Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My End of Year 2013 Blog

As 2013 draws to a close, I can look back and see it was a good one. Of course, I look for bigger things in 2014, but that is still off a ways yet. Look for a new PI Frank Johnson mystery series title (AFTER THE BIG NOISE) coming out. My crime noir novel TOPAZ MOON already has a listing at Goodreads. Mark it to read if it appeals to your reader tastes. There is more. Expect to see Isabel and Alma Trumbo making their next series appearance in THE LADYBUG SONG. I also have another short story collection (no title right now) in the works. With all that, I'd better get busy writing. Thanks for reading my blog posts, and all the best for your new year 2014, too.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Walking: The Right Daily Exercise For Me

Today I woke up to a rainy, cold, and raw day outdoors, and I still haven't gotten suited up to knock out my daily long walk. Or perhaps my 2.1 miles isn't all that long. My cousin told me over the holidays she now logs in hoofing 4 (!) miles per day. Anyway, getting back to the inclement weather, I may have to scratch today's outing at pounding the pavement. We'll have to see. Speaking of pounding the pavement, I pass by a few regular joggers. I tried taking up their sport (jogging), but I found it wrecked my knees, so I stopped it. I wasn't keen on getting a knee or hip replacement any time soon. I've heard of the popular Fitbit® activity and sleep wristbands. It keeps track of your steps taken and your calories burned during the day, and at night records your sleep quality. They intrigue me. However, at the moment, I don't move around enough outside of my walks to have any significant data worth tracking. Sometimes while I'm out and about, I'll think of writerly ideas. So, I figured out how to activate the voice recorder on my cell phone, and it has worked out nicely for me. I'm still waiting to be inspired to write my NYT bestselling novel. Until then, I'll just keep on trucking, as they like to say.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Did You See The Movie Or Read The Book First?

Just this past week I finished reading John Godey's The Taking of Pelham 123, a nicely done if somewhat deliberately paced subway thriller of almost 400 pages. The basic premise is four desperadoes get the bright idea to hijack a New York City subway car and hold its passengers hostage for a one million dollar ransom. Easier said than done. But one of the desperados is a former motorman who has the right inside knowledge to implement their caper.

The paperback edition I read advertises the 2009 movie starring Denzel Washington (who I really like watching act) and John Travolta. I also remember the original 1974 film adaptation with Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam and Héctor Elizondo. I haven't seen either movie although I'm more inclined to see the original one than the reboot which don't seem to fare too well. Goodreads friends who have seen the two movies have recommended the first one over the second to me.

When I do catch the movie, it will be interesting to see how closely it follows the book. Or if the movie takes off on a tangent of its own. If given a choice, however, I prefer not to have read the book first. It keeps me from enjoying the movie as much as I'd like to because I'm constantly comparing it to what happened in the book.

True Grit is another such example. This time I saw both movie versions before I finally got around to reading the book. All three were good in their own way. I like the Duke in just about all his movies I've ever seen, so I'm favorably biased about him starring in the first True Grit flick. What is your preference, seeing the movie or reading the book first?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Terrific Reads Did You Get for Christmas?

It's no big secret I like watching film noir. The movies give me a break from my writing projects. Imagine, then, my delight to open the Christmas wrapping on A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide This is the whopper of a book my wife gave me for Christmas. It clocks in at almost 800 pages and must weigh at least a ton. Talk about reader bliss. Between its covers are all kinds of goodies about film noir, including the writers like Cornell Woolrich whose fiction was adapted for many of the flicks. I've been reading the various entries, and the author and I have similar reactions and tastes, a good thing. I've only run across one error, also a good thing. I'm not an expert or critic on the genre, but just another fan and admirer. There is something fun about viewing them. I'll post future blogs about this big book and how reading it adds to my movie-watching pleasure. I hope your holidays are also shaping up with interesting reads and hours of entertainment.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays to You!

We the staff (i.e., me) here at the Cracked Rearview Mirror Weblog extend our best wishes for your holidays. I appreciate your stopping by and reading my different blog posts throughout the year. Stay safe and have a good one.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Enjoyed Watching NEBRASKA: Eye-Catching Photography & Masterful Lead Actor

This excellent American comedy-drama stars Bruce Dern, June Squib, Stacy Keach, and Will Forte. I haven't seen Dern in anything of a meaty movie role since Coming Home in 1978. He's usually a character actor filling a side role. He played out a whacked out tattoo artist with Maud Adams in the 1981 erotic thriller film Tattoo. Anyway, in Nebraska, Dern is an old geezer who is convinced he has won a million dollars. Obviously, the notification letter he carries is a crass come on and total scam. Nevertheless, he is bound and determined to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to redeem his grand prize. His youngest son played by Will Forte does his best to humor his father's outrageous wish by taking him there since Dern has lost his driver's license due to his alcoholism. June Squib as Dern's long suffering, outspoken wife provides a refreshing measure of comedy. Nebraska is filmed in black and white, making the shots of the cornfields and rural towns crisp and barren looking. The pace is leisurely, and interactions are low keyed. gives Nebraska a very high 8.1 mark, and I concur wholeheartedly.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Which Books That Were Christmas Gifts Do You Remember?

I was idly thinking about this topic while out running errands this morning. I had to pick up our grapefruits sold by the Lions Club who do their great community service work. Anyway, getting back to the books. The earliest mystery novel I ever enjoyed was Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators inThe Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur. It was a Christmas gift from my parents. I thought the junkyard where the boy-sleuths met was a cool place to hang out. I'm not sure why a junkyard would have appealed to me, but it did. I believe the title was one in a series. The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West was another book that has stuck in my mind. The Deer Stalker by Zane Grey was another early book I have a vivid memory of reading. My pleasure to read Western genre books has carried over to my adulthood. American History books gave me lots of pleasure, but I can't remember any of the specific titles. Now we have the Kindles and such to store and display our books, and gift cards to redeem and download our favorite books. I hope you find satisfying reads over the holidays to get you started on the 2014 season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

About Those "Treasures" Kept In Our Attics Or Garages

We like to watch the History Channel TV reality show PAWN STARS. Maybe you've watched it, too. The show's format is basically folks bring in their valuable treasures and try to sell them to the skeptical pawnbrokers. But not always. For instance, Richard "Old Man" Harrison on the show just loves getting silver and coins, but he usually turns away stuff like sports cards and political pins. He says the value on those kinds of items fluctuates so much. When I was a kid, I could buy packs of Topps baseball cards at any 7-Eleven. My friends did the same thing, and I suspect the other kids did also. The rule of supply and demand would mean there is plenty of supply but little demand for all those baseball cards today. In other words, I don't view my baseball cards as a good investment. As a kid's hobby, they were a lot of fun, but that was about it. I don't think I could persuade the "Pawn Stars" to buy my baseball cards (if I still had them) for a fabulous amount of money. So, I guess I'll keep looking in my attic for the real treasure, but I think it's going to be a long search for me.

Typos: Are They Here To Stay As The New Normal?

Nowadays the typos are cropping up everywhere with increasing frequency, especially with all the independent presses and self-published e-books. The worst typos are sometimes so outrageous, they are comical. They certainly can change the meaning of a sentence. As a writer, I have to cringe a little at seeing these pesks. But then e-books can be fixed and uploaded again fairly quickly and painlessly to fix them. An opinion editorial by Virginia Hefferman in the New York Times describes how some readers "find humanity in orthographic quirks" like the typos and misspellings. Gone now are the legions of copy editors and proofreaders who once ensured the printed works produced by the big publishing houses were almost pristine and mistake-free. Nothing is more frustrating to a reader than tripping over typos in a book, especially after paying good money for it. (I use a beta reader and proofread my novels several times before I send them to my publisher. Typos still sneak in.) But I have to wonder if readers are becoming immune and resignedly accepting typos as the new normal found in the book world. I once worked with a technical editor who thought typos were "the hobgoblins of small minds" (of course, he was quoting Emerson's famous statement). Have you ever read a printed book and found where a previous sharp-eyed reader has corrected the typos in pencil or ink? Maybe they are a dying breed. Maybe today's readers just gloss over the typos, and they don't infuriate readers as much as they once did.  

Link to the New York Times opinion editorial cited in my blog:            

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: 99 River Street

This 1953 film noir, recommended to me from somewhere I've forgotten, turns out to be a gem for me. I haven't seen a better B picture in a while. It stars John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Frank Faylen, and Peggie Castle. Payne plays an ex-champion heavyweight boxer who recently lost the biggest fight of his career. He now drives a NYC cab for a paycheck, and his shrewish wife (Peggy Castle) is tired of their boring marriage and lack of money. She hooks up with a smooth-talking diamond thief (Brad Dexter), and they make plans to skip town. Meantime Payne meets his actress friend (Evelyn Keyes) who has her own problems and seeks Payne's aid. The New York Times film critic at the time ripped the movie, but all the objections raised are the very things that make it fun. Evelyn Keyes delivers a crackerjack performance (one scene is a standout--you'll know it when you see it), and the fight sequences are well-done. John Payne who I've seen perform before in films makes for a convincing washed-up but not beaten yet pug. rate 99 River Street at 7.4/10.0, but I'd give it a solid 8.0.

Monday, December 16, 2013

PI Scott Shell: Hardboiled Made Fun

Shell Scott. I remember the PI character well. His rakish portrait with those infamous bone white eyebrows and short hair was stamped top center on front covers to the paperback series.

