Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MY FIRST NOVEL: DICK LOCHTE




MY FIRST NOVEL: DICK LOCHTE

I’ve written several times about how my debut novel, SLEEPING DOG, wound up in
print. The details have appeared on this blog not very long ago and also can be
found as an afterward in the new Brash Books edition of the novel. But, though
SLEEPING DOG  was my first published book, it was not the first that I wrote. 
That was a novel I pounded out on an electric typewriter at the tail end of the
1960s, while in my post-college youth toiling daily in Chicago as a member of
the promotion department at Playboy magazine.

The novel was then titled THE FROG PRINCE, and it was a satiric comedy novel
very much – honestly, waaay too much – influenced by Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22,
which was then, and is now, my all-time favorite novel. Unlike that book’s
protagonist who was trapped with a lot of oddball characters in a war horribly
short on logic or even common sense, mine was entangled in a
much-too-comfortable job at a men’s magazine where logic and common sense were
not just missing, their absence was waved like a flag. The novel being a work of
fiction, its magazine was not Playboy. Its name was Ogle, and its symbol was not
a rabbit but, as the book’s title may suggest, a slimy tailless amphibian.
Beyond that, THE FROG PRINCE was pathetically close to autobiography, even at
its most bizarre moments.
There was only one person at PLAYBOY who knew about the book – the noted science
fiction writer AJ Budrys, who was then the editor of Playboy Press. During one
of our lunches, he offered to “look over” the pages. He liked them and his
suggestions and encouragement were responsible for my finishing the manuscript.

Before he moved on, AJ recommended me and the novel to a couple of agents. One
was in the late stages of retirement and not taking on new clients, the other
passed away shortly after I’d sent her a copy of the manuscript, no cause and
effect there to my knowledge. At that point I began sending inquiry letters and
sample chapters to publishers, maybe ten, with six replying that they’d be
willing to look at what I’d done. This was during the dark days before
electronic files could be emailed and I spent hours lurking around the office
Xerox machines after hours, making copies of the book’s four-hundred-plus pages.

My effort resulted in several form-letter kiss-offs, a short note from a
Doubleday editor that he’d been amused, but not enough, and a longer note from
an editor at Dutton stating that she felt the ms. had “something” but needed
work and, if I were willing to listen to her editorial advice, she’d try to get
me a contract and an advance.

I immediately wrote back that I’d be happy to follow her advice. Then began
weeks of waiting. Finally, she mailed back her regrets. There would be no
contract. Her boss was “not quite as sanguine about the novel’s potential,” were
her exact words, still branded on my memory after all the years.

So, THE FROG PRINCE was tossed into a trunk where it rested gathering dust until
about nine years ago. By then I’d published four crime novels and a short story
collection, been nominated for every mystery award, won the Nero, and been
translated into more than a dozen languages. I’d just finished co-writing a
series of legal thrillers with attorney Christopher Darden and was about to
embark on a series with THE TODAY SHOW’s Al Roker. I wanted to put out another
solo novel, but wasn’t sure I could get it done before starting in on the
Rokers.
That’s when I thought of THE FROG PRINCE. The main problem was that, by then,  I
was a “mystery writer” and there was no mystery element in the ms.  I thought
that problem could be solved without too much effort. Drop a body here and
there, shift a few things around.

It didn’t turn out that way. It never does.

I kept the novel in the Swinging Sixties, in my opinion, the period when men’s
magazines were at their, ah, peak. But I added a few significant events of the
era that were taking place beyond the magazine, like the Civil Rights Act and
the start of the Vietnam conflict, that I hoped would bring the story a little
closer to the ground than it had been. I kept the characters, and quite a few
scenes and then spent nearly seven months coming up with what I hoped was a
dark, funny fairplay whodunit that for a number of reasons (fear of a lawsuit
being one of them) I placed in 1969 Southern California instead of Playboy’s
home town of Chicago.

Also, since there were countless numbers  of  books called THE FROG PRINCE, most
of them for children (Amazon it, if you don’t believe me), I slapped on a new,
more unique title, CROAKED!
That’s when I showed it to you, Ed, and thanks to your recommendation, my first
novel finally appeared in print, nearly forty years after I’d begun working on it.
it.   
 

A movie review by Lev Levinson -- IDA

Ida (2013) Poster


Sometimes I watch a movie that’s so outstanding, it’s like Mount Everest compared to the usual mountain range of pretty good movies.

This morning I watched Ida, a Polish movie with English subtitles, filmed in black and white, released in 2013, available on Netflix streaming and probably other sites.

