Saturday, October 30, 2010

DISCOUNT NOIR: Inside and Out

There's a lot of talk about this new eBook on the Internet - as you might expect considering that almost all of the 42 contributors are bloggers - but there are two things I've yet to see: A) A list of the stories, and B) the back cover. So here they are.

But first, a commercial. As you may have noticed elsewhere on this page, Untreed Reads is currently offering 25% off on Discount Noir - a special price of $4.49 - but only through tomorrow! To buy now, click HERE.

Now, about the stories. Most of them (including mine) appeared on various blogs last November as part of a flash fiction challenge. I read them all that day, and they were all great. Well, the book is even better, because it contains fourteen new tales written especially for this collection. Near as I can tell, the all-new stories are those by Sophie Littlefield, Ed Gorman, Laura Benedict, Bill Crider, Toni McGee Causey, Jeff Vande Zande, James Reasoner, Kyle Minor, Sandra Scoppettone, Donna Moore, Dave Zeltserman, Anne Fraiser, Chris Grabenstein and J.T. Ellison.

Here's the whole list:
What Was Heavy? by Sophie Littlefield
One in the Big Box by Kieran Shea
The Black Friday of Daniel Maddox by Chad Eagleton
The Holiday Spirit by Ed Gorman
Acceptance by Cormac Brown
Aubergine by Fleur Bradley
Concrete Jungle by Alan Griffiths
Loss by Patricia Abbott
Tenderloin by Laura Benedict
Freak Shift by Garnett Elliott
Inside Man by Eric Beetner
The Bayou Beast: A Requiem by Jack Bates
Their Fancies Lightly Turned . . . by Bill Crider
Thirty-One Hundred by Loren Eaton
WWGD? by John DuMond
Part-Time by John McFetridge
Cold Feet by Toni McGee Causey
A Fish Called Lazarus by Jeff Vande Zande
House Names by James Reasoner
A New Game by Kyle Minor
Getting Messed Up by Randy Rohn
Discount Primrose by Todd Mason
Super People of Megamart by Bryon Quertermous
Heinie Man by Sandra Scoppettone
In and Out by Stephen D. Rogers
Code Adam by Steve Weddle
Skyler Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit by Evan Lewis
Black Friday by Daniel B. O’Shea
The Gimmick by Sandra Seamans
The Hideous Lime Green Truth by Albert Tucher
Mondays and Thursdays by Donna Moore
Friday Night and the Tijuana Wolfman by John Weagly
Pink Tidal Wave by Keith Rawson
Need a Hand? by Gerald So
Hope You’re Having Yourself an Especially Grand Time by Dave Zeltserman
Megamartyres by Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen
The Tin Foil Heist by Jay Stringer
Crack House by Anne Fraiser
Secret Identity by Kathleen A. Ryan
A Place Marked Malmart by Eric Peterson
For One Night Only by Chris Grabenstein
Have You Seen Me? by J.T. Ellison

And now, the never-before seen BACK COVER of Discount Noir!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


In case you’re not familiar with this particular bit of weird history . . .

Back in 1917 two girls in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley took two photographs that rocked Arthur Conan Doyle’s world. Doyle was deep into spiritualism at the time, and had had been gathering information for an article to support his belief in the existence of fairies. 

Imagine his delight, then, to receive what he considered concrete evidence that he was right. The photos (shown below so that you too may be astounded), depicted one of the girls posing with a group of dancing fairies, and the other shaking hands with a gnome.

Doyle began a lengthy correspondence with the man who had sent him the pictures, a Theosophist named E. L. Gardner. Gardner did most of the on-site investigating of the girls, their family, the photos and the site where they were taken. Strangely, there is no indication Doyle ever attempted to meet the girls or visit the site himself.

In any case, Doyle presented the first two photos to the world with an article in The Strand magazine. Not long after, the girls were given a new camera and asked to take more pictures. They did, producing three more. 

Along with the Strand article, the five photos formed the basis of The Coming of the Fairies.  Doyle then added correspondence, arguments for and against the authenticity of the photos, other accounts of close encounters with nymphs, brownies, goblins, elves, gnomes and fairies, plus a good deal of pseudo-scientific nonsense speculating on the how and why of their existence. First published in 1922, the book was largely forgotten and remained out of print until rediscovered in 1997.

That Doyle truly believed such stuff is pretty clear. He’s convinced the photos and other evidence demonstrate that… “this new order of life is really established and has to be taken into serious account, just as the pygmies of Central Africa.”

