Saturday, July 31, 2010

(Belated) Forgotten Music: Annie Oakley's Traffic Safety Songs

OK, I screwed up again and didn't get my Forgotten Music post up on Thursday like I should have. My apologies to host Scott Parker and the rest of the gang.

Here's an amazing little 78 I came across in an antique mall in Las Vegas. The amazing thing is that it was ever recorded and issued. There's a photo of the TV show's Gail Davis on the back, but she is not in evidence on this record. I have a couple of recordings by Gail, including the show's theme song, and she has a distinctive voice. Still, I've heard worse music, and the songs have a certain goofy charm. A friend of mine once played them during traffic reports on his radio show, to the undoubted amusement (and befuddlement) of his audience.

"The Traffic Light Song" by Annie Oakley

"I Like to Ride My Bike" by Annie Oakley

One advantage to being late to Forgotten Music is that I can bring you direct links to the rest of this month's posts:

"Revolutions" by Steve Winwood

From Sean Coleman:
Art Garfunkle's "Watermark"

 From Bill Cirder:
Stonewall Jackson

From Martin Edwards:
"Loneliness Remebers"

From Randy Johnson:

From Todd Mason:
"Seductive Reasoning" by Maggie & Terre Roche

From Scott Parker:
Bruce Springsteen's "Lucky Town"

From Perplexio:
"Runaway" by Bill Champlin

From Eric Peterson:
"Apple" by Mother Love Bone

From Charlie Ricci:
Robert Lamm's "Leap of Faith"

Dang, that's a fine music collection (even without the Annie Oakley). I'll try to be on time next month. Really.  

Friday, July 30, 2010

Forgotten Books: Gene Autry and the Ghost Riders by Lewis B. Patten

To create the right ambiance for this review, please give a listen to my favorite Gene Autry recording, followed by a tribute to old Gene by a feller named Marty Robbins:

"I've Got Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle" by Gene Autry

"Gene Autry, My Hero" by Marty Robbins

Most Whitman westerns were written by guys who specialized in children's books. But a select few were penned by real western authors, guys like Walter A. Tompkins, Steve Frazee, and the author of this one, Lewis B. Patten.

Gene Autry and the Ghost Riders was published in 1955, near the beginning of Patten's long career - a career in which he turned out over a hundred novels. As a western novel, it's pretty standard fare. Gene is summoned by an old friend, a rancher who's receiving threats on his life. Once on the scene, Gene finds the countryside up in arms against his friend, convinced he's behind a gang of "Ghost Riders" who are rustling everyone's cattle. Gene is asked to come incognito, and because he wears his six-gun low on his hip, the good folks assume he's a gunslick and the bad folks assume he's a threat. So naturally both sides want him out of the picture.

Despite the kids-book status, this is a full-length novel, and the writing is only slightly dumbed-down for young readers. Definite plusses are the pulp paper used for this line of books and the illustrations appearing every twenty or so pages. While some books feature art by familiar names such as Alex Toth, those in this book are credited to guys named Bob Bartram & James Eggers.

There are only a few direct references to the Gene we know. He does not pack a guitar on his saddle, and never breaks into song. He does not serenade a senorita. What he does do is pack a collection of credentials for such part-time lawdog jobs as ex-officio Texas Ranger and deputy U.S. Marshal. And of course he rides Champion, the "World's Wonder Horse," who is almost as famous as Gene himself.

A few of the book's many interior illos:

Links to more cool Forgotten Books, as usual, at Patti Abbott's pattinase.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Talkin' Zoo Mysteries with Ann Littlewood, Part 2

ME: Your first novel, Night Kill, was published in 2008, receiving many complimentary reviews. Which reviews surprised you the most – and which comments?

ANN: Maybe I’m just insecure, but every review of Night Kill surprised me. It was my first novel, after all, and I had no idea what to expect. That it was reviewed at all was astounding! Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Foreword—it was all new to me. Most reviewers were interested in the zoo background and only a few mentioned that it slowed the plot, a concern of mine. Caryn St. Clair, who volunteers at the St. Louis Zoo, wrote a very generous review which I appreciated because of her background.

