Showing posts with label Raymond Chandler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Raymond Chandler. Show all posts

01 February 2016

The Last Camel Collapsed a Noon


by Susan Rogers Cooper

The last camel collapsed at noon.” This is the opening line of Ken Follett's THE KEY TO REBECCA, and it says a lot. You have a fairly good idea where you are, and you know that the people in this story are in some serious trouble.

Several years ago I was asked by Rice University to speak at their summer writer's workshop on the subject of hooks – those words that entice a reader to stay beyond the first line. And, I've discovered, that first line, paragraph, or page needs to be a dozy. Before I wrote my first mystery, I was told that if I wanted to write one, I'd better get a dead body in there pretty damn quick. So, the first line of my first Milt Kovak, THE MAN IN THE GREEN CHEVY, is: “Her body was found by her daughter-in-law.” See how I did that? “Body.” That means dead, right?

While I was preparing for my Rice workshop, I sat down on the bed and went through every mystery I had in my house. The bed didn't collapse, but it was touch and go there for a moment. I read the first lines and paragraphs of every book and found the ones that grabbed. And, strangely enough, they were differences enough for me to categorize them. Why not? I like to be neat.

Slap in the Face: Bill Crider's SHOTGUN SATURDAY NIGHT: “Sheriff Dan Rhodes knew it was going to be a bad day when Bert Ramsey brought in the arm and laid it on the desk.”

Goosebumps: William Bernardt's PRIMARY JUSTICE: “'Once again,' the man said, pulling the little girl along by the leash tied to his wrist and hers. 'Tell me your name.'”

Too Cool for School: Raymond Chandler's TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS: “Anna Halsey was about two hundred and forty pounds of middle-aged putty-faced woman in a black tailor-made suit. Her eyes were shiny black shoe buttons, her cheeks were as soft as suet and about the same color. She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like Napoleon's tomb and she was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as a rolled umbrella. She said, 'I need a man.'”

The Scenic Route: James Lee Burke's THE NEON RAIN: “The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary.”

I could go on. But let's sum up. What questions should a reader be asking at the end of the hook? My favorite, as a writer and a reader, is to get the response: “What the hell is going on here?” Always a good question – if the reader is hooked enough to care. Then there's this: Is this person, this character I've already decided I like, going to make it all the way through these three-hundred-odd pages?”

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is now part of the language. People who've never read Dickens use that line in everyday conversation. That's a hook.

22 December 2015

Have a Holly Jolly Crime Season


by Paul D. Marks

Since Christmas is a couple+ days off and New Years a week or so away, but as we’re in the middle of the holiday season, I thought I’d try to find some appropriate movies and books for the season. And though I wrote this over a week ago it seems that great minds think alike as Eve also did a post on holiday movies. Luckily there’s really not any crossover in our choices.

Mine are appropriate for people who are into crime for whatever demented reasons we are. So, much as I love Miracle on 34th Street, The Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and others—and by the way, that’s my way of getting these non-crime holiday movies that I like mentioned here—the focus here will be on holiday movies/books with a crime element. Though I will exclude horror and stick to mystery and thriller.

So, without further ado:

Movies:




Christmas Holiday – Deanna Durbin is a torch singer in a dive club. There’s violence and insanity. And Southern gents—nasty Southern gents. Prison breaks and Murder. And murder cover-ups. So I ask you, what the hell more do you want in a Christmas movie? Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham of all people. And directed by Robert Siodmak, one of noir’s iconic directors. Maugham and Siodmak, a match made in......Hollyweird.






Comfort & Joy – My wife’s favorite on this list. In fact, she made me add it at gunpoint. A 1984 Scottish movie about a radio DJ who gets stuck in the middle of a feud between rival ice cream trucks. The grisly carnage of melted ice cream on velour upholstery is not for the faint of heart.





Die Hard – There’s a Christmas party happening in the Nakatomi Building in LA (incidentally not too far from where I lived when the real building was going up and I could see its progress every day).  Everybody’s happy! Until some guy named Hans Gruber—you know he’s a bad guy with a name like that—spoils everybody’s fun, taking them all hostage. Luckily, there’s a barefoot Bruce Willis in the head ready to save the day. So Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow—of course, in LA when you say that you might not be talking about condensed water...



Die Hard 2 – “Another basement, another elevator...how can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” asks Bruce Willis’ John McClane in the first of 739 sequels to Die Hard. (Don’t get me wrong, I like ’em...except for that last horrid thing set in Russia, and maybe that’s the real crime here re: the Die Hard movies.) It’s Christmas Eve, Bruce is waiting for his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) at Dulles Airport in DC. Franco Nero arrives around the same time, a South American drug dealer being brought here to stand trial. But the bad guys have other plans for him. Not a creature was stirring, not even a louse, ’cause what they didn’t know was that John Mclane was in the house. So Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!




Holiday Affair – Robert Mitchum gets Janet Leigh fired from her job in a department store. Hilarity ensues. Maybe not really a crime story, but since Mitchum is the cause of Leigh’s losing her job, we’ll call that a crime and let it squeak by. Besides, who’s a bigger iconic noir actor than Mitchum—that’s enough to let it qualify.







Home Alone – Cuter than beans Macaulay Culkin gets left behind by his oblivious family when they go on vacation. Hey, that’s nasty stuff. And there’s burglars (hence crime) in the form of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. And if you’ve seen Goodfellas you know what a nasty SOB Pesci is. So we’re good here for a crime Christmas movie. And it’s directed by Chris Columbus and, if you listen to some people, you know that Mr. Columbus is the cause of all the problems in the New World. Crime, baby!





Ice Harvest – John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Quaid. From a book by Scott Phillips.  Christmas Eve. Wichita, Kansas. A mob lawyer, a pornographer and a mob boss (walk into a bar...). What the hell more do you want in a Christmas movie?






LA Confidential – Hey peeps, on the lowdown, who do you think of when you think of Christmas? Bethlehem? Hell no! Santa Claus, you nuts? James Ellroy of course. It’s Christmas time. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is beating up a wife abuser. The cops are having a Christmas party in the station. They decide to beat up some Mexicans. It’s Bloody Christmas. But keep it quiet, friends, off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush. So what is your valediction, boyo? Kevin Spacey’s is Rollo Tomasi. Mine is just Rolos.



Lady in the Lake – On Christmas Eve, Philip Marlowe wants to publish his mystery stories, but the publisher wants to hire him as a detective instead, can’t imagine why. But we here all know that’s just a way of saying go jump in the lake (and maybe you’ll find the lady in there), we’re not interested, like saying “we love it, but it’s just not right for us at this time” and “good luck with it elsewhere”. Robert Montgomery directs and stars as Philip Marlowe in this experimental (photography-wise) version of Chandler’s book. The subjective cinematography is interesting but wears after a while.





