NEW POLICY—LB’S BOOKSTORE CAN NOW FILL INTERNATIONAL ORDERS!
Maybe we got sick of disappointing people. Maybe we got tired of apologizing.
Or maybe it’s just pure and simple greed. Always hard to rule that out…
Whatever it is, we’re now taking and filling orders from anywhere on the planet. We ship international orders by USPS Priority Mail, and the costs aren’t low, and there are forms for us to fill out. But if you’ve got the money, honey, we’ve got the time.
All of this is a result of our closing the old website store and opening anew on eBay, where LB’s Bookstore is better equipped than ever to serve you.
May 25, 2012
The Specialists is now on special at LB’s Bookstore for $4.99 as a signed hardcover first edition. It’s also eVailable for all eBook platforms; see the listing in About LB’s Fiction to order the eBook.
My novel The Specialists was published as a paperback original by Fawcett Gold Medal. Some years later, James Cahill published a first hardcover edition of the book, and requested that I furnish an introduction. Here’s what I found to say about the book:
I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m most often identified as the creator of series characters. My two active series, concerning a bookselling burglar named Rhodenbarr and a sober drunk named Scudder, are the ones people are most likely to know about. Readers with a wider range may be familiar as well with a series of seven novels about an insomniac named Tanner, and another of four novels about a horny kid named Harrison.
A relative handful will have followed the adventures in short–story form of two other gents, an attorney called Ehrengraf and a killer named Keller. But that’s about as far as it goes. Hardly anybody, asked to name all of my series, would come up with The Specialists.
A fat lot they know. As far as I’m concerned, The Specialists is unequivocally a series novel. As it happens, the series is only one book long. But I figure it’s a series just the same.
What on earth is he talking about, Maude?
Easy, there. I can explain.
In the spring of 1966 I moved into a big old house on a small old lot smack in the middle of New Brunswick, New Jersey. I set up an office for myself on the third floor. I had a massive old desk, and the movers couldn’t get the thing up the last flight of stairs. It wouldn’t fit. Most desks of that vintage disassemble, but not this sucker. They had to cut the back legs off it. I propped up the back of the desk with two short stacks of paperback novels, plopped a typewriter on top of it, and went to work.
Three and a half years later, when we moved to a place in the country, I left the desk right there, and I left the books to keep it from tilting. By that time the desk didn’t owe me a dime, because I’d sat at it and written a whole slew of books. I’d already written the first Tanner book in Racine, Wisconsin, but I wrote the other six in New Brunswick, along with After the First Death and Such Men Are Dangerous and more pseudonymous work than I’ll admit to at the moment. (I wrote No Score, the first Chip Harrison novel, in that house, but not on that desk. I moved downstairs to the first floor and wrote it on the breakfast–room table. I can’t remember why.)
I also wrote The Specialists at that desk. My then agent (and still friend) Henry Morrison suggested I might try to come up with a series, and he liked the idea of a group of guys working together, in the tried–and–true manner of A League of Gentlemen. I hadn’t read the book in question, but I got the idea. And I wrote a couple of chapters and an outline and pitched the idea as a series to an editor at (I think) Dell. Whoever she was, and wherever she was, she thought it sounded good, and I went home to my desk to finish the first book.
And I did, and you in turn have read it. . .unless you’re one of those people who read the afterword first and then read the book. If you’re of a more conventional temperament, you may have noticed how very much a part of a series it is. I did all the series things, did them with considerable calculation. I dropped in tantalizing little references to past adventures, figuring we’d hear more about them later on. I gave the characters back stories I could build on and play off of in future books. I did all kinds of things along those lines, because it was quite clear to me that I wasn’t writing a novel, I was writing the first installment of a series. My deal with Dell (or whoever it was), when we finalized it, would be for three books, and who knew how many I’d wind up writing? My guys could go on having adventures until their gruff old colonel grew himself a new leg. Hell, I could write about these bozos forever!
I finished the book without a problem, and Henry liked it, and he sent it over to Dell. (I think it was Dell.) While I’d been breezing along on the book, the editor who’d liked the idea had gone somewhere else, and her replacement didn’t like the idea, or the book, either. Henry took it back and sent it to Knox Burger at Gold Medal, who had published a number of books of mine, and who liked it just fine. I signed a contract, and then I got a call from Henry.
“Knox was wondering,” he said, “if The Specialists is the first volume of a series. Shall I tell him yes, and that you’re already hard at work on the next installment?”
“God, no,” I said.
“Tell him it’s complete in and of itself,” I said.
“But I thought—”
“So did I,” I said, “and it turns out we were both wrong. Because I like the book, and I sort of enjoyed writing it, but when I finished it I realized something. I don’t want to write about those guys again, ever. I liked them as characters, and it’s the kind of book I like to read, but it turns out it’s not the kind of book I like to write.”
