Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Favorites of 2012

I’ve been wanting to put this together for a while, but since nobody is pressuring me, I haven’t until now. January 2013 is nearly over, and I want to be active on this blog even if it means only a couple of people will read it. So here are a few of my favorite reads of last year. (Please note I’m usually 2 -3 years behind in my reading.)

Favorite Books 

Crimes In Southern Indiana - Frank Bill
Extreme poverty and family codes that run deeper than the rule of law drive the inhabitants in Bill’s collection of short stories into devising schemes, enacting violence, and on rare occasion an unexpected touch of mercy. His prose is terse, and each story often ends with a punch to the reader’s gut.

Rock Paper Tiger - Lisa Brackman
Lisa takes us inside the scattered mind of a wounded Iraqi veteran living in China while going through a divorce with her shady, private contractor husband. This is background before she is sent on a search for her part-time lover and avant garde artist who befriended the wrong dissident. The novel travels to grimy areas in China where no tourist would ever intentionally go. The reader feels Ellie’s frustration as she is pulled and intimidated by shadow organizations demanding her cooperation.

Hide and Snoop - Sue Ann Jaffarian
I read a couple of Sue Ann's books last year to prepare for a panel that I moderated called Mystery Between the Covers. Hide and Snoop stood out for its complexity of characters and emotions. In this first Odelia Grey mystery, the amateur sleuth tries to prove that her friend's online suicide (she'd been leading a double life as an adult BBW actress) was really a murder. 

Nazareth Child - Darrell James
Del Shannon, a tough-as-nails bounty hunter from Arizona, is teamed up with an ATFE agent to go undercover to infiltrate a Kentucky religious cult which may be holding her long lost mother. Darrell pulls off a feat of successfully having multiple points of view, giving the many narrators distinct, individual voices as well as quirks and personalities. The novel, not unlike Elmore Leonard’s works, ties everything together in a very satisfying read.

Beat - Stephen Jay Schwartz
Stephen has created a cop with an addiction like no other. Hayden Glass is a sex addict, and in this follow up to Boulevard it would seem like the detective has improved his condition going from sensual massages and back alley blowjobs to internet porn. But it is far worse, as he finds himself in San Francisco, yanked from the arms of an internet performer, shot, beaten senseless, and finally run over by cable car. And that is just the first chapter. It is a brutal tale that I highly recommend for those who like their noir dark and the psychological health of their protagonists twisted.

Dove Season - Johnny Shaw
This book is definitely crime fiction, but the narrative is told from a first person POV in a relaxed conversational way with tangents and asides peppered throughout. It’s like catching up with a long lost friend at a bar, and after a few drinks he describes all of his exploits over the years. In particular the moments between the father and son are genuine and heartfelt as they try to get the “Big Laugh” out of the other.  

The Life and Death of Bobby Z and Savages - Don Winslow
Last year I read Don Winslow for the first time, and I have to admit I have a full on man crush for him. His prose is hilarious (especially Bobby Z), violent, and succinct, rarely wasting a word. When it comes to Savages, the prose is experimental with two word chapters and screenplay format in places. Don is successfully pushing the boundaries of crime fiction specifically and literature overall.

Favorite Audio Book 

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
It is epic fiction, and I loved it. It was even better listening to it read by Michael Boatman, who supplied voices with accents, layers, and passion that made the already vivid characters come alive. I think Lehane, like his side character Babe Ruth, was swinging for the fences and smashed it way over the wall. Many of his fans saw it as a foul ball, but I loved the history of Boston post Great War, the Influenza epidemic, Tulsa’s Greenwood district, police men’s strike, social mores and the intense conflicts and contradictions of a powerful Irish police family. Powerful writing from a master.

Favorite Podcast... Ever?

The History of Rome - Mike Duncan
I walk about three miles to work and home everyday and listen to my iPod. More often than not, it is podcasts, with an occasional book or music. I usually listen to fiction or history along with movie reviews and interviews. But nothing out there, I believe, matches up to work that Mike Duncan did, practically solo, in a 179 episode series tracing the entire history of the Roman Empire. From its mythical beginning with Romulus and Remus to the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD, Mike painstakingly researched multiple sources and relayed the stories in a witty and humorously dry narrative. I believe it took him over five years to record all of this, which included a breakdown in the middle, as he went from a bachelor in Seattle to a father in Austin. There are over 70 hours of history, but if you want to see a great survey of men (and it is 90% male) with their ambitions, political maneuverings, battle strategies, self-destructive impulses, occasional benevolence, and more, I can’t recommend this enough. There is much we can learn from the past as the US seems to be heading on a similar downward trajectory. http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/