Lady On a Train – Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin again) is on a train heading for New York at Christmas. Reading a mystery book. She looks out the window to see a man in another window getting clomped on the head. But no one will believe her. Think Rear Window on steel wheels. And from there the plot thickens into a nice roux of murder and mystery with Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, Edward Everett Horton and Dan Duryea. It’s more fun than a barrell full of gunpowder. And anything with Dan Duryea is worth watching. And Deanna’s not too bad either.

Lethal Weapon – Mel Gibson beating up bad guys, doing his Three Stooges Routine, getting drunk and blessing out an LA Sheriff’s deputy with every expletive and racial slur he can think of in his drunken state—oh wait, that last bit was real life. But Lethal takes place during the Christmas season and even has a clip from the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol on a TV in the movie and some Christmas songs. Yup, it qualifies.



Remember the Night – Barbara Stanwyck. Fred MacMurray. Black and white photography. Crime. A 1940s flick. You’re thinking Double Indemnity, aren’t you? Nope! This flick came a few years before. Stanwyck is a shoplifter, arrested right before Christmas. MacMurray is the DA prosecuting her, but he feels sorry for her and takes her home to his family for the holidays. Fun ensues.







And last and maybe least Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – well, the crime here is that this movie exists at all. Though my wife does have fond memories of it from when she was a kid. Go figure kids’ tastes... If you like cheesy sleazy with terrific production values (is my nose growing?) this is the movie for you.






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And now for some favorite movies set during the holiday season, even if they don’t have crimes in them:

Can’t Buy Me Love (Well, it’s partially set during the holiday season and it’s my list so I can do what I want!)
Christmas Story, A
Christmas Carol, A, in its many forms
It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street – my personal fave, followed by the one below:
Shop Around the Corner 

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I’m sure I’ve left some of your faves out, so make your own damn list and check it twice.


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Novels:

I was going to try to pick out a handful of Christmas murder mysteries. But the list is long and I came across Janet Rudolph’s lists of holiday mysteries. She collected a more complete list than I ever could. So I thought instead of my compiling a few titles, I’d give links to Janet’s comprehensive lists:

2015 Christmas Mystery List/s:

A to D: http://www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-d.html
E to H: http://www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-e-h.html
I to N:  http://www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-i-n.html
O to R:  http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-o-r.html
S to Z: not yet available


2105 Hanukkah Mystery List:

http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/11/chanukah-crime-fictionhanukkah-mysteries.html


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And my wish list for Santa (’cause I'm pretty sure he reads this blog):


  1. A slot car racing set
  2. Bob Dylan to come out with Volume 2 of his Chronicles autobiography
  3. Mark Lewisohn to come out with Volume 2 of All These Years, his Beatles bio
  4. Rain for California
  5. An Edgar award
  6. Another Shamus award
  7. An Academy Award
  8. A trip to the Amazon
  9. A Macavity Award
  10. An Anthony Award
  11. The Croix de Guerre
  12. The Idi Amin Most Medals Award (take a look at his chest sometime)
  13. Rain for California
  14. My hair back in all its former glory (see pic)
  15. Vintage Marx playsets
  16. Rain for California
  17. A computer that doesn’t drive me nuts
  18. Every noir movie ever made to be available for streaming free
  19. And, of course, World peace, ’cause Miss America’s got nothin’ on me.
  20. And...Rain for California.




AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!



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And speaking of Christmas, how 'bout picking up a copy of Vortex, White Heat, LA Late @ Night or Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea – hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t invent commercialism at the holidays. Or signing up for my newsletter.



Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter 
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And check out my updated website www.PaulDMarks.com 


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19 October 2015

Good Books and Old Movies, Part II


by Susan Rogers Cooper

I mentioned last post that I was teaching classes on the mystery from novel to film, and listed the books and movies I'd be teaching.  Rob Lopresti had done a little research on my first author, John Buchan, creator of "The Thirty-Nine Steps," and sent me his blog on him, which was quite interesting.

Buchan was a Scot, which might have had something to do with his grand descriptions of the Scottish countryside in "The 39 Steps," and began his adult life with a brief legal career, which he gave up for his real passion -- writing.  On October 19, 1915, John Buchan's first novel, "The Thirty-nine Steps" was published and was an immediate hit, selling 25,000 copies by the end of the year.  It tells the story of Richard Hannay, a South African visiting London who gets caught up in an espionage ring.   Jason Worden argued that Buchan actually invented a new sub-genre: the story in which a civilian gets chased both by the bad guys, and by the police who think he is the bad guy.  That paranoia made it perfect for Alfred Hitchcock, who not only filmed "The Thirty-nine Steps," but used a similar plot in two other movies.  Buchan wrote many more novels, including four about the plucky Richard  Hannay.  During World War I, his penchant for writing came in handy as he wrote propaganda for the British government.  He also served as Governor General of Canada until his death in 1940.  As Rob said, not bad for a thriller writer.

Learning all this about John Buchan made me want to learn more about the other writers I was featuring in my class.  Although John Buchan was the least known (to me anyway) of the four, I decided to delve a little deeper into the others.  I knew before hand -- from general knowledge and reading Lillian Hellman's wonderful book "Pentimento" -- that Dashiel Hammett had worked as a detective for the Pinkerton agency, was an alcoholic, and had issues with rejection -- at least according to Ms. Hellman. Delving a little deeper, I learned that Samuel Dashiel Hammett worked for the Pinkertons from 1915 to 1922, quitting due to the Pinkertons penchant for strike breaking. Almost all of his books and short stories were written in the 1920s and '30s, due in part to his bad health and his interest in political activism. He joined The Civil Rights Congress (the CRC), a leftist organization, and soon became their president. The CRC came under scrutiny in the late 1940s, and Hammett was subpoenaed to appear before a judge to name a list of contributors to a defense fund set up by the CRC for people accused of communist sympathies. He refused, citing the fifth amendment, and was sent to federal prison. Only a few years later, in the early 1950s, he was blacklisted by the HUAC and was unable to work as a writer from that point until his death in 1961. Raymond Chandler wrote in The Simple Art of Murder, “Hammett was the ace performer... He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of, The Glass Key, is the record of a man's devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

And speaking of Raymond Chandler, one of my all time favorite writers, I was interested to learn that he didn't start writing until 1932 at the age of forty-four. A former oil company executive, he lost his job during the Great Depression and decided to take up writing. In a letter to his London publisher, Hamish Hamiton, Chandler explained why he began reading and eventually writing for pulp magazines: “Wandering up and down the Pacific Coast in an automobile I began to read pulp magazines, because they were cheap enough to throw away and because I never had at any time any taste for the kind of thing which is known as women's magazines. This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.”

