Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dust To Dust (Anatomy Of A Moment)


Have you ever been caught in a "moment"? A time where the control of your fate completely eludes you and you're just forced to be a part of things? It happened to me yesterday, around nine. My brain was a mush, after a week of novel work and Wallacian level of job-related boredom. I was playing Red Dead Redemption, quietly being entertained by shooting Mexican stereotypes in the face and minding my own business. Then Scarlett started being really restless. It's very unusual of her, her body usually clocks out on her after sundown. She looked by the living room window, down in the street. I started hearing voices, coming from there. I opened the window and checked out what happened. Fully-decked firemen were walking in the street, four or five of them. With axes and all. One guy was wearing a blue uniform and talking on a shoulder radio. He looked like one of those nineteen-fifties stereotype of an Italian-American. With greased hair and all. The apartment building next to mine had caught fire and they were looking for the source.

I have this weird fake-balcony in front of my apartment. So my living room window is really a door. I opened it, leaned against the guardrail and saw the window from the corner of the top apartment glowing orange. So I pointed it out to the Italian stereotype man: "Sir, look at the third floor, the fire is coming from there"

"We're trying to identify the source, please go back inside" he said.

"Dude, I'm telling you, just look"

"Sir, please"

Fortunately, the firemen were decent at their job and made proper usage of their eyeballs, like I did and found the source of the fire. Smoke was climbing up out apartment building, I didn't feel safe, so I clipped Scarlett's leash and left. In the street there's fresh air and it's always easier to run away in case of potential trouble. People started gathering quick. The scene was visually unappealing, but was spectacular nonetheless. Smoke filled the yard in between our two buildings and the sounds. Oh my God, the sounds. I always thought that spectacular window breaking was something out of Hollywood. I was wrong, it's REALLY loud. They broke every goddamn window on two floors. They chainsawed tree branches, parts of the walls, it was an all-out, typical important fire alert. In the street was park this red school bus for the new homeless people. This is one of the saddest things I've ever seen. A school bus is already not an happy sight, seeing this bus, where you have to be sad and dispossessed to go in, it was something else.

Josie and I went to her sister's apartment and discussed what the hell would've we done if it happened to us. We have insurance sure, but take my novel for example. I have an exemplary on three machines and on a USB key, but all of them were inside the house. Bad move. We had each other and we had Scarlett with us, so it was cool, but we had the bare minimum. Today the building next to us is empty and there are plywood all over the top floors windows. It's strange because there are still things on porches. Bicycles, garbage bins,  small patio tables, stuff like that. It's inhabited, but the lives of many people are still inside. I don't mean to be a prick and all, but it was a really enlightening experience, writing wise. It was a building full of weirdos, student-who-got-the-funds-cut-by-the-parent type, with the occasional junkie looking dude. They were all in the street yesterday and almost none of them seemed to care. The street might feel safer without them, but it was a sad, frightening and ultimately mesmerizing experience I couldn't not share.


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I Get Mail (Thank You Jennifer)


Thursday evening, I got mail (how exciting, I know). I got my prize for winning the "My creep is bigger than your creep" contest, hosted by Creep writer, Jennifer Hillier. I know a lot of creepy dudes, so it was more fun than anything else to write those stories, but I guess that's how you write great stuff. By keeping it fun. I just wanted to thank Jennifer for the contest (I'm super happy I'll have the chance to read her book before the official release) and show her the book arrived without being too banged up. I also wanted another occasion to show off my dog. Notice my four Hunter S. Thompson books on the top left and Josie's painting material on the bottom.

If you want to pre-order Creep, you can go there.

Thanks Jennifer. I'm sure a signed ARC of your first novel will make me look gangster (literately speaking) very soon.




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Friday, April 29, 2011

Aaron Philip Clark's Ten Rules To Write Noir


Aaron Philip Clark is a native of Los Angeles, CA. He is a novelist and half of the spoken word/ jazz duo Soul Phuziomati. He has worked in the film industry as a documentary producer and currently teaches screenwriting and English in North Carolina. To learn more about him visit www.aaronphilipclark.com.


*Editors's addendum. He also wrote a killer novel called The Science Of Paul*

1) Try to avoid cliché’s. If you find yourself writing something that is considered to be cliché then do the exact opposite. Cliché’s can cause your writing to become stale and manufactured, especially when it comes to noir and the crime genre. If your protagonist seems too cookie cutter, say a hard drinking ex-cop, then make him or her a rookie who enjoys yoga and green tea.

2) Read. Yes, read, not only crime fiction but any book you deem interesting. Branching out into other genres is a good way to stimulate creativity and keep your ideas fresh. I’m a big fan of existential fiction and literature in general. A few titles that inspired The Science of Paul were J.M. Cotzee’s Life And Times of Michael K, James Baldwin’s Another Country, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source, and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Also poetry can help free up your prose. John Banville who writes crime fiction under the pen name Benjamin Black openly stated that his writing is an attempt to merge poetry with prose, and the results are well-crafted and lyrical—the kind of sentences that stick with you even after you’ve moved on to the next. It often takes me a while to read his books; I tend to read the same sentences more than once because they’re so enjoyable. Another poet is Maggie Nelson. She wrote a very interesting re-examination of her Aunt Jane’s unsolved murder. Her writing is crisp and honest; her poems get to the heart of the matter, which is a must when writing about crime.

3) Don’t be afraid to take chances and experiment. I tell my students all the time that taking chances in their writing forces them to grow. It builds tough skin and helps them to mature. Not everyone is going to like what you do, that’s a fact, but taking chances on something you believe in helps establish a level of confidence that every writer needs to be successful.

4) Surround yourself with other writers and like-minded people. The best thing a writer can do is participate in a community of writers. This comes easy if you’re in a program studying writing, but if you’re not then you should actively engage in writing conferences, readings, signings, and other events. This allows you to meet people and network. It’s incredibly difficult to get published and knowing people never hurts. Also it keeps you inspired, when you hear how other writers were able to get published, which often involves a lot of tenacity and a bit of luck, it doesn’t seem like it’s impossible.

5) Read the newspapers. Every crime writer should stay up to snuff on crime. There are an abundant of stories and characters just waiting to be fictionalized in your local newspaper. I used to keep article clippings of bizarre crimes. Now with the Internet it’s even easier, you can save links or copy and paste into a Word document. Crime writers have to accept that if it weren’t for criminals and crazies our books would be much more difficult to sell. But the fact is people are in love with crime, they’re perplexed by it, they want to understand it, and make sense out of why people do what they do. As crime writers we may not be able to give them concrete answers, but we can at least give them something to think about. Therefore the crazies feed us, and we feed the public—it’s rather quid pro quo.

6) Never sacrifice character for plot. Character is the life blood of any story. If you’re character fails to be well-developed, then no matter how interesting the plot is the audience will have trouble engaging. Keep in mind, the definition for plot is nothing more than a sequence of events. Sure, you want your novel to have engaging events that lead to some destination, but a writer shouldn’t feel that the character is a vehicle for plot; instead, plot should be a vehicle for character. If a character’s decisions result in a plot that is staccato, it’s much easier to forgive than a character that lacks depth.

