Friday, April 24, 2009

BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell trailer

Reaper Goes Hollywood

So Variety reports that Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper is going to the big screen. The writers of Ocean's Thirteen (Brian Koppelman and David Levien) will adapt the murderously funny ER-set debut novel as a vehicle for...Leonardo DiCaprio? As a hitman whose real name is Pietro Brnwa?

Myself, I think the role needs somebody with a little more heft, humor and menace (see: Clive Owen). But we'll see how it turns out. DiCaprio is producing, so due credit to him for picking up on the book's lurid appeal.

I just have to say, I called this one real early on. I ought to get a finder's fee.

"The past comes knocking for a physician with a fistful of secrets.

Medical resident Bazell opens his debut novel with a bone-crunching interlude between Manhattan ER doctor Peter Brown and a mugger whom he beats senseless, then treats for injuries. Brown soon confesses that his real name is Pietro Brnwa. He's a former hit man whose lethal trade drove him into the witness-protection program, where he reinvented himself as a pill-popping trauma physician. "It's a weird curse, when you think about it," says the killer turned doc. "We're built for thought, and civilization, more than any other creature we've found. And all we really want to be is killers." The past catches up with Brown when a terminal patient at the hospital recognizes him as the mob assassin called "Bearclaw." The patient threatens to out Brown if he does not work to save the man's life. Bazell's profane, hyperactive novel is readable and fun, and no fan of shoot-'em-ups or medical dramas can afford to miss it. Among the book's highlights is a riotous set of doctor's rounds that find Brown making out with a cancer patient, chasing down a wheelchair-bound fugitive and suffering a particularly vile needle stick.

A wildly funny mashup between genres that makes ER and St. Elsewhere look tame." - from Kirkus Reviews.

See also last year's Bookslut column "Power and Responsibility" and Josh Bazell's site for more coverage.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Kirkus Specials

While I'm thinking about it, it's worth posting up a couple of projects from the good folks at Kirkus Reviews that have recently gone to print.

Last month saw the release of the Audiobooks Special, celebrating a format that remains near and dear to my heart. Within, you'll find an audience with the talented narrators who tackled Issac Asimov's The Stars Like Dust (Stephen R. Thorne), John Grisham's The Associate (Erik Singer) and a terrific new BBC Audiobooks adaptation of Peter Benchley's Jaws, read by veteran actor Erik Steele, who's lately been burning up Broadway with his performance in 33 Variations with Jane Fonda and Samantha Mathis.

You'll also find a bit of my conversation with novelist Dan Simmons about his new novel Drood as well as plenty of features by other contributors including an interview with presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill, spotlights on new audiobooks by Stephen King, Jimmy Carter and Larry Wilmore, and a peek at a cool new collection of shorts read by Academy Award winner William Hurt.

Meanwhile, in the just-released Nonfiction Special, a hellacious variety of writers speak truth to power about subjects ranging from dirty movies to guerilla warfare. I got to talk to an old acquaintance from way back, Brad Matsen - well known for his psychedelic scientific collaborations with artist Ray Troll - about his fascinating submersion into the life of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Up-and-coming dramatist Said Sayrafiezadeh talked about his new memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, while Larry Tye gave me the rundown on his new biography of Kansas City legend Satchel Paige.

I recently had a near-miss with one of the world's most controversial evolutionary biologists in working on a special coming out next month. But I got a good practice run in by talking with Robert Wright about his new book The Evolution of God, due out in June. I also got a real treat in getting to read an early copy of the new book from James McManus, who wrote the classic crime story Positively Fifth Street. I expect a huge showing in the fall for his new history book Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, due out in November from FSG.

Within, you'll also find Craig Nelson's massive history of the moon shot (Rocket Men), an illustrated history of the Obama campaign by the editors of the New York Times (Obama: The Historic Journey) and a terrific interview with French cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert about his new collaboration with late photojournalist Didier Lefevre, The Photographer.

There. Isn't it nice to have things to look forward to?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Warren's New Column @ Wired

"Correctly tuned, the internet brings a staggering volume of detail about every moment on the planet right to my desk. For someone who earns a living through consideration of outbreaks of The Future, it’s all useful information, but that’s all it is. For the parsing and condensation of that information into knowledge, it seems we still need the structure of print publishing, a form that insists on time to think, digest and present."