I learned that many mystery reviewers aren’t paid, they write reviews for the fun of it or the name recognition, and that they sometimes post the review to multiple online sites, bless their hearts. The Night Kill reviews were so positive that it encouraged me tremendously.

I was astounded when I sent a copy to Dr. Laurence Marschall, who reviews for Natural History magazine. He included Night Kill in their “summer reading” issue, July-August 2009. I about fell over. I was also delighted by a review this year, almost two years after Night Kill came out, by Carolyn Schultz-Rathbun in the Vancouver Voice.

As for reviews in general, I was surprised that some reviewers restricted themselves to a brief plot summary without much evaluation. A few included “spoilers”. An author tries hard to set up surprises and tricky plot twists, and it’s no fair when a reviewer gives them away in advance! That said, any review is a good review. I think...

I’ve had a few reviews of Did Not Survive, nice ones, but I’m almost as nervous waiting for more as I was with Night Kill. Guess I’m a slow learner.

ME: I see that Night Kill, previously available only in hardcover, has just been issued in paperback, and that Poisoned Pen is issuing the new simultaneously in both hard and paper. It looks to me like Poisoned Pen is a pretty savvy publisher. Have you enjoyed working with them?

ANN: Poisoned Pen Press publishes well. They provide good editing and high quality covers. Their books get reviewed and some of them win awards. It’s a medium-sized outfit that can adjust to changes and launch experiments more rapidly than a giant press. I’m delighted that they are now bringing out new books in both hardcover and trade paperback, as with Did Not Survive, instead of waiting the traditional year to issue the paperback. The hardcovers get the reviews, and the trade paperbacks are easier to sell. Some bookstores won’t carry hardcover mysteries at all. And we have this-here recession going on—the lower price for the paperbacks should help. They put their books up on Kindle, they hosted a web-based mystery conference, they are always looking for new ways to sell books. I like working with them and they’ve won all kinds of awards from a grateful mystery community.

ME: On your website you cite Ursula Le Guin as your favorite writer. Do you have a favorite Le Guin book?  Is there one you can point to as an influence on your writing style or on the character of your protagonist Iris?

ANN: Le Guin writes in a fine literary style that I can’t hope to emulate. What I take from her writing is more along the lines of courage. She writes about anarchism and capitalism in The Dispossessed, about gender in Left Hand of Darkness, and about families in Sea Road. Within my mysteries, I write about about how people interact with animals in various situations. Le Guin helps me find my courage to engage in controversies about zoos and about the environment.

 I’m afraid my writing style probably owes more to my career in technical writing—be clear and succinct, don’t fool around. I practice “fooling around” in short stories, but my “zoo-dunnit” protagonist, Iris Oakley, is a concrete thinker, not given to subtlety of thought or feeling. But she’s young and changing, so I think she and I will grow together.

ME: We all know you're a former zookeeper, just like your heroine Iris. Knowing you both, I see a lot of similarities. How do you respond to that charge?

ANN: Iris is the daughter I never had. Sort of. She’s bigger and stronger than I ever was. (I weighed 110 pounds until I got pregnant.) She’s an only child with a hovering mother and she didn’t do well in school—she dropped out of college. See? Not much like me. My mother didn’t hover and I plowed through college in neat, straight furrows.

Iris also hasn’t developed a strong social skill set. As for me… well, maybe we do have that in common. Anyway, when she’s confused or frustrated, she defaults to anger, which is something I had to unlearn myself. And she has tunnel vision—she’s very focused on her job and a small set of friends.

That was Iris in Night Kill, but she’s not static. In Did Not Survive, she works to put her grief over the death of her husband finally to rest. She faces up to life as a single mother with a full time job. She sees how to make her house a home and expands her friendships. Iris has issues with authority and that hasn’t changed! She doesn’t realize her boss’s good qualities until he’s gone.