7) When it comes to your first novel, don’t compromise. When I was seeking out agents to represent my first novel, many of them rejected it because they felt it wasn’t commercial enough. It is important not to craft your novel around what is popular at the time. Write the novel you want to the write, write it well, and write for your smartest reader—never dumb it down or sterilize it because you think you’ll have a larger audience. Don’t sell yourself short. For every writer there is a publisher somewhere, whether large or small, who will be interested in your novel.

8) Revision. Don’t be afraid to cut things out. Revision can be the most difficult part of writing but it’s also the most important. I once had a student that refused to cut out a large portion of a screenplay that stymied the storyline. It featured two characters (Angels) having a conversation about how much they missed their bodies and the physical world. Though it was an intriguing scene, it went on for ten pages. The student obviously found the scene to be fun to write, which let me know that perhaps it was this aspect of the script that interested the student the most. I suggested the student scrap the whole script and begin a new script starting with this scene. The same can be said when writing a novel. I used to dread having to cut certain things out, but now I find it freeing. It’s also okay to linger in a place in your story; you just don’t want to linger for too long. James Sallis does a great job of taking time to settle in a place before moving on to the next thing. He develops a full scene rather than a snippet.

9) Figure out the tone of your novel. I’m not a big fan of high-octane types of stories. I tend to enjoy small, character-driven tales of murder and mayhem. I write the types of novels I would most likely want to purchase, but if high-octane is your thing then go all the way, don’t half-step as my grandmother used to say. If bullets fly from the start, the dialogue is Tarantinoesque, and the body count is high, don’t drift into melodrama 100 pages into the novel. There’s nothing more frustrating than a novel that changes its tone in the middle of the book. If you find yourself exhausted from an explosively charged plot, then perhaps it’s best to reduce the budget. Remember what ever tone you choose, keep it consistent.

10) Stay the course. When you tell people you’re writing a novel, you never know the reaction you may get. Some people will be supportive, some may not. One of my professors put it best, “You have to be like Ulysses and his crew. Tie yourself to the mast and put wax in your ears—drown out the sirens—the naysayers.” Keep writing every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time. If you can’t write that day, think about writing—daydream about. Work through your stories; figure them out in those quiet moments. Sometimes inspiration comes at the most inopportune time. So you may want to keep a journal at your bedside, maybe one in your car or desk drawer at work. I had a friend who used to carry around a digital recorder. I tried it for a bit and it didn’t work for me. I’m better at writing my ideas down and committing them to paper. I can later revise them and make notes as well. You have to do what works best for you, as long as you keep the words flowing. Walter Mosley’s book This Year You Write Your Novel is filled with practical advice and can give a budding writer a much needed jumpstart. Writing takes discipline. Mosley, who began writing rather late in life, is a prime example of a disciplined writer. French crime author, Georges Simenon, was highly disciplined as well with nearly 500 novels and short works under his belt. I may never write as many as Simenon, but I hope to write as many as Mosley. A budding crime author should enjoy the process of writing their first novel. It’s quite possibly the most freedom they will ever have as writers. The role of the author has changed. Today most up-and-coming and even well-established authors have to be business minded, blog friendly, and Amazon obsessed. But the budding novelist is free of those burdens—free to write without worry. I say enjoy it!


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Book Review : Layton Green - The Summoner (2011)


Country: USA

Genre: Thriller

Pages: 318



I'm not too sure how I ended up reading The Summoner. I was contacted by Layton Green, but I had no idea who he was. He presented himself in a very professional manner and offered to send me his novel. I said yes, not fully aware that I had just signed up to review a self-published writer. That can be an enthralling experience, that can go really wrong, really quick. I'm happy that I did it, because I find it important to encourage emerging writers, but despite its killer story, The Summoner ended up storing more bad than good. I don't mean to bag on Layton Green or to turn to the clichés of the self-published business, but there are crucial flaws his novel that drained a lot of fun from the experience. I remember the first thing I answered to Layton Green when he offered me to send in his novel was that it didn't seem to hit my demographic, but I was going to give it a try. That was pretty much it.

The story of The Summoner is incredibly well crafted. A U.S diplomat disappears during a religious ceremony. He entered a circle of adepts and disappeared behind a well of smoke. Special Agent Dominic Grey, who happens to work at the U.S Embassy in Zimbabwe, is affected to the investigation. Tagging along to help him, local government agent Nya Mashumba and Religious Phenomenology professor Viktor Radek. The researcher, who also happens to be a giant (he's by far the most awesome character of the novel) explains Grey and Nya that the ceremony in question was run by the juju cult, a religion from where Haitian voodoo takes its roots. And you know how it is, the dad is always meaner and grittier. The practitioners of Juju are a bunch of happy loose cannons and soon enough Dominic Grey realizes that everybody is keeping information from him. And that might be for his own good.

Force is to admit, The Summoner is a turn-pager. It burned my fingertips and kept me reading despite the fact some chapters make me cringe. Like I said, it's a strong, well-detailed story that has a James Bond/Indiana Jones feeling to it. Layton Green crafted some badass villains. They are a lot of fun. Where's the problem then? The main cast. They are a little...weak. Dominic Grey in particular is not the man of the situation. He is a generic taciturn fighting machine with a bad past. No matter what spin you're putting on tha archetype, it will always feel overdone. Think of Grey as a mix of Horatio Caine, Dominic DaVinci and any character ever played by Jason Statham. Everything that defines him turns around the fact that he's mysterious, badass and sexy. He's one detail away from being a lot of fun. If he would've been a fifty years old botanist or a twenty years old surfer, it would've changed the dynamics. All we got is mysteriousness and fighting technique.

Literally every problem I had with  The Summoner revolved around Grey. Whenever he's around, Green tends to indulge in overwriting. I don't have anything against prose, but it doesn't fit the story. I don't want my action heroes (because that's what Grey is) to "gaze at the cerulean sky". I want them focused on the task. What's so frustrating about the flaws of Dominic Grey, is that Layton Green has the perfect lead protagonist in his story in Viktor Radek. A man, well described by Dominic Grey as "walking to his own drum" (great analogy, I might steal in real life purposes). He is charismatic, rational and rebellious enough to carry the investigation, but somehow his emotional detachment translates in his quasi-absence from the bulk of the story. If I can give you an equivalent to The Summoner, L.A Requiem by Robert Crais comes to mind. It's a novel I had mixed feelings about, and it's the same thing with The Summoner. It was a decent read, but I don't have any incentive to follow up on Dominic Grey's adventures.

If you're curious about The Summoner and want to try it for yourself, here is a way to buy it. It might strike more of a chord with you than it did with me.