[Wired UK via Warren Ellis]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

These Are Fantastic

"...the private intensity of moments rendered in such a small scale draws the viewer in, allowing for the intimacy one might feel peering into a museum display case or dollhouse.Though surrounded by chaos, hazard, and longing, the figures’ faces betray little emotion, inviting viewers to lose themselves in these crucibles—and in the jumble of feelings and memories they elicit."

(Lifted from Boing Boing)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Short Cuts

So I had several interesting diversions from work last week but the one that captured my interest most was an out-of-the-blue email from fellow Bookslut contributor John Madera, who embarked on a huge project and ended up with really interesting results.

John asked a whole bunch of writers, critics, bloggers and other ne'er do wells to come up with a list of their ten favorite...novellas?

I'm not much of a list-maker, but this particular task struck my fancy for some reason. For obvious reasons, John asked me to direct my attention to mystery and crime novellas in particular in order to fill some of the genre gaps in the list. I thought I'd have trouble coming up with that many bloody novellas but once I started digging, I was surprised how quickly it filled out. You can see my list here.

It was damned tricky business, actually, and I'm sure at least a couple of the items on my list don't fit the technical definition of a novella, but I did try to stick to the rules of the thing. Because of their length and specificity of subject, all the entries on my list at least lean towards that category in my mind.

You can also find John's introduction to the project here, as well as links to all the other contributions. Other items of note include Paul Kincaid's list of science fiction novellas, and a discussion of the whole thing over at HTML Giant.

Any gig that manages to tie together H.G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad and Amy Hempel is okay with me.

The book I would have put on the list, had I had more time to think about it? Graham Greene's The Third Man.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Hold Steady's Murder Mystery

Against my better instincts, I'm going out this weekend. Out to see an all-ages show in fact, mingling with youngsters who are probably young enough to be my own children. And why, pray tell, would I expose myself to the elements in such a perilious fashion?

Because Craig Finn is driving me crazy with his bamboozling lyrics. I'm out to see The Hold Steady, a band I'm surprised hasn't become even bigger already. How Kings of Leon gets to play the O2 in London but The Hold Steady has steadfastly remained a bar band is beyond me. Anyway, the tightly-knit members of The Hold Steady are out touring behind the new double-disc live album A Positive Rage.

I think my biggest trouble is that I approached the band's albums piecemeal. I'd hear a song here and there - I think I got turned onto "Stuck Between Stations," which references the suicide of John Berryman after hearing Okkervil River's "John Allyn Smith Sails," a really haunting version of the same sad event. After I got a couple of copies of the band's new album Stay Positive, and 2006's Boys and Girls in America, I started catching the repeating references to characters and places.

I still don't know if there's a coherent narrative there, and that's a question that someone should ask Finn, whether there's a truly whole story in his head. But in stitching together all the disparate threads in my head, it builds a fantastic murder mystery.

Finn told the Seattle PI, "I think there is a little bit of everyone in those characters, and I think everyone can see themselves in my songs and these characters. The more you firm them up with more and more details, the more you exclude people from relating to the stories."

Among the repeating characters are a couple of dangerous boys - Gideon, the destructive "cowboy on the crosstown bus," and Charlemagne, a pimp and drug addict, last seen in "Ask Her For Adderall" - "Skinny, scared and off his game, he's been hiding from those gentlemen with the same tattoos as Gideon."

There are also a couple of girls, Holly, whose real name is Hallelujah, dates all the way back to "Barfruit Blues" from the 2004 album Almost Killed Me. Certainly most of Separation Sunday is built around her. Another is Sapphire, the center of the lovely and underrated "Yeah, Sapphire," a recent track, and reportedly the psychic girl from the fan favorite "Chips Ahoy."

There is at least one murder during the course of these albums, and possibly a couple. In "Both Crosses," one of the girls recalls, "She's known a couple boys who died and both of them were crucified." Naturally, one of these might be a Catholic/religious reference, but I'm not entirely sure it is. In "Joke About Jamaica," the line is revisited as "One summer, two kids died, and one of them was crucified."