It was like an icon, a name brand, or a logo you couldn’t easily forget. Perhaps that was the publisher’s genius behind the marketing ploy. Those Shell Scott paperbacks by Richard S. Prather were on my grandfather’s bed table, drugstore racks, and with the 40-million (!) copies sold, just about everywhere you went it seemed.

This past summer while out on a book-buying junket, I snapped up his title DEAD MAN’S WALK (Pocket Books, 1965) for $1.95. Its original cost was a whopping 60 cents. A short while later, I started reading it and was hooked, as they say, by a fast-paced, somewhat intricate, and always outlandish yarn.

Shell Scott in this entry was dispatched to Verde Island in the Caribbean Sea to match wits against voodoo and murder and betrayal. Much has been made about Mr. Prather’s puckish humor for very good reason. In the novel’s opening scene, Scott ambling down the cruise ship’s gangplank is accosted by a local witch doctor who screams a curse on him. In turn, our hero simply retorts: “I’m going to pop you.” After some confusion, Scott’s balled up fist in the witch doctor’s face bridges any communication gap between the two. This is shades of Indiana Jones gun in hand confronting the fierce swordsman that also drew a laugh from me when I saw it.

One of the hallmarks of a Shell Scott title is the use of high-tech James Bondian trickery. In this plot, liquid nitrogen was to be spilled on Scott’s bare chest to freeze his heart’s pulse resulting in sudden death. The villain goes through a lengthy explanation of the grisly process climaxing with the pointed question: “What do you think happens?”

To which Shell Scott quips: “Nothing good?”

Cuteness aside, that’s a fiendishly clever scheme for a murder that I could’ve never dreamt up. The fight scenes and action sequences in a Shell Scott caper are every bit as gritty and lurid as those, say, in a Mike Hammer fisticuffs. Somehow, though, Scott manages to preserve his sense of humor even when a gang of thugs is bashing out his brains. The left hooks slammed to his ribcage pack as much pain but Scott’s readers are spared from experiencing all the visceral details in overwrought language. 

Not every groan is registered. Not every knocked out tooth is recorded. Not every death is notched. Rather than risk having the fight scenes reduced to hardboiled parody or mere rough-and-tumble slapstick, Scott recounts what transpires in a deadpan, tongue-in-cheek style. Humor, even if very dark humor, amid the violence serves as a genuine comic relief. Read Shell Scott and find yourself laughing aloud. Read Mike Hammer and find yourself scowling a bit.

In trying to pair Shell Scott with a hardboiled contemporary, Donald Hamilton’s long-running Matt
Helms series comes to mind. Both are narrated in a similar voice though Helms’ brand of comedy is much drier and understated. Helms is also responsible for justifying his actions to whatever government agency he works for while Scott answers only to himself. Certainly, Helms like Scott never seems to take himself too seriously while busting the bad guys but stays resolved to finish the job he has undertaken. 

That down-on-his-luck PI stereotype plied over and over in the genre doesn’t seem to fit the irrepressible Shell Scott series, either. In DEAD MAN WALKING, after things cool down and the dust settles, Scott still ensconced on his tropical island decides to stick around and enjoy himself. He doesn’t ride off into the sunset because it’s too gorgeous. He narrates: “It hurt to breath -- but breathing this clear air was restorative all by itself. Here there were millions more stars than are seen from smoggy L.A. Millions of millions.”

The first person point of view, I suspect, was popular in the 1950s and 1960s because its familiar hardboiled tone was tempered by Scott’s injections of wisecracks and often not-so-subtle ironic observations. Other pulp writers of the period applied the same formula but with Scott it was a matter of timing. He sensed the right place to throw a zinger into his telling of the tale.

Of course, there were the voluptuous “babes.” This was, after all, the misogynistic 1950s. Any such male condescension to females isn’t painted here with too wide of a brush. At one point, Shell spoofs his ideal of a lady in a surrealistic but sobering dream induced by hallucinogenic drugs: “Huge, roseate-tipped breasts hung over my face with the sound of hissing breath. They brushed my cheeks, burned, became lips that kissed my mouth. Then they melted and were gone. A dying doll, larger than life, walked mechanically in a weird gray wasteland.”

Scott’s investigative methods are unorthodox as are the tools of his trade. He brings to a stakeout “a pair of binoculars; without my .38 but with a monster bar magnet strapped to my right wrist.” Of course, the magnet would interfere with the .38’s functionality. This plain goofiness of pulling slick tricks out of his bag like Felix the Cat is also designed to grab a good laugh. The silly situations Scott gets himself into are remindful of the high jinks played out by Joe R. Lansdale’s unlikely good guy duo, Leonard Pine and Hap Collins.

Bumbling along in his murder investigations, Shell spliced together the disparate clues by applying his own convoluted logic. This is typical PI fare for certain, but I doubt if any detective took as much fun doing it as Scott Shell did. Or as much fun in telling us about it.

NOTE: This piece appeared somewhere online that has long since disappeared. So, I decided to dig it out and run again in my blog. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How Long to Wait Between Reading the Same Author's Books?

As a reader, I like to try and space out my reading the different books written by the same author. I have read in occasional streaks like I did with the classis crime fiction writers David Goodis, Charles Willeford, and Charles Williams in the past. Even so, I still didn't get to everything they produced which is good. That way I can still enjoy reading more of their work for the first time. If I give myself a break, I feel as if I don't "overdose" on a favorite author. Or maybe keeping the variety is important in my leisure, for-the-fun-of-it reading time. I have read the fiction output of such crime writers as Stephen Greenleaf, Ed Lacy, and Dennis Lynds (Michael Collins, creator of the P.I. Dan Fortune series) for author profiles I once did. It was interesting to see how their excellent writing evolved over time in their professional careers. At one time, prolific authors seemed to bring out a new book every year, and that was the accepted norm. Now in the age of instant publication of a few mouse clicks, the books are released at a faster clip. Maybe the readers still like to adhere to the yearly cycle of reading their favorite authors. That probably works out the best for my reading schedule. Happy reading during your holidays.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

RIP: Film Noir Star Audrey Totter

I sadly heard film noir star Audrey Totter has passed away at the very respectable age of 95. I loved watching her in "The Set-Up" with Robert Ryan who played a washed up boxer. She is reluctant stay with him because he won't quit his dangerous sport. She has to decide if she walks out on him or sticks with him. I recently saw her as the femme fatale in "Alias Nick Beal" where Ray Milland plays the devil buying a man's soul. The acting work eventually dried up for her. "What could I play?" she said in an interview. "A nice grandmother? Boring! Critics always said I acted best with a gun in my hand." Her obit run in the LA Times is at this link:,0,7065147.story#ixzz2nTKh1MDQ

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Books That Linger In Your Mind Even Decades Later

Those are the type of novels that I want to write! LOL. Well, if there's no way to know if I ever will write them, I can certainly read the type of novels that make a big impression on me. Of course, time will only tell if they will stick in my brain. Maybe the best way to find the memorable books I've ever read is to go back to when I was a kid just coming of reading age. But then it seems just about every book I read from those days left its mark on me. For one thing, I hadn't read very many titles, much less the difficult "adult" ones. I can recall my reading a Roy Rogers tie-in adventure book. If I reread it now, I'd find it to be another corny and simplistic cowboy tale. At any rate, it converted me into a fan of Westerns. Books standing out for me are the rare ones that cause me to cry, laugh, and shake my head in disbelief much like watching a first-rate film at the cinema. All of the emotions are engaged. That is a cool exerience. I better get back to my trying to write the memorable book. Meantime happy reading throughout your holidays.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Just Another Day in the Life of a Crime Fiction Writer

 This past week we got hit by an ice storm as did much of the nation. The falling tree branches snapped the electric lines, and our power went out for a few hours. So, I called over to our local branch of the public library and was told they had power. I packed up all my stuff and schlepped over to the library. I was fortunate enough to find the last workspace with an electrical outlet. I set up my laptop and commenced to work again on my next P.I. Frank Johnson title, AFTER THE BIG NOISE. Public school had also been cancelled for the day, and the parents who didn't take their kids off to the shopping mall instead decided to go to the library. Unfortunately, I had not anticipated this development. Seated directly behind me was a gruff-voiced father reading the children's nursery rhyme "Fuzzy Wuzzy" to his pre-schooler. Then he decided it would be a good idea to teach his pre-schooler how to read it. Of course, this activity took many readings of "Fuzzy Wuzzy." I didn't say anything, just gritted my teeth and continued working. Then I got to chuckling to myself. Hey, it wasn't really so bad, and the poem was sort of catchy. Pretty soon, I got an email from my wife that our electric power was back on, so I returned home, and everything was fine.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The New Front Cover To My Debut Novel

I have replaced the front cover art on my debut novel, THE DIRT-BROWN DERBY. I can't believe it has almost been 10 years ago since it appeared. P.I. Frank Johnson has been the central character in much of my fiction writing. Right now I'm editing his next adventure, AFTER THE BIG NOISE. Stay tuned for further details.

