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Noir in Snow

Jan 11, 2011 in Books, Film

Mont Blanc tunnel Throughout the opening three days of the Courmayeur Noir in Fest, snow plows were busy clearing the streets of the picture postcard ski resort, creating mini mountains and snow walls of up to 10 ft high on either side of the narrow roads, which the delegates had to maneuver their way through between visits to the Palanoir complex where the films were shown and the rustic, wooden Jardin de l’Ange which served as a showcase for the literary events and press conferences. The icy roads occasioned many a spectacular slip and fall, and also a broken wrist for Stefania, the head of the Hospitality service. A heavy price to pay for the spectacular beauty of the festival’s Alpine landscapes…

The Jardin de l’Ange was packed for the lengthy conversation between Michael Connelly, this year’s winner of the Raymond Chandler Award, and leading Italian crime writer Carlo Lucarelli. It turned out to be a fascinating encounter in which the dialogue flowed, despite the inevitable simultaneous translation delays. Many of Mike’s fascinating answers to the obligatory questions were of course no surprise for English-speakers in the audience but Lucarelli did manage to extract some great nuggets, such as the admission that the character of Harry Bosch was in fact inspired by a combination of the real life story of James Ellroy and Sjowall & Wahloo’s Martin Beck. Not coincidentally, Maj Sjowall was also in town, hearty despite her age and here for the reissue of THE LOCKED ROOM in Italy. Sadly, she no longer writes these says, but was accessible, puckish and most alert to recent developments in crime fiction (she is definitely not a fan of the Stieg Larsson books, for example…). One of the curious highlights of the Connelly event was a bizarre intervention from the floor from the irrepressible Italian author Andrea G. Pinketts, one of the more colorful (for want of another word…) personalities of the local crime scene, who insisted on thanking Michael for having assisted him in once seducing a young woman on a beach, as she had observed him reading THE POET, and, from the title of Mike’s novel, had assumed Andrea was a particularly sensitive man as a result! We also learned that Mike had recently been able to view a rough cut of the forthcoming movie of THE LINCOLN LAWYER, with Matthew McConnaughey as Mickey Haller, and is genuinely proud of the adaptation; the film will be released in spring 2011. On the Friday evening, Connelly was presented with the award, a replica of the legendary Brasher Doubloon, prior to the evening’s screening of the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO, directed by Mark Romanek and featuring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Although barely on the borderlines of noir, this is a measured and moving film with a quiet beauty and sadness (and which I’d seen at the opening of the London Film Festival in October) and I was shocked later in the week to see it ignored by the jury.

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James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice

Jan 10, 2011 in Books, Film, Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Mulholland News

The following article was originally published in the fantastic Edgar-nominated anthology Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell, who has  kindly given us permission to re-print Joe R. Lansdale’s essay here. Please support this wonderful and timely collection available wherever books are sold.

Born in Annapolis, James M. Cain (1892–1977) studied at Washington College, in Chesterton, Maryland, earning his B.A. and master’s there. He worked as a journalist, screenwriter, and novelist. His novels are often mentioned in the same breath with those of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as a key contributor to the so called hard-boiled school of crime fiction. Cain resisted that label, however, stating that he belonged “to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise.” Several of Cain’s novels were adapted into films. Three—The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), Double Indemnity (1936), and Mildred Pierce (1941)—are considered classics of the American screen. Cain’s post World War II works include The Butterfly (1947), a story of incest and murder set in Kentucky, as well as his personal favorite, a Depression hobo novel, The Moth (1948). In 1970, he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.

James M. Cain was the master of hard-boiled prose, lean clean dialogue shiny as a new dime. He wrote like a demon on holiday, sexed up and hung over, and he changed the landscape of literature as surely as Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner or Raymond Chandler. But as Tom Wolfe wrote: “Nobody has quite pulled if off the way Cain does, not Hemingway, not even Raymond Chandler.”

In fact, Chandler thought very little of Cain and then adapted one of his best books into BillyWilder’s noir film Double Indemnity. The dialogue is snappier than Cain’s, and some of the scenes have a kind of high poetry about them. But Cain’s fiction stands quite well on its own and has about it a kind of working man’s muscular poetry, soaked in sweat and hormones so ripe you can almost smell it.

