Thursday, December 27, 2007

Show Me What You're Made Of.

Here's a confession that should come as no suprise to anyone. I hate all this confectionary end-of-year content that's slathered across every magazine, every television program, every possible entertainment delivery venue this time of year. Endless warmed-over remembrances of the marginally criminal offenses of teen pop princesses, eye-blink remembrances of the dead and half-hearted lists of books or movies that most people never delved into in the first place, punctuated by brain-reducing weight-loss advertisements don't interest me in the slightest. It's over. Moving on.

Every once in a while you'll get a decent attempt at revisitation without nostalgic rose-colored rubbish. Those of you wanting a second crack at 2007 might take a minute to peruse the Kirkus "Best Books of '07" special, currently available as a PDF file here. I always admire that the publication takes the time to go back and give a nod to books that maybe didn't get fully recognized the first time around. I had the interesting opportunity to talk with three distinctly divergent authors. Greg Behrman gave me the lowdown on his gripping historical reconsideration of The Marshall Plan, The Most Noble Adventure. Debut novelist Wayne Caldwell took me back to the rural savagery of North Carolina's mountain folk in Cataloochee. And French novelist Christian Oster delivered some rather esoteric observations about drink, death and the perils of life in The Unforeseen.

Plenty of other trippy selections lie within, and not a whiff of brownnosing Denis Johnson to be found. (Not to knock the novelist, who's terrific, but I'm sick of the dogpiling of acclaim from publications who seem to have perfect hindsight now that Tree of Smoke is a big, fat success).

I'm also digging David J. Montgomery's year-end project over at his eminently readable Crime Fiction Dossier. David has splayed open his rolodex, apparently, and asked a plethora of crime novelists, agents, publishers and other malcontents to name their three favorite books from 2007. A very cool, open-ended question as the books don't have to fall within our beloved genre or even have been published this year.

There's plenty of good crime fiction fodder including a lot of love heaped on James Lee Burke, Lee Child and Charlie Huston, among others. But it's the left-field choices that are fascinating me so far. Check out David Morrell revealing his newfound love of flight; Bourne inheritor Eric Von Lustbader getting all teary-eyed over Eat, Pray, Love, Robert Crais echoing my own newfound fondness for King progeny Joe Hill's immensely creepy book of short stories Heart-Shaped Box; and Charles Ardai putting the spurs to Elise Blackwell's acid remake, Grub. I was pleased to see one of my own choices, Dead Boys, was given high praise by no less than George Pelacanos, who calls it, "the best short story collection I've read in years."

I wasn't asked, but I'm willing to play. I don't keep too many of my affections for books to myself, so naturally most of these titles have made it into my Bookslut columns.

  • Dead Boys by Richard Lange. The real deal. The most startling debut fiction I've read in a decade.
  • The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. Other critics seem to love or hate this book with equal passion but I thought it was an immensely gripping setup and a preturnaturally unusual debut novel.
  • Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley. If Walter never writes another word about Easy Rawlins and his bloody soulmate, I would be perfectly satisfied with the ten books in his series and its awful, elegant denouement.

It's deathly quiet right now, as Jessa notes: "All that's really left on the Internets are lists of authors that died, bad Best of the Year lists, and YouTube videos of pandas." But here's a couple of other items of interest to pass the time until Amateur Night on Monday.

It looks like Mosley is branching out even further with a three-book deal at Riverhead and a new series starring New York private eye Leonid McGill from last year's short story, "Karma."

January Magazine is doing the best-of thing in a more thoughtful fashion with its own rundown of the year's best crime fiction.

I'm ambivelent about running down the death queue but I'm always fascinated by Larry Kirwan's star-studded remembrances of the lions of the New York arts and music scenes. Here, he remembers getting cozy with Norman Mailer by fixing the man's Porsche.

Enough of you. I'm going back to performing linguistic surgery on a sticky interview with a fĂȘted but brutally brusque novelist and then it's a stiff drink and about ninety-seven hours of film class by watching the newly released five-disc version of Blade Runner.

Too bad she won't live...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

She's Just A Little Tease

I'm not sure the graphic here does the column justice but if you wander over to Bookslut, you can read my latest mutterings, "Books For Dangerous Women," which lands a few well-deserved blows aimed at those Dangerous Book knock-offs currently wasting space on bookstore shelves, gives a little tease of a newly minted female noir anthology, and points hard-hearted readers towards a few other femme fatales lurking in the mystery section.

It's a little light this month owing to the holidays but the issue also contains a pair of nice pieces by the effusive Colleen Mondor, a look at the highly praised new graphic novel Shooting War by Jeff Vandermeer and a shootout between Gourmet and Bon Appetit, no less. I imagine hurled cutlery and bloodsoaked aprons, but it's probably just me.

Bulletin ends. As you were.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Money Shot Aims to Please

How did I miss this when I was trolling around for column fodder related to femme fatale-specific noir novels last week? Run off to the Rap Sheet to get the full story but here you can enjoy the delicious DIY trailer for Christa Faust's debut novel for Hard Case Crime, "Money Shot." Yowza.

Monday, December 3, 2007

War, Inc.

It should be interesting to see how this comes off. Cusack is usually worth watching, especially playing off his wacky sister. But something about this revisit-the-hitman role is sounding an off note. Time will tell.

Fear and Loathing

I'm currently plumbing the depths of an entertaining but somewhat intellectually heavyweight volume on mathematical probability. You'll have to excuse me while I take a break to unload some of the accumulating reading material here at Bang!.

First of all, let's ponder this headline from the Sunday Times, an article that as far as I know hasn't even so much as earned a blink here on our side of the pond: "US says it has right to kidnap British citizens." You hear that, you cockney bastards? Better stay on the right side of Uncle Sam's naughty or nice list or we're sending Jack Bauer in with the full weight and authority of the well-defined and morally unambiguous (snicker) U.S. legal system to kidnap your grungy-toothed ass and drag it back to the land of milk and numerous prisons, bounty-hunter style, dog. He's bringing a lamp. Hide your nipples now.

Christ. Some days I wish someone from England would come kidnap me. "An American writer was subdued and brought back to London by a crack strike team from the Special Air Service. Once he stopped his whiny prattling, he was promptly served tea and crumpets and settled in nicely as an offbeat but tax-contributing member of British society." You hear that, Gordon? Come and get me. I could be a panelist on the News Quiz and get paid in pounds worth like, seven dollars apiece . That would be terrible punishment. Teach me a right lesson, that would.

I'm not the only cynic, it seems. Back in frigid Edinburgh, our man Ian Rankin is causing a minor stir. It seems he told a German newspaper - say it isn't so! - that governments use fear to manipulate their own people: "The fear of terrorism helps to keep the population under control," he said. "That is very useful for politicians, but no one actually needs that. First of all we had the Soviet Union, and we were all scared that they were going to attack us all with atomic bombs. When the Berlin Wall fell, everything looked OK for about five minutes. And all of a sudden we now have other wars there, such as climate change, terrorism. All these fears are being used to keep us in our places."

