Friday, March 30, 2007

How to Shit Where You Eat

Stephen and Tabitha King are pissed at their alma mater, the University of Maine, and with good reason. The Kings own a couple of radio stations in the Bangor area, about the only ones that are still locally owned, and one of the stations is an AM sports station which has broadcasted UMaine games for the past ten years. But the Athletic Department fucked up and granted broadcast rights to another company earlier this year, creating a huge shit storm.

For those out there who wonder where the money they spend on a Stephen King novel goes to, some of it goes to various projects around the State of Maine, including a HUGE chunk to the University of Maine - we're talking tens of millions of dollars since King hit the big time. This is money the University can't risk losing since all of the campuses in the state are facing financial difficulties.

While King has stated that he won't stop contributing to the school, he did say that future decisions "on giving will still be made on a case-by-case basis." He also added, "We are, however, human — and that means we are hurt and angry over this decision." Oops. The water spout won't stop, but the pressure may weaken.

On top of this insult, the Athletic Department also asked the Kings to give up their skybox at the Alfond Arena where the UMaine hockey team plays. If you follow college hockey at all, you'll know that UMaine is the best in the country - they're currently in the Frozen Four finals. This should be a celebratory time, not something smeared in controversy.

Now, people around here are pretty proud of the Kings, so we tend to be protective of them as well. If a tourist asks for directions to their house, we usually tell them that the Kings don't really like people gawking at the place. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the public uproar happened: many letters to the editor, a lot of complaints to the University, others threatening to withhold donations. But after all of that, the best the University could do was apologize.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Own Little Space on the Library Shelf

I don't know why I never thought of this earlier, but you can see my spot on the University of Maine URSUS catalog. I have my own Subject line: Noir Fiction, American -- Maine. It says it's available, people!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Holy Oprah

The latest book picked for Oprah's Book Club is Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I'm pretty sure this is the first science fiction book, and first out and out genre novel, named to the prestigous club. I'm really curious what all of those Oprah readers will think of McCarthy's dark post-apocalyptic story. This is pretty cool.

However, as it is almost assured to reach the best-seller lists and stay there for a while, will the Oprah sticker turn away some people the book would otherwise appeal to?

Disturbing Trend

I just read a forum discussion on Crimespace regarding recent books people have read, and with the execption of one person mentioning Cormac McCarthy's The Road all of the books were in the mystery genre. Now there are some readers on Crimespace, but the majority of people there are writers. Isn't it a bit harmful to read nothing but crime fiction if you are also writing it yourself? Shouldn't writers branch out to every genre, including literary? There was no mention of writers like Hemingway, or Jennifer Weiner or Octavia Butler. Admittedly the majority of the books I read are crime, but I try to read outside of the genre. I feel like a freak because I listed Fitzgerald, Bowles and Bukowski.

Crime fiction writers continually bitch about the lack of respect literary folk give our genre, stating that if they read the best of what mystery has to offer, their opinions would change. But too often those in popular fiction genres snub literary fiction just as much (even snubbing other popular fiction genres as well). If the genres were ever to fix the divide, then it should start with us, not only as a tool to understanding literary fiction, but to aid our own writing too.

This is a Fellatio Joke Just Waiting to Happen

The World's tallest man, Bao Xishun, who stands at 7-ft, 9-inches, recently married - to a woman who is five-ft, 6-inches.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

If There's a Hell Below, I'll Still Be in the Anthology

Well, since other people have already spread the news before I could, I might as well as announce it here. My short story If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go will appear in The Best of Thuglit - Volume 1. I received the contract in the mail last night. It was a huge surprise when Big Daddy Thug e-mailed me the news about the book. I couldn't be happier.

For those who don't know, If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go is a noir piece set in New Orleans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. It was my little metophorical commentary on the shameful ignorance of the powers-that-shouldn't-be to the tragedy people had to go through - but with guns and a meat cleaver!

I can't wait for this anthology to come out next Spring. Yeah, we have to wait a year, but it is so going to be worth it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Heroes Auction

Own original artwork from Heroes! NBC is holding an auction for Tim Sale's original work as seen on the television series. The proceeds for the auction will go to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Revolutionary Road as a Film

Since I can't get to sleep, I've spent the last hour or so online and discovered that filmmaker Sam Mendes is turning Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road into a movie. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (you may remember their last outing together in a small film about an oceanliner) as Frank and April Wheeler, the doomed suburban couple in this beautifully written, and ultimately tragic story. The book has to be considered as a leading contender for the Great American Novel.