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My Dark Places (with sincere apologies to James Ellroy)

Jan 07, 2011 in Guest Posts, Writing

DraftingHead bent, sketching hit men on a title page, I do my best to let the blur of the convention fall away. A line forms: three people deep, clutching copies of my new graphic novel and waiting for my angular signature and brief sketch to scar their pure, untainted book. Using skills honed while penciling to music at drafting tables, I tune out noise to ensure each book’s owner receives a drawing on par with the level of quality poured into the book—a sequential history of the rise and fall of Murder, Incorporated—and with the research still living in my head, nothing will tear focus from the page, ink and line…

…Until a voice breaks through, stopping my pen, promising one hell of a story. A relative’s connection to one of the book’s gangsters, a momentary brush with Lansky, Lepke, Bugsy, or Waxey. Important enough to tell yet definitely not the first time it’s been told, performed with beats and banter so pitch-perfect either or both have been rehearsed several times before. A story, personal and dear, heard in the neighborhood and carried across the nation to bring a place, an act, a crime to those that have yet to cross its dark, dangerous path.

Capping my pen, I stop to listen. Hell; I’ve always got time for a story.

A personal crime story, like a comic book, is best experienced and traded (in my humble opinion). Picked up in a convention bar or at a panel, possibly accumulated while reading an interview, the personal crime story is perfect when related by one familiar with its native streets. “I knew a guy that knew a guy” proves poor comparison to Uncle Maury, black sheep of the family, who not only knew the guy but also delivered corned beef to his Flatbush Avenue apartment every Thursday afternoon. The story carries weight from the place it was born, evolving not only from those involved, but from the streets, avenues, and city around it.

Detroit Murder CityYears ago, living in Detroit, my friends and I prided ourselves on the fact that we hailed from the Murder Capital of the World (spoken with Honor Capitals, as if discussing the President of the United States). Detroit was dangerous, which meant we, in turn, were dangerous despite the fact that the lot of us were, in fact, short, nervous, and Jewish. But despite the truth, when it came to tales of murder, gangland crimes, or urban intrigue, every Shlomo, Dov, and Heshy in North Oak Park, Michigan, claimed to be the god-given successor to the Purple Gang itself.

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A Conversation with Scott Phillips

Jan 06, 2011 in Books, Guest Posts, Writing

Scott Phillips is the author of three of the most highly acclaimed crime novels of recent years. His debut novel, The Ice Harvest, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and won the California Book Award, a Silver Medal for Best First Fiction, and was a finalist for the Edgar Awards, the Hammett Prize and the Anthony Award. It is now a major motion picture from Focus Features. Its followup The Walkaway continued his success, with The New York Times calling it “wicked fun.” His third novel, Cottonwood, is now out in paperback.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, where much of his first two books are set, Scott lived for many years in Paris, and then in Southern California, where he worked on screenplays. Those who frequent Showtime in the middle of the night may see his name on Crosscut (1996). He now lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.

Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri. Her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, won an Anthony Award for Best First Novel and an RT Book Award for Best First Mystery. It was also shortlisted for Edgar, Barry, Crimespree, and Macavity Awards, and it was named to lists of the year’s best mystery debuts by the Chicago Sun-Times and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sophie lives with her husband and two teenage children near San Francisco, California.

SL: A while back we were talking about whether every writer secretly wants to be a musician. You, and a few other writers I admire, keep wandering over into other media like untethered goats. Why do you think we’re so distractible? I mean, symptom or cause?

SP: It’s that urge to use a different part of the brain, I think. And there’s also the urge to make money, and sometimes other media just beckon. I’m doing a novel in France called Nocturne le Vendredi, which is going to be a TV movie sometime in the next couple of years, so there’s an example of a project existing in two media at once. And then I’ve been playing music as long as I’ve been writing, but in my case it’s mostly been closer to performance art than real music, because I’m not very talented. I’m very envious of my friends who are real musicians, though.

I also go back and forth between genres, which is something you do as well. Do you think you’d go nuts writing the same kind of book over and over again, the way some people do quite successfully?

