Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Love for Hammett...And Cigars!

You never know what you're going to learn about your favorite people, be them authors or actors or whatever, but today I learned that Dashiell Hammett enjoyed cigars...maybe as much as I do.
I hope he didn't light it with a Zippo!

Hammett expert and San Francisco resident Don Herron reported the discovery on his wonderful Hammett-related web site. Apparently a shot of Hammett about to light a cigar appears in a film about composer Harold Arlen. You can't tell what kind of cigar it is but to me it looks like a five-inch corona. I bet it was a Clear Havana or another Cuban cigar. The closest I have ever come to a Cuban is what I'm smoking as I type this, a Churchill-sized Havana Blend from the Finck Cigar Company. This cigar is blended, the company says, with Cuban tobacco from the 1959 crop (it's 30% Cuban; the rest of the filler is made up of non-Cuban tobacco). I don't know if that's advertising hype or not, but this is one of the best and one of the smoothest cigars I have ever smoked. It's very mild and creamy and tastes great. I'll be buying more of these, for sure, to go along with my regular supply of Punch and Mr. B. Right now I have two humidors full of stogies; I think a total of 90. That should cover me for the next two weeks! The only downside of the Havana Blend is that eventually they will run out of Cuban tobacco. That will be a sad day indeed. But in the meantime, I shall light up and enjoy!

Call me a geek but this discovery is pretty neat. When I write, there's always a cigar going. I hate when the ash gets on my keyboard, but that's my fault. I wonder if Hammett had the same routine when he wrote (I know he smoked cigarettes based on other pictures). He certainly, as we all know, put away a ton of whiskey, and I can report I in no way can keep up with his consumption (no pun intended), but Dash and I share a love of stogies and that is pretty cool.

Every now and then the question arises of which figure in history would you want to have dinner with. I've never been able to answer the question to my satisfaction, but now I would say Hammett. And after dinner, we would light up a couple of Cubans and kill a few bottles of whiskey and talk writing and politics and hopefully not kill each other in the process. Of course, cigar people are friendly people, so even if we disagree on things we could still be civil.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Indie Scene: L.J. Sellers

L.J. Sellers
Since becoming an "indie author" I have not read much from other indies, but I am in the process of correcting this oversight. One of the first indie authors I have tried is L.J. Sellers. She has a book out called The Sex Club, the first in her Detective Jackson series, and it's a winner. The story involves a group of teen girls engaging in less than savory activities, and at first glance you might think it's an exploitative work designed to titillate (a man might write it that way, I'm sorry to say), but that is not the case. Do not let the title or story description fool you. The Sex Club is a solid police thriller with a great opening hook--a real grabber--and Sellers has a way, though the opening dialogue between two characters, of not only drawing you into the story but making you feel sympathetic for the characters, a trick she carries through the entire novel. If she could find a way to bottle that skill, she wouldn't have to get rich selling books.

The best news? Sellers has written more books in the Jackson series and is on her way to having quite an extensive output; she will be on my "must read" list for the foreseeable future.

Give it a try. You can find the book on Amazon and she has both electronic and print editions available.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Anonymous-9 Unmasked

So, have you heard the news?

Of course you have.

Several years ago a terrific author named Anonymous-9 appeared on the scene with a set of mind-blowing short stories.  Who was this person who claimed, in interviews, to spend hours toiling over whether or not to use a comma in the middle of a sentence?  In one instance, a bio stated, "I'm anonymous for a reason, jackass."  Which, of course, made me love he/she even more.

Well, now we know.  Anonymous-9 is unmasked.

Click away.

Meet Anonymous-9:  The Wonderful Elaine Ash!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

BULLET FOR ONE--Available Now!

I am pleased to announce the "publication" of Bullet for One, my new crime novel featuring private eye John Coburn. If you click on the cover seen to the right of your screen, the link will take you to Amazon. Special thanks and acknowledgement to Rebecca Forster for designing the cover.

Here's the description:


Five years ago John Coburn watched as his father was gunned down by a masked man. Tortured by the fact that the killer was never caught, Coburn fights the feelings of failure that haunt his every waking moment.

