupt on cue in Elliott’s (thankfully) straightforward linear narrative: A retired gay porn star (now pre-op trans) turning traitor, a sleazy lawyer, a strip club dancer, a Puerto Rican hitman and other assorted thugs among them. The characters’ multiple paths converge, sometimes violently, sometimes humorously, and ultimately in a harrowing daylight bank robbery and then a major shoot-out. If this is Elliott’s debut novel, then he handles a complex multi-character plot handily and keeps everything moving along at a fast-paced clip. People toss the term ‘page turner’ around a lot (myself included) but this one really was, at least for me.

If you give Nobody Move a try, I challenge you to not picture your own dream cast for each character’s role, or to constantly visualize Elliott’s well laid out scenes in the quirky, jump-cut violence-filled big screen version it ought to be. Philip Elliott is the editor in chief of the print and online literary magazine, Into The Void, and this novel is from their small press publishing operation. That suggests no literary agent was involved, but I sure hope the author has someone working overtime to drop this novel onto appropriate Hollywood producers’ desks.

1,667 Words Per Day

NaNoWriMo Montage

No NaNoWriMo for me this November, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be eagerly watching posts at WordPress, Tumblr, Pinterest and across the far-too-many bookish and writerly sites and blogs I follow so I can share the adventure with those brave souls who’ll take the pledge this year.

NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, that being November, and more specifically, NaNoWriMo is the annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. It’s been going since 1999, with nearly 800,000 active novelists participating and over 360,000 novels completed.

Grant Faulkner and the NaNoWriMo staff’s Inkwell column in the current issue of Writer’s Digest magazine address ten key NaNoWriMo expectations vs. truths (it being “The Truth Issue” of WD), key among them the understandable assumption that the NaNoWriMo challenge is undertaken only by first-time writers and the unpublished. In fact, prior NaNoWriMo participants have included authors like Sara Gruen (Water For Elephants), Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), Marissa Meyer (Cinder, Scarlet, etc.), Elizabeth Acavedo (The Poet X) and other successfully published and even bestselling writers.

NaNoWriMo Site

The NaNoWriMo organization (link below) states: “NaNoWriMo believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide structure, community and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals and build new worlds – on and off the page.” Participation is free. The NaNoWriMo site offers support and tools to writers taking the pledge. And it’s a daunting challenge. 50,000 words no longer adds up to a complete novel, but it’s a generous portion. And that works out to 1,667 words per day. Everyday. For an entire month, one that kicks off the holiday season with all of the activities and family obligations that might involve. But for a would-be novelist who’s struggled to start, or felt too intimidated by the seemingly overwhelming process, the annual NaNoWriMo event may be precisely the impetus needed to unleash their inner writer and finally commit to making a meaningful start.

No doubt there are many publishers, editors, agents, booksellers and published novelists who recoil in horror at anything that helps to pump hundreds of thousands of novelists – many if not most being newcomers — and hundreds of thousands of novels into an already overcrowded marketplace. But no one suggests that the 50,000 words generated by each of the successful participants will be publishable, or a complete first draft. Or, even any good. But they will represent the vital first step in a daunting and time consumptive creative and executional process, and for many, may be the beginning of a successful ongoing effort.

Several years ago, I pledged to give NaNoWriMo a try. Much of that October was spent collecting notes and references, tightening up my outline and doing my best to ‘clear the deck’ of potential intrusions by Halloween night — ready to plunge in right at the stroke of midnight and the start of November. And I was actually doing slightly better than 1,667 words per day for a solid week and a half…till day job mandates intervened with firm directives demanding multiple late nights and weekends, and for weeks to come (almost Xmas before things slowed down, in fact). Within days, it became apparent that I’d get no further than the nearly 25,000 words I had in hand. Well, not if I wanted to continue to draw a paycheck. Reluctantly, I gave up.

This year? New challenges I don’t need at the moment. Aside from ongoing querying for The Stiletto Gumshoe, I’m 40,000 words into its sequel, and have started two related short stories. It’s no time to pause to undertake a NaNoWriMo challenge.

But for those who will – or are even considering it – you’d better plan to get your jack-o-lantern carved ahead of time and to finish this year’s Halloween costume soon. Probably best to volunteer for the Halloween Party’s designated driver role come Thursday the 31st unless you’re one of those writers who believe that the best work’s done when sloppy drunk. ‘Course, when you’re obliged to average 1,667 words per day every day, even sober writing could sound like it came from someone who’s had a few.

Good luck to all the brave souls who undertake the NaNoWriMo challenge this year!

https://nanowrimo.org/what-is-nanowrimo

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.

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