A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Sunday, October 25, 2015

On Writers and Stylistic Nudist Camps

I came up croppers in my search for a leading photo: something that would prove my point that some writers should be banned from attempting stripped-down writing...just as some nude bodies should steer clear of public beaches. Or at least the internet.

Oh, there was no shortage of nudist photos. And, though none were shocking, some were far more graphic than I want to display on this blog: men and women playing with genitalia too common to call even average. I salute their lack of inhibitions. I salute their respect for what their bodies have become. But I flip the bird at the notion that all bodies become lovelier when they are shown in the buff.

Nudism may be a wonderful thing. But I'm no friend of the phenomenon when it comes to writers who disguise a lack of talent in a style that's stripped to the bone.

Let me perfectly clear here. I don't care if writers pose in the nude or semi-nude--though I'd really rather not have seen this shot of Ray Bradbury:


Or this one of Ernest Hemingway:


My sights are firmly fixed on stylistic nudists, those who march buck-talent talent under banners emblazoned with idiots' rules:

Avoid all adjectives.
Avoid all adverbs.
Avoid anything resembling fine writing. 

And so on and so on and so forth. Just as skinny high school girls ridicule the curvy Prom Queens ('Her boobs aren't real.'...'She must be an idiot if she's got a body like that.'..), so writers lacking a stylistic wardrobe insist--as they must--that it's best to go nude. After all, they'll tell you, it's more honest to go nude than parade in a stylistic wardrobe like this:

Or this:

Or one that reads like this:

"Once in the hands of Duncan Nicol it was translated, as by consecration in the name of a divinity more benevolent than all others, into pisco punch, the wonder and glory of San Francisco’s heady youth, the balm and solace of fevered generations, a drink so endearing and inspired that although its prototype has vanished, its legend lingers on, one with the Grail, the unicorn, and the music of the spheres.”
(Columnist Lucius Beebe, Gourmet magazine, 1957; quoted by M. Carrie Allan in "Spirits: Pisco Punch, a San Francisco Classic Cocktail With Official Aspirations." The Washington Post, October 3, 2014)

The answer, though, may lie between the purple and the overwrought. As Paul West said in his essay 'In Defense of Purple':

A writer who can't do purple is missing a trick. A writer who does purple all the time ought to have more tricks.

A great writer's style may wear a white suit. Pristine and bold, but with the jazz of the pocket square and tie.

Or his style may show in muted colors and classical lines with counterpoints of texture:

Calvin Klein Out in New York

His style may blend the quietly formal with the laid-back casual:

I'm open to almost any style as long as it's simple, with class and pizzazz. My favorite writer, Lawrence Sanders, had the style down to perfection:

Some days lasted forever; some were never born. She awoke in a fury of expectation, gone as soon as felt; the world closed about. Once again life became a succession of swan pecks.

Join me in my plaintive plea to all writers of buck-naked books:


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Little Freaking Beasties

Like nuns, some epiphanies seem to come in pairs.

A week ago I learned something I hadn't known about a boyhood hero of mine. Many of you know him as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tarzan. Buster Crabbe (1908-1983) played those roles and many more. He was also won an Olympic gold medal for swimming in 1932. A man's man, Buster Crabbe walked the walk and swam the swim.

Buster Crabbe - publicity.GIF

But he became a real hero to me when I saw a news clip of him, in his sixties--looking trim and remarkably fit--performing a perfectly graceful high dive. Hell, all the old men I knew then were fat and exhausted and beaten. Not Crabbe. During his senior swimming career Crabbe set 16 world and 35 national records. He kept swimming through his sixties, and in 1971 set a world record for men in his age group.

With a certain  birthday approaching soon, I've had special cause to think of Crabbe. Maybe there's still time for me compete...at least in Tai Chi or Hot Yoga? Anyway, Googling, I was saddened and shocked to learn that Buster the Bold died of a heart attack at age 75 after tripping over a wastepaper basket at home.

Not broken bones or a concussion...a heart attack--as if from fright. Terror or shock from the loss of control? Done in by a Little Freaking Beastie?

We've just come to a fork in the road. Let's turn left.

Image result for fork in the road

A Little Freaking Beastie came for Reb MacRath the other day. The opening could not have been smaller: my usual Amazon locker site was booked, so I couldn't receive a DVD I couldn't wait to watch. Plan B: I had it sent to another site, one not too far from the first. A text message soon informed me that the DVD was there. Hooray! I mean, let's put this in proper perspective. This wasn't any DVD. This was I, The Jury, starring the great Armand Assante in his only outing as Mike Hammer. And I'd come to remember AA's performance as definitive.

