Lady Killer: Joelle Jones

Lady Killer 1

I never say this person’s the best artist, the best writer, the best actor, etc. But I’m not timid about saying who are my favorites, and the brilliant Joelle Jones is on that list. Incredibly skilled with design and composition as well as an artful stylist, Jones isn’t content being a terrific artist, but has to be an inventive and creative writer as well…the show-off. Some handiwork of her best project so far (IMHO) shown here: Lady Killer, about 1960’s suburban housewife Josie Schuller, who’s also happens to be a lethal hit woman.

Lady Killer 2Lady Killer 3

Listening To: Diana Krall

diana krall

All last week the grass was greening, the trees were budding. Later this week we should be in the 70’s. Spring’s here. But Mother Nature wanted to thumb her nose at us one last time on Sunday, lobbing a snowstorm into the upper Midwest with gusty winds and half a foot of the wet heavy stuff that blew from mid-morning till I turned in around 1:00 AM. So other than picking up some groceries really early (with an in-car coffee break with the New York Times) when it was still only cold, rainy and windy, it was definitely a stay-in kind of day. A good day to stay huddled behind the computer and marvel at the icy ugliness churning around out the window.

diana krall 2

The soundtrack for all that blizzardy bluster: Diana Krall, though not in order, just however they all ended up on the turntable and in the CD player. Suitable sounds for pounding the keyboard on a scene set in a 1959 cocktail lounge for the re-activated follow-up to The Stiletto Gumshoe.

diana krall 1

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.

 

Mystery Scene

Mystery scene

Finding a new issue of Mystery Scene magazine in the mail is just like getting an unexpected present. I spent a pleasant Sunday evening with this new Winter 2019 issue, as well as the morning after to finish it up (once through the pre-dawn Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru en route to work, the car eater going full blast this Monday AM). I haven’t read anything by the cover story feature, Laura Benedict, but plan to now. Many writers have peculiar rituals as part of their work habits. Benedict’s compelled to clean and de-clutter her house from top to bottom before commencing a new novel. “Horace McCoy: Noir’s Forgotten Founding Father” by Michael Mallory made me think about an unsung hero of the genre, McCoy not the most prolific writer, but the author of the Depression-era novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They which made him a darling among the European literary philosopher set. Of course the issue had the usual features and pages and pages of new release reviews…all in all, a pleasant end to a cold weekend (and a helpful start to a frigid work week).

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/ – !

Straight From The Fridge, Dad

straight from the fridge dad

Just about any book with a Richie Fahey cover illustration will make me pause for a second look, and the cover designed by Jesse Marinoff Reyes for the 2000 edition shown here of Straight From The Fridge, Dad – A Dictionary of Hipster Slang by Max Decharne features a terrific Fahey piece.

“Think of it as a sort of Thirty Days To A More Powerful Vocabulary for the beret-wearing, bongo-banging set” the back cover says, but it’s actually more than that.

I have several books on retro slang, most of them pretty slim things, written and published as novelty items, I suppose. But apparently it took someone who divides his time between London and Berlin to put together a more comprehensive and detailed book on mid-20th century American slang, digging deep not only into the 1950’s-60’s Beat Scene but further back into the Jazz era and reference works like Babs Gonzales’ Boptionary, Del Close and John Brent’s How To Speak Hip LP and hipster lingo dictionaries from Cab Calloway and Lavada Durst. Decharne’s Straight From The Fridge, Dad is nearly 200 pages of slick words and expressions that fit right in anywhere from a 1920’s speakeasy to a 1940’s crime novel and all the way up to a late 1950’s Greenwich Village coffee house. If you dig retro or just love words, you’ll love this book, and if you’re writing anything set in the 1920’s through 1960’s, you’ll find a word or phrase — or two or more — to slot in quite comfily in your own work. Though nearly twenty years old, the book’s been re-released in several editions (all with nifty cover art, though I’ll still go with the Fahey illustration) and is available new and used online and seen frequently in bookstores. Get yourself a copy, and then arrange that beret just-so atop your head, make yourself an espresso or pour a shot of MD 20-20 and settle in to a dictionary that’s actually fun to read.

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