Friday, June 27, 2008

At A Tombstone Bar In A Juke-Joint Car

I keep surfing around at my favorite blogs wondering when certain people are going to update, and then I realized that I am one of those people. I don't have that much of an excuse, except I have spent a lot of time keeping the puppy from pooping on the carpet. And my daughter had a birthday, and my wife was gone at a writer's retreat in southern Indiana last week which wasn't that restful because the National Guard was sandbagging all around them against flooding, and work has been busy. So until I can get a breath, go here to see some behind-the-scenes shots from MENTAL SCARS.

We are going to visit some friends who recently relocated to San Diego, and I happened to find out that it is the same week as San Diego Comic Con, so naturally I am going to go over there for a day while I'm in the neighborhood. My wife 110% does not believe I did not know this before we booked the plane tickets, but I really didn't. Check out Con reports in July!

By the way, I have now meta-tagged all of my posts through December 2005 (the premiere of SEX MACHINE), which is a much harder task than you would think, especially since I have gotten into the annoying habit of giving my posts cryptic titles. It's hard to believe I have been blogging almost five years so I have a lot more to tag, but I will keep hammering away.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

I'll Play The Radio On Southern Stations

Generally I try to reserve the summer months to write a spec script that is exactly something I want to read. Thus, all of them are comfortably gathering cyber-dust, but I am glad I wrote them.

Last year I was too busy writing or rewriting seven screenplays for four different producers and in 2006 I took the summer off, but before that I think the last one I did was TIMON OF ATHENS, my modern dress, original prose version of Shakespeare's most broken play, which after patching up a b-movie script or two I thought I might be up to the task for. Loyal readers know that after a thunderous silence I recently released my version of TIMON OF ATHENS under a Creative Commons license at this very site, hoping it will find a home.

So when I started thinking about this summer's script, well into June now, I thought I might write this year's spec for Creative Commons, and go one better and write it on the Celtx 1.0 platform. People are always asking me about Celtx because it is a free open source software for screenwriting (and some other things). As far as I know, the world is split between Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft; I happen to be a MM guy because the first person I sold a script to had it and loaned me a license during the project, so I pretty much had to learn it. When I got paid, I bought it for myself. But I know just as many people love Final Draft and I know it works fine. And those two are pretty much the industry standards.

But this Celtx looks pretty interesting, so I downloaded and started playing with its features. Now I just have to think of what to write. But when it's done, it will be posted free under a Creative Commons license on an open source software. Pretty interesting to think about, eh?

I always compose a "Secret Soundtrack" of songs that help get my juices flowing. That dovetails nicely, I think, to this Seven Songs meme I poached from Warren Ellis:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs.

Warren Ellis is much cooler than me and if I actually listened to any of his song choices my head would probably explode, as I live in a humble rural area of America's Heartland. Thankfully I do have a kid in college home for the summer who happens to be blasting music out of her room all of the time, so some of the more hipster choices of America's youth have filtered into my subconscious, basically frozen musically around 1983. But these are a couple of songs that are getting my juices flowing for writing this summer:

1. WELCOME TO THE BLACK PARADE by My Chemical Romance. Gives me chills. And read THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY too.

2. GOLD DIGGER by Kanye West. Reminds me of those fun, clever raps of the early 90s.

3. FLAGPOLE SITTER by Harvey Danger. I want to publish zines, and rage against machines.

4. CLUMSY by Fergie. I know this goes against my very nature, but somehow I like the 30s-style men's chorus coupled with the 80s-Pong sound FX.

5. MERCY by Duffy. Retro-cool, kinda goes without saying.

6. CRAZY by Gnarls Barkley. This dude knows what he's talking about.

6. I WILL FOLLOW YOU INTO THE DARK by Death Cab for Cutie. Takes me back to the early 80s New Wave. Also, my daughter just got back from the concert and keeps playing it over and over.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The New Baby

What better way to celebrate Father's Day than with some pictures of the new baby? This is Bonnie, our new West Highland Terrier, and the main reason I haven't been able to blog this week as it is too hard to blog one-handed while carrying this sweet bundle of love in the other.


I know, she looks like a piglet. We were out walking around downtown and a little girl said "Look at the kitty on the leash!" In the words of the great Kanye West, I don't care what y'all say, I still love her.

Empty Nest

Yes, I was actually asleep in the yard when my wife took this picture. We have been suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome and were either going to have to fly to Cambodia and adopt some babies like the celebrities or get a puppy. Thankfully we got the puppy, as we had forgotten about that other part about having a baby, which is the pooping and peeing and crying and being up all night.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Down These Lonely Streets

Here's my latest BOOK BEAT column for "Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence," the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference. If you want to read more of my book reviews, check out my attempt to read 50 books in 2008 here.

BLONDE FAITH by Walter Mosley
Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mystery series is one of my favorites, and I always grab up the next one as soon as it hits the shelves. Rawlins is a sort-of private detective whose cases are set against the backdrop of real events, starting in post-war Los Angeles to the current entry, Los Angeles shortly after the Watts riots (which featured heavily in his last work). With his hardboiled plots and socio-political backdrops of a time and place, I find Mosley's work an engaging mix of Ross Macdonald and Chester B. Himes.This crackling story has Rawlins fighting a war on two fronts, trying to free his loyal friend (and genial sociopath) Mouse from a police frame-up while also finding out what happened to a new friend, Vietnam vet Christmas Black, who brought a lot of baggage (and a Vietnamese orphan) back with him. Steady readers of the series will get updates on all of the usual characters as well as a few new ones, including the mysterious Blonde Faith of the title.I have nothing but praise for this notable series and look forward to what's next.

