Favorite Quotes on Writing

Twelve favorite quotes on writing from ten authors I admire.

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There is only one plot – things are not what they seem. – Jim Thompson

Truman-Capote

You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say. – Truman Capote

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If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. – Elmore Leonard

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Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.  Edgar Allan Poe

I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat. –  Edgar Allan Poe

Block

One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off. – Lawrence Block

King

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done. – Stephen King

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write – Stephen King

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There’s always time to read. Don’t trust a writer who doesn’t read. It’s like eating food prepared by a cook who doesn’t eat. – Laura Lippman 

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The more your reason, the less you create. – Raymond Chandler

Parker

Sure, I have advice for people starting to write. Don’t. I don’t need the competition. – Robert B. Parker

Summer Reading 2018

Okay, though the title states Summer Reading, some of these titles have recently been published. That said, here are a few the books I am looking forward to reading over the coming months, if I don’t get sidetracked by other recently published books that I am currently not aware of and really get excited about. You probably know how that can easily happen. You plan on reading one book and another pops up that is a must read right now! Most of the books on the list are crime/suspense/mystery reads (no surprise). I also included a collection of short stories and a film book. Feel free to let me know what you are reading or plan to read.

Old Black Magic

I am always doubtful when another author takes over a series by an author who has passed on. Generally, it’s best to let the series be. Robert B. Parker’s estate, like a few others, decided to continue  with three of Parker’s most beloved characters: Spenser, Jessie Stone, and Vigil Cole and Everett Hitch, each with their own author.  Old Black Magic is Ace Atkins seventh Spenser book and the author captures Parker’s style as close as possible. I have enjoyed his previous works in the series, and am looking forward to reading the latest which came out on May 1st.

The Neighbor

I am currently reading Joseph Souza’s latest, and have read enough of it, half at this point to tell you The Neighbor will keep you up past your bedtime. We have two narrators, husband  and wife who have different views of the truth, and both with secrets to hide. This is a story filled with twists  upon twists making you question whose truth to believe, and how well do you know your spouse, yourself and your neighbors. Everyone has  secrets, and if exposed…

A dark psychological thriller. Now available.

Kill Devil Falls

Not familiar with this author or book, but came by it from author June Lorraine Roberts  in her review over at her website, Murder in Common. You can read it here. Available now.

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From what I understand,  Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story is more than  another “making of “ book which lately have become rather common. Author Chris Nashawaty  provides a fabulous historical background on all the players and how they came together at a time when comedy was in flux. From Harvard’s National Lampoon and  Chicago’s Second City to Saturday Night Live and eventually the movies with Animal House and Caddyshack this book gives you the lowdownAvailable now.

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From Hardcase Crime in July  comes Understudy for Death, a Charles Willeford novel that has not seen the light of day in almost sixty years. For those not familiar with Willeford, he is a master of  crime books with works like  Miami Blues and Sideswipe. Willeford’s books are  macabre and darkly funny, perfect for the offbeat crazy world of Florida noir.

Florida Lauren Groff

I have not read any previous books by Lauren Groff, but her work has received excellent reviews, and Florida a collection of short stories focusing on the strange, weird state filled with hurricanes, heat, humidity and enough odd characters to fill…well the entire state sounds like an intriguing read. Due date: June 5th.

Turbulance Jun 5

Stuart Woods is a light read, generally enjoyable, and a guilty pleasure. If you are in the mood not to think, but just enjoy, he might be for you. Lately, he has been pumping books out at three or four a year, and they have been uneven, still I have a soft spot for him. Available June 5th.

Money SHot Aug 7th

Another Stuart Woods book,  co-written by Parnell Hall. This features Teddy Fay, a supporting character who has evolved from Wood’s Stone Barrington series. Teddy Fay’s journey from the CIA to dangerous criminal to a Presidential pardon to working in the film industry for Stone’s son is hard to swallow, but he is friends with Stone,  and Barrington leads a charmed life; he’s rich, women are constantly willing to fall into bed with him, he’s friends with the President, and best friends with the  NYC Police Commissioner. Available August 5th.

 

Arthur Miller Writer (2017)

Miller4For years Rebecca Miller (Maggie’s Plan, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) had been researching, compiling, filming interviews and taking home movies of her father, Arthur Miller. From this wealth of material, Ms. Miller has produced a fascinating look at the life and career of one of America’s greatest playwright/writers.