Now, history has repeated itself. When his best friend Felix is murdered after agreeing to protect a witness, John Coburn dives in to catch the killer before the police and FBI. Battling official law enforcement and his own demons, Coburn turns over every lead, rattles every cage, and stretches his own moral code to the breaking point. As he digs deeper into a mystery that involves a team of thieves, corrupt businessmen, and a mafia kingpin with a price on his head, Coburn realizes that revenge has a cost he cannot calculate.

If he fails, can he live with another ghost?

If he succeeds, can he live with the consequences?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

James Bond: Licence Revisited

When did you fall in love with books? For me it would have been around age 12 or 13. I was in sixth grade, we were preparing for summer, and one of my teachers took us to the library in an effort to get us reading less we spend all summer on the couch watching television (which I'm sure 99% of the kids did anyway).

For me it was a perfect storm. A tradition with me and my father, since 1983, had been to go see the new James Bond film when it came out (Dad always had to see them before me to make sure it wasn't too naughty) and when I found out James Bond had been a book series, I wanted to find an example. This library field trip provided the opportunity.

Well, I found For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, which happened to be two of the most recent Bond films at the time, and my summer was set. I also began reading every action/adventure and spy book I could get my hands on. Ludlum to Forsyth and so on. Some of the books were out of my range of comprehension and I didn't "get" them; reading some of them as an adult, I smile at my naivete of the time and enjoy the heck out of those novels now.

Also on my reading list that summer were the new James Bond adventures written by John Gardner.

Mr. John Gardner
Over the years I have kept my Fleming books but the Bond continuation novels have not survived, being donated or given away, but recent talk of the Gardner books being reprinted sparked my interest in giving him another go. At a Half Price Books in town I found a pristine first edition hardcover of Gardner's Licence Renewed, his first Bond adventure, and one that occupies a special place in my mind. It was during that aforementioned summer that I read Licence Renewed while laying on the living room couch, trying to block out the noise of MTV which my sister insisted on watching at loud volume in the next room. Well, I was hooked. Licence Renewed was a great book. I am enjoying my second reading, but there is little that I remember about the story. Snippets only, really. Bits of dialogue are familiar. So it's as if this is my first time, and it's great fun.

Gardner updated Bond for the 1980s and we can argue whether or not that was necessary (at least he wasn't "rebooted" as he is in the new Deaver monstrosity--I sure hope the new book was printed on recycled paper as I weep at the thought of good trees being sacrificed for that poor excuse for a Bond novel). Gardner turned out a good story, but one of my biggest criticisms is that the author could not decide on how to arm Bond. In the first four books, he changed guns every time, not settling down with an ASP 9mm pistol until Role of Honour, if my memory is correct.

In Licence Renewed the gun described is a seven-shot 9mm Browning. I am a pistol enthusiast and know of no such gun--for me, the Browning nine-millimeter is the Model 1935 Hi-Power with the 13-shot magazine capacity. With some detective work on Google, based on Gardner's description, I have identified the unknown gun as a Browning Model 1903. While I'm sure it does the job it was designed for it's hardly "cool enough" to be a Bond gun and certainly nothing anybody would want to run out and buy, as was (and remains) the case with the Walther PPK. I believe it is in the second or third Gardner book that Bond is issued with a Heckler & Koch P7, a wonderful pistol, and certainly a gun worthy of replacing the Walther (as is the ASP). But a 1903 Browning antique? Good grief, John, what were you thinking? (Coincidentally, the original British first edition features a painting of the 1903 Browning on the cover, thereby confirming my own investigation. Yes, I get quite bored sometimes.)

Unfortunately Mr. Gardner is no longer alive to explain why he chose the Browning, but he left us with a set of entertaining books to read, even if his Bond series was on life-support after Icebreaker. He wrote a lot of good books outside of Bond, and will hopefully, one day, get the proper respect he deserves. I enjoyed his books as a kid, and fully intend on enjoying them again as an adult, and together he and Ian Fleming, that long ago summer, started me on the path to writing my own stories. Gardner will always be aces with me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Coming Soon....THE ROGUE GENTLEMAN series!

Here is a sneak peak at the covers of my new series, The Rogue Gentleman. The series will debut with a "pilot" novel, a full-length adventure, followed by a numbered continuity of novellas that will be stand-alone stories with a common subplot running through each. The novellas will appear once a month and I am currently writing up a storm to meet the schedule.