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Movie Review : Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006)


Country:

USA

Recognizable Faces:


Martin Sheen
Mel Gibson
Colette Divine
Alexandra Paul

Directed By:


Chris Paine


What a great documentary that was. I have been told to watch Who Killed The Electric Car? many times in the past, but I always had reluctance to do so. I had this unexplainable feeling that it wasn't for me. Well, I was completely wrong. I was quickly turned off by the cheesy Martin Sheen voice-overs and the EXTREMELY aggressive stance it took on the problem, but those were the biggest flaws of Chris Paine's movie and he got them out of the way five minutes in. The death of the electric car is a very complex question, because it could have potentially changed the world if it was implemented right. Therefore, the explanation cannot be simple. You cannot point the finger at a proverbial scapegoat and accuse him of killing such a great project. Who Killed The Electric Car? does a good job at acknowledging the various facets of the problem and even gives the hard answers to its viewers. It's a little hippie green, but it's a courageous movie who doesn't think you're stupid.

The thing is, when you live in a market economy, things are never simple. The very motor of this economy is that money has to keep moving. Many people from different layers of production get involved and that's how we hold up. Everybody has to do its fair share of work if they want to touch their part of the benefits. Automobile industry involves: oil market, automobile constructors, automobile retailers, garage owners, mechanics and I forget a lot of them. Oh yeah, it involves the government too. A powerful money mover like automobile industry can turn into a great ally for a government who's gasping for cash and strong allies that don't ask much questions. As the documentary demonstrates, the automobile industry who made terrific progress under the Carter administration, has been stalling since the Reagan years. It's a closed market that functions under the logic: "If it's not broken, don't fix it". Well, the inception of the electric car was the first tear in their logic and it's interesting (to say the least) to see how they reacted.

Who Killed The Electric Car? is centered around the crusade of Californian EV (that's the name of the model) drivers to keep driving their non-polluting machines. They are an upstanding little bunch, I have to give them that. But as soon as they started pulling on the string, follow some leads and find ugly truths about automobile companies, they saw their efforts thwarted. They were reprimanded, turned into a joke and left in the dust. Companies such as Ford and GM went as far as nabbing their cars off their driveway. How un-American is that, to forbid citizens to drive the goddamn car they want? Curiously enough, the death rattles of the electric car coincided with the rise of the Hummer, a gas-guzzling, über-polluting monster who has been increasingly popular ever since. Coincidence? If you think it is, you're probably a Hummer driver yourself. Or aspiring to drive one someday. They had to come up with something cooler than that Clean-Eco-Friendly-Batmobile that foreshadowed a new era.

The most fascinating part of Who Killed The Electric Car? is the explanation of the craft behind one huge lie that everybody believes. The electric car was discontinued because it didn't generate enough demand, citing limiting technology and the fragility of the car itself. Chris Paine and his team did a nice job at proving otherwise and digging up the inventor of the battery that was SUPPOSED to be in the EV at the first place. The man's invention was deliberately set aside and replaced by an inferior product. The documentary team also followed the fate of the cars to the Nevada, where brand new EVs were crushed for no other reason than being a threat to the current state of things. Here's something that would have made life on Earth cooler, who got sacrificed to the gods of money. Really, who cares if you need to re-charge your car every sixty miles? Just put in charging station and people will have to take more time, relax and talk to each other in vast electric parking lots. That sounds like a cool idea to me. Amazing documentary. Made me happy to still be a pedestrian.

SCORE: 89%




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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Mutant Progenies Of The Information Age


I was fourteen years old when I met Karl. He was six foot one, a hundred and seventy pounds of redneck vascularity. He had long, curly blond hair and he smoked like the foundry chimney. He was utterly terrifying to the young and naive me. He was sixteen years old, disinterested with school and withering away behind an eight grade desk for the third consecutive year, something way too common where I come from. Karl holds the honor of being the first smoker that I ever heard say: "Hey, you have to croak from something", when our burly physical education trainer lectured him about the dangers of nicotine addiction. I would grow up to learn that it was a classic smoker excuse. I would also develop a mean answer to that by saying: "'You're paying two thousand dollars a year for the privilege to get lung cancer". That's why I stopped smoking as soon as I got told to pay for my cigarettes. I was nine years old, I think.
Epic Meal Time reminded me of Karl. Harley Morenstein and his friends have cannonballed into superstardom with their internet videos of culinary savagery. They "cooked" on Leno and according to the buzz, they are about to secure a television deal. Frightening, I know. They are a hit in high schools all over America, one of the easiest demographic to conquer. They were invited to a television show in Quebec and the host admitted that his nineteen years old son brought them up to his attention. I can understand the appeal of Epic Meal Time for the twenty-five years old and younger. When you feel immortal and your stomach digests food like a garbage compactor, creative excesses are inspiring. Then you grow older, you cross paths with death a few time and get accustomed with the idea of your own mortality. You start meeting people who have a fucked up relationship with food, who murder themselves with calories and a morbidly sedentary lifestyle. You realize that human life can be really fuckin' fickle. I'm twenty-eight years old and when I look at Harley Morenstein, I see a sad individual who is desperate to not die famous. At the cost of his own life and health.

And this comes from a fan of internet cuisine. I watch the BBQ Pit Boyz and even attempted some of their recipes (not all of them, some are disgusting). But this is cuisine. These are actual recipes that you can do from time to time, when you have friends over for a barbecue and you don't want to piss them off with your Atkins diet bullshit. When I watch Epic Meal Time videos, I see a pissing contest. The accumulation of calories to impress enough people to be on TV, in magazines or even on billboards. Grown adults who are telling me "I am desperate to recapture the feelings of immortality of my youth. The only way I have found of doing this is to swallow the most toxic mix of fast food I can come up with. Therefore I will be famous, feel immortal and look down on you". Do you see the twisted logic here? Since its inception in domestic usage in the mid-nineties, the internet has been a home for oddities. You can see girls eat doo doo or men chopping their genitals * in the comfort of your living room. But now, since YouTube happened and viral marketing became the hottest thing, you can turn these sad and depraved people into superstars. People of exception are starting to run into people who sacrificed themselves to mediocrity on the red carpet. The positive point in all that? Harley Morenstein made me discover I don't like fast food all that much. A McChicken once every blue moon never killed anybody, but putting a little bit of hot sauce in my shepherd's pie or in my chicken sandwich will satisfy me most of the time. You heard it here first. Epic Meal Time made me healthier. The old saying that fear keeps you alive must be true.


* There are only the Wikipedia links. You can click away*



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Literary Blog Hop Part 15: "Righteous Romances"


After a month of deathlike silence, the literary blog hop is BACK. Visit The Blue Bookcase if you want to participate. This week, a great prompt who will allow me to discuss the forceful use of sentimentality and romance in fiction as a symptom of bad storytelling.

Discuss your thoughts on sentimentality in literature. When is emotion in literature effective and when is it superfluous? Use examples. 

Contrary to what my most faithful readers might thing, I'm not the one to shy away from a good romantic storyline. It's not my cup of tea, but I am human, you know? Witnessing love, impossible, difficult or simply blossom in between two human beings is touching. The problem I have with it, and why I bang on so many romance writers, is that there is an industry based around romance. It's like a rare bird, it's something you cannot turn into a product. If by any chance you do, it's going to lose it's wild and exotic nature. So you'll end up chasing another bird.