One of the best lines in the book actually belongs to a skeptic. He's quoted as saying . . . “knowing children, and knowing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has legs, I decide that the [girls] have pulled one of them.”

What is not included in the book is what happened long after. In the 1980s, the girls finally admitted they had faked the first four pictures, using cardboard cutouts traced from childrens books. One girl, however, still insisted the fifth photo, supposedly depicting a fairy bower, was genuine. You be the judge.

Here are the photos in the order they were taken. Captions are those used in the book.






For links to many more (and hopefully less strange) Forgotten Books, visit Patti Abbott's pattinase.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Forgotten Music: Big Joe Turner

Here's one of the real Daddies of Rock and Roll. Big Joe Turner was a 1930s bluesman who led the charge into R&B in the 40s and rolled out some of the first Rock recordings in the 50s. Among his big hits were "Honey Hush" in 1953, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (prior to the cover version by Bill Haley & His Comets)  in 1954 and "Flip, Flop and Fly" in 1955.

The sound quality in these YouTube videos is sometimes poor, but they should get you in the groove. His stuff sounds much better on CD. I like the very expensive 3-disc box set Big, Bad & Blue, but the 21-track Greatest Hits collection shown here is a fine substitute.

Jump for Joy

Flip, Flop and Fly

Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954)

Boogie Woogie Country Girl

Shake, Rattle and Roll (1966)

Jump over to Scott Parker's blog for more of the Forgotten Music in this week's virtual jukebox.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

La Ronde Part 4: Enter the Fat Lady by Sandra Seamans

Patti Abbott's round robin Flash Fiction Challenge rolls on with "Enter the Fat Lady," a fine installment by Sandra Seamans. It's playing right now over at My Little Corner. The plot of this story is, well, thickening, and if you haven't been following it, this is a great time to start.

Links to the story so far . . .
Part 1: The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Patti Abbott
Part 2: Blinded by the Brilliance of his Own Reflection by Dana King
Part 3: Provocateur by K.A. Laity
Part 4: Enter the Fat Lady by Sandra Seamans

Next week, Part 5 by Rob Kitchin. Then it'll be my turn. I'm already nervous.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Skyler Hobbs and the NaNoWriMo Monster

That's right gang, it's dang near NaNoWriMo time again, and I'm joining in. This time I'm going to do what I should have done last year - write a Skyler Hobbs novel. I spent last week hatching a plot, and this week I'll be hammering it into a 4-act outline. On November 1 I start pounding the keys.

Questions about National Novel Writing Month? Visit the official NaNoWriMo website HERE. The official goal, you may recall, is to turn out a 50,000 word manuscript at the end of the month. I'm doing it a little different this year. I figure the Skyler Hobbs saga should run about 80,0000 words, so I'll be shooting to bang out 60,000 during November, then spend another week or two pushing through to the end.

Anyone else planning to play?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Best Picture of 1932: Grand Hotel

Since getting a reasonably big screen TV last year, watching old movies has been more fun. So  I got the idea I’d like to catch up with some old classics I’d never seen. I consulted a list of Best Picture award winners, and the first I managed to get from the library was this baby, Grand Hotel.

Until now, my nearest brush with this film was the notion that it (or the Vicky Baum novel it was based on) was more or less the inspiration for Frederick Nebel’s 1934 novel Sleepers East.

The film was promoted as having the greatest all-star cast ever assembled, and I have no reason to doubt it. These are some giants in Hollywood history.  But I was surprised to realize I knew some of them in name (and image) only. I’d rarely, if ever, seen them act.

One of those is Greta Garbo. It was pretty cool to see her deliver her signature line, “I vant to be alone,” but was hard to judge her acting chops, because this role, as a prima ballerina, called for extreme overacting.

Then there’s John Barrymore. I was familiar with his name mainly from an early silent film called Sherlock Holmes, which I've never seen. He was the romantic lead here, and one of the more compelling characters. 

Lionel Barrymore, even more of a legend, played a mousy and pitiable guy with an incurable disease. We’re supposed to like him a lot, I suspect, but I found him too pitiful.

One of my favorites was Joan Crawford, who I'd never seen this young. Based solely on this film, I’d call her a better actress - with more screen presence - than Garbo.