Things You Don't See Much Anymore: Fallout Shelter Signs

There was a time when seeing these distinctive signs was a commonplace event. I remember seeing them quite often, especially while I still lived in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Maybe D.C. had more fallout shelters since it is the U.S. capital. I guess the adults took the signs seriously because they always told me with a straight face that we'd be going into one if the atomic bomb was lowered on us. Or Red Russia sent the first sortie of intercontinental ballistic missiles at the U.S. I still can imagine us surviving underground in musty, dim basements until the all-clear signal is given. Thinking back, I wonder if it would have even been possible. I can't remember when the last time and place was when I saw a last fallout shelter sign. Perhaps it was a faded, scarred relic like this sign pictured in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten Films: The Glass Web Starring Edward G. Robinson

I enjoyed watching this 1953 film noir for several reasons. Edward G. Robinson turns in his usual sturdy performance. John Forsythe (the voice of the unseen Charlie in Charlie's Angels TV series two decades later) also does a creditable job. Finally, the setting is the early TV industry which I found intriguing. Forsythe plays a TV script writer producing shows for a realistic weekly crime program (Dragnet?). Robinson plays the conniving rsearcher who has a secret ambition to become the show's writer. Both men have an affair with the ruthless, ambitious femme fatale played by Kathleen Hughes who is a actress/model. I won't go further into the plot, just to say Robinson and Forsythe are pitted against each other. I see where this movie used the 3D technology which may have enhanced its viewing experience. The Glass Web skewers the upstart small screen thing known as television which was regarded as a direct competitor to the movie industry. There are some nice touches such as Hughes' clever cat in her apartment. gives The Glass Web 6.4/10.0 which I think is too low. I'd go with a solid 7.0 based on Robinson's performance which I always like to watch.

Monday, December 9, 2013

When Reading A Book Reminds Me of My Life

I've been thinking about the reading process over the past few days. It amazes me how reading words can bring pleasure to a person. I try to understand just why that is. Have you ever been reading along and run across something in the sentences that resonates inside you and strikes a familiar chord?

Last night I was reading a short story collection thematically bound by the sport of game hunting. A scene in one of the short stories has a teenaged boy hunting squirrels in the woods. My eyes went on processing the printed words before them, but my thoughts strayed off to my own experiences while a teenaged boy doing the same activity.

I have long since given up any hunting game for the sport, preferring now to do all of my killing of living things in my crime novels. Anyway, I must have read on to the story's next paragraph, but my real attention dwelled on my hunting experiences as a kid. The short story triggered those images, and I can't say I was annoyed by my wandering from the printed page.

Part of my enjoyment in reading fiction is to find myself reminded of people and events from my own life. Usually the association only lasts momentarily and I can move on to the next part. Anyway, I went on and finished reading the short story collection, and liked it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reading Preferences: Short or Long Sittings?

One morning this week I knew I had to leave to run an errand, and I was currently reading the new Gail Godwin book, Flora. Since I had enjoyed reading it the night before, I was keen on my getting back to it ASAP. Being uncharacteristically diligent, I still had ten minutes before I had to blast off. But ten minutes of free time is the ten minutes I won't get back again. So, I went ahead and plunged back into my reading. I had no trouble picking up where I'd put my bookmark and left off. All too soon, it was time to go, and I put aside the novel. While I was driving away, I got to thinking about my reading habits and wondered if I preferred a lot of short sittings to finish a book or a long marathon session of reading the book from cover to cover. I decided the former is more realistic for me, but I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to spend an entire day indulging a read. Matter of fact, I can't remember the last novel that I read from start to end with no interruptions except for eating my lunch and dinner. I did put in a long stretch of reading Michael Connelly's entertaining The Gods of Guilt not long ago. At any rate, I hope your holiday reading goes well, too.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books: West on 66 by James H. Cobb

This review has been getting a few likes at Goodreads, so I decided to run it again.

This is a fun, peppy read first pubbed in 1999 just before the big Y2K scare. Many thanks to James Reasoner for his recommendation on his blog.

It's September 1958. L.A. Deputy Sheriff Kevin Pulaski (who's spent 4 years in the hellhole called Korea) goes to Chicago on R&R to reconnect with his brother.

Instead our hero hooks up with a Mobster's daughter, and their high-octane, on-the-road caper kicks off. Lisette ISO a slug of dad's money hidden somewhere. This familiar storyline pretty much takes place on the historic Route 66 (all now a tourist by-way).

Assets (ak.a. why I enjoyed WEST ON 66): Snappy prose. Old school romance (Pulaski calls his girlfriend "The Princess". Cute.). Lots of chase scenes. Unexpected plot twists. First-rate settings on Route 66.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Deck The Homes With Boughs Of Electric Lights

Every year about this time, I like to begin looking for the neighbors' homes decorated with their electric Christmas lights. If there is time, we drive around the streets and check out the colorful displays. We know which neighbors really dress up their places with the major league presentations of bright lights. Last Christmas we paid for tickets to take the walking tour of an outdoors lights festival, an intense visual experience I very much enjoyed. A bit odd considering I am more of a "word" person than I am "visual" one. I have no real idea of how expensive the electric bills are when the power company's tab comes due. Maybe you know. I even believe I saw an ad run on cable TV about a reality TV show centered on decorating homes for Christmas. That competition might be carrying things a little too far. My favorite color for the Christmas lights has to be the calm blue lights I see hung out. Not all is good, however. I read a news piece on a house fire blamed on the faulty wires to the Christmas lights strung up.

Here is the link to the news report along with the safety tips:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Authors Repeating Themselves in Their Books

The topic of authors (like me) repeating themselves while writing their books has been on my mind since I'm revising my next private eye novel. It is part of a series, so the chances of repetition are even greater. This applies to the novel's dialogue, settings, plot devices, and other such things. I read where Sue Grafton keeps thick notebooks of recorded details and information, so she can maintain a freshness to her Alphabet Letter series. Readers running across instances of repetition are probably left with the impression the author is being lazy or careless in the book. Perhaps it is due to the manuscript not receiving the attention it requires during the revision stage. I know I catch different problems (including repetitions) with multiple readings of my long fiction. Even within the same novel, the repetition of phrases or expressions drives readers to distraction. I used to run a program that counted up the number of times each word was used in my manuscript, and that was helpful as well as an eye-opener. I should dig out the program from where it resides on an old computer.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Wave of the Future: Amazon Is Testing Delivery Drones

Have you heard of the delivery drones that Amazon has in the testing stage? They buzz through the air guided by GPS to land and drop off the deliveries right on the customers' doorsteps. I saw the news segment last night on 60 Minutes, and it is real George Jetson stuff. Jeff Bezos is pretty excited by his company's unique invention. "It will work, and it will happen, and it's gonna be a lot of fun," he told 60 Minutes. I found it to be amazing, but I wondered how the human factor might play into it. For instance, suppose a prankster decides to vandalize the drone while it is on the ground making its delivery? It won't be returning to home base. How can every company wanting to use their own dedicated fleet of drones making their lightweight deliveries be controlled? The airspace will be filled with the grasshopper-like contraptions buzzing around everywhere. I guess all the bugs, pardon the pun, will have to be worked out first.

Here's the link to one story in the Chicago Tribune:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My November Book Reads

My reading month found a couple of good crime novels and a couple of good non-mysteries. I also read a sports autobiography by Reggie Jackson since baseball season is barely over and I'm ready for spring training to start. I hope your month was a rewarding one with reading the written word.


The Black Box by Michael Connelly. I breezed through this almost 400-page Harry Bosch cop novel. Great storyline that has Harry working on a 20-year old cold case. There is a warm-hearted sub-plot with his family life including his teenaged daughter Maddie and girlfriend Hannah. I'm not a big fan of long books, but I'm a big Michael Connelly fan, so I took the plunge. The narrative carried me right along, and I'm glad I took the time to read The Black Box.

Merciless by Lori G. Armstrong. Gritty story of ex-Black Ops army sniper Mercy Gunderson now with the FBI solving grisly murders on the Eagle River Reservation. Complex character, stark landscape, and compelling mystery are the strong points I liked while reading this crime novel.

Hammett Unwritten by Ownen Fitzstephen. I've always why Hammett stopped writing books after his early fiction successes. This short novel tries to address the reason in a clever and intriguing way. I won't play the spoiler and go into the plot. I learned some interesting personal things about "Dash" although I don't know how accurate they are since this is a novel. He does a lot of drinking and reflecting back on his youthful days as a Pinkerton detective. Hammett Unwritten is a fast read.


Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. For some odd reason, I missed reading Charlotte's Web in my youth. My wife re-read it and suggested I try it. Marvelous story of a talking spider named Charlotte befriending a talking pig named Wilbur. The setting is a farm which I peg somewhere in the American Midwest. I liked the details of nature and agriculture since I grew up in the countryside. I also got a crash course on spiders which don't freak me out. There are old cars like Studebakers. It's great fun and a lesson on life taught, as well.

Flora by Gail Godwin. This nicely told coming of age novel is about a almost twelve-year-old girl living in North Carolina who is put under the guardianship of her older cousin for part of one summer (1945). I've read Ms. Godwin's fiction and heard her give a reading and talk. Her Southern characters and settings appeal to me since I'm also from the region. There is a historic subplot of the Manhattan Project and Oak Ridge, TN. The narrator is the snarky type of young girl who still has a lot of things to learn about life. Her lessons begin that summer. It's an easy read and worked just fine for me on this cold wintry day.

Becoming Mr. October by Reggie Jackson. This was a fun read for me, a baseball fan from the late 1960s. I liked the great Oakland Athletics teams Reggie played on before he went on to the larger stage with the Yankees. Reading lots of familiar baseball names helps to tide me over until spring training begins again.

