Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Whiteout is Go

I hope Hollywood doesn't screw this up (as usual).

From Production Weekly, via Dark Horizons: Dominic Sena (”Swordfish” & “Gone in Sixty Seconds”) is set to helm “Whiteout,” an Antarctic whodunit adapted from a series of graphic novels by Greg Rucka. Kate Beckinsale is in negotiations to topline the film scheduled to start shooting mid-March in Montreal and Manitoba. Penned by Erich & Jon Hoeber, the ticking-clock “Whiteout” follows U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko as she uncovers the first murder ever in the Antarctic just as the sun is about to set for six months. She must catch the killer before he leaves the ice or be stuck there with him in the dark for six months.

The description of the book is a bit simplistic in the article. Here's a better description of one of the best graphic novels and "locked-room" scenarios I've ever read, from Greg Rucka himself.

You can't get any further down than the bottom of the world—Antarctica. Cold, desolate, nothing but ice and snow for miles and miles. Carrie Stetko is a U.S. Marshal, and she's made The Ice her home. In its vastness, she has found a place where she can forget her troubled past and feel at peace.... Until someone commits a murder in her jurisdiction and that peace is shattered. The murderer is one of five men scattered across the continent, and he has more reason to hide than just the slaying. Several ice samples were taken from the area around the body, and the depth of the drilling signifies something particular was removed. Enter Lily Sharpe, who wants to know what was so important another man's life had to be taken for it. But are either of the women prepared for the secrets and betrayals at the core of the situation?

I'm not sure about Kate Beckinsale but she might be able to pull it off. She's a definitely bit more of a model type than Carrie Stetko, who looks like this.

You can read the entire first issue of Whiteout here at the Oni Press website (scroll down until you see Frank Miller's killer cover). If you're into spinoffs, be sure not to miss Whiteout: Melt, a sequel by the original creators that finds Carrie chasing down missing nuclear weapons across the deadly ice of Anarctica.

It's also worth noting that Rucka's incredibly complex spy series Queen and Country stars Tara Chace, who made her debut appearance in the pages of Whiteout.

Help feed a writer.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lurid Research

Warren Ellis is one of my very favorite writers (though I think he frightens most of us a little bit like a really intense uncle you only see, high on red wine, at Christmas time). I eagerly await his first novel, Crooked Little Vein,coming this summer from William Morrow.

The first glimpses of Ellis' dark tale appear in this interview at Newsarama.

You know Warren Ellis and Christopher Moore share a publicist? Small bloody world, this is.

Spring Fiction

After a minor delay, I see the Kirkus Reviews Spring and Summer Preview is available online. I contributed several spotlight features to this issue including the segments on The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, The Religion by Tim Willocks, and The Ministry of Special Cases,the debut novel by acclaimed short story writer Nathan Englander.

The special also has previews of several interesting books I'll have to chase down including the new satire by Christopher Buckley, a fascinating Italian entryby crime writer Massimo Carlotto, Jim Crace's mindbending look at a potential future in The Pesthouse,and Everett True's biographyof Nirvana.

Hollywood Nightmares

Every time I go in a used bookstore, I still buy books by James Robert Baker - even if I already own them - simply because they’re so damned hard to find. He was a truly gifted satirical writer, well ahead of his time but deeply troubled, finally committing suicide in 1997. Over the course of a half-dozen uneven novels, he left behind two unconventional beauties.

The first, Fuel-Injected Dreams,was only re-released in 2003 by Thunder’s Mouth Press. It was so full of delightfully filthy turns of phrase that when I first ran across it in the 1980’s, I couldn’t believe anyone would actually let you write like this. A thinly veiled portrait of the psychotic architect of the Wall of Sound, Phil Spector, it celebrates low-brow language and the visceral weirdness of sweltering Los Angeles. I dare (almost) anyone to read the beginning of Fuel-Injected Dreams, a spinning, malevolent diatribe by DJ Scott Cochrane, and not revel in the joy of its radio-inflected patois:

Well, I see by the cracked face of my Princess Grace wristwatch that it’s four A.M. and the City of Angels is a glowing necropolis for as far as my wind-tunnel eyes can see. You know, boys and girls, I’ve got quite a view from my bullet-proof glass tomb up here on the eighteenth floor of the Sunset/Vine Tower. On a good day looking east, I can see Pico Rivera and on nights like this, when it’s hot and clear, I can see a ten-car pileup on the 405 in the suburbs of San Diego. It’s hot in here tonight and that’s no accident, either. I’m suffocating in a fishbowl, gasping for breath in a plate-glass vault, drowning in pools of my own masculine sweat. I’m stripped down to my frayed Soldier of Fortune jockstrap, my rock-hard Mel Gibson torso gleaming in the soft amber light, my golden skin slick as a piston after a lube job, all because I refused to let myself be turned into a male sex object…

From there, Cochrane gets inexorably tied to Dennis Contrelle, the fictionalized record producer and the man’s disturbing obsession with one of the beehived honeys in 1960’s girl-group The Stingrays. It’s a little dated in places and is embedded with a deeply disturbing twist in its denouement but otherwise holds up well as an offbeat, sharply written pop-culture mystery referencing the maddening obsession of record collectors everywhere.

