Friday, May 27, 2016

Richard Russo

Drove down to Concord last night to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Russo, get some books signed (I'm a very occasional fan boy), and sit in the front row of an interview taped for NPR. If you listen to this, the inappropriately loud-laughing woman you may hear was seated to my immediate left. That person is always seated to my immediate left.

Russo was a charming guy, two weeks into a three week tour, so he was working. We have the same name and we both go by Rick. I told him my father, who went by "Dick," used to be bothered to no end by my nickname, saying it wasn't my real name. Then one day I pointed out that it was as much a derivative of "Richard" as was "Dick." And that was sort of the end of it, though for the rest of his days his mouth seemed to marble up like Stonewall Jackson eating a lemon when he actually used it.

Rick Russo said he had a theory: Richards born before sometime in the early forties were always known as "Dick," later we were always known as "Rick." Unscientific, I'm sure, but I told him we were both fortunate come down on the right side of that line and not be "Dicks."

"The other kids," whomever that group describes, must have been more tolerant--at least in that regard--back in the old days.

Anyway, if you care to look it up, he had some interesting things to say about his works, and the movies, and people who look like Paul Newman (my dad actually looked a lot like Paul Newman when he was younger; he told me when he first asked my mother out he asked her if she wanted to have dinner with someone who looked like Paul Newman. He finished the story with how surprised she was when it was my dad that showed up).

Friday, May 20, 2016

Excellent review in the new issue of "Deadly Pleaures" magazine

Stark House is mostly known for its reprints of classic crime novels--sometimes in a bargain, two-novel format like the Ace Doubles of old. But apparently it comes out with a paperback original.

TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS by Rick Ollerman, Rating A-

Jeff Prentiss wants to be a good cop, but his bad temper and his willingness to bend the rules often land him in trouble. Transferred from Tampa to St. Petersburg, Jeff finds himself a pariah among his fellow detectives, except for his partner. Luckily, for the time being, the have a "good" case--the murder of a well-known thief with connections to a prominent businessman.

Jeff's personal life is also a mess. His wife Lori and daughter have left him for places unknown. Lori's ex-husband, recently released from prison, began stalking her. Then he disappears and Lori thinks Jeff may have something to do with that disappearance. Questions are starting to be asked and Jeff is able to deflect them for awhile.

I came to this noirish novel with no preconceived expectations and left it with high respect and admiration for the writer's talent. This is definitely not an "everything works out in the end" kind of tale. Good people are killed and maimed and Jeff may be worse off at the end than he was at the beginning. What makes this novel a winner is Ollerman's storytelling chops and his vividly memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 22, 2016


We went to the same junior high school in north Minneapolis, although separated by about four years. Later, I went to high school with his future bass player, Mark Brown, who played in a band called Fantasy that wowed at Washburn High's talent show.

When I was in college, I made a lot of the party tapes for my fraternity. At one point, one of my fellow Phi Psis ripped a cassette of Prince's "Dirty Mind" from the tape deck and threw it under the refrigerator. I was funk and R&B, he was San Francisco alt rock in the days before Prince found a way to fit his music in to anywhere.

Later I was an extra in his first move, Purple Rain. The girl I'd taken to the premiere shouted out, "That's you!" at a point where the camera had me full screen dancing to the music of The Time, guys that really were my favorite (I played basketball with some of them), but at the time I wasn't sure (we were too far back in a sold out Skyway Theater).

I met Apollonia there, introduced myself and brought her over to a friend who was involved in a touchathon, one of those things where the last person touching the car got to take it home. (He won eventually, a yellow Le Car if I remember right, and I'm sure it was due partially to the fact that I brought over a celebrity at two in the morning during a break in filming and introduced them).

Even before that, I'd see Prince out at the local clubs usually with his then girlfriend, Vanity, who also recently passed away. The last time I saw both of them, together or separately, was at an Alexander O'Neal show at an upstairs club whose name I no longer remember, a club where I saw a girl I'd once crushed on in high school. At this point though, I'd become too cool to ask for her number.

