Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What was the last book you bought?

Over at SF Signal, they ask the same question. Thought I'd like to see what y'all say, mainly since my choices are crime related.

For me, it was actually three books, all used and found in a nice little bookstore, Books Abound, in Cypress, TX:

Stolen Woman - Wade Miller
Guilty Bystander - Wade Miller
Homicidal Lady - Day Keene

All three books are by authors I first was introduced to via Hard Case Crime. Branded Woman, Wade Miller's HCC entry, is one of my favorite books HCC has ever published. My review of Keene's Home is the Sailor is here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Allan Guthrie Cover Art

Remember how I gushed about reading my first Allan Guthrie novel, Kiss Her Good-bye? Well, it turns out that a gentleman in Finland likes the book, too. Juri Nummelin is going to start hand-picking novels for a new line of paperbacks a la Hard Case Crime...but in Finland. And, the cool thing: there will be new cover art. Check out the cover painting for Kiss Her Good-bye by an artist named Ossi Hiekkala. It's a nice but different take on the events of Guthrie's book.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chicago's Stone of Sisyphus: I OWN It!

I've had a cassette copy since 1995 (I had to pay postage and give up my original Chicago VIII LP complete with the iron-on transfer). I bought the foreign compilation CDs where some of these songs appeared. I paid for a CD version in 1999. I downloaded the various versions on the internet since 2000.

But there is nothing, nothing, like going to a store (Target) and finding a legal compact disc, picking it up, and holding it. That's why I chose not to download it from iTunes (my new normal way of buying music). I actually had to look for it. There were only two copies and I got one. I made sure the other copy was prominently displayed.

I told the check-out lady about it. I ripped off the plastic covering before I left the store. The grin did not leave my face all the way to the car...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Treason at Hanford as a Word Cloud

My friend, Doug Warren, sent me a link to Wordle, a very cool site that allows you to paste in text and its engine will create a word cloud. I put in my first novel, Treason at Hanford. This is the result.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Justice in H-Town, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Justice in H-Town is online now over at Texas Pulp Writer. Enjoy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert: R. I. P.

I have always been a political junkie of sorts. I can remember our vacation in 1980 because it was during the GOP convention. In 1984, in Fairbanks, Alaska, I watched the Democratic convention. And I've always been an NBC man. Well, let's put it this way: when you're a kid, you are what your parents are and they were NBC folks: David Brinkley (before the jump to ABC), Tom Brokaw, John Chancellor, Roger Mudd, Robert Bazell (science), and more.

By the time I got to college and discovered that there were news programs on Sunday morning (I was always in church), I naturally gravitated to "Meet the Press." By the time I got there, Tim Russert was already sitting in that chair. Once I learned about Sunday morning news shows, I was quite happy to have a VCR because I would tape "Face the Nation" and "This Week" and always watch "Meet the Press" live. Why was that? Because of Tim Russert.

If there was one thing you got from Tim Russert it was enthusiasm. There were times when he would just be giddy with excitement at an interview. Other commentators were as competent and they delivered the news with aplomb. But it was the giddiness that distanced Russert from the crowd.

During these past two presidential cycles (2000 and 2004), I took great joy in listening to Russert's predictions as election night wore on. And, in the age of whiz-bang visuals, there was Russert, white board and marker in hand, erasing and writing new numbers in Bush's or Gore's column. There's something to be said for a guy who uses such a low key presentation style. It's the information that matters, not the medium.

I think what got Russert so giddy all the time was he realized that he was an active participant in history. He loved history. If you doubted that, all you had to do was watch his CNBC program where he sat down opposite a person--usually someone who had written a book--and just talked. Sure, there were questions but you got the sense that you were the fly on the wall just listening to a couple of people talk shop.

Every night when I watch Brian Williams tell me the news, I'm usually home and in the process of preparing dinner or talking with my family about how their day went. The house is usually noisy at these times. But when Williams would turn to Russert--with his long introduction, "Washington managing editor and moderator of Meet the Press--the house got a little quieter. That was either as a result of me shushing the family or me turning up the volume on the TV, thus quieting the family. Either way, Russert's baritone voice boomed across the screen, giving us all just a little bit extra.