I, the Jury (1982)

But...The Little Freaking Beastie pounced! I could not find the address. In Seattle you can walk for blocks without find a building that's numbered. The DVD awaited at "800 5th Ave GARAGE", per my notice. I asked for help, finally, and was confidently sent three blocks south...in the wrong direction. I tried Googling 5th Ave GARAGE and 800 5th Ave GARAGE. Nothing. I tried Google Mapping the address, but the illustration unclear.

I tossed and turned all night, head pounding in a frightening way. Something terrible was happening. The great Armand Assante had been delivered to an address the Little Freaking Beastie was determined to keep me from finding.

Come morning, my anxiety soared. Not even Amazon, in a live Chat, could tell me precisely where Armand was hiding. I didn't want a replacement! I didn't want a refund! I wanted, and needed, the DVD NOW!!!

By lunch, I felt ready for either ER or Bedlam

I would never get the DVD because I wasn't meant to have it. The address didn't exist. And--

The phone rang at work. I was rescued by a call from a nutcase in Gig Harbor, haven of the toney rich. A guy with six cars on his account--3 BMWs, 1 Lex and 2 Cadillacs--went stark raving berserk because of a twenty-five cent error on his bill. He'd been in queue for 45 minutes and proceeded to raise hell for twenty more minutes over a twenty-five cent error that could be fixed in seconds.

Epiphany. I was talking to myself...or to an echo of myself in a rage over an address I couldn't find for my life. But, talking to this nut, I knew: I was only angry on the surface at the bad address...just as he was only angry on the surface at the missing quarter. I was angry because this bizarre mishap seemed to embody--well, many things. In fact, all the things that are beyond my absolute control: from book sales to age discimination.

Epiphany 2. I've roamed the world, often solo, and always found my way. I've moved from coast to coast 7 times--almost always with no job or apartment lined up.  I've navigated emotional, physical and financial challenges. And yet a Little Freaking Beastie knew that the right way to bring me down was not with something huge...but something insultingly tiny.

I'd reached the point that you all know:

I began to act decisively, shifting into analytical mode:
1) Amazon's not insane. But it's capable of being unclear. Possibly I was reading their directive too literally: 800 5th Ave was clear. But should I really be looking for 5th Ave GARAGE?
2) I would not wuss out by calling a cab and paying somebody to help me.
3) I would--and did--succeed in finding a building obscurely numbered 800. It was a Bank of America, apparently nestled in a superstructure.
4) No GARAGE in sight at this 800 5th Ave. But wait...If B of A owned the entire superstructure--and, say, it spanned an entire block...then the number 800 would refer to the entire block, all sides. 
5) Sooooo...800 5th Ave would refer to all sides of the building. And 800 5th Ave GARAGE wasn't the name of the parking lot but was, possibly, a garage servicing the whole city-block address.
6) In a 10-15 minute walk I could cover the other three sides of the block. I began on the south side and--

Voila. I spied the entrance to an underground garage and in thirty paces I saw the Amazon lockers.
I couldn't have been happier if I'd chanced on El Dorado.

Amazon Locker

What joy! I felt as proud and blissed-out as the day I first set foot in San Francisco after nearly 4 days on a bus, with $300 in my pocket, no job and nowhere to live. I went home with my party comfort food...set everything up lovingly...and sat down to savor a classic film that would be worth my bout with the Little Freaking Beastie.

Welllll...The food was fine. But the film that might have landed me in the emergency ward? It sucked. Assante was superb but the film was a mess. A bitchness of embarassments,

The moral of the story? I won't allow myself to forget the fool with the quarter or the other fool with his DVD. I'll set my sights on things that count, knowing and accepting that I can't control the outcomes....but that I can better my chances if I keep Little Freaking Beasties from dividing my focus and spirit.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why Branding is a Lovely Word: Part One

Branding is seen in some quarters as a creative sin: the creation of soulless concoctions by bankers with button-down brains. It's often that and even worse--if the branding precedes the creation. That is: when money only-minded fools set out to create their sure things. Which is like hitting the dance floor with your ass where your heart ought to be.

Nothing good will ever come from force-birthing a novel or film from tried and proven strategies based on purely commercial intents. Another way of saying this: if the branding precedes the birth, it may make money...but at a great cost.

Then again, if even the greatest of novels or films are launched with poor branding--or worse, none at all--most of them are doomed to fail.  Or to wait for Lady Luck to goose them decades later.

Fearful of poor public reception, studio heads locked up a great film for three decades rather than contrive a way to market it to win:

Branding took on special importance for me when I began to wonder why my Boss MacTavin mysteries weren't selling. I'd published three on Amazon and they'd won, mostly, rave reviews. Don't ask me why it took so long, but finally I realized: readers really had no chance to get any feel for the series. Take a look at my three covers and I think you'll see what I mean.