Keeping Up A Long-Running Web Blog

There comes a time in the shelf life of a blogger's web blog when the topics seem to grow repetitive and stale. I'm not sure if Cracked Rearview Mirror has reached that point or not, but I have given serious thought to the ways I can keep my established blog going strong. My blog, like many others, has a defined scope of interests and topics. As a rule, I don't blog outside of that box. If I want to try something new, I prefer to do it in my fiction writing. For instance, I jumpstarted my short story writing earlier this year. One of my new short stories, "Big Poison." recently appeared in Noir Nation: International Crime Fiction No. 3. I combined several elements in writing "Big Poison," including my fondness of film noir. By the way, my blog now appears on and Shelfari, if you happen to use either of those platforms. Perhaps I could adapt my blog as a place to discuss the aspects I'm currently focusing on in my fiction, such as my expanded use of humor. One topic I have refrained from blogging about is sports, primarily baseball and basketball. (The NBA's Wizards lost last night, and MLB's spring training is a long ways off.) I appreciate all of the comments and "Likes" I receive from the readers of my blog. I do my best to respond and also thank everybody. So, my challenge for next year (2014!) will be to sustain and improve the vitality and freshness of Cracked Rearview Mirror.I hope next year at this time I can say that the state of the blog is strong.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Avoiding Black Friday But Not Cyber Monday

The TV news makes a big deal out of Black Friday, and I've seen the intrepid buyers camped out at the locked doors of their favorite stores. They want to be one of the first in line to snap up whatever bargains they can find or have picked out. At first glance, it all seems pretty silly to me. But then I thought of my two-mile daily walk in a big loop, and how that might seem to others. If I don't get to do it, like on a snowy blizzardy day, then I feel cheated. There is a pleasure I derive from walking. Same thing goes for the euphoric shoppers, I'm thinking. Besides, it is always neat to buy and try out new things. For me, it would the latest and greatest e-readers. No matter what I might have that is practical and works fine, it's fun to think how cool it would be to have a spanky brand NEW one. Of course, these bought products are supposed to be gifts, and that introduces another layer of excitement and fun to the shopping experience. The biggest hassle and drawback is so many shoppers there at the same time. Cyber Monday, then, appeals more to me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stop Motion Sickness While Reading In A Moving Car

Whenever I ride as a passenger in a moving car and try to read a book or my Kindle, I experience the headache, disorientation, and nausea associated with motion sickness. It has something to do with a person's inner ear, and their peripheral vision losing touch with their surroundings while they fix their focus on the same spot. I had the same problem when I rode the school bus and wanted to use my free time to do my homework. I wondered if there are any tips to cope with this problem since I like to read as often as possible.

It is recommended the reader look up from their book once in awhile and gaze out the window to lessen the motion sickness. I've done this without much success. Peppermint Lifesavers or hard candy is suggested, and I believe peppermint helps me feel a little better.

Ginger is also a favored treatment, including drinking sips of ginger ale. Listening to your favorite music on the radio or MP3/CD player might be a good trick to distract you. Wearing motion sickness eyewear is also mentioned. It uses blinders that block off the passing landscape while you are reading. I have no idea if this really works or not.

Of course, if the book you are reading is engrossing enough, you'll forget your physical discomforts and want to finish it anyway. Happy reading over the holidays!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: 13 West Street Starring Alan Ladd

This 1962 juvenile delinquent/crime movie stars Alan Ladd, Rod Steiger, Michael Callan and Dolores Dorn. As with other films of this sub-genre, it feels a bit dated. However, I liked watching it, especially with Ladd and Steiger playing the main roles in it. Ladd's movie production company also made it. He plays an aerospace engineer who gets mugged and beat up by a gang of teenagers. Steiger is the L.A. juvenile sergeant who investigates the crime. The movie has a bit of the Charles Bronson vigilante feel to it when Ladd decides the cops aren't moving fast enough, especially after the gang threatens his wife (Dorn). The chief troublemaker (Callan) is a rich man's spoiled son who plays tennis at the country club and lives in a mansion with a swimming pool when he's not being a murderous young thug with his gang. Future soap opera star Jeanne Cooper (The Young and the Restless, 1973–2013) also plays a role, and Leigh Brackett wrote the script. rates 6.5/10, and that falls along the same lines I would give it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Sister Sleuths Isabel and Alma Trumbo Stick Up For Their Friends

I like to read the type of novels with characters who are loyal friends that always have their friends' backs. It seems to be hard to make, much less keep, friends in the modern world. It might be a cliche to express such sentiments, but I think it still holds true. The crime noirs I write feature sketchy characters who don't easily make friends unless there is something in it for them. But in my cozy mysteries, just the opposite is the case. Isabel and Alma Trumbo, my mature sister amateur sleuths, live in the fictitious small town of Quiet Anchorage, Virginia. They get into all sorts of mischief, but they always have somebody there for them. Just the same way, they are always there for the others in times of trouble. The sisters just do the right thing because that's how they were raised. My hope is my readers like that admirable quality in the sisters' makeup and find them to be "likeable protagonists." They have their share of personal flaws and warts, sure, but their overall nature is a good-hearted one. Be looking for a new title published next year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Nations of My Social Media World

Google's Blogger includes the metrics to see which nations' viewers have looked at your blog post. I don't know enough about how the feature works or even how accurate it is. For some reason, the viewers in Russia and China show up sometimes. What is up with that? I wonder. It probably doesn't mean anything, since my readership never exceeds any large number. Plus the United States is always the largest block of viewers which is what I'd expect to find to be the case. Canada or Great Britain would be the next places, since English is also spoken there as the official language. I don't check my metrics often enough to spot any trends or patterns. I suppose it might be another example of how the world is getting to be a smaller and smaller place.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What I Am Working On Right Now

My final editing continues on my next P.I. Frank Johnson title, AFTER THE BIG NOISE. I haven't devoted my entire work day to Frank, but he is my current work-in-progress, so we hang out a lot together. I like the storyline a lot more than I did when it was still a draft. My original intention was to make this book the grand finale in the series which might still take place. Things supposedly slow down at the year's end although I find the pace grows more hectic between the holidays. I don't know about you but that seems to be true each year for me. At any rate, I'll be working on AFTER THE BIG NOISE for the rest of this month, and into December it looks at this point. The Blue Cheer was released as an ebook for the first time last month, so AFTER THE BIG NOISE will be coming out early next year. I have a new Isabel and Alma Trumbo Cozy Mystery title outlined to begin writing the first draft of it. The Cashmere Shroud, their latest amateur sleuth caper, hit the streets this summer in case you are interested, and I hope you are. Happy reading over the holidays!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten Films: Sleep, My Love

This 1948 film noir/feature film is a different spin on the old make-my-wife-go-insane plot a la Gaslight which did it better. The acting is first-rate with Claudette Colbert, slick-talking Robert Cummings and Don Ameche playing the suave but evil husband who has the hots for the sultry Hazel Brooks (her debut film). The always solid Raymond Burr plays the burly NYC cop. Colbert at 45 seems a bit old for the wife's role, but I liked her gutsy performance. Keye Luke who played in the Charlie Chan movies is also featured. The familiar plot seems to run off the rails about halfway through, but I just stuck with the story because of the top quality actors. Leonard Maltin gives Sleep, My Love three out of four stars. That is my score, too, based on the acting.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What Exactly Is Leisure Reading?

Many academic libraries have a "Leisure Reading" collection, and the term has always troubled me a little. Pleasure reading, recreational reading, and fiction reading all sound as if it is done outside of a constructive purpose and is therefore diminished in its worth. For instance, if reading is assigned at school or university, then is it leisure reading? Probably not unless you happen to be an English major and enjoy whatever it is you are reading. That is what happened to me when I was in graduate school, except I didn't much care for Henry James' novels. Edith Wharton, I loved. If you are reading something for work or your job, then you are doing it in pursuit of earning your livelihood. If money enters the picture, then it is no longer seen as leisure. There is more. When I think of leisure reading, I imagine the reader is seated in an overstuffed armchair or stretched out on a chaise lounge beside the swimming pool. Both of those images seem frivilous and carefree, not serious and goal-oriented. So, I suppose leisure reading = fun, or it just isn't leisure reading which diverts or amuses and doesn't teach or instruct. Whatever it is, there is a lot of leisure reading going on, and I'm grateful for that much, both as a novelist and as a reader.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What Is the Best Bargain You Ever Bought at a Flea Market?

I don't go around to garage sales and flea markets all that much. Back before the internet changed the book market, I used to visit used bookstores quite a bit looking for modern first editions. I bought a few Richard Brautigan firsts because I liked reading his Trout Fishing In America while I was in college. His other whimsical novels with their colorful titles never measured up, at least of the ones I ever read. So, I guess those purchases would have to count for me. I have passed by flea markets open for business, and the folks browsing there look as if they are enjoying the experience. I don't know if you can haggle over the prices charged at flea market, but I never did that for the used books I bought. I figured the courageous proprietor had a tough go of it already, so I just paid the full asking price. Besides I didn't want to see the used bookstores close up shop and leave town. I like having the local bookstores around. Sometimes I visited antique shops that also offered secondhand books among their wares. However, I don't recall ever buying a book there. Maybe I picked up a reading copy or two of the titles I thought I'd enjoy. Happy reading.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark

This top-notch Parker caper comes from the mighty pen of Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake). What a shame there will be no other titles. This time Parker, the most hardboiled of American thieves, decides to throw in with a motley crew heisting a rare coins convention. Of course, things never go as planned no matter how carefully he sets up the job. This is the job where Parker meets his loyal and smart lady friend Claire who has a key role. It's a thrill to see how Parker thinks on the fly and manages to keep on going, or else there would be no further Parker adventures. Kudos and thanks to the University of Chicago Press for reprinting the Parker novels in handsome paperback. 

