Monday, October 11, 2010

A Very Short Interview with Neil Gaiman

I don't know if it's still true, but at the time I did this interview, I was the first journalist to speak with the great Neil Gaiman about his editorship of this year's Best American Comics collection.

The conversation went on quite a lot longer than what you see in the interview. Here's a few missing bits - consider them your interview extras for the day.

On novelists like Ames and Lethem starting to work in comics:

"In the old days, you would get, for lack of a better word, a ‘real’ prose novelist coming into the business. But they tended to create punky comics. What I love now is that we have a generation of prose writers who grew up reading and loving comics and wanting to put their own mark on them."

On the fantastic DC experiment, Wednesday Comics:

"I had so much fun doing Wednesday Comics. My first reaction when Mike Allred asked me to join him on the project was to wonder how we could take advantage of the size. How could we play with the hugeness of this thing? And we went off and we did. And the accusation that I had leveled at me on people’s blogs and reviews was the first one with which I agreed completely and said, you’re completely right. Guilty as charged. People said, he looked like he’s having too much fun.

It really was done in an interesting way. I thought that the idea of giving a bunch of people a character and telling them to go do something awesome was fantastic. The idea of someone reinventing Kamandi as Prince Valiant. Mike and I deciding to go off and do Metamorpho as a mad tribute to Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon. There really aren’t enough Bob Haney tributes in the world.It got to the point where I was thinking things like, ‘we could actually do a games of snakes and ladders that would actually be playable.’ And realizing that I didn’t care if anyone else thought it was a good idea because it made me happy.

Why comics after all this time?

It’s not at all nostalgia. The bit that I find fascinating is that nobody would ever ask a novelist why he writes plays occasionally. No one asks screenwriters why they occasionally write poems.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Your Way Out

Thanks, everybody.

My last column as the Mystery Strumpet (my most unlikely sobriquet ever at Bookslut) came out today, in celebration of the online magazine's 100th issue. I just haven't been able to keep up in recent months, and as I've explained in the column, I think it's irresponsible for me to keep the title if I can't keep up the work. Will I keep writing for Jessa, Michael and the gang? Oh, you bet. (and I'm still writing like crazy for Bookslut, The Denver Post, Kirkus and others, for all you booky publishing types who think of sending me books or assigning assignments).

That said, there's a great advantage to be had in having a free range in which to let your thoughts roam, not to mention not worrying about dropping a dirty word now and then. There's a whole wide world of books to chew up, and anyone who gets my attention earns my attention and efforts for sure, and will continue to do so.

As I told Jessa when I turned in my badge, I never had more fun writing for anyone than I did writing for
Bookslut. There's a good chance you may see me again someday with a different column, but for now I'm all shot to hell, so it's time for there to be a new Sheriff in Town.

For the record, I wrote a lot of okay columns and a few good ones. If you stumble across this blog in the ethernet long after I'm gone, go read "Radio Noir," my favorite column of all time. If that's cool, go read "Talking Crime," my crazy-quilt conversation with Don Westlake, Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosley, or "Pulp Fiction, Hard Cases and the Travis McGee Retirement Plan."

You joining me among the living can tune in one more time for a few words from Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, and myself weighing in on Arkady Ranko, great first lines, Travis McGee and Black Mask magazine. If you're interested in taking on the role of Mystery Strumpet for Bookslut, feel free to contact myself or Michael Schaub, the managing editor of Bookslut, to apply for the gig.

I pretty much said what I had to say in the column, but let me add a little coda with some words from others that have gone down over the years.

"Any desire to do a regular mystery/suspense column?" --Jessa Crispin

"If I’d been Bookslut’s Clayton Moore, fielding calls on a pre-holiday morning from a trio of prominent crime novelists--Walter Mosley, Donald Westlake, and Elmore Leonard--all with news to share about their next books, I might just have crawled back to bed afterward, content that my Christmas had been present-rich enough." --the great J. Kingston Pierce of The Rap Sheet

"I had the opportunity to talk with reviewer Clayton Moore when he was writing for Kirkus Reviews. Now he's writing about mysteries for Bookslut (his sobriquet is Mystery Strumpet). I enjoyed our conversation and I'm glad he enjoyed my book:

I’ve never been one for the outdoorsy sub-genre, although I certainly understand the attraction of CJ Box and his ilk. Yet somehow Paul Doiron’s debut novel The Poacher’s Sontranscends its setting, lending a bleak austerity to its milieu while simultaneously infusing its main character with Steinbeckian humanity.