In the introduction to Trouble Is My Business (1950), a collection of four of his short stories, Chandler wrote, “The emotional basis of the standard detective story was and had always been that murder will out and justice will be done. Its technical basis was the relative insignificance of everything except the final denouement. What led up to that was more or less passage work. The denouement would justify everything. The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story on the other hand was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one which made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing. We who tried to write it had the same point of view as the film makers. When I first went to Hollywood a very intelligent producer told me that you couldn't make a successful motion picture from a mystery story, because the whole point was a disclosure that took a few seconds of screen time while the audience was reaching for its hat. He was wrong, but only because he was thinking of the wrong kind of mystery.”

Chandler also described the struggle that the writers of pulp fiction had in following the formula demanded by the editors of the pulp magazines: “As I look back on my stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published. If the formula had been a little less rigid, more of the writing of that time might have survived. Some of us tried pretty hard to break out of the formula, but we usually got caught and sent back. To exceed the limits of a formula without destroying it is the dream of every magazine writer who is not a hopeless hack.” And in a radio discussion with Chandler, Ian Fleming said that Chandler offered "some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today".
After Chandler's wife died, he began drinking heavily and slid into a severe depression. He attempted suicide but called the police before the attempt to tell them he was going to do it. He died in 1959.

My final author of course needs no introduction to anyone – mystery buff or not. Agatha Christie is almost as well known as Santa Claus. She published sixty-six novels and fourteen short story collections. She was initially unsuccessful in getting published, but in 1920 “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” was published, introducing the world to Hercule Poirot. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Dame Agatha as the best selling author of all time.

Much has been made of her ten day disappearance after her husband asked for a divorce. A much maligned movie, “Agatha,” was made – with a large disclaimer at the beginning – with a fanciful explanation as to what occurred. It has never been made public what happened in that ten day period.
In 1930 Dame Agatha married archeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she met during an archaeological dig. Their marriage lasted until Christie's death in 1976.

05 October 2015

Good Books and Old Movies, Part I


by Susan Rogers Cooper

I've been honored over the past few years to be asked to teach classes at Austin's Lifetime Learning Institute. This is a wonderful organization for people 55+ to take classes in just about anything and for a very nominal fee. I've taught classes on writing the mystery a couple of times, which is always fun – especially when I'm able to dazzle my students with guest speakers like Jan Grape and Joan Hess.

This semester I'm teaching a class called: “The Mystery: From Novel to Film.” We read the book, we watch the movie. And we compare and contrast. Our first book was John Buchan's “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” and, of course, we watched the Hitchcock movie version. There were a lot of differences, the main being that in the book there were no women – in the movie there were plenty. I preferred the movie myself. As did a lot of the class.

Our second movie was the William Powell and Myrna Loy version of Dashiel Hammett's “The Thin Man.” After rereading the book, I noted that the alcohol consumption was even higher in the book than in the movie, and those people could drink!

Tomorrow we watch the 1974 version of Dame Agatha's “Murder on the Orient Express,” with Albert Finney as Hercule. I'm rereading the book now and have come full circle in my appreciation of Christie's talent. She was amazing. Even knowing the ending, I'm still fascinated with how she got there.

It's going to take two classes to watch all of that very long movie, but the next, and last, movie will star two of my favorite actors in the film version of a book by one of my favorite writers: the Bogart and Bacall version of Raymond Chandler's “The Big Sleep.”

Teaching this class has given me a chance to reread some classic mysteries and re-watch some wonderful old movies. I'm already thinking about next semester and what new treasures I can share.

Any suggestions?

14 September 2015

Put The Words In The Right Order


Jan Grapeby Jan Grape
    He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked between his enormous fingers. He was worth looking at. He wore a shaggy borsalino hat, a rough gray sports coat with white golf balls on it for buttons, a brown shirt, a yellow tie, pleated gray flannel slacks and alligator shoes with white explosions on the toes. From his outer breast pocket cascaded a show handkerchief of the same brilliant yellow as his tie. There were a couple of colored feathers tucked into the band of his hat, but he didn't really need them. Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

    His skin was pale and he needed a shave. He would always need a shave. He had curly black hair and heavy eyebrows that almost met over his thick nose. His ears were small and neat for a man of that size and his eyes had a shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have. He stood like a statue, and after a long time he smiled.
— excerpt from Raymond Chandler's second novel, Farewell My Lovely


Chandler - Farewell My Lovely
As I read this I couldn't help wondering, did Chandler actually see a huge man dressed this way? Or was it entirely from his imagination? Or a combination of real life and imagination? I always thought it a combination… surely he didn't see a real person, as huge as Moose Malloy dressed in this way, but after yesterday when I saw how a man was dressed exactly as he wanted to be. He obviously dresses like this routinely, as he seemed comfortable.

The man I saw was not big, standing probably five feet and eight inches, and from the rear looked somewhat slender until he turned around and I saw his beer belly. He was wearing a navy tank top tucked into a pair of overwashed faded blue denim farmer's overalls. The front part of the overalls had pockets for pen/pencils and I'm the sure what else the man deemed important might be stuffed inside. The overalls were rolled up to his calves, like he'd been river wading and on his feet were a pair of bright pink rubber flip'-flops. He had a silver toe ring on the second toe of his left foot and on the left ankle was a bright orange woven ankle bracelet and a wooden bead ankle bracelet. On his right ankle was another bracelet of woven material. On both wrists were bracelets, two on each side of beads and woven material.

On his head way grungy muddy-brown-rolled brim straw hat with a dark hat band. A couple of long feathers were stuck in back of the band which were knotted and had one green dice attached. Around his neck was an assortment of chains of silver or gold or woven material. He had a pair of sunglasses which he'd pushed down in order to look over them.

There's almost no way Chandler could imagine the way Moose Malloy looked or was dressed, however if you had perhaps seen some real person dressed or built this way, you could make up the rest. There's almost no way I could imagine the way the man I saw was dressed. You'd expect an editor to write you back saying this character is totally unbelievable. As I stood looking at him, I wanted to take his picture but dared not make someone angry. Yet I kept wondering, did he honestly think he looked good or okay? Maybe he was working on his Halloween costume? Had he been playing dress-up with some pre-school grandchildren and decided to make a quick trip to the store to buy something electronic for his mother? (NO, it wasn't Walmart although a picture of him would surely be voted into the Walmart you've got to be kidding, hallmark hall of fame.)