I guess it's too early to tell if this will be a good idea or not. Shooting doesn't begin until this summer and I couldn't find anything on whether Mendes will keep the story in the early 1960's or adopt it as a contemporary tale. Let's hope he sticks with the novel's original period since it had so much to do with characters' attitudes and motivations. Plus, certain laws were different back then, which is so absolutely critical to the ending. If they fail to execute the ending with as much power as Yates gave it, the picture will be doomed. (But I hope the ending won't cause too much controversy about certain subjects so that the conversation about the film isn't overshadowed by the issues.)

As for the cast: Leo seems like an odd choice, but he's shown that he is a very capable actor. The guy is a complete dick in the book, so hopefully they won't try to soften him too much. If Leo commits to being a dick, then he may pull it off. However, Winslet does possess the right amount of muted ambition, self-doubt and tragic vulnerability to play April Wheeler. Thank God she's sleeping with the director. (Actually, if God wanted to intervene, Kate is in the top five on my list. Just throwing that out there.)

Well, if anything, the film will generate more interest in the novel, which has seen its share of out-of-print cycles. Hopefully more people will read it. Have you? If you haven't read Revolutionary Road, get to a bookstore or click onto Amazon and get a copy. You will not be sorry. It took close to six months for me to get over the horrible impact of that book - which is a good thing when it comes to art.


Sorry, there won't be a Sunday Interview this week. But there are interview questions out there, so hopefully I'll be able to post something next week.

Instead of doing my usual horrid job of writing HTML, placing links and finding smartass photos on Google Image search; I actually had time tonight to write. I happened upon a short story I abandoned some time ago, re-read the few paragraphs I had managed to write before something else captured my attention. I liked what I read and decided to finish the story. So, I was able to pound out 514 words... and some of those were in Spanish. Oh man, my Spanish is really rusty. I'm hoping I can find someone to check my translation before I make a couple idiot out of myself.

Anyway, it's past 1:00 and I am tired. Went to Bar Harbor today. Spring is my favorite time to go down there because no one is there. It's like a ghost town. In fact, we had a tough time finding a place to eat because all the restaurants were closed until the middle of April. But the place is beautiful. I truly love it - and I didn't have to share it with any pushy tourists, which is a nice little bonus.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Run for the Hills!

After the recent dismal quarterly reports from both Borders and Barnes and Noble, merger rumors have begun. Oh shit. If this were to take place, I don't think it would be very good for consumers since competitive pricing will dwindle. They'll buy less books, meaning less money to publishing houses and, ultimately, less money to writers. This may also mean fewer book releases, and hence, more and more competition in getting novels published.

Borders short term solution for its woes is to abandon its relationship with Amazon and sell books from its own website. But since that operation would have to help with the cost of running its brick and mortar stores, I doubt consumers will receive the same discounts they receive now. If Amazon continues to operate with its discounts, then this move will only aid in closing those physical stores.

Mergers look good on a financial sheet because it takes the assets of two companies while reducing most of the debts by cutting half of the redundant liabilities (work force, physical stores, distribution centers); thus creating a healthy profit report. However, like any layoff strategy, the effect is only temporary and the profit margin settles from an artificial jump back to its natural place. Meanwhile, the loss of jobs and competition hurt the economy in the long run. And while the current administration is in power, and laizze-faire economics is rising as the dominate business theory, mergers are all the rage. Even a recent Supreme Court decision shows that the judicial branch isn't so keen on most anti-trust legislation.

The solution to this problem? Eliminate high school and college literature classes so people stop getting turned off from reading and start going out to buy more books. I think forcing Ethan Frome on people has probably destroyed a lot of readers. But the chance that the American education system will produce more readers than it does is pretty slim. So, mergers it is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Wow. What a real piece of shit. I watched it last night and I still don't know what the point of the movie is. We're all linked in this wild and crazy world? Isn't that what we learned last year when we were forced to sit through Crash?

OK, lessons from Babel:

1. Don't leave the United States, because you'll either be shot or stranded in the Mexican desert.

2. Japanese teenagers are horny.

3.Don't shoot at buses.

The movie is even more frustrating because the acting is superb and many of the scenes are expertly directed; but in the end it was a really crappy movie.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Interview: Jenny Siler/Alex Carr

Today’s guest is Jenny Siler, whose latest book, An Accidental Americanwill be published in April under the pseudonym Alex Carr. The novel is an international thriller in the same vein as John le Carre. Siler is the author of four other books, each representing the best crime fiction can offer. She currently lives in Virginia, but will soon be a Mainer in a couple of months. If you haven’t read any of her books, what the hell are you doing reading this – go to a bookstore already.

I e-mailed Jenny some questions earlier this week, and she was kind enough to reply.

Noir Writer:Do you want me to address you as Jenny or Alex? Who am I talking to right now?

