05 March 2015

It Costs You Nothing To Be Gracious

by Brian Thornton

Today's blog post brought to you by two seemingly unrelated things:

Left Coast Crime, and how a guy who used to teach in an MFA (short for "Master's of Fine Arts") program tried to break the Internet.

Quick thumbnail, and then I'll dive right in.

A Thumping Good Time Will Definitely Be Had By All!
First, Left Coast Crime.

Next week hundreds of crime fiction fans/writers/industry professionals will descend on the unsuspecting city of Portland, Oregon for the 2015 Left Coast Crime Conference! LCC is *ALWAYS* a thumping good time. How many of you  among the Sleuthsayer Faithful are planning to attend?

Thumbnail delivered, and now on to the second part of this week's post (We'll come back to Left Coast in a bit).

Second, last week a guy who lives not too far from me tried to break the Internet.

The brick with which Ryan Boudinot shattered many a cyber glass house was a little article called "Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One." If you're not familiar with it, go take a look. I'll wait.

To summarize for those of you too busy/lazy/diffident/tech-ignorant to bother with clicking on the link above, in his piece Mr. Boudinot makes the following points:

1. Talent exists.
2. Talent does not exist in easily quantifiable amounts.
3. Talent is not equally distributed among human beings.
4. Some of us possess much more talent at some things than at others.
5. Number 4. above includes writing.

He said a lot of other things as well, but that was the basic gist (I'm not touching the contention that he supposedly advocated for more child abuse in the world. That clearly springs from a willful misreading of his work.). The response was immediate and ferocious. (You can find one example here.)

I'm in no position to wrestle with either Mr. Boudinot, or with any of his fans/detractors over the question of what does or does not constitute "talent." As a veteran of exactly ONE creative writing class during the too-long run of my college career, I'm hardly in a position to set myself up as any sort "final arbiter" of such things (For what it's worth, my sole sally into the wild and wonderful world of college creative writing courses was a million miles away from anything so prestigious as a Master-of-Fine-Arts program. It was a crime-fiction writing class taught by my favorite Shakespeare professor. I got an "A." I don't count the time I applied for admission into a middle-level creative writing MFA program, because they had the good sense to cash my application check and then to deny my application.).

Which is not to say that I don't have something to add to the dialogue. Well, TWO somethings, actually.

First: "There are many paths to God."

Second: "It costs you nothing to be gracious."

There Are Many Paths to God

One glorious Summer day several years ago, I was volunteering with a couple of friends at a recruiting table for one of the writing associations of which I am a dues-paying member, trying to scare up new membership at one of many local writer-focused events. A sea of humanity surged all around us during the breaks between author/agent/publishing professional panels, and we were trying to get the word out about this association for which we volunteered so much of our own time.

At one point in the afternoon, with most of those in attendance squirreled away attending panels, a mid-list author with whom I had a barely nodding acquaintance stalked past our table, stopped, turned, came back, stood in front of it, glared straight at me and said, "What can (Association name redacted) do for me?"

Now, this guy's debut thriller had sold pretty well when published the previous year, and he had a sequel due out that Fall. His publisher had devoted significant resources to publicizing his work.

In other words, this was kind of his moment.

This might be the appropriate time to mention that I am the author of multiple books (nine and counting, ten if you count the one I ghost-wrote), all of which I have sold and all of which have made money. Furthermore, I owe the initial contact with the woman who would eventually become first my editor and then my agent to a networking opportunity afforded me by this same association.

So I began to explain the networking opportunities available to our friend, the mid-lister. He didn't let me get far, before he cut me off, snapping, "I'm already a member. And everything I've gotten in this industry I've gotten on my own."

I couldn't quite figure out what he was really peeved about. So I asked him whether he'd even tried out the networking opportunities afforded by (Association name redacted). He confessed he hadn't. Said they wouldn't have worked for him.

And it hit me.

He didn't want to talk about (Association name redacted)'s networking opportunities. He wanted to talk about how well he was doing, and how bright his future looked.

So I smiled my most disarming smile (which isn't saying much) at him, and said, "There are many paths to God, (Author's name redacted)."

When he understandably gave me a blank stare in response, I grinned and briefly-and I hope, kindly-explained how networking through (Association name redacted) had jump-started my own writing career, and invited both of my friends working the booth with me to share their own success stories.

