OLD DOGS, NEW TRICKS

There are signs lately that the old saw about old dogs and new tricks may be passé. Take that pathetic old rocker Ted Nugent, for example. Now so far past his way-over-valued prime that he reportedly needs a cane to haul himself on stage (sorry, I just made that up to be snarky), old dog Ted sounds like he’s actually learned a new trick.

Remember back in the day when predictably outrageous Ted would announce from the stage that “Obama should suck on my machine gun?” Well, now old dog Ted, a rabid Trump rooter, says he wants to tone down “hateful rhetoric.” After the shooting at a congressional baseball practice, newly sensitive old Ted said he’s decided to be “more selective with my rants and in my words.” A really heart-warming development.… Read the rest

MY FIRST CELL PHONE NIGHTMARE

So I had my first cell phone nightmare last night. I’m not talking about some frustrating episode that actually happened involving the ubiquitous little device that has taken over our lives—the kind of experience where you just can’t get the damn thing to do what it’s supposed to. I’m sure many of you are only too familiar with what I’m talking about.

No, this was a real nightmare, the kind you have when you’re lucky enough to finally fall off to sleep. It felt like most of the night I was fussing and fuming with my little Blackberry, trying to make it work properly.… Read the rest

HEROES…

We seem to have a lot of them these days. Just read the papers or watch the news. No, I’m not talking about all those tireless journalists working their fingers to the bone, breaking bombshell, after expose, after blockbuster about the crazed, pathetic or frightening antics of our sitting president.

There are so many of them at work right now, and the competition among them is so fierce, that if Woodward and Bernstein were still at it today (instead of just being the avuncular personages they play on TV) they’d most likely be lost in the shuffle. No, frankly, in my book, all these super-busy reporters are just doing their jobs.… Read the rest

AT LEAST HE WAS DEAD

We had friends in from out of town a few weekends back, and because their Dallas Cowboys and our Detroit Lions both had games that started at 1 pm on Sunday, the local sports bar was in order. And so well ahead of game-time the four of us were ensconced in a large booth partaking of typical pub fare and surrounded by big-screen TVs.

For a while we were practically the only ones in the bar, but our waitress assured us the place would be jumping by 1:30 or so. And sure enough about that time, with the games well underway, most of the tables and stools were occupied, and the scene was getting a little raucous, with one helpful fellow screaming “He’s goin’ deep!” every time our quarterback decided to launch a pass more than 20 yards downfield—just in case, I suppose, the rest of us hadn’t noticed.… Read the rest

THE PAST WEEK OR SO HAS BEEN PASSING STRANGE

The past week or so has been passing strange. Every day I’ve driven 15 minutes to the house I lived in for about two decades with the woman I divorced about seven years ago. When I moved out back then, I left behind almost all of my most cherished possessions, my books, stacked in boxes in a basement back room.

Now having decided to return to her New England roots, my ex had sold the house, in one of Detroit’s nicest suburbs, a place I could no longer afford. So the books finally had to be moved, and on each trip I filled my car, a smallish station wagon type, with those boxes and brought them back here to my small apartment to stash them in a garage where I had spent days throwing things out and shifting stuff around to make room.… Read the rest

DON’T READ THIS! UNLESS YOU WANT TO SPECULATE ON GONE GIRL’S NEW CINEMATIC ENDING

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s domestic crime thriller, became a publishing sensation in 2012, began its journey to the silver screen with Flynn writing the screenplay in 2013 and is scheduled for its cinematic debut in October, 2014. Recently there’s been a spate of publicity for the movie with the news that it will end in a way substantially different from the ending of the novel.

The word came in the 2014 Preview edition of Entertainment Weekly, where Flynn once worked, and which features a cover photo that seems to be a major spoiler. The photo was staged and snapped by the film’s director, David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who reportedly pushed for the revised ending.… Read the rest

THE MORALITY OF PRICING

There’s been a lot of web chatter lately about what I’d call the morality of book pricing.

The loudest noise, with perhaps the widest ramifications, came last year when the Justice Department accused Apple and the Big Five publishers of conspiring to raise e-book prices. In its war with Amazon for consumer dollars, Apple, according to the Justice Department, had colluded with the publishers to keep the prices of their new e-books well above Amazon’s uniform pricing of $9.99.