It’s interesting writing from first person when Iris interprets people differently from how I do. I hope readers clue into her as a somewhat unreliable narrator! For example, in Did Not Survive, Iris never likes or sympathizes with Thor, the animal welfare activist. She feels too threatened by his advocacy of elephant sanctuaries. I hope readers appreciate him more than she does. The same with anyone in authority—she’s suspicious and a little hostile, sometimes a lot hostile.

It will be interesting to watch as Iris splits her focus between her child and her job and keeps on growing. I’m eager to see how she evolves!

ME: Me too! 

To read Ann's short story "Death in a Cabana," or listen to "The Apprentice Assassin" (both NON-Zoo stories) as a podcast, click HERE.

And be sure to check out Ann's website, and her blog

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Talkin' Zoo Mysteries with Ann Littlewood, Part 1

ME: Your second mystery novel, Did Not Survive, is about to be released. Now that you're a seasoned pro, how does the experience differ from the release of your first book?

ANN: What’s different is that now I know not to be surprised by how tense I get! Publishing a mystery, for me, is a bit like stepping out on the front porch naked. What will people say? What was I thinking? Uh-oh, too late now…

I went through a big ol’ anxiety attack when Night Kill, the first in the series, came out. But the reviews were generous, my friends were delighted, and I enjoyed the readings and conferences. I expect that by the seventh or eighth book I publish, I’ll glue a ruby in my navel and prance out onto that porch without a care. Figuratively, that is.

ME: What sort of promo events do you have lined up?

ANN: I’m getting a GPS unit and headin’ out! The best opportunities for mystery authors who aren’t (yet) on the best-seller lists lie with the independent bookstores, especially the ones that specialize in mysteries. Right now, I’m signed up for these in Portland, Seattle, and Scottsdale. These stores are great places to appear, with wonderful staff and readers who are really into mysteries. Did Not Survive will launch at Murder by the Book in Portland, which has been SO GOOD to me.

In addition, I’m experimenting with book fairs in Vancouver, Washington, and in Lincoln City, Oregon. I’ll be at the downtown Portland Borders, my first try at the chain stores, so wish me luck. I’m signed up to read at one library now and looking for more, also hoping to sit down with book clubs. One event that is really fun is the Portland Audubon Wild Arts Festival each November, where I get to see a lot of friends. Environmentalists are the best! And I’ll be on a panel at the Bouchercon, the big mystery conference.

There’s really no end to it—have book, will travel! And then there’s online. Ads and Facebook and blogging and my website (wait till you see my cool trailer) and email and…

Ah, promotion… What’s the saying? Most of it is “motion.”

ME: With the new book, you've delved into the field of video promotion. How much help did you have, and do you have advice for other authors contemplating their own videos?

ANN: My son owed me one. Having a professional video editor owe you one is not a bad thing for an author with a book coming out. I sent him boatloads of elephant pictures  and a draft script, as well as a link to every book trailer I liked. He sent back questions and drafts. I learned about copyright-free photos and music available (for a price) online. There’s a lot out there!

The music turns out to be crucial—it drives the timing of the shots and even the number of shots. It was really hard to choose the tune and I finally gave up and made Daniel do it. He’s steeped in all manner of music and made a much better choice than I ever could.

Every new version was subjected to the opinions of friends, writers (such as yourself, Evan!), family, and random strangers, which actually helped lots.

So I didn’t make my own trailer—I was an engaged customer, as I like to think of it. A nit-picky flibbertigibbet who had no idea what she wanted might be another take on it, but we won’t go there.

I developed my own website,  but I know nada about video and wasn’t up to tackling it. Maybe next time, if I can’t rope Daniel into it.  Either way, I need to visit more zoos and  shoot more pictures. That’s what I’ll tell the IRS about my travel expenses.