The point was that in this self-pub, ebook world, there is no magic bullet that will automatically guarantee publishing success, and there are certainly no gatekeepers keeping those who want to be heard from putting their work out there.

Here is where maxim number two comes in to play.

It Costs You Nothing to Be Gracious

The point made, I moved on and mentioned hearing about (Author's name redacted)'s recent publishing success, congratulated him on it, then asked how his next book project was coming along, what was next for him, etc.

Hey, it was his moment.

What's more, nothing I said would have changed the trajectory of this guy's writing career. His second book would neither succeed nor tank based on something I said or didn't say. Showing him up by pointing out how many books I'd published would have no positive effect on even the outcome of this particular conversation.

When I asked my wonderful wife to proofread this post, she mentioned a quote she'd read by the great Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I couldn't agree more. I only wish I'd said that first.

And this, in turn, brings me back to Mr. Boudinot's article in The Stranger. I cannot for the life of me figure out what he hoped to accomplish with it.

I have been a member of a critique group for the last eight or so years. Over that time we've had people come in, leave, come back, leave again. It's been a pretty fluid line-up. From the beginning we established that the first question each of us should ask when commencing a critique of one another's work is, "How can I help improve this piece?"

I can't help but wonder whether Mr. Boudinot asked this sort of question when looking at the work of his students. Did he ever ask it? Did he ask it up to a certain point, and then stop? Was he just burned out?

(Based on a reading of both his initial essay and a follow-up interview he gave to one of The Stranger's writers, I am leaning toward "burn-out".)

Because who in this day of self/e-pub, gets to be the final arbiter on who ought to put their back into their writing, and who ought not waste their time? It's not as if Ryan Boudinot is handing out book contracts.

I mean, come ON. Plenty of lousy writers publish plenty of lousy books every year. So do plenty of GOOD writers, for that matter. And who among us has not read a novel we knew was lousy and enjoyed it anyway?

Like Maya Angelou said, it's about how you make people (in this case, the reader) FEEL.

I know an incredibly gifted writer who has written a cracking, kick-ass first crime novel and then spent the past several years alternately noodling with it and setting it aside, rather than putting it out there for readers to enjoy. Would someone like this be well-served by a dose of Mr. Boudinot's tough love?

I think not.

I myself am hardly an example of the type of writer Mr. Boudinot seems to prefer. I didn't decide I wanted to write professionally until my early 30s (In his essay he expresses the opinion that people who "commit" to writing in their late teens/early 20s are the only ones who will likely be worth reading.). What's more, I didn't write the first eight that I published out of some burning commitment to either the craft or to the subject matter (although the one I wrote about Abraham Lincoln comes close). I wrote them because I made very little money at my regular job and because someone looked at my writing and saw potential, and offered me money to write about a variety of subjects.

So I took the money and wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

I suspect that this experience counts as its own kind of MFA experience.

To circle back around and tie all of the above back in with Left Coast Crime, I have to say I'm grateful to Mr. Budinot for writing his essay and to The Stranger for publishing it. What's more, I'm even more grateful for the timing of it.

Because we as writers possess the wonderful ability to do what Maya Angelou mentioned in the bit I quoted above: to make people feel. I think it behooves us to recall that when we dive into the maelstrom which is a writing conference. So many panels to take in! So many friends to catch up with! So many new books to find out about! So many new people to meet!

So if you're going to Left Coast Crime, look me up. Mention the words "Maya Angelou," and I just might buy you a drink, or buy your book.

Or both!

See you at Left Coast!

04 March 2015

By way of emphasis

by Robert Lopresti

I have been polishing up a piece of fiction and last week the editor sent me a note, which I am paraphrasing: "You use italics too much.  It's like you don't have faith the reader will get it."

Well, that was a surprise.  No one had ever said that to me before.

But to be honest I seldom get criticism from editors.  Rejections, sure.  But usually the only helpful hint is, "It's compelling but doesn't meet our current needs," which I assume translates, "This thing could cause seizures in goats." 

So I was grateful for an actual functional suggestion.  I looked over my piece and there were indeed a lot of italics.  They seemed to serve many purposes.  To demonstrate, consider this freshly invented paragraph.