The two first guests of my "Ten Rules To Write Noir" A.N Smith and Keith Rawson have both declared that the first rule to write noir is not to write noir. Just write your story. If it happens to be noir, good for you (or not), if not, then you're just not that writer. It reflects exactly how I feel about the use of romance in literature. Or it's going to be there, or it won't. If you take one of the most famous love story of all time, Romeo & Juliet. It's the story of a city, torn by the war in between two of its most important families. The cutie-pie teenager romance is a product of that war. You have to understand the complexity of the conflict to appreciate the strength of the young lovers bond (and appreciate the the destructive character of their identity confusion). It's a good love story, because it's engineered from an underlying storyline.

Building a romance from a blank page doesn't work (not for me anyway). It's going to be heavy with forceful stares, mushy feelings of alienation and divine intervention (I.E "my life was shit and then *thunder roars* (s)he appeared out of the crowd and changed everything). You gotta admit, it reflects a somewhat pathological desire to feel special. That's what sentimental/romantic storylines are most of the time. Desire. Desire to transcend reality, desire to feel unique, desire to feel immortal. It stops at the first sings of blossoming, or even worse, it goes spiraling down in unnecessary (and equally pathological) sadness and alienation. What Twilight is, is the reflection of girls' desire to have a unique and devouring passion. It's not love, it's desire to be unique.

Another example. In Silk, by Alessandro Baricco, Hervé Joncour is a silkworm buyer. He has a HUGE problem on his hand, caused by his frequent (and LONG AS HELL) travels to Japan. He loves his wife Helen and this unnamed concubine of his client. He cannot exactly talk with her, since he doesn't talk Japanese, so he has to show her using signs, how beautiful and special he thinks she is. I'm not going to spoil anything here because it's kind of the bulk of this novella, but it's quite something. But Hervé has to juggle with the situation and with his wife back home, who he loves, but only differently. See, Hervé has known a new sort of love during his travels, but kept managing his union through the storm, because he is a good guy at heart and makes the difference in between the impossible and reality. It's a great, short read. And please. PLEASE PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE, DON'T WATCH THE HORRIBLE MOVIE ADAPTATION. Francois Girard is a pompous fool with a director chair who denatured a beautiful love story.

Great love stories are born from a great story, but not engineered from a blank page.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Authors - A To Z

Like any good, rational men, I love lists. They are order from chaos, the quantified and verifiable proof of one's knowledge. Without lists, civilization is doomed to return to its chaotic origins. Alley, from What Red Read came up today with a pretty interesting exercise in listing your inner cosmos (honestly she took it from somewhere else, but you'll have to check out her blog to find out where). Without looking at my book shelf (which is in another room, it's not like I can cheat here), I will try and name one writer for every letter of the alphabet. I will even narrow it down by selecting only writers I KNOW have been published in English. Selecting french writers that nobody knows about would only be an exercise in blowing proverbial smoke, so I will play fair and chose writers I know everybody who reads this blog can find in a book store. I will also limit myself to writers who wrote fiction at least once. It's more challenging this way. I can't put Obama for the letter O. I know in the end it's just another silly blogging activity, but I wouldn't be a blogger if I didn't enjoy them at least a little.

A: ASIMOV, Isaac
B: BRONTE, Emily
C: CHEEVER, John
D: DICK, Philip K.
E: ELLROY, James
F: FRANZEN, Jonathan
G: GARDNER, John
H: HAMMETT,  Dashiell
I: IRVING, John
J: JOYCE, James
K: KLOSTERMAN, Chuck
L: LEHANE, Dennis
M: MAILER, Norman
N: NABOKOV, Vladimir
O: ORWELL, George
P: POE,  Edgar Allan
Q: QUENEAU, Raymond (proof, understandably the only writer in Q I know)
R: ROTH, Philip (It was harder than it looked)
S: SMITH, Anthony Neil
T: THOMPSON,Jim
U: UPDIKE, John
V: VONNEGUT, Kurt
W: WALLACE, David Foster
X: No clue, but I have a hunch the only suitable candidates are Chinese.
Y: YOURCENAR, Marguerite ( here, had to fish her out of the translated French tank too)
Z: ZELAZNY, Roger


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Hockey Night In Canada

*If you're easily offended by foul language, don't watch this*

The Habs won 2-1 yesterday and my reptilian sub-conscious brain is urging me to be happy.  And I am, I have stopped fighting DNA a long time ago. I remember last month, I was poking fun at co-blogger Greg Zimmerman over on Twitter because he made a big deal out of college basket-ball. I'm going to give him an occasion to return the favor today and take a moment to discuss the cultural significance of hockey in Canada. Because you cannot fully understand the essence of Canadian spirit if you can't appreciate this gentlemen sport.

Hockey Night In Canada is institutional. By that, I mean that you only need to play the theme song anywhere in a public place (in an important city or in the middle of the woods) and you'll see men heads start bobbing and seeking the nearest television screen. If you Americans, British folk and other outsiders looking in are picturing Canadian men as a bunch of checkered shirt wearing, maple syrup drinking lumberjacks, you're not so far from the truth. It's a stereotype (of course), but there is one of those bad boys living in everyone of us, sometimes buried extremely deep. But a sport that can combine gracefulness, speed, cold temperature and utter brutality will always find a way to the heart of the most liberal, non-violent Canadian men.

I'm being a bit of a devil's advocate here. We don't watch hockey to see people get mangled. The crushing beauty of a well-planned goal or the intellectual legwork that precedes it will keep us crammed in front of a television screen for years, discussing team chemistry and various patterns of victory and defeat. But what makes it special is it's unpredictable character. Of course you have watch Rollerball (and not it's shitty reboot) and wondered how cool would it be to have a sport of a similar nature, but without casualty. We have it in Canada and we had it for the longest time.*

I know it's not my typical Dead End Follies post, but it's the playoffs and the Habs are holding up admirably well against a difficult team (also constituted of arrogant assholes). Sports are part of a people's culture. They are part of a nation/state/city feelings of belonging and pride. They are a vector of countless stories and memories. To me, hockey is the greatest non-combat sport on Earth. Here's one last hit before I stop talking about Hockey's cultural importance with such rabid intensity (until next spring), by the now-Hab  James Wiesniewski.



*Don't worry, Mike Modano went on to have a glorious career afterward. He learned to play with his head up*

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Year In Critical Thinking - "Pants On Fire"


Liar Liar Pants On Fire
Your Not Gangster Your Not Street
You Just Make Yourself Sound Gangster
When Your Rapping On The Beat
-Dizzee Rascal

Worse rhyme ever. Hip-Hop is definitively not what it used to be in the late nineties. But it's beside the point. I just thought it would be cool to start with a quotation this week. Anyway, since the stunning success of Ten Rules To Write Noir, I have finally cracked Alexa's top 500 000. It's very cool. Another cool thing that Alexa reported to me is that James Frey's web site is linking to Dead End Follies. I didn't find the time to find out what he was actually linking to (I barely got any traffic from it), but it's always nice to know you're being heard. That also reminded me of a problematic I wish to address. Badass Journalist and writer Jon Krakauer has recently called out Greg Mortenson on his memoir Three Cups Of Tea. Krakauer affirmed that the Taliban abduction part was bullshit and since Mortenson cannot prove it, it's adding his book to the list of not-so-memoir, a dangerous trend started by middle-finger-happy-self-made-man James Frey in 2005 with A Million Little Pieces.  