I'll admit that I love to people watch. It's great fum to sit someplace and see people and imagine them as characters in your next story or book. I've seen oddities many times. I've used a gesture I've seen someone make or the way they look. It does give you a chance to draw from those characteristics to make my characters look and act more realistic. I'm probably going to have a character looking like the man I saw eventually and I've decided he'll be an eccentric billionaire. But no one will suspect he's rich until he's dead.

Sometimes a story just writes itself, you just have to put the words in the right order.

08 September 2015

Noir and the Returning War Vet Sub-Genre


by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a film noir addict.

If I don’t get my fix of noir “I feel all dead inside. I'm backed up in a dark corner, and I don't know who's hitting me.”*

Fodder for another piece is why I’m so addicted to noir. For this piece I want to talk about a specific sub-genre of noir, the returning veteran. My latest book, Vortex (released 9/1), comes under this category.

The story originally went to a different publisher, a publisher of mystery-thriller novellas. somewhere_in_the_night_xlgUnfortunately they went belly up. But in talking with that first publisher, my pitch was to do a story—homage might be too strong a word, but yeah, let’s call it an homage—about a vet returning from the war in Afghanistan a la some of the classic film noir movies like Somewhere in the Night, The Blue Dahlia (written by Raymond Chandler), Ride the Pink Horse, and Act of Violence, etc., and books like David Goodis’ Down There, whose main character had been one of Merrill’s Marauders, or from later, Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone and James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, both inspired by the Viet Nam War.

Hey, even Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins is a returning World War II vet, who helped liberate the concentration camps.

47694-devil-in-a-blue-dress-0-150-0-225-cropMy favorite short story of any genre is Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home, about a disaffected WWI vet returning home and how he can no longer relate to anyone or anything. Close to that is Mayday by Fitzgerald. Both were written in the aftermath of World War I. Neither could be classified as noir, but they have a sort of hopeless noir sensibility.

When the vets in all of these stories come home it’s usually not all mom and apple pie.

There are arguments in some circles as to whether film noir is a post war movement or whether it was a result of (mostly) homefront conditions during the war. I think both sides are right, but ultimately I don’t think it matters. For me, the quintessential film noir is Double Indemnity, which came out on September 6, 1944, almost exactly 71 years ago from today. As the war still had a good year and half to go, this would preclude it from being a post-war movie.
But, of course, the Neff charac20_robert_stone_dog_soldierster (Huff in the book) is not a returning vet. Still, this film is (for me) the pinnacle of all noir movies and the jumping off point for the true noir cycle. Then, with the war ending, came a string of movies about returning vets, including those mentioned above. But not all were noir. The Best Years of Our Lives, Till the End of Time and others dealt with the difficult adjustments many vets faced on returning home in a non-noir way.

The war changed American society in a variety of ways. We lost our innocence as a country. Soldiers had seen things no one should have to see. Many came back cynical. Black soldiers came back wanting full rights for the country they had fought for. Women, Rosie the Riveters, weren’t so sure they wanted to be only housewives anymore.

And the Hells Angels motorcycle club (gang) was formed in Fontana, California (not far from LA, the noir capital of the world), in 1948 (just three years after the war) by disaffected World War II vets.

Many soldiers came back from the war who, if not physically wounded, were psychically wounded. Shell shock, combat fatigue, PTSD, “invisible” diseases but diseases that, nonetheless, tear at a man’s soul. Soldiers coming back from Korea were “forgotten,” those returning home from Viet Nam were often called “baby killers”. Those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are often depressed and alienated. One recent study says that roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day, more than any previous generation of war vets.

It’s from there that the creative process began and I started to create characters and situations in Vortex. Call it an updating of the returning war vet noir genre.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex is the story of Zach Tanner, a recently returned Afghan war vet, who finds more trouble here than there. In his words, he went to “hell and back and back to hell again,” upon returning home. But that latest hell is one of his own making. A quagmire of quicksand that he’s sinking deeply into and struggling hard to get out of. And that predicament is fueled by his own greed. He’s also bringing his girlfriend, Jess, down into the mire with him. They’re on the run, careening down Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, being chased by a flashy red Camaro, when Jess says to him:

“What’re you doing?” Jessie said, clutching the handhold.
“We have to get out of here.”
“Talk to them, Zach.”
“We can’t go back, Jess. Don’t you understand, they’ll kill us.”
“They’re your friends.”
“Yeah.” The first rule of war is know your enemy. And I knew mine, too well—or maybe not well enough.

They’re on the run—from Zach’s best friends, or should I say former best friends. And now it’s up to Zach to get himself and Jess out of trouble, while at the same time trying to make sense of a world that has changed radically for him. A world that he now perceives differently because of what he saw and did in the war.

Zach and Jess are part of a generation that’s grown up on unreal reality shows that give them a false expectation of what success is and how to achieve it. A generation that watched the Bling Ring climb to fame and success by breaking into celebrities’ homes and stealing from them. And though some got minor  punishments they also got movies made about them and a couple starred in their own “reality” shows. That’s the quick and easy way to the top of the American Dream that many of Zach’s friends feel entitled to. They fall out when Zach realizes that getting something for nothing isn’t meaningful and when he wants more meaning and purpose in his life now.

Unfortunately, that’s what Zach’s friends still want when he returns home, that quick ride to the top at any cost. But after recuperating for some time in a hospital with plenty of time to think it’s no longer what he wants. Still, he’s part of their plan and even though he wants out, like quicksand they pull him in and under and won’t let him escape.

But what is escape? Zach and Jess hide out down at the Salton Sea, in the desert near Palm Springs. A once promising resort community that’s now dilapidated and going to hell, the underbelly of the American Dream. Built to be a waterfront paradise, it’s now a wasteland of dead fish and dead end streets.

As Zach, the narrator says, “The American Dream crashed and burned right here at the Salton Sea.”
And that’s where Zach finds himself. Now he must extricate himself from a mess largely of his own making and find some kind of equilibrium in a changed world. Will he?

I hope Vortex does a decent job of carrying on the returning war vet sub-genre.  I think these two quotes from Robert Stone and Ernest Hemingway epitomize that genre, even if they’re not noir per se.

“At first Krebs...did not want to talk about the war at all.  Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it.” ―Ernest Hemingway, Soldier’s Home

“If you haven't fought for your life for something you want, you don't know what's life all about.” ―Robert Stone, Dog Soldiers

*Quoted from “The Dark Corner,” written by Jay Dratler, Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Leo Rosten, directed by Henry Hathaway


***
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19 March 2015

Beginnings


By Brian Thornton

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." 