Siler:There is no Jenny or Alex, only Zuul. But you can call me The Gatekeeper.

Noir Writer:You've picked up a rather androgynous pen name for your latest book; do you think women writers in the genre have a harder time than men?

Siler:I'm not naive enough to think it isn't more difficult for women in this genre. I've been in too many situations where male readers have explicitly told me they don't read women authors, period. On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there who do read books by women, and plently of female thriller writers who've had huge success. People like Tess Gerritsen, Kathy Reichs, Laura Lippman, and Patricia Cornwell, to name just a few.

The main problem I see is with readers' expectations. The women I mentioned before all have products readers have come to expect from a female author. Thanks in no small part to writers like Patricia Cornwell, readers (men included) are comfortable with women writing really gritty stuff. They're comfortable with the tough girl protagonist, with female FBI agents, with women who are smart or flawed or both.

My problem, especially with my more recent books, is that I'm getting away from what readers expect from a woman, which makes it difficult for people to make any kind of prejudgement about my work. (Let's face it, getting someone to buy your book is all about prejudgement, so if the name Alex makes someone pick up my book who might not have otherwise, and they end up liking it, then the ambiguity of the name will have served its purpose.) The Alex Carr books are highly literary, character-driven thrillers about political and moral corruption. Many of the characters are old men, washed-up spies and assassins. It's the kind of stuff people still don't associate with female authors. I'm not sure they think a woman can't write that kind of fiction, they just don't expect it.

The other day, for instance, my local bookseller introduced me to someone as "the next Patricia Cornwell." It was an unfortunate comparison (I can't think of an author whose work is more different from mine), but a good illustration of the point I'm trying to make here. The bookseller was looking for some way to sum me up to a potential customer, and the only thing she could think of was to compare me to another female author, when a male author like Le Carre or Furst would have been a much more accurate match.

Noir Writer:There has been a lot of discussion lately about women authors writing violent stories. There was a big discussion on that last October about a blog post on Sarah Weinman's site(Women, Violence and Controversy) in which you commented a couple of times. The big controversy that overshadowed the discussion was a foot-in-mouth disease quote by Ian Rankin stating the majority of women writing graphic violence seemed to be lesbians. Putting aside Rankin's comment speculating about sexual orientation, what do you think of this topic? Do men and women write differently when it comes to violence?

Siler:I don't necessarily think men and women write differently when it comes to violence. The point I was trying to make in connection with Ian Rankin's comments was that there's still an assumption among both men and women that women need to jettison some inherent part of their femaleness to write "like men." But I'm not going to go into that too much here, as I feel I/we sort of beat it to death on Sarah's site.

I do, however, have a problem with violence in general and with what I believe is a growing fascination with violence in American mass culture. I have always thought that violence has a place in art. This is a discussion that often centers on film, and there are numerous examples of non-gratutitous graphic violence in the movies. Two of my favorite films of all time, Scorcese's Goodfellas, and Eastwood's Unforgiven use violence to make critical moral statements. The same can be said for many of the great noir writers.

Lately, though, there has been a disturbing rise in gratuitous violence in film, television, and books. Torture, violent killing, child abuse, horrific sexual abuse: all have found a place in prime time and on the best-seller list, and people seem to be watching and reading with glee. It's a trend I find seriously alarming. Obviously, my books are violent, but I work very hard to make a distinction between violence with a purpose and violence for the sake of titillation.

Noir Writer:In the comment section of Sarah Weinman's post mentioned above you stated that your writing has become darker and angrier as your career has progressed and that you're thankful that you have your family to pull you away from that at the end of the day. How does your writing affect you personally?

Siler:I'm not sure if it's the actual writing that affects me so much as the research I do. I see a lot of what's wrong with the world, especially with the place we Americans have made for ourselves in it, and not a lot of what's right. That can be awfully depressing. I've just finished a manuscript in which one of the main characters is a young Moroccan boy, an orphan. The research for that book was especially difficult. There were a lot of nights when I held my daughter for that extra minute at bed time. We live in a world of such overwhelming priviledge in this country, and we don't appreciate what we have.

I've always been a skeptic about the world in general, but my research has definitely made me more so. I don't trust the government at all. I grew up in a family of political idealists. My parents were children of the sixties and my mother, in particular, had and still has a strong conviction that the world can be changed through politics. I just don't think that's true anymore. I really hope someone will come along to prove me wrong, though.

Noir Writer:What has changed in your writing from your first book?

Siler:Hmmm..... That's a tough question. My first book was such a lark. I mean, I had never taken a writing class, never been workshopped or critiqued in any way. I just wrote it without thinking, to have fun. I am definitely a lot more careful now, though I'm not convinced that's such a great thing. I'm a lot more self-conscious, too.