Tonight, and this Sunday, things will be quiet. It will a quiet of a different kind. Sure, there will be another moderator for Meet the Press. Sure, there will be another Washington managing editor for NBC News. But they won't be Russert. For all the warmth that Williams exudes when reading the news, no one quite had Russert's enthusiasm.

That is what I'm going to miss the most. Enthusiasm. Politics are important. Sure, they can be mundane, but it's important. It's an essential component for our nation and our government. You always got the sense that Russert knew that and was just excited that he had a role to play. And play it he did.

One last thing about Russert's enthusiasm: every time you watched him, even this past primary season that went on for five months, you always saw Russert smiling. For lots of us, we chagrined when Super Tuesday or some other primary contest didn't resolve the Democratic race. Russert was grinning. He was loving it. Secretly, he'd probably admit to hoping for a brokered convention just to cover it. You always got the sense that he was pinching himself, constantly trying to discover if he was dreaming. Surely, he might have thought, I must be dreaming because I have an awesome job.

Little did we know that we should have been pinching ourselves. Surely, we might have thought, we must have been dreaming these wonderful years since 1991 when Russert became the moderator of Meet the Press because such a wonderful, intelligent, and, yes, enthusiastic guy was sitting in that chair. Unfortunately, this coming Sunday, we're going to realize that we were not dreaming. It was real. Tim Russert was real.

Man. Am I going to miss him this fall. We all will.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Stone of Sisyphus on Amazon Charts

Okay, I am not delusional. Come 17 June, the biggest CD released will be Coldplay's new record. Heck, I'm going to buy it from iTunes that day, too. I like the new tune quite a bit.

But, as of today, Chicago's "Stone of Sisyphus" is #138 on the Amazon Music Sales chart. #138! From a band that most people go "They're still around?" And, get this, Stone of Sisyphus is #80 on the *Rock* chart. Not Adult Contemporary, not Oldie, but Rock! Boo-Yeah!

The Future Great Genre Writers...Who Are They Now?

While this blog has pretty much evolved into a crime fiction blog, I do still love SF. Over at SFSignal, there is a great post asking this question: Who Are the Tomorrow's Big Genre Stars? Check it out.

This, of course, brings up the question that would make it pertinent to crime fiction: Who are Tomorrow's Big Genre Stars for Crime Fiction? On my short list are folks whose books I have read or whose blogs I read regularly:

Christa Faust
Duane Swierczynski
Allan Guthrie
Charlie Huston
Megan Abbott

Who are your choices?

I have two friends, Doug Warren and Victoria Graydale, who I'd like to see on various lists of the future.

And, of course, I want my name on that list. We'll just have to see. It takes actual stories and books to make that list. Guess I'd better start producing faster...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Three Authors

Over at Crime Fiction Dossier, David J. Montgomery poses a question: Who are the three authors whose work you would miss the most if they stopped writing? You'll have to jump to his site to see his answers. Here are mine:

George Pelecanos - He has written 14 novels and I just wolf down whatever he publishes. I'm in the enviable position when you find a new author in that you read the new stuff as it comes out and get to sample older works at my own personal pace. If Dennis Lehane set the hook, Pelecanos was the fishing line that dragged me into this fantastic world of crime fiction.

Elmore Leonard - I have only read about 4 of his books. The Hot Kid was fantastic: a western pulp yarn with a U.S. Marshall as the lead protagonist. I have purchased all his westerns and gulped down Valdez is Coming and Hombe in four days ove Thanksgiving 2006. I put him on the list for what he has written...and that I have yet to read.

Christa Faust - I have only read one of her books (Money Shot, read my review) but it's my favorite book of the year so far. I put her on the list because of all the future books she'll write.

My honorable mention goes to Dennis Lehane without whom I probably would not be reading any crime fiction. It was Mystic River that caused me to take a nibble. It was the Kenzie/Gennaro series, particularly the first two (A Drink Before the War and Darkness, Take My Hand) that set the hook.

And these are just the crime fiction authors.

How about y'all?

The View from Mars

I don't remember it but I was alive Christmas of 1968. About three weeks old. Thus, I didn't get to see the images Apollo 8 sent back to Earth. It was the first time humans saw our home planet from somewhere else other than low-earth orbit. Here is one of the photos.

Now comes the view from Mars. And this time, the Moon's along for the ride. Is that not just awe-inspiring, humbling, and a little bit lonely all at the same time.

