EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Writers #8 – Robert Ray – Murdock PI Series

More shelf clearing, Readers!

Next up: Murdock for Hire, Book 2 in the hard-boiled PI series by Robert Ray,   featuring boat- building private eye,  Matt Murdock.

Author Robert Ray is a pretty cool guy.  Born in Texas in 1935, which makes him 86 years old, he describes himself as “author, teacher, dangerous thinker”.  In university he majored in languages, learning Russian, Chinese and Hindustani!  He bagged a PhD and has spent his professional life teaching writing at the college level.

Penguin published Ray’s first books in the Murdock series from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. I remember their witty titles: Bloody Murdock, Dial M for Murdock, Merry Christmas Murdock and Murdock Cracks Ice.  Then there’s a 20 year gap before the next two books in the series: Murdock Tackles Taos (2012) and Murdock Rocks Sedona (2015). Also a change of venue from California to New Mexico and a change in publishers to Camel Press Publishing  a mid-list publisher of genre fiction located in Washington State.

So what happened?  A familiar and unhappy scenario for many writers.  They publish a series of books then the publisher drops them because (a) their editor and in-house champion left the company or (b) the books didn’t sell quite enough. Quality doesn’t count, not even Hammett nominations, only biz revenues.  Authors’ careers increasingly resemble the business curves of  commodities.

So what happened to Ray in the intervening 20 years? Quite a lot as it turned out.

He returned to his teaching roots and with co-author, Bret Norris, created The Weekend Novelist, a step-by-step manual for wannabe authors busy with their day jobs.  It proved to be such a huge success that Ray went on to write two more follow-ups: The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery with his friend, Jack Remick as well as  The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.  Ray believes that  the books have taught more than 10,000 people how to write!

Ray also wrote a standalone thriller, The Hitman Cometh as well as several business texts and a book on tennis.

Today, with the help of Jack Remick, he maintains a vibrant blog on his website. Every Tuesday and Friday they write together at Louisa’s Bakery and Cafe in Seattle, a city where he and his wife live with three cats…so far.

I like this guy!!

Re-reading the opening chapters of Murdock for Hire, I’m struck by Ray’s spare, journalistic prose,  which zips you through the pages. The subject matter is pure “Wolf of Wall Street” stuff. Hapless businessman Eddie Hennessey tries the kinky sex and drugs of an exclusive hookers’ club and ends up unpleasantly dead. Murdock, who more than a little resembles Travis McGee (he loves boats and hot women), is asked to investigate.  It’s an enjoyable pulp read, the same but different.

BOTTOM LINE:   My copy of Murdock for Hire  is paperback, not first edition.  Prices on Abe Books, Amazon and Biblio range from $2 to $6.  Thierry value: $11.30US*

DECISION: Donate to Little Library

*Thierry value = most outrageous price you can humanly get away with. Named in honor of Mr. Brainwash who sold old used T-shirts for $500+. (See Banksy’s documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.)

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Writers #7 – Stephen Paul Cohen

Back to clearing my book shelves, Readers!

Next up: two books by Stephen Paul Cohen, featuring investigator Eddie Margolis: Heartless (1986)  and Island of Steel (1988). Both published by William Morrow.

Stephen Paul Cohen is/was a real estate lawyer living in Minneapolis. His two private eye thrillers earned rave reviews in leading US publications. The New York Times called his writing “smart, desperate, gritty”. The Wall Street Journal gave it the ultimate praise:  “literate”.   I remember the emotional intensity of Cohen’s writing, something all we writers strive for.

Flipping through Cohen’s books 30 years later,  I realize that he’s writing noir – and nice juicy pulp fiction, too. The gritty street life he creates feels very real.  Just the same, he relies on many PI thriller tropes, which readers expected and wanted: Eddie Margolis, the hero, is a a desperate alcoholic who decides to avenge his best friend’s murder. He deals with corrupt rich and powerful men and beds deceitful dames. He’s betrayed by a lover. You know how it goes.

But that doesn’t mean the books are bad. Far from it. Genre publishers look for “the same but different”. By that criterion, Cohen’s books certainly deliver.

So what happened to Stephen Paul Cohen? There’s very little about him on the internet.  His books are available on Amazon.ca, but only as used copies.