A few of the publishers folded quickly and agreed to pay the government substantial penalties. The others and Apple decided to fight but eventually folded as well, or in Apple’s case, lost badly.… Read the rest

MY FRIEND ELMORE LEONARD

As it has for most booklovers, both readers and writers, this week has been a sad one for me. We lost Elmore Leonard at 87 this week, for my money the greatest crime novelist of our time. Beyond his greatness as a writer, Dutch was a good man and a good friend. I had not seen him in a few years, and I certainly would not claim any special bond or connection. Many others were much closer to Elmore. But there is also a sense in which he was a special friend to all writers, with his terrific 10 Rules of Writing and, perhaps even more so, as a model of the devoted, unpretentious and wonderfully productive artist and craftsman.… Read the rest

FOUND GOLD

The other day I went Googling to see if I might have missed a published review of one of my books. I typed in one book and another came up, well down the list and from two years ago. That was before I began publishing, and before any of my books were available, with one exception. There were still old copies of Murder in the Synagogue for sale on Amazon and at several used book sites.

So I checked out the listing, a site called “R. Shlomo’s reading list,” which turned out to be a blog by a Chicago rabbi, and found his review of Murder posted on November 2, 2011.… Read the rest

THE MAKING OF FICTION

Recently a reader friend, a woman I’ve never met, but with whom I’ve exchanged emails, left a review of my new novel The Car Bomb on the book’s Amazon page. Previously she had read and reviewed my two non-fiction books, Murder in the Synagogue and Squelched. That’s her preferred type of book, or genre, True Crime, and so I was a little surprised when she decided to read The Car Bomb. But, of course, I was pleased when she filed this kind review:

“I am not usually a reader of fictional mystery/thriller type book, but this one was a riot.

Read the rest

MS. LITLOVE

Let me stop here for a moment to praise Victoria Louise Best. If the name is familiar, perhaps it’s because you know her blog, “Tales from the Reading Room,” one of the U.K.’s top literary/book review sites. It’s the place where she calls herself “Ms. Litlove.”

Or maybe you’ve read one of her extraordinary biographical sketches of writers in crisis. You can find the latest (on the remarkable American novelist and story writer, Shirley Jackson) in the current issue of the on-line literary mag, Open Letters.

Or you might know the academic volumes she authored while lecturing for a decade in French literature at Cambridge.… Read the rest

EPIC PRISON SCAM VS. EPIC GENDER WAR, Part 2

Last time I spent most of a lengthy post on John Grisham’s hot new one, The Racketeer and promised a comparison of sorts with Gillian Flynn’s super bestseller, Gone Girl. (If you want to catch up first, please click here.) One of the things these books have in common is the timeless power of good storytelling.

Yes, I guess by now we’ve all read about the Flynn book’s inventive plotting, fascinating (and unreliable) narrators, rich themes and savvy style. And let me say up front, I liked much of it and for those very traits that so many others have noted.… Read the rest

EPIC PRISON SCAM VS. EPIC GENDER WAR, Part 1

Sorry, if you’ve dropped by here at all this year, you’ve found the same damn self-serving post day after day, week after week, month after month. And so you probably concluded that I was either dead or too busy to blog. Fortunately it was the latter.

I’ve been putting the finishing touches (always a treacherous trap for me ) to a couple of new crime novels, in what I’m calling The detroit im dyin Trilogy. So more about these new books later.

Right now I’d like to offer some thoughts on two novels that have battled lately for those coveted top spots on the NY Times hardcover bestseller list: John Grisham’s recently released legal thriller The Racketeer and Gillian Flynn’s still wildly popular gender thriller, Gone Girl.… Read the rest

DON’T HIDE YOUR LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL

Okay, far be it from me to argue with a classic old saying that apparently goes all the way back to Matthew (5:14-16) in the New Testament:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

The problem is we live in the Era of Snow-Blindness, a time when all of us are enveloped by the digital blizzard, with screens of all sizes shimmering in every corner and the Net buzzing insistently in our pockets.… Read the rest

MY SHIP HAS COME IN!

This morning I was in bed more or less minding my own business, and I decided to do what I often do under such circumstances: read my email on my very smart little mobile. The first new one was from someone I don’t know, a fellow named Waziri Ahmed, and in the subject line I read, “Kindly get back to me……”

Now, perhaps like many of you, I often get messages from people I don’t know. Usually they’re from Africa, and usually they want to make me a rich man. Most of these messages are so farfetched and absurd, that I’ve taken to deleting without opening them.… Read the rest

WHY I DISAPPEARED

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, one of our most prolific and important bloggers on the business of writing and publishing, recently wrote a lengthy 3-part series of posts titled, “Why Writers Disappear.” There is something in it for just about every writer, and it certainly caught my eye, because, after all, I am a writer who, about 40 years ago, disappeared.