The fabricated memoir, unlike our friend Frey likes to think, isn't a new literary genre, a part of New Journalism or a stunt in storytelling. It would have been a stunt if it would have been an isolated event in literature. I mean I'll give Frey his due, I don't like the guy, I think he's harmful to the writing community, but he surfed the wave of shock and criticism like a champ. But since he introduced the idea that you could lie in a memoir (or should I say RE-introduced or popularized) it became a dangerous trend. I don't have a problem with the fact that you're retelling a story and make it sound more interesting than it actually was. It's called storytelling. Everybody does that. I do it all the time. My memories of college are epic night of debauchery, all-night reading and fearsome internet chat room battles, but I'm sure that if I was about to relive them, some would be boring as hell. And to a certain extent, I don't have a problem writing about those. Writing fictional stories that is. There's even a great, playful literary genre where you can mix both in all honesty. It's called Autofiction. Check it out, it's one of the few interesting trends given by recent French literature.

Where I have a problem, is when you're trying to sell your fake memoir as the truth. THAT, it bugging the shit out of me. Obviously, the stories of Frey, Mortenson and Margret Seltzer (maybe the saddest example of the lot) were good enough to be sold. A little work on them, another angle or just a little more honesty (in Mortenson's case) could have saved them the complete shitstorm. To me, it's a symptom of an insecure and impatient writer, looking to get ahead of the waiting line by any means necessary. Seltzer said after she was outed: "I felt it was the only way people would listen to me". I don't buy it. It's a symptom of what Donald Maass refers to as "the seek for status". The non-fiction crowd is fairly different from the novel readers. They are people that seek inspiration and knowledge and if you're bullshitting them,  you've  accomplished nothing by having your face on television and get a little richer. There is nothing that has been done on the literary aspect. You're a fraud. 

James Frey understood that. He behaves like a raccoon on crack, high with his own celebrity, but he doesn't tell lies about his life anymore. Neither he sponsors them. He made the turn into fiction quite well. In fact, I wouldn't hate him half of how I hate him now if he hadn't open his writing sweat shop where he mass produces crack fiction. His handling of celebrity and his trigger-happy fingers on camera would be a lot worse than A Miliion Little Pieces if he hadn't opened Pandora's box with that whole fake memoir mania. Telling stories is OK, but selling them as the truth is playing with your audience's feelings and cheating honest writers who struggle to find the confidence to go through the process. I have read parts of A Million Little Pieces, but I haven't read Love and Consequences and I sure shit won't read Three Cups Of Tea, even if the bulk of it is true. And neither should you. I can hear you already say: "But if I find this inspiring, it's like a novel to me". Well, maybe it is, but one day it wasn't. I might sound like an unforgiving asshole, but keep in mind that it's never too late to start writing fiction. Especially if you have an obvious talent for it.



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Top 10 Favorite Novel Covers

As usual, I'm at loss with the new Broke  And The Bookish  Top 10 Tuesday  I don't know ten mean girls in literature. All I read about usually are assholes trying to bury each other, using various means, from massive drugs intake to automatic weapons. I'm exaggerating, of course. But no top 10 meanies for me this week. Instead, I'll take one more week to catch up to the subjects I have missed. Today will be the very obvious ten favorite novel covers. Click on the photo to enlarge.



1-Joseph Conrad - Heart Of Darkness: This cover reflects how utterly terrifying the novel is. I'm not sure if it's still in circulation though. It might be out of print. High school kids were probably admitted into psychiatric care after reading this, because they thought Kurtz was staring at them in their sleep.



2-Norman Mailer - The Deer Park: The simple, but oh-so-gorgeous cover of The Deer Park was the last blow that convinced me to buy it. It's elegant, graceful and it's what the novel is all about. Existential loneliness and the post-war trauma, on an institutional level.



3-Mystic River by Dennis Lehane: I know they used it for the movie also (I'm not sure which one came first), but without spoiling anything, it explains what the novel is about. Three friends, looking at the shadow that lurks inside their heart. One of those books that altered the course of my life.



4-A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace: Some might feel it's a little unfocused, but I like it a lot. It reflects what goes on inside my brain on a daily basis. I like the vintage fake-wood-unfinished-basement  feeling of it.



5-Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Scarlett Letter: I think this one is out of print too. I have a weak spot for this novel and for this cover in particular (despite the red half) because it reflects how Hester feels having to deal with that goddamn letter. It carries the emotions of the novel very well.




6-Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: I think I own eleven Philip K. Dick novels and this cover is the only bearable one. But I find it very pleasant to look at. I like the shaded emotional face, which probably belongs to Rachael Rosen. I could've done without the sheep, but it's all right I guess.



7-Henry Rollins - Broken Summers: I interpret this cover as the vision of a traveler's blur. It's really poetic in Rollins' angle and yet it has a certain sobriety. I like the typewriter font used for the book's title. It's kind of gritty, isn't it?


8-Ryu Murakami - In The Miso Soup: The evil Murakami has a tradition of colorful covers, but I find only In The Miso Soup translate the violent sadness of his stories in a single image. I prefer his covers to Haruki's. They carry more weight.


9-Chuck Klosterman - Killing Yourself to Live: 85% Of A True Story: Let's be serious for a moment. This is the next book in my TBR pile and the cover only makes me want to jump over it and read the damn thing in one twelve hours sitting. What's cooler for a dead man than a flying V tombstone? NOTHING. That's what. Klosterman's covers are always nice.



10-White Noise by Don DeLillo: This visual portrait of the Gladney family is as accurate as it gets. A simple American unit who's only wish is to live through the day. Touching drawing for a touching story. Some find it atrocious looking, but I like the corroded feeling it gives.



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Monday, April 25, 2011

New Skin & 100 Followers


I've been thinking about doing it for a while now, giving Dead End Follies a simpler, more focused approach. I did it. This might or might not be the final new form my blog will take, but I sure enjoy the change. It's clearer and the black background gives it a Charlie Rose vibe (I wish). The typing troglodyte was getting out of style, so I jumped the gun and...voilà!

The occasion was perfect. Today is a slow day (traffic wise) and I got my hundredth follower. I feel I broke a mark of respectability or something. I didn't get there by blindly following as much blogs I could, so I'm proud of it. Thank you Alex, I hope you enjoy my blog and make yourself heard in the comment section. Thank you to my 99 other followers, some of you became friends along the way. Heath, Moody (whoever you are), Paul, Brenna, Alley, Claudia, Anne, the Lauras, Greg, Joanna, Larry, Beth,Mike B., Michael O....I'm sorry of I forget some of you. I'm happy to have you for readers.

For this special occasion I will NOT host a giveaway. I will only say thanks and LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!