Any reviewer who mentions Steinbeck and me in the same sentence has earned a lifelong place on my Christmas card list." - Paul Doiron, author of The Poacher's Son

"I was pleased to see The Wheelman included in a roundup of car-related crime novels over at "Mystery Strumpet" Clayton Moore takes a spin through my novel, as well as James Sallis's Drive, Andrew Vachss's The Getaway Man, Timothy Watts's Grand Theft, James H. Cobb's West on 66 and Joe Gores's 32 Cadillacs. Cheers to Moore for the kind words." --Duane Swierczynski

"It’s a great article, and I really appreciate your kind words! You really captured the essence of the line and where we are right now with our major foray into
graphic novels" --Karen Berger, editor of Vertigo Comics

"In his column Five Off the Top, Mystery Strumpet Clayton Moore trumpets The Serialist:"Last month's winner for funniest book of the month was a killer." - David Gorson

And finally, from the Bookslut blog, Clayton Moore, a.k.a. the Mystery Strumpet, gives us the benefit of his refined taste. Moore's "Mystery Strumpet's Nifty-Keen Beach Books Round-Up" conveniently organizes books by crime type -- for example " Cold-Blooded, World-Shaking Murder, 1968," for the new Hampton Sides biography of James Earl Ray , Hellhound on His Trail . These are well-chosen and unusual books, including Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre and James Sullivan's book about the late "criminal" George Carlin, Seven Dirty Words . " - Novelist

"I rather enjoyed this piece by Clayton Moore, the Mystery Strumpet of Bookslut on "Age, Wisdom, and Treachery," about creative people, age, wisdom and, well, you get the idea." - The Bookgrrl

"Speaking For the Dead: The June "Mystery Strumpet" column for Bookslut is at once a meditation on the meaning of Memorial Day and a look at recent historical novels (literary thrillers, mostly) about historical characters from the not-so-distant past. Edgar Allan Poe, anyone?" - Reading The Past

"Like so many others before him, Clayton Moore, Bookslut’s “mystery strumpet,” ponders the definition of 'thriller.' 'I usually have my own perspective on the question,” Moore writes, 'but my position waffles depending on the book, the day, and my current medication.' Moore doesn’t spend a lot of time on his pondering, however, but jumps right in and looks at three upcoming books whose thrillerish pedigrees probably won’t be much questioned: The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall (Canongate), Killer Weekend, by Ridley Pearson (Putnam), and Free Fire, by C.J. Box (Putnam). (“Ok
ay,” says Moore, “I’m going to skirt the boundaries of this month’s topic a little bit and leave you with a genuine, Edgar-winning mystery writer.”) The piece is engaging and it’s here. " - The Rap Sheet

The Rocky Mountain News ran a great piece on Dead Boys, by Clayton Moore. Also, check out Moore's blog, Bang!" - Richard Lange, author of This Wicked World.

I love this headline: 'The Spy Who Didn’t Suck.' In fact, I’d steal it in a New York minute, had
Bookslut not just used it to crown a quite wonderful essay by Clayton Moore, in which the critic discovers that fictional British secret agent James Bond isn’t a one-dimensional figure who appeared in novels by Ian Fleming that are all but unreadable today. In fact, writes Moore, contrary to the contemporary zeitgeist that would have us believe that Fleming’s protagonist is a rather embarrassing leftover from another era, 'maybe James Bond does still matter.'--The Rap Sheet

Clayton Moore's Bookslut column has a decidedly dangerous edge to it." --Sarah Weinman, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

"We're heartbroken to announce that this issue brings the final Mystery Strumpet column from longtime Bookslut contributor Clayton Moore. Clayton is a good friend of mine, and I still plan to extort him into writing for us, but he's passing on the Strumpet mantle to an as-yet-unnamed successor. (Interested? Let me know.) Clayton, man, we'll miss you, and thanks for everything. --Bookslut's own Michael Schaub

"Dear Clayton, Your article is obviously heartfelt and tremendously flattering. I appreciate it very much. Thank you. Mongo and Garth send their regards. Best, George C. Chesbro."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's Next

Well, this is getting to be a habit. For the second week in a row, the featured review in the Denver Post books section is by yours truly. Enjoy my review of Zero History by William Gibson.