Learning Better How to Let Go and Say Goodbye

This blog post isn't about anything sappier than turning loose of my work-in-progress. Harlan Coben once said during a talk I attended that he is changing commas right up until the last minute. I suspect he was only half-kidding. A dozen thoughts jam my racing mind before I cut my WIP adrift and move on to the next project. One of my largest concerns right now is whether my WIP is different enough from my previous books. Nothing is more boring than reading the same thing found in an author's two books. I take special pains to lock in and ensure all of my writing is fresh content. I use a checklist of different items to review and fix during my revision process. Still, when the right time comes to pull the trigger, I won't hesitate because I have already done it many times before now with my new books. And the Good Lord willing, I'll do it again many more times to come.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Books I Still Want to Write

Everybody is said to have at least one book in them. To write more than one book might be even better. I usually don't take the long range view in my writing projects. I like to concentrate on what I'm doing at any one time, but I suppose there is enough room to think larger than my work-in-progress. Wouldn't it be grand, for instance, to write a book that took the international reading public's fancy and make obscene amounts of royalties off it? I'd buy me a new laptop computer. One book I have little appetite to write is a memoir or autobiography. There is nothing in my living experience that is engaging enough to set down in print. Fiction, on the other hand, offers all sorts of ripe ways to entertain and interest the readers. I often like to write up outlines and notes for future novels, especially the next titles in my mystery series. At any rate, may the Muse be kind to you if you decide to pen the book you still want to write.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten Films: Roger Corman's Gunslinger

I hesitated to review this short, offbeat 1956 Western directed by Roger Corman. It was a slight disappointment because I have enjoyed watching other Corman movies. Film critic Leonard Matlin gives it 1-1/2 stars, and clocks in at a paltry 2.9 stars. Those ratings might be a bit harsh. The premise is intriguing enough. A small town sheriff is gunned down, and his enraged widow pins on his sheriff's badge and goes after the bad guys. She knows how to use a six-shooter and rifle and isn't afraid to fire when she sees the need for it. The talented Beverly Garland (I liked her as Fred MacMurray's second wife on the TV series My Three Sons) plays the pistol-packing, gunfighter widow. She does a fairly good job. John Ireland plays the hired gun Cane Miro paid by the saloon owner (Allison Hayes) to bump off Garland. He does a sturdy enough job. I had trouble following the overall plot, especially at the beginning. Scenes didn't make sense to me. Other parts were entertaining enough. At any rate, it only runs for an hour, so I didn't feel too bad after watching Gunslinger. Fans of Roger Corman might want to check it out.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Smoking on Mount Rushmore: Short Fiction for Veterans Day

My e-book Smoking on Mount Rushmore: 16 Selected & New Short Stories has a patriotic-themed title if you're doing some reading. The title story is about Cerise and Derek, a young married couple who want to have a last trip together before he ships out with his military unit to serve overseas. Derek picks Mount Rushmore as their trip's destination, and off they go on the lark. He wants it to be a memorable trip. Of course, they run into a few problems along the way, threatening to derail Derek's fun before he leaves the U.S. Readers at Goodreads and Amazon have enjoyed Smoking on Mount Rushmore: 16 Selected & New Short Stories for the diversity and originality of its offerings. "Your money's worth & then some," says one Amazon reviewer. Thanks and wishing you a safe holiday.

Jazz: The Beat Goes On

My wife and I recently got tickets to see the Jazz Ensemble's show at our local state university. The players are undergrads and graduate students. The show was in a small concert hall with good acoustics, so the sound was great no matter where the audience members sat. I'm something of a jazz buff with an interest in the jazz music of Parker, Brubeck, Coltrane, and Miles Davis. At any rate, the show was excellent and quite enjoyable. The selections played included the work of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and even Glen Miller ("In the Mood"). The students were enthusiastic and hugely talented. It was good to see a younger generation embrace jazz music and carry it on into the future. So, the beat truly does go on, doesn't it?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Back Story of My Private Eye Novel The Blue Cheer

The Blue Cheer features PI Frank Johnson who has already appeared in my debut book, The Dirt-Brown Derby. I wanted to take a new approach. I knew Stephen Greenleaf takes his PI away from home in his excellent Marshall Tanner novels. Even Ross Macdonald’s PI Lew Archer takes frequent trips out of his home base in California. So, the premise behind The Blue Cheer is to ship Frank out of his native town of Pelham, Virginia, and transplant him in a different locale.

Frank grows tired and bored with living in Pelham and itches for a change in scenery. He surfs across an ad for cheap property. It comes with a cabin deep in the West Virginia mountains near a fictitious town I called Scarab. The prospect of becoming a mountain man fires up Frank. My in-laws own a cabin in West Virginia, so I had a handy place to send Frank except I made his cabin more primitive and remote. After all, he’s now a mountain man.

Before long Frank figures he has it dicked. He’s grooving on mother nature, splitting up cords of red oak for his winter woodstove, and dealing with an antsy case of buck fever. An autumnal chill nips the air. He promises himself he’ll soon go hunt up a job.

Then one evening while Frank fixes dinner, he hears a buzz in the sky. He sprints outdoors for a look. A Stinger rocket launched at a target drone causes an explosion over his cabin. My work in the defense industry provided the background material for starting off The Blue Cheer with a dramatic boom. A fellow who sells target drones filled me in on its specs. They’re not cheap.

You know the adage telling writers to use what’s at hand to spin their tales? Not true for me. The Blue Cheer required lots more of research than my other PI Frank Johnson books (I have four titles under contract). The Internet wasn’t specific enough. All I can say is thank goodness for email and the generosity of experts. First, the setting had to be exact. Scarab’s main industry is a noisy plant erecting steel bridges on the outskirts of town. A buddy of mine worked for just such an outfit and I picked his brain at a steak house. I also picked up the tab, again not so cheap.

I consulted with an environmental group for the skinny on coal mining pollution. Frank and Old Man’s investigation lead them to an old graveyard. A geology professor aided me with Appalachian cemeteries (type of rock, design, etc.). An auto club in the sprawling Land of Oz assured me that vintage Valiants (Frank’s faithful car) remain roadworthy. I also needed to nail down particular details in creating the characters.

A former autopsy assistant lent me professional insights to create Eva, my own denier. Hattie McGraw, my blind granny lady, was inspired by Eudora Welty’s photograph, “Blind Weaver/Oktibbeha County” (1930s). Like me, Frank is a big bluegrass music fan and a local chamber of commerce supplied the bluegrass musicians native to West Virginia (O’Quinn Brothers).

Jan, the wife of Frank’s pal Old Man Maddox, writes poetry. Her “Vietnam War Memorial Triolet” originally appeared in a literary magazine penned ages ago by yours truly. I like that incongruity -- embedding a poem in a hardboiled detective novel. Noir master writer Charles Willeford wrote verse, too, so I felt on safe ground in using mine. Old Man Maddox, a Viet Nam War vet, likes his C&W music. A DJ who worked at the Vietnam War radio station KLIK in Lai Khe briefed me on their playlists.

Of course I needed to create the bad guys (a hate group called The Blue Cheer). The Southern Poverty Law Center confirmed their suits against hate groups. My bad guys then hatch a scheme to escape from any penury. A court clerk and court librarian set me straight in writing Frank’s legal hassles in the West Virginia courts. An ombudsman with the West Virginia State Police patiently answered my questions (what color uniform, what color squad cars, etc.). The Chief Medical Examiner of West Virginia and a forensic pathologist helped me with the gruesome aspects of my autopsy and crime scenes used in The Blue Cheer.

The devil is always in the details. I only hope I mastered enough of mine to write a vivid story.

Previously published on M.J. Rose's website. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

If I Were a Television Producer

This is something like playing if I were king for a day, and making proclamations about what you would do to make things better. In this instance, I'm going to pretend I am a TV producer who has been given a pot of money and lots of artistic freedom to develop TV programs I believe the viewing audiences would appreciate watching as much as I would. Since I like to read, I'd start looking at acquiring the film rights to crime fiction authors I admire and enjoy reading. Michael Connelly comes to mind. But I believe I read where Amazon has already grabbed him to make a TV series. Now that was a smart business move. Walter Mosley is another one. Why didn't more Easy Rawlins movies get made? Well, let's make him into a TV series instead. Speaking of cop shows, the other night I saw The Streets of San Francisco (starring Michael Douglas and Karl Malden) and Cannon (starring William Conrad) on a retro TV channel. It was pretty cool. I ended up liking Cannon more than I did the SF show. But maybe it is because I'm more partial to the private eye premise. Anyway, let's hope some good TV cop programs will be coming out soon.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Alias Nick Beal

This 1949 film comes recommended by film noir czar Eddie Muller. It is a nifty retelling of the Faust myth where the ambitious man is willing to sell his soul to the devil to achieve his desired fame and power. Ray Milland starring as Nick Beal a.k.a. The Devil does a good job of personifying evil with his clipped speech and piercing, dark eyes. Thomas Mitchell as Joseph Foster is the conflicted, paunchy politician-D.A. who wants to be elected the governor. He sets up a meeting with Nick who pitches Foster the grand deal. The alway reliable Audrey Totter (I liked her best in The Setup with Robert Ryan) as the femme fatale Donna Allen gives Nick a hand in seducing Foster over to the dark side. Meantime George Macready as the Reverend Thomas Garfield represents the side of good and justice. There is lots of fog at a seedy portside bar where Nick likes to meet with his clients and hang out while drinking expensive brandy. The musical score is an eerie one, too. Everything is kept mortal throughout the picture, so there are no Exorcist-like special effects. I appreciated that aspect, too. rates Alias Nick Beal as 7.0/10.0, but I think it's more like 7.9. Googling it turns up a number of video sites that are streaming it online.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fortieth Anniversary of the Horror Classic "The Exorcist "

