Recent Read: A Time to Scatter Stones

Stones

It’s great to have Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder back, even if it’s a short trip. The two charges leveled against the book by many Amazon and Goodreads reviewers are 1) the book is too short and 2) there is too much sex. In both cases, these are complaints not worth listening to. In the first case, the book is listed, blatantly advertised as a novella. Complaining that a novella is too short is redundant! As for item number two, the blind, the uninformed ant all those who miss the point will whine and complain, but for those who get it, will understand that Mr. Block has written a timely tale of what we read or hear about almost every day, the idea of sexual consent.

In this story, An aging Matt Scudder and his wife Elaine Martell get involved in helping  Ellen, a younger woman, Elaine met at her support group for women, all former call girls. Ellen is being stalked and harassed by a former client who does not understand or won’t accept the meaning of the word no. We only know him by the name of Paul. Paul manages to terrorize Ellen forcing her to consent to his demands without breaking the law keeping the police at bay and making Ellen a helpless victim. Paul is obviously getting off feeling the power he has controlling Ellen.

In helping Ellen, Scudder finds himself searching for a man he has no idea who he is nor what he looks like. In digging in, putting pieces of a puzzle together,  Matt skirts the legal process himself.

A Time to Scatter Stones is a satisfying return with an old friend facing a #metoo world. It’s a short visit, but I for one did not need a full blown three and fifty-page novel to satisfy my soul. Nice to have you back Matt.

Recent Read: Murder at the Summer Theater

Murder

Ex-con Elmer Vartanian and millionaire Juliet Van Allen, The Double V’s, are back in  this cozy New England mystery; the fifth in the series. The setting is summer theater and author Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a fabulous sense of time (1950’s) and place (Summer theater on the Connecticut shore). The leading actress is missing and the amateur detectives soon find themselves embedded in the theatrical world; Juliet as an actress and Elmer as a backstage hand.

A few years back Lynch wrote an historical, well researched, and entertaining book (Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain: 70 Years of Summer Theater on Mt. Tom, Hokyoe Massachusetts)  about the history of live summer theater on Mt. Tom. With the surplus of information she acquired writing this fascinating non-fiction book, Lynch was well equipped to use much of it as background for her novel.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for backstage mysteries, and Murder at the Summer Theater is satisfying as both a mystery and for the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

You can read an interview I did with Ms. Lynch a few years about her biography of actress Ann Blyth here.

Recent Read: Hard Feelings

 

hardRichard Segal is going through a rough patch in life. Since beginning his new job, he cannot land a new account as a network systems salesman and is worried about getting fired. Meanwhile, his wife Paula has just received a promotion which irritates his fragile male ego. There are other worries too: Richard has started drinking again, he is having flashbacks of teenage memories and a bully named Michael Rudnick who sexually abused him, and if this is not enough he fears his wife is having an affair. In the middle of all this he runs into Rudnick on the street one day. Rudnick, now a lawyer, doesn’t recognized him but Segal has become obsessed with revenge.

Jason Starr writes dark noir like stories about seemingly average characters with hidden amoral streaks that once exposed lead them down violent, train wreck type paths of destruction.

 

 

 

A Face in The Crowd on TCM

A FACE IN THE CROWD, Andy Griffith, 1957, afitc1957-fsct05, Photo by:Everett Collection(afitc1957-fsFar ahead of its time, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd is a brilliant look at the media and its influence. Set your DVR for tomorrow at 1:45PM. Watch the film and then read about it in Lessons in the Dark,

Remember, classic films are not just nostalgia. They are avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to our past and our lives today. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad.

 

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Ten Books for 2019

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s hope it’s a good one. In 2018 I read 51 books and am looking forward to reading as many if not topping that number this year. Here are a few upcoming books I am looking forward to reading in 2019.

Run Away

Available in March

 

Pray for the Girl

Available in April

 

The Farm 2

Available in May 

 

the-trial-of-lizzie-borden-9781501168376_lg Robertson

Available in March

 

Joy bookAvailable in May

 

Leading Men-001

Available in February

 

The Better Sister

Available in April

 

Metropolis Kerr

Available in April

 

NEon

Available in April

 

Someboy

Available in April

Bitter Ends: Making of a Book Cover

In an earlier post I wrote about how I designed my own book covers for my previous books using my own photographs. In this post I focus on the book cover for Bitter Ends my forthcoming collection of short stories.