Music Review: Stone of Sisyphus by Chicago

When the seven guys formed the band that became Chicago, they had a mandate: create a sound that was a rock band with horns. And they did. Brilliantly. As I mentioned in this post about Chicago III, the first five years of their recorded output, Chicago walked the tightrope between longer pieces and radio-friendly shorter songs. Artistic craftsmen that they were, they knew how to write the three-minute pop song with the best of them. And, obviously, as the hits kept piling up, the pressure from the record labels to write singles kept coming and coming. Then, when they had their first #1 hit, wouldn’t you know it was a ballad. From then on, for better or worse, Chicago became a ballad band. Sure, the fans knew the truth, but the casual radio audience (and the record executives) knew only one thing.

This kind of pressure had side effects. Outside writers were brought in to write a “Chicago ballad.” The horns became less of the fourth vocal component of the band’s sound and was relegated to the background, if they were even on certain songs. The composition of the band changed, whether through death or departure. Through it all, Chicago adapted. They made disco records that sounded pretty good. They incorporated the 1980s synth sound into their sound and moved forward. And, as good as those 1980s records were, some folks got the impression that their heart was not in it.

When Peter Cetera left the band in 1985, the second replacement guitarist, Chris Pinnick, also left. Into the band came two fresh faces, Jason Scheff (bass and vocals) and Dawayne Bailey (guitars). Bailey was something to behold to suburban teenagers like myself. He looked like something straight out of Woodstock and had the stage presence to boot. Plus, he shredded like Van Halen. So, for the teenagers in the 1980s who thought that Chicago 16 was the band’s first album and that Chicago only sang ballads, the live concerts showed another side. Once again, Chicago was a rock band with horns. Don’t think so? Try “25 or 6 to 4” (1989); “I Stand Up” (1989); or “Along Comes a Woman” (1990).

But on record, it was still the same old soulless thing everyone had come to expect. Until 1993.

In 1991, Chicago released Twenty-1. It was a typical 1980s Chicago record complete with saccharin ballads and good album cuts brimming over with horns. During that summer, I, like other die-hard fans, couldn’t wait to hear those songs live. They never came. In the pre-internet days, we didn’t know why the band didn’t perform any songs live. And the one song they did—“You Come to My Senses” on Arsenio Hall’s show—was subpar for the band. And that’s putting it nicely.

What we now know is that the members of Chicago had had enough. They wanted to make a record that *they* wanted to make, like they did back in 1971. And they found a producer, Peter Wolf, who shared their vision. In one interview, Walt Parazaider said that Wolf told him to bring all his woodwinds: all his saxes, flutes, clarinets. In that interview, Walt’s grin was huge. What was also huge was the enthusiasm within the band. You don’t believe me? Just listen.

The album that emerged was to be Chicago 22. It had heart and it had soul. The song “Stone of Sisyphus” kicks the socks off a lot of the material from the 1980s. Shoot, if you closed your eyes, you might even think that the seven young musicians called Chicago Transit Authority had transported forward from 1969 to 1993. Sappy love songs have fake emotions but I dare anyone to listen to the song “Bigger Than Elvis” and not get a lump in their throat. You see, Jason Scheff’s dad, Jerry, was the bass player for Elvis. Yeah, The Elvis. The song is about a young Jason watching TV, seeing his dad, and thinking it was his show.

Kick-butt rock songs and emotional ballads not enough for you? Well, how about funk? Mah-Jong, written by Jason Scheff but sung by the blue-eyed soul crooner Bill Champlin goes where no other Chicago song has gone before. And Jason really lets his bass playing shine here. Speaking of songs where no other Chicago song has gone before, how about rap? That’s right, rap. Granted, it ain’t Eminem or anything, but it’s Chicago does rap. And it doesn’t sound wrong. It sounds all right, too, to say nothing about the lyrics.

Lyrics. Remember back in the day when Chicago wrote songs wishing Richard Nixon would quit (“A Song for Richard and His Friends”), the plight of pollution (“Mother”), the burden of war (“Dialogue”) or the general dilapidated state of America (“What Is This World Comin' To?”)? Well, that’s okay. No one else does, either. They stopped recording those kinds of songs by the mid 70s. Sure, tunes like “We Can Stop the Hurtin’” surfaced every now and then but they were few and far between. Not on SOS. Those kinds of songs came roaring back, with “Cry for the Lost” and “All the Years.” The latter song has a bit of Chicago’s own history throughout the lyrics and, in a bridge section late in the song, a direct link back to their first record.