Favorite Short Story

Peaches - Todd Robinson
This story, published in Grift Magazine, clung on to me and wouldn’t let go. It is the story I want to write. One where you put the story down say something like Keanu Reeves' famous line, “Whoa.” Without giving away too much, the story involves a hood from a crime family and his former babysitter. All of the others stories in the Grift collection were great, but this, in my opinion, was the best of the year. http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-kenyon/grift-no-1/paperback/product-20062248.html

Favorite Flash Story

Watch Dog Crew - CS DeWildt
I read a lot of flash fiction from sites like Shotgun Honey, Powder Burn Flash, Yellow Mama, and Flash Fiction Offensive. I’ve read many great stories that pack a punch from established noir writers and first timers. I had planned to rate them and keep a list, but alas, I haven’t, and I know I’m forgetting some great ones. However, “Watch Dog Crew” written by CS DeWildt in late November on Shotgun Honey stood out to me. The strong voice of an entitled tagger who is 100% baditude (see Winslow’s Savages) and has the arrogant swagger of youth is so real and vivid, I know I’ll remember it for quite a while. http://www.shotgunhoney.net/2012/11/watch-dog-crew-by-cs-dewildt.html

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Next Big Thing


Holly West tagged me last week to be on the Next Big Thing blog event. Holly has had several short stories come out this year and her novel Diary of Bedlam (which will be the Next Big Thing) is represented by Kimberley Cameron & Associates.

The basic idea of the Next Big Thing is to answer the questions below about a current book or project and then tag other up and coming writers who will have answer the same questions on December 19. I've chosen Craig Faustus BuckStephen Buehler, Sarah Chen, and Laurie Stevens.   

Here it goes.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had the idea for The Prodigal Detective when I was living up in Berkeley. Specifically, I felt like I was reading yet another book about an ex-cop turned PI (same with ex-military turned PI). I wanted to start with somebody fresher who wasn't jaded and cynical. Somebody in his early twenties who was still had an optimistic view of the world... and then through a series of books, I would have the character become more world weary as each case darkens the horizons. Eventually he'd become a stereotypical hard-drinking, chain-smoking American PI. I want the reader to go on the turbulent journey that my character Jason Lawson goes through.

What genre does your book fall under?

Mystery/Crime Fiction. It is boiled a little on the hard side.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Not Shia LeBeouf.

At least in the lead as Jason Lawson. I have some drug dealers Mr. LeBeouf could play. I would like a fresh-faced actor not too many people have seen, but has great skill. He has to be strong and able to stand toe to toe with his father, but vulnerable when he is alone with self-doubt. The character is 21, so it would be an actor in his twenties. Perhaps Joseph Gordon Levitt, but I feel he is too big now.

That lead actor playing Jason would be contrasted to his larger-than-life father, Harry Lawson. The man dominates everyone around him, even after a stroke. Jack Nicholson comes to mind even though he is ten older than Harry.

For a couple of other roles Paulina Gaitan from Sin Nombre as a friend of the murdered and Jason’s love interest and John C. Reilly as a petty co-worker who is jealous that Jason has returned to the agency. There are many more meaty roles waiting to be had for the screen adaptation.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Jason Lawson does not want to be a private eye, but after his father suffers a stroke he leaves college to help out at the family owned detective agency, where he takes on a case believing that his client is guilty.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I plan to send it out to agents in the immediate future.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A year, give or take. The first draft was epic, sort of James Ellroy meets Michael Connelly. I had so much to say about LA: the 1980s, music, traffic, etc. It came in at over 120k words. After several edits, it is now down to a lean 78k.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

An editor compared my writing to Robert Crais, which is super flattering. I feel that Michael Connelly's Bosch books might look similar if you squint real hard and turn your head to the side.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The first draft was written in Berkeley after I had moved there from LA. I had some bitter feelings about the city that I let out on the page. Now that I’m back in town, I like LA much better. As mentioned above, I wanted to see a character who wasn't an ex-cop or vet. Also, I wanted to push the idea of somebody who didn't want to be a PI, but was doing it as a family obligation and eventually it would become their way of life.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

The story is set in 1981. I see the eighties as a turning point in US culture. Reagan has assumed the presidency, the cold war rhetoric is loud, materialism is lauded, hippies have vanished, disco is dying and being replaced by New Wave and MTV, and the cocaine trade is booming with violence yet to come.

That's it! Be sure to check out Laurie StevensStephen BuehlerSarah Chen, and Craig Faustus Buck next week for their Next Big Thing entries. Also check out my novella Lost in Clover which just came out in November. You can find it at http://tsrichardson.com/Clover.html.

Thank you for stopping by!