Part of the thrill for me in creating a book cover is digging into my files and discovering that one photograph that expresses what’s in the pages in between and expressing it in a way folks who see the cover will be interested enough to take a peek inside and maybe even buy the book.

Like my previous book of short stories, Devious TalesBitter Ends is a collection of tales filled with murder, revenge, greed, and other mayhem along with a couple of slightly less deadly yarns. That said, the cover needed an ominous look informing the potential reader what they are getting.

In digging through my files I first focused on a few images taken in New Mexico back in 2013. One in particular was of a deserted highway with its colorful mountains in the background. I felt it reflected a feeling of vast emptiness and a bit of dread. I saw bodies potentially buried everywhere.

Below is the original image followed by a series early versions of the book cover.

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We were on our way to visit Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch located in Abiquiú, New Mexico,when I pulled over and took the above shot that was my first choice for the cover.  Cropping it was the first step followed by the lettering. I tried various fonts  and colors before settling on the image on the right.

I spent some time reviewing the image, asking myself was this what I wanted. Did it visually express the stories and entice potential readers. The more I looked at it, the more I wasn’t satisfied that it did.  I went back to digging into my photographic archive.

I next found a photograph taken just two months earlier in Yellowstone National Park. We were on a photo tour and came across this area  in the park that had burnt. We stopped and took a series of photos, one of which is the first photo below.  Looking at it, I thought it projected a dark, eerily, end of life feeling.

Bitter Ends2

Some cropping followed and then some software experimenting resulting in the two early versions below.

I still wasn’t completely satisfied and kept working at it. Finally, I came up with what I envisioned visually expressed what I wrote. Below is the final cover.

Bitter Ends will be available in January from Amazon and Barnes and Noble as a  paperback and ebook.

 

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Bitter Ends – Coming Soon

My new collection of short stories, Bitter Ends, will be coming out in January.  Twenty short tales of murder, revenge and other mayhem along with a couple of slightly less deadly yarns. No exact date is set as of yet. Will be keeping all informed.

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Interview with author D.H. Schleicher

Then Came Darknesf Front Cover

The Great Depression has been the setting for many novels, notably John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, films (Wild Boys of the Road, There Will Be Blood) and in photographs by artists like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. It’s a fascinating period that is brought to life in author D. H. Schleicher’s second novel, Then Came Darkness.

Schleicher’s work has appeared in Underground Voices, Scratch, The Eunoia Review, Lit Noir, and Wonders in the Dark. He blogs about books, movies, and travel at The Schleicher Spin.

David was gracious enough to take some time out from his busy schedule and for this interview. 

Can you tell us a little what Then Came Darkness is about?

This is always a loaded question – talking about your own work, but I’ll give it a shot.

On the surface level, it’s about the Kydd family struggling to survive in the aftermath of the poor decisions made by the father, Samuel.  He’s brought all kinds of hardships on his wife, Evelyn, and their children, and it culminates in the return of his former business partner Joshua Bloomfield (a greedy, petty, misogynist, racist, revenge-fueled sociopath) who brings darkness and destruction everywhere he goes.

But apart from their family centered stressors, there are these cataclysmic world events weighing down on the family as well – the Great Depression, and the global rumblings that would bring about World War II.  I wanted readers to think about this family, and especially the kids, and wonder, “If they survive Joshua Bloomfield, and the Great Depression…what’s next?”  I wanted that to be part of the suspense.  Tyrus Kydd would be old enough to be drafted towards the end of WWII.  That sense of an always increasing impending doom…that even if they survive this immediate threat…there’s always more darkness creeping around the corner, looming on the horizon, ready to suck them right back into chaos.  I wanted to explore what kind of resilience a person would need in a world like that, and the types of decisions they would be forced to make.

What was your inspiration for the novel?