God, I'm depressed now. On with the news.

The devoted editors at the Rocky Mountain News are doing the best books for your bibliophile relatives thing, too. Because they're kind enough to employ me from time to time, Richard Lange is on that list. Give a copy of Dead Boys to Aunt Gertie, for chrissakes. She could use a little more graphic content in her life.

Also at the Times is a short but elegant profile of Mr. Donald E. Westlake, who is also sometimes the snarling crime novelist Richard Stark. “Parker came back to say: ‘I'm older than you but I'm still smarter than you. I'm better than you, faster than you and I'm still prettier than you.'”

At the Telegraph, Jake Kerridge drills down a nice list of the best crime novels to buy for your loved ones for Christmas. You know, for the ones you love that find themselves enflamed by tales of murder, autopsies, alcoholic Scottish misanthropes or, say, great bloody theoretical sharks.

Sarah has been murderously prolific lately. Check out her toast to alcoholic misanthropes at the Los Angeles Times and her newest thoughts on a subject close to my heart, murder in exotic places, in "Have Gun, Will Travel."

Good news from the virtual trenches: Plots With Guns is coming back to life in the new year.

I'm trying desperately to find a way to get rid of books before I wind up buried under them, wild dogs gnawing at my cheekbones, so I need to make a trip into the city. Somewhere out there is Kate's Mystery Bookshop, who is having a special Edgar Award visited upon it. This place bears investigation.

And finally, CommanderBond.net has gotten a copy of the cover art for the new James Bond book. No one has taken any notice of the oddly phrased credit, "Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming." I wonder why that is. Oh, that's right. Nipples ahoy! You people are so easily amused.

There you go. That should keep you busy for a few minutes. Bookslut column in a few days. Bunch of hot chicks in it, swear to God. You savages.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Crash and Burn

Well, damn. If Evel Knievel can kick the bucket, we're all in a lot of trouble.

Now what the hell did I do with my Daredevil Stunt Set? That was a great toy, back in the days when Chinese plastic didn't set off some kind of international incident every time one of these waterheaded modern-day youngsters gets the bright idea to wolf down a Transformer inbetween bouts of perpetual media barbardment.

Ah, well. It's a little quiet right now but I'll try to gather more thoughts on murder and mayhem after the frigid weekend.

See you on the other side of the Snake River Canyon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Heh.

cash advance

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tilda Swinton and The Raw Shark Texts

I hadn't realized this short film was out already (and I'm told may disappear at any moment) but enjoy Tilda Swinton reading from our boy Steven Hall's remarkable debut novel The Raw Shark Texts.

Eavesdropping

I'm preoccupied with an assignment that's requiring me to learn the modern history of Pakistan and a not-insignificant amount of information about nuclear proliferation, but I've decided to break radio silence before the American holiday to get rid of the idle links that are starting to stack up on my desktop like virtual cordwood. Peruse or ignore at your leisure.

CNN gives Walter Mosley the once-over about the end of the Easy Rawlins series. “I may be representative for somebody else, but not for me. I'm doing what I think is important. I love writing, and I write about black male heroes. I don't really want to write about anything else, so I don't." The Times reviews Blonde Faith and gets a tiny bit of self-inquisitive insight: “It could very well be that we critics fail to fully appreciate Mosley’s talents because his Rawlins mysteries appear to come off so effortlessly.” What? Writing might take work? Say it isn’t so.

Empire Magazine continues its much-appreciated month of crime with “The Wiliest Lawbreakers on Planet Film.”

I met Kurt Loder once, by accident, at some kind of post-Columbine event for teens in Denver. Always thought he was too thoughtful for MTV. But I suppose it gives him the opportunity to write things like this pensive review of Alan Moore’s new entry in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, Black Dossier. I was waiting for paperback but I think Loder’s recommendation has tipped the scales in favor of picking it up this week.

Following my adaptive theme as of late, The New Yorker has a very weird feature on “The Ten Videogames That Should Be Movies,” complete with a nod to Michael Gondry and a clip of the famous “Hot Coffee” sequence from Grand Theft Auto. Kind of racy for them, don’t you think?

Meta link of the day: USA Today has a short and uninformative article about books about books. Let me get this straight: the newspaper written for people who don’t read has an article about books about books that people don’t read. Right? Right.

On an offbeat, somewhat related note, I skimmed a few pages of the recently released The Bookaholic’s Guide To Book Blogs this weekend, which was a source of endless amusement. Bookslut is in there. Apparently for years, I’ve been writing “Riot Lit.” Who knew?

My brother (an equally loquacious sports fiend) might be the only one to appreciate the hilarity of this headline: “FOOTBALL + TERRORISM + SPIES = PULITZER!” Apparently Broncos kicker Jason Elam has teamed up with his pastor to write the future bestseller Monday Night Jihad. No, seriously.

Cracked used to be Mad Magazine’s retarded sibling but it seems to be having something of an renaissance online, as demonstrated by features like “The 5 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Comic Strips.”

Geek-out link of the day: A few years ago, I made a fascinating trip to Bletchley Park in England, recorded in a feature I wrote called “The Secrets of Station X.” While I was there, I met a quiet and unassuming gentleman named Tony Sale, who had spent the past decade of his life trying to rebuild the wildly inventive early computer called Colossus, which had been used to break the German “Enigma” codes in the worst days of World War II. I’ll be damned if he didn’t get the thing up and running.

And off-topic, I’m fascinated by this story about a P-38 Lightning that has turned up on the beach in Wales. Eerie photo. Very Clive Cussler, but in a good way.

Adaptations, Part Deux

The first snow fell today, making it the kind of day you want to stay home and watch movies.

On that note, the Onion's A.V. Club, always a source of high praise, delivers a list of twenty-one books worthy of adaptation to film, which contains several odd but interesting choices. I think Jonathan Strange is utterly unfilmable but I could be wrong; some people say that about Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games and I think that would make an outstanding cop movie. People would be shoveling down popcorn for King Dork and World War Z, granted. But please don't invite me to see another bitter Cormac McCarthy adaptation or anything starring those freakish hobbits.

Surely we can do better than that. Here's my nominations for screen adaptation off the top of my head, ignoring books that have already been slated for production (Bangkok 8) or that have been simmering in movie purgatory for years (Ender's Game).

Miniseries: It will never get made because HBO's Rome has already stolen its thunder but I think Conn Iggulden's Emperor trilogy about Julius Caesar would have been tremendous. Starring Gerard Butler (300) as Caesar and Clive Owen as best bud Brutus. Also in this category would be an inspired adaptation of Charlie Huston's slow road to hell, the Henry Thompson trilogy, marking the former baseball player's escape with the Russian mafia's cash in Caught Stealing, his progression to becoming A Dangerous Man, and concluding with the violent denouement of Six Bad Things. Maybe you could do them as two hour films the way the British handle the Rebus novels.