I'm fairly sure the narrator of this particular narrative is Sapphire: "She saw him gushing blood just before he got cut. She saw them put a body in a bag in the trunk." Now, is this the kid who gets killed in the spectacular "One For The Cutters," which recounts the incident from a different point of view? "The night with the fight and the butterfly knife was the first night she spent with that one guy she liked?" But then the "one guy" splits for Cleveland, and comes back with blood on his jacket.

Certainly someone has gotten what's coming to him in "Yeah, Sapphire": "I'm not drunk, I'm cut, I'm gushing blood and I need someone to come pick me up." The working theory is that it's same fatal fight and Sapphire wasn't physically present for it, even though she saw it coming. See how this thing will bend your noodle if you think about it too much?

But back to the original theme, Finn and The Hold Steady build these great little scenes that are straight out of a crime novel, like the investigation in "One For The Cutters."

"Now the cops want to question everyone present. They parade every townie in town through the station. But no one says nothing and they can't find the weapon," followed shortly by the song's best (and oft-misinterpreted) line: "One drop of blood on immaculate keds." That's all it takes to put somebody away these days.

There's another elegant little song on the new album, "Sequestered In Memphis," during which somebody is obviously getting sweated over a liaison gone wrong: "I think she drove a new Mustang. I guess it might be a rental. I remember she had satellite radio. I guess she seemed a bit nervous. Do you think I'm that stupid? What the hell, I'll tell my story again."

Even the songs that aren't about murder are heartbreaking, like "Lord I'm Discouraged," in which I imagine Holly has succumbed to the things she's seen, and someone is doing their best to look after her. "I know it's unlikely she'll ever be mine, so I mostly just pray she don't die."

Is there an answer to all these riddles? I don't know, but it's damned intriguing to try to stitch all these threads together. Maybe best to leave it with a line from Separation Sunday.

"Do you want me to tell it like boy meets girls and the rest is history? Or do you want it like a murder mystery?"

Writer, Los Angeles, California, Fiction

I'll be damned. Usually the books I champion fall by the wayside, lost in the swells of marketing gibberish or are buried in all the other crap out there.

But every so often, very rarely, somebody gets it right.

My friend Richard Lange, the blisteringly talented author of Dead Boys, won a Guggenheim Fellowship. Right. On.

The title of this post mirrors the deceptively simple description the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation granted to their latest honoree: "Writer, Los Angeles, California, Fiction."

For the six or seven of you left to whom I haven't already given copies of the book, you can catch up by going back to read my review of Dead Boys from the dearly departed Rocky Mountain News, and read my column, "Radio Noir," that integrates an interview with the author.

While we're at it, let's also grant a small preview of the man's next novel, This Wicked World. Here's a very small slice at the new book, due out from Little, Brown in June, from the Kirkus Reviews Mystery Special.

After laying bare the ragged soul of Los Angeles in Dead Boys (2007), his critically acclaimed collection of short stories, Richard Lange opens a wider canvas for his debut novel. “It’s a crime story set in Los Angeles and the desert outside,” says Lange. “It starts as something of a whodunit and morphs into a revenge caper told from the points of view of a bunch of different characters, good and bad. It’s got drug dealers, dog fighting, crazy strippers, kung fu, a rattlesnake and a fortune in counterfeit bills.” The book finds ruminative ex-con Jimmy Boone backing up an amigo by tagging along to look into the case of a dead kid on a downtown bus. It’s a wider-ranging story than those in Dead Boys, but one that resonates with the same forlorn sense of humanity. “What I tried to retain from the stories is that overarching sense of desperation and desolation, characters with complex psychologies that you find yourself liking in spite of their many failings,” says Lange. "I hope people will fall for the people in this book as well. I sure did. I felt bad every time I had to kill one."

The book is already garnering a few complimentary blurbs, like this one from Joseph Wambaugh: "The down-and-dirty events and street talk in this debut crime novel reminds me of a young James Ellroy, and like Ellroy, Richard Lange can really write."

I'll have more to say about This Wicked World next month, but in the meantime you can do yourself a favor by pre-ordering the book.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Long Fall

Because of my slightly delayed schedule in taking it to print, it seems like I'm the last person in America to interview Walter Mosley about The Long Fall, but I was actually the first. I managed to squeeze in what's becoming a semi-annual call to the author in December, long before the book's publication just a few days ago, but Walter has rightly and deservedly been on a publicity riot for weeks now. Anyway, you can get my take on the book, and his, in "Walter Mosley Takes New York," my 45th (!) column for Bookslut.