I could go on, but this isn't about me or the memories and stories I have of the time or the movie or the music. Prince died and although truthfully I wasn't a fan of much of his music, he picked up Minneapolis and put it on the national music scene, borne by the strength of his innovation and incredible guitar skills.

I'm reading this morning he may have had an issue with prescription opiates that may have had something to do with his death. This would just make it sadder, like Robin Williams' suicide (or anyone else's). In other words, if someone were around these talented people that recognized that they needed help outside themselves, perhaps they could have gotten it, and perhaps they'd still be with us.

Rest in peace, Prince. You made a mark on my early life and I will never forget.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review - "The Travelers" by Chris Pavone

I really need to dig out from beneath every damn thing since last week's trip for a signing to Minneapolis but I'm not there yet. I am trying, though, very hard. In the meantime, I agreed to do a book review and as a way of clearing that off my plate, here it is:

"The Travelers" by Chris Pavone

The good news is, I enjoyed the book itself a lot. The bad news is, I didn't enjoy reading it as much as I'd hoped. This is the first book I've read by Chris Pavone, and I'll probably try another, but what got me was that the present tense scenes are all very choppy, like it was targeted for readers with short attention spans. The sections can be quite short and usually end abruptly in places like, "Then the door opened." A new section is started and we have to wait to see who opened the door.

This in itself is not a bad thing. The problem here is the frequency in which it happens, which is just about through the entire book. It's a bit like watching a network TV show where more than a third of the show's time is allocated for commercials. As soon as my mind gets into the show, it's jerked out of the story by a commercial break. The show resumes, my mind is jerked out again.

The writing is okay; there's not a lot of flair in the language though there are a few witty metaphors. The dialogue is nothing special. It's the plot that keeps you interested, even though you'll probably figure out most of it in advance of the story. There are two cases where the manner in which the characters figures things out strain credulity--just thinking about something for a few seconds probably isn't enough--but the rest of the book worked much better.

So if you can put up with the short, very chopped up sections of the book, what you'll find is a mostly very enjoyable though slightly difficult to believe story that despite its faults, you'll often find difficult to put down.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Book Signing

Before I take the time and get my thoughts down on losing the former owner of the wonderful Once Upon a Crime Mystery Bookstore in Minneapolis--there are a lot of feelings there--I wanted to at least announce a new signing in Florida.

I will be at another nationally recognized independent crime fiction specific bookstore, Murder on the Beach, in June on the 4th, a Saturday, at 1:00. They're located in Delray Beach, north of Boca Raton, and a nice link is here.

And yes, I know I need a new picture.

Please support your local independent bookstore. They've had a tough go over the past few years, with rising leasing costs pushing many owners out, Amazon doing a lot of damage, but they are making a comeback. There are more new independent bookstores than there were a year ago. Even if you're out of the area, they'll ship wherever.

All you need to do is look at a place like Once Upon a Crime's Annex and see all the treasures that are there--among other things, I just picked up a signed Ross Thomas, a signed Walter Mosley, a signed Eric Ambler, etc.--and know that these stores need our support.

You could try what I like to do when I find a new bookstore: just ask them for a recommendation. Take advantage of their knowledge and experience and let them discover something for you. I've never been disappointed doing this, and I hope you won't, either.

I used to have a lot of friends in that area of Florida. I know it was long ago, but really, guys, I haven't changed. Show up in June, clutch claws and let's catch up. It'll be fun.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

MAD DOG BARKED is (mostly) finished

When Truth Always Kills was published, ostensibly in December but it didn't seem to be widely shipping until January, the professional reviews were very good. But with the late shipping and the Christmas holiday in there, the book seemed to take off a bit slowly. Finally it's been gathering a bit of steam and some user reviews are coming in that are really quite nice, readers have been e-mailing me, which is always a treat, and hopefully things will keep trending upward. Bill Crider told me the book deserves to be read, but sometimes it takes luck. Which, apparently, can be slow to come by around Christmas time.