One thing I try to be aware of all the time is the old piece of writing advice about showing rather than telling. Was it Fitzgerald who first articulated that idea? I think so. Anyway, I really work at writing scenes which are utilitarian, which reveal character through action and dialogue. I hope I've improved in that respect.

Noir Writer:What type of research do you do for your novels?

Siler:Generally I'll get an idea and run with it. With my first book, Easy Money, the plot was inspired by a newspaper article I read about William Colby and the Pheonix Program. So I went and read everything I could find about the CIA's involvement in Vietnam. Newspaper articles, personal memoirs, biographies. Now, there's so much out there on the internet, it's unbelievable. The internet is not perfect for everything, but it's a great resource for straight-up facts, things like time-lines, names, etc. You can also find great personal or first-hand accounts on-line. Wikipedia is like having my very own personal assistant.

Noir Writer:You latest book is coming out as a trade paperback, like other books in the new Mortalis imprint; what is your view on the fate of the hardcover book?

Siler:The hardcover book is doomed, and the sooner the publishing industry figures that out, the better. I mean, who wants to pay thirty dollars for a book? I've been fighting to get into trade paperback for years now, and I'm so excited it's finally happened. I'm not convinced paperback is the ultimate solution. If books are going to survive (and that's a big 'if'), publishers need to figure out the electronic market, but for the time being, trade paperbacks are better than nothing.

Noir Writer:I asked this question last week, but I think it is an interesting topic: You're relatively young considering that the average age of the published author in this world is closer to fifty than thirty. Fitzgerald and Hemingway both hit the literary jackpot in their early twenties, but over the past few decades there have been fewer and fewer significant works of fiction by those under 40. Even Time magazine last year found it difficult to find just a small handful of important fiction writers under 40. Why do you think that there are fewer great "young" writers than there have been? Do you think it's a trend?

Siler:I do think this is a trend. I agree with Keith Dixon that the publishing industry bears some of the burden. But I also think another obvious reason is that adulthood has been significantly delayed in our culture. They may have been young, but Fitzgerald and Hemingway were both decidedly adults when they achieved success, with no lack of life experience. So much of the fiction being written by the under forty crowd today is sophomoric and, worse, self-involved. In my opinion, the ubiquity of MFA programs only adds to the problem. People spend two years talking about themselves and their writing, when they could be out gathering real experience. Also, there's a certain MFA program style students are compelled to learn, and which must be unlearned before these writers can develop their own style.

Noir Writer:You were lucky enough to have been exposed to a number of literary figures while growing up, including James Crumley, how much have they influenced your work?

Siler:Well, I'm not much of a drinker, for one thing. But seriously, more than anything, growing up in a town full of writers showed me that writing as a way of life and a means of earning a living was a real possibility. I mean, I don't think it occurs to most people that writing can be a career. And if it does they think in terms of best-selling authors. I've always had a more realistic view of writing as a job, as something you have to work at every day. And I'm aware of how fickle the rewards can be. The happiest writers I know are the ones who love what they do and don't care how much money they make or who reads them. I haven't gotten to that point yet, but I'd like to someday.

Noir Writer:With the new name, are you afraid people will come up to you and say how much they loved The Alienist?

Siler:I hope they do! I think Caleb Carr is a terrific writer. I just read his Sherlock Holmes book, The Italian Secretary. I loved it.

Noir Writer:You now have a second personality on the bookshelves with Alex Carr. What is your favorite split personality movie?

Siler:Ghost Busters. But that should be obvious from my answer to your first question.

Noir Writer:Do you watch Heroes? And if so, are you as evil as the Sylar on that show? And if so, how often do you eat the brains of superhumans?

Siler:I do not watch Heroes, but I do enjoy a good superhuman brain every now and then. I like mine sauteed in a little caper-lemon butter. Al Diavolo is another nice preparation. For more recipies, visit my website,

Noir Writer:If the 22nd Amendment were repealed and George Bush was able to seek a third term in office, would you jump for joy or weep for humanity?

Siler:I have plans for just such an event, and they involve a cabin in Montana, a stash of MRE's, and an arsenal of automatic weapons.

Noir Writer:(In my best Barbara Walters impersonation) If you were a tree, what kind would you be?

Siler:A ponderosa. They're tall and graceful. Everything I'm not.

Noir Writer:And finally: you've read some of my work. Would you say a great writer or the greatest writer?

Siler:The greatest. No question about it. Now can I have the combination to the bomb, please?