Though the ending was downbeat, the filmmaking was crisp and confident, and the multiple storylines kept things hopping. It’s not hard to see why the Academy vote this the Best Picture of 1932.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Virgin Kills by Raoul Whitfield

Sorry, this book is not about what you think. There's no serial killer running around executing virgins. And there is no blood-crazed virgin on a murder spree.

Virgin, you see, is the name of a millionaire’s yacht, and that’s where most of the action (and some of the killing) takes place. Still, it's a great read, with a nice mix of character types: Among the millionaire gambler’s guests are a movie starlet, a novelist, a famous flier, a sports writer and assorted society folk. Of most interest to the reader are the narrator - a newspaper reporter - and a thug he brings along to act as the gambler’s bodyguard.

The whole wacky lot of them have gathered aboard Virgin to cruise up the Hudson for an up close and personal view of the Poughkeepsie Regatta. Trouble is, the gambler is convinced someone is out to kill him, and the idea seems to be catching, as others get bumped off along the way.

The cast gives Whitfield a chance to display his wit, playing the hardboiled thug off against the Hollywood and society folks, and the story is entertaining from start to finish. As you might expect, there are a number of jokes about the ship’s name, but they’re all nicely handled.

The Virgin Kills (1932) is a rarity among Whitfield’s books, because unlike Green Ice, Death in a Bowl and two other novels published under his Temple Field pen name, it did not make its first appearance as a serial in Black Mask. Near as I can tell, this one was written directly for hardcover. One thing it does have in common with Whitfield’s other books is that several characters often use the word “humans” when most folks would simply say “people.” I can’t recall another writer doing this.

The novel has been reprinted three times. First by Grosset & Dunlap (I know this because my first edition has a G&D dust jacket), then in 1988 by No Exit Press and in 2004 by So while The Virgin Kills may be a forgotten book, it’s not hard to come by.

Links to more reviews in this week's Forgotten Books Regatta will be found at pattinase.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What? A Purple Brassiere??

Whoa! What's THAT doing here?

I'm not telling. To find out, you'll have to read Kate Laity's "Provocateur," which is Part 3 of Patti Abbott's La Ronde Flash Fiction Challenge. Do it now! (You know you want to.)

Links to the story so far (they should be read in order):
Part 1: The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Patti Abbott
Part 2: Blinded by the Brilliance of his Own Reflection by Dana King
Part 3: Provocateur by K.A. Laity

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BEAT to a PULP: Round One - The Flip Side

James O’Barr’s outstanding cover for this book has been appearing all over the Internet, so I thought I’d show you what’s on the back - and on the spine. And while I’m at it, a BIG picture of the front cover too (way below). What I couldn’t tell from looking at thumbnails is that the wraparound cover is designed to look like the frayed and torn dust jacket of an old hardback.

I knew this collection featured 27 stories from a variety of genres, but had seen no list of what’s what. So I figured as soon as my copy arrived I’d take a quick look and identify each story by genre. Well! That proved too tall an order.

Several of these tales, you see, seem to defy genre. So rather than risk applying erroneous tags, I’ll just attempt a general breakdown.

I’m pretty confident in saying there are three westerns and two pirate yarns. There appear to be two detective stories, three war stories and one I’d call science fiction. Then things get more iffy. Two might be called adventure. Two more seem to have elements of horror, and one just might border on fantasy. The rest - comprising roughly half of the 27 - seem to fall under the broad umbrella of crime/noir/thrillers.

Based on my quick squint, they all look great. It was mighty tough forcing myself to skim, because every time I read a first paragraph I wanted to keep going. It’ll be a joy to sit down and spend time with this baby.

My own contribution, I was both pleased and alarmed to discover, falls right between those of Ed Gorman and Paul S. Powers. While it’s an honor to be brushing elbows with those gents, it’s also intimidating. I suppose I can comfort myself with the thought that folks will be so pumped after reading Ed’s story they’ll want to race through mine in their haste to get to Paul’s.

I was also happy to see three of my fellow writers from A Fistful of Legends - Nik Morton, I.J. Parnham and Edward A. Grainger. And two fellow members of the western apa OWLHOOT, James Reasoner and Bill Crider (author of the Foreward).

Editors David Cranmer and Elaine Ash have done an amazing job here, and I’m hoping this series goes at least 11 more rounds.

