Saturday, July 03, 2004

Ed's Place: "Ed here: Speaking of Samuel R. Delaney"

Once again, Ed expresses my own feelings better than I could. This is getting scary. Anyway, I still remember the excitement of reading THE ENISTEIN INTERSECTION and other early Delaney books for the first time. But I could never get through DHALGREN, although I understand others consider it a great work of the imagination. I tried twice. I figure that's enough.
So why isn't AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS a hit?

That's the question I found myself asking after leaving the theater yesterday. I thought it was a terrific comedy/adventure movie. It was fast, it was funny, it had Jackie Chan's martial arts, and Cecile de France is the kind of woman anybody would want to travel around the world with. And some of the cameos are very amusing, especially the one by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even his wig is funny. Owen and Luke Wilson play the Wright Brothers as surfer dudes (and in the middle of a desert). There's a Chinese villain named Fang, a direct descendant of Sumuru. What's not to like? If you want to avoid the crowds at SPIDERMAN 2, give AROUND THE WORLD a try.

Friday, July 02, 2004

I just read that Marlon Brando died.

When he was young, he was one good-looking dude. A hunk. Check out THE MEN if you don't believe me. And of course my generation will always remember THE WILD ONE and A STREET CAR NAMED DESIRE and ON THE WATERFRONT.

A little later there was ONE-EYED JACKS, after which we all went around calling each other "scum-sucking pigs."

Much later on I really enjoyed his work in THE FRESHMAN (in which he did a parody of his GODFATHER role) and DON JUAN DE MARCO.

He was apparently a rotten human being, but then who among us is going to cast that first stone? Not me. He left some great movies behind.
Ed's Place: "

Ed Gorman has nailed Stuart Woods perfectly. He's said exactly what I think about Woods' books, but he's said it better than I could. I finally quit reading the Stone Barrington books a couple of years ago. Judy still reads them, but she's about ready to throw in the towel. The reason that both of us kept reading them for so long is that they were like potato chips. We knew they weren't good for us, but we gobbled them down because, even though they weren't nourishing, they gave us a quick fix.
After my first two stabs at writing a novel, I entered graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin (the school considers the word "The" part of the official title, so the capital "T" is appropriate, in case you were wondering, which you probably were not). I didn't make any attempts at fiction because I was so busy writing term papers, teaching classes, and starting a family that I didn't have time.

Also, I was reading. Boy, was I reading. Not only did I read books for class (and if you like reading, sign up for a class in the Victorian novel sometime), but I read books for fun. And what books! I discovered that the library had bound issues of THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, so I read all of Anthony Boucher's review columns from the beginning. And like a good grad student, I took notes. What interested me were the paperback originals that he reviewed, and I started haunting the used-book stores, trying to find every one of them. When I found an author I liked, I then wanted every one of his books. (There's no end to this sort of thing, of course, and most of you know it as well as I do.) I wasn't worried about condition (to my sorrow at the present time). I just wanted the books.

The good news is that I managed to accumulate quite a pile of books for half the cover price, or sometimes even less, that would cost me a bundle today. Jim Thompson, John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Harry Whittington, Day Keene, and on and on. Great stuff. I was familiar with some of the writers already (the Gold Medal ones, especially, and I'd already read Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME in the GM edition), but the others were equally interesting. How I managed to read all those books, and all those Victorian novels, and other stuff that interested me (John Barth was a big favorite at the time), I'll never know. I wish I had time to read that much now. Those were great days.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Someone e-mailed me to say that this is a somewhat "amorphous" blog. He's right. There are political blogs, OTR blogs, movie blogs, and all kind of blogs devoted to specific topics. Not this one. It's amorphous. Or, as I prefer to think of it, stream-of-consciousness. I just write about whatever is on my mind when I turn on the computer.

And today it's Max Byrd's novel SHOOTING THE SUN (Bantam 2004). Back in the late 1970s or early '80s, Byrd wrote a handful of Chandleresque private-eye novels that I liked quite a bit. FLY AWAY, JILL and CALIFORNIA THRILLER are a couple of titles that come to mind. Then he turned to historical fiction, concentrating on some big names and producing titles like GRANT, JACKSON, and JEFFERSON. I wasn't interested in those. But when SHOOTING THE SUN turned up on the NYTBR's list of notable books a while back, I thought I'd have a look.