When I read that this year is the 40th anniversary of the The Exorcist, I had to check just to be sure the math is right. Sure enough, The Exorcist is a 1973 U.S. horror flick. It was directed by William Friedkin and adapted by William Peter Blatty (won an Oscar) from his bestselling 1971 novel The Exorcist. Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, and Lee J. Cobb are the stars, with Blair playing the role of a lifetime as the teenage girl who is possessed by the Devil. Ellen Burstyn plays her mother, and von Sydow is the priest who performs the exorcism on Blair. This was potent subject matter at the time, although I contend the only real Devils were the ones laughing all the way to the bank. That same year I was in Mexico, and the folks there didn't know what I was talking about. Anyway, I didn't watch The Exorcist until years later at the drive-in theater, and by then, it was just another gory horror flick. Ellen Burstyn is a top notch actress who deserved better roles than this one. rates The Excorcist with a 8.0/10.0 which is a pretty high score by their standards. So, in honor of Halloween, we have The Exorcist as one of the most enduring scary movies.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Famous Cat(s) in TV Shows

I thought this would make a good topic for a blog post. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn't think of but only one TV show with a recurring cat charater in it. Early Edition (1996-2000) starred Gary Hobson. Every week, an orange cat (no name?) sat on the early edition of the Chicago Sun-Times left outside his doorway. Maybe it's the bad luck of the black cats from Halloween that has struck me. Anyway, there must be more cats who appeared on the small screen. I could google it, but it's too late in the day. Besides, I might come up with more of them over the next few days as I'm writing my latest private eye book that has a cat named Flitcraft. Have a good Friday.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My October Reads

The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake). I love these hardboiled Parker entries. This time he decides to heist a rare coin convention, and of course nothing goes according to plan.

Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care" by Lee Server. Definitive biography on the film star. The line quoted in the title comes from his classic film noir Out of the Past with Jane Greer.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello. Everything you wanted to know about the famous movie. Lots of inside stories almost as interesting as the movie itself.

Call for the Dead by John le Carré. His first novel and introduces the spy George Smiley. Great characterization.

Ironweed by William Kennedy. Literary novel that reads like a classic noir to me.

The African Queen by C. S. Forester. The movie is different from the book which I enjoyed reading.
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. More of a fine literary novel but a crime does occur in a key place.

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith. YA novel that stands up at my rereading it 45 years later.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What I Am Working On: My Latest Novel

After the Big Noise is my current work-in-progress. It is my latest Private Investigator Frank Johnson mystery title. I am making way through the final editing rounds that are going pretty well. My tentative publication date is late this year, or early next year. P.I. Frank Johnson and I have been together for quite a while. Frank made his debut appearance as a short story published in the old Plots With Guns ezine back in September 2001. That was almost 12 years ago. After the Big Noise makes number six of his novels plus the one short story collection. His seven books make for a creditable run. I have some ideas for Book #8, but I prefer to clear the decks before I start outlining for the next installment in a series. If you enjoy reading hardboiled detective stories, my Frank Johnson series should be your cup of tea, or shot of bourbon, or whatever. Thanks and happy reading.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Time Change: Jump Back One Hour

I don't who it was that came up with the brilliant idea to move our clocks back one hour this coming Sunday. Maybe at one time it was a good thing, but now I'm not so sure. I'd rather have the light at the day's end, not in the morning hours. This comes from somebody who gets up at 4 a.m. Not bragging, just saying. The darkness provides a good quiet time to do my work. The earlier evenings leave me feeling sleepy and ready to go to bed. On the other hand, the school kids I see trekking up the street in the dark a.m. might now do it in daylight, and that right there is a good enough reason, I believe.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Which Social Media Do You Get Your Book Recommendations From?

After the microwave beeped, my hot mug of water for my tea was ready. So, I'm ready to write my semi-daily blog post. Back in the old internet days, I relied on the messageboards like rara-avis and 4M_Addicts for finding my genre title recommendations. This was before the blogs and then twitter hit the internet, neither of which really ever caught on for me as a source for book recommendations. I like to use Goodreads more than the other book-related sites because I am more familiar with how it works although I have been more active over at Shelfari. I see a lot of traffic on Facebook re: books, and I also use it as a writer first, and a reader a very distant second. Since my reading time has dropped off, I gravitate toward the shorter novels. But then I just finished up Lee Server's excellent biography of Robert Mitchum Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care" which is a long one. The biography was one of those many, many books I have flagged on Goodreads To-Read. LOL. On my last three visits at our public library, I just used the tried-and-true low tech method of browsing the fiction stacks. If a title catches my eye, I grab it for consideration. Ironweed and The African Queen came my way on these prowls, and I enjoyed reading both titles. So, maybe the combo of social media and the older methods work out the best for me to obtain my book recommendations. Happy reading!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tuning In To Watch Murder, She Wrote Every Sunday Night

Every Sunday evening at 8 p.m. we knew it was the right time to tune in to watching Murder, She Wrote on CBS (channel 9). The show ran from 1984 to 1996, a long time for a TV program. Angela Lansbury played Jessica Fletcher who was in her early 50s. I always thought of her as being older like in her early 70s. She played a successful mystery author who also did a little private detective thing on the side.

One aspect I found so appealing about Murder, She Wrote was the excellent cast of supporting characters. The folksy Tom Bosley (I liked him in Happy Days) playing Sheriff Amos Tupper (love that homespun name) was my favorite. The wisecracking Jerry Orbach (also excellent in Law & Order) as Harry McGraw, Jessica's private eye friend, was fun to watch. William Windom as crusty Dr. Seth Hazlitt and Jessica's best friend, was always to step up and lend her a steady hand. I

Blackfish: A Revealing Documentary on Orca Killer Whales

Back in 1976 I paid to see a show at the Sea World facility in Orlando, FL, and later in the mid-1980s I saw another show while I was vacationing in San Diego. I found them to be entertaining and fun outings. Then I saw the documentary Blackfish broadcasted on CNN. The tragic deaths of the orca "killer" whales' trainers are heartbreaking enough, but the captivity of the orcas trapped in their small concrete pools is also troubling. It made a lot of sense to me when the experts gave their side on why it is cruel to keep the orcas like they are now. Is there a better way? I don't know, but if there is I hope it is found soon. Sea World didn't grant any interviews for the movie. I'm not going to pick up my protest sign and picket Sea World, nor join a protest group. The next time I'm in a city where there is a Sea World, I believe I'll be looking elsewhere to spend my entertainment dollars.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Angel Face with Robert Mitchum & Jean Simmons

NOTE: Since I'm reading Lee Server's comprehensive biography of the American film star Robert Mitchum, I reposting my review of his very under-rated but classic film noir with Jean Simmons. It has got to be one of his top five movies. According to Server, Jean Simmons was trying to break her contract with RKO and get away from its creepy boss Howard Hughes who was pursuing/stalking her. Anyway, the right ingredients came together to bake a good film noir.

I swear Robert Mitchum was born to star in first-rate film noirs, or at least the ones that I get a big kick out of watching. This 1952 forgotten gem stars him and Jean Simmons as the femme fatale. Otto Preminger directed it, all filmed on locale in Beverly Hills. I won't rehash the pretty straightforward plot except to say Mitchum plays the poor boy, and Simmons is the rich pixie. The class distinction is a nice touch to the plot. Of course, almost from the get-go she has designs on him when he first shows up at her wealthy stepmother's mansion as an ambulance driver. Mitchum plays something of a sap, but he's also a war vet who has been around the block. I had difficulty hearing Jean Simmons, a soft-spoken actress, saying her lines at times, but she does a fabulous job in her role. Look for Jim Backus of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island fame as the fiesty D.A. rates Angel Face as 7.3/10, but I'd go even further and give it 8.5/10. Check out Angel Face if you like gritty but well-plotted film noirs.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (YA Novel)

I recalled once reading Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith when I was a kid probably over my summer vacation. I believed I had enjoyed the experience, so I decided to have another go at it now and hope the historical novel written for teens still holds up. I am happy to report Rifles for Watie still turns my crank. The author Keith had a wonderful knack for turning descriptive phrases of the landscape, battle scenes, and soldiers' camp life. His protagonist of Jeff Bussey from Linn County, Kansas, is a sensitive teenaged soldier who turns mean as a rattlesnake when he faces danger. Keith did tons of research as he laid out in his Author's Note before writing his novel. The level of violence surprised me, and I felt as if I was reading an adult novel. There is also romance when Jeff falls in love with a rebel girl. I got a nice historical overview of the American Civil War fought in the far west theater (the name Watie is pronounced as weighty). Stand Watie the Cherokee general who threw his support to the Confederates is an interesting character. Keith also did the smart thing by dramatizing the acts of compassion performed on both sides of the conflict. My second reading of Rifles for Watie as an adult really worked out for me, and how often does that happen? Well, I have to say not so frequently for me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Phillip Marlowe Returns to Network TV: Good or Bad?