Tomorrow: More talkin' with Ann
Last Sunday, Monday & Tuesday: We had zoo photos and reviews of Night Kill and Did Not Survive. To see the whole series, click HERE.

ME again. Here's a tip: Ann is offering up two short mysteries for FREE on her website. You can read "Death in a Cabana" in a PDF file, or listen to "The Apprentice Assassin" as a podcast. Click HERE.

Still more to satisfy your Zoo Mystery Mania: Ann's website, and her blog

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood

When Iris Oakley finds her boss, Director of the Finley Zoo, damn near dead in the elephant cage, the most likely culprit is her good friend Damrey - who just happens to be an elephant. The police are convinced Damrey did it, as are some of Iris’s fellow employees. But Iris - the only the witness to the event - isn’t sure.  Even if the boss survives, which seems unlikely, the consequences for Damrey will be dire.

Complicating matters are a mob of animal rights protestors, a pair of feuding elephant handlers and a spate of disappearing animals. Meanwhile, Iris has problems of her own. She’s pregnant, and has not yet recovered, personally or professionally, to the murder of her husband in the first book, Night Kill (Yep, you’ll want to read that too). But, being Iris, she can’t leave trouble alone, and is determine to learn the truth - even at the risk of her own life.

Sounds good, eh? But wait, the best is yet to come. Relating this tale is none other than Ann Littlewood, one-time zookeeper and a writer of great wit and grace. Pick up Did Not Survive - or better yet Night Kill AND Did Not Survive - and prepare to be entertained, educated and amused all at once. That’s what happened to me.

Sunday: A few of Ann's zoo photos
Yesterday: A review of Night Kill
Tomorrow & Thursday: Ann tells all (or at least some)!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: Night Kill by Ann Littlewood

Yeah, I know this is a mystery novel, and therefore a work of fiction. But it reads like the story of a real woman, with a real gone-south relationship, a real career and real problems. And into that real life comes the biggest problem she's ever faced - her husband Rick is found dead, mauled by lions, in what appears to be an act of drunken negligence.

Contrary to what you'd expect of your average fictional heroine, Iris Oakley does not dash off half-cocked, determined to prove Rick was murdered. Instead, real person that she is, she grieves, tries to cope and struggles to bring her life back into balance. Left alone, Iris would likely have accomplished just that. But harder times keep coming her way, and a series of near fatal accidents forces her to re-examine her assumptions about Rick, their life together, and his untimely demise. Step by step, she comes to the conclusion his death was no accident, and it's up to her to do something about it.

One thing that makes Iris so real is her job. She's a zookeeper who lives and breathes the care of exotic animals. She knows their wants, needs and quirky personalities as well as she knows those of her parents, friends and co-workers. This gives her rare and often comical insight into the human condition (as seen in animal terms), and into the animal condition (as seen in human terms). Mixed with the inner workings and day-to-day procedures of the zoo, Iris Oakley's unique perspective on life provides a consistently thoughtful and entertaining backdrop to the story.

Night Kill is something truly different in the world of mysteries, and it's only the first in what I hope is a long-running series.

Breaking News: Night Kill has just been issued for the first time in paperback, and is now available for Kindle too. 

 Ann on the promo trail with an ardent admirer.

Tomorrow: Second in the series, the brand new Did Not Survive
Wednesday & Thursday: An exclusive interview with Ann.

Zoo Mysteries Week on the Almanack

Portland author Ann Littlewood is now celebrating the release of her second Zoo Mystery, Did Not Survive, from Poisoned Pen Press, and to join in the festivities, we'll be devoting the next few days to her work. Ann is a former zookeeper, and her interest in animals has never waned. Here are a few photos she's taken (and had taken of her) in her travels. You'll find many more on her website,, and on her BLOG.