Cinema, comedy category: The top of my own list will almost always include Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller. Starring Paul Bettany as the Kawasaki-riding mercenary Thomas Lang. Laurie wrote a screenplay for the film for United Artists but whether it, like its theoretical follow-up The Paper Soldier, sees the light of day is anyone's guess.

Alternatively, I’d put good money down on a film of Night of the Avenging Blowfish by John Welter, starring a Grosse Point Blank-era John Cusack as beleaguered secret service agent Doyle Coldiron.

Cinema, crime: Hands down, Anthony Bourdain's vignettes of violence, redemption and cookery in Bobby Gold. The Open Critic thinks along the same lines. “The thought hits around page 75; Bobby Gold is perfect movie fodder….this collection of vignettes is perfect, each in their own low-life noir type of way. Jim Jarmusch would be a natural. Bobby Gold busting his uncle’s arm. The corpse in the bathroom. Nikki, tall and beautiful and sweaty at her chef station. They’re all cinematic. I’m guessing, Anthony Bourdain was seeing pictures in his head when he wrote this book.”

I’m having trouble picturing an actor in the role, though. Bobby’s a big dude, and you definitely need someone who pulls off that New York leather jacket, bone-breaking presence.

Cinema, uncategorizable: Anything by Warren Ellis. Hell, pick one. Transmetropolitan, which has reportedly been acquired by Patrick Stewart, who has made some noises about voicing the character as played by a virtual avatar. The debut novel, Crooked Little Vein, which would require a director with the visual acuity of Luc Besson, the temper of Sam Peckinpah, and the visceral sensibilities of David Fincher. Global Frequency even made it, briefly, as a television pilot and it’s still stunning to me that that idea – a global anti-terrorism force made up of whoever’s available at the time – didn’t pass muster.

Any other ideas? While you’re thinking, you can peruse these great fake movie posters by graphic artist Rob Kelly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Adapt and Evolve

Leave it to Sarah to tell me my new Mystery Strumpet column has gone live, which she deems has an "adaptive quality." Feel free to pop on over to Bookslut to read "Audio Slave," a not-entirely straightforward rundown of the crime genre's better recorded adaptations.

It includes my take on the audio-only serial novel The Chopin Manuscript, read for your pleasure by our man Alfred Molina. Yes, you know him from someplace. He's Doctor Octopus, among many better dramatic roles. More importantly, he's the man who will live forever in our hearts for nine breathless words: "You throw me the idol, I'll throw you the whip!" You can also get a more cautious second opinion on the audiobook from David Montgomery at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Meanwhile, the column also allows me a moment to flog the brilliant and impassioned human rights activist-slash-comedian Mark Thomas, and touches on the thespian performances of books by Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald and other usual suspects, with special appearances by Darrin McGavin, Henry Rollins, and Burt Reynolds.

In utterly unrelated work, I published an interesting article this month on the curious resurrection of Florence "Pancho" Barnes, the groundbreaking aviatrix and hooch-monger to test pilots and astronauts at the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

A few other items of note...

Denise Hamilton lent me better words than my own a few months ago when I was ruminating on Los Angeles in a Mystery Strumpet column. Today at LA Observed, she revisits her city's past with Judith Freeman, the author of the new literary hybrid The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. They walk the city in a fascinating slice-of-life piece that attempts to conjure up the departed writer and his somewhat mysterious spouse.

I work for the other guys, but it's worth glancing at Publishers Weekly's "Best Books of the Year" list (although it seems awfully damned early to go to press with it already). There's a few truly great novelists on the list (Mohsin Hamid, Denis Johnson) but it feels like a soft list to me. I'll give you The Collaborator of Bethlehem as one of the year's best books period, and I'm glad to see Charles Ardai on the mystery list, but that Ruth Rendell title is about as thrilling as watching grass grow and putting James Lee Burke and a ton of other crime/mystery/thriller writers in with the big kids in the general fiction category doesn't suddenly make them Graham Greene.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is reporting that the idiots prosecuting comics shop owner Gordon Lee (arrested for giving away an artsy-fartsy comic book by the gifted Nick Bertozzi depicting Picasso in the buff) blew their prosecutorial advantage already. It's a mistrial.

And someone in London thinks they've captured an image of the illusive graffiti artist known as "Banksy." Flower power, man.

Friday, November 2, 2007

You Think I'm Dead

…but I sailed away, on a wave of mutilation. I’ve been away on a mission of dire importance, hence no fuel for the fire. But I’m back in the lair, caffeined up, and ready to dance for your entertainment like some kind of Ebola-infected monkey raised by his malevolent circus masters to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public. Hit it.

If you open up today’s Rocky Mountain News (virtually, of course; why on earth would anyone buy a newspaper when you can just read TMZ for free?), you’ll find my brief review of Dr. Robert Greer’s new CJ Floyd mystery, The Mongoose Deception. To his credit, Greer is swinging for the rafters here with a seriously complex, brain-pounding conspiracy that starts with a dead guy in Colorado’s Eisenhower Tunnel and quickly sends Floyd and his posse chasing no less than JFK’s killers. I think he's done better work but kudos to him for mixing it up.

What is it about the Eisenhower Tunnel anyway? The tunnel also figures largely in the denouement of Stephen White’s ice-dry Kill Me from last year. I used to live in Colorado. It’s a hole in a mountain. It’s not that exciting in real life. Maybe to Hitchcock, but what does he know?

Elsewhere in our slowly decaying semi-blue sphere…

Before I forget (for the American readers, mostly), the September issue of Empire Magazine is on newsstands now at the bigger box stores. Two words: kicks ass. Dubbed “The Crime Issue,” it features interviews with all the principals on American Gangster, reports on No Country For Old Men and the splendid Eastern Promises, and a brilliant deconstruction of Michael Mann’s Heat. It’s pricey but after the slow death of Premiere magazines, it’s the best ten bucks you’ll spend this month, I swear to God.

Online, Empire runs down the five writers who have had the most influence on the crime film: Doyle, Hammett, Chandler, natch, but also James Ellroy (who should puff up like a blowfish at the very mention of his name, as usual) and, in a surprising and dead-on final choice, Patricia Highsmith.

At the Philly Inquirer, David Montgomery celebrates the remarkable “last entry” in the Easy Rawlins series, Blonde Faith. On that same note, Walter Mosley gives a short but characteristically well-composed interview to the Miami New Times. You can get my take on what is possibly Mosley's best work in the most recent Mystery Strumpet column at Bookslut.

The Rap Sheet runs down all the news that’s fit to print about Elmore Leonard and his lovely new bound version of his Rules for Writing. It includes, no less, a hand-typed interview with the author passed down via his publicist, which is kind of weird considering that while he doesn’t use a computer, he does have a phone. And a lovely speaking voice, if I may add.

I’m soft on the humor of The Onion, but their A.V. Club interviews are outstanding. There’s a nice one this month with Peter Dinklage, who is slated to star as Mongo the Magnificent in a film version of George C. Chesbro’s An Affair of Sorcerers. More on the lost classics featuring Chesbro’s ferocious dwarf at Bookslut.