Ida is set in Communist Poland during the 1960s, and tells of a young nun whose faith is challenged severely several times.  That’s it, folks.  There are no car crashes, shootings, fistfights, or entire cities swallowed up by demonic powers.  There isn’t even much dialogue.  People often are shown doing nothing more than thinking, but this thinking is very moving in the film’s contexts.

There are no angel choruses or rays of light emanating from heaven.  This is not the schmaltzy kindergarten view of religion.  This is about the struggles and temptations that people of faith sometimes encounter in the real world, and how difficult it is to reconcile the ideals of religion with the confusion and indeed horrors of human life on this planet.

Atheists probably would not consider this film worthwhile, because they believe faith is nothing more than ludicrous superstition.  But those of you who have had the experience of God, or who believe without having had the experience, will probably find the film as absorbing as I.  This movie has stayed with me all day - I can’t forget it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hitchcock; Black Wings


WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2007

Hitchcock; Black Wings

"When I see a Hitchcock movie, as when I read a novel by Graham Greene, I feel I have entered a universe in which evil exists."

The new issue of American Heritage has a fine lengthy overview of Hitchcock's movies (and their collective theme of justified paranoia) by David Lehman. The above quote is one of Lehman's most telling points.

Understandably, much of the piece deals with Hitchcock's biggest successes, from Shadow of A Doubt to North by Northwest to Psycho to The Birds. But when I read an overview of the man's career I feel obliged to defend some of the films that weren't as successful commercially or critically.

FRENZY often gets treated as if it was Hitchcock's attempt to dabble in porno. Yes, it's surprisingly carnal coming from a man whose sexual icons were usually icy blondes. But its carnality and vulgarity seeme to me Hitchcock's way of saying to all his young imitators that he could be modern, too. The fault with this film is the script. The killer is far more interesting than the hero. This becomes even more of a problem because the actor playing the killer not only has the better part--he's a better actor than the hero.

THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY is one of the few times I've ever been able to sit through anything one could call "whimsical." Maybe it's the gorgeous glorious way H films the New England autumn. Maybe it's the simple charm of Edmund Gwen. Maybe it's the way a very young Shirley MacLain (in her first screen role) sweetly seduces the camera every time it comes near. Or maybe it's just the idea that a corpse keeps getting moved all over the county while local law enforcement tries to figure out what the hell is going on. Whatever, it has true charm.

MARNIE is a mess. I've always thought Sean Connery was miscast. The script wanders and pages go by without it focusing the way it should. But Tippi Hedren is convincing enough--and her backstory intriguing enough--that there's the kind of neurotic grit to the film you might find in a report by a social worker. Except for Connery the performances are excellent and that may be why, despite its considerable faults, I like it.

FAMILY PLOT demonstrates that H never lost his love for rear screen projection. There's a scene in here where the car in which stars Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris are in nearly goes off a cliff. It is so oviously a studio process shot that the entire sequence makes you resent Hitchcock. Was he just lazy? Did he really think he could fool modern audiences? Did he prefer (like John Ford in Liberty Valance) the look of the sound stage to the look of reality? That's the first thing I think of when somebody mentions Family Plot which is too bad because otherwise, for me, it's a very enjoyable movie. The A story with Dern and Harris is actually a very sweet tale of two para-hippies trying desperately to become con artists. The trouble comes with the B story, with William DeVane and Karen Black (her major career ended way too soon for me). Their acting is fine but the scriptwriters stumble badly in trying to merge this heist storyline with the A story. Still, Dern and Harris are so much fun who gives a damn that threst of the picture is so wobbly?

FROM OUR INTREPID REPORTER MARY COMES MORE (SHE SAYS FINAL) WORD ON THE PUBLIC DOMAIN EDITION OF BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL

LAST COMMENTS (I swear) about my purchased edition of Black Wings Has My Angel. My copy arrived today from amazon.com. It ain't pretty but, as long as all the words are there, I'm not going to complain. I checked out the (bare bones) copyright page and under "First Published 1953, Gold Medal Books," it says: "Nearly reprinted, 1990, Black Lizard." What's THAT all about???? Then there's "Blackmask.com Edition 2005" and the ISBN number and, finally, it says Blackmask Online is a division of Disruptive Publishing, Inc. (interesting name). Of course, I googled THAT and it looks as if Disruptive Publishing is connected to Fictionwise E-books......... Very interesting, I say. I would have thought there would be some mention of the Elliott Chaze estate or something but what do I know?