Tomorrow: A review of her first novel, Night Kill
Tuesday: A review of the brand new Did Not Survive
Wednesday & Thursday: A visit with Ann herself

Friday, July 23, 2010

Forgotten Books: Seven Slayers by Paul Cain

Only one novel and 14 short stories appeared under the pen name Paul Cain, but that novel was Fast One, and 7 of those stories were collected in paperback Seven Slayers, cementing Cain's reputation as one of the hardest of hardboiled writers.

I re-read and reviewed Fast One not long ago (click HERE), and have since located five of the stories not selected for Seven Slayers, so my next step was obvious. Have another go at Seven Slayers itself.

And once again, it was a pleasure. None of these stories seem quite as hard as Fast One, but all are tight, fast, edgy and take you in unexpected directions. Cain’s prose has wit, style and a certain savage grace that leaves you wanting more.

Two of these tales are in first person, which I found especially interesting. A first-person story creates at least the illusion of a more direct insight into the mind of the author. Even when the writer is taking on a personally wholly unlike his own, I believe (or maybe choose to believe) that some aspect of real personality seeps through. Third person, especially the ultra-tough third person narration employed in Fast One, creates a mask that is far more difficult to penetrate.

One of the most intriguing characters in the book appears in “Pigeon Blood,” a title derived from a set of rubies supposedly worth 175 grand in 1933. Our protagonist here is Druse, an ex-lawyer now free to employ his lawyerly skills without restraint. He keeps a luxury apartment in Upper Manhattan and professes to have one of the world’s finest collections of books on Satanism, demonology and witchcraft. It’s a shame Cain didn’t give us more stories about this guy, because he sure had potential.

Actually, Cain had only one series character, an underworld mercenary named Black, and he made only two appearances. The first, called simply “Black,” is in this collection. For the other, “Trouble-Chaser,” you’ll have to dig up the 1995 book Hard Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories.

Seven Slayers is now readily available, both under the original title and in an omnibus edition including Fast One. But five of Cain’s stories have never been reprinted. As I’ve mentioned before (most recently right HERE), I have three of those in the original magazines and am happy to share them with readers of the Almanack. If you’d like scans of the stories “Dutch Treat,” “Chinaman’s Chance” and “555,” email me at and I’ll shoot them back to you.

I’m still hunting scans of the other two: “Hunch” from Black Mask 3/34 and “Death Song” from Black Mask 1/36. If anyone has them, please send them my way!

See the vast array of other Forgotten Books awaiting your perusal at pattinase.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's a Contest! Win a Pulp!

Would you like to own this issue of Wild West Weekly? I know I would. Well, this Saturday, July 24, Laurie Powers will be giving it away to one lucky reader of the all-new Pulp Writer web site. So - if you want a chance to win, you have to pop over there and enter no later than Friday, July 23.

The recommended* way to enter is to download a copy of the never-before-published Paul S. Powers (aka Ward M. Stevens) story "Murder on the Hoof" for the bargain price of $1.99. (The other way, otherwise known as the no-purchase-necessary method, is detailed on the web site but is far less cool, because it does not include "Murder on the Hoof.")

Click HERE to visit right away!

Not yet acquainted with Paul S. Powers? Check out the Almanack's reviews of three of his books:
Pulp Writer, Twenty Years in the American Grub Street
Kid Wolf of Texas
Doc Dillahay (aka Six-Gun Doctor)

*recommended by me

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Visit with Jake the Alligator Man

We're just back from a weekend in Long Beach, WA, where I paid my usual respects to the town's most famous resident, Jake the Alligator Man. You regular readers of Weekly World News may recall his amazing adventures, recounting how Jake was found in the Florida Everglades, killed a Miami man and fathered an alligator baby (if not, click HERE).

Jake now has his own line of sportswear (click HERE) and his own fan club (if you join he'll send you a free Jake penny and a postcard).

We've personally spotted his stylish bumper-stickers as far away as Louisiana. But despite his fame, Jake is an alligator man of few words.  When I asked why he was wearing a Santy Claus hat in July he answered with only a grin.