I think the review is pretty good, but I was well-prepared by interviewing the author a few months ago. It's always a pleasure to hear Gibson's unique voice, whether it's in print or on the telephone. I mentioned to him that his most recent books are rather unnerving because they make the future feel like a place where no one knows what's going to happen next.

"Well, I think that is what the future feels like now," he said. "It’s what I was feeling a decade ago. I had to be really honest with myself and with the reader in admitting that I didn’t know what was going to happen, even in a limited way. I couldn’t even pretend I knew what was going to happen. I’ve never meant to predict what might happen in the future. I’ve just written about pretending that. It got to a point where it all just seemed like everything was going to be random. But we were a decade into it being kind of random, and I started to think about how I might fit into that place."

Fascinating conversation, and a terrific interview subject, even if he does make my brain hurt just a bit...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dead Celebrities

Okay, technically there are no dead celebrities in the latest kick to the funny bone from Florida satirist Carl Hiaasen, but it's not for lack of trying.

To enhance your enjoyment of Star Island, the celebrity-skewering latest novel by Hiaasen, please enjoy my interview with the novelist in the Sunday Post. Carl has been on my short list of authors to interview for a very long time, in fact since I reviewed his last book, Nature Girl, in the dearly departed Rocky Mountain News. And he was a terrific interview subject, one of my favorites so far - open, articulate, opinionated and much like the rest of us, infuriated about current events in the Gulf of Mexico. When I can have a conversation about corporate malfeasance, idiocy that's too good to be fiction, and Travis McGee, I'm a happy writer.

If that's not enough, you can backtrack a few years to "Something in the Water," my mystery column that delves into all things Florida-related, including gents like Randy Wayne White and Tim Dorsey. You can also get a refresher on John D. MacDonald with one of my first columns, "Pulp Fiction, Hard Cases and the Travis McGee Retirement Plan."

And as a late addition, here's something cool that I didn't know existed: the U.S. Library of Congress' Center for the Book once commissioned an essay by MacDonald. In response, MacDonald crafted a 26-page short story, "Reading for Survival," that features a conversation about the importance of reading between Travis McGee and his philosophical buddy Meyer. What a great way to end the day...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not The First Answer I'd Expect

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Funny Business

Definitely worth checking out: the new Kirkus Reviews Graphic Spotlight, with big chunks of it contributed by yours truly. Dive into funny books to your heart's content, and enjoy my conversations with Samuel L. Jackson, Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), award-winning novelist Neil Gaiman, the dudes at IDW and Boom Studios! who are rocking the A-Team, G.I. Joe and the eagerly awaited CBGB book (left) as well as a fond remembrance and tribute to Dave Stevens, who left behind the unforgettable Rocketeer. All this, plus a round-up of the most anticipated mainstream comics collections, a visit with Outlander creator Diana Gabaldon, and a guest appearance by Stan the man himself.

Maybe all those Wednesday afternoons paid off after all...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beach Books For The End of the World

Hell, why not yet another review of the best beach books? The beach is ruined, unless you're in California or Italy, where you can't afford it anyway. Might as well put a few beverages on ice, stay home and kick back with some slam-bang entertainment. In the new (killer) issue of Bookslut, you'll find my latest column, "Mystery Strumpet's Nifty-Keen Beach Books Round-Up," taking a jaundiced eye at some unusual suspects, among them James Earl Ray, George Carlin, Ian Fleming, Steve McQueen and Johnny Depp ('s big brother), among many others.

In the same issue, you'll find a hilarious essay on "Stalking Dave Eggars" by Elizabeth Ellen, an interview with the immortal Joe Kubert by Bookslut's increasingly impressive Aussie Martyn Pedler, an interview with rising star Brady Udall (The Lonely Polygamist) and a truly depressing but enlightening piece on the aging of Gen-X writers.

Reading Bookslut will make you a new man. Even if you didn't start out as one. Good trick, yeah?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hell and Gone

Writing about crime isn't always fun. Writing about crime fiction has always been about the fantastic, the fictional, the capers and hard knocks that capture our imagination.

Writing about the evil that men do is a lot tougher.

I'll do my due diligence and point you towards my feature review this week in the Denver Post, "A Riveting, True-Crime Approach to King's Assassination." It's a review of the well-researched and deeply creepy Hellhound on His Trail, an examination of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. by James Earl Ray. Written by journalist Hampton Sides, it's well worth picking up for those that want to know how the deal went down.

That said, if you're at all interested in the man and his great work, please consider visiting some other digs instead.