Even darker is Baker’s own crack at a Hollywood that tempted and scorned him, the satiric epic that is Boy Wonder.It’s an original idea that portrays the life story of Shark Trager, a director broken by film school who turns into the producing wunderkind of the movie industry, through the memories of his friends, enemies, lovers and family. Fans of movie trivia will love it from Shark’s birth when his dad bumps some kid in a Porsche off the road in 1955 to his final drug-addled moments plowing through a theater full of filmgoers. In-between, Baker ravages every aspect of the golden age of movie making, skewering Close Encounters, Peckinpah, Bonnie & Clyde and dozens of other celluloid moments. It has exploding suburbs, incestuous twins, chainsaw massacres and another obsession as big as Shark’s drug-addled irises.

Happy hunting.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More Things That Suck

Here's a little more material from an unpublished column. For more wit from Christopher Moore, see "A Genius In Flip-Flops: An Interview with Christopher Moore."
Frankly, it seems like bloodsucking is making a big comeback right now. Oh, sure, there are always those vampire romance novels that seem about as self-aware and lucid as a letter to Penthouse (“Dear Gothic Beauty magazine: you won’t believe what happened to me…”) but vampirism and horror in general really needs a good smack in the head every so often to make it work.

God knows Christopher Moore has the chops for it. Though not strictly a mystery or thriller, I think a rambunctious evening among the dead in atmospheric San Francisco should qualify for thrills under a technicality, so the good humorist’s latest volume - You Suck - makes my A-list this month.

Moore has been on what is, at least for him, a fairly black streak lately with the death-defying escapades of A Dirty Job.It’s good to see him return to the genre-bending horror-comedy he so dearly loves in this sequel to 1995’s Bloodsucking Fiends. That book plots the audacious and strangely touching love story between Jody, a deeply confused, newly made and hungry new vampire and her “minion” Tommy, the nineteen-year-old manager of a Safeway, leader of its dysfunctional night stockers “The Animals,” and world champion turkey bowler. Where Moore’s debut novel, Practical Demonkeeping, delved a bit far into fantasy, his entry into the vampire genre jumped into comedy with both feet, taking all the old clichés about blood, capes and so forth and twisting them into a tear-inducing, hilarious inquiry into things that suck.

Not so much a sequel as a continuation, You Suck picks up where the original left off – not the next day, not later that year but right at that moment, as Tommy confronts Jody with her misdeeds: “You bitch, you killed me! You suck!” From there, it’s easy to laugh along as Tommy learns the conventions of eating cat (gives you tuna breath), Hot Monkey Love (which turns out to be a bit rough between fellow vampires), and the peculiarities of his new minion Abby Normal, a teenager in the vein (so to speak) of Lily, the appealing goth girl from A Dirty Job. It is, as usual, a bit over the top (and generally necessitates a first reading of BSF) but during this frigid time of year when the books dry up, it’s a nice companion to a glass of dry red.


In this posting on View Askew, filmmaker Kevin Smith explains how his celebrity playlist for Itunes was created, then bumped, then revived. He uses a nice turn of phrase about the principle of "manufacturing for use," meaning that if you make something, people should see it.

In that spirit, I'm posting some material that was written for Bookslut but didn't make it into the December issue because of technical difficulties. Enjoy.
Christmas came early for me this year with a copy of No Dominion.
I’ve already praised Charlie Huston’s acrid experiment in “vampire noir,” Already Dead.That lovely little volume introduced his scowling, sarcastic protagonist Joe Pitt, a savage, vampiric operator with a quick wit who spends as much time sucking down Lucky Strikes and working the infested streets of lower Manhattan as he does partaking of the obligatory pint of blood.

Huston is getting better every time he takes a swing at a new book and No Dominion, hot on the heels of the more traditional thriller A Dangerous Man, is a sweetheart of a book. From the very first page, when Joe contemplates the physics and metaphysics of getting thrown through a plate glass window to the strains of “Sixteen Tons,” through a violent and complex conflict between warring clans over a powerful street drug, Pitt’s second act captures the superb invention of its predecessor. Yet at the same time, it deepens and massages its ingenious narrator with a romantic arc that can only come to a bad end.