1. Maker’s and Coke - Jake Hinkson
2. A Free Man - Charles Ardai
3. Fangataufa - Sophie Littlefield
4. You Don’t Get Three Mistakes - Scott D. Parker
5. Insatiable - Hilary Davidson
6. Boots on the Ground - Matthew Quinn Martin
7. Studio Dick - Garnett Elliott
8. Killing Kate - Ed Gorman
9. The Ghost Ship - Evan Lewis
10. The Strange Death of Ambrose Bierce - Paul S. Powers
11. Heliotrope - James Reasoner
12. The Wind Scorpion - Edward A. Grainger
13. Hard Bite - Anonymous-9
14. Crap is King - Robert J. Randisi
15. The All-Weather Phantom - Mike Sheeter
16. Pripet Marsh - Stephen D. Rogers
17. Ghostscapes - Patricia Abbott
18. Off Rock - Kieran Shea
19. At Long Last - Nolan Knight
20. A Native Problem - Chris F. Holm
21. Spend it Now, Pay Later - Nik Morton
22. Spot Marks the X - I.J. Parnham
23. Hoosier Daddy - Jedidiah Ayres
24. Anarchy Among Friends: A Love Story - Andy Henion
25. Cannulation - Glenn Gray
26. The Unreal Jesse James - Chap O’Keefe
27. Acting Out - Frank Bill
Bonus: A History of Pulp - Cullen Gallagher

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Lost Symbol (It's still lost.)

Yeah, I finally got around to reading The Lost Symbol. Like The Da Vinci Code, it grabbed me from page one, and it was almost impossible to put down. Once again I was impressed with Dan Brown’s technique of switching point of view between hero Robert Langdon and the villain of the piece to ratchet up suspense.

For almost five hundred pages, this book was an action and intellectual thrill ride. But then it wasn’t. The problem? A promise not kept. The big idea is that hidden somewhere in Washington D.C. is the secret to unlocking the Ancient Mysteries of mankind, a secret guarded by the Masons since the founding of our nation.

The good guys want the secret to remain hidden, while the bad guy wants to find it and destroy it so the Mysteries will be lost forever. But over the course of the book the good guys come to the conclusion that the time has finally come for this lost knowledge to be revealed.

Now, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. If these Mysteries were all they were cracked up to be, the knowledge would change the world (at least the world occupied by Robert Langdon) and Dan Brown’s future books would have to be set in an alternate reality. But I was led to expect that the secret, referred to in the title as a Lost Symbol and the text as a Lost Word, would at least be uncovered - if only to Langdon and his allies.

No such luck. In the end, they are certain they’ve discovered where this thing is hidden. But it happens to be in a place inaccessible by normal means. So that’s it. They’re sure the secret is there, but since they can't get at it they just walk away. Ho hum.

To atone for this letdown, Brown’s characters try to explain the basis of these Mysteries, but the attempt falls flat. In the final chapters, the book devolves into a mishmash of religious/scientific/metaphysical doubletalk, and instead of ending, the story just peters out.

Is a good book with a lousy ending still a good book? Tough call.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Infirmities, Crimes and Misfortunes: George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, Part 5

Yes, boys and girls, it's time for another lesson in courteous behavior from old Father George. I find this group to be mixed bag. While I certainly subscribe to Rules 21 and 25, and think 24 should apply to other people, 22 and 23 are going to be mighty tough. So much for my dreams of living in the White House.

21. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind of thereof.

22. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

23. When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but always show pity to the suffering offender.

24. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.

25. Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremonies are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Mysterious Wu Fang in The Case of the Six Coffins

Fu Manchu had many imitators. And why not? Who wouldn't want to be an all-powerful criminal mastermind with hordes of fearsome creatures and beautiful babes to do your bidding? One man with such a dream was the Mysterious Wu Fang, who accomplished something old Fu did not - he moved to the U.S. and got his own pulp magazine.

Wu's debut issue, published in September 1935, gave us the lowdown on "The Case of the Six Coffins."  The character was created by Harry Steeger, the Popular Publications mogul who is also credited with creating The Spider. The writing chores were turned over to Robert J. Hogan, best known as the chief scribe for G-8 and his Battle Aces. In 1975, Robert Weinberg reprinted the story in Pulp Classics #8 with a cover by fan artist Frank Hamilton. The reprint is in facsimile format, with all the great original illustrations.

For the Wu Fang series, the Denis Nayland Smith role falls to American intelligence agent Val Kildaire, and the narrator duties are handled by newspaper reported Jerry Hazard. Wu himself is virtually indistinguishable from Fu, even practicing his trade in Limehouse before circumstances require him to move his operations to the U.S..