As I’ve indicated before, I think John Burdett’s Bangkok novels are wildly underrated. The International Herald Tribune did a terrific interview with the author in which it’s also revealed that the film adaptation of Bangkok 8 will be directed by James McTeigue (V For Vendetta).

Finally, there are things in the world that don’t involve guns, puzzles and other hard-boiled components.

Stephen King reviews Eric Clapton’s autobiography and invents a new literary term: drunkalogue. You’ll want to add that to your dictionary now.

At the Los Angeles Times, RJ Smith kicks the corpse of Gram Parsons in a really sad, caustic review of David Meyer’s The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music that is less of a critical drubbing than a microwave reheating. Get over the Nudie suit already.

Slate runs down the best books we never read.

David Sedaris is doing his thing in Boston tonight at the Symphony Hall. (Remember when authors used to come speak for free? And bring those things, what were they called again? Oh, yes. Books.) The Chicago Tribune interviews him about quitting smoking, the New Republic nonsense, and applying for British citizenship (Now there’s an idea).

Finally, check out this great letter to the editor. The brightest minds of Charleston, West Virginia have elected, in their inbred wisdom, to ban the great works of Pat Conroy (specifically The Prince of Tides and Beach Music). Pat’s not happy, nor should he be. Idiots like those shouldn’t be allowed around perfectly good children.

And if that isn’t enough to rattle your faith in mankind, I’ll leave you with the history of earth in a roll of toilet paper. How poetically appropriate.

I’m going to the movies for about nineteen hours in a row. Don’t wait up.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Book of Norman

This was a little out of my comfort zone, but in today's Rocky Mountain News, you can find my take on Norman Mailer's very suddenly released book, On God. Subtitled "An Uncommon Conversation," the book features conversations about faith, God and the Devil himself between Mr. Mailer and Michael Lennon, the author's 'literary executor" (and I have no clue what function that means).

While I think the review is fair, I'll be the first to admit that it's something of a softball pitch and probably far from the critical drubbing he'll get from, say, the Times. After all, Norman has never been the least contentious writer in the world and once called its most prominent book critic, "a one-woman kamikaze."

That said, asking me to give my full attention a book about religion is like being asked to choose between two doors marked "things you don't care about," and "more." The book is, as indicated above, the gnostic-leaning contemplations of Mailer, left to his own devices out there on the end of Cape Cod, staring at the sea. A personal cosmology, if you will, no twist.

For a different approach, you can also check out David Ulin's take at the L.A. Times. "God, however, is a more amorphous concept, and Mailer's inability to deal with that condemns 'On God' to failure by closing the book to the vagaries of faith."

The guy's under the weather, too, I'm sorry to report.

In other news, there's a new interview with Richard Lange over at Things I'd Rather Be Doing.

By way of Neil Gaiman, I've spent the morning memorizing Carny Lingo.

I'm also engaged in memorializing World War II flying ace Tex Hill, who passed away last week.

And to kick off your weekend, here's a website dedicated to the photos and videos of iconoclast Allison Jackson. Jackson, you'll recall, is the British photographer who uses celebrity lookalikes to create some very disturbing fake images of celebs at their worst moments. It's kind of like US magazine, only with satiric and artistic value. Not, as they say, safe for work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One More Rider

I'm not sure how many mystery fans this will appeal to but I know plenty of crime buffs who like to settle in with a good Steve McQueen movie every now and again, be it Bullitt or The Great Escape or that Peckinpah classic The Getaway.McQueen was close friends with a hotshot motorcycle racer and stuntman named Bud Ekins. It was famously *not* Steve McQueen who made the 65-foot motorcycle jump pictured to the left, but instead his mate Bud Ekins, who performed the first $1,000 stunt in the history of the movie business.

Bud was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. And he died on Sunday, at the age of 77.

You can read a very well-written obituary at the Times here, and an interesting latter-day interview with Ekins here. It's also worth looking at Bud's entry at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

For an interesting look at the world that McQueen and Ekins ran in during the 1950s and 60s, you can read my interview with another Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee, Ed Kretz, Jr., here. Ed was friends with James Dean, McQueen, Ekins, and many other hell-raisers of the day, and drove McQueen's motorcycle in the 1965 International Six-Day Trials on the Isle of Man.
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On a brighter note, it's Elmore Leonard's 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Dutch. You don't look a day over completely cool.

You can read a mostly unpublished interview with hisself about his latest novel, Up In Honey's Room, here. It's also worth noting that a nifty little hardback edition of Elmore's 10 Rules For Writing will be published by William Morrow on October 23.

See you on the other side of the fence.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Karma Slap

The new issue of Bookslut is up, containing yet another scintillating Mystery Strumpet column written by your unforgiving host. This month, we turn with baleful eye to the topic of revenge in "The Payback," a rumination on karmic chameleons, ice-cold reprisals and the odd justifiable retribution, inspired by the title track from the 1974 James Brown double album and not the movie, thank you very much. The column considers the roots and consequences of bloody vengeance and more importantly recommends the fictional settling of scores in new books by Walter Mosley, Kevin Wignall, Tom Piccirilli and Chelsea Cain.

Elsewhere in the issue, Colleen Mondor indulges her love for all things Bradbury in "October Country," Melissa Lion debates whether Mario Batali is just one of a host of "Prissy Little Bitches" of the culinary world, Eryn Loeb takes on Susan Faludi's "The Terror Dream," and Liz Miller puts out the call for "Young Adult Adaptation Anguish". There's also other stuff, not least an interview with the celebrated Shalom Auslander about his new novel, and a rather disappointed review of Douglas Coupland's latest satire.

Elsewhere in the literary universe...

Susanna Clarke (Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) must be feeling much more sprightly these days, I'm very happy to see. She recently did a Q&A in London with Neil Gaiman and now she interviews Alan Moore for The Telegraph.

Here's a student project worth mentioning. A graduate student in the Netherlands has created a very cool videogame featuring full-motion video, a futuristic detective-ish storyline filmed in black-and-white no less, and a distinctly noir sensibility. And, go figure, it's free. You can watch the trailer for "Fate By Numbers" and download the game here.

Finally, in other science fiction news, I'm a little suprised to report that the planned film version of the classic John Carter novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs have gained significant ground with the announcement that they'll be produced - wait for it - by Pixar as a live-action project. I personally would have started with the Venus series, as Carson Napier and the pirate sensibilities and devious traps (the dreaded Room of the Seven Doors) always seemed more ripe for cinematic translation. Is Kerry Conran still on this thing?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Subversives

I bear two recommendations from current reading, one well outside my realm of experience and the other soundly within.

I finally managed to ‘obtain’ a copy of Wall and Piece by the obsessively anonymous (which is not the same as reclusive, in this particular case) British artist known far and wide as Banksy. His art is well-known and for further examples, you can start by visiting the artist’s web site, although whether it’s really his website or if he makes any contribution to it is anyone’s guess. The copyright page of his book reads “Copyright is for losers ©™,” if that gives you any insight into his attitude towards ownership.