I want to thank Jenny for herr time is answering even the silly questions. Please come back next week when I will interview other personalities in the crime fiction field. Until then, enjoy the random madness I usually post here during the week.

Jenny is seen here lounging around her Virginia home with husband Keith

Friday, March 16, 2007

An bhfuil tú ar meisce fós?

I have an essay up on Alex Carr's website for her new book, An Accidental American. (By the way, Carr is actually Jenny Siler...when the medication is working). It comes out at an appropriate time as tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day and the essay is about my old friend Alan, a constantly hungover Irishman with a gun fetish. I hope you will all enjoy.

p.s. the gaelic in the title asks, "Are you drunk yet?" Well, are you?

Update: If you followed the link from Sarah Weinman's blog, I did an interview with Jenny that was posted later in the week. Please check it out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Disturbing, But Funny

This is most definitely rated R, so make the kids leave the room before watching it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bruen Day

Writer Sandra Ruttan (sounds like Wu-Tang - almost) has declared March 12 as Ken Bruen Day. Some other bloggers out there are posting their thoughts on the Irish noir writer (see Sandra's post for a list), and so I thought I'd write a little something.

I first read about Bruen, I think, on Sarah Weinman's blog a while back. The Guards had just won The Shamus, I believe, and I was curious about the book. I finally picked it up, went home and read it from cover to cover. Wow. At the time I was, and to a certain point I still am, fascinated with minimalism - examining how much can you leave out and still impact the reader. To discover Bruen at this time was like vindicating my theory that crime fiction could sustain a minimalist approach. His language is so sparse that at times it seems Bruen hits the auto-pilot and allows the reader his/her own trajectory when it comes to imagining the dark world of Jack Taylor.

And so, Bruen became one of my favorite writers; a status that was solidified by the end of The Dramatist, which affected me like no other book since Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road. I think Bruen will prove to be as influencial as any of the past masters of the crime genre.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sunday Interview: Keith Dixon

Welcome to a new feature on the blog: Sunday Interview. Once a week I'm going to try to interview someone in the crime fiction world about the genre and the world in general. There should be some insights into the craft of writing by those I will be interviewing, and some really inane questions by yours truly. Hopefully you'll find these interviews informative.

My first guest is Keith Dixon, whose latest book, The Art of Losing, I reviewed yesterday. Keith was gracious enough to agree to this interview (and answered all the questions) before he saw that I gave the book such a great review - very brave. However, if I hadn't have liked the book I'd have probably started the interview with a question like, Why did you write such a crappy book? But fortunately for everyone, Keith wrote an extremely good book.

Some biographical information (stolen from his website): The Art of Losing is Dixon's second novel after Ghostfires, which was named one of the five best first novels of 2004 by Poets & Writers magazine. He was born in North Carolina, but now lives in New York City where he works as an editor for The New York Times. And the dude is friends with Will Shortz.

I e-mailed some questions to Keith earlier this week.

Noir Writer:In the writer's tips section on your webpage, you tell beginning writers: "Understand the difference between commercial and artistic success and accept that one doesn't guarantee the other." This is also a major theme in The Art of Losing. Was this something you thought of before writing, or did it emerge as you wrote?

Dixon: This was an understanding that was thrust upon me when my first novel, 'Ghostfires,' received lots of terrific attention from the critics but did not sell as well as I had hoped. This can, I realized, be a good thing: it keeps you intellectually hungry. But it does have the capability to make you bitter, as well—and a bitter writer is not an entertaining writer. So I do my best to maintain perspective, and I invite others too, as well.

Noir Writer:Was it important that the main character was an artist?

Dixon: With the book I wanted to depict a clash of high and low culture, of utopia and dystopia, of cynicism and innocence—and there's nothing so innocent as a starving artist. My character had to be a believer, and a hungry one at that. I think the book's impact would have been dramatically different (and less believable) if he'd been, say, a fatcat stockbroker.

Noir Writer:I thought the threat of losing his eyesight (something a filmmaker would obviously need) was great. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

Dixon: Absolutely; with the degrading of his sight, I was alluding to the more generalized 'blindness' he was experiencing in his life.

Noir Writer:What were the difficulties you faced in creating and developing a character like Mike Jacobs?

Dixon: I write very little autobiographical material, which means I've got to do a great deal of research—I hit the track, the OTB, interviewed professional card-sharks and professional gamblers. Too, I had to get the film stuff right, so I interviewed my brother, who works in the film industry, regularly. That was the tough part; his worldview, however, was easy to convey, as it's one I share.

Noir Writer:One of the themes of the book seems to be the limitations of friendships, which can be a pretty frightening topic to examine. Do you think serious writers, or any type of artist, are more fragile than the average person because they look at these themes, or do you think it makes us more callous?