Ed here: In the mist of memory, I recall Barry Gifford telling me that Black Lizard had made arrangements with Eliott to publish Black Wings. But the company was sold before their edition could appear.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Letter That Inspired Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' Discovered


 NEWS

Letter That Inspired Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' Discovered


from the great Talking Points Memo
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AP Photo / STANLEY TWARDOWICZ
The letter, Kerouac said shortly before his death, would have transformed his counterculture muse Cassady into a towering literary figure, if only it hadn't been lost.
Turns out it wasn't, says Joe Maddalena, whose Southern California auction house Profiles in History is putting the letter up for sale Dec. 17. It was just misplaced, for 60-some years.
It's being offered as part of a collection that includes papers by E.E. Cummings, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Penn Warren and other prominent literary figures. But Maddalena believes the item bidders will want most is Cassady's 18-page, single-spaced screed describing a drunken, sexually charged, sometimes comical visit to his hometown of Denver.
"It's the seminal piece of literature of the Beat Generation, and there are so many rumors and speculation of what happened to it," Maddalena said.
Kerouac told The Paris Review in 1968 that poet Allen Ginsberg loaned the letter to a friend who lived on a houseboat in Northern California. Kerouac believed the friend then dropped it overboard.
"It was my property, a letter to me, so Allen shouldn't have been so careless with it, nor the guy on the houseboat," he said.
As for the quality of the letter, Kerouac described it this way: "It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better'n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves."
It turns out Ginsberg apparently was trying to get it published when he mailed the letter to Golden Goose Press in San Francisco. There it remained, unopened, until the small publishing house folded.
When it did, its owner planned to throw the letter in the trash, along with every other unopened submission he still had in his files.
That was when the operator of a small, independent music label who shared an office with publisher Richard Emerson came to the rescue. He took every manuscript, letter and receipt in the Golden Goose Archives home with him.
"My father didn't know who Allen Ginsberg was, he didn't know Cassady, he wasn't part of the Beat scene, but he loved poetry," said Los Angeles performance artist Jean Spinosa, who found the letter as she was cleaning out her late father's house two years ago. "He didn't understand how anyone would want to throw someone's words out."
Although she knew who Kerouac and Cassady were, Spinosa had never heard of "The Joan Anderson Letter," the name Kerouac gave it for Cassady's description of a woman he'd had a brief romance with.
"It's invaluable," historian and Kerouac biographer Dennis McNally said. "It inspired Kerouac greatly in the direction he wanted to travel, which was this spontaneous style of writing contained in a letter that had just boiled out of Neal Cassady's brain."
It was a style he'd put to use in the novels "On The Road" and "Visions of Cody," which featured Cassady, thinly disguised under the names Dean Moriarty and Cody Pomeroy, as their protagonists. He'd continue to use it in such books as "The Subterraneans," ''The Dharma Bums" and "Lonesome Traveler," cementing his reputation as the father of the Beat Generation.
Cassady would gain some small measure of fame as Kerouac's muse and, later, as the sidekick who drove novelist Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters bus across the country.
Meanwhile, about a third of "The Joan Anderson Letter," copied by someone before it disappeared, became well-known to students of Kerouac.
When Spinosa discovered she had the whole thing, she took it to Maddalena, a prominent dealer in historical documents and pop-culture artifacts, to authenticate it.
He's reluctant to estimate what it might sell for. Although the original manuscript of "On The Road" fetched $2.4 million in 2001, everyone knew that existed. It's much harder to estimate the value, he said, of something no one knew was still around.
For her part, Spinosa says, she's just happy her father rescued the letter from the trash. She's hoping whoever buys it will give the public a chance to see it.
"The letter is so good, and you see why these guys loved him," she says of Cassady's fellow Beats. "The writing, it just breathes off the page."
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Gravetapping Thrift Shop Book Covers: "A Grue of Ice"




Posted: 22 Nov 2014 06:52 AM PST  BY BEN BOULDEN
A Grue of Ice was published in the U. K. in 1962 as a hardcover, and it was released in the U. S. that same year with the title The Disappearing Island. The edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Fontana in 1973. The art is vivid. It features a bright single engine float plane in the foreground and shadowy warship in a gray background. The artist: Unknown.




































The opening paragraph:

“‘Drake Passage!’”

Geoffrey Jenkins was a second tier adventure writer during the genre’s golden age—1950s to the 1980s—which means his work, on average, was good, but a step below the genre’s best. His work is comparable to Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, and Gavin Lyall. He was South African, and, according to Wikipedia, he wrote the first James Bond novel after Ian Fleming’s death, which was never published and is presumed lost.

Interestingly, Merriam-Webster defines “grue” as—1. “a fit of shivering…” and 2. “gruesome quality or effect”

This is the tenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art ad miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.