I have been burrowing through stacks of morose Scandinavian mysteries lately, so I thought surely I should tackled The Redbreast, voted the best Norwegian crime novel of all time. And, falling in line with my Norwegian brethren, I would recommend it highly.The unfortunately named Harry Hole is a hard drinking, rule-busting Oslo cop whose bosses generally turn a blind eye because of his knack for solving crimes. He reminds me favorably of one of my favorite series characters, Michael Connelly's similiarly-named Harry Bosch. Unlike the more somber Scandinavian writers, Jo Nesbo infuses Hole with a fair amount of sardonic humor, a welcome relief from the somewhat navel-gazing detectives that populate these works.The Redbreast is intricate but fast-moving, hard-nosed but philosophical, sprawling but intimate. The story jumps from a case involving modern Neo-Nazis to the Eastern Front of World War II, where Norwegians fought alongside Nazis against the Russians, and the terrible ties that bind these events. I enjoyed the plotting and characters and learned a lot about Norway's history during this time period.Nesbo has been very popular overseas, and I hope this overture to English-reading audiences brings more translations of his work here.

A former low-level street tough gets tortured to death at Christmastime, setting the gloomy detectives of the Uppsala (Sweden) police force in motion to catch a killer. Meanwhile, the dead man's criminal brother starts a parallel investigation.Kjell Eriksson's first novel translated into English is called an Ann Lindell mystery, though detective Lindell is on maternity leave during most of the action, leaving the police work to her partner Ola Haver. But Haver really isn't the main character either; with a big cast of interesting police officers the book feels most like a Swedish 87th Precinct (which Eriksson makes a nod to himself when somebody tells Haver that he is "no Carella," a reference to Ed McBain's lead detective).I have been enjoying this boom in Scandinavian mysteries lately just for a change of pace; as opposed to hardboiled American mysteries, when a fellow policeman is abruptly killed, Haver cries and helps lead the squadroom in a discussion of changes in social and democratic trends in Sweden. Even the hardened beat cop is introspective in Uppsala. But I probably would be too, based on the casual discussions of thirty below weather and snow so deep it threatens to crack building roofs (actually a critical plot point).Eriksson's mystery starts off a bit ruminative but soon snaps awake to a crackling conclusion. I ended up enjoying the read quite a bit and will be seeking out the next book in the series.

KISS HER GOODBYE by Allan Guthrie
Most of the great line of Hard Case Crime paperbacks are lost American noir classics reissued with great period covers, but Kiss Her Goodbye is a rare, but welcome, exception; it is a modern crime novel that takes place in Scotland.Joe Hope is an Edinburgh legbreaker who has done a lot of bad things; but is not responsible for the murders of his wife and daughter, though the local constables are eager to put him in the nick. Joe ends up having to rely on a novice attorney, a hardened hooker, and a guy who runs a writer's colony (!) to clear his somewhat tarnished name.Guthrie writes in a tough, sardonic style with bursts of brutal action. I enjoyed this modern novel greatly and think it stands in good company with its classic counterparts.

LUCKY AT CARDS by Lawrence Block
A card sharp gets into a friendly game between gigs, but soon sets his sights on the wife of one of the players; and when that happens in a Hard Case Crime novel, look out.Lucky at Cards is an early hard-boiled novel from Lawrence Block, whose Matthew Scudder detective series I have followed for many years (with When the Sacred Ginmill Closes being one of my favorite mysteries of all time); but this is a reprint from Block's peanut-butter days, with one of those memorable Hard Case Crime covers. Hard Case Crime also reprinted Block's Grifter's Game, a decidedly downbeat slice of noir with similiar themes of luckless joes and man-hungry frails.But Lucky at Cards is a bit more upbeat, and rockets along at an alarming clip as our tarnished hero first gets himself into a scheme to frame the husband and take his money, then finds himself in a frame that is pretty hard to get out of in return. Tension cranks up, and up, right to the end. This was definitely a pulp classic worth rediscovering, and welcome for fans of Lawrence Block.

Friday, June 06, 2008

From the Set: "Halloween Night"

It is deeply bothersome to me that the Polonia Brothers never make movies like this when I'm around. The best I ever saw was Jon McBride in a priest's outfit. Check out what's going on at

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Scrambled Yeggs

I remember reading once that one of my favorite mystery writers, Richard S. Prather, wrote one of his Shell Scott novels on a deadline while suffering from (I think) a bad case of hives. Mother Nature's wrath gave me an evil case of poison ivy after I built a big bonfire from stuff in the easement behind my house on Memorial Day, and I can't find the strength to even blog, so much respect to Mr. Prather. I have it on my eyelids, between my fingers, behind my ears, the end of my nose, and I was suffering to the point I went to the doctor where he said "niiiiiiice" and promptly gave me a shot in the butt. So I am slouching on the couch trying to finish BANGKOK 8, a crime novel I was reading while my daughter was in Thailand to scare myself even more. So until later go check out my brother's new blog, or the trailers from this dude who wrote me an email saying how much he liked my blog (so consider yourself appropriately warned, probably NSFW).

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