SL: Uh, yeah . . . and I’m amazed that not everyone feels this way. I was talking to some writing friends, and the question came up: if a publisher offered you a million dollars a book, with the stipulation that you could write only in that genre, would you take it? Truly, I don’t think I could do it.

I have attention challenges. But I have to say, some of the most fascinating people I know are unfocused. Or scattershot-focused. Or going in ten directions at once. Really, I think part of the problem is that all the language we have to describe such a state is pejorative . . . I have a friend who takes a lot of work to keep up with; he’s probably unintelligible to the casual listener. But he’s made the point that by trying to medicate kids (and adults) into a state of uniform mental processing, we bridle and quash the skills that are necessary for certain endeavors — among them writing. Which is not to say that beautiful writing only unfurls from an unquiet mind . . . but that such a state of affairs should not, for some, be discouraged or mended.

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The Questions Authors Fear Most

Jan 05, 2011 in Guest Posts, Writing

Light Man walking“Where do your ideas come from?”

The only other question that depresses me more is: “Have any of your books been turned into films?”

(The inference is always clear. Surely I’ll never regard myself as being a successful novelist until Ben Affleck has starred in a very bad movie based on one of my books. But back to the ideas…)

Peter Robinson, the wonderful Canadian crime writer, tells people that he buys his in bulk from Costco, while Neil Gaiman visits a lovely little ideas shop in Bognor Regis. Val McDermid tells a wonderful story of doing an event with Ian Rankin in Scotland when this question came up. Ian was at the end of a punishing six-week tour and something inside him just seemed to snap.

“Well,” he said, smiling graciously, “when you get signed by a publisher, they give you this website address and it’s got hundreds of brilliant ideas. You scroll down the list, find one you like, tick the box, and it’s yours.”

The audience laughed, recognizing the joke, but the man who asked the question came to Ian after the event and said, “If I give you fifty quid will you tell me that website address?”

What people don’t want to hear is: “I make my ideas up…out of my head.”

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Music Speaks

Jan 04, 2011 in Guest Posts, Writing

the magnificent eiffel towerThe irony was not altogether lost on me. Though irony—possibly—was not the right word. Perhaps it was just another example of the way in which life can sometimes double back, can turn suddenly and reflect itself every once in a while. A variation of déjà vu. An echo.

I sit in a darkened film-editing suite. The room is thick with smoke. I am watching a rough cut of a film by Olivier Dahan, Oscar-winning director of La Vie en Rose. On the sound system is a previously unheard soundtrack written by Bob Dylan. It is my first trip to Paris, and there I am—somewhere in an office within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower—discussing the possibility of writing a screenplay of my book A Quiet Belief in Angels (Seul le Silence). What happened as a result of that meeting, the three days I spent in Paris, the screenplay, the potential film…all of this is irrelevant to the story. What was really interesting to me about that first meeting was Robert Johnson. Forrest Whittaker as Robert Johnson, right there on the screen ahead of me. The whole backstory of Johnson—how he met Lucifer at the crossroads and sold his soul for the blues. That story.

It was a story within the film that Dahan had just made, and it was a story I’d heard before.

Backwards more than thirty years. A seven-year-old child stands in the hallway of a strange house. His mother has just died, and he has been sent to stay with a relative. The relative, a great aunt, has a son. The son is a teenager, a wild guy, a rocker, and he has a room painted black with posters all over the walls—Hendrix, Joplin, Canned Heat, Jim Morrison and the Doors. He spends his time playing records, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer.

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Noir and White

Jan 03, 2011 in Books, Film, Guest Posts

Dialogue Between Mountain and Tree...Noir in Fest, the Italian-based international film and literary mystery festival, has now been going for 20 years. Initially based in Cattolica on the Adriatic and then making a brief sojourn in Viareggio on the Mediterranean (before most of the town hall dignitaries were impeached for fraud, thus cutting off one of the festival’s principal sponsorship strands…this is Italy after all…), the festival moved from summer to winter and to the picturesque ski resort of Courmayeur, in Val d’Aosta in the shadow of Mont Blanc, and has thrived here ever since. Run by Giorgio Gosetti and Marina Fabbri, the festival is both an exciting event and a most convivial place where filmmakers and writers over the past two decades have met, become friends, and enjoyed not just films and conversation but an ever-flowing series of gourmet meals and latter night bar marathons. Without being elitist about it, it’s the equivalent to a certain extent of Bouchercon but without the fans, an occasion for professionals to meet and light a much creative spark.