The King Center

Audio from Dr. King's speeches, including his unimaginable "I Have a Dream."

From 1956, the comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.

From Time Magazine, a photo essay on the last days of Martin Luther King.

"He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really accepting it." MLK

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why The Long Absence?

More soon, brothers and sisters. Survival requires my presence at the moment. In the meantime, enjoy my review of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky at the Denver Post, and last month's Bookslut column, "Five Off The Top."

Further bulletins, as they say, as events warrant.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Deep Drag

I saw this with my own eyes.

In 1989, I met a guy named Peter Smith, who was in the process of reinventing his life. In the process, he gave me a copy of Let It Be, by the Replacements, and one evening invited me out to a little club in the industrial outskirts of Columbia, Missouri called The Blue Note. It was a little scary - the balcony seemed on the verge of giving out - but I got to hear Alex Chilton perform "The Letter," after taking a deep drag on a cigarette to replicate what you hear on the record by The Box Tops.

I saw Alex again a few years later, after Pete left town to become a chef, at the new Blue Note on 9th Avenue in Columbia, across from my work at a little deli that served sandwiches and Rice Krispies treats to the downtown work crowd (I loved that place - if you heard Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, or Alex Chilton, for that matter, while you ordered your corned beef in 1990, it was me making it). Hell, for that matter, I heard Alex had dinner at some BBQ joint nearby, so he could have sullied my place, too.

In terms of performance, to be kind, Alex was ****-up. But brilliant, in the way only the hardcore veterans at the time could be. I've never seen that kind of messy, star-gazing show again. You haven't lived until you've heard "No Sex" and "Bangkok" performed live, and they never will be again. In that room, I saw Chuck Berry and The Breeders and The Cramps and Henry Rollins and Fugazi and the last performances of Concrete Blonde and Uncle Tupelo, and sang the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" with some 1,000+ other revelers. I did okay with my little college career.

And I saw Alex one last time, in 1993, almost by accident. I heard through the grapevine that Alex might be playing an event called Springfest. It was a little event put on each year by our college radio station KCOU, which regularly played such friends as Ditch Witch and a little band called Uncle Tupelo, which is another story entirely.

It turned out to be little, but not small. Big Star reunited on April 25, 1993. We all gathered in a little tent outside the Hearnes Center (the big auditorium) because the big hit Bryan Adams had the place booked for the evening. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies stood in for the noticeably absent Chris Bell, and they played like it was the poignant reunion it was. From the opener "In The Street" (see That 70's Show - and I hope Alex had fun with his money) to a lovely cover of "I Am The Cosmos" to a heart-stopping "September Gurls," Big Star was everything you would ever want them to be.

Alex Chilton died today. I don't care why. I'm just sorry.

I don't say this often enough. Thank you, Alex, for everything you did for me.

Godspeed to one more rock star.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Where The Hell Is Don Winslow?

I can't recall if Bang! has ever had an exclusive before, but this one's not bad.

To the left, you'll find the preliminary art for Don Winslow's new novel SAVAGES, due from his new publisher, Simon & Schuster, in July.

And if you wander over to Bookslut, you'll find this month's column, "Waiting for Don Winslow," in which I track the elusive author to his lair in California to talk about crime, the P.I. trade, Surfbonics and literary minimalism. When you combine my own obsession with a single author's output, a gracious interview subject, and a hell of a good book - in this case, two - it turns out pretty good every now and then, much to my surprise.

Go read something good, and give Don your nod of approval by tracking down The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, and pretty much anything else he writes. He's the real deal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another Brick in the Wall

Arianna Huffington on why writers at the Huffington Post (8.9 million visitors in February alone and more than $20 million in capital investment) don't get paid (via Galleycat):

"Self expression is the new entertainment," she explained. "We never used to question why people sit on the couch for seven hours a day watching bad TV. Nobody ever asked, 'Why are they doing that for free?' We need to celebrate that moment rather than question it."

Words fail me.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Finest Kind

This is why you do the work. You do it to the best of your ability. You do it every day. And that's how you hit a career average that puts other writers to shame.

Robert B. Parker keeled over at his desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts yesterday. He was 77 years old. He was working. When he checked out, he'd written more than 75 published books, with more on the way.

Whatever you might have thought of his output, Parker was a giant of a writer. I myself have been reading his books since I was ten years old. The man wrote three books a year near the end and you could tell he wrote them, unlike a lot of other bestseller-fodder novelists I could name who just turned over their name to a paper mill. His books were almost always "For Joan," which is a lesson for everybody.