I knew his work in London before I knew that he was becoming a big deal in the art world, primarily because my own reaction towards it was so instantaneous. In 2003, I lived on the South Bank of the Thames and it seemed like his stencils were everywhere. A rat here. A monkey wearing a placard bearing “Keep it real.”

The night I saw a blow-up doll tethered to a balloon bearing the McDonald’s logo, floating ominously over the statue of Eros in the midst of Piccadilly circus and couldn’t decide whether it was a joke or not.

My own favorite image is this little girl that lived on a wall near the exit to London Bridge Station. I took this picture before I knew anything about its origins. Its parallel in the book is accompanied by a single white page that reads, “When the time comes to leave, just walk away quietly and don’t make any fuss.”

The art is well-recorded in the book but I’m surprised to find how insightful, caustic, and tentatively hopeful his writing is.

Yes, he pretty much calls for pretty much open warfare on the plague of corporate advertising (“Any advert in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”). This, accompanied by the gagged and bound characters from a Disney film facing a head-cutter.

But more often, his messages are meant to impart a greater good on the world. (“I like to think I have the guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in – like peace and justice and freedom.”). This, accompanied by an image of a child hugging a bomb.

Graffiti has never been one of my creative impulses but I can see the attraction. Moreover, I like how Banky’s artwork has become part of London. Far from being an eyesore, it became, at least in my experience, the pleasant surprise of finding rats painted on walls and tunnels and other dead spaces all along my walk home from Waterloo to Borough High Street, each of them cutting locks, protesting vandalism, propping up brellys or plotting other minor crimes and misdemeanors.

“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said, ‘That’s clever it’s an anagram of art,’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along,” he writes. You have to give props to a man who’s in on a joke, even if it's on him.

It’s interesting to note that the use of stencils developed out of the need to cut down his painting time, to thus avoid getting pinched by the cops. “I got home and crawled into bed next to my girlfriend. I told her I’d had an epiphany that night and she told me to stop taking that drug cos it’s bad for your heart.”

Anyway, I’ve been bored stiff and creatively stifled for a couple of weeks now and this is the first thing to shake me out of my reverie so I wanted to share. In the interest of fairness, you can either buy a ticket to London and go see for yourself, or go buy a copy of Wall and Piece. Or steal it. I don’t care which. I’m not sure he does, either.
********************************************
On a similar note, I’m completely addicted to Brian Wood’s high-concept political satire-slash-war drama DMZ. Set in a near future way too close to our own, open warfare has broken out in the United States between the federal government and a set of rogue “free states.” The line of demarcation is the island of Manhattan, the titular DMZ where the action is set, and where the people that are left live in a no man’s land of social unrest punctuated by the occasional carpet bombing of primary sites like Times Square. The Empire State Building still stands, occupied by snipers who toss visitors off the observation deck. Central Park is held closely by a tightly wound group of environmentally-minded special ops soldiers who grow bamboo in the vestiges of the zoo. It’s a lot to take in, and Wood (Local and Demo are among his other works) and Vertigo regular Riccardo Burchielli make the most of it.

The trade paperbacks are cheap and totally worth every penny. They introduce DMZ’s nominal hero, a greenhorn photojournalist named Matty Roth who goes off the reservation to tell both sides of the conflict what’s really happening on the killing floor, and Zee Hernandez, a med student turned local guide who provides introductions between Matty and the various denizens of the DMZ.

If that doesn’t convince you, it’s worth picking up the latest issue that tells the story of “Decade Later,” a graffiti artist who spends years dodging the cops, live ordinance, and the other terrors of war just so he can finally see the Big Picture. It’s the first of a series of stand-alone stories planned by Wood to focus on particular citizens of his fractured little world, and you can get a free taste of it here.

For more, visit Wood’s professional website here. You can get the scoop on his other projects, download whole issues of DMZ and other books, and buy the good stuff from a variety of retailers.

Guess I'm done shaking the tree for now. We now return you to your lives of crap advertisements, junk food, and television.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Waiting for God. Oh.

...brain hurts. I'm currently contemplating the overly complicated concept of evolutionary economics and waiting for Norman Mailer's book on God to arrive. These events are not by choice. In the meantime, let's clean out the assorted links before the month ends.

At least a few of the cool kids went north to Alaska this weekend to celebrate Bouchercon, where the Barry Awards were handed out to George Pelecanos, Ken Bruen, and other criminally-minded authors. The Rap Sheet has the rundown on the awards.

The Demon Dog
reflects on the "poet of collision," Dashiell Hammett, at the Guardian. His guilt, writes James Ellroy, was the driving force of his crime fiction.

Sarah Weinman
gets down with the serial killers from Dexter and Heartsick in her latest "Dark Passages" column at the Los Angeles Times.

Duane Swierczynski reports that Charles Ardai (Hard Case Crime) is moderating a Crime Book Club at Barnes & Noble, with help from the steady hands of Ken Bruen, Charlie Huston, Swierczynski and collaborator Jason Starr, among others.

Andrew O'Hagan at the London Review of Books
echoes my own feelings on the age of communication and the "the ridiculous, anachronistic pursuit of privacy."

"Nowadays, being unavailable is understood to be an act of aggression equal to driving tanks through the walls of the Danzig Post Office. To fail to answer your mobile phone, or to turn it off completely, is merely to announce that you are deep in the throes of a secret life. You don’t care, you’re not reliable, you’ve got something to hide, you’re screening. There are few modern crimes so remarked on as the crime of unavailability. Answer or you’re evil. Answer or you’re dead."

On that same note, I finally found something worthy of my wish list: the CJAM 1000. "Here we have one of the coolest devices in the universe. The CJAM 1000 can jam cellphones, pagers, and Wi-Fi with a quarter mile range." Too bad it's only available to governments and representives of Blackwater and such.


On the bright side, I've discovered that the original 1967 series Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot is newly available on demand at Netflix, complete with its bizarre jazz score and horrific dubbing into English. I'm off to watch the series' denouement, "The Last of Emperor Guillotine," in which Giant Robot fights, um, a giant eyeball. Yes, really.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Paranoia Strikes Deep

Nothing to see here, just poking my head in. I'm busy at the moment, brooding mostly, but also cooking up a new crime column meditating on one of man's oldest motivations. I'll give you a minute to laundry list your own.


A couple of items of note...


Now I feel better. Of course, if they lose the list of the books I took on vacation, they can always track the chip in my passport. Which seems so much more civil than just tasering me and sticking one in the back of my neck when I'm not looking.

Cheer yourself up by visiting Christopher Moore's blog, where he's emerged from his research stint in the UK. In his latest post, Chris contemplates turning fifty, what it takes to run for the American presidency and "Slam Dancing For Cougars."