As usual, the rest of the issue is well worth checking out. I'm impressed as hell myself with a whole bunch of the newer writers, not to mention all the other crusty old columnists like myself. Paul Morton sits down with 80-year-old legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer about The Phantom Tollbooth and Carnal Knowledge, among myriad other topics. Michele Filgate talks Tesla with novelist Samantha Hunt (The Invention of Everything Else), while David Varno talks punk rock and short stories with Wells Tower (Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned), and Geoffrey Goodwin gets weirdboiled with debut novelist Paul Tremblay (The Little Sleep). Go read. This is the good stuff.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Zombie Comedy With Brains

Just adding a little update to the movie trailer below. The movie, and its complimentary site are promotional vehicles for a new novel called Breathers by S.G. Browne. I didn't actually realize it was out yet until I passed by a bookstore at lunchtime (new Doctor Who magazines, thanks for asking) and saw it was on a Barnes & Noble table of "Notable Books," which made me choke with laughter.

That's my fault, actually. I can't tell you how funny this thing is. It's so funny it made me laugh out loud in a hospital waiting room and scare the bejeezus out of everybody else in the room.

Oh, wait, come to think of it, I can tell you how funny it is. I wrote the blurb that's on the back cover of the book: "A zombie comedy with brains." Here you go.

"The dead shall walk the earth, and they’re hungry for…love?

Debut novelist Browne branches out from his mostly horror-related short stories and delivers a rousing entry in the Rom-Zom-Com genre. Based on his short story “A Zombie’s Lament,” Browne’s mortality tale begins rather grimly but almost immediately picks up speed and humor to evolve into a terrific comedy about the perils and joys of life beyond death. Browne’s hero is Andy Warner, who survived, so to speak, the car crash that killed his wife but lost his vocal chords along with his life. Reduced to a pathetic existence consisting mostly of downing his father’s wine collection, suffering Glade spray-downs from his mother and attending the occasional Undead Anonymous meeting, old Andy is in pretty wretched shape. His afterlife takes a turn for the better when he meets Rita, a pale but lovely girl who slit her own throat, and Ray, a feisty undead hunter. Before long, Andy is fighting against zombie discrimination, mutilation and other forms of abuse by those unenlightened “breathers”: “After all, what do I have to lose by standing up for myself? If being a rotting corpse with no rights and no future isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me, it can’t be that much further to rock bottom.” The book has its share of gruesomeness, but it also offers astute observations on the world in which we live. A zombie comedy with brains. --Kirkus Reviews."

If that's not enough for you, Fox Searchlight has already bought the book up as a production vehicle for Diablo Cody (Juno and The United States of Tara, etc.) One idiot on the Internet already dubbed the project (without so much as reading a line of the book): "Twilight for zombie lovers." Um, no. The offending line that made me burst out laughing in the waiting room?

"Is it necrophilia if we're both dead?"

Check it out. It's paperback - cost you less than an afternoon at the movies. If that's not enough to convince you, you can read the first chapter here.

Necrobufrin Kills Depression

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Two-Minute Warning

Turns out Elmore Leonard hasn't had enough of the movies quite yet. It looks like Harper Collins is looking for a trailer for his new book, Road Dogs. The fan-made trailer is to be no longer than two minutes, has to be submitted by May 1st, and should have "intrigue, edge and energy," according to the publisher's web site.

A better deal than most: the winner will be selected by Dutch himself, and will win a signed copy of Road Dogs, which is pretty cool. And a Kindle, but still.

You can read the first eight chapters of Road Dogs at Entertainment Weekly, so you can get caught up on Jack Foley, Cundo Rey, and Dawn Navarro, who all star in the book.

If I were entering the contest, I'd be digging up some illegal footage from Out Of Sight, personally. When I talked to Elmore Leonard about the book back in January, he said, "Foley, of course, was played so memorably by George Clooney. He says he doesn't know if he wants to play this character again, but you never know."

Come on, George. You'll go back to ER, but you won't get back in the trunk with J-Lo?