A lot of people are asking for a sequel. All my books have been standalones to this point, and while Mad Dog Barked, which I just typed "THE END" to three days ago,  is also a standalone, to me it leaves even more room for a sequel. I've kind of toyed with the idea of writing a sequel that brings characters from all four books together but that might just be silly. We'll see. I started a new one the other night, but it's already taking on its own life.

Now I have to edit Mad Dog before I turn it in to Stark House Press, and that's the really scary part. You find all the typos that your fingers give you as they mis-translate the words in your mind onto the page. And there will be the usual one or two utterly incomprehensible sentences, I'm sure. Mostly, you trim, tighten, sometimes expand, clarify, but it's all a sentence by sentence proposition, and it's tough sledding for me. Some writers claim their favorite part of the process is editing, the getting to polish the story they've written.

That's not me. The trick now is to make two to three passes--four, if I can swing it--and get it to the publisher so they have time for all the pre-publication stuff: book and cover design, the printing and mailing of ARCs for reviewers, etc.

Next up is a true crime novel with a woman that suffered a horrendous though not unique experience with our justice system, all in the name of protecting her family. There'll be a rare short story in the NoirCon program book though I probably won't be able to attend this year (I've never gone, and I feel bad about it). And the short story I wrote for the Replacements themed anthology Waiting to be Forgotten should be out in time for Bouchercon. Editor Jay Stringer says he may try to organize some themed events so if you're going to be in New Orleans for the conference, you might want to look in on a few of these.

Let's see, what else: signing in Minneapolis on April 9th, at noon, at the legendary Once Upon a Crime bookstore, and everyone should come, and I mean everyone. Truth was dedicated to Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze, the owners of the store until this past Friday, and absolute treasures of the crime fiction community. They're still around as the store transitions to the new owners and it should be a fun time.

There's more, you can see the events on the Schedule page at the website and as always, drop a line if you have a question or comment.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

When I was first unearthing resources into the world of paperback original novels, Ed Gorman's blog was one of the gems of my discoveries. At one point I went back and printed out all of his past entries and wow, what an education. With age and health issues, Ed continues his blog, but he frequently reprints entries from other people, or even extracts, like the one I just saw today from the introduction I wrote for Malcolm Braly's autobiography, False Starts.

With all the writing I'm doing on my own books now, I don't have the time to write the number of introductory essays I once did. This one for Braly's book is not only the most recent, I like to think it's one of my best. (I do have another one coming out for a volume of the way-too-overlooked James Hadley Chase, but that's going to be more of a revision of an earlier piece I'd written.)

Braly was a fascinating guy, one who spent half his life in prison without managing to ever do anything particularly serious. He'd break into a dry cleaners' and get sent to prison. Then he'd fall in with some guys and attempt to rob some place else, get caught again, then get a stiffer sentence. He was on the merry-go-round, one that started with broken homes and domineering parent(s), in  a day when riding the rails was considered a poor man's option to go out and see the world.

The problem was that this was also a fast track to petty crime (and sometimes crime not so petty) and a few men (like Jim Tully, another unjustly neglected author, who I write about in the essay) are able to escape. Braly's ultimate salvation was writing crime fiction, and in this, he wasn't alone. There was another inmate at San Quentin who was publishing novels for Gold Medal and that got Braly interested. At the same time, Caryl Chessman was writing his books about being innocent and on death row and the prison system in California was understandably nervous.

The success of Braly's first book ended him back in prison, so his second was written in the most secrecy he could muster. Once he finally got out, he seemed on the road to a celebrated career, penning the recently reprinted NYRB book, "On the Yard," which has been called the best prison novel of all time. And there's a movie, too....

Just when it seemed like Braly finally had a handle on this thing called life, he was killed in a car accident in his early fifties. The new volume of False Starts is the first-ever paperback version of his autobiography, also hailed as a classic of its type.

Ed Gorman's piece is here:

Take some time, visit, then check out not only False Starts but Braly's various novels. And let me know how you like the introduction. I always avoid spoilers so reading my introductions before the books themselves should never scare you off.