                                                            - Fourteenth century English proverb










 "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."                                                                     

                                                                                       - Laozi, Tao Te Ching











"'The cat sat on the mat' is not the beginning of a story, but 'the cat sat on the dog’s mat' is."
                                                                                              - John LeCarre









Last week I had both the honor and the pleasure of attending Left Coast Crime just down I-5 in Portland, Oregon ("Crimelandia"). While I was there I crossed paths with many old friends, and made some new ones. Attended some panels. Moderated one on novellas.

Learned a lot.

Had some fun.

Experienced one of the luckiest days of my life (behind, of course, the day that my wife agreed to marry me and the one when my son was born). Cleaned up at poker (got cleaned OUT the next night) and won a signed, inscribed copy of Steven Saylor's latest book!

You know, like you do.

One guy I ran into at this year's LCC Vancouver native Sam Wiebe. We originally met at last year's Bouchercon, and I liked him, so I picked up a copy of his novel Last of the Independents.With this, his debut novel Sam has penned one of the truly unforgettable opening paragraphs in modern crime fiction. It is by turns profane (and potentially offensive) and uproariously funny, which in turn also renders it completely subversive.


If you're interested in reading it, take a look at the sample offered here. And then do yourself a favor and BUY HIS BOOK!


Talking with Sam and a host of other friends/authors in (would you believe it?) the event bar about favorite books and the ones that pack an opening gate wallop like Last of the Independents does got me to thinking about beginnings. Specifically, about openings, and about how a story opens.

With all of the current emphasis on pacing, plot, character and a whizz-bang ending, the need for a solid opening scene for today's attention-challenged literary audience sometimes gets short shrift. And while I can recall terrific ending lines from some of my favorite novels, ("And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." comes to mind.), I can recall a lot more great openers.

(Note that distinguished between "opener" and "opening line" here. More on that in a bit.)

Take this one, for example:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard
wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Most people who read and write crime fiction recognize that opener right away. It is, of course, from The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first novel, which introduces his famous private detective, Phillip Marlowe.

Chandler had a way with openers. Take this other one from his short story "Red Wind":

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Now that is what I call a "table-setter"!

Your opening paragraphs are your first, best and really, only chance to set the scene, establish character/tone/setting, and do it all quick, before your reader loses interest. Looking at The Big Sleep again, it's readily apparent that Chandler does all of this with two short paragraphs. The first one quoted above, in which he memorably establishes his protagonist's personality and voice, and in the next one, where he sets the scene:

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying.

And just like that your scene is set, complete with a stained-glass window that serves as a ready-made metaphor for the book's action that is obvious, without hitting you over the head.

So good it's been imitated a million times since, up to and past the point of parody.

How about you? Feel free to scroll down to the comments section and use it weigh in with your favorite opening lines/paragraphs/scenes, and what makes the special for you!

24 February 2015

Adventures in La La Land


Introducing Paul D. Marks:

Today I have the honor of introducing our newest SleuthSayer.  Usually when there is an opening Leigh and I join forces to come up with suitable candidates.  This time it so happened we each came up with the same name: Paul D. Marks.  And to our delight, he said yes.

I had met him in November when we served on a panel on Bouchercon.  He was funny, thoughtful, generous, and he cleans up nice.

So, who is this dude?  Only a Shamus-Award winner for the novel White Heat, which received praise from Publisher's Weekly and made some best of the year lists.  It was set in southern California, as is, not surprisingly, Paul D. Marks.

Paul has had more than thirty stories published, including "Howling at the Moon," in EQMM last year.  He has been published and praised in literary journals as well.  You can find several of his stories in his collection  L.A. Late @ Night.

According to Steven Bingen, author of MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, Paul also has the distinction, dubious though it might be, of having been the last person to shoot on the fabled MGM backlot before it bit the dust to make way for housing.

You can read more about him at PaulDMarks.com  Or right here every other Tuesday.  Over to you, Paul!

Rob
***
Adventures in La La Land

by Paul D. Marks

Thank you, Rob, for the great intro. And thanks for saying I “clean up nice.” My mom would be glad to hear that.

Before I get into my first post for Sleuth Sayers, I’d like to thank Velma Negotiable , oh, and Rob Lopresti and Leigh Lundin and the other Sleuth Sayers, for asking me to come aboard.

Since this is my first post, I thought I’d write about two things I know pretty well, Los Angeles and me. Sort of an introduction to my writing and me, my influences, especially my inspiration for setting. And since it is an intro it might be a little longer than a normal post...

I’m old enough to have grown up in Los Angeles when both Raymond Chandler’s L.A. and Chandler himself were still around. When I was a kid L.A. still resembled the city of Chandler's "mean streets," Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer and Cain's Double Indemnity. In fact, I grew up in a Spanish-style house very much like the one that Barbara Stanwyck lives in in the movie version of Double Indemnity.

L.A. was a film noir town for a film noir kid. And that certainly had an influence on me and my writing. And a lot of my writing involves L.A., not just as a location but almost as a character in its own right. Of course, we’re all influenced by our childhoods, where we grew up and the people we knew. And those things, whether conscious or unconscious, tend to bubble to the surface in our writing like the black pitch bubbling up from the La Brea tar pits.

* * *

Two things that Los Angeles means to me are movies and noir, oh, and palm trees, of course. Movie studios and backlots were everywhere in this city. You couldn’t help but see the studios, feel their presence and be influenced by “the movies” one way or another. Many of the studios and backlots are gone now, but almost everywhere you go in this city is a movie memory and often a noir memory. L.A. is Hollywood’s backlot and many films, including many noirs, were filmed throughout the city.

As a kid, a teenager and even a young adult, I experienced many of the places I read about in books and saw in the movies, once the movies got out of the backlot and onto those mean L.A. streets. Not as a tourist, but as part of my “backyard.”

So Los Angeles has insinuated itself into my writing. Here’s some examples of how it might have gotten there and how it reflects my view of the ironically named City of Angels.

Angels Flight
photo credit: Angels Flight via photopin (license)
Angels Flight is a funicular railway in downtown Los Angeles. Star of many films and many noirs, including Kiss Me, Deadly, Criss Cross and others. Chandler visits it in The High Window and The King in Yellow. As a young boy, my dad took me to the original Angels Flight (now moved down the road and since closed). And though I may not have known about noir films and hardboiled novels then, it was an experience I’ve always remembered. Such a cool little pair of trains going up and down that hill, the tracks splitting in the middle just as each car approaches the other and you think they’re going to smash into each other head on. Angels Flight slams back to me in memory every now and then and makes its way into my writing, most notably in the eponymous story Angels Flight, which I must say came out before Michael Connelly’s novel of the same name.