I mean, you’re sort of born with unlimited potential (especially if you’re white, male, middle class and American) and as you grow up you hear doors closing as you go along. Some early. Like when you start cranking that C average in seventh grade because it’s much more interesting to think about Mandy’s lady humps than it is to pay attention to, say, averaging fractions -- well, the doors to the White House start slamming. This is presuming you want to be a decent president – I realize, with the bar where it is now, I could have probably stolen a car, kidnapped Mandy and made my way across state lines while free-basing coke, beer-bonging Jack, and robbing gas stations and burning love haikus in Mandy’s fishnets with a Marlboro -- basically gone owl-shit wild until I had to be lobotomized and sedated just to stop me from auto-humping the sky -- and still recovered in time and with enough sense to keep us out of Iraq. But I didn’t know that then.

So, you know, missed opportunities.

Happy birthday, Chris. Give 'em hell.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Burning Love

Looks like I made the paper today (no, not the ones hanging in the Post Office, thanks for asking).

Being the prolific writer and literary cheerleader that I am, I've managed to talk the Rocky Mountain News into my second consecutive feature review in a row, following last month's dead-bang review of Dead Boys by Richard Lange.

This month, it's the quasi-controversial musings of arsonist Sam Pulsifer, he who burned down the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst, Massachusetts and chronicles his quest to set more hearts ablaze in Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. My feature review, titled "Igniting the Literary World," runs in the Spotlight section of today's Rocky Mountain News.

When you're done there, feel free to vist the book's clever website, which includes a detailed list of literary homesteads that deserve to be put to the fire, a memoirizer to fictionalize your own life story, and some practical advice for budding firebugs (Tip #2: "For an arsonist just starting out, it's perhaps easier to burn down a nearby home of an obscure writer rather than burn down a more famous writer's house in a more distant city.").

Don't play with matches, kids.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Roundup

Oh, what fun it is catching up with the real world. That old psychic whiplash will turn your head around. While I was gone, much of Greece burned to dust, Pavarotti sang his last aria, and the Pet Crock report turned out to be aptly named.

In other words, business as usual.

Halfway around the world, I saw Communists rally, swam in the salty seas, dodged heroin addicts in the shadow of the Acropolis, danced at a big fat Greek wedding, and learned much about Greek history. I even traded anecdotes about crime novelists with a pair of smoking Athenian desperadoes I met near the legendary battlefield at Marathon where the Greeks handed the Persians their asses back to them on a platter back in 490 BC. (Who knew George Pelecanos was Greek? The guy's a hero in the tavernas of Athens, let me tell you).

If you're wondering what the book critic takes on vacation with him, I had advance copies of Walter Mosley's new Easy Rawlins novel Blonde Faith - and I cannot recommend strongly enough that anybody who digs Walter beg, borrow or steal this book as soon as possible - and Charlie Huston's teenage wasteland The Shotgun Rule, a hell of a coda to the pulp artist's Henry Thompson trilogy and the promise of great things to come.

In case you missed it, you can review this month's crime and mystery picks by yours truly at Bookslut in the column "Grab Bag," shedding light on new titles by Andrew Vachss, Michael Marshall, Jason Starr, and other hard men of American literature. On the other side of the ocean, Colleen Mondor does a nice one-two punch on Cara Black's Parisian mysteries. Back here in New England, Shaw Miller goes toe-to-toe with Brock Clarke, whose satire An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England will soon be the subject of a feature review in the Rocky Mountain News, by yours truly. Circle of life, baby.

In non-violence-releated writing, the Kirkus Reviews Cooking Special is online, where the nice folks at Kirkus paid me perfectly good money to interview British wunderkind Jamie Oliver, BBQ architect Ted Reader, and Monterey Fish Company boss Paul Johnson, among myriad others. You foodies can also check out new titles by the lovely Giada DeLaurentis, Nigella Lawson, and an intriguing title by photographer Melanie Dunea called The Last Supper, where geniuses like Anthony Bourdain and Thomas Keller were asked to convey their wishes for their very last meal. This could be highly entertaining, in a savory, dark sort of way.

In other news...

I missed Clive Owen's carrot-gnawing performance in Shoot 'Em Up this weekend, but I'm finding the companion site, Bulletproof Baby, almost as entertaining.

Eco Libris wants me to plant a tree for every book I read. Then they send along a thank you note. Printed on paper. Something's amiss with their logic, recyclable paper be damned.

Sarah Weinman does a nice decontruction of David Peace's nuclear noir Tokyo Year Zero at the L.A. Times.

Ian Rankin is everywhere on the eve of the UK publication of Exit Music, reportedly the last Rebus novel (and why don't they publish these things simultaneously in the States, for chrissakes? Must find the cash to go to Waterstone's for Thanksgiving). The Guardian does the interview dance with Ian at the Covent Garden Hotel. The Rap Sheet, bless their black little hearts, has a rundown of more Rankin appearances throughout the UK. Sarah (again) nails the hoopla on the head with her comment, "I'm much more anxious to see the evolution of Ian Rankin, writer than the continuation of Ian Rankin, franchise."

Looks like there's another virtual watering hole to talk crime: a new message board called The Big Adios is open for business, including a guest spot by the much-lauded Tom Piccirilli, whose new novel The Fever Kill is currently on my to-do list for the week.

And on that note, I'm back at work, riding the commuter train of doom to post-vacation depression. See you around the water cooler.

Graphic Content

While I work to reestablish lines of communication and see what's been shaking while I'm away, feel free to amuse yourselves with some amazing Mediterranean graffiti. Which reminds me that I need to go order a copy of Banksy's book Wall and Piece, come to think of it...




















Friday, August 24, 2007

Exit Here

I'm taking a few days off to seek refuge in some suitable hive of scum and villany where the temptations are strong and the willpower is weak. While I'm offline, you can keep an eye out for a new Bookslut column as the month turns and the weather starts to soften just a bit.

In the meantime, if you need a fix, I suggest a visit to Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, The Rap Sheet, Shotsmag, or, in a pinch, Crimespot.

Adios, muchachos.

"Greek Tragedies, Man"

After a slight delay, you can finally read my featured review of Dead Boys by Richard Lange in today's Rocky Mountain News, titled "Dead, Brilliantly Alive."

And, to my surprise, a chorus of voices has joined me in praising this under-the-radar masterpiece. Lange has gotten glowing reviews from the Los Angeles Times, Time Out New York, and the San Francisco Chronicle, who raves in an artfully written, bizarrely global review that "What Richard Lange writes about, to cop Allen Ginsberg's title, is the fall of America."

Five Chapters has also serialized "The Hero Shot," one of the best stories in the collection, online.

If you're still not convinced, you can also go back and read "Radio Noir" in the August issue of Bookslut, which includes a short interview with the author about his mileau, inspirations and other myriad aspects of the City of Angels.

Well? Go buy a copy of Dead Boys. I'll wait.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Odd Ends

I'm feeling a bit neglectful of ye olde Bang this week, and I'm about to get a whole lot more bloody neglectful for a few weeks, so here's a few idle, mostly non-crime-related tidbits to amuse before I hang up a "Gone Fishin'" sign for a little bit.