Miller1Though best known for plays like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible and A View from The Bridge, Miller never stopped writing throughout his life. He wrote 25 plays, numerous essays, short stories, novels and an autobiography (Timebends).

Miller’s film focuses on many aspects of her father’s life; his upbringing (his mother was the artistic one), his work, the House of Un-American Activities hearings(1) and his three marriages. He and his first wife, Mary Slattery, began to grow apart after Miller met Marilyn Monroe for the first time in 1951. There was no affair at this point, but they did exchange letters. The next few years were filled with personal struggles. Monroe was never out of his mind. In 1956, on his way to work each day he would pass the giant cutout of Marilyn above the marquee of the Loew’s State on Broadway; it was advertising her latest film, The Seven Year Itch. Miller had his own continuous Itch for the actress.  His letters to Monroe became more passionate, “I should really die if I ever lost you,” he wrote. He divorced Mary in June 1956 and married Marilyn later the same month. However, for all the passion, they divorced less than five years later. Marilyn would overdose shortly after in August of 1962.

While Miller’s marriage to Marilyn is best known, his third wife, Inge Morath, a well-known photojournalist, and Rebecca’s mother, was his most successful, lasting over thirty years. They met on the set of The Misfits. During their thirty years plus marriage, she would document their life together. The couple also collaborated professionally on a few books.

Ms. Miller had the unique perspective over a twenty-year period to document and record her father doing the simple everyday things around the house, from woodwork to carving the turkey, to discussing his art and his struggles with his later works being ignored by both critics and the public. When asked at the end of the film what he would like written about him when he died he said, “Writer.” That says it all.

Footnotes:

 (1) Miller’s play, The Crucible, on the surface was about the Salem witch trials, but was really an metaphor of the rampant McCarthyism taking hold of the country at the time.

Robert B Parker, Spenser and Jesse Stone

Parker imageBetween 2005 and 2015, nine direct for TV movies were made based on Robert B. Parker’s Jessie Stone novels. Recently, I have been re-watching many of them, seven so far to be exact. Parker was one of my favorite authors. He passed away in 2010.

Parker SpenserRobert B. Parker was best known for his Spenser novels. Spenser, a Boston based, ex-boxer, poetry reading, gourmet cook, wise-ass talking, sensitive guy and tough in a fight as they come P.I.  A fictional decedent of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Hammett’s Sam Spade. Predictably, a TV series, Spenser for Hire followed starring a very dull Robert Urich. However, the problem was not just Urich; it was the scripts. Though the show has its admirers, on TV, Spenser lost a lot. He became just another vanilla filled version of every other TV detective seen before and after. Four made for TV films followed starring Joe Mantegna as our hero. They were an improvement on the series, though no one was going believe Mantegna was an ex-boxer.

Night PAIn 1997, Parker published his first Jesse Stone novel (Night Passage). Stone, an ex-L.A. detective, fired because of a drinking problem which began after his divorce from his wife, Jen. Jesse is hired as police chief of the fictional Massachusetts town of Paradise. The town council appointed him because they believed since he is damaged goods, they will be able to control him. Little did they know.

Night passThe first film (Night Passage) came out, as mentioned earlier, in 2005. Jesse is played by, with sharp assurance, by Tom Selleck. Jesse is damaged goods. He’s alcoholic, Johnny Walker Red his choice of drink. Moody, unwavering, iconoclastic and good at what he does.  Throughout the books, and the films, Jesse is a man coming to terms with himself. Though his divorce haunts him, he does go out with other women but admits to all them he is not a good candidate for a permanent relationship.

The first five films are based on Parker’s novels. The last four were originals stories written by Michael Brandman and Tom Selleck. The movies are consistently good without being great, nor ever slipping into the disappointing category. Visually, they nicely capture the atmosphere of small New England towns, though all of them were shot in Nova Scotia and the surrounding area.