That story, about a cop whose time has come and gone, is still pretty relevant today. The world is changing and he’s having one hell of a time catching up, if he even wants to. He’s a dinosaur. And he knows that Angels Flight is an anachronism, just like he is. He says to the other main character:
  October_2,_1960_LOWER_STATION_-_NORTHEAST_ELEVATION_-_-Angels_Flight-,_Third_and_Hill_Streets,_Los_Angeles,_Los_Angeles_County,_CA_HABS_CAL,19-LOSAN,13-1
“Will Angels Flight bring back the glamour of the old days? Hollywood’s lost its tinsel. Venice’s lost its pier. And there are no angels in the City of Angels. What can Angels Flight do to bring that back?”

“Sometimes you need something for the soul,” the other person says.

I think that sums up a lot of my attitude not only toward Angels Flight but to the City of Angels as well. 

In Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust, Tod Hackett comes to L.A. thinking he’s an artist. And like so many others he gets trampled by that dream. Not much has changed all these decades later in my story Endless Vacation, when a young woman comes to Hollywood with big dreams and a bigger heroin habit. The narrator tries to help but he also knows:

Who the hell am I to talk? I came to L.A. looking for a Hollywood that died before I was born. A glamorous town of movie stars and studios and backlots. A studio system that nurtured talent, whatever you say about how it also might have stifled it with the other hand. A town that made movies in black and white but whose streets were, indeed, paved with gold. Yeah, I bought it – hook, line and clapboard.

Luis Valdez examines the Zoot Suit Riots that took place in L.A. during World War II in his play Zoot Suit. I remember my grandfather, who lived through that time, talking about “pachucos” when I was a kid. In my story Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne, set during the war, I take a stab at dealing with the racial tension of that era.

Hot jazz—swing music—boogied, bopped and jived. And Bobby Saxon was one of those who made it happen. Bobby banged the eighty-eights with the Booker “Boom-Boom” Taylor Orchestra in the Club Alabam down on Central Avenue. It was the heppest place for whites to come slumming and mix with the coloreds. That’s just the way it was in those days, Los Angeles in the 1940s during the war.

Venice Beach and boardwalk is the number one tourist destination in Los Angeles.Venice-CA-Canal-1921 People think it’s cool and flock to see the “freaks,” and maybe the nearby Venice Canals. Developer Abbott Kinney wanted to recreate Italy’s Venice in L.A., and he did, to some extent. But it didn’t quite work out. Many of the canals were drained and filled in, though some remain. They can be seen in several movies, too numerous to name. And, because they were another place I’d done time at, they pop up in my short story Santa Claus Blues, which opens with a bunch of kids playing along the canals and coming across a dead Santa floating in one of them.

Staring at the canal, Bobby thought about Abbott Kinney's dream for a high culture theme park, with concerts, theatre and lectures on various subjects. Kinney even imported Italian gondoliers to sing to visitors as they were propelled along the canals. When no one seemed to care about the highbrow culture he offered he switched gears and turned Venice into a popular amusement area. And finally the people came.

My grandparents always referred to MacArthur Park, on Wilshire Boulevard on the way to downtown, as Westlake Park, its original name. It was renamed for General Douglas MacArthur after World War II. But for my grandparents it was always Westlake. When I was a kid it was the place they took me to have a picnic and rent a boat and paddle around the lake. A nice outing. In the movies it’s the scene of a murder in one of my favorite obscure noirs, Too Late for Tears. By the time of my novel White Heat, set during the 1992 “Rodney King” riots, the nature of the park had changed from when I was a kid:

MacArthur Park is midway between Hancock Park, not a park, but an upper class neighborhood, and downtown L.A., a neighborhood in search of an identity. When I was a boy, my grandparents used to take me to the park. We’d rent rowboats and paddle through the lake, tossing bread crumbs to the birds. The park is a different place today. You can still rent paddle boats – if you want to paddle across the lake while talking to your dealer. Sometimes on Saturdays or Sundays immigrant families still try to use it as a park. Most of the time, it’s a haven for pushers, crack addicts, hookers and worse. Even the police don’t like treading there. If they were scared, who was I to play Rambo?

Even if someone’s never been to Los Angeles, most people know Sunset Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. Sunset begins or ends, depending on how you look at it, at Pacific Coast Highway on the west and continues to Union Station in downtown L.A., though recently the last part of the jog has been renamed. It goes from wealthy homes in Santa Monica and the West Side, into Beverly Hills, through the Strip in West Hollywood, where hippies back in the day and hipsters today hang out. Into Hollywood and on to downtown. It’s a microcosm of Los Angeles. Of course, both Union Station and Sunset have made multiple appearances in movies and novels and have made several appearances in my writing. Sunset was a major artery in my life as well as in the city. One time I walked almost the entire length of Sunset on a weekend day with my dad, ending up at Union Station. Later, I hung on the Strip. I drove it to the beach. I slammed through the road’s Dead Man’s Curve, made famous in the Jan and Dean song. Sunset appears in my stories Born Under a Bad Sign, Dead Man’s Curve, L.A. Late @ Night and more. In the latter, Sunset is as much of a character in the story as any of the human characters.

She'd only noticed the mansion. Not long after that, her parents had taken her to the beach. They had driven Sunset all the way from Chavez Ravine to the ocean. She had seen houses like the one in the movie. Houses she vowed she'd live in some day.

What she hadn't realized at the time was that there was a price to pay to be able to live in such a house. Sometimes that price was hanging from a tag that everyone can see. Sometimes it was hidden inside.

And who doesn’t know the famous—or infamous—Hollywood Sign? Something I sawHollywood_Sign almost every day as a kid, and which a friend of mine and I hiked up to many, many years ago, before it was all fenced in and touristy. In Free Fall, originally published in Gary Lovisi’s Hardboiled magazine, a man recently separated from the service, heads west, as far west as he can go until he comes to the terminus of Route 66 in Santa Monica, near the Santa Monica Pier. This is the end of the road for him in more ways than one.

I kept looking at the Hollywood Sign, wondering about all the people down below, pretending to be in its glow. Where do they go after L.A.? There is nowhere, the land ends and they just tumble into the arroyos and ravines, never to be heard from again.

So this is a sampling of my writing and my relationship to L.A., La La Land, the City of the Angels, the Big Orange. Could I have written about these places without experiencing them? Sure. We can’t experience everything we write about. But hopefully it has made my writing more authentic.
Maybe there are other cities less well traveled that would be ripe for exploration in movies and books. Maybe L.A. is overworked and overdone. But Los Angeles is part of me. Part of who I am. So it’s not only a recurring locale in my writing, it’s a recurring theme. And I’ve only just touched the surface here of Los Angeles, the city, its various landmarks and neighborhoods and my relationship to it.