I find this story from New York Magazine haunting for some reason. It chronicles the volatile love story and double suicide of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, two rising NYC artists who were just getting out from under the thumb of commercial work when one, and then the other, did themselves in. A veritable "Conspiracy of Two." One of the best magazine articles I've read this year.

I'm reviewing Brock Clarke's fondly weird satire An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England this week. Algonquin has opened up a clever teaser site for the book, including some practical advice for budding arsonists ("Practice. For God's sake, practice.") and an automated "Memoirizer." If the Olde Manse burns down this week, it wasn't me. Even though I can see it from here. And I have matches.

Unrelated but along the same lines, apparently there's some sort of childfree movement in France that's causing parents all sorts of anxiety. A nice piece in the Times, "Enfents Terrible" runs down the book and offers 20 reasons not to have children. ("Children will put the seal on your childhood dreams ...Children sound the death knell of the couple ... There are already too many children on the planet Children are dangerous. They will take you to court without a second thought.") I will stifle my cackling and try to contain it to this corner of the bar. Heh

Also in the times, apparently bloodthirsty lesbians are wreaking their revenge on Ian Rankin, poor bloke. Keep the left up, Ian. Elsewhere in Scottish literary news, apparently the good Mr. Rankin told a joke at a reading and everyone seems to have taken it quite seriously

I told someone earlier today that no one reads at a serious level anymore. CNN says I'm right. Here, watch devolution at work.

"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos of Dallas, Texas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.

Finally, in the Washington Post, apparently there's quite the elaborate plan for dealing with anyone within eyesight of the big W.

To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to create "rally squads" of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards or banners with "favorable messages." Squads should be placed in strategic locations and "at least one squad should be 'roaming' throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems," the manual says.

Say a prayer for the prescient Joe Strummer: "You have the right to free speech, as long as you're not dumb enough to actually use it."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Creepy Lives!

It's no secret that I grew up on and, in point of fact, learned to read from comic books.

However, it is a little-known secret that there was absolutely no filter on what I was given. Eight years old and my lair was filled with horrible images, tales, and screams from the pages of Warren Magazines. If you remember them, they were the full-sized magazine-style black-and-white comics usually found in gas stations next to old Playboys and tins of chewing tobacco. With titles like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, these were brilliantly told and illustrated stories of horror, time travel, robots and ghosts that made Heavy Metal magazine look like Disney by comparison.

One of my prized possesions, actually, is a copy of Creepy #4 from September of 1981 that I always remembered, and rediscovered in a market stall in a rather unsavory corner of London. Complete with a Frank Frazetta cover, it has the bleak time travel story "The Nut," about a scientist who's found a tunnel through time; "Son of the Nut," with the same functional portal serving as an escape hatch for two beleagured men of the present; and "Mindwar," an Orson Scott Card-like story of the last battle between two great civilizations and the personal cost for the men who fought it.

Knowing that, I'm ecstatic to hear the magazines have been resurrected for a new generation. Mike Richardson at Dark Horse Comics tells me that the company will relaunch both Creepy and Eerie in early 2008. As well as movie and television tie-ins, Dark Horse also plans to produce archive editions showcasing the magazines' glory days.

The good guys at DH are working with a ventured called the New Comic Company, which acquired all rights in all media to the Creepy and Eerie comic book series earlier this year and was formed by New York based Submarine Entertainment and Los Angeles based Grand Canal Film Works.

Contributors are expected to include Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and the master artist Bernie Wrightson (Cycle of the Werewolf, the original Creepy). I vote for Ben Templesmith and Darick Robertson to make the team, too. Who's your vote for most likely to land at Creepy?

Man, It's the Bookers

For you literary types, the Man Booker longlist is up. Here's the list.

· Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
· Self Help by Edward Docx (Picador)
· The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)
· The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
· The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
· The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (Sceptre)
· Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
· Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Viking)
· On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
· What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Tindal Street)
· Consolation by Michael Redhill (William Heinemann)
· Animal's People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
· Winnie & Wolf by A.N. Wilson (Hutchinson)

It's the first year, I'm proud to say, that I interviewed one of the nominees. Before the book was even published, I had a fascinating conversation with Mohsin Hamid, the articulate and thoughtful author of the conflicted fictional memoir The Reluctant Fundamentalist as well as the equally well-composed and popular Moth Smoke. The Reluctant Fundamentalist was featured in a very short spotlight for a Kirkus Reviews special earlier this year. My sincerest congratulations to the author on his achievement.

It seems a worthy moment to share a few insights into the creation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Here's a roughly edited adaptation of the original interview.

An Interview With Mohsin Hamid, January 2007

by Clayton Moore

Tell me about your new book. The Reluctant Fundamentalist seems to be about a man divided by his devotions.

It’s about a lot of things. It’s about the Muslim world in America. It’s about a Pakistani man, specifically, who lives in America and is very much in love with an American woman but who feels compelled to leave. It is an emigration novel, I believe. The typical immigrant novel about America tells the story of coming to America. This novel is the story of leaving America.

In a way, I believe it fits with a number of changes that have happened within America itself. America has historically been this beacon of opportunity for people all over the world. At the moment, particularly in the Muslim world, there is a feeling of being unwanted and being pushed away from America.

My understanding is that you started the draft and then 9-11 happened in the midst of it, which fundamentally changed the book?

That’s absolutely right. The idea for the book - about this Muslim Pakistani man living in America and feeling a degree of tension about where he is – was there before. My agent saw it at the time and said I’m not sure about this, why would this Muslim man feel this kind of tension in America? And then the whole world changed. It became a question of how you cope with something that has so overwhelmed your novel. It took a few years to process it.

How did the book change for you after 9-11?

I started by resisting 9-11 and tried to write the novel by setting it before 9-11. I struggled with that for a couple of years and eventually, it just seemed impossible. Then it became a question of writing this story yet dealing with the world we live in. 9-11 is in many ways the backdrop but it’s certainly not the story. It has huge impact on these characters but their story is not the story of what happened on 9-11. It’s just something which has happened in the world.

Do you have any concern that it might be perceived as autobiographical?

I’m not heavily worried about it being perceived as autobiographical. To a certain extent, the only reason an author worries about a book being perceived as autobiographical…one reason is this notion that autobiographical fiction isn’t ‘real’ fiction, that if you make something up, it makes for better fiction. I don’t know that notion is true. Secondly, I don’t want the book to be seen as a veiled autobiography because I don’t want people to think that the political views of this character are my personal political views.

Did the experience of living in America inform the book?

If I had to think over the last decade of my life of the issue that has most preoccupied me as a person, it has been negotiating this tension between the very American side of myself and my Pakistani and Muslim origins.

Moth Smoke was a book I wrote when I was largely in America. It began in my last year of college so I had only been in America a short period of time. I wrote this novel largely after leaving America although it was began before I left. It reflects on the experiences I had before I left, to a large degree.