Who is the Rogue? Throw The Saint and James Bond into a martini shaker, shake until ice cold, and add an American accent and you have it. You won't find any of the bleakness contained in my crime novels; instead, there will be high adventure mixed with humor, lots of guns and things getting blowed up real good, and a few fabulous babes thrown in for flavor.

The Rogue himself is in reality Steve Dane, former US agent and mercenary who now rights wrongs wherever he finds them. Assisting him is sexy former FSB operative Nina Talikova. I've given them a Nick-and-Nora vibe so along with the gun fights there is a lot of alcohol consumption. A lot. Nina loves her vodka... and her nine-millimeter SIG-Sauer... and Steve Dane... but not always in that order. There was the temptation to have Dane mix with a different woman in every story, but I decided I liked the idea of a one-woman man much better. A case of herpes Dane does not need.

Anyway the Rogue is on the way. I hope you enjoy the stories.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Coming Soon....BULLET FOR ONE

I thought you might like to see the cover for my next ebook, a crime thriller called Bullet for One. Maybe I should post an excerpt. I'll think about that! It's a private eye story in the Spillane mold that I wrote ten years ago but put it in a drawer because there were so many other PI books at the time I didn't think mine would break through. So I wrote other books. After going through it a few months ago, I saw it had some potential now that so much time had gone by, so I cleaned it up and prepared it for electronic publication.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chasing The Rabbit

Today I visited a used bookstore the likes of which I haven't seen in ages. Books stacked one atop the other in haphazard fashion, simply because there's no more room. You could smell the old books and the dust they had accumulated and maybe even some mildew from the wooden walls that seemed in dire need or repair. I loved it. I finally found a good copy of The Ipcress File by Len Deighton, the acquisition of which has been like trying to hit a home run with a toothpick.

On my way to the counter I saw a locked cabinet in which sat a goldmine of Gold Medal and other vintage paperbacks. Such names as Peter Rabe and John D. MacDonald and Harry Whittington and Jim Thompson got my attention and oh my gosh I started getting excited. An elderly lady with black curly hair sat behind the counter working a crossword. I asked her, "May I open this?"

"No," said she, setting down the crossword and folding her arms. "Those are MY books. Not for sale for a million dollars."

She smiled and showed me her yellow teeth. She was a cranky old bitch.

Oh, well. I've been burned in ages past spending too much money on an old Gold Medal only to find I couldn't open the pages without the book falling apart. The best of Rabe, Whittington, and John D. is readily available, but it's always a treat to actually hold a real Gold Medal or a real Dell or even the rare Lion in my hand. I think those of us who write in the crime and mystery genre look at those books, and the pulp magazines that came before them, the way an archeologist looks at an ancient ruin. This is where we came from, this is what inspires us.

Those old books are great because not only are they short and to the point unlike the doorstops produced today (I’m looking at you, Ted Bell—600 pages in a paperback???), but the best of those writers were forging new ground in American literature. Today, we don't see any new ground, at least I don’t think we do (and here I go complaining again....). It's almost as if all the pioneering has been done. Somebody else built the airplane, other men landed on the moon, somebody else drove a production car over 200 miles per hour. Those of us that have come after have no more worlds to conquer.

Maybe that's why so much of today's entertainment is nonsense. The new inventions are time-wasters that serve no real purpose other than to make us spend money. Artists are not doing anything new, just trying to outdo somebody else in terms or shock or awe, or copying what somebody else did; it gets tiresome.

Perhaps the public plays a role, too, in gravitating to the simple and the comfortable. They won't accept anything that isn't a carbon copy of what they read or watched last week. In a recent spy novel I picked up, the hero is still called "the best we have". How many "best" agents are there? I thought James Bond was the best. Then Matt Helm was the best. Then Jack Bauer was the best. Somebody needs to make up their mind. How many "hard as nails" cops who “break all the rules” pound a beat? Of course, these days’ heroes are more “flawed”—usually divorced alcoholics "haunted" by the past. Gag me.

How many authors are household names today? When I grew up you had King, Forsythe, Ludlum, Clancy, Grisham, Rice--and I'm probably leaving out a few. If you hadn't read their books, you at least knew who they were. Today? Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling. Stephanie Meyer. Maybe James Patterson. That's it.