So happy were the guys of Chicago to be making a record they liked that they even penned a song lambasting the modern recording industry. “Plaid” told it like it was for all of us who didn’t know. It was like a shot across the bow that culminated with the iPod and downloadable music. Remember when I wrote that Walt was asked to bring in all his woodwind instruments? You got bass clarinet on this tune. Bass clarinet in a rock song! Can someone say Miles Davis and “Bitches Brew”?

When it was all said and done, all recorded and put on tape, the album that was to have been Chicago 22 had it all. They loved it, they were proud of it. They even decided to name the album “Stone of Sisyphus” instead of Chicago 22. It was to have been something different, something special. It was, to me, the most personal album Chicago had made since VII (when they basically made an LP for themselves [1st] and an LP for the radio [2nd]). SOS was also the most adventurous CD since VII. They were ready to redefine themselves as a rock band.

Give you one guess what the suits thought. Upon listening to this CD, the suits knocked Chicago to its knees. The suits shelved the CD because “it didn't sound like Chicago.” I bet these were the suits who thought 16 was Chicago’s first album. When the suits locked the demo tapes in a vault, never to be heard by anyone, some of Chicago’s heart and soul stayed in that vault. The band's reaction was where we are now. Dawayne left and, taking nothing away from his replacement, Keith Howland, Chicago ceased to be a *rock* band with horns.

The next two releases, Night and Day: Big Band, and Chicago 25 (The Christmas Album), demonstrated Chicago’s incredible talent for arranging and performing. The rest of the 1990s saw the release of two greatest hits packages and a live CD, each album coupled with two new songs. These songs were good, mind you, but were cut from the “now traditional Chicago sound” mold. None of the songs had the fire that SOS had.

The bootlegs began filtering out in the mid 1990s. I’ll admit that I acquired one. When some of the tracks made their way onto foreign CDs, I snatched those up, too. I did anything to get good sounding copies of these songs. And I took great joy, tremendous joy, in playing certain cuts of the album and asking people to guess who was singing. Even thought they knew me and my love of Chicago, they rarely guessed right. You see, Stone of Sisyphus was a unique album. It was an album by eight guys plus their producer making music that they liked. Not the suits. Not even their more recent fans. This was an album that lived and breathed freedom, the freedom they used to have back in the early days.

I still consider Chicago’s first two records to be their best. I put SOS at #3. It’s that good. And, with it being a bootleg, I could rarely share it with anyone other than to play songs in the car or at home. I never ever thought I’d get a chance to go to the store and buy an official copy of this monumental album.

Next week I can. And I will. And I hope you do, too. Let’s show all those suits that they made a mistake back in 1993. Chicago 22 was the return of the Rock Band With Horns mentality. Chicago 22 may not have burned up the charts but the music was real. It was honest. It had heart. It had soul.

Isn’t that what we want from our music anyway?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Book Review: The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald

According to the best online source of all things related to PI fiction, Thrilling Detective, Lew Archer “stands with the Continental Op, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe as one of the few PI's who actually define the genre.” I’ve read Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and the first two Marlow books and, thus, I knew those PIs. Who the heck is Lew Archer?

My thought process went something like this: Who’s Lew Archer? Lew Archer is the PI created by Ross MacDonald. MacDonald? Ain’t he the guy who created that other PI who lives on a boat? No, that would be John D. Macdonald who created Travis McGee. Oh, well, then, is this MacDonald the same guy who created Fletch. No! Still a different MacDonald. Sheesh, I thought. Somebody should have chosen a pen name.

Lew Archer is a PI in, where else, southern California. He is hired to find one Ralph Sampson. Now, being from Houston, I couldn’t help thinking about the old Houston Rockets basketball player but that’s just me. We follow the story from Archer’s first-person POV. I think in PI fiction, where you have the one hero against the world, the first-person POV works great. It does so here, really giving the reader a taste of what it is like to be a WWII veteran who used to be a cop but quit for honorable reasons.

Confession: I started this book three times before I actually plowed my way through it. This is one of those times where a bad reader can ruin a good book. The Blackstone audio folks didn’t pick well with this reader. Or was it the prose? I have to admit, there were times when I was, uh, bored. At one point, I didn’t care if Archer found Sampson or not.