Much of the beauty of Huston’s writing comes from its simplicity. His straightforward, punchy dialogue falls tellingly off the lips with the ease of television or film conversations but the words are so tightly wound that they obviously take some serious austerity on the part of their creator. Yet at the same time, Huston’s words snap with a post-Pulp Fiction tenacity that brings a smile every time. Take Joe’s acidic observation on churches, a subject that seems appropriate to both Pitt’s peculiar condition and this particular time of year:

“Churches don’t bother me. Some guys, they do. Some make a big show of it, avoiding places like this, part of the scene they think. Some are genuinely freaked out. Those are the ones that are sure we’re all cursed. They may not say it out loud, but they think it. Most of those kind, they don’t last. Who can last walking around thinking their immortal soul has been consecrated to damnation? Except the folks who think that way and really dig it. Those ones are out there, too. They bug me. Who’m I fooling? They give me the willies. But churches don’t bother me one way or another. Just four walls and a roof. And maybe a big wooden cross with a guy nailed to it. Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

Palahniuk Rants

I’m told there’s a title for Chuck Palahniuk’s new book: Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey. It takes shape from the memories and recollections of those around one Buster “Rant” Casey, an adventurous youth, possible childhood murderer, and modern-day Typhoid Mary.

Although I’ll admit that I was one of the few to really enjoy Haunted (you can read my review here) I recognize that it went way over the top for some readers, while other felt left behind in much the same way I felt about Diary. We’ll see here if old Chuck can focus more singularly with this urban tale of mischief, mayhem, plague and demolition. More from Random House:

RANT takes the form of a (fictional) oral history of Buster "Rant" Casey, in which an assortment of friends, enemies, admirers, detractors, and relations have their say on this evil character, who may or may not be the most efficient serial killer of our time.

Buster Casey was every small kid born in a small town, searching for real thrills in a world of video games and action/adventure movies. The high school rebel who always wins (and a childhood murderer?), Rant Casey escapes from his hometown of Middleton for the big city and becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing, where on designated nights, the participants recognize each other by dressing their cars with tin-can tails, "Just Married" toothpaste graffiti, and other refuse, then look for designated markings in order to stalk and crash into each other. It's in this violent, late-night hunting game that Casey meets three friends. And after his spectacular death, these friends gather the testimony needed to build an oral history of his short life. Their collected anecdotes explore the charges that his saliva infected hundreds and caused a silent, urban plague of rabies....

Expect hilarity and horror, and blazing insight into the desperate and surreal contemporary human condition as only Chuck Palahniuk can deliver it. He's the postmillennial Jonathan Swift, the visionary to watch to learn what's —uh-oh—coming next.

Monday, January 22, 2007

That's Lunch

I'm not sure I would cough up $1,250.00 for a seaside lunch with Carl Hiaasen myself but it's a an admirable fundraising concept, benefiting the Volunteer Florida Foundation and its efforts to boost literacy in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, it would seem certain that the state needs their efforts. Just look at their Governor.

I see the Foundation has also listed their other auctions online. Now, Brad Meltzer would manage to talk books and anything else just fine over a free meal; I talked to Brad about his new book The Book of Fate last year and he was a very open and clever interview subject. That Mother's Day luncheon at the Four Seasons with Mary and Carol Higgins Clark creeps me out, though.

For now, maybe you better just stick to Carl's new book, Nature Girl. You can read my slightly over-the-top review in the Rocky Mountain News if you need an introduction.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Everything Is Not Going To Be OK

Currently bending my noodle: the outstanding audiobook of Phillip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly,narrated by the truly gifted Paul Giamatti. Somehow the rotoscoping factor of Richard Linklater's film version managed to put me off but after hearing this great character actor babbling about the aphids in his lungs, I may have to give the movie a shot. After I'm done with the audiobook, of course.

Maybe Giamatti should have switched roles with Keanu Reeves in their latest movies. Paul would have been far more interesting in the role of undercover narc Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly and Keanu Reeves could have dressed as a janitor and delivered the immortal line, "Whoa, there's a chick in the pool."

I'll also be writing about a new mind-bender by debut novelist Steven Hall in my next column but there are a few new tidbits out on The Raw Shark Texts. Check out this short interview at The Bookseller and a clever little teaser site.

Update: Caught the Linklater version of A Scanner Darkly last night and overall, the translation is nicely executed. They dropped all the hippie lingo of Phillip K. Dick's Nixon-era meditation drug addiction and infused it with some good old-fashioned paranoia inspired by modern-day surveillance. It also has a very inspired performance by Robert Downey Jr. (who, after all, has some experience with the inspirational material) but I'd still rather see someone other than Keanu Reeves in that lead role, and maybe Zooey Deschanel rather than "Sticky Fingers" Winona Ryder as Donna.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Unintentionally Hilarious

This is being tossed all over the blogosphere today but I'll share it anyway. Thrill to Martin Amis going all bug-eyed over readers' questions at The Independent:

The phrase "horrorism", which you invented to describe 9/11, is unintentionally hilarious. Have you got any more? JONATHAN BROOKS, by email

Yes, I have. Here's a good one (though I can hardly claim it as my own): the phrase is "f*** off".