"Like a production of Macbeth on the Titanic, Jack's day was turning into a bloody disaster.  How do I get out of this one?  He looked ahead and gasped.  'I wasn't expecting you.'   Now things were getting really bad."

That's five different uses of italics, way too many for a single paragraph of course, but are any of them problematic in themselves?  Macbeth is  italicized as a standalone work of literature.  (Book titles, music CDs, and TV series are italicized; short stories, songs, and TV episodes get quotation marks.  I spend a lot of time explaining this to college students.)  Proper names of vehicles, like Titanic, also get the italics treatment.

The third example, a full sentence, is using italics to indicate a character's thought.  I could have said "'How I get out of this one?' Jack wondered," but it seemed better the other way.  Didn't it?

"I wasn't expecting you,"  is trying to capture how people talk, and to make it clear that Jack was expecting someone else, not failing to expect anyone.

Then we get to "getting really bad..."  which may be the dodgiest of the lot.  It is emphasizing a word that describes Jack's thinking but is not part of his thought.

So, do you agree some of these should go?  Which ones?  And how do you feel about italics in general?

But before I deposit you in the Comments Department, I have a few more things to say about italics. 

In the wonderful book Just My Type Simon Garfield reports that italics were probably invented by a goldsmith named Francisco Griffo around 1500.  He wasn't trying to emphasize words, just save space on the page. 

A few months ago I found myself editing two stories for different markets.  At precisely the same time I was changing the italics in one story to underlines, and the underlines in the other story to italics.  It seems like the industry could agree on one standard, doesn't it?

Of course, in modern publishing underlining began as a way to indicate italics on a typewriter that didn't have them.  So maybe there is no need for that anymore.  But to my elderly eyes, underlining is easier to spot on a typed page than italics.  Again, what do you think?

And now, I'm out of here.

03 March 2015

Her Terrible Beauty

The title of this piece just happens to be the title of my latest story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  This is not a coincidence.  I am utilizing my God-given right to promote my work in lieu of the huge monthly check I would normally receive from our generous paymaster, Leigh Lundin.  But I will not just promote, but educate as well, sprinkling tidbits of information throughout that cannot possibly be found on the internet.  For instance: Saint Patrick's Day is two weeks from today.

Yes, only a few hundred million of us woke up knowing this today.  What the devil does it have to do with my latest groundbreaking literary effort?  Very little, actually, but since this auspicious occasion just happens to be coming up, I thought I'd smoothly weave it in.  Just watch my handiwork.

My story takes place in antebellum Alabama, circa 1831, within the diocese of Mobile and concerns a brother and sister, murders and miracles, duels and deceptions.  It ends with a hanging.  St. Patrick has nothing to do with any of it.  Yet, if you go to Mobile, as I have, and visit the magnificent Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception you will discover a small, unique statue of him situated to the right of the altar.  If you look up, and you should, you will find a ceiling exquisitely rendered in gold leaf patterns of alternating fleur-de-lis and shamrocks, heraldic symbols of both France and Ireland.  Mobile, like most of the Gulf Coast, was originally colonized by the French and, in fact, it was here that the first Mardi Gras was celebrated in North America; not in New Orleans.  This was in 1703--another fun fact.  It is celebrated in Mobile to this day. 

How did St. Patrick sneak into this decidedly French environment, you may ask?  The answer lies with all the Irish priests and bishops entombed in the vault beneath the Cathedral.  In those days, the Irish were mighty and prodigious evangelizers of the Catholic faith and were forever charging into the breach.  It appears that they charged into the Mobile colony.  The French and the Irish have a long relationship actually, as both have found themselves squared off repeatedly with their mutual enemy, the English.  One happy result of this alliance was Hennessey Cognac; another the breathtaking ceiling of the Cathedral.  More fun facts as promised.

My protagonist opens the story with a request for one of these priests (French or Irish, it doesn't matter).  He wishes to prepare himself for his impending exit from this perplexing world of ours.  A rider is sent to Mobile to fetch one.  Thus begins our tale of madness and murder.  It's in the March/April issue along with many fine tales by such notables as Doug Allyn, Dave Zeltserman, S.J. Rozan, Loren D. Estleman, Marilyn Todd, and more!  I hope that you will get a copy of this issue, and that if you do, you find your visit to L.A. (Lower Alabama) interesting.