Kris starts by listing a dozen reasons why writers disappear and then goes into considerable detail on each of those reasons. Of course, I quickly scanned through the list, searching for one or more that might match up with my own experience.… Read the rest

UNSYMPATHETIC CHARACTERS

There’s been lots of chatter lately about the importance of populating a novel with sympathetic characters.

We’ve had advice from agents about what will entice a traditional publisher.

Editors have warned about what is or is not acceptable these days if you want to sell books.

Reviewers complain and readers fulminate about how they just couldn’t get into a particular piece of fiction, because they didn’t really care about the characters who people it. They didn’t like them, thought they were too off-putting, found them to be distasteful creatures for one reason or another.

Now no one is saying that every character in a novel needs to be a positive role model, or a hero, or have some redeeming value.… Read the rest

DEFEAT

So here’s just one way of looking at last night (November 6).

It was a stunning defeat for:

  • Mendacious Mitt
  • The One Percent and those self-serving billionaires who tried to buy an election
  • Intolerance
  • Those who would yank health care from our newly covered millions
  • Ayn Rand
  • Lies and deception as essential campaign tools
  • Secrecy and hidden agendas
  • Those who would deny women the right to control their own bodies
  • The rabid right and all those who cater to it
  • The opposition to any reasonable control of the market dipsy-do that crashed our economy
  • Shape-shifting
  • Angry, self-seeking white people
  • Turd Blossom
  • Candidates with Swiss bank accounts
  • Political calculation over minding the People’s business
  • Race baiting
  • Those untold millions still living in the 1950s
  • Donald J(erk) Trump
  • Homophobia
  • Blindness to the changing face of the American electorate
Read the rest

PLEASED AND GRATIFIED

If you’re a writer, you know there may be nothing as pleasing and gratifying as a warm word of approval from someone whose opinion you deeply value. Well, yes, sufficient book sales to allow full-time work on the next book is also pretty cool.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the former, though not the latter, but what was that line from the incomparable Fran Lebowitz? Something about an author’s premature death from insufficient praise?

So today I came across a review of my novel The Obsession from a woman I greatly admire, Victoria Best, perhaps better known as the blogger Ms.… Read the rest

WE’RE NOT IN MANHATTAN ANY MORE

(Note: For convenience sake, this entry combines and retools material from this blog’s first 3 posts.)

That things have changed is a pretty common observation from those interested in books and publishing these days, but my story about the Great Transformation might shed a different kind of light.

I started working on my first ebook in 1970. Yes, people still lived in caves back then, and ereaders were only a gleam in the eye of some techie savant. But for me it was supposed to be a big year, with the publication of Murder in the Synagogue, my true crime account of the killing of Rabbi Morris Adler in a suburban Detroit temple on Lincoln’s birthday, 1966.… Read the rest

THE CLOSE THIRD AND THE ESSENCE OF FICTION

Is fiction dying? Or, in this early flowering of the ebook age, is it resurgent? You can find advocates for each position, but what continues to fascinate me are questions surrounding what each kind of narration, fiction and non-fiction, can do best.

If you’ve glanced around this site, you know I’ve written and published both fiction and non-fiction, true crime reportage, memoir, short stories and novels. So which kind of writing do I think can have the most impact on a reader’s heart and mind? What form or type has the best chance of delivering what great writing of any sort always offers: an enthralling experience—intellectual, emotional, aesthetic—that somehow imparts a new sense of how life works, the details and dimensions of the human condition, and perhaps even the secrets we keep from ourselves?… Read the rest

FLIRTING WITH GENRE (Part 2)

In my last post…

I offered some thoughts on the currently heated discussion of genre versus literary fiction and said I’d look at the experience of constructing my own novels.