Besides, I was listening to The Moving Target at the same time I was reading Lawrence Block’s The Sins of the Fathers. Perhaps that wasn’t wise. In crime fiction, and PI fiction especially, each subsequent author builds on the foundations of previous authors. These were two first books, separated by nearly twenty years. It is possible that Block took some of Archer when he created Matt Scudder. Without any other outside influence (that is, not having read, in advance how famous these two PIs are), if you asked me which book I liked more, it would have been Block’s book. But, in terms of PIs, I prefer Archer. He's a cool customer with a great head on his shoulders that seems to take a pounding everyday. And, like Scudder, Archer has a resolute moral code, all but unbreakable in this first book.

Don’t get me wrong: The Moving Target was a good PI story. Literally, one of the culprits is not revealed until the end and, frankly, I didn’t see it coming. I liked how Archer unfolded the story layer by layer. But it didn’t suck me in like A Drink Before the War, The Sins of the Fathers, or The Maltese Falcon. Hmm, come to think of it, 2 out of three of those books owe a debt to MacDonald.

I’ve been told that MacDonald’s The Galton Case was the turning point of the Lew Archer novels. From there, MacDonald created something very special. It’s good to know. Otherwise, I might’ve left Archer to the pile designed “To Be Read…Someday.” Now, I will certainly persevere.

And reading over the glowing tribute over at January Magazine, I'm certainly going to read more Archer novels. I have half a mind to jump ahead and read The Galton Case and then fill in the gaps. But I probably won't. Even if these books can be read in any order, I'm a stickler for order.

What I Learned As A Writer: Don’t bore the reader. Gosh, I hate to write that but it’s true. The more I learned about Sampson and witnessed Archer interact with Sampson’s family, the more I didn’t care. Sure, I liked how the Archer peeled the onion despite its smell and I loved how he took a beating but kept on moving forward. And the body count was tremendous.

Otherwise, MacDonald has a wonderful way with words. I can see why and how folks compare him with Chandler. There’s fluidity to Archer’s speech that is something special. I will travel again with him. It just won’t be right away.

And, if I needed any more incentive, try this money quote from Thrilling Detective: “Lew Archer made possible all who followed.”

That includes me. Thanks, Lew. I owe you one.

Treason at Hanford: A Harry Truman Mystery - Chapter 1 online

Over at my fiction blogsite, I have now posted Chapter 1 of my first novel, Treason at Hanford: A Harry Truman mystery.

For a first-time author, I met with some nice successes in 2006 as I starting pitching my first book. To start, I found myself an agent. She liked the first three chapters so much that she offered to represent me without seeing the rest of the book. Nice praise.

And, in two writing contests, the manuscript won Third Place. The second time, I actually won some cash, a first. It is exciting.

My love of history infused this book and spurned it onward. I am happy to write that more than one person did not see the big twist toward the last third. Honestly, I patted myself on the back for that one. It probably has some more work to be done to it (it's been through six edits) but I still like it. Pop on over to Texas Pulp Writer and take a read and let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Stone is Coming...

That sound you hear? It's a giant rock. It's rolling, it's coming. Towards you. You can't get out of the way. Besides, it's so good, you don't want to. You are going to want it to hit you. Trust me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Book Review: The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

Three Lawrence Block books in a month. I guess you could call that a block of Blocks. Ahem, moving on.

One of the best things about what I seem to be doing (reading a lot of crime novels in an attempt to determine where my books are going to be placed within the wider pantheon of crime literature) is that there is just so much out there. Some of these writers, like Block, are so big, they transcend the genre. That is, I knew the name "Lawrence Block" before I even picked up the very first Hard Case Crime story ever published, Block's Grifter's Game. Since then, I have learned that Block is most famous for two creations, Bernie Rhodenbarr (AKA "The Bulgar") and the Matt Scudder novels. Being a stickler for reading these series characters from the beginning, I recently found the first books from each of these series. Don't know why but I read Scudder first.

We meet Scudder, where else, in a bar, sitting opposite a client. Scudder is not a licensed PI; instead, he does 'favors' for people. And, in the best tradition of old-school PI novels, Block gets right to the point. A bereaved father wants Scudder to learn about and report on the last days of his daughter's life. Specifically, he blames himself for not reaching out to her and he wants to know if what the papers have printed about her--that she's a prostitute--are true. Scudder agrees and takes the man's money.