Dixon: Yes, I do think writers pay a price—most people spend all day every day avoiding the things they cannot bear to think about. Writers, on the other hand (the good ones, at least) spend all day staring right at things they cannot bear to think about. I think writers hope to gain mastery over these things by placing them in the text. In that sense, I think writers manage to somehow be both fragile and callous at the same time—when you're doing the work none of it can touch you. But afterward, when darkness falls, and you've got a long night ahead of you, sometimes the stuff you were thinking about comes back to haunt you. . .

Noir Writer:In that same vein, dark books such as this usually have terrible things happening. After you finish writing one of these horrible scenes do you find yourself in a funk afterward, or can you shake it off?

Dixon: I don't worry about the stuff that happens to my characters—that's their tough luck. It's all in the service of showing my readers a good time.

Noir Writer:For a book that revolves around gambling on horse racing, there seem to be few scenes at the track. Why is that?

Dixon: I find it's best to have one or two richly rendered scenes than ten so-so scenes. That way you leave the reader wanting more.

Noir Writer:Do you think this book is noir?

Dixon: Well, I didn't set out to write noir, but it seems to have been received that way. In my mind, this book is what's commonly known as a "Pardoner's Tale," the sort of novel in which, as Martin Amis so wonderfully describes it, 'Death roams the land — disguised as money.'

Noir Writer:The FAQ on your website lists your favorite writers, but none that would be considered genre writers. Are there genre writers that you admire? And if so, who?

Dixon: I admire the hell out of Elmore Leonard in particular—but there is a growing battle cry amongst serious critics that Leonard belongs to the mainstream. I still see him as a preternaturally talented crime writer. (Matter of fact, I'm reading "Tishomingo Blues" right now!)

Noir Writer:One of my favorite lines is said by Mike after he is beat up by Clive when he describes himself as looking "like a Tod Browning extra." Were you afraid that people wouldn't get the reference?

Dixon: Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and leap. I figured the scene had enough momentum that if they didn't get it they'd move right on. First and foremost I wanted to be faithful to Jacobs—after all, it technically wasn't "me" thinking that line, but "Mike Jacobs"—and that struck me as something he'd think without explanation.

Noir Writer:You're relatively young considering that the average age of the published author in this world is closer to fifty than thirty. Fitzgerald and Hemingway both hit the literary jackpot in their early twenties, but over the past few decades there have been fewer and fewer significant works of fiction by those under 40. Even Time magazine last year found it difficult to find just a small handful of important fiction writers under 40. Why do you think that there are fewer great "young" writers than there have been? Do you think it's a trend?

Dixon: The talent-pool is just as rich as it's ever been. I think the absence of great "young" writers is more the fault of the publishing industry, which insists on flailing about for the "next big thing" rather than building the careers of writers who have proven they have talent. For example: I have starred reviews in Booklist and Kirkus, and an 'editor's pick' from the Philadelphia Inquirer—and yet Opal Mehta, a plagiarized novel roundly derided, is outselling me. Check it out on and you'll see it's true. Thank God, then, for blogs like yours, which are making this business more of a democracy—or rather a meritocracy.

Noir Writer:Another of your writing tips is to "get a job that has nothing to do with writing", but doesn't your day job have something to do with writing? What exactly do you do at the New York Times? And do you see Maureen Dowd at, like, Christmas parties and such? And if so, is she as feisty in real life as she is in my dreams? And if so, can you
pass my e-mail address along to her? (My wife wouldn't find out who did it, so don't worry.)

Dixon: I don't hang with Maureen, so, sorry, Stephen—you'll have to stick with the fantasy. But I am buds with Will Shortz. This is because I am actually something of a techie; I develop, install and support production software here at the Times—right now I'm converting the crossword puzzle software to Adobe Indesign from Quark.

Noir Writer:Yet another writing tip instructs new writers to "never write with another man's pen." Does that sound as perverted to you as it does to me?

Dixon: I'm not, uh, "touching" that one.

Noir Writer:If you were invited onto The View to discuss this book, which host would you be most afraid of?

Dixon: I don't know who the hosts of The View are.

Wait—I'll go look it up.

All right, I'm back. I would have to say that Hasselbeck woman worries me—her bio says she was a contestant on "Survivor," which means that if I dared to disagree with her conservative views she'd probably kick my ass right there on-set.

Of course, I'd also be afraid that Babs would make me cry. Isn't that her schtick?

Noir Writer:If the 22nd Amendment were repealed and George Bush was able to seek a third term in office, would you jump for joy or weep for humanity?