So that’s part of what shaped me and makes me who I am. And some of my L.A. story. You can take the boy out of L.A., but you can’t take L.A. out of the boy. Oh, and here’s an L.A. story for you (a true one): I’m one of the few people who pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about. But that’s for another time.

20 January 2015

The Long White Cloud


by Raymond Chandler

You probably didn't expect to read an entry from me in this slot. I'm in New Zealand house-sitting for the kid (Stephen Ross); he's gone on vacation to work on his book. I suspect he's really gone on vacation to catch up on his reading; he's a prince among procrastinators, and there's a gap on the bookshelf where his collection of Perry Mason mysteries used to reside.

The kid asked me look after his house, feed his cat, and ghost write this blog entry. I have no interest in being a ghost, and blog is not a word to inspire confidence; it has a connotation best left to outhouses. I offered to write him a journal entry. He said, "Call it what you like, dude." The kid is under the misapprehension I am a cowboy.

There's no cash remuneration involved. He's left me with the run of his house, a full refrigerator, access to the Internet, WiFi, satellite television, and a Kindle. I'm not entirely sure what a Kindle is supposed to do, but it's convenient as a tray for my cup of coffee.

I may be of antique vintage, but I don't shy away from technology. I owned one of the first television sets in my building and on the block. The old woman in the neighboring apartment thought it was the work of the devil. She left bibles outside my door. The kid has a television set. It has the dimensions of a pool table and is about as thick as a paperback. For three days, I thought it was a room divider. I also invented Google, apparently.

So, what can I say? It's January and the weather is summer, which is strange to my Northern Hemisphere sensibilities. I'm sitting here at the kid's desk in a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of Bermuda shorts. My socks are English (they're plain and polite). The electric fan that's oscillating nearby came from Korea. The kid's desk was made in Canada, and he bought it in Germany. I suppose the carpet came from the Moon.
The kid's house is in Whangaparaoa; a peninsula that juts out like a finger, pointing across the Pacific at North America. I'm about 25 miles north of Auckland, which is the country's largest city (pop 1.3 million), and until 1865 the country's capital (until they relocated the government down to Wellington, at the request of Sir Peter Jackson). Do I like the Lord of The Rings and the Hobbit movies? No. I'd rather watch cloud formations.

New Zealand is located at the foot of the Pacific Ocean, and it's so damp, it may as well lie at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of 4.5 million and a climate that I would describe as peculiar, as in you'd walk on the other side of the street to avoid talking to it. I'm sitting here in the heat and humidity of the sub tropics and in winter you can go snow skiing.

New Zealand is so far south (by the way, only Australians are ever truly considered "downunder") that the southern city of Christchurch is the last gas station before Antarctica (Scott, Shackleton, and every scientist currently down there now has swung by at some point).

I can hear the cat scratching at the front door.

For the life of me, I don't know how to pronounce Whangaparaoa correctly, and any word that requires five "a"s to get about its task of being a word is plainly asking for trouble. According to Starchild, the waitress at the Pacific Bar (about a block from the kid's house), Whangaparaoa is a Maori word and it translates as "bay of whales". This may be correct, as I'm sure I heard the echoing sound of one in the distance yesterday morning.

They used to hunt whales in this country. A couple of hundred years ago, there were a handful of whaling stations dotted along the country's coastline, worked chiefly by British, Scots, Irish, Scandinavian, and North American whaling teams. These impromptu towns were the original "Hellholes of the Pacific"; cheap rum, prostitution, and absolutely no law whatsoever. Shoot a man dead and he'd lie in the street until someone downwind got fed up enough to move him.

According to Starchild, whales are now a protected species (it's a jail-able offence to kill one), and anyone who tries to hunt one down within 200 nautical miles of the New Zealand coastline will in turn be hunted down by the Royal New Zealand Navy (and their harpoons have fancier names... like torpedo).

I just went and fed the cat (it's the late afternoon). The cat didn't seem remotely interested in the bowl of colorful kitten nibbles I laid out for it. It had a quizzical look and held its paw up, as though it was requesting a menu, and it seemed miffed there was none. I have no idea if cats are a protected species in this country, but I do know that we human people should be a protected species from them.

The kid's cat is a feisty little furred creature that shifts the doormat each day, leaves fur balls on the pavement leading up to the door, and is considering a life of crime, as most cats are. You can tell by the eyes. Go look at your cat and it'll show you its innocent eyes; its ain't I as adorably cute as a button eyes. Slip a couple of drops of catnip into its milk and it'll lose that veneer. Then you'll see the other face: The 3 a.m. face, when it drops its guard and truly reveals how it feels. It's going to kill something: a mouse, an insect, a bird... maybe even you.

Cats are one of the few animals that kill for the hell of it. Humans are the other one. Most animals kill for survival or out of fear. A cat will dispatch a mouse with as little thought as Lucky Luciano. It'll even leave the body on your doorstep as a "present", which is its thinly veiled way of saying: "You could be next."

Charles Darwin was the first to observe it: Cats don't have opposable thumbs. That's why they can't open doors or load hand guns. If they had them, my name would be "Fluffy Chandler" and we human people would all be in the cat pampering business. Wait a minute...

It's now about 11 in the evening, and I'm sitting here with a glass of wine and am quietly contemplating names. The kid left me the key to his liquor cabinet, but the only thing in it was a half-drunk bottle of Le Chat Noir. My New Year resolution for 2015, by the way, was to quit drinking. This has become my traditional way of starting a new year.

Why is this little country at the foot of the world named "New Zealand"? Where's the old Zealand? Does everyone here have a lot of Zeal? I made a long arm for the kid's bookshelf and his encyclopedia. According to what I read:

The first European to sight the country was the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman (in 1642). He named the country Niew Zeeland, after the Dutch province of Zeeland. He didn't stick around. After making landfall, four members of his crew were killed by a local Maori tribe. Tasman named the place it happened "Murderer's Bay". He never came back, but he is remembered: the stretch of water between New Zealand and Australia is named the Tasman Sea.

In 1769 (126 years later), the British Admiralty dispatched Captain James Cook down to the bottom of the Pacific (to look for the mythical Great Southern Continent), and he rediscovered Tasman's New Zealand (the anglicized spelling of the Dutch). Cook circumnavigated the country and drew the first map. He discovered that New Zealand was a long country (about 500 miles) and principally divided into two islands: the North Island and the South Island; with a land mass equivalent to the United Kingdom or Japan.