ABC has signed on an untitled Phillip Marlowe project from Castle series creator Andrew Marlowe (no relation ;-) and producer Michael De Luca (Fifty Shades of Grey). ABC says the project will be "a smart, sexy and stylish update of Chandler’s character." Does that leave you feeling a bit nervous like I am? Why can't Hollywood leave the classic noir and hardboiled literature alone? On the other hand, it would be refreshing to see another network TV private detective series take hold and thrive. Magnum, P.I. (1980-8), anybody? Then Stacy Keach played P.I. Mike Hammer from 1984-9 which I only viewed a few times. I'll always think of Phillip Marlowe as more of a big screen than TV presence. Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, James Garner, and Elliot Gould are among those movie stars who have played him. Mitchum closely followed by Bogart are the best of the bunch for my money. So, it's wait and see if ABC can pull it off with their Marlowe rendition. I sure hope they can do it.

Link to the article that appears in Deadline:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten Films: No Way Out Starring Sidney Portier and Richard Widmark

This 1950 film noir was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and starred Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally, and Sidney Poitier. It concerns the theme of racism where Widmark plays a racist, two-bit hood and Portier is the young doctor who treats his gunshot wound sustained during his arrest. Portier also treats Widmark's brother who then dies during the spinal tap procedure. Of course, the hot-headed Widmark wrongly claims Portier killed his brother. The only way Portier can clear his name is through an autopsy which Widmark as the next-of-kin refuses to give permission to perform. Darnell plays the dead brothers' ex who Portier and McNally (Portier's boss) appeal to for her assistance. Parts of the movie feel dated like the riot scenes. But the acting is first rate, and I liked the tension generated. The ugly N-word gets tossed around, but I suppose it's necessary in Widmark's dialogue for this type of movie. Darnell and especially Sidney Portier are the two dramatic standouts, in my opinion. gives this film 7.4/10.0, and I'd go along with the high mark.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The End of Our Short-Sleeve Weather

One of my pet peeves is having to wear long-sleeve shirts. I find the cuffs to be annoying while I work at my keyboard or laptap keys. The cuffs get caught on the leading edge of the laptop or just feel confining in general. I know I could roll up my sleeves while I'm writing. But that sort of defeats the purpose of wearing the long sleeves (that is to say to keep warm). Also, I want to make this blog post a gripe session ;-) Seriously though, the weather forecasters say this week that 2013's first autumnal frost will hit us. I expect that will also trigger my wearing the first long-sleeve shirts since last spring. I've also noticed this past summer how some baseball pitchers also fidget when they have to wear their long-sleeve jerseys on the cooler days and nights. The cuffs interfere with their pitching mechanics and hurling the ball. Winter isn't my favorite season. On the other hand, I believe I have written my best fiction titles during the winter months, or at least the first drafts. So, the winter cold does bring its good things, even as I grumble my way through them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books: Ironweed by William Kennedy

I don't know if Ironweed is considered a forgotten book, but it was forgotten by me until I saw it at the library. When I was a kid, I used to see the ironweed blooming along the creeks and edges of fields. Many years later, I saw a novel by the same name had won the Pulitzer Prize. Now I finally got around to reading it, and I am glad I did. Francis "Fran" Phelan is an ex-ballplayer (a third baseman for the Washington Senators, my favorite team). Francis dropped his baby boy Gerald on his head and killed him twenty-two years ago, and left home in great sorrow and regret. Francis calls himself a bum, though I expect he is more of an introspective, brooding hobo knocking around 1930s Albany, New York. He picks up odd jobs as a gravedigger and rag man's assistant. All of his money goes to booze. While not the happiest novel to read, Ironweed's prose has a blue-collar lyricism to it I liked. Plus, Francis seems to be a good-hearted soul, and I rooted for him to overcome his grief. Ironweed is a short, often humorous book that clips right along.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Applying the Page 69 Test to My Second Private Eye Novel

Marshal Zeringue on his cool readers' website asked me to apply the Page 69 Test to The Dirt-Brown Derby and this is what I reported.

My novel is the second title in a modern hardboiled detective series. Our hero, P.I. Frank Johnson, has left the bucolic fox hunt country in Middleburg, Virginia, and driven the short distance to posh, fashionable Potomac, Maryland outside Washington, D.C. Frank is investigating the disappearance of Carl Taliaferro, and this is a side trip to interview Carl’s affluent parents.

Frank’s visit with the Taliaferros becomes a pivotal scene. I wanted a bit more than another PI yarn. A major theme underlying The Dirt-Brown Derby is the stratified society entrenched in Middleburg and Potomac. Frank dislikes trafficking between the various castes while pursuing his case. Nonetheless after this exchange of terse dialogue, he realizes the mystery confronting him will be difficult and thorny to solve.

Page 69 to The Dirt-Brown Derby quoted in full:

“I’m Frank Johnson -- ”

“Soliciting is prohibited,” she said. The door flew toward me.

My hand obstructed its path. “No ma’am, you’ve taken the wrong idea. I came to speak to Mr. Taliaferro and yourself.”


“Concerning your son, Carl.”

“Who are you with? The Washington Post? My husband is retired and no longer active in those government affairs. Go away. Leave us in peace. Please.”

“No, I’m not the press,” I said. “I’m a detective. Only to talk, I promise you. Five minutes and no more of your time. You’ve nothing to lose except to get rid of me.”

Her tall, lithe profile tucked around the door. “Okay only you’d better make it snappy.”

Their circular two-story foyer was lit in brilliant harshness. My eyes flickered to deal with it.

“Wait in the kitchen,” she said. “I’ll go rouse my husband. The au-pair’s room is now his office.”

I sat at the oval oak table while noticing a copper tea kettle collection on shelves across the center aisle.

“Mr. Johnson?” A man’s baritone filled the room. “I’m Rusty Taliaferro. My wife said you came to talk about Carl.”

He was half a head taller than me even if with the stooped shoulders. He exuded gray sideburns, mustache, eyebrows, and longish hair. His teeth were capped or he wore dentures. A hearing aid clipped over an ear. A hawthorn cane aided in his balance. Man, I couldn’t wait to join AARP.

I handed him my license like a penitent driver does to a disgruntled highway patrolman. “Private agent. Mrs. Taliaferro, Emily’s mother, employs me.”

“Oh Lord.” His sigh was a pained one. “What the devil has her in an uproar now?”

“She questions the official disposition of your granddaughter’s death,” I said.

Rusty Taliaferro wrapped both palms atop his cane and lowered himself into an oak chair opposite me. “That fool woman will undo me yet,” he said. “What has she put you up to? Chasing down phantom killers? She has killers on the brain.”

“Well, she claims Emily’s riding mishap wasn’t accidental,” I said.

“Naturally, naturally,” he said. “What mom wants to believe their daughter fell victim to a random occurrence of ugly misfortune. We both loved Emily but we’re also resigned to accept what tragedy befell her. Life goes on.”

“I won’t belabor that point. Forgive my intrusion, but it has a direct bearing on my case. Did you ever entertain suspicions that your son’s death was anything but what the Coast Guard ruled it as?”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten Films: The File on Thelma Jordan

This gritty film noir released in 1950 stars one of the all-time femme fatales in the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey as the "fall guy." The dialogue is crisp, the plot turns unexpected, and, at times, I got a little lost in following the storyline. But I enjoyed watching it nonetheless. Corey plays an unhappily married Assistant D.A. of some small California city who falls in love with Stanwyck despite his suspecting that she's not all on the level as she purports to be. Her rich Aunt Vera Edwards is murdered and Stanwyck is arrested for it. As things shake out, Corey is assigned to prosecute Stanwyck at her murder trial while he's madly in love with her. Corey performs his role very low-keyed and smoothly cynical. I've liked his acting in other films; what a shame he died in his mid-50s from alcoholism. Thelma Jordan delivers the goods that fans would expect from an early potboiler, including the ending. goes with 6.8/10.0 which falls a bit short. My score would be a solid 7.5 if just for Stanwyck's gutsy role as the siren who just may surprise you, as she did me.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Our Cat Meows at Night When We Sleep

Our cat likes to come into our bedroom and meow a few times then leaves. Sometimes it wakes me up, and other times my wife. We've had Franny--she's the guilty culprit--a few (3?) years, and I don't remember her exhibiting this behavior in past years. I don't know if she sees or hears something threatening outdoors. We did have coyotes in the neighborhood, but I'm not sure if they still are around or not. I thought maybe another cat(s) (feral?) had made her uptight. I did a little googling and the suggestion I found was to leave open our bedroom door so she can come inside for reassurance. H'm. That's more like part of the problem. Another suggestion made was to play with her before our bedtime to tire her out. That is probably more doable, so maybe I'll try that idea out. But she has got to get with the plan.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fridays's Forgotten Books: African Queen by C.S. Forester

I really got into this wartime adventure romance even if it is sometimes on the corny side. I saw the Bogart and Hepburn movie version years ago, and I don't remember enough if it faithfully follows the novel. Rose Sayer, the thirty-three-year-old missionary's sister, is a tough heroine, sort of an early twentieth-century Laura Croft with a British accent. She and Charlie Allnutt make a great pair of protagonists in their far-fetched mission to take out the German warship on the African lake. The best fun was to follow their trek downriver and read how they overcame the various obstacles. C. S. Forester's prose style is fresh and vivid. The pace keeps things moving along, and I got swept up in their heroic adventure. Fine entertainment.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Rereading My Top YA Book Picks

From time to time, I remember a book I liked reading as a teenager, and my curosity is piqued enough to go back and reread it. This isn't always true because sometimes my rereading takes away from my joy of the original reading. So, I try to be careful about which YA titles I select to reread. Also from a writer's perspective, I like to see how the author put the book together. It's Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville was the last YA title I can recall liking again on my second read through it as an adult. But then I'm a big cat fan, so maybe that had something to do with it. I don't have a formal list of YA titles drawn up, but something will trigger a memory of a particular YA title. Many of them were read over my summer vacations. The next YA book I have lined up to reread is Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith which is a boy's historical novel. I'm looking forward to reading it hopefully over the next week or so.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Does Anybody Use a Rolodex Anymore?