The first thing that jarred me about this character--and immediately gave him depth--was that Scudder tithed 10% of his fee. Crime fiction that I am familiar with tends to be somewhat secular. I know there are PI series out there with priests and whatnot; I just haven't read them. And for a PI, down on his luck, divorced, with two boys he seems not to know what to do with, semi-alcoholic, who lives in a hotel, to give up 10% of his hard-earned cash is something remarkable. And he does it more than once. It's one of the neatest aspects of Scudder, that he knows there is a God and that he, Scudder, strayed though he is, is one of the sheep.

On the cover of nearly every copy of a Block book, invariably, there is a quote about Block's prose. I got the one from Martin Cruz Smith who considers Block to be a direct descendant of James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett. I haven't read Cain yet...but he's dead on with the Hammett reference. Block uses nice and tidy prose. There is no fat. My copy of the novel is 186 pages and seventeen chapters. But, considering Chapter 17 is only three pages long, Block tells his entire story in sixteen chapters and 183 pages. My current novel is on chapter 18 and I'm on page 125. Boy, do I envy Block's writing. To cite the last sentence of the Martin Cruz Smith quote, "He's that good."

Again, not knowing anything about Scudder, the second jarring thing he did came after this sentence: "I went back to Armstrong's, but it was the wrong place for the mood I was in." There had not been hardly any violence in the novel up to that point (p. 127) and I honestly didn't see what was coming. It jarred me. In fact, I put a sticky note on that page so I could quickly return to that place in the book. I expected it to be important and it was. Going back to the tithing aspect of his character, I couldn't help but see an angelic--not the good kind--coming out in Scudder's actions.

In my ongoing education in crime literature to date, I have met a lot of one-time characters: Angel Dare, Swede Nelson, Joe Hope, Cay Morgan, Jack Stang. Even Nick and Nora Charles, in literature, are one-time characters. Matt Scudder is the first ongoing character to whom I have been introduced. I want to taste a lot of different writers before I settle down and plow through an entire series. It is going to take a act of will not to buy the second book in the Scudder series tomorrow. He is intriguing. He is deep. He is, to appropriate the above quote and apply it to Scudder, that good.

What I Learned As A Writer: I am a writer and I am reading to become a better writer. I keep a pencil handy when I read so I can mark neat or interesting passages. I actually take notes when there is something important. At one point in this novel, Block does a fascinating thing. Scudder breaks into the apartment where the murder took place. This event happens on page 57 and Block covers it thusly:

"The window wasn't locked. I opened it, let myself in, closed it after me.
An hour later, I went out the window and back up the fire escape."

Scudder then goes and has a sandwich. At the time, accustomed as I am to CSI-type readings of crime scenes (that is, in intricate detail), I was shocked. It was the end of a chapter as well, so, as I turned the page, I expected to have the scene laid out, in detail. Uh-uh. What Scudder did and saw in the apartment is scattered throughout the rest of the book and a detail is divulged only when it is important. The rest of it doesn't matter. Holy cow! It is a brilliant way to keep the reader engaged. We know Scudder had to have found something...but what was it? Brilliant.

And I won't even go into detail about the obvious way those two sentences state what is necessary without any extra detail. We, the Reader, fill in the gaps. Makes me wonder if Cruz Smith should have included Hemingway in that list to which Block belongs? I think so.

Another Historic Day for America?

Hillary Clinton conceded her bid for the Democratic nomination today. And I can't help but wonder if we have not seen the last true Baby Boomer run for president. Obama, technically, is a Boomer because the cut-off date is generally 1964. But he is not of the generation. Clinton is.

The Civil War generation and presidential politics lasted from 1868 (Grant) until 1900 (McKinley's reelection). The election of 1904, between Teddy Roosevelt and Alton Brooks Parker, was the first presidential election without a Civil War veteran. No World War I veteran ever ran for president. Same for Korea.

The Depression/World War II generation of presidential election politics lasted until 1996 when Bob Dole became the last World War II veteran to run for president. 2000 was the first true Vietnam-era election with Gore and Bush and 2004 was the second. 2008 could very well be the last Vietnam-era election if McCain loses. Ironic that such a divisive moment in our history only played out in five presidential election cycles (vs. 9 for the Civil War and 11 for WWII).