The reason I like the old timers is because their stories were mostly fresh and the directions they charted were new and exciting, and I read them because I hope some of that rubs off on me. I'm not sure today's writers have the same effect. Not that there aren't talented people putting pen to paper, there just aren't enough of them, and those that are claiming new territory and charting new directions aren't selling as well as they should--or at all. It boggles my mind how writers like Max Allan Collins or Rebecca Forster aren't read by more people. Everything Collins does is amazing. When he goes for the shocker plot point or the twist ending, you're genuinely shocked and surprised, and not because somebody's head got lopped off and tossed in a duffel bag. The last three books Forster wrote were the best nail-biting legal suspense stories ever. Where is she after three books that were less than successful? Dropped by her agent and publisher. Those three books? Out of print. She’s going the indie route now and doing well. But Dan Brown's drivel flies out the door and Patterson writes more books than humanly possible. It's a crime.

I guess I wasn't looking at a gold mine of old books, I was trying to reach a gold mine of creativity and originality that remains elusive. But that's okay. As long as there's something to chase, there's something to strive for. It's when you catch the rabbit that life loses its purpose and all that's left to do is try and find a way to leave behind a good-looking corpse.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Swimming With the Saint, or: A Halo Ain’t a Life Preserver!

The Saint Overboard, one of only a handful of full-length Simon Templar novels (the rest being short story collections), is another great thriller from Leslie Charteris.  It is hard for me to say the novel has flaws.  It does not.  The story is carefully crafted.  The scenery is carefully detailed.  The dialogue and description are carefully written.  The characters are carefully developed.  The underwater scenes are tense and terrific.  The ending is a kicker—Mike Hammer would be proud of how Templar disposes of his nemesis.  The Saint is not a wimp.  There is nothing about this book that is not 100% up to standard.  But it lacks something.   What it lacks is the humor of other Saint stories—the short stories in particular, and the hilarious antics of The Saint’s Getaway, another of the novels.

Overboard is a much darker Saint adventure, and a lot like The Saint in New York.  In this episode, Templar battles Kurt Vogel, a criminal who searches for sunken ships laden with treasure and steals the treasures before the ships can be properly recovered.  Loretta Page, the “Saint Girl” of the piece, who works for a detective agency tracking Vogel, informs the Saint of the plot after Templar rescues her from one of Vogel’s henchmen.    The Saint weaves his way into Vogel’s confidence to stop him (he is a dreadful chap, after all, and a murderer, too) and to grab some of the treasure for himself (even the happy highwayman needs a paycheck now and then!).   The suspense will make you hold your breath.  You will find Vogel one of the best villains ever written.  He could have been a great arch enemy for Simon Templar; the book could have alternatively been titled The Saint Meets His Match.  He is just plain creepy, guv.

But a serious Saint equals a boring Saint, or at least a less entertaining Saint.  For all its seriousness, this could have been a James Bond novel (imagine Bond on holiday when he stumbles onto the plot and either takes it upon himself or gets permission from Her Majesty's Government to pursue…).  There are only two funny moments. Both are short.

Mr. Charteris Plots Next Novel
I did not read this one as quickly as I have other Saint books; I also did not read New York very quickly as it is similarly dark and humorless.  But both Overboard and New York contain some of the best writing I have ever come across, great sequences you want to frame and study and hope that one day you can write half as well as Charteris.  But neither are my favorite Saint novels.  He does comedy and adventure so well you want the mix every time, as if it were your favorite highball; when he does not provide that mix, you still enjoy it, but know it could have been better.

The Saint Overboard also suffered from a lack of Templar’s Gal Friday, Patricia Holm.  I fell in love with old Pat during The Saint Plays With Fire and The Saint’s Getaway.  They are great together, have a wonderful relationship, and share terrific banter.  But she is missing from quite a few Saint books, and I wish she were not (there is supposedly a story behind her removal from the series but whether or not it is a canonical story I am not sure so we will not mention it here).  Instead, we get a “Saint Girl” and it is not as good.  We know Loretta, like every Bond Girl (except Tiffany Case), will be gone by the next story.

My next Saintly reading will be one of the short story sets; I have two more Saint novels to go through and I will save them for later.  I do not think Patricia Holm appears in either of them, damn and blast.