One source of information is Allen J. Hubin’s review of Island of Steel on the Mystery File website.  Comments suggest that publishers may have dropped hard-boiled fiction in the early 1990s, because cozies sold better.  A fair observation, but I also believe that Cohen’s writing was ahead of its time. He was writing noir, which wasn’t popular then, but has since had a big resurgence .

I further suspect that unfavorable reviews may have played a part. In 1989, the year after Island of Steel came out, Cohen co-authored a speculative fiction thriller, Night Launch, with then Senator Jake Garn. The book should have been a slam dunk for both authors, but  Publishers Weekly gave it a thumbs down.  Did William Morrow drop Cohen because of that?

Ten years later, Cohen apparently tried writing again. His drug trade thriller, Jungle White, was published in Thailand by White Lotus Press, but not elsewhere. (Did Cohen move to Asia, the way a few of my friends have done?) A reviewer on the Things Asian website hated Jungle White so much he wrote a lengthy and damning review, renaming the book, “A White in the Jungle”.  I haven’t read it so I can’t comment either way.

All writers get the rare bad review. Most of the time the reader simply didn’t “get” the book. But when they feel compelled to vent to the whole world about it, I suspect a more self-centred motive is at play.  I have to ask the question: Did the Things Asian review make Cohen quit writing for good?

BOTTOM LINE:   My copies of Heartless and Islands of Steel are used Avon paperbacks, not first editions.  Prices on Abe Books, Amazon and Biblio range from $4 to $12.  Thierry value: $18.97US*

DECISION: Keep as rare books. 

*Thierry value = most outrageous price you can humanly get away with. Named in honor of Mr. Brainwash who sold old used T-shirts for $500+. (See Banksy’s documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop.)

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Books #6 -The Neon Flamingo by W. R. Philbrick

Eat This Book

 

 

 

 

I read my first T.D. Stash novel  while vacationing with the family at a tourist lodge on Lake Temagami. Despite being exhausted after canoeing with a 3 year old, I sat up all night to finish The Neon Flamingo. Its Florida Keys setting was as removed from Northern Ontario as you can imagine.

Gripping and smoothly written, W.R. Philbrick’s book has stayed with me, mostly because its hero, T.D. Stash, was so unusual for the late 1980s. He was a screw-up – a  stoner and sometime fisherman desperate enough for cash to do favors for friends – legal or not so much. He often made dire situations worse.

I quickly read the next two books in the series, The Crystal Blue Persuasion and Tough Enough. Then waited in vain for more.

A few years later I met W. R. Philbrick at a crime writers’ conference. He happily signed my copy of The Neon Flamingo then passed on the bad news that his editor didn’t want any  more T.D. Stash novels. A damn shame!

I suspect that TD Stash series was too dark. In other words, too intense, truthful and violent for 1990s readers. Like Liza Cody’s Bucket Nut, the books were fine examples of noir – and thus decades ahead of their time.

So what happened to W. R. Philbrick? I’m happy to tell you that he’s written over 30  novels under three pseudonyms, including the Connie Kale and J. D. Hawkins crime series.  He’s had great success as a YA author, winning multiple awards.  His YA adventure story, Freak the Mighty,  was translated into several languages and is studied in classrooms throughout the world. Later it became a successful film.

BOTTOM LINE:

The T.D. Stash books are not  available on Amazon in print or digital form. Abe Books carry only a very few used paperbacks listed between $3 to $8US.

DECISION: Keep this rare book.

EAT THIS BOOK: Never Going Back by Sam Wiebe

Novellas are relatively rare in crime fiction where formats are far more rigid than in literary and speculative fiction.  Short story lengths greater than 5000 words are tolerated…barely. And novels must be no less than 65,000 and no more than 95,000 words.

No doubt the formats are dictated by business rather than artistic imperatives. The story or book length a publisher believes will hold readers’ attention spans.

So what is a novella exactly? A long story or a short novel? As an author whose work naturally tends to fall in this category,  I believe a novella is a story with a linear plot but with more texture, atmosphere and complexity of character than can be captured in 5000 words or less.

The Orca Rapid Reads Series  breathed life into the crime fiction novella. Mostly because of this series, the CWC Awards of Excellence have had enough entries to create and sustain a novella category. (CWC defines a novella as a story between 8000 and 20,000 words.)

The Rapid Reads series is aimed at adults who are ESL students, who have difficulty reading or those who simply want a fast satisfying read. Although the language is uncomplicated, the books are not simplistic. They are hard-hitting, with adult themes and they often focus on social issues.

