Saturday, August 30, 2008

I've Finally Seen: THE DARK KNIGHT

After weeks of trying to schedule an IMAX showing of the movie with my friends—the Lincoln Square IMAX is still selling out—I bowed to my Mysterical-Eye column deadline and saw today's matinee of The Dark Knight at the non-IMAX Westbury Stadium 12.

Watching the movie a month and a half after its premiere, I not only ignored the hype; I forgot most of it. Yes, Heath Ledger's performance is great, but all the actors are immersed in their roles. For a movie said to be very dark in tone, there are plenty of funny moments, too.

The movie's main misstep is its length. I lost any feel for pacing with about an hour to go. As well as The Dark Knight explores heroes and villains, the script begins to explain what it's exploring, and subtlety goes out the window.

Jeff MacKay Dies

Jeff MacKay, who recurred on TV series such as Baa Baa, Black Sheep, Magnum P.I., and JAG, died of liver failure last Friday. He was 59. His performances as Mac on Magnum and Corky on Tales of the Gold Monkey were lovable, but I most appreciated his complicated portrayal of Master Chief Big Bud Roberts, an affable yet abusive drunk on JAG.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Forgotten Book Friday: The Complete Poetic Works of Michael Madsen

I discovered Michael Madsen's poetry about ten years ago, with a book called Burning in Paradise. At the time, I was enjoying his role as the enigmatic Mr. Chapel in Vengeance Unlimited, and it was intriguing to try and gain insight into him. The Complete Poetic Works compiles six books otherwise out of print.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I'll be on the "Poetry in Motion" panel at Bouchercon with Ken Bruen, Sophie Hannah, and John Harvey—moderated by Reed Farrel Coleman.

Date/Time: Friday, October 10, 10:00-11:00 A.M.

The full schedule of panels is here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Superman Reboots

Last week The Superman Homepage reported Warner Bros. plans to reboot the Superman movie franchise, forgetting 2006's Superman Returns. As much as the movie didn't wow me, forgetting it is silly. Much of the fanbase doesn't want Superman too dark, so how many different interpretations can there be?

U.S. Open, Day 1

I've been a tennis fan since Chris Evert made those Lipton iced tea commercials and have watched the U.S. Open on USA Network since the late 80s. This year's Open is particularly interesting as usually dominant Roger Federer has had an off-year. Federer is a great frontrunner, but I have yet to see come from way behind in a big match. Last night I watched James Blake, who beat Federer in Beijing, survive a five-set match with American Donald Young.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Decision '08

Image by Kyle Roth

On Blog Reviews

Patti Abbott tackles the subject of negative book reviews on blogs.

I commented:

I think any reader is entitled to share an opinion on a book, but it's a long way from sharing one's opinion to being paid/solicited for it.

I don't think blogs have achieved the credence that newspaper/magazine reviews have, and because blogs are ubiquitous (anyone can start one), perhaps they will never be equal.

Personally, I have no qualms about posting negative reviews on my blog. In studying creative writing, I learned to critique the work without criticizing the author, to give reasons from the text for my dissatisfaction.

This said, if I don't finish or don't like a book at all, I don't review it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jenny, Jenny, who can I turn to?

Jeremy Lynch has posted my review of NCIS: The Fifth Season, which goes on sale Tuesday, August 26. I recently learned Lauren Holly's departure from the show was a purely creative decision, like Eric Millegan's departure from Bones.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Thoughts

I enjoy the Olympics, and I root for the U.S. as my country by naturalization. I also root for international players I recognize, like Yao Ming and Svetlana Abrosimova. My favorite events are volleyball and basketball, and I'm a sports fan in general, but the Olympics also make me think of the emphasis the U.S. places on sports. I can't help but wonder where we'd be—how many world problems we could solve—if we placed as much value on education as we do on sports.

I wonder how we'd fare in calculus, reading comprehension, and writing competitions as is.

Devil May Care 'Too Old' For Big Screen?

From WENN:

Film bosses have turned down the chance to adapt the latest James Bond book for the big screen - because its plot is too old-fashioned.

Devil May Care was written by British novelist Sebastian Faulks to commemorate Bond creator Ian Fleming's centenary this year.