Another potential future nod: might Obama be the first semi-Generation-Xer to run for office?

Just food for thought for a potentially historic Saturday, June 7, 2008.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dennis Lehane's Next Novel

As I mentioned before in this blog entry, I credit Dennis Lehane and his book, Mystic River, with my awakening to crime fiction in general. But it has been five years since he published his last book, Shutter Island. Now, via the Houston Chronicle, is a reference to his next book, being published this fall.

Most-talked-about fiction at the show, which concluded Sunday in Los Angeles, included Dennis Lehane's The Given Day. Lehane, best known for Mystic River, a best-seller and basis of the 2003 movie, spoke at Sunday's author breakfast, and you could hardly avoid tripping over the ubiquitous advance-reading copies scattered around the convention center. His 704-page epic deals with the 1919 police strike in Boston.

Looking forward to it but with some trepidation. You see, I am planning on writing a novel about the 1917 race riot here in Houston during the early days of America's entry into World War I. I don't want to be seen as copying but it'll happen nonetheless. Guess I'd better bring my A Game, or, rather, my A+ Game.

Still, this year we'll have a new Lehane novel and a new Pelecanos novel. Couple that with the fantastic movies we're having this year and the completion of my second novel, 2008 is shaping up to be a banner year.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Historic Day in America

This is a blog about books and writing, music and film. Not politics. But I also love history. I hold a Bachelors and a Masters degree in history. History has been a passion of mine for most of my life. My first novel was an historical mystery with Harry Truman as the main character. I was born in the historic year of 1968. History is in my blood. So you will allow me a non-partisan comment on the historic event of today.

Today, an African-American man, Barak Obama, secured the nomination of the Democratic Party for the office of President of the United States. Regardless of what you think of him or his ideas, whether you love him or hate him, just ponder the mere fact of this achievement. Additionally, whether you love her or hate her, remember that Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, a woman, for the nomination. Historic.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the words "all men are created equal." For the past 232 years, we have been trying to define what the word 'men' actually meant. Originally it meant "white, land-owning, adult males over 21" and we spent four score and seven years taking away the hidden adjectives. Since the Civil War, we have added hidden adjectives to the list: African-American men, all women, 18-year-olds.

The Constitution states the minimum qualifications to be president: natural-born American who is 35 and has lived in the US for 14 years. That's it. But for the past 200+ years, really, the qualifications, the hidden adjectives, have been "natural born white male over 35."

What this campaign for the Democratic nomination has done is to remove two hidden adjectives: white and male.

Oh, and if you love historical ironies, remember this: on August 28, 2008, Obama will accept the nomination of his party for President of the United States. August 28. Does that date ring a bell? It should. Obama's speech will be 45 years to the day that Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

History. Fascinating, isn't it?

Christa Faust on "Behind the Black Mask"

In case y'all don't obsessively monitor all the links I post there on the right column, here's a newsflash for you: Christa Faust's interview at Behind the Black Mask is now available.

Just listened to it myself. It was great to listen to one of these in depth interviews talking about a book I've actually read. A few things I learned as a writer. One, Clute and Edwards praised Faust for the twists in her book that were, in fact, inevitable surprises but ones they didn't see coming. I agree with that. I get good feedback from readers of my first novel about the big twist. Those readers didn't see the twist coming. I felt good about that.

Clute and Edwards asked her the plotting question ("How do you do it?"). I was happy to learn that she, like me, uses the Post-it note method but feels free to just write and see how her character get out of situations she puts them in. I have been having a growing sense that I should try the same thing, just write and not plot (since I've been stuck on one chapter for 2 weeks). They talked a lot about body issues with the main character, Angel Dare, and I realized that I need to add a lot more of that in my current book with my female HPD detective. My critique group keeps mentioning that and I keep not doing it. Lastly, I was quite happy when Faust answered that she writes for the sheer entertainment value for the reader. Unashamedly does so. That's what I want to do. Write to make people's lives just a little better as they read my stories.