The Great Depression always fascinated me.  I always wanted to write a period piece that took place during the Great Depression.  Meanwhile, Upstate New York is one of my favorite places on earth, and I knew that I wanted to set a story in those fabled hills, with the Cooperstown area serving as the model for the fictional towns of Fenimore and Milton.  The idea of that dramatic and beautiful setting, and that traumatic milieu (the Great Depression) naturally brought to life the characters that would inhabit the world of Then Came Darkness.

I know you’re a big movie fan. How much influence did film have in the creation of the book?

I try to write in a vivid, cinematic style and I always imagine how my stories would work if they were to be movies.

If one were to boil down the main plot of Then Came Darkness, it could sound like a retread of The Night of the Hunter.  I saw that film for the first time as a child and it haunts me still.  Its influence is clear.

Another film that greatly influenced the style and tone of the novel is There Will Be Blood – that definitive sense of doom and fate and events put into motion by the minds and hands of misguided, greedy men.  I initially imagined Joshua Bloomfield as a broken-down, unsuccessful version of Daniel Plainview.  As I wrote the story he morphed into something a bit different, but that was my initial impression.

Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill was also an inspiration for the similar Depression-era setting and its depiction of the relationship between the two young brothers.

What kind of research did you do to capture the feel of the Depression era?

Every setting in the novel is based on places I have visited and researched.  Also, as I wrote the novel, I was constantly researching things like “what songs or radio programs were popular then?” to add layers to the characters by giving them favorite books, songs, and shows.  I also researched other events that were happening on the periphery that would be of interest to the characters (i.e. Lou Gehrig’s 1936 MVP campaign which was of great interest to Tyrus Kydd).   The heat wave in the novel is also based on the real record-breaking heat wave from that year.

Any real life people who inspired you in developing your characters?

The character of Myra Long has a brief affair with a photographer, and the works of this fictional photographer that are described in the novel are directly inspired by actual photographs taken by renowned Depression-era photographer Walker Evans.

The family dog Sue (a pivotal character) was inspired by a border collie my roommates and I rescued while in college.  She was a great dog but a restless soul, and we eventually had to give her away to someone who owned a farm so she could fulfill her life’s mission to run wild through fields and herd things.

What are your currently reading?

I normally read literary and mainstream fiction (an old Michael Ondaatje book is in my queue right now) but I’ve been on a weird kick lately.  I just finished the sci-fi novel, Artemis, which I didn’t care for, and I’m about 100 pages through the prequel to Dracula that just came out called Dracul, which I’m finding far more entertaining than I thought it would be.  To balance that, I’m also reading the annual Best American Short Stories (chosen by Roxane Gay).

Would you tell us a few of your favorite books?

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Light in August by William Faulkner

Jazz by Toni Morrison

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (my favorite writer, I love all of his work)

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Book Review: Fugitive Red

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Jack Harper is  stuck in an unhappy marriage. He and his wife Maria have been  in a downward spiral for years. Jack is an ex-alcoholic and former musician who is now a real estate broker. Maria has a corporate job and is the main bread winner in the family. They have an eight year old son, Jacob, who they both love, but he is their only connection these days. They barely talk and their sex life went down the tubes years ago.

When an old friend of Jack’s, a hot shot in the music industry, comes to town and brags about his extra-marital affairs meeting women through a dating website strictly for married people in unhappy relationships. Unhappy Jack reluctantly takes the plunge. On the website he “meets” Sophie  whose on line name is Fugitive Red. They have a few steamy conversations, she likes rough sex, and Jack’s soon convinced they made a real connection. The two agree to meet at her Manhattan town house  for a get together. When Jack arrives, he find Sophie dead…her head bashed in and a red tie around her neck.

He calls the police to report the crime and quickly becomes their number one suspect. Jack’s life quickly spirals out of control with not only the police on his tail, but after Maria discovers his involvement with the dead suspect she tosses him out on the street, changing locks on the door of their apartment, cutting off his credit cards and getting a restraining order. When two more bodies show up, one Sophie’s husband, Jack is in for a complete meltdown.

Jason Starr writes brilliantly flawed characters. He captures the grit and nuance of New York in this twisty suspense filled thriller. You will find Fugitive Red hard to put down.