Robert J. Hogan was a good choice for this mag. Wasting not a single word, he thrusts you right into the action and zips you through to end without giving you a chance to take a breath. I was reading the third book of Tros of Samothrace by Talbot Mundy when I picked this up, and the difference was dramatic. Mundy's prose has much more weight, requiring the use of several brain cells. By comparison, Hogan's stuff is so light I almost didn't have to read it. I just turned the pages and absorbed the story - almost like osmosis. While Mundy's work is ultimately more rewarding, and more satisfying, I found The Case of the Six Coffins to be a nice, mindless interlude. 

The Mysterious Wu Fang lasted seven issues, and I believe all seven have now been reprinted. One of those, The Case of the Suicide Tomb is available from Adventure House (for a measly three bucks!) in High Adventure #42. To see it, click HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page.

I found this pic of the original pulp cover on the amazing Galactic Central site.

Visit pattinase, the blog of The Mysterious Patti Abbott, for more of this week's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

La Ronde Flash Fiction Challenge: Part 2 by Dana King

"Blinded by the Brilliance of His Own Reflection" by Dana King, Part 2 of Patti Abbott's round-robin Flash Fiction Challenge, is now ready for reading at One Bite at a Time. Taking his cue from Patti's Part 1, Dana digs deep into the psyche of poet/professor Grady Disch and introduces the man he is envious of, audio book reader turned movie star, James Preston. The results are surprising, and entertaining as hell. Check it out!

Part 1: The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Patti Abbott
Part 2: Blinded by the Brilliance of his Own Reflection by Dana King

Next up: K.A. Laity, with many more scheduled. More writers welcome. Want to play?

The cool sketch above, called "Reflection" appeared on the site Objects and Pixels. Near as I can tell, the artist's name is Diong.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who's Who at Bouchercon

For the 28th consecutive year, I will fail to attend Bouchercon. I should be slapped. But three of my fellow critique groupers from right here in Portland will be in attendance, and honorary Oregonian Cap'n Bob Napier is making the trek, this year in the company of Mrs. Cap'n (the Envy of American Womanhood). So hey, I'll get several eyewitness reports. It'll be almost like being there.

If you happen to spot these characters, I suggest you break the ice by sneaking up and slipping whoopee cushions on their chairs. Or better yet, tell 'em you saw them on Davy Crockett's Almanack, and that I said they should buy you a drink (except for Bob, of course, who insists you must buy him the drink).

Ann Littlewood (parrot not included) will be autographing her two ZooMysteries from Poisoned Pen: Night Kill and Did Not Survive. She's also featured on a Thursday morning panel discussing unusual settings. Miss it at your peril. You'll find more about Ann HERE, and on her blog, Ann Littlewood Zoo Mysteries.

Doug Levin (he's the one with the glasses) has a tale called "The Docile Shark" in the December issue of EQMM, his second appearance in that magazine. His first mystery novel, which compares favorably to the work of Donald Westlake (when Westlake was pretending to be Richard Stark) will soon be in the hands of prospective publishers. Check him out at Levin at Large.

Angela Sanders writes for magazines about food and fashion, and is a regular columnist for the premiere blog of perfume fanciers, Now Smell This (I kid you not). She has one mystery novel in the can and another in progress. If you see a vintage designer dress at the con, she'll probably be wearing it.

Robert S. Napier has been haunting Bouchercons off and on (mostly on) since 1980. He'll be peddling autographed copies of his latest Five Star mystery, The Toyman Rides Again. I'd step lightly around this gent. He's usually packing heat, and can be quick on the trigger. His Internet home is The Cap'n's Blog.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Behind the BLACK MASK with Whitfield, Gardner, Torrey & Coxe

Ever wonder what Raoul Whitlfield, Erle Stanley Gardner, Roger Torrey and George Harmon Coxe were up to back in September 1934? Well, wonder no more, because here's the scoop from that month's issue of Black Mask. (My copy is coverless, so I borrowed the pic above from Galactic Central.)

(click to enlarge)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Famous Last Words

Victor Hugo: I see black light.

Emily Dickinson: I must go in, the fog is rising.

H. G. Wells: Go away, I’m all right.

James Joyce: Does nobody understand?

Dylan Thomas: I’ve had eighteen straight whiskies, I think that’s the record . . .

Eugene O’Neill: I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room - and God damn it - died in a hotel room.

Oscar Wilde: Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.

Image above borrowed from