Both novels were about a reality which I had passed through. It seemed only natural to write about America, having lived there for so long. In fact, it would have been a bit odd to insist on writing something about Pakistan.

The challenges of writing about a self divided have to be challenging as well.

It is more complicated. It’s very difficult to remove a part of yourself. What Changez has found in America is that this kind of Muslim-ness or Pakistani-ness, this tribal identity that he was not at all aware of – he was trying very hard to be an American – suddenly surged back up when he becomes threatened. Yet when he goes back to Pakistan, his love for America, and Erica, who is obviously part of America - that doesn’t go away. I think in many ways, he’s been penetrated by both of these cultures. Wherever he goes, he will always be torn.

(We discuss contemporary politics and culture in America for a bit.)

Bill Clinton’s America felt to me like a place where that tribal identity was more subdued. There was almost a common goal: the world looked at America and saw the Internet and saw lots of other things. There was a sense that we could all move in the same direction together. It felt like something that we could all be part of. Whether you like or dislike Bill Clinton, his America and the direction it was headed felt like something that everyone could join.

America today is moving in a much more non-inclusive direction. It seems to be about being the strongest and that strength not being defined as “one among many,” but really about being the strongest one, alone. In that environment, people feel threatened because America suddenly seems to threaten other places where before, America was much less threatening. America was always militarily powerful but you did not get the sense that American would suddenly launch all of these military adventures. Now that it has recently proven itself capable of those actions, the tribal identity is invoked. We can forget about our tribes if people welcome us and say that we can all be part of the same movement. But if we’re not welcomed and the tribe comes under attack, then the tribal identity comes back even in the most cosmopolitan people.

Does it feel different, living as you do, in London now?

London is very different. In many ways, from global geopolitics, the UK makes more sense in the way that they relate to the world. They know the country is not powerful enough to shape the world so it plays a more participatory role on the world stage. With that sense comes a certain degree of humility. Media – there are many different viewpoints. All of those are positives.

That said, the ability to be British is not close to the ability to ‘be American.’ In my time in America, to feel like I was an American even though I didn’t have an American passport, was very easy. I now have a British passport but I don’t feel completely British. It’s very difficult to integrate fully here. These countries are still tribal countries where there was a sort of dominant ethnic group, which they are not completely beyond. America may not place great value on other cultures but it does allow you to be an American almost completely once you are there.

(We discuss the ups and downs of living overseas).

A lot of my friends in London are Americans and they are ex-pats for the first time, as I was in New York. The ex-pat condition is something that very few Americans have experienced, particularly in London where people come feeling that they won’t feel like ex-pats because you share a common language. But that’s not the case.

Talk to me about why we only hear one side of the conversation between your narrator and his foil.

The key purpose it serves….it tries to have two characters – the narrator and the person that the narrator is speaking to. The way that monologue takes place is like the way the Muslim World and America look at one another. There’s this underlying sense of suspicion in the narrative that arises from the way the story is told. That suspicion is prevalent in Pakistan as well. Is America the country that produces the music that we love or is it the country that is going to bomb us? In America, it’s the question of whether Pakistan is full of normal people just like us or is it full of crazed terrorists? Neither side really knows so there’s this weird suspicion on both sides. By telling the novel in this manner, it tries to capture that suspicion.

It’s like a dramatic monologue, like a one-man play where a single guy is sitting on the stage talking. Maybe he has a conversation but he only tells you his half of the conversation. The other thing I like about the structure is that it allows you to remain within the realm of realism but yet do more broad things and achieve certain effects and have more space to play as a writer. We know the story is real; but the setting requires a certain suspension of disbelief. It allows you to be more playful as a writer.

What would you like readers to experience reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

I think if people could wrap their heads around the notion that animosity and love in the world are often very closely related in the world, very often within the same person. We should be very suspicious of attempts to make the world seem simple, because it isn’t. Many people I know in Pakistan who may be very resentful towards American policies went to college in America, or they’re in love with American television shows or films, or even have American friends. The world that we have now with this ‘Axis of Evil,’ or the ‘War on Terror,’ these terms are meant to make things simple. When we make things simple, we end up with very tragic outcomes. Things are more complicated. Love is actually a human instinct that should unite us with people that we may not necessarily expect to like.

It would be nice to imagine that this novel might reach a wide global audience.

It’s an interesting question. Moth Smoke became a cult hit in Pakistan and also in India. It resonated with twenty-somethings and other people who don’t usually read novels at all. It was made into a television miniseries in Pakistan and permeated the culture to a certain extent. I would very much like this book to do that as well in Pakistan and I expect and hope that it will.

But reaching a big audience abroad is a goal as well. As a writer, you’re just one voice in the six billion voice debate. If people get to hear your voice, it’s all for the good.

(We discuss inspirations and the book industry).

I also think, as a writer, I’m very much of the school of trying to exclude a reader. Many great writers that I look up to and respect from Shakespeare on down have tried to craft things that are very complex but also can pull people in. Whether it’s the great religious texts of the bible or the Koran or whether it’s great fictional texts or plays or whatever, you don’t have to alienate an audience just because you want to write something complicated.

How do you tell them? That’s why narrative is important. People tell me that literature is about character-driven thing and genre fiction is about narrative-driven things. I just don’t think that’s true. I think that narrative is a very important way of seducing your audience and hopefully taking your thoughts to places that may otherwise be impenetrable to those ideas.

There is this idea in America that culture should be popular. The Sopranos can be taken seriously as a work of art. In the rest of the world, literary writers stay in a different universe from regular readers. Completely sales figures aside – same number of books sold – if they were read by different kinds of people ranging from very literary-minded readers to people who don’t read much at all, I would be very pleased. The nicest thing anyone ever said about my novel is a guy who came up after a reading and said, “I really liked your novel. It’s the only one I ever finished.” That was great because it’s exactly what I would like to have happen: to have someone who doesn’t read books read one and be slightly affected by it.

Any other messages that you would like to broadcast about the book?

What else would I say? This novel, although it’s told as a story in Pakistan and it’s told in a voice that feels very old-school Pakistani, is really my American novel. It’s very strange, because when I look back at Moth Smoke in the light of this novel, it’s a novel set almost entirely in Pakistan but with a very American sensibility. This novel is set almost entirely in America but with a very Pakistani sensibility. I think only after writing the second one did I realize how essential both those viewpoints are to my identity as a writer.

What’s next?

I have an idea in my head. Part of what I’d like to do is to do something very different. Part of me thinks I need to engage London because I’m living here now. I think about writing something about an American living in London. As a Pakistani writer living in London, writing about an American living in London from an American point of view would be a lot of fun. I think it’s a lovely thing to do. London was well known as being the center of a colonial empire, which colonized everywhere else. Now London is being colonized because so many people from all over are moving here: the most colonial city in the world being colonized by everybody else. I might return to Pakistan for a novel as well. Who knows?