The books themselves had scored high points for Originality. And there's nothing else out there quite like my main character. But let's get back to the first illustration above:
1) The covers lacked consistency. The visual tone was all over the map. Are these wild and woolly thrillers? Are they dark and Chandleresque? Or are they 50 Shades of Gross?
2) The inconsistency created its own invisibility. If the covers have nothing in common, then they can't be seen as a series. And mystery readers are well-known to want the 'meat' they crave repeated with slight changes in sauces or spices.
3) Though the first cover was wildly different, the other two were disappointingly conventional, And neither 2 nor 3 suggested an original talent at play.

Three months ago I approached my new cover designer, Jean Schweikhard, and asked if she'd be interested in creating a series template. Wanted: a look that turned heads and showed, at one glance, the real soul of the series. Within the template, we could change from book to book one image.

We began to swap ideas in July. Three months later I received the first 'roughs' of Jean's work.

I'll share the covers when they've been tweaked to perfection. For now I report with burning conviction: there is nothing noble about sinking with no sound. And there is nothing cool or admirable about ineffectively marketing one's work.

Readers are busy and they are bombarded with pitches and Tweets from those with more chutzpah than talent.

Chutzpah cartoons, Chutzpah cartoon, funny, Chutzpah picture, Chutzpah pictures, Chutzpah image, Chutzpah images, Chutzpah illustration, Chutzpah illustrations

So: work with all the talent and force that's within you. Then, bubbas, if you love your work: by God, learn how to brand it!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Great Canadian Thrilller

Nearly forty years ago the best damned thriller that you've never seen came to us from Canada:

The Silent Partner

An online review sums it nicely without serving up any spoilers:

Anders Bodelson's Danish novel "Think of a Number" has been transplanted to Toronto, intelligently updated by screenwriter Curtis Hanson, and directed by Daryl Duke in brilliant fashion. What makes this film so special, I think, is that you wind up rooting for Elliott Gould, a bank teller turned thief, to best Christopher Plummer, a sadistic bank robber, even though Gould's character is basically amoral. This is that rare thriller that works on every level. The plotting feels free of contrivance, Gould and Plummer have never been better, chilly Toronto looks spectacular, and there's a wonderfully evocative, jazzy soundtrack by pianist Oscar Peterson.

Coming as it did out of Canada in 1978, this film, despite its high quality, was almost immediately forgotten, but it is surely deserving of rediscovery. 

A few key points of interest:
--The casting is perfect, with wonderful performances from Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer and Susannah York. John Candy turns in a memorable near-first performance. And a young Quebec beauty named Celine Lomez is so effortlessly sexy you'll wonder why she pretty much retired from film making after 1981.
--The ingenious, brainy, cat and mouse script is a star in its own right. And it was written by Curtis Hanson...who went on to write two not so little numbers known as LA Confidential and 8 Mile.
--Director Daryl Duke's career in TV and film spanned 30 years. And his accolades/awards included an Emmy, A National Society of Film Critics Special Award, a Canadian Film Award and official entry at the Cannes Film Festival. Though The Silent Partner was his biggest hit--as well as his best film--he chose never to work in this genre again.
--The Toronto setting is refreshing and unique. At a time when American film companies shot in Toronto and Vancouver for budgetary reasons, Americanizing the actors and sets, this stunning film announced, quietly proud: You are in Toronto...This is a Canadian bank...This is Canadian money...This is a Canadian wedding...This is a Toronto teller throwing thousands of dollars, unseen, into the lunchbox stowed under his drawer...


1) In decades of studying thrillers, I've never seen a game of cat and mouse played out as well as this one. A clever and serious writer based his whole narrative game plan on carefully drawn characters, whom he fully understood. The logic at work is thrilling and relentless. And this film will be the just reward for any viewer who's grown sick of quickly drafted, crappy flicks that simply make no sense at all. If Gould's character Miles loves fish in this film, that is so for some very good reasons. If Gould's apartment is shown in a menacing light but nothing immediately happens...sit back and relax, friends, because something will.
2) The Toronto setting works--and yet it may have cost the film in terms of box office dollars. Not because viewers would have minded but because distributors feared that they would mind. Oh dear, a Canadian movie...Toronto doesn't resonate with crowds the same way that New York does. Let's put an end to this nonsense right now. The Toronto setting does work here precisely because it is different...familiar enough yet exotic as well. Not just exotic--surprising. A narrative jack-in-the box. You don't expect the carnage to come in a setting this quiet and lovely.


Nearly forty years after this movie's release, the time has come for Canadians to take a stand against Hollywood greed. Let us film in your cities--only as long as what we show are your cities. Don't allow us any longer to save dough by pretending you're us and not you. If we're not willing to abide, then say it loud and say it proud:

                  BUZZ OFF, YOU EVIL BASTARDS!