P.S. During my time here the news broke of Harper Lee's impending book release.  This was big down here as Monroeville, a nearby community, is both Ms. Lee's home and the setting for "To Kill A Mockingbird."

P.P.S. Oh yes, almost forgot, our fellow SleuthSayer, Dale Andrews, vacations yearly in nearby Gulf Shores, Alabama--a final fun fact.

02 March 2015

Rain and Snow and Driving

One thing that might seem strange to people who live in the Northeast or Northern states is how a quarter inch of ice or a half inch of snow causes such a mess in TX. There is one simple answer. We DO NOT know how to drive on ice or snow. We don't even know how to drive in the rain.

Tonight, I was returning home from having dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, in Austin, (a forty-five mile one way trip) and it was misty, rainy and foggy, not cold enough to freeze, but just messy with iffy visibility. Most of the way home, it was still daylight although the sky and the light was steely gray. I was driving five to eight miles under the speed limit and trying my best to keep a safe distance from the car in front of me. Cars were screaming past me going ten, fifteen miles faster (this was in either a 60 or 70 mph area) and some cars tried to stay on my bumper. I was driving slowly enough that they soon zipped around me. But as soon as they cleared my front-end they cut back in my lane in front of me.

Happy birthday to Jan from SleuthSayers
Okay, I'll admit tonight I was driving like the proverbial "little old lady," but I did have a birthday yesterday and turned sixty-sixteen, so I'm allowed on occasion. More importantly, the idea of a car wreck is not my idea of Sunday night fun. When it's sunny and daylight or even at night, I do drive somewhat like a bat out of hell. I trust myself, my tires, and my brakes.

Sadly if a little rain, or ice or snow falls in Texas, it's as if a neon sign turns on inside too many brains, "go fast, we've got to get home NOW." Drivers turn into guys from Talladega Nights. We also have no snow tires or chains or snow plows. About the best our towns and counties and cities can do is dump sand on our bridges and overpasses. And even a small amount of rain can get dangerous because the oily residue on the streets and highways gets slippery when mixed with a misty rain.

Fortunately, I made it home safely and my car and body thanks me. One badly broken right humerus bone requiring surgery, a steel plate and ten screws is enough injury for me. Even though it was in 2007, when it's cold, it reminds me I'd just as soon not break another bone ever.

We even let our schools out early and send children home. Mainly because with even a small amount of snow or ice and no snow plows, a large number of kids live in suburban or even country areas and it's too dangerous to take a chance with a bus load of kids.

So everyone laughs at us but we're just not equipped to handle it and besides all that, we freeze to death when the temperatures get below fifty. Our blood is way too thin for those temperatures. However, it's not unusual to see a female in short shorts, a sweatshirt hoodie and cowboy boots heading into the bank or the grocery store. Yesterday, it was 35 degrees and windy and I saw a man with walking shorts on. I imagine these folks are transplanted from Minnesota or New Hampshire or Alaska and 35° just is a nice cool day for them. Bless their little hearts.

Sorry my report isn't very long today. I have a sore typing finger. I got a nasty cut on the knuckle of my right index finger and it's much better but typing is aggravating it. But, you say, I saw you posting on Facebook, Jan, what's with that? When I use my phone or my tablet, I use a stylus and it doesn't hurt my fingers. This blog note has to be written on my laptop and that entrails typing.

Did anyone pick up my malapropism in that last sentence? I always thought malapropisms came directly from Mrs. Malaprop in the Broadway play "The Rivals." I suppose that play happened to make malapropisms more widely known but Mark Twain used them and even William Shakespeare wrote a few in his plays. I have no idea where that bit of trivia came from but malapropisms have been on my mind today. Go figure.

Okay, class, off to soak my right index finger in ice.

01 March 2015

Name Recognition

Leonard Nimoy
by Leigh Lundin

Jan Grape recently wrote an article, Me and Elvis, a charming reflection of the great singer. I can’t quite bring myself to title this one Me and Spock, but yes, I crossed paths with the actor.

As you know, Leonard Nimoy died Friday. I grok hard science fiction and Star Trek was about as close as one could get to real sci-fi on the small screen. Moreover, Spock was the character who made the TOS (the original series) worth watching. Even my Aunt Rae had a crush on him!