Faulks confirmed in May that Eon Productions were considering turning the book into a movie - but the plans have since been shelved.

Bond producer Barbara Broccoli says, "Devil May Care is a period book which is set in the 1960s and it really wouldn't fit as one of the films that Eon has been producing recently."

Excuse me, but several Bond movies made after Ian Fleming's death were adapted on material set and published in the 1950s and early 60s—For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill, Casino Royale.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Having lost his P.I. license in the aftermath of When One Man Dies, Jackson Donne is forced back into action when his brother-in-law's restaurant is bombed and his brother-in-law is kidnapped. Part of a multi-viewpoint, multi-generational adventure, Donne must figure out who is targeting his family before it's too late.

The Evil That Men Do improves in every way on White's aforementioned debut novel. Though there are multiple viewpoints, the chapters flow more readily, building better suspense. The plot relies less on information from the Donne stories, though reading them would add to one's understanding of Donne. The main draw for me was Donne's strained relationship with his family. One would expect anyone to rise to the occasion and protect family, but Donne also has to reconnect with feelings for his family along the way.


Who else is cringing? The topic of themes has come up on Shortmystery, and I commented:

I write to whatever market I'm targeting and that often dictates theme to some extent. In retrospect, many of my stories involve women outsmarting men because I've never fully bought into female characters who weren't just as capable of everything males are.

I find recurring themes more acceptable in prose because ideas of genre are more fixed. You know a market wants specific types of stories and you try to write those types. Writing poetry, I consciously avoid themes because it's all too easy to harp on recurring life issues (Why am I still single? Why do I always get stuck in traffic?), and that only leads to monotonous verse. I find more opportunity to grow and explore in poetry than in fiction, and I try to use that opportunity. There are fewer expectations on poetry than on genre fiction. Every good poem I've read was something of a surprise.

This much said, I'm sure there are themes in my poetry that I leave someone else to reason out when I'm gone.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

BURN NOTICE: THE FIX by Tod Goldberg

As a fan of USA Network's Burn Notice, I've wanted to read this tie-in since last November, when I heard Tod Goldberg was tapped to write it. The Fix has burned spy Michael Westen reluctantly helping an aging socialite who's been swindled out of a sizable chunk of her fortune. He also encounters a femme fatale from his past who accuses him of implicating her in a crime. This last has to do with the falsified dossier (from the TV series) that got Michael burned in the first place.

Goldberg has a good handle on Michael's wry, seen-it-all tone as well as his relationships with Fiona, Sam, his mother, and brother. I envisioned a two-hour episode of Burn Notice as I read. The book does indeed give fans their fix. My only quibble is with Michael's narration. Of everything about the show, the voiceover has the least legs. On screen it can be broken up by action. The page has no such recourse. First-person is necessary to smoothly deliver Michael's spycraft know-how, but the book can read like one long voiceover with meandering sentences early on that I didn't expect from Michael.

I still recommend The Fix to fans of the show and of spy fiction in general, and I look forward to where Goldberg takes the characters.

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Don't do business that don't make me smile."

With this line from "Treetop Flyer," I invite you to read the sixth C.J. Stone story, "Decoys", at Yellow Mama. Thanks to editor Cindy Rosmus and illustrator Gin E.L. Fenton.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What is Muscular Prose?

A commenter on the CrimeSpace discussion of lean prose asked what muscular prose was. I replied:

To me, "muscular" suggests power, forcefulness. Lean prose isn't necessarily so charged. I don't think this sort of power can be achieved simply by adjectives or word choice ("arduous, hulking, strenuous, mammoth") independent of what a story is trying to achieve. Muscular prose works best in stories with a lot of dramatic moments that require powerful word choice.

Monday, August 11, 2008


A routine fire evacuation turns up the body of Lionel Byrd, who, three years earlier, was cleared of suspicion in the murder of a prostitute thanks to evidence found by Elvis Cole. Byrd is now found in possession of an album containing grotesque photos of seven murders, including the one Elvis investigated. While everyone else easily accepts Byrd was the killer, Elvis is driven to find out for himself.