PS I haven't touched this blog in a few years, but I'm going to try to keep posts up in 2013.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl

I saw Lars and the Real Girl tonight. I had heard it was good, but I’m blown away by how amazing it is. It’s something that I wish I could write, but I don’t have that much goodness in me. I also wish people in America could be as conscious and caring as the citizens in this unnamed town. I felt like this town was a one-off, an idealized village only possible in fantasy. Maybe it could it happen anywhere in America. I feel that the US is poisoned with cynicism or a totalitarian view of what is right and any variations are wrong. The vision of the movie is so wonderful and so far from what I’ve seen in the world. Also the acting and directing are superb as well. I can’t recommend this movie enough.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Is McNulty a revamped 21st century Marlowe?

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading The Big Sleep. It was my second attempt at the novel and the second Raymond Chandler book that I’ve read. Chandler had created the quintessential hardboiled PI with Phillip Marlowe. His detective is idiosyncratic living by his own code unlike anybody else around him. This code allows for variations of gray in some areas and definitive black and white lines in others. He talks flippantly when shouldn’t and is tight lipped when candidness would be in his best interest. Marlowe pushes the boundaries of law in order to aid his client (whether they request it or not) often putting himself at great risk. A bottle of rye seems to be his closest companion as he gumshoes out into the street as a martyr, working for clients who seem unworthy of his services. Though self depreciating, I believe that deep inside Marlowe thinks he is the smartest (if not moral) man in Los Angeles.

Jimmy McNulty from HBO’s and David Simon’s The Wire seems to be cut from the same cloth. Sure there are some obvious differences starting with the gloomy location of drug infested Baltimore (though both have a love-hate relationship with their city) and the fact that McNulty has been married and rarely turns down easy sex. (Marlowe is a chaste knight always rebuffing the women who throw themselves at him.) However the similarities are overwhelming. Almost everything I mentioned in the above paragraph can be applied to McNulty’s police work. He will alienate anybody he is close to in order to follow through on a case. Burning bridges is a simple necessity in order to move forward. Though McNulty works for a team, he often acts like Marlowe, going his own way regardless of whether he is in violation of direct orders.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

D.P. Lyle, MD – Forensics for Dummies

I’m a little short for time, so here are some notes that I took from a session on forensics at the 2006 San Francisco Writer’s Conference. D.P. Lyle, MD gave a great presentation and I highly recommend his website and books. http://www.dplylemd.com/ I have an outline of his presentation below.

Dr. D.P. Lyle – Forensics for Dummies

1. When knocked out
a. it is usually a couple of minutes down
i. a concussion
b. usually come back woozy for a second
i. then in pain
ii. angry
c. rarely incapacitates
2. Guns
a. Impossible to kill somebody
i. Even with multiple wounds
ii. Unless heart, spine or head hit
b. Usually makes victim angrier, more violent
3. No untraceable poison known
a. Toxicology test will find it
i. But usually not administered
ii. Autopsies are rare, but if something amiss
1. Then a quick test
2. more complex if results turn up
4. Most common forms of death
a. Natural
b. Suicide
c. Accidental
d. Other
i. Murder here, but rare
ii. All might look the same to a coroner
iii. Must a have a reason to look further
5. If coroner can’t explain why person died
a. Then routine drug screen
i. Alcohol, narcotics, sedatives, aspirin, cocaine, marijuana
b. If drug shows then tweak for specific chemicals
c. If poison outside of drug screen
i. Family, insurance or police must open investigation
6. Recommends to kill go to plant store instead of drug store
a. Book – Deadly Poisons for Deadly…. (Jesse…)
7. CSI Affect – not true in real life
a. True scientists
i. Old equipment, no guns
ii. Work with samples
iii. That’s all
b. Police cannot touch a body except to confirm death
i. body owned by coroner
ii. Police own the crime scene
iii. Several people with specific job at crime scene
1. Up to 30
8. Don’t trust mother nature
a. The bodies will come up
9. Blood Simple is a great movie to watch
a. Dead people don’t bleed!!!
10. Novel types
a. Thrillers have increased tension as reader knows something the protagonist doesn’t
b. Mysteries unveils everything with the protagonist