Nimoy appeared in various other rôles, but to me, he was always Spock. I admit I never saw his first film, Kid Monk Baroni, which Nimoy described as “the sort of film that made unknowns out of celebrities.” Beyond Star Trek, I thought he was particularly good as a narrator featured in Ripley’s Unexplained, In Search of, and Ancient Mysteries.

Leonard Nimoy
After Star Trek, Nimoy became famously thin-skinned about Spock, even writing a biography titled I am not Spock, referring to his identity crisis and a love-hate relationship with the character. He grew additionally alienated (pardon that pun) when Gene Roddenberry screened Star Trek blooper reels at fan conventions, further distancing himself from the rôle. Twenty years later, Nimoy would relent with a second autobiography called I am Spock, but in the 1970s, he became notorious for refusing to acknowledge the character. That’s the time when he and I crossed paths… a less than stellar performance as you'll see.

In Boston, my girlfriend and I were walking down a long corridor when in the distance I saw the actor strolling toward us. I wanted to alert my girl, but the only name I could think of was Spock… Spock… What the hell was his real name?

Leonard Nimoy as Spock
As we drew closer, my brain worked feverishly to dredge up the man’s name… No, not Spock… not Spock… What was it?

Within feet of the man, the name surfaced. I leaned over and said, “That’s Neonard Limoy.”


My words were apparently not quite soft enough because– damn those pointy ears– both Nimoy and my date shot peculiar sidelong glances at me.

Okay, okay, I never claimed to be articulate, but that’s my Neonard Limoy Leonard Nimoy story.

28 February 2015

Books and the Art of Theft

Puzzled by the title?  It’s simple.

In high school, I had to read Lord of the Flies, The Chrysalids, On the Beach, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and a whack of Shakespeare.

Yuck.  Way to kill the love of reading.  All sorts of preaching and moral crap in the first four.  (Which, as you will see by the end of this post, doesn’t suit me well.)

Torture, it was, having to read those dreary books, at a time when I was craving excitement.  Already, I had a slight rep for recklessness. (It was the admittedly questionable incident of burying the French class attendance sheet in the woods on Grouse Mountain, but I digress…)

And then we got to pick a ‘classic’ to read.  Groan.  Some savvy librarian took pity on me, and put a book in my hand. 



A writer was born that day.

This is what books could be like!  Swashbuckling adventure with swords and horses, and imminent danger to yourself and virtue, from which – sometimes – you could not escape (poor Rebecca.) 

I was hooked, man.  And this book was written how long ago?  1820?

Occasionally, people will ask if a teacher had a special influence on me as a writer.  I say, sadly, no to that.

But a librarian did.  To this day, I won’t forget her, and that book, and what it caused me to do.

1.    Write the swashbuckling medieval time travel Land’s End series, starting with the Top 100 bestseller Rowena Through the Wall. 

2.    Steal a book.  Yes, this humble reader, unable to part with that beloved Ivanhoe, claimed to lose the book, and paid the fine.  Damn the guilt.  The book was mine.

3.    Write The Goddaughter series, which has nothing to do with swashbuckling medieval adventure, and everything to do with theft.  Which, of course, I had personally experienced due to a book called Ivanhoe.

The lust for something you just have to have.  The willingness to take all sorts of risks way out of
proportion, to possess that one thing.

A book like my own Rowena and the Viking Warlord made me a thief at the age of sixteen.  And the experience of being a thief enticed me to write The Goddaughter’s Revenge, over thirty years later.

My entire writing career (200 publications, 9 awards) is because of Sir Walter Scott and one sympathetic librarian.

Thanks to you both, wherever you are. 

Just wondering...did a single book get you started on a life of crime...er...writing?  Tell us below in the comments.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.  She lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com

27 February 2015

What I've Been Reading

By Dixon Hill

I've been pretty busy these last several weeks, but that hasn't kept me from snagging the odd moment to read.  I've chosen among old friends and new ones, and the list looks something like this:

Death in Paradise by Robert B. Parker

My wife and I enjoy watching the Jesse Stone mysteries, so I jumped at this book when I saw it on the shelf.  Never having read one of them before, I found it even better than I'd expected.  Perhaps it's a burden, having to picture Tom Selleck as Stone (since that's how I'd first encountered Stone on-screen), but I didn't find it any trouble, and I really enjoyed the book.