Since 1999's L.A. Requiem, Crais has used multiple viewpoints to tell his stories, contrasting the first-person perspective of his earlier Cole novels. With the exception of the prologue and one section from the recurring Carol Starkey, Chasing Darkness is told by Cole. This emphasizes how personal the case is to Cole and preserves the doubt he feels throughout the novel.

I wouldn't call this a return to form. All of Crais's books are well researched and compellingly written, but it's nice to know he can still tell a fine story mostly in Elvis's voice.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

What's a P.I. Novel?

On DetecToday we're discussing what makes a novel a P.I. novel and whether today's trend toward multi-viewpoint books with P.I.s in them falls within the P.I. genre, expands the P.I. genre, or falls outside the P.I. genre.

I can see connections from Hammett and Chandler's work to that of anyone writing P.I. novels today. I include the works of Lee Child and J.D. Rhoades, etc. when I say P.I. novels because the archetype is the same.

With my definition of genre as "works with the same archetypes", I don't see the P.I. genre as growing. There are changing trends within the genre—hence all the troubleshooter/salvage consultant/repo men—and these trends are necessary to keep it relevant. But the archetype and core stories are the same, so I say the genre is the same.

I think more is definitely expected of P.I. novels than the protag being a P.I. Novels with doctor protags are not by definition medical thrillers, for example.

A single viewpoint has worked well to mark P.I. novels because people expect to read about one character's actions. They expect to follow an investigation. Thrillers often water down the investigation aspect due to space concerns/covering multiple viewpoints. Too many viewpoints in a P.I. book and I start wondering when the P.I. will pick up on what's really going on. With one viewpoint, the P.I.'s perspective may not be what's really going on, but it's the only information I get. I have to believe what the P.I. believes until more information comes along, a good pacing device.

I don't automatically consider multi-viewpoint novels outside the P.I. genre, but with multiple viewpoints it's more difficult to give the P.I.'s investigation the focus it would have in a single-viewpoint novel, focus that normally marks the genre. If a novel does not sufficiently focus on an investigation by an independent, experienced protag—be it single- or multiple-viewpoint—it is not a P.I. novel.

What is Lean Prose?

My comment on a Crimespace discussion started by John Dishon:

My idea of lean prose is writing that does its job most efficiently—the way a lean athlete moves gracefully—affecting the audience more immediately and in exactly the way the writer intends. I don't link it any specific syntax. It depends on what the writer wants to accomplish.

Lean prose isn't necessarily specific to any writer, either. I've seen many writers use it as a means of characterization. Westlake writes leanly as Richard Stark because master thief Parker is coldly efficient. Westlake's other books are more meandering. The same can be said about Block's Matt Scudder series versus his other books.

One would think lean prose would be useful to thriller writers, to keep readers turning pages, but thrillers are often huge tomes, not fast reads.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

"What would we do, baby, without us?"

Out on DVD Tuesday is Season 4 of Family Ties, the show's best season, in my opinion. As popular as Michael J. Fox's Alex already was, the character was truly tested and fleshed out by the introduction of dancer/artist Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan).

In the season premiere, "The Real Thing", Alex matches himself with Tricia Armstrong based on her picture in the Leland College freshman directory, but when he goes to Tricia's dorm room, her roommate Ellen answers and proceeds to peg Alex's every reason for being there. At the same time, Alex's pragmatism challenges Ellen's self-image. And yet the audience knows almost right away that they've opened up to each other. If Ellen thought Alex was just like the rest of Tricia's suitors, why let him in the door and engage him in conversation?

As palpable as their unspoken chemistry is, they continue to challenge each other to verbalize their feelings, even after Alex skips an important faculty-student mixer, driving 350 miles to try and stop Ellen from marrying her boyfriend Dennis. As a result, their profession of love is warranted, perfectly timed, and authentic.

Ellen was written off the show at the start of Season 5, but I was glad to hear Fox and Pollan married. They are still together, Fox praising Pollan's strength for helping him overcome the initial shock of his Parkinson's diagnosis.

Friday, August 01, 2008

General Submissions Open for The Lineup #2

We are now accepting submissions for Issue 2 of The Lineup. Anyone interested may submit between today and September 30, 2008.

Giant mutant chili peppers?!

Now up at, my loose sequel to "Tomatophilia," "Jalapeñophobia". Thanks again to Richie Narvaez.