*whips a TV in frenzied joy*



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Book Review : Raymond Carver - Cathedral (1984)


Country: USA

Genre: Literary/Short Stories

Pages: 228



Reading Carver is like this supreme aesthetic trip to me. He's a writer to who I will forgive a lot. I don't mind that his stories don't have a complete or traditional story arc per se. His stories are meant to be read sentence per sentence, paragraph per paragraph and page per page. Carver has a music, a bit like Fitzgerald does. It's not as majestic, but it appeals to subtle emotions and touches your soul in a very unique way. Cathedral has twelve stories, less than What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but they are considerably bulkier. They go up to thirty pages (A Small, Good Thing) and they are way more ambitious than what Carver got me used to. Cathedral shows again that he's at his best when he doesn't try to bother with a storyline.

The stories of Carver are always carrying strange, difficult emotions to describe. Where I'm Calling From for example (one of my favorites) starts with drinking buddies, chit-chatting at the tavern, when one of them starts recalling this weird childhood memory that has nothing to do with the discussion. His friends keep asking questions and the discussions keeps sliding into more and more personal matter. Carver has seized how to illustrate the need to talk, the unexpressed emotional distress that is read in between the lines. There is no logical beginning or end to Where I'm Calling From, but when you finish the story, you have this odd feeling that you have loved to hear more from that character, to sit with him in the tavern and listen to his problems. It's not easy to explain, but it's quite a strong feeling given by a short story.

It's been said by many reviewers that the real subject of Carver's stories is American life. This is the best way to describe his work. He writes about what other writers deliberately leave aside. Those moments, those gaps where life is not as good as it's supposed to be, where people are truly themselves and not who they aspire to be. I know it sounds boring, but it's not. Carver doesn't do in choking realism, but in moments of lucidity that are so clear, that they are almost mystic. The story Cathedral for example is about communicating images to a blind man, which the characters do successfully enough to make it feel almost unreal. I'm not blind myself so I can't tell you how drawing somewhat helps to perceive the world, but the moment described by Carver is magical. 

Cathedral lives up to Raymond Carver's legacy, but you have to give it the necessary time and dedication to hear it's music. It's a book that you have to read slowly, in a silent and well-lit room (preferably with sun light). The alleged founder of U.S Minimalism (he hasn't defined the style himself, but rather influenced people) never gives himself without demanding a little work from his readers. Cathedral is a work of great empathy and vulnerability who only the people who take the time for it will appreciate. My favorite stories were: Where I'm Calling From, The Train, Fever and Cathedral.  It's the perfect vacation read for the bookish, literary tweeps, who want something for the beach or for the hotel terrace, under a burning sun with a cold drink.  

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Movie Review : I'm Still Here (2010)


Country:

USA

Recognizable Faces:


Joaquin Phoenix
Casey Affleck
Anthony Langdon
Jack Nicholson
Bruce Willis
Danny Glover
Billy Crystal
Robin Wright
Danny DeVito

Directed By:


Casey Affleck


This is one odd little piece of cinema. It's also a relevant viewing in the trail of Charlie Sheen and Britney Spears' celebrity meltdowns. I'm Still Here chronicles Joaquin Phoenix's allegedly fake retirement from acting and new dawn as a hip-hop artist. It's a scripted movie, a mockumentary. Phoenix himself is credited as a writer, along with director and brother-in-law Casey Affleck. It was referred to as a piece of gonzo art by Affleck himself, which Gonzo Journalism, according to Wikipedia, is a style of journalism that is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative. The style was created by literary legend Hunter S. Thompson, in the wake of New Journalism. I know, it doesn't help. It's still not completely clear if I'm Still Here is a hoax or not.

In 2008, Joaquin Phoenix announced that he was retiring from acting to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist.   His entourage is a little shocked, but follows him into this new adventure. It soon becomes evident that Phoenix is not really interested into succeeding. He's sniffing coke, flushing his money in crazy expenses and chases the status rather than diligently make music. He gets into fights with his people whenever they call him out on his weird behavior, indulges in every possible excesses and harms his own career by deliberately sabotaging an interview with David Letterman. He did that. It's all scripted into I'm Still Here, but it's what Phoenix really has been doing for the last two and a half years. The Letterman interview had caused an uproar in the media in 2009 as to know whether or not J.P (it's how Phoenix refers to himself during the movie) had lost his mind.

Here's my problem with the fictional character of I'm Still Here. When the movie came out, Phoenix and Affleck went out all smiles, saying it was a hoax, that the strange last two years of Phoenix's life were staged for mockumentary purpose. I'm not sure if it was planned, but since then, nothing. Niet. Nada. J.P is keeping to himself. Is it voluntary or is he pouted by the industry? It's hard to say. A part of me wants to think it's a kiss off to the movie business. A way to walk out in the sunset. Because the movie addressed real celebrity issues like the lack of freedom for example. You're a millionaire, you have whatever you can desire except maybe for your liberty to create. When you're in Hollywood, even your image doesn't belong to you. I'm pretty sure Joaquin Phoenix destroyed his image on purpose. If I'm Still Here is a hoax or not is irrelevant to this. It's a raw movie, sometimes tasteless (full frontal male nudity, feces, vomit) that would damage Phoenix's image for sure.

There are hard images in I'm Still Here, but there are beautiful moments also. J.P's quest for freedom and innocence is desperate, beautifully tainted. It seemed to me that by going in a different direction, he tried to recapture the first moments of his Hollywood career, his honeymoon with celebrity. Here we go, I'm talking about it like it was an all-out documentary. That's how weird the viewing was to me. I wouldn't be surprised to see Phoenix re-emerge from his silence soon and give us a definite answer as whether he really lost his reason  or not. Because keep this in mind, he has been struggling with alcoholism for a while and showed signs of being really fed up with celebrity. I guess you have to watch I'm Still Here for yourself to make your own opinion of it. Roger Ebert was saddened, I'm skeptical, but I believe that the movie contains more truth than its creators pretend. It's easy to say: "it's a hoax", but it's one buzzkill-career-killer of a movie. And you, what were your thoughts?

SCORE: 81%


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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Peter Gunn Dance




I'm happy. I bought the Bushido Machine what? Two weeks ago? Since then, I have completed three chapters and I don't feel like flushing them down the toilet. J-Franz was right when he said that a connection to the internet was the greatest enemy to a fiction writer. Since I have been working on Bushido Machine, the inescapable austerity has made things a lot clearer. Talking of Franzen, have you read his New Yorker essay on Robinson Crusoe and David Foster Wallace's death? Very touching. The art alone will make you want to read it. Check out the  was tipped on to it by Levi Asher, from Literary Kicks. Thanks man! I invite you to check out Levi's new e-book he built from his Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong series. Anyway, I leave you with the Peter Gunn theme I always dance to when I'm happy. I have been a good boy and I'm going to play a long and satisfying sitting of Red Dead Redemption. I'll be back tomorrow fellas!
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Science Vs Art (Herzog, McCarthy and Science Dude)



Click on this link to access one of the most mesmerizing discussions about art I have heard in a long time. Insane film director Werner Herzog, badass novelist Cormac McCarthy and random science dude (represented on the left) have a discussions about the links in between science and art. It's somewhat a random combination of people, but they deliver the goods, like they are used to do in their respective medium. It's Saturday, it's raining (at least in Montreal it is), so take an hour of your time to stimulate your intellect. I also encourage you to browse the site I found this gem on, Open Culture.