1. Shock: competence and coherence with blood loss
a. Depends if blood clots
i. Will unless organ (liver, others) hit
b. If blood pressure drops (like flat tire)
i. Will get confused, disoriented, sleepy
ii. Rate of blood loss
1. too much and brain shuts down
2. Can you leave bruises on a corpse?
a. Only with a heavy instrument and force
b. Bruises occur by broken capillaries
i. Flowing blood is bunched up
c. Thumb used to strangle
i. Very deep impression
d. Can tell strategies of murder
i. Rope vs. chain vs. hands
3. How quick to get DNA samples
a. Can get it in 24 hrs with sample kit
i. But must be sent to another lab for verification
b. What a coroner writes affects everything in a trial
c. Some states have 5 yr. back ups
4. Decay rates depends on environments
a. Swamps (quickly) vs. cold mountains (years)
5. Men use guns, women use poisons
a. Direct anger vs. distance from crime
6. Covering up crime
a. Gloves, booties, hats
i. Prints and DNA
b. bleach to clean up blood
i. but blood is a liquid that will seep into cracks and crevasse
7. Crime scene
a. Scene of crime
b. Points of Entry
c. Points of Exit

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Walter Mosley and James Ellroy: 1950’s Racism on Each Side of the Track

Hands down, I am a fan of James Ellroy’s chaotic, frenzied fiction. It is at times ridiculously over the top and gratuitous in terms of action (read hyper-violent), use of language, plot and overall story telling. Often his stories take place in a less than golden 1950s Los Angeles and usually the protagonists are officers of the LAPD. Nobody on the force wears a white hat. Though villains possess unadulterated evil, the heroes and their cohorts all sport varying shades of gray that fluctuates throughout a novel. A common characteristic is that the police use (and misuse) their power to coerce confessions from those they deem guilty or vulnerable. With the possession of a badge, many of Ellroy’s cops feel invulnerable to the world outside of superior officers and a few Hollywood socialites and politicos. Above all they have contempt for minorities, frequently throwing out racists epitaphs and coming down hard on any they may cross.

Walter Mosley, writer of the Easy Rawlins series (as well as Socrates Fellows and Paris Minton), looks at the African American hard boiled detective trying to navigate his way through Los Angeles. Cops are feared by the black community. To come forward with information on crime, Easy or Paris (both living in 1950s South Central) could find themselves easily sitting in jail beaten and bloody. For them, it is in their best interest to avoid the law and take matters into their own hands.

Mosley and Ellroy back each other up from different perspectives on the brutal and racist police culture of the 1950s. I should also note that both authors have occasionally created a respectful law officer or two as well, adding layers of gray to their novels. As for Los Angeles, the city is enormous covering around 470 square miles and in 1950 LA contained almost 2 million residents with many diverse backgrounds. Currently there are 9,600 LAPD officers and I can only assume that there were far less in the 1950s. Were officers acting out, fearful at feeling outnumbered and overstretched? Possibly, but that would be one of many issues including power, ignorance of others, unchecked aggression, an overall group think culture, etc., but this would be another blog.

I think that LAPD has come along way from the heavy-fisted fifties even before the Rodney King incident and definitely afterwards. Integration, community outreach, staff psychologists and other programs have helped. I highly recommend Miles Corwin’s “The Killing Season.” It is a non-fiction account of homicide detectives in South Central during the mid-nineties. The department is understaffed, underfunded, and the work hours are unending. Mr. Corwin also takes time to look at the effects of crime of the families of victims.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Oscars and the Power of C4

Congratulations: Coens, Cormac and Cody

Although the telecast of the Oscars had one of the lowest viewer turnouts in the history of the Academy Awards, I enjoyed watching the results. Granted the musical sequences were painful, outside of Swell Season’s performance, and the aren’t-we-so-great Hollywood propaganda was a bit tiresome. However, my favorites in my favorite categories (writing, directing and picture) all won.

I’ve been a die hard fan of the Coen Brothers since Raising Arizona in the late 80’s. (Someday I will try to write an essay on why Arizona is pure genius and a great American film). They were able to translate a Cormac McCarthy novel with all of the writer’s raw sparseness on celluloid. They conveyed his unrelenting brutality in which pure evil overpowers all, and humans, caught in this tragedy, do their best (though often making fatal mistakes) to battle against this unstoppable force. BTW I see strong parallel between Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men, in terms of setting off evil, battling against fate, etc.

Also a shout out goes to Diablo Cody, writer of Juno. Her funny, lightening speed dialog, a strong and compelling central actress, and realistic and growing characters set in Illinois made this a definite Oscar-worthy script. My investment in her win was also personal as I was one person removed from her by her manager (and a producer of Juno) Mason Novick. I talked to him last year about a comedy script that I sent him: Fatman. He said that he laughed throughout the script, which is a rare commodity for comic screenplay. Unfortunately, he didn’t believe he could produce it. He asked me to send him a list of ideas, which I did and never heard back. I’m afraid that with his success it might even be tougher to get a follow up phone call. Arggggh. Close, but I am without a cigar. Regardless, congratulations to Mason for picking up Diablo and presenting her talents to the world.