After Robert B. Parker passed away, the Parker estate decided not to let Parker’s fictional anti-heroes die with him. They handed them over to other authors. Ace Atkins has been writing the Spenser series (six, so far with another coming out in May this year), except for one book (Silent Night) that Parker had begun, but did not finish before his death. The book was completed by Helen Brann, Parker’s literary agent, and close friend. Author Michael Brandman continued the Jesse Stone series. He was co-writer on most of the Jesse Stone screenplays, whether adapted from a novel or original. Brandman wrote the first three post-Parker Jesse Stone novels. Beginning with the publication of Blind Spot, Reed Farrel Coleman picked up the series. His fourth book in the series, Colorblind, with be published in September.

Fall Reading

autumn-books-cozy-fall-Favim.com-2078854Officially, the tall season is a little more than a week away. However unofficially, Labor Day kicks off the beginning of fall in the arts. We read in newspapers and magazines about all the new films, television shows, theater, music and of course books that will be coming out over the next few months. Similar to what I did back here for summer reading releases here are some of the books currently on my list to read this fall. Continue reading “Fall Reading”

A Slight Case of Donald Westlake

westlake-photo-0-jpgOne of my favorite crime writers is the late Donald E. Westlake. Westlake was awarded the title of Grand Master by The Mystery Writers of America, as well as a three time Edgar winner. He wrote over 100 novels and numerous short stories and screenplays.

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Westlake was a prolific author, best known for two long running series, one featuring the dark anti-hero known only as Parker, written under one of his many pen names, Richard Stark, and the lighter comedic mysteries featuring John Dortmunder. By 1977, both characters had already made their way to the movie screen. In 1967, the first Parker novel, The Hunter, appeared under the title Point Blank (1) with Parker’s name changed, inexplicably, to Walker. The film featured Lee Marvin in the lead role. Five years later John Dortmunder hit the screen with Robert Redford in The Hot Rock.
ENoughBack in 1977, the author published a book called Enough. It consisted of two novellas, the longer of the two was called A Travesty, and the second, shorter story, was Orb. Enough may be one of the toughest of Westlake’s works to find a copy. I was fortunate enough a few years back to discover a copy at a local library. A Travesty is a dark, comic tale involving a sexually insatiable film critic, Corey Thorpe, who during a heated argument with one of his lovers accidentally kills her. Having seen too many movies, instead of calling the police, Thorpe decides to cover up his involvement in the transgression. Unfortunately, Thorpe’s lover was under surveillance by a blackmailing private investigator. Additionally, the investigating police detective takes a liking to our “‘hero,” and admires his amateur detective instincts. He’s also a frustrated screenwriter and would like Corey to take a look at what he wrote. Along the way, Corey is “forced” to commit a couple of more murders. Regrettably, for the film critic, his voracious appetite for sex does him in when he spurns the wrong woman.

a-slight-case-of-murder-150353l-600x0-w-5cb070a8Let’s fast forward more than 30 years to 1999 and the premiere on TNT of a film called A Slight Case of Murder. It’s not to be confused with the 1938 Edward G Robinson film with the same title, but a made for TV film starring William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, James Cromwell and Adam Atkin. The film is based on A Travesty and adapted for the screen by Macy and director Steven Schachter. The duo faithfully captures the humorous essence of Westlake’s novella. The film critic’s name was changed in the movie from Corey to Terry, but much of the tale stays close to Westlake’s original work. It’s smart with plenty of visual and verbal nods to the noir films it’s sending up including Terry talking at times directly to the camera (in place of a voice over). It’s filled with murders, sleazy characters and plenty of twists wrapped up in a funny script that film lovers, like myself, will especially love.

The performances by the four main actors are all of high quality, though William H. Macy gets a special nod in a role that some may find reminiscent of his Jerry Lundgaard role in Fargo. Also noteworthy is Julia Campbell’s work as Arkin’s amorous wife, whose affair with Macy leads to his downfall.

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I am a big fan of two of the author’s stand-alone books, The Ax and The Hook, both wonderful satires. In The Ax, the main character is Burke Devore, a quiet company man who after twenty-five years of service becomes a victim of corporate downsizing. After two years of unemployment, his life falling apart, Burke comes up with what he considers the ideal solution, eliminate his competition by killing them off.