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Movie Review : The King' s Speech (2010)


Country:

USA

Recognizable Faces:

Colin Firth
Geoffrey Rush
Helena Bonham Carter
Guy Pearce

Directed By:

Tom Hooper



The viewing of The King's Speech concludes my run of the 2010 Best Movie Oscar nominees. It would be common usage to save the best for last, but here is not the case. I couldn't bring myself to watch the ultimate winner of 2010's Oscar ceremony because I couldn't find it any appeal. Like every part of the commonwealth, except for Britain, Canada doesn't care much about monarchy. There are some province where it's cool to love the queen, but ask most Canadians if they know they still technically are under the monarchy and they will say no. It's an institution that lost most of its relevance and watching a two hours feature about a king having a freakin' SPEECH IMPETIMENT filled me with a surprising amount of existential dread.

Because yeah, King George VI (Firth) stammered. Big deal, I know. But if I try to suspend my disbelief and my common sense for a second, stammering is a big problem when you have responsibility of making regular speeches on national broadcasts. You don't look like much of a leader to your people if you keep bumping every thre words. So when he's still Albert, the Duke Of York, he teams up with eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush), because the conventional methods failed him. Logue has his opinions on the origins of a stammer and his very specific methods, which Albert/George doesn't want to hear about. But force is to admit, his methods work. During their first appointment, Logue recorded his highness speak with music over his ears so he couldn't hear himself. And guess what? It was an emotional problem all along. And emotions start pouring when Albert is named King of England after his brother abdicated to go marry some broad in Baltimore.

I wanted to like The King's Speech. I wanted to defend the Academy for this choice. I wanted to find it a little contrived and straightforward, but very good. But I didn't. The most infuriating thing I found about The King's Speech is that it doesn't seem to make any efforts. Not unlike The Departed, it's a movie built with an "Oscarized Aesthetic", if I can borrow the term. There is no soul, no desire to tell something visceral, like in Black Swan or Winter's Bone. It's a movie that drifts from one scene to another without and narrative logic, except for chronology. And it's too bad, because Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush give great performances. I have always been partial to Rush in the past and he keeps living up to his reputation of safe investment for directors. The man gets the job done. Firth also deserved his Oscar for best lead male performance. He was enjoyable, but maybe a little too slapstick to create a real emotional involvement with the viewers. I haven't seen Biutiful but he was ahead of all the other nominees.

It's sad that it's impossible to talk about The King's Speech without bringing up its controversial Oscars triumph, but it's sadly the most interesting aspect to this movie there is. It came in a year where many renowned directors tried real hard on risky project and weaved itself on top because it played safe. The structure is safe, predictable and pinnacles in a cute-but-underwhelming finale. The aesthetic  has a few clever shots (especially the steadicam shots, very well engineered), but there are no surprises, no attempt to use cinema to enhance the story told. And it's weird to make such a negative review because it's not bad. It's not a stupid, insidious or deceitful movie. It's just flavorless. Thing of The King's Speech being like a loaf of brown bread, while Black Swan is a plateful of exquisite sushi. By the second hours, I was playing some Tiny Wings games on my iPhone because my poor mind was begging for entertainment. It might appeal to some, but I thought it was a well-designed bore.


SCORE: 71%








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Friday, April 22, 2011

Keith Rawson's Ten Rules To Write Noir





Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert waste of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic daughter. His stories, poems, articles, reviews, and interviews have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Needle Magazine, Out of the Gutter, the Lineup, CrimeWav.com, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, BEAT to a PULP, Spinetingler and many others. He is a staff writer for Spinetingler and the publisher of Crimefactory magazine. You can find him stroking his over-inflated ego at his blog Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips.

The First Rule of Writing Noir—Don’t Write Noir: I know Anthony Neil Smith listed this as his #1, but my reasoning is a little different. When I say don’t write noir, I mean don’t intentionally go out and write it. If your natural writing voice takes on a noir tone, so be it, but don’t force it. Plus, like, only two people will end up reading you, so there’s that. If you want to make a living as a writer, noir is not the genre to be in.

The Second Rule of Writing Noir—DON’T WRITE NOIR!

Third Rule—Don’t read Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.
Read Jim Thompson.
Read David Goodis.
Read George V. Higgins.
Read Derek Raymond.
All four of these writers will teach you a thing or two about the genre. But for the love of GOD stay away from Hammett and Chandler because they’re about as noir as plaid socks (except Red Harvest, of course.)

Fourth Rule—Take up smoking, drinking, and develop a drug habit if you have the inclination. All three activities will help you connect with your characters. Also think about marrying a whore, you know, an actual streetwalker….and ya know, with your drug problem, she’ll probably be a great hook up.

Fifth Rule—Commit actual crimes. You know, nothing serious, just petty stuff where you can walk away with a slap on the wrist but you still have the thrill of being bad. And, once again, it will help you connect with your characters.

Sixth Rule—Get lots of tattoos and learn some form of martial arts. Why? Because most crime writers are dopey over weight suburbanites who are really into comic books and obscure films, so it would be kind of cool if some bad ass who looks like he stepped out of a prison movie with moves like Bruce Lee was actually writing in the genre

Seventh Rule—Brood endlessly while chain smoking and enjoying your booze and drug habits. You’ll, of course, be brooding over the shenanigans of your whore of a wife

Eighth Rule—Jail time is your friend. Once again, it will help you cozy up to your characters.

Ninth Rule—Get into fights, commit random acts of violence, and be homeless for a bit. Chances are all three of these activities will lead you to down the road to Rule Eight

Tenth Rule—If this is your first time writing noir, your story is going to suck. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule. Sometimes your first couple of stories are going to be out and out gems. Remember, there’s a learning curve when it comes to writing. Some people just get it, others take time to learn their craft. Be prepared to face rejection, but always keep working and trying to better the stories you’re trying to tell.

And the Unspoken Eleventh Rule of Writing Noir—You need to not pay attention to any of these rules, or any other rules someone tries to lay down about the genre or about writing in general (Yes, this includes famous books by guys like Elmore Leonard and Stephen King.) We all know the writers of these books and lists have found a certain level of success with their rules, but it doesn’t mean their secret sauce is going to translate well to your recipe. The only real advice I can give to anyone is to experiment, try different genres, read widely—and just not crime fiction, read whatever seems interesting to you—write every day, have fun, and take your time to learn. Becoming a writer isn’t a race and there are going to be plenty of road blocks along the way to writing your first novel, or whatever it is you’re trying to do with writing.




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Book Review : Anthony Neil Smith - The Drummer (2006)

Country: USA

Genre: Noir

Pages: 228 (paperback)/151 (E-Book)



Martial arts pioneer and early seventies Hollywood's resident badass Bruce Lee has a very simple philosophy about fighting: "Less is more". I found it to be the philosophy of true masters. Those who completely assimilated what they do, use less energy and get maximum results. Watch Georges St-Pierre break Josh Koscheck's face with his jab, while Koscheck tires himself with wild, looping punches and you'll understand what I mean. Anthony Neil Smith's The Drummer is the literary equivalent of short, clean hit to the face. It's a noir novel stripped of the flare that is commonly associated with the genre. There's almost no cops, no organized crime, no heist and no murderous intent whatsoever. All there is, is a bunch of show-business has beens with broken dreams and painful realities. And yet it's one of the darkest noir novels out there. Anthony Neil Smith understood the different in between a conventional crime novel and noir. Better yet, he mastered it.