Dixon: Well, as a Times employee I am expected to maintain a largely neutral public political identity. However, my previous answer may contain clues that answer your question.

Noir Writer:And to end on a high note: What is your favorite swear word?

Dixon: Though I almost never use it, Wanker. So great.

I want to thank Keith Dixon for taking the time to answer all of my questions (even the silly ones). I hope you've enjoyed this interview and will return for another next Sunday.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Review: The Art of Losing

OK, let's admit it, readers of literary fiction tend to shit on the popular genres whenever they can. It's deemed not serious and unimportant, failing to capture the true essence of humanity. Now, if you're reading this, chances are you read crime fiction and feel the same way as I do about those thoughts: they're bullshit. There are good books and there are bad books; that's all that people should consider.

Granted, there are plenty of books in the popular fiction genre that fail in reaching the upper echelon (some don't even try), but that doesn't mean there aren't literary masterpieces to be found in mystery, science fiction or horror. Some genre books are lucky enough to capture the attention of the more snooty lit folks out there. They are usually described as transcending the genre - the underlining criticism in that statement is that the genre sucks. However, these more esteemed books can serve the genres by demonstrating that popular fiction can (and should) receive more respect than it does by the literati elite. One book that could serve such a purpose is Keith Dixon's The Art of Losing.

This noir novel about the dangers of gambling is a superbly written look at the lower depths of humanity. It examines how greed, self-delusion and misguided trust can ruin one man; destroying everything he had in a futile attempt to gain everything he thought he wanted.

Mike Jacobs is a documentary filmmaker whose three films have received critical praise, but little financial success. He's an artist who continually suffers for his love of filmmaking, but has grown tired of being broke. When a friend asks for his help in fixing some horse races, Mike is initially reluctant, but finally agrees to take part.

Any reader of the genre can tell you that things won't work out well; but if they did, who the hell would want to read it? But Dixon is talented enough to stay away from the clichés. Like most of the book, the terrible things that happen aren't there to push the plot forward, but to tear away at the characters. Dixon strips his characters down to the bone and shows how people will react to similarly awful circumstances.

One of the more disturbing themes of the book is the limitation of friendships. Jacobs foolishly trusts his gabbling-addicted friend and ends up facing some pretty horrible situations because of it. This is an unnerving theme because we rarely examine that part of our relationships in the real world. And this is what great literature does, this is what the snooty literary pricks fail to recognize in genre fiction, it forces us to look and analyze what it means to be human. And Dixon's powerful novel does just that. Highly recommended.

Coming soon: An interview with Keith Dixon about the book, the craft of writing and his thoughts about The View. Don't miss it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wait, There's More!

Here are some late entries for the Blog Project that you should definitely check out:

Lyman Feero (the non-crime fiction guy among this group of misfits): Constructing Eugene

Jim Winter: Lady Jade

John Stickney: Just Another Wiseguy

Russel D. McLean: Nobody's Listening

According to Gerald So, there were 23 participants for the latest project. That's pretty impressive.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Blog Short Story Project - Take That, You Prick

There should be a lot of activity on the various blogs today since the Third Blog Short Story Project begins this morning. Writers across the blogosphere should be posting their short stories to their own blogs as I write this. Each story will invlove some aspect of blogging. As soon as the head coordinator of this event e-mails me the list of participants, I will post all of the links here so you can enjoy everyone's creative efforts.

So, for my part in this event, I give you the following story:

Take That, You Prick

By Stephen Allan

Dear faithful blog readers: Today I'm going to be arrested, probably as soon as this gets posted. It seems that I've shot my neighbor this morning. You constant readers will remember my post from last Saturday, Shut That Fucking Dog Up Before I Come Over There and Shoot You Between the Eyes, Asshole, in which I first told you of my problems. Many of you commented that I should calm down, many of you doubted I had the balls to do it (I'm talk to you CrzeeHiD!), and some of you were gracious enough to send me information on where I could pick up a gun without worrying about having it traced back to me.

I have to thank those who commented on my second post concerning my troubles, I'm Gonna Put That Goddamn Dog in a Bag and Throw It Off a Bridge. I have to give a special shout out to commenter SexyMF (the Rotterdam Pass Bridge over by the Interstate really was the best place). I can still hear that dog yapping all the way down to the water. Of course many of you thought it was a mistake to post I Don't Know Where Your Fucking Dog Is, since I wrote that I did in fact know where the fucking dog was, and that it was known that my neighbor read this blog. Perhaps it was a mistake, as I revealed in Wednesday's My Visit to the Police Station that the authorities were now reading this blog as well. That revelation lead to my review of the latest donut unveiled from Dunkin' Donuts in Thursday's Why Don't You Go and Eat Another Fucking Donut, You Fucking Pig? For future knowledge to other bloggers out there, police officers will not post comments on your blogs; they simply show up at your front door.