It’s a challenge for an author to streamline their writing style without losing its essence. That’s why Orca contracted with leading Canadian crime fiction authors for the 68 books in the series, including my friend, Sam Wiebe.

Sam’s novella, Never Going Back  (Orca, 2020is one of the latest books in the Rapid Reads series.  Its protagonist, Alison Kidd, is a tough young woman, a master thief who’s just gotten out of jail. She hated prison and she’s determined to go straight, but the local crime boss blackmails her into pulling off a risky job. If she refuses, her brother will be killed. Can she outsmart her old boss and save her brother and herself?

Sam’s hard-hitting, critically acclaimed Dave Wakeland series and his debut novel,  The Last of the Independents, are both written very much from a man’s point of view. I was intrigued that Sam chose a woman hero for Never Going Back. Could he pull it off?

I’m delighted to say that, yes, Sam did! Alison Kidd is a terrific and likeable character.  (More books and stories with strong women, Sam!) The plot has the twists and turns of a switchback highway and the suspense that goes along with it. An excellent thriller!

EAT THIS BOOK:  5 STARS

 

 

YOUR INVITATION TO THE LAUNCH OF A GRAVE DIAGNOSIS!

Do join me and my fellow crime writers for the Zoom launch of Carrick Publishing’s new crime fiction anthology, A Grave Diagnosis.  This collection of tales of murder and malaise appropriately launches on Halloween!!

AND a special Halloween treat – here’s our video on YouTube!  Thank you, editor and publisher, Donna Carrick!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mesdames of Mayhem Book Launch Marathon!

My friends and I have embraced Zoom. It’s become an indispensable tool for authors during these dystopian COVID times.

Since the run-up to Christmas is a strong market for book sales, I pitched the idea to the Mesdames that we run a series of Zoom book launches.  They loved idea and the Mesdames’ Book Launch Marathon took off!

First author was my friend, Rosemary McCracken who just published the 5th book in her popular Pat Tierney series, Uncharted Waters. By all accounts our Zoom launch was a terrific success. Our three secrets? Planning, planning and planning.

Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary shares her excellent write-up about successful Zoom launch planning from an author’s point of view on her blog, Moving Target. Read it here.

Even better, watch our video of the whole launch!!

Here are my pearls of wisdom from the moderator / techie side:

  1. For an audience greater than 40+ people, the moderator and the techie must be two different individuals.
  2. Work closely with your author before the launch to:
    • develop interesting questions
    • make a list of invited guests for vetting during the event
    • support each other before, after and during the launch!
  3. Make the launch interactive to engage the audience
    • allow lots of time for Q& A
    • have contest questions throughout the launch
  4. Email the links to the author’s book(s) on Amazon, etc. to all invitees.

Our next marathon event is the launch of Carrick Publishing’s new crime fiction anthology, A Grave Diagnosis. Appropriately enough the launch date is on Halloween! Saturday, October 31st, 2pm. And as a contributing author, I can kick back, relax and be a guest this time!

For more information visit www.mesdamesofmayhem.com and www.carrickpublishing.com

 

 

 

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Cover Reveal for A Grave Diagnosis

Sara Carrick, book cover artist extraordinaire, worked her magic for the upcoming anthology, A Grave Diagnosis.  All 35 authors voted and overwhelmingly this amazing cover was the favorite.  Here it is!

 

The launch date this fall will be announced shortly!

NEWS! NEWS! NEWS! Meet me at When Words Collide!

Greetings Readers!

Last year I had the best time at the wonderful multi-genre festival, WHEN WORDS COLLIDE! in Calgary, Alberta. I was part of a crime fiction panel and learned about coz-play and writing children’s books.

I also had the privilege of reading at Noir at the Bar and getting to know the great authors and editors behind Coffin Hop Press, the publishers of The Dame Was Trouble.

Visiting Calgary also became a sentimental journey.  My childhood can best be described as unsettled. Five of my early years were in Calgary – where we lived in three different houses.

Strangely enough my memory of Calgary as a patchwork of disparate cityscapes proved to be accurate. And one of my old homes still exists! There I had a magical conversation with the current owner. (Stand by for a Surreal Trapdoor blog.)

Because more importantly,  WHEN WORDS COLLIDE 2020, will be on Zoom this week, from August 14 to 16th.