Use a what? I always got a Rolodex mixed up with a Rolex. The Rolodex was that big rolling index (Rolodex is the combination of the two words) of cards often seen on business desktops. The last one I remember seeing sat on our realtor's desktop. She must've considered her Rolodex essential for the line of work she was in. They held up to 6,000 cards, so a user had that many contacts they could stuff into one of the contraptions. But then the digital age hit us, and I wonder if the Rolodex was rendered obsolete. It would be difficult to carry one as opposed to a Blackberry (it it becoming obsolete?) or a smart phone. There is also Google to look up names and contact information. Or LinkedIn, if you like it. One thing strikes me is a that Rolodex would never get infected by a computer virus. I run my anti-virus software at least once a day. Arnold Neustadter, an inventor from Brooklyn, developed the Rolodex first sold in 1958. Their prices climbed to a rather steep price of $200, and I can remember seeing them on the store shelves during the 1980s. I never had the need for one. Mr. Neustadter died on April 17, 1996, so he didn't live to see the social networks flourish to do what his wonderful invention once did.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: This Gun For Hire Starring Alan Ladd

This choice 1942 film noir stars Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, and Alan Ladd. But Ladd's superb performance as the laconic hired killer (hit man) Raven with a soft side for cats and gorgeous ladies is the movie's gold. Alan Ladd is an exceptional actor in his pictures I've recently watched. The film noir is based on the novel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene which I have not read yet, but I will now. Laird Cregar double crosses Raven, a big mistake on his part. Never betray a hit man unless you know for sure he's not going to be around to even the score. Great scenes are shot inside the gritty switchyard and gas works. I noticed in one scene early on between Lake and Preston a carton of Chesterfield cigarettes plainly out in view. The World War II motif plays well throughout the picture. viewers rate This Gun For Hire as 7.5/10.0, but I go higher with a solid 8.5. I really liked watching this film from start to finish. Recommended.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock

Since there has been a lot of positive buzz generated about the current 3D space thriller Gravity, I decided to check it out. I have to say I came away less than enthusiastic. It is a stunningly visual treat and exciting to watch, for certain. The yarn about a pair of astronauts surviving a disaster while aboard the Space Shuttle is a gripping one. I kept thinking of David Bowie singing the lyrics to "Space Oddity." Therein lies the problem for me. The whole space adventure is highly improbable. But if you can let go of your disbelief, it's suspenseful fun for taking the ride. George Clooney, 52, seems a little long in the tooth for being an astronaut, but then I don't follow NASA news stories, so I could be wrong. Sandra Bullock gives the story some depth and empathy. It's difficult to discuss the plot without playing spoiler, so I won't. Gravity grabbed a bunch of 4-star reviews, but I'd go with a solid 3-star rating instead.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books: Doctor No by Ian Fleming

I don't know if it rates as a forgotten book, but Doctor No is the first James Bond 007 novel I have read written by the original author, Ian Fleming. He was highly regarded in his day, a friend of the great Raymond Chandler, no less. You can find an often cranky interview Fleming had with Chandler on YouTube. The writer Fleming had at least three strengths: lush settings, imaginative action sequences (despite the liberal use of exclamation marks), and marvelously beautiful ladies. James is dispatched to Jamaica to deal with a minor problem of one of their colleagues having skipped off with his attractive assistant with no word. Of course, things turn out more complicated once James arrives in Jamaica. When I was introduced to Doctor No, I realized Fleming was also effective at portraying his colorful, complex villains. I have not seen the Dr. No film, so I didn't have any preconceptions before reading the book. Nonetheless, I believe Sean Connery remains the best 007 actor. Ursula Andress played Honeychile Ryder, the Bond girl he meets on Doctor No's remote island. I liked the witty humor, especially in the early going. James also proves himself to be quite resourceful when the chips are down. I may read further into Fleming's series at some point, but in the meantime I enjoyed taking this ride with him.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What I Do Offline to Recharge

I remember one time many years ago taking a time management course at work, and I applied the suggested techniques to become more efficient for about a day. There were just so many different things to do all at once that I didn't have the time to prioritize my tasks. I was running around from putting out one fire to putting out the next fire blazing up. Writing long fiction is sort of like that mode. There is alway one more thing to check when I'm editing a novel manuscript like I am doing right now. One thing I stand firm on, however. At the day's end, I flip an internal switch, and I absolutely refuse to think anymore about the novel. It will be there for me tomorrow. And I have the confidence I will recognize what problems I need to fix. That is how I recharge. I refuse to have anything else to do with my current novel once I turn off my laptop, or I put down my ink pen. I might jot down a note if I get a stray thought. I know I need to chill out, and that is the only way I know how to work. Of course, if I'm on deadline all that goes out the window.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Sam Spade/Miles Archer Bronze Plaque (Warning: Spoiler)

I ran across this website showing different plaques. This one plaque found at the mouth of Burritt Alley in San Francisco honors Sam Spade/Miles Archer. The inscription is a spoiler, so if you haven't read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, or seen the movie starring Humphrey Bogart, be aware of that fact. Here's the link to see the Sam Spade/Miles Archer bronze plaque:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sending and Receiving Postcards: Passe Now?

I cannot remember the last time I either received or sent out an honest-to-goodness postcard. You know the typical message scrawled on one: "Having a great time! Wish you were here!" Are postcards sold anymore at the tourist traps and vacation spots? I visited a couple of historic homes over the summer, and I don't believe the gift shops offered postcards for sale. Perhaps the cost of postage has been a contributing factor in the decline of postcards' popularity. How much is the postage cost now on a postcard? It used to be less than a postage stamp for sending a letter. Or is it just easier to send a text/email and a photo/video with it? The digital age has made our world a lot smaller, and the postcard has become an obsolete if not quaint relic of the recent past. The post office that stands to make something on postcards' delivery might not agree with the assessment. Plus which, it's kind of cool to find something in my land mail besides the bills and junk mail. Many days now I make a beeline straight from the mailbox to the recycle bin. I'm going to make it a point to be on the lookout for any postcards for sale that I may run across, and I'll report back here in a blog post if I ever do.


Monday, September 30, 2013

My September Reads

The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini. Very good collaboration. Great detective story and romance developing between two protagonist. Will read more in the series.

Strip for Violence by Ed Lacy. Stupid, misleading title for a good pulp detective story. Lacy is a
favorite writer.

A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews. Redneck noir. Classic. I've read it several times. Will again.

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain. Posthumous work by the great crime writer. Not his best
fiction but entertaining.

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins. Comic books corrupting 1950s youth. Enjoyable
and well-written.

Fast One by Paul Cain. Considered hardboiled classic. Fast-paced, a bit confusing at places,
but a solid crime read.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Movie Review: Enough Said Starring James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

I've noticed the ads and good reviews of the current film Enough Said, so I decided to check it out. I left the cinema feeling like I'd gotten my money's worth, and then some. I guess the best tag to put on Enough Said is to call it a romantic comedy, although most of the laughs come during the first half. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the late James Gandolfini (in one of his final film roles), Toni Collette, Catherine Keener star in it. I've always liked Dreyfus and Gandolfini, so I watched it with a favorable bias. Eve Hewson, Irish singer Bono's daughter, also appears playing Gandolfini's spoiled, college-bound daughter. Check out Dreyfus' ex, and you might recall him as the actor (Toby Huss) who played the Wiz on Seinfeld. Dreyfus plays a masseuse also used in a Seinfeld plot. I liked the chemistry between the middle-aged Dreyfus and Gandolfini, and what a pity for us he won't be around to make other marvelous films like this one. scores Enough Said with a 7.4/10.0 rating which strikes me as fair.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

D.C. Snipers Film Hits the Theaters in D.C.

This week I caught the generally positive reviews for the new thriller film Blue Caprice which recounts the D.C. Beltway snipers' reign of terror on the area back in the Fall of 2002. For three weeks, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo drove around in a blue Chevy Caprice, picking off random targets by firing through the peephole in the modified trunk to their vehicle. The Washington Post review calls the film "impressive, tasteful, and ultimately cold." It's good an adjective like "exploitive" doesn't sum up the movie. I probably won't be paying my money to see it, but that's my personal choice, not really a protest or boycott. The sniper's attack was harrowing enough to have lived through it back in 2002. However, I heard on the news the film is expected to pull large viewing audiences from around the D.C. area. The Washington Post's full review of Blue Caprice appears at this link:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Which Of The Banned Books Have You Read?

This week has been designated as Banned Books Week, and with that theme in mind, I just wondered how many of the banned books (either past or present titles) I have read. The first title that springs to mind is D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, and I don't really have a recall about much of the plot. However, I like Lawrence's rich prose style. John Grisham on "The Daily Show" in 2005 mentioned his A Time to Kill was banned, and I believe I have read it, too. Last week, the Randolph County Board of Education (NC) voted to ban Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man which shocks me. Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game was banned this year in a Colorado school which I remember reading and loving in the 9th grade. It's not great literature, but entertaining fiction for me back then. Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres got axed from a Texas reading list. I loved reading that title. Granted most of these titles were removed from high school reading lists, so the audience isn't an adult one, but it still surprises me. You may have your own banned book experience though I hope not. For a full list of the banned books in 2012-13, you can download a PDF document from following this link: