Burn, Baby Burn: America and The Burning of Books and Ideas

John Greco Author/Photographer

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I recently watched HBO’s remake of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 starring Michael Jordan and Michael Shannon. The film got me thinking about our political climate today and the suppression of ideas that do not coincide with the company line. It made me think about how close we are to this incendiary topic becoming a reality.

Fahrenheit 451 was written in the early 1950s during the McCarthy witch hunts, a point in time when the author feared America reached a point where the burning of ‘subversive’ literature was more than a slight possibility. The book focuses on an American society in the near future where owning a book is a crime. ‘Firemen’ are employed to burn any books found.

When I came across the book cover of the edition pictured above, I thought how simple, yet powerfully effective it was. The title with the ‘1’ replaced by a matchstick. That one…

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Only The Good Die Young

Like Billy Joel? Like crime stories? Like short stories? Well, the new collection, “Only the Good Die Young” offers all three. I highly recommend this book containing twelve stories, one better than the other. Authors include Rick Helms, Robert Lopresti, Barb Goffman, Josh Pachter, and other talented writers.

If you’re looking for an excellent collection of short stories to read, this is it! Click here.

Dark Secrets Book Cover Reveal

Dark Secrets, my upcoming collection of short stories will be out late summer/early fall of this year. The book will consist of ten short stories all with one thing in common… secrets! Very dark secrets best never revealed. What is revealed for the first time anywhere is the book cover. I hope you like it.

This fall season will have some very DARK SECRETS

Book Review: Heaven’s a Lie

Wallace Stroby knows his way around writing tough and tight crime thrillers. His latest, Heaven’s a Lie speeds along at full tilt. The storyline is old, a young woman, Joette Harper, finds a bag of money after attempting to save a man from a burning car. She knows she should leave it in the car and either let it burn or wait until the cops arrive and confiscate it. But Joette has money problems and three hundred thousand dollars can be a big leap in helping out. She knows the money has to be dirty (the cash belongs to a brutal and violent drug dealer), but Joette is desperate. What follows is a high-speed chase and who knows where or how it will end. Stroby likes powerful women characters (check out his excellent Chrissa Stone series) and writes them well. Joette Harper fits the role. The author does not waste words and what he uses is sharp and pointed. Heaven’s a Lie is a book you won’t be able to put down.

Update on My Latest Short Story Collection

With the pandemic raging on, I hope everyone is staying safe and being diligent. On a personal note, I have received both doses of the Moderna vaccine. No side effects other than a sore arm for a day or so. I continue to follow CDC guidelines and Dr. Fauci so I’m still wearing a mask and staying socially distant, but I have ventured out a little more. Still, many more people need to get vaccinated. We all need to do our part if we are going to be successful in getting through this.

On the writing front, I have been concentrating on putting together my next short story collection, which I hope to have out in the summer or early fall. It has been a bit of an ordeal working on this project. For a long period, I had writer’s block. My mind seemed to just go blank, creatively. Part of the reason, if not all, had to do with the pandemic which I felt sucked the creative energy out of me. Why, I’m not sure. I was spending more time than ever at home and sure had the time to write. But in the back of my mind, COVID-19 was lurking.

I admit it; COVID had me worried. Worried I would catch it and worried my wife would catch it. We both have underlying conditions that could have made it worse. Fortunately, we did not.

One day, searching for inspiration, I searched through my files of stories I’ve rejected because I felt they were not good enough. I came across this one story written a few years back and thought, hey, this is worth revisiting. I worked on it until I got it to a point where I said to myself, “YES!” This will work. That spark reignited my creative juices, and I have been on a roll. As I continued to write fresh stories, I realized a similar theme was emerging in everyone. Wow!

Soon, I will reveal the book’s title and a list of some of stories that will be included, all connected by this one theme.

I’m excited. Stay tune for more.

Abel Ferrara’s The Projectionist and Me

Got my copy of Abel Ferrara’s recent documentary, “The Projectionist,” which includes a photograph I took back in 1976 of the Coronet/Baronet theaters in New York City. “The Projectionist,” debuted at the New York Film Festival in 2019. Late last month it was released on Blu-ray and DVD. Ferrara’s films include “Bad Lieutenant,” “King of New York,” and Ms. “45.”

National Vietnam War Veterans Day

Today is National Vietnam War Veterans Day

First Blood is the first and best of the Rambo movies. Each sequel in the series became more simplistic and excessively militaristic. Based on David Morrell’s novel, First Blood has a dark somber tone and subtext completely missing in the other later works. The violence here is not exploitive but allows the viewers to enjoy the film on the surface as nothing more than an action/thriller. Howwever, there is a deeper level with something to say about returning war veterans and their problematic adjustment back to civilian life. The Vietnam veteran had the additional burden of facing a hostile homecoming. Unlike all previous veterans from earlier wars, the Vietnam veterans were not treated as heroes, instead they were met with disdain, spit upon, and even called baby killers.

Like many Vietnam Veteans, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has PTSD that went undetected. A former Green Beret, Rambo was the perfect fighting machine in Vietnam, but back home he can’t hold a job. He’s lost and travels aimlessly. In a small town in Washington State, he meets a hostile sheriff (Brian Dennehy). Rambo has a rebellious streak in him and it doesn’t sit well with the lawman and his crew. When cornered, he fights back the only way he can, the way they taught him.

First Blood, in its own crude way, shows why Vietnam Veterans deserve a day of their own. It may be hard to believe today that Veterans were treated with such scorn.

Having a day of their own is the least that we can do all these years later.

Read more about Vietnam Veterans War Day here.

Valentine’s Day – 1929

On Valentine’s Day in 1929, Al Capone allegedly sent a surprise gift to his Chicago North Side enemy Bugs Moran. Capone and Moran were in the middle of a gang war over territorial rights involving bootleg booze. On that romantic holiday, four men posing as police officers, entered Moran’s headquarters. They lined up seven of Moran’s thugs against a wall (Bugs wasn’t there) and emptied their machine guns into them. While it has never been completely proven that Capone was behind the massacre, he is generally credited with the bloody gift. Photo is from Roger Corman’s 1967 film, THE SAINT VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE.

My Favorite Private Eye Films

Here we have my top ten, plus six HM’s, of my own personal faovorite P.I. eyes. I’ve always had a soft spot for the anti-hero types, though you will find Nick and Nora Charles on the list. It was Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe who cemented my love for the mean dark streets of film noir where many of the best P.I. films are set. Please share you own favorites if you so desire.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

There are lies, deceit, sex, betrayal, murder, a stay true to the source screenplay by John Huston, a supporting cast that includes Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorr, Elisa Cook, and of course Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade all add up to make this film the epitome of Private Eye films.

Chinatown (1974)

The Long Goodbye (1973)

A multi layered, satirical, witty send up, and as you would expect from Robert Altman, a breakdown of genre conventions. Still the film keeps many of Chandler’s archetypal characters (wives stuck in loveless relationships, low-rent hoods, and cops too bored to do the job right) but he does it with a twist. Altman’s Marlowe is not the hard boiled knight in 1940’s armor living by his own moral code. In fact, this Marlowe seems to lack a moral center. Altman, along with screenwriter Leigh Brackett, turned our anti-hero into a man who is out of his time. He is the complete outsider; from the law, the hoods, even to his neighbors..

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer was never better served than in Kiss Me Deadly. Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer is a cold, brutal, sneering, amoral, narcissistic, and sullen dark knight dealing out revenge as his own form of hard-nosed justice. He’s a “bedroom dick” who easily confesses to some irksome cops to his own repugnance (you’ve convinced me, I’m a stinker). After giving a lift to a psychiatric ward escapee (Cloris Leachman) Hammer finds himself involved in a mystery where radioactive material is the prize. Director Robert Aldrich has delivered a cynical, fatalistic, and apocalyptic noir masterpiece.

The Big Sleep (1946)

Harper (1966)

With the making of Harper, based on Ross MacDonald’s first novel there was a definite connection to the past. First, there’s author MacDonald who writer Michael Avallone once wrote that Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald were the “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” of the hard-boiled school of fiction. MacDonald himself was a major influence on many of the mystery writers we read today including Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker and Robert Crias. Next was Warner Brothers, the same studio that brought you The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, released the film. Finally, there is Lauren Bacall. Bogie’s Baby herself who taught Bogart how to whistle. Paul Newman’s Harper is cynical and quick with the wise cracking, snappy comebacks. Like many classic P.I. films, it all takes place in California, land of off-beat cults represented here in the face of Strother Martin as a phony guru who runs a cult called Temple in the Clouds.

The Thin Man (1934)

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

I always ranked Humphrey Bogart as my favorite screen version of Philip Marlowe with Robert Mitchum a solid number two. Mitchum plays an older version of the P.I., but just as cynical. He’s backed up by a nice group of supporting actors including the beautiful Charlotte Rampling, Sylvia Miles, John Ireland, Harry Dean Stanton, Anthony Zerbe, Jack O’Halloran with a minor role by still unknown Sylvester Stallone. Look for the great hard-boiled writer Jim Thompson in a small role.

Marlowe (1969)

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetically order)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Klute (1971)

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Night Moves (1975)

Shaft (1971)