Despite a mostly peaceful Thursday night, without a bark in the whole neighborhood; I woke up Friday to the sound of a new dog barking from next door. You'll remember I wrote about it yesterday in I Can't Believe You Bought Another Fucking Dog. I also did a rare second post on the same day: This .357 Feels Pretty Good In My Hands. Thankfully there's a sportsman show in town this week, because I don't think I could have waited three days for that gun.

I can hear the sirens now. The cops have arrived next door. My late neighbor's ugly wife is pointing at my house. Bitch. I guess she doesn't appreciate what I did for her. The cops are walking over here. I think I see powdered sugar on their uniforms. They're pounding on the front door. Just need to post this before I answer the door.

Anyone know a good lawyer? Please post their information in the comments section below.

Blog Project List. Check out project stories by these writers around the blogosphere:

JT Ellison

Mike Maclean

Paul Guyot

Karen Olson

Stephen D Rogers

Gerald So

Daniel Hatadi

JD Rhoades

Dave White

Anthony Rainone

Pari Noskin Taichert

Patti Abbott

Stephen Allan

Christa Miller

David J. Montgomery

Bryon Quertermous

John Rickards

Bill Crider

John Dumand

Friday, March 02, 2007

Snow Day

The university cancelled all classes today yesterday afternoon, so I get a three-day weekend. I had an extra fifteen minutes of sleep before my son jumped on my head this morning, plus I had to run down to Dunkin' Donuts to get breakfast for everyone; but I think I'll take a nap soon and then do some writing.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Quotes, etc.

From the Borowitz Report:

Supreme Court Gives Gore’s Oscar to Bush

From The Onion:

Excited Red Sox Fans Eagerly Await Debut Of Matsuzaka's 'Ultimate Galactic Dragon Gyroball Pitch Power Explosion'
"Boston fans are the greatest fans in the world," Matsuzaka told reporters through an interpreter upon being asked if he had left Japan out of fears that his Ultimate Galactic Dragon Gyroball Pitch Power Explosion might split Mount Fuji, strike the rising sun from the sky, and awaken the wrathful atomic lizard Gojira. "I'm very happy and excited to be a member of the Red Sox."

From Real Time with Bill Maher:

"People want to be over with Bush. And psychologically, if the next race has started, in our head, we kind of think, oh, OK, we're done with President Albatross and we're on to the next thing."

"Say what you want about people who read while they drive, at least it's reading."

"Believe me, there are men out there who think a woman president might get PMS and do something completely rash, like start a war with the wrong country."

From The Tonight Show:

"Last night on Fox they had the premiere of Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? Or as President Bush calls it: Jeopardy."

"The big story in Newsweek: Will Bill embarrass Hillary during the campaign? I don’t know, do you really think that’s a problem? You think it’s possible for Hillary to be embarrassed by Bill anymore? Outside of Bill Clinton being caught in bed with the Rev. Ted Haggert, I don’t think it’s possible to embarrass Hillary anymore. "

From: The Late Show with David Letterman:

At the Oscars: "I thought Britney Spears looked tremendous. Didn’t she look great? Then it turned out it was Jack Nicholson."

"Hugh Heffner, 80 years old, publisher of Playboy, is getting married. 27-year-old bride. He’s 80, she’s 27, and you can already hear the high heels clicking down the halls of the Supreme Court."

From Conan O'Brien:
"Krispy Kreme announced they’re coming out with a low-fat, 180 calorie, whole wheat doughnut. This amazing whole wheat doughnut is called a bagel."

"Paris Hilton threw herself a birthday party this week, and she brought two dates. Which explains why Paris told her guests, 'No cake for me; I had a sandwich in the car.'"

From Overheard in New York:

"Shhh, don't say the N-word, we're surrounded by white people!"


Despite starting a new job and trying to get in as much play time with the kids as I can, I've actually written two things this week; which is more than I have accomplished in the last month. I finished an essay about an old friend and his experience with firearms (funny, not tragic), and I just finished a flash piece for the upcoming Blog Short Story Project (a monumental event that starts sometime next week). Plus, I've written three blog posts over the past few days. Not too shabby. But there is more to come. I have a book review that I'll post by the end of this weekend, plus an interview with the author of that book which should appear around the same time.

If all goes well, there should be a massive snow storm here by tonight and the UMaine campus will shut down tomorrow; giving me more time to get things done - like a short story for an anthology that comes out next Spring (It's coming, Patrick, I promise).

Well, back to it, I guess.