The Hook is a devious tale about author Bryce Proctor, a mediocre but best-selling author. Then there is author Wayne Prentice, a more accomplished writer than Procter, but his books no longer hit the best sellers list. Bryce has been going through a rough stretch including a divorce which has led to a bad case of writer’s block. To make it worst he has a deadline quickly approaching on his next book. Wayne comes up with a plan that would help them both. He’ll write the book, give it to Bryce to publish under his name, and they split the royalties 50/50. Bryce is all for it except he has one caveat, Wayne needs to kill Bryce’s wife.

Many of Westlake’s books have made it to the screen, unfortunately not always in a good way. The previously mentioned Point Blank, The Hot Rock, and A Slight Case of Murder are on the plus side. However, more often than not, there were mediocre films like Cops and Robbers, The Twin, The Split, The Bank Shot, and the awful and misguided Jimmy the Kid which was turned into a vehicle for Gary Coleman. Interesting enough, a few of Westlake’s books have been made into films by foreign filmmakers including Costa-Gavras whose 2005 film, Le Couperet, is based on The Ax. In 1966, Jean Luc Godard loosely adapted Westlake’s The Juggler (a Parker novel) turning it into Made in the U.S.A. (2) No one connected with the Goddard film, including Goddard, at the time, bothered acquiring the film rights. Westlake eventually sued and won.

As a screenwriter, Westlake was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of hard-boiled author Jim Thompson’s The Grifters (1990). He also wrote the screenplay for the original The Stepfather film which was adapted from a short story he wrote with co-writers, Brian Garfield and Carolyn Lefcourt. For a full list of Westlake’s film credit’s check here.

If you like reading crime fiction and have not read Donald Westlake, get down to your local independent book store or anywhere books are sold and start catching up. If you like hard boiled fiction, the Parker books written under the name of Richard Stark are must reads. On the lighter side are his John Dortmunder books. Dortmunder is a cool, criminal mastermind, brilliant at planning heist. Unfortunately, his luck is not as good as his talent. Inevitably something always goes wrong.

 

Footnotes:

(1) In 1999, Point Blank (The Hunter) was remade as Payback with Mel Gibson in the lead role. Once again Parker’s name was changed again, this time to Porter.

(2) Wikipedia Donald E. Westlake.

Inspiration: Where Does it Come From?

Abandoned Shack - 1924-CW-1144I find inspiration can from anywhere and at any time. Many times it happens when you least expect it. For Life Lesson, one of  twelve short stories in my new e-book, Devious Tales, it came from the above photograph I took back in 2015 in Vermont. My wife and I did a photographic road trip that began in Burlington. From there we made our way to Woodstock, St.  Johnsbury and eventually back to Burlington; making multiple stops to photograph what caught our eye along the way. One day during this road trip we found ourselves on a dirt road. Instead of turning around, we decided to see where it would lead. There was actually little to see or photograph except for this old boarded house. I took a few photos from different angles and we went on our way.

The house intrigued me. I wondered who built it way back in 1924? Why in the middle of nowhere? Who and how many people have lived here since? What happened to them? It all stayed buried in my head. As the idea for Life Lesson began to take root, this house was the image that suddenly appeared in my head, and where most of the action in the story takes place.

Like any creative individual does, no matter what form your art takes,  you observe, you listen and you store away information into a mental or physical file for possible future use. That’s where it remains, waiting for that spark of creative juice to bring to life something new.

You can read Life Lesson and other short stories in Devious Tales. Currently, available as an e-book on Amazon. Click here.

It will soon be available as a paperback. More on that later.

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Classic Books, Strange Times

1984

Four classic novels that should be read or re-read during these strange days. All of these books have seen an uptick in sales. George Orwell can thank Kellyanne Conway and her ”alternative facts” for a recent 9,500 percent increase in sales of his dystopia novel 1984 on Amazon.

Other books that have seen sales rise include Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale which looks at a totalitarian society that has women forced into secondary status as citizens.

handmaidThen there is Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. Published in 1936, the novel is a satirical look at what if? What if FDR lost a reelection bid to a charismatic and power hungry politician who ran on a campaign of fear and social reform. Promising great economic reform and running a platform of so called “traditional” values and good old fashion patriotism. Sound familiar?

itcanthappenhereAfter winning the election, the new President quickly turns toward a totalitarian rule backing it up with a guerrilla style military.

A few other books with similarly unsettling themes that are worth reading include Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, George Orwell’s Animal Farm  and Ray Bradbury’s  Fahrenheit 451.