As a side note, there was a TV series with this title, and I might just blog on that in the near future.

By the Light of the Moon by Dean Koontz

This one was a re-visit to an old friend.  Yes, it has mystery, suspense, and yet is strangely filled with love, but it also has a science fiction element that might not appeal to every mystery reader.  Those who loved super hero comic books during childhood, however, will probably love this adult-styled  . . . well . . . I'm not sure exactly how to define it.  But I love it.

River of Death by  Alistair MacLean

I fell in love with MacLean's writing the first time I met it, with Ice Station Zebra, a book with a protagonist who seems to create his very own definition of "unreliable narrator."

Reading MacLean since my days in the army, I'm not as captured as I was in childhood.  Still, it's nice to get a fun little romp (only 253 pages in paperback) with this story of those wreaking vengence on Nazi SS officers who thought they'd managed to escape punishment in the depths of the Amazon.

The Blue Hammer by Ross MacDonald

WOW!  I suppose it's wrong to describe writing as "lush, spare prose," but I find it difficult not to when it comes to this one.  Spare to the point of nearly shifting the feel into one of poetry, the writing in The Blue Hammer really knocked me out.  Not just a pun, either.

I have to admit, I figured out the final little "twist" long before the ending.  But, with writing like this, I didn't mind sitting back and enjoying the ride to a location I knew was calling our name.  Additionally, the title had me pondering its meaning for awhile after reading.  Finally, however, I came up with a meaning that satisfied me.

Saint Odd by Dean Koontz

This is at once a new entry and an old friend.  Saint Odd is the latest, and final, of Koontz's Odd Thomas series, which chronicles the off-beat adventures of a young fry cook who happens to see dead folks (including Elvis and Sinatra) and tries to save the world, or at least parts of it, with each installment.

The storyline began several years ago, and in this final installment it (almost) ends with Oddie's death.  And what a death adventure this is!

Never before have I read a series in which the main character died, then wondered if the series might continue to follow that character anyway -- without bringing him back to life on earth.  But, this one has me wondering just that.

See you in two weeks,

26 February 2015


the original
Mona Lisa
What's the difference between an "homage" and a shortage of ideas?  Talent.   Or gall, you take your pick.  For example, Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world, has been done a few different ways:
Marcel Duchamp's
The Mona Gorilla
Rick Meyerowitz's
National Lampoon
"Mona Gorilla"
The other night, my husband and I were watching Wim Wenders' Hammett. And I first want to give a quick shout out to Elisha Cook, Jr., who played Wilmer in the original Maltese Falcon and the taxi-cab driver in Hammett.  And, favorite movie quote:
"What's your town like, anyway?  Free and easy?"
"Yeah.  More so than most."
"Who runs things?"
"Same people who run things everywhere.  The cops, the crooks, and the big rich."
(Indeed, once you grasp that, everything makes sense.)  

The next night, they were showing Neil Simon's The Cheap Detective on TCM, which is one of my favorite movie homages/parodies of all time.  Favorite movie quote:
"Oh, no, no. No, it's, uh, my mistake here, uh. For a second here I thought that this young lady was a girl that I knew in France; I was wrong; the girl I know is dead."
"Oh, a natural error, monsieur. My wife has been mistaken for dead girls by many men."
(There's a tag line ANY noir femme fatale would be proud to have - heads up, Velma!)

Now these are two of the many variations that have been done on Dashiell Hammett/Humphrey Bogart/Sam Spade.  (Yes, I know that Hammett wasn't Bogart wasn't Spade, but on the other hand, in the mash-up that is the cultural mind, they are, and we all know it.)  With these two movies, what you get is the German Expressionist v. New York neurotic view of the H/B/S world.  One is all camera angles and moody lighting, and a constant barrage of quotes from Hammett novels.  (I would have played the drinking game every time I recognized one, but I would have passed out long before the end of the movie.) The other is a barrage of jokes, based on twisted quotes and scenes from Bogart movies and Hammett novels.  They're both good.  They're both worth seeing.

I love homages.  The instant list of my homage favorites:

Horror was never the same again.  Favorite quote:
     Dr. F: "You know, I'm a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I can help you with that hump."
     Igor (played by the late, great Marty Feldman):   "What hump?"

The answer to every other "normal" sports movie.
Favorite quote:  "I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance."