I've long thought of compiling a book of interviews with crime writers, both the legends and the new kids coming out swinging, precisely because we ought to capture their stories for this very reason: nobody is around forever. Bob was on a very short wish list of mine for a real interview, largely interrupted for personal reasons, when we were living less than a hour away from each other in Massachusetts. I'll always be sorry we didn't get the chance to talk, but I'll always be glad I could walk into any airport bookstore and breathe easy knowing his books were waiting for me.

As usual, the great and wise Sarah Weinman has better words than I, as well as a comprehensive list of the tribute pouring in.

I believe in good guys and I believe in bad guys. Unlike most people, I'm just not sure which is which. Guys like Parker? They were pretty sure about who was wearing the white hat.

Thanks, Bob.

Oh, speaking of the new kids on the block, the Edgars were announced today. Congratulations to everybody involved, but especially our comrades Charlie Huston, Dennis Lehane and Megan Abbott. You folks keep killing people and I'll keep writing about you.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Latest From Limbo

I wonder if this is what purgatory feels like. Not in the original sense, as explained so well by George Carlin in his famous bit "Heaven, hell, purgatory and limbo." But I'm told that purgatory is supposed to be a temporary purification that prepares one for a state of grace. I like that idea, both that these tough times are temporary and that there' s a little grace on the way. Can't do limbo, man. Got to keep moving forward.

I've been keeping up with the writing, but it's definitely heading in new directions. Economic pressures have finally led me back to holding down a day job, which often makes me feel like I'm between two worlds at the moment. On the bright side, it's letting me make less mercenary choices about the things I write, but on the other, there's less time to write. But you make your choices, take your chances and hope for the best.

That said, here are a few new pieces to share while I figure out what the new writing model looks like.

At Bookslut, now under the new management of the charming and hilarious Michael Schaub, you can find the first column of the year, "The Writing on the Wall," which details some of my own internal struggles with the business of writing and visits some fascinating titles, both very new and very old.

At The Denver Post, you'll find my latest review of A Good Fall, a fantastic new collection of short stories by the eminent immigrant writer Ha Jin.

The new column reveals one of the drawbacks of writing a monthly column: sometimes, you speak too soon. In it, I lamented the recent decision by Nielsen to suddenly and precipitously kill off not only Editor & Publisher but also one of my last remaining venues, Kirkus Reviews. But it seems that for the moment, Kirkus has gotten a reprieve.

So, at least for the moment, I'm still in the business, part-time. For starters, you can read the publication's special, "The Best Books of 2009," featuring my own interviews with some fascinating writers. See inside for a chat with Don McRae about The Last Days of Clarence Darrow, Richard Flanagan about his devastating novel Wanting; Andrew Rice about his terrific journalistic work about Uganda in The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget; and newly-minted National Book Award-winner T.J. Stiles about his biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Last Tycoon.

Elsewhere around Kirkus, the year finished up with some strong other specials. In the "Religion and Spirituality Special," I got to interview one of the world's foremost religious scholars, Karen Armstrong, as well as the imminently cool Reverend Scotty McLennan (the basis for Doonesbury's Reverend Scott Sloan!) about the fantastically titled Jesus Was A Liberal. Nearby, you can also find rundowns of the Best Children's Books and Best Young Adult Books of 2009.

To end, here's a few links that have caught my jaundiced eye recently.

The media column at the LA Times hits the problem right between the eyes in "Freelance Writing's Unfortunate New Model." Myself, I'd lean towards something like Ginsberg's line about watching the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, as I watch my friends and colleagues struggling to squeeze their creative selves into the new matrix of the publishing industry. Fortunately, James Rainey is a bit more upbeat: "The sooner they can take the free out of freelance, the better."

GalleyCat looks at "How Writers Survived The Great Depression," and "A Peek At Our Tablet Reading Future." Be interesting to see how one impacts the other. Also there at the publishing industry watchdog, they list "Publishing's Brightest Moments in 2009," which is all about the words Twitter, Digital Reader, Stephenie Myer and Dan Brown. Seems like there ought to be some sort of hotline number at the end of that one.

When do you know something has gone terribly wrong? When Rupert Murdoch makes sense: "There's no such thing as a free news story."

There are still things to say, and surely more to come later, but let's end on a high note: "Goodbye (At Last) To The Decade From Hell."

See you around the water cooler.