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mockingbird's Grand Dame

I admit that it's been years since I read To Kill A Mockingbird but always appreciated it during readings in high school and at university. But how amazing would it have been to be these kids in Montgomery, Alabama?

(AP) -- Reclusive author Harper Lee attended a high school play based on her book, "To Kill a Mockingbird," on Wednesday, then met with students who appeared in the production.

The 80-year-old Lee was invited as a special guest to be honored by education and arts officials. Famous for prizing her privacy, she rarely speaks to reporters, though she does occasionally meet with students.

The author has not published another book since "Mockingbird," which remains a best-seller even decades after its publication in 1960. Lee did not address the crowd, but later talked to students at a private reception.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ian Rankin Talks Rebus

I wanted to share this cool Ian Rankin microsite that UK publisher Orion has launched to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rankin's irrepressible police detective Inspector Rebus. It has a few details about Rankin's new book, The Naming of the Dead, which takes place during the G8 summit. You can also see some video of Ranking talking about the new book and have your own literary jam to this Rebus Groove by Irish singer-songwriter Christopher Singleton featuring some spoken-word goodness from the man himself.

From personal experience, I can tell you that Rankin is one of the smartest writers I've had the pleasure to interview. If you want to catch up on Ian's work up to this point, you can read my 2005 interview with him for Bookslut.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

New Hotness

Bookslut is back from its holiday hiatus, apparently. The January issue features my interview with Tim Sandlin, one of the guys who first inspired me to start writing. I started trading postcards with Tim over a decade ago, after he admitted in the back of one of his books that most of his fan mail came from prison. It always blew my mind when he wrote back. He's one of those guys like Chuck Palahniuk that genuinely appreciates the feedback from readers, as weird as it might be, and always has time for a word of encouragement.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when he got in touch with me last year after reading my interview with Christopher Moore, which name-checked Tim alongside John Steinbeck and other geniuses of comic writing. I'm pleased to be able to feature his work for for both old fans and new readers.

His books are (in no particular order): absurdly funny, mostly autobiographical, and distinctly reminiscent of the American west in all its faded glory. You can find out more about Tim and his new book, Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty by visiting his website.

You can also find my monthly column at Bookslut and this month is a killer, featuring short interviews and previews of new work from three of the best crime writers in the business: Elmore Leonard, Donald E. Westlake and Walter Mosley.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Death in Mumbai

I'm pleased to finally broadcast that my review of Vikram Chandra's massive Indian crime epic, Sacred Games, appears in today's Rocky Mountain News. I was tasked to read this bloody tale of police corruption and a gangster's fall from grace in just a few weeks in December and while it's definitely a commitment, it's worth the effort. Not only is it a very well-written book, despite its aspirations to literary heights, but at 900 pages, you can also use it as a blunt instrument to bludgeon your enemies.

It's too small to read but here's an image lifted from the newspaper's electronic edition to give an idea of the feature's layout.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Queen's Gambit

Is the Queen getting hip or what?

First, Queen Elizabeth tipped her gilded sword to Bono, thrusting upon him an honorary knighthood.

Now I hear she's bestowing similar honors to one writer that I've interviewed a few times as well as one highly underrated writer (who's busy as an actor).

First of all, my heartiest congratulations to Alexander McCall Smith, whom I recently caught up with in writing a healthy portion of the new Kirkus Mysteries and Thrillers Special, due out on February 1. Sandy has been made a Commander of the British Empire for his services to literature during the latest round of royal honors. He also tells me that he's working on a new Botswana novel to be published this spring as well as the fourth volume in the 44 Scotland Street series, the fourth mystery in the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and a new book starring his odd duck Professor von Igelfeld. His work is not always my cup of tea - I like a bit more blood and whiskey in mine - but he's one of the funniest people you'll ever meet.

Sandy's award follows the recent OBE given to Bill Bryson, a great bloke I finally managed to interview just before the publication of his most recent book, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid."

I'm also surprised to see an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for the vastly overworked and underrated Hugh Laurie - yes that fellow from "House, M.D." and the author of "The Gun Seller," one of my favorite comic capers. I like Laurie's take on his television character, a modernized pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, but I'll always far more eagerly anticipate his rumored second novel, "Paper Soldier."

That's not to mention the OBE granted in 2002 to Ian Rankin, who's currently dabbling in crime fighting in his local neighborhood in Edinburgh.

It's enough to make you wonder if Her Royal Highness has a certain fondness for all things literary (or criminal).