Around this time, the French had a serious sniff of New Zealand, and at least one Spanish and Portuguese expedition took respective peeks. The reason the kid speaks English today can be attributed to the British Admiralty -- they sent Cook back on several more expeditions, and firmly established the notion that if any colonial power was going to shove a flag into the turf, it was going to be the British. Oui.

The Maori people didn't have a flag, and their name for the country was "Aotearoa" -- a name largely ignored by the Pakeha (Gringos) until the mid 20th century. Today, the kid's passport bears both names. Like the European settlers, the Maori also sailed to New Zealand, arriving around AD 750 (they were part of the great Polynesian migration that populated all the islands of the Pacific). According to Starchild, Aotearoa translates roughly as "land of the long white cloud".

And at least the Maori people had a bit more imagination when it came to naming things (North Island, South Island, FFS!? to use the modern vernacular). And the country would have been better known as the land of the long goodbye, given how long it would have taken to sail to the bottom of the world in those days, and the lack of certainty you'd ever arrive there in the end. The breath of the wind is not the most reliable of ways to travel.

Starchild told me a joke: A man tells a woman if she marries him, he'll take her to the end of the world. She marries him. He drives her to Invercargill.

The kid left the following note for inclusion in this journal entry.

Many thanks to Raymond for ghostwriting this blog entry for me. I seem to have so many writing tasks on my list of things to do at the moment, it's crazy! I will be back as soon as my workload lightens up a bit. Thanks to all of you! You guys are the best! Be seeing you soon...


https://www.facebook.com/stephen.ross.author

28 August 2014

Jalepeno Culture


by Eve Fisher

So I was watching the morning news and there was a commercial where two guys walk into a fast food joint and see the sign for a Double Jalepeno burger.  With, of course, lots of cheese.  And they smile at each other, order one each, and life is bliss.  My husband, who has an Irish stomach, winced.  Myself, I was thinking, that's American cuisine today:  you want flavor with that?  Here's some cheese and hot peppers. What more do you want?

Not the burger, but
I don't want to get sued.
That's what we're known for.  Cheese and hot peppers.  Slathered all over everything.  The cheese runs thick on the tongue, smothering most of the taste buds.  The hot peppers add shock value.  Cheap, filling, and one hell of a lot less trouble than actually, say, making a mole sauce, or a bechamel.  Although nowadays what you'll be given for bechamel sauce is generally Alfredo sauce, thick and pasty with flour and, you guessed it, cheese.  In other words, tarting it up with cheese and hot peppers is easier than getting involved in the time-consuming artistic complexity of producing flavor.

It's the same in entertainment.  Sex and violence.  If things get slow, throw in a naked woman.  Or an explosion.  Or a riff of automatic weapons.  (Speaking of which, I'm sure you heard about the 9-year-old girl at a shooting range outside Las Vegas who accidentally killed the instructor with the Uzi he was showing her how to use.  9 year olds and Uzis, what could possibly go wrong? We don't even let 9 year olds drive, even here in South Dakota, where 14 years old get learner's permits, so what the hell was he thinking... Okay, enough rant on that...)

Back to sex and violence.  Much safer.  Now I understand that sex and violence are what titillates the masses, including you and me, but sometimes I want something more:  plot; wit; character; nuance. By the way, I watched an interesting review of "Outlander", the new series based on the Diana Gabaldon time-traveling fantasy series, in which the sole woman on the panel pointed out that, while this show was obviously being marketed to heterosexual women (hot men in kilts and all that), when it came down to it, there were a heck of a lot of naked women in it and no naked men. Now what's that about?  Couldn't it even occur to the producers (6 out of 8 male) that (most) women prefer naked men?  

Okay, back to character.  I've been binge-watching Michael Gambon's 1990's Maigret, and enjoying it heartily.  (I love reading Maigret, too - it's one of the main reasons and ways that I've learned to read French.) And I noticed something that hadn't really struck me before:  Jules Maigret is normal.  He's a good, decent, bourgeois man who drinks/eats/smokes a little more than he should but not too much, who loves his wife, and who really likes his co-workers (except for the examining magistrates).  He likes people generally, including most of the petty criminals he deals with.  And yet he's absolutely real, grounded in details and mannerisms and nuances that are very subtle.  In other words, he's an old-fashioned hero.  It's very refreshing.

But I think too many "heroes" have been run through our jalepeno culture.  I've seen too damned many lead characters who are damaged addicts (alcohol/drugs/gambling/sex), and/or whose significant other was brutally murdered by a mysterious serial killer, and/or who are promiscuous to hide their longing for love or their lack of ability to love, and/or who has significant PTSD and/or traumatic childhood experiences and/or mental illness and/or OCD/bi-polar/etc., and almost ALL of them are obnoxious to everyone around them (and yet are mysteriously loved despite of it)...  Folks, that isn't character, that's a laundry list.  What started out as an exception - with the ability to shock, startle, amaze, entertain - has become the norm, which means... well, cheese and jalapenos on everything.

Hollywood meth-makers
Real meth-maker
And it's often taken to the point where there's no one to root for. Everyone is lousy, including their kids.  Everyone is crooked. Everyone will do anything, anywhere, any time to get ahead.  Nobody even tries to be pleasant, much less good. And don't even get me started on "Breaking Bad":  I do not, repeat, DO NOT watch shows or read books where serial killers and/or drug manufacturer killers are the heroes. I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart.  Besides, the villains are even more alike than the defective detectives: always brilliant, always brutal, always cold, always with superhuman timing, and the only difference is how they do it and whether or not they eat their kill.  Boring...

At the same time, I can enjoy a good noir with the rest of them, and God knows in Dashiell Hammett's and Raymond Chandler's world, everyone is crooked as they come, and that's fine with me.  Because Spade and Marlowe longed for heroism and decency, like thirsty men for water, and tried to be knights errant, even if their armor was more tarnished than shining.  That's what I want in my hero, at the very minimum.  I want them to recognize honor when they see it, like Silver-Wig in "The Big Sleep", and to be able - at least some times - to resist treachery and temptation, like Brigid O'Shaughnessy in "The Maltese Falcon."  I want them to know the difference between good and evil, in the world and in themselves.  I want them to care about the difference between good and evil, in the world and in themselves.  I want them to want to be a hero, even when they fail.

Maigret.  D. C. Foyle.  Miss Marple. Guido Brunetti.  Nancy Drew. Columbo.  V. I. Warshawski. Archie Goodwin.  Perry Mason.  Endeavour Morse.  And many others, rich in variety, style, wit, character... Excuse me, I have some more reading to do.  And tonight - another Maigret!