So I did not begin with any such intentions, but it turns out that my novel The Obsession is a kind of hybrid, a cross between a psychological and a literary thriller, with elements of crime, mystery and suspense.  I simply set out to tell the story in my head, and this is the way it came out. To my mind there is nothing particularly innovative, groundbreaking or original about its methods, shape or purpose.… Read the rest

FLIRTING WITH GENRE

In two recent posts titled Why Crime?…

I’ve talked about why we’re so taken with crime books and why crimes usually happen in my own books. One more (rather stray) thought occurred, and I decided to drop it in here:

It may be a good thing at times to remind ourselves that the most efficient, ruthless and, to my mind, disgusting criminals in our midst usually dress well. Those who deliver the most damage to the greatest number of lives around them often favor a well-tailored suit (occasionally one that includes a skirt) or an impressive military uniform, or, with some in the Middle-East, the kind of sparkling white robe we often like to picture Jesus wearing.… Read the rest

BUYING BOOK REVIEWS

Suddenly two weekends ago (8/25-26)

All those contentious words flying around the web for weeks on the subject of book reviews (Too nice? Too nasty? Not worth the trouble?) got trumped. In a sprightly expose in the New York Times with the irresistible title, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” David Streitfeld caused a firestorm of comments (331 the last time I looked) by describing a handy little service that once was available but is no more.

The brainchild of a guy named Todd Rutherford, a shrewd entrepreneur with a convenient conscience, GettingBookReviews.com opened for business in the fall of 2010.… Read the rest

WHY CRIME? (Part 2)

In my last post I asked…

Why do so many of us seem to love books that feature crime? You might want to check it out here, before heading into this one. But in any case, as promised, I want to talk about why crimes usually happen in my own novels. (Check out The Obsession, and The Disappearance.)

Certainly I hope they’ll add a measure of suspense, mystery and narrative drive, but that’s not necessarily why you’ll find them there. Crimes also happen in my novels because I want to deal with life and death issues, because I’m interested in exploring ethical values in real world situations, questions of right and wrong and how we frame them, avoid them, or ultimately answer them, how we deal with a moral dilemma or a conflict of values.… Read the rest

WHY CRIME?

Why do so many of us seem to love crime with a passion?

Why do we devour book after book as if we’re in the clutches of an addiction? All kinds of crimes in all kinds of books:

True Crime practitioners and confessional scribes dealing in white collar and organized wrong-doing, mass and serial murder, assassination and the lethal encounter with family member, lover or spouse, rape, torture and enslavement, war-time espionage and spy story, all sorts of robbery, armed and otherwise, the looting of personal fortunes, the Detroit carjack and the Wall Street highjack, the heist caper and the bank job, the quiet counterfeit and the audacious Ponzi scheme, the suburban home invasion and downtown street mugging, and all kinds of mayhem–passionate, perverse, mad, calculated, cold-blooded, or simply inexplicable.… Read the rest

THINGS HAVE CHANGED (Part 3)

So this is the third and last installment of this series…

In Part 1 and Part 2 I’ve been asking, are Murder in the Synagogue and Squelched: The Suppression of Murder in the Synagogue irrelevant, ancient history?  If not, why not?

So how common is what Prentice-Hall did to Murder? As I recount in Squelched, soon after the publication of Murder, I heard directly from two prominent literary agents on the subject. The very successful Julian Bach gestured at his office window overlooking 48th Street and told me, “Look, this 20-square-block area of Manhattan is the publishing establishment in this country, and they’ve all had their experiences like this.”

And the famed Scott Meredith advised me that this kind of thing happened with enough regularity that no one of importance would even care if another instance were publicly revealed and documented.… Read the rest

THINGS HAVE CHANGED (Part 2)

Last time…

I wrote about my books Murder in the Synagogue and Squelched: The Suppression of Murder in the Synagogue and ended by asking what, if anything, their fate 40 years ago might add to the conversation we’re having about the Great Shift in publishing these days. You can catch up with that post here.

One of the things people say after reading Squelched is that so many of the details are reminders of things past. For example, the size of the advance Prentice-Hall gave me for writing Murder: $8500 back in 1966 when Puzo got five grand for what turned out to be one of the best-selling novels of all time.… Read the rest

THINGS HAVE CHANGED

Oh, you’ve noticed?

Yes, a pretty common observation from those interested in books and publishing these days. But I’ve got a story about the Great Shift that’s a bit unusual and might shed a different light.

It was 1970—I know, people still lived in caves back then, but stick with me for a moment—a big year for me with the publication of Murder in the Synagogue, my true crime account of the killing of Rabbi Morris Adler in a suburban Detroit temple on Lincoln’s birthday, 1966. An assassination it was called, one of several, you may remember, in those turbulent years.… Read the rest