I have attended all the years of the festival since being invited at the outset as the then British publisher of Jim Thompson, on whom the event focused that initial year, and was thereafter made the British delegate of the festival and supplied films, authors, and recommendations ever since, in addition to using the event as a platform for the launch of my own books when translated into Italian. I was even parachuted onto the film jury in 2002, whereby my fellow jurors elected me to the presidency of said jury in my absence one morning when I was late for breakfast. So consider me rather prejudiced when it comes to singing the praises of Noir in Fest.

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Year End Review: A Conspiracy to Believe

Jan 02, 2011 in Guest Posts, Year End Review

This week, we’ll be re-featuring our favorite posts by forthcoming Mulholland authors. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming starting in January 2011.
Anti-helicoidalAs an novelist, the question I’m most often asked actually isn’t where I get my ideas (a shame, as I’ve got a peppy answer to that), but when I’m going to write another book like Only Forward. It happened twice the other night. As this was my first novel, written over a decade and a half ago, I have to fight not to come back with a tetchy “When I work out a way of being twenty-six again, okay?” The question I get asked almost as much, however, is why my work so often features a conspiracy. This is since I’ve been a thriller writer. Before that, when I wrote noir science fiction, I was asked why my novels always revolved around a hidden realm.

They’re the same thing, I eventually realized. And so is the supernatural. And so is crime.

It took me a while to understand this. I tend to write with wide-eyed naivete, blurting what’s in my head rather than trying to promulgate any long-term agenda or plan (short-term plans are ambitious enough: I’m seldom sure what I’m having for lunch). I’ve gotten used to being apologetic for having written in a variety of genres, and for publishing under two names. Only in the last few years have I started to become bullish in declaring that I’ve been writing the same thing all along. I’ve been trying to pull aside the veil, basically, to show there’s another veil right behind—and to keep going through veil after veil, in fact, until I find what I’ve been looking for: the sense of wonder that comes from finally confronting a question that has no answer, and never will.

I’m not claiming this to be a ground-breaking insight. I recall having conversations somewhat along these lines years ago with Ralph, my extraordinary agent, who died a month ago, suddenly and far too young. Ralph Vicinanza was a rare agent (and man) in very many ways, including the profound spiritual faith he had in the power of storytelling. He understood that trying to grasp and celebrate the ineffable was fiction’s fundamental purpose, whatever guise that story took, which is perhaps why he was prepared to be tolerant of me skipping back and forth between genres like some crazed mountain goat with a sugar rush.

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Year End Review: Jess Walter and Thomas Mullen on Character, Crime, Class, and the Whole Genre Thing

Jan 01, 2011 in Guest Posts, Year End Review

This week, we’ll be re-featuring our favorite posts by forthcoming Mulholland authors. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming starting in January 2011.

Jess Walter writes about cops and feds, hapless realtors and laid-off journalists, poets and hit men. The protagonists of his three most recent novels are a mob informer living under Witness Protection and obsessed with his new voter registration card (Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award), an NYPD survivor of 9/11 with a memory problem who gets mixed up in a shadowy intelligence organization (The Zero, nominated for the National Book Award), and a struggling journalist-poet who starts dealing pot to save his mortgage (The Financial Lives of the Poets, which was showered with acclaim last fall and was just issued in paperback).

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Year End Review: Why Crime?

Dec 31, 2010 in Guest Posts, Year End Review

This week, we’ll be re-featuring our favorite posts by forthcoming Mulholland authors. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming starting in January 2011.

The Burning of BooksWhy crime? This is the question most crime writers get asked more than any other. For a long while I couldn’t answer it. Honestly, I had no idea. To start with I didn’t read crime, which is a weird confession to make and one that could see me strung up by my thumbs above a bonfire of copies of The Wreckage, a very combustible read.

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