So good it practically counts as a Cliff Notes of Russian literature and Ingmar Bergman.  I have the whole movie pretty much memorized.  One of my favorite scenes:
       Music teacher:  So who is to say what is moral?
       Sonja (played by Diane Keaton):  Morality is subjective.
       Music teacher:  Subjectivity is objective.
       Sonja:  Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.
       Music teacher: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.
       Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?

Where the West bites the dust.
Hands down best line (written by Richard Pryor):  "Mongo only pawn in game of life."

And then there's almost anything by the 5th Baron Haden-Guest:


And there's a whole RAFT of movies that are about nothing but making movies in Hollywood:


By the way, am I the only one who's noticed that every generation, there's a new version of "A Star is Born"?  Do we really need that?  Even when its B&W and silent?

A Star Is Born 1937 poster.jpg A Star Is Born.jpg AStarisBorn1976.jpg The-Artist-poster.png

And, in the world of mysteries, besides Hammett and The Cheap Detective:

My favorite Clouseau,
for the nudist camp scene alone
Murder by death movie poster.jpg                        

So, what's your list?

25 February 2015

The Complaints

I started reading Ian Rankin's books more than a few years back, complicated and often violent puzzles, and the Edinburgh DI John Rebus a morally ambiguous character, even if on the side of the saints.

More recently, I picked up THE COMPLAINTS, released in 2009, which introduces a new and younger character, Malcolm Fox, followed by THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD, in 2011. Fox works for Internal Affairs, known colloquially as The Complaints, who investigate other cops. It's common knowledge these guys are disliked - resented the better word, outsiders who piss on their own doorstep. They find
themselves, like as not, swimming upstream, dealing with obstruction and half truths, closed ranks, hostile witnesses, and fighting chain of command, which might prefer they bury a can of worms.

Both of the first two Fox stories, THE COMPLAINTS and THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD, are very much about that proverbial can of worms. A corruption inquiry, by its nature, leads to the unhappy and unwelcome, and heads are bound to roll. Which they do. Nobody likes The Complaints proved right, and nobody thanks them for it. The dynamic in the novels isn't Us and Them, but Us and Us. Fox is a traitor to his own.

Rankin mounts a near to impenetrable tangle of loyalties and betrayals, absent virtues, malign intentions, misspent human capital, leaky alibis, blood feuds and blood debts. THE COMPLAINTS is about a frame, with Fox himself the target, and THE IMPOSSIBLE DEAD turns on a cold case, unquiet graves. If there's a trick to it, Rankin doesn't show his hand. The books seem to lunge forward with the ordained gravitational pull of Doom, inexorable and final, as though agented or engineered by the very devices of wickedness.

You might wonder, why Malcolm Fox? I mean, why has Rankin picked up this new thread? Then again, Rebus hasn't been put out to pasture. The next two books, STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN'S GRAVE and SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE, draw Fox and Rebus together, although as may be expected, Fox is an adversary. I'd venture to guess it isn't that Rankin has gone stale on Rebus, rather that he's holding him up to the light, getting a fresh perspective. Fox and Rebus are something alike, both of them solitaries, both of them haunted - Rebus more so - but Fox is the more transparent and accessible. I don't know that we relate to him any better. His inflexibility gets in the way a little, Fox kind of dour (the Scots would say 'do-er,' drawing out the long vowels), not in any way humorless, but slow to get the joke. Rebus, as his name suggests, is a puzzle. You can see they'd rub each other the wrong way, Fox being too quick to take his man's measure, Rebus not one to suffer fools, or hide his impatience. And what does Fox make of Big Ger Cafferty? we might ask. All in all, a nice spin on an old tale, a collision of competing integrities. 

One other remark. Rankin's guys aren't a generic index of weaknesses - bad marriages, the worse for drink - or their strengths, either. They're well-observed and genuine, a reflected glance. They have depth, and a specific gravity. Not entirely likable, perhaps, but completely there, if not always in our comfort zone. Is this counter-intuitive? I'm not sure. Fox and Rebus are uneasy companions, with each other, by themselves, and with us. They take warming up to. But they enlist our sympathies. Obdurate, they are. Certainly not frictionless, or smooth. A little sharp and peaty to the taste, like a single malt. Slightly acrid, with a length of finish that lingers in the mouth.