Best of all registration is FREE!! Register here.  THE PROGRAM AND LINKS IS NOW UP!!

I’m delighted to one of the TEN Mesdames of Mayhem who are on the conference. panels.

We Mesdames have our very own panel, Meet the Mesdames of Mayhem, Saturday, August 15th, 4pm (Toronto time), 2 pm (Mountain time). (Donna Carrick, Rosemary McCracken, Madona Skaff, M. H. Callway moderating.) 

Donna Carrick
Rosemary McCracken
Madonna Skaff

 

 

 

 

We’re also out in force for The Long and Short of Crime, Saturday August 15th, 2 pm (TT), 12 noon (MT). (Jane Burfield, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy, Caro Soles, M. H. Callway moderating.)

Jane Burfield
Lynne Murphy
Caro Soles

 

 

 

 

Be sure to check out friends and authors Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell and Lisa De Nikolits.

Jayne Bernard
Lisa De Nikolits
Melodie Campbell

 

 

 

 

Jayne Bernard, Melodie Campbell   Plot vs Character, Crime Fiction’s Eternal Grudge Match, Friday, August 11th 3pm (TT), 1pm(MT) 

Lisa De Nikolits, Caro Soles,  Can the Crossover Fit the Crime? Saturday, August 15th, 12 noon (TT), 10 am (MT)

Jayne Bernard, The Heroine’s Journey, Sunday, August 16th, 1 pm (TT), 11am(MT) ; From the Mean Streets to the Deadly Wilderness, Sunday, August 16th, 3pm (TT), 1pm (MT); Diversity in Speculative Fiction, Sunday, August 16th, 5pm (TT), 3pm (MT)

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock

Heather Babcock is an  accomplished author of poetry and short fiction. She has read and performed at a gamut of live venues in Toronto.  (Read more about Heather’s accomplishments  here in Goodreads.)

I became friends with Heather through our mutual friend, Toronto Poet.   Ed and I have enjoyed her readings at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir and The Redhead Revue. We all share a love of things retro, especially very bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s.

I was delighted when Heather Babcock’s debut novel, Filthy Sugar was published by Inanna Publications. This independent press focuses on literature by and about women and is also the publisher of two dear friends and authors, Lisa De Nikolits  and Caro Soles.

Set in the depths of the Great Depression, Filthy Sugar describes the often tawdry adventures of  19 year old, Wanda Whittle, who uses her beauty and her sexuality to get out of poverty. She ends up cruelly exploited – as a burlesque dancer, a sex worker and even as a “redeemed woman” for a tabloid – because she trusts or falls for the wrong guy.  But Wanda is a fighter and in a great twist at the end of the novel (no spoilers!), she takes back control of her own life and finds real love.

It’s a credit to Heather’s terrific skills as a writer that she can unsparingly portray the romantic traps and sad situations that Wanda falls prey to and yet embody the pages with such vitality, you can’t stop turning the pages.

Heather submerged herself in the history of 1930’s culture –  even listening to 1930’s music while writing – and her passion for the period creates magic on the pages.  (Each chapter is referenced for history buffs.) Here are just a couple of my favorite lines:

  • When the lights are dim and the cigarettes are lit, the dames look like ladies and the mugs look like gentlemen and nobody sees the blood on your shoes at the Bow Tie.
  • When the only things alive are the rats in the walls and the little vampires under my mattress, it’s high time to blow.

I especially love Heather’s portrayal of 1930’s street talk.  Some of the phrases are historical (she includes a dictionary at the end of the book) but the best ones, she created herself. Here’s a sampling:

  • Slug burger – a poor person’s burger served on stale bread
  • Crepehanger – a cynic
  • Flock of salami – bullsh*t
  • Underwood banger – a reporter
  • Filthy sugar – dirty money

Underwood banger and best of all, filthy sugar are Heather’s own phrases. History is the loser!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Five stars!

My Story on Audio

Great news!

My long story, “Brainworm”, is featured on Donna Carrick’s Story Stocking, Part One on July 22nd and Part Two on July 29th.  “Brainworm” first appeared in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

In the story, Fiona, a middle-aged woman worn down by looking after her difficult stepmother, has a near miss on the highway during a biting winter blizzard. The shock forces her to face the danger about to devour her.

Click here to tune in to this podcast.