It's a historical novel, all right, but it's a sort of "alternate universe" book. The idea is that Charles Babbage sponsors an expedition to the Great Southwestern Desert in 1840 to take photographs of a total eclipse that has been predicted by his Difference Engine. No one else seems to believe the eclipse will take place, but the photos will prove that the Difference Engine works and win Babbage some much-needed financial backing.

The expedition into the desert includes a beautiful young scientist, Selena Cott, along with an artist, an explorer, a petty mathematician, a crusty wagonmaster, a suave overseer, and assorted others. It becomes apparent early on that there's more to the expedition's purpose than just getting some photographs, and there are a few twists in the plot as it moves along. Plenty of accurate historical details, interesting characters, and graceful writing. I'd say check it out. But I liked the p.i. novels more.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

After my first attempt at writing a book fizzled, I didn't try again for a while. Then, in the summer of 1966, under the influence of Gold Medal Books and Mickey Spillane, I had another go. This boook was going to be a first-person private-eye novel set in Austin, Texas. (As usual, I was 'way ahead of my time.) I don't remember much about it except that at one point the narrator throws a guy off the tower of the University of Texas' main building. I didn't finish the book, but I did write several chapters and an outline, which I submitted to Gold Medal. I got a very nice rejection letter, but both that and the manuscript have long since disappeared. I'd sort of like to have a look at the manuscript just to see what I included, but I know it's gone forever. No great loss to literature, but it's something that I think would be fun to read again. (Fun for me, not for anybody else.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It occured to me yesterday that it's been almost exactly 40 years since I first attempted to become a writer. (40 years! Good grief.)

In the summer of 1964 I was going to graduate school at North Texas State (now the University of North Texas) and living in an apartment with two guys named Fred Williams and Bob Tyus. One weekend Fred and I went to visit a friend in Kilgore, Texas. We were both hugely impressed by the stories of the Kilgore oil boom, by the number of millionaires in the town, and by the Frank Lloyd Wright houses we saw. So naturally we decided to write a book.

We thought the thing to do would be to write a sweeping historical novel in the manner of, say, Frank Yerby, a writer we'd both read in high school. We'd write about the discovery of oil, the crooked dealings in leases, the families (black and white) who got cheated, and the ones who got rich. It would be a best-seller for sure.

We started writing in ballpoint pen on notebook paper. I can't remember whether we wrote alternating chapters or alternating scenes. Or whether one of use would write until he stopped and the other picked up. In fact, I can't remember much about the proposed masterpiece at all.

The good news is that we soon got tired of it. I don't know how many pages we'd written, but it was certainly fewer than 100. I thought for years that I still had the pages in an old notebook, but when I looked for them one day, I couldn't find them. That was a long time ago, and I think we can safely assume that the manuscript is lost forever.

And the world is no doubt a better place because of that.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Lee Goldberg has discovered Harry Whittington: A Writer's Life: "I'm supposed to be concentrating on writing my next MISSING script, which preps in a week. But I made the mistake of picking up Harry Whittington's A MOMENT TO PREY and couldn't stop reading it until I was through. Wow. What an amazing book."

It always cheers me up when someone discovers one of the great old paperbackers. I've been collecting Whittington's books for nearly 40 years now, and I think I have most of them. I'm still looking for a couple he wrote as Henry (or possibly Henri) Whittier, and there may be others. It's hard to know for sure. For anyone who's interested in reading Whittington, I'd recommend BRUTE IN BRASS and A NIGHT FOR SCREAMING as a couple of other great places to begin.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Since I've enabled comments on this blog, I've gotten exactly one comment. One. I'll bet Harlan Coben and Lawrence Block get more comments than that, assuming they have blogs.

And what's even more humiliating is that the one comment reads: "This comment has been removed by the author." So I get one lousy comment, and it's immediately removed. How pathetic is that? (Rhetorical question, no answer required.)
Why I won't be buying Bill Clinton's MY LIFE:

1. It's too long.

2. I don't care.

I do wish that Bill wrote mysteries. If he did, his books would be shelved right next to mine, and maybe someone would buy my books by mistake. But probably not. Agatha Christie is next to me, and that hasn't helped me a bit.