One final note: listening to this interview, the excitement I felt as I read this book was renewed. And, since I checked out Money Shot from the library, I think I'll pay Faust the ultimate compliment: I'm going to buy myself a copy.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Music Review: The Bossa Project by Robert Lamm

My all-time favorite rock group is Chicago. Period. End of sentence. KISS holds the place of first lover and I don't count the solo artists (Springsteen, Bowie) who are right up there. Chicago is #1.

As a child of the 1980s, I was one of those kids who wondered why Chicago 17 was titled thusly. The older I get, the more I like the older, adventurous Chicago of the early to mid 1970s. This was a band that started making music that they liked, got a few hits, recorded pop hits for the radio but still played album cuts of music that they liked and enjoyed. As the straight-jacket of the music industry enshrouded the band, solo albums emerged by the current line-up. And the man who continued the adventurous, searching nature of those early Chicago albums is Robert Lamm.

I'll review his superb subtlety + passion (2003) another time. Today I am writing about what some will see as a surprise but really isn't, if you take his entire solo oeuvre in mind: The Bossa Project.

Whoa! Lamm does a bossa nova CD? Is this just a marketing gimmick a la Pat Boone doing heavy metal big band (In a Metal Mood) or Paul Anka recording rock songs (Rock Swings) as if they were jazz standards? Not at all. This is an artist who got inspired and followed his muse. As Mr. Lamm himself mentions at cdbaby.com, he jumped at the chance to make a CD that excited him and paid homage to other artists in the bossa nova pantheon. And the result is fantastic.

On his myspace page, Lamm occasionally uploads rare songs or demos. He put these bossa nova songs up and I instantly fell in love with them. World music is one of my favorite styles with the soft, supple rhythms of bossa nova near the top of my favorite styles. It was a marriage made in heaven...but how does it sound?

Most of the songs feature Lamm's lower vocal range. Like other singers (Bowie, Elton John, Sting), Lamm's voice has mellowed with age. The lower, smoother range fits nicely within the greater context of bossa nova music. As a sax player myself, Larry Klimas's solos were sublime. Somewhere in heaven, Stan Getz is smiling. The flute just makes bossa nova music. And I found that I enjoyed the little things like the triangle. Be sure to put the headphones on for this one. There's a lot to hear.

In this age of overproduced, slick recordings, one of the underrated treats of this recording is its acousticiveness. (Yeah, I just made that up.) Sure, the 'orchestral programming' was computer generated (and some of the drums) but the rest of the CD sounds warm, immediate. There are places where you can hear John Van Eps's fingers sliding over the strings. That warmness is what is missing from lots of overproduced music nowadays.

The entire CD is worth listening to but I found my favorite songs were the three-song block "Send Rain," "Speak Low," and "Haute Girl."

As the summer 2008 starts, there is no better way to start it that driving with the windows down listening to Robert Lamm's The Bossa Project. Well, maybe there is one better way to experience it: at home, on the patio, cold beverage in hand, feet bare and tickled by freshly-mowed grass, the sweet smell of honeysuckle wafting through the air, the summer sun dying in the sky. Yeah, it's that kind of feeling. And you can get it, even when you are at the office, when you listen to this music. Treat yourself. It's a pitch perfect summer album.

[I don't know why I didn't make this comparison when I originally wrote this review. Lamm took a chance with this CD. Other singers took creative chances (Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions; Sting with the lute CD; Elvis Costello with the Brodsky Quartet, Anne Sofie von Otter, or jazz orchestra) and are better artists for it. In this day and age, with the fading of radio's influence, it's nice to see artists recording projects they want to record even if not all their fans follow them.]

Texas Pulp Writer Launched

It occurred to me over the weekend that I keep referencing my novels, the one I have finished (Treason at Hanford: A Harry Truman Mystery) and the one I will finish this month (Justice in H-Town). And, as the title of this blog states, I have won awards for both books. In preparing the blog for the Writer's League of Texas, I got excited about what I am trying to do.

So, as of today, I am going to start posting some sample chapters. And I'm starting with Justice in H-Town. With all the books I'm currently reading, it makes some sense to start with Justice. Please comment away, if you so choose. Tell what you like, what you didn't, and whether or not you are compelled to read the next chapter.

The entire URL is http://texaspulpwriter.blogspot.com. Enjoy.

I'll post Treason at Hanford in the next day or so.

[NOTE: I changed the link to be "Texas Pulp Writer" instead of "Lone Star Noir" so that I post different types of stories, not just crime stories.]