So Merle Johnson's life used to be one comfortable lie. He holed himself up in New Orleans, living a quiet life of low-key hedonism. One night, a ghost from the past resurfaces. Todd, the singer of his old band Savage Night bumped into him, in the middle of an acid bluegrass concert. His intentions are unclear, but Merle is scared of one thing only. A reunion. When he decided to fake his own death and leave the past behind, Merle did it for what he believed to be the right reasons. He doesn't find the strength to get rid of Todd, so he accepts to meet him for breakfast the next day. Only one problem, Todd doesn't show up. Merle walks up to his hotel room to find him dead, with a suicide note that threatens to reveal his identity to the world. Adrenaline kicks in and a timer starts in Merle's mind. He has to find a way to Todd's car, where his laptop and the information about him lies. Only problem, the car has been stolen...

The characters of The Drummer are a memorable bunch of fuck-ups, who carry the story with great ease. Todd Delacroix, the singer of Savage Night is particularly well crafted. The novel is separated between present times and flashbacks of former glory and Todd shines in all his pompous glory. He wants to be a superstar, while his musicians are interested in...well, playing music and be the tightest band they could, because it's what brought them stardom in the first place. He exemplifies the most fascinating point of Smith's novel, the feeble nature of identity. Todd wants to be everyone that he's not and Doug, the bassman lives a lie to maintain the image of the band. As you keep reading, you find out that the new life Merle created for himself is full of surrogates of people he loved in his former existence. He is free from responsibilities, but not from the weight of his failures, which bring him back to the life he tried so hard to forget. The way Smith brings his story into Merle's memories is very slick. It starts with fun and benign nostalgia and falls quickly into the dark nature human ambition and show-business dreams. 

The Drummer is a short, but original and focused noir novel. I guarantee you have never read anything like this before. I don't understand why it didn't give Anthony Neil Smith a better visibility in the crime writing community. It's a fun story, it has gripping suspense and it's conceptually loaded. It's the kind of novel that I could make students read in a literature class and they would love me for it. OK, it's not the most politically correct novel and it's not written in high-minded prose, but it's what make it so strong. Smith wrote a story in which the elements are so strong, that they stand out on their own. If you like crime novels, noir or just a strong , original read,  it's a novel you should check out. Smith put it up for sales for 99 cents for Kindle,  so if you own one of these things, you have no excuse not to read it. He's one of the most original and creative writers we have in crime fiction and he's worth your complete attention. Expect more of his novels to be reviewed here in the future.


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Book Review : Norman Mailer - The Executioner's Song (1979)


Country: USA

Genre: Non-Fiction Novel

Pages: 1023



Death penalty is a subject that fascinates me. I find it's a very loaded thing to call a human being unfit for life, no matter what he did. Unless he's a wild, feral animal with no soul, it's a huge decision to "off" someone in a corporate manner. To deny his life, his experience and his ambitions, the same way a human being, in a moment of frenzied rage, would have done so. I thought that writing a novel on death penalty, exposing the magnitude of system sponsored killing, without taking sides. It's too complex of an issue. But that was before I read Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song. He's a man who's ego is so large that it might just be the best thing about him. In this case, it drove him to believe he could write the most extensive novel/thesis on the scope of death penalty. And write it, he did. The Executioner's Song is a crippling account of the consequences of institutionalized violence. It's a complete triumph, and one of the most challenging novels I have been blessed to read.

If you don't know who Gary Gilmore is, here's what you need to know if you don't want people to look at you funny in discussions. He was the first death sentenced convict to be executed after the Furman Vs Georgia arrest and the lift of death sentence suspension in the U.S. Not so glamorous, I know. But here's how Gilmore permanently scarred the American dreamscape. After being sentenced in October of 1976, he insisted to be executed right away and waived his right to appeal. Having spent already almost half of his life in prison and tasted a few weeks of elusive happiness with his girlfriend Nicole on the outside, he refused to keep rotting inside, knowing his inevitable fate. He's been accused of playing the system, of wanting to commit  system-assisted suicide, but he had a valid point. The judiciary system sentenced him to die for the murders of Max Jensen and Ben Bushnell and he accepted the decision gracefully. He confronted America to its decision and to its system of value. And he somehow beat the system who turned him into who he was.

We all know what happened. We know that Gilmore has been executed by firing squad. We know his last words (I'm not going to spoil them if you don't), but it's very important that you know all this when you pick up this novel. You have to know what you're in for. The end of Gary Gilmore is the invisible string that ties The Executioner's Song together. Mailer draws a portrait of every life that has been implicated with Gary Gilmore since he was released from prison and tried to start his life over with the help of her cousin Brenda, in Utah. That's how he makes it work. He starts from a very broad view of a city that slowly creeps into the terror of the new citizen, the ex-convict that doesn't understand them, despite speaking their language. They live in a complete structural difference. Gilmore knows the codes of prison and survival, and the city of Provo knows the codes of society and personal freedom. Incomprehension built up anger, which brought in alcohol and pills, which brought rage and murder of two innocent people.

 I have watched the A&E documentary on Gilmore and a guest psychologist said something very interesting: "Gilmore was a product of prison, which I consider a completely communist environment. You're told what to do, when to eat, when to go to bed. When he came out, he couldn't handle the freedom that was offered to him". Going through the pages of The Executioner's Song, it made perfect sense. He tried to settle down with Nicole, who he met a few days after arriving in Utah, but the logic of society didn't make sense to him and he kept wanting all those things, all this lifestyle without having to pay for them. The second part of the novel zeroes in on the case and the life of Gilmore on death row. The second half is a lot heavier than the first because it concentrates on the circus that Gilmore created with his demands. From the judicial case to the predatory world of show business who's trying to bully stories out of him and to get the rights to his story. It's fascinating in it's own right, but a lot more difficult.

The hitches of The Executioner's Song are minor. There is a LOT of correspondence in between Gary and Nicole, where they don't say much, except how they love each other and need each other badly. It's interesting to see the absence triggering those violent emotions, but there's close to a hundred pages of this stuff. I ended up cross-reading them at the end, because they didn't say anything I didn't already know about Gilmore and Nicole, except maybe that they implied an increasingly manic relationship. That's about the worse I can say about this novel. It's not the most spectacular prose, you might even not recognize Mailer's signature style because it's structured around the facts only. But it's those very facts that touch a cord. Those lives, the reach of death penalty within a nation. It's a project of an insane magnitude that not many people could have done right. Reading The Executioner's Song was an excruciating, yet invigorating nine days of intense reading. Now it proudly occupies a place on my shelf. It's a novel I'm going to go back to and discuss for years to come.


Pulitzer Prize Winner/Nominee
Winner 1980

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