There was a pause. Then Henry said, “That’s really strange.”
“I know it is.”
“I was sure it was going to turn out to be a series.”
“So was I, and we were right. It’s a series. But it’s a very short series.”
“Just one book long.”
“Just one book long,” I agreed. “But a series nonetheless.”
And that’s what it is. I hope you enjoyed it. I like it, I must admit, and I’m happy to see it in print in such a handsome edition. I’m glad you’ve got it on your shelf, and I’m happy to have it on my shelf.
And who knows? Maybe someday I will want to write about those guys again. . .
Well now. Jim Cahill’s edition has long since gone out of print, and I still haven’t written further about the Colonel and his merry band. But The Specialists is available again, now as an ebook, and I’m not half chuffed to see my one–book series out there, find a new cyber–audience for itself.
Hmmm. You know, maybe I should write more about the lads. . .
“If you don’t know who Lawrence Block is, page down to my previous piece. And if you don’t know who Donald E. Westlake was, get thee to a Googlery. His Parker series – written under the pseudonym Richard Stark – is as strong a collection of hard-boiled crime fiction as you’re ever likely to see,
“If you’ve never heard of Sheldon Lord, Alan Marshall, or Andrew Shaw, you’re probably not alone. They’re the pseudonyms Block and Westlake used when collaborating together on the three “soft-core” books in a collection I stumbled across earlier today called Hellcats And Honeygirls.
“This discovery delights me. I’ve recently begun to collaborate with a group of great young writers on a couple of projects that should be coming out this summer – one noir, one erotica. And I’ve also begun to collaborate more closely with one writer in particular. To the point that we have a plan to write a novel together.
“Now I’m not saying either of us could ever hold a candle to Westlake or Block – though my partner has created a tuff girl called Holly Hellbound. And I know we’re both still learning our craft. But we work well together and we have fun and I can think of worse inspirations than two of American’s greatest storytellers.
“And the thing, the real thing, is that this takes us back to the time when top class writers shared pen names and wrote together without worrying about prestige or art because the things they needed most were to get paid and establish a reputation within the industry. An attitude I think will make a comeback in these exciting electronic times.”
Along with this generous review, Evangeline has reposted a pair of her earlier takes on books of mine. While I can’t imagine you’ll take as much delight in them as I did, they’re worth a look.
Note that the Subterranean Press hardcover edition of Hellcats is out of print, and selling at a premium in the aftermarket. The three individual novels, however, are available as Open Road eBooks: A Girl Called Honey Kindle Nook So Willing Kindle Nook and Sin Hellcat Kindle Nook
I do have a box of author’s copies of the Subterranean Press triple volume, and will probably offer the book for sale in the near future.
February 11, 2012
Not Comin’ Home to You for 99¢!
Today only, Open Road’s eBook of Not Comin’ Home to You is on sale in Amazon’s Kindle store for 99¢. (The list price is $9.99, the usual Amazon discounted price is $7.69—so this is a deep discount.)
And here’s the Afterword I wrote for the Open Road edition, to make the purchase a little less of a pig in a poke:
“Not Comin’ Home to You was the third and last book I published under the pen name of Paul Kavanagh. The first, Such Men Are Dangerous, was purportedly narrated by its author, a burnt-out CIA operative–turned-recluse; the second, The Triumph of Evil, was a third-person novel of political suspense featuring a Central European assassin. Not Comin’ Home to You is a work of fiction inspired by, but not too closely patterned after, a real-life murder spree that took place some fifteen years earlier in Nebraska.
“It’s hard to see what Paul Kavanagh’s three works have in common, aside from fitting under the broad canopy of crime fiction. I’ve speculated in the afterword for The Triumph of Evil as to what my reasons may have been for writing under pen names, so I’ll spare you a reprise of that; suffice it to say that the three Kavanagh novels, at the time of their writing, were the books I viewed as my most serious attempts.
“Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate killed a batch of Nebraskans, including her family, in 1958. About ten years later I thought of making something out of it, and I saw it as source material not for a novel but for a film. At the time the only screenwriting I’d done had been a draft for a producer who’d optioned one of my Tanner books. Nothing had ever come of that, but I discussed my new idea with my agent and wrote a treatment (essentially an outline) for the proposed film. I sent it to my agent, and he shopped it around, and nobody cared. I had other things to do and I did them.
“I had written the screen treatment in the attic of a house in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I didn’t think about it again until we’d spent a couple of years in a farmhouse near Lambertville. I realized that what hadn’t gone anywhere as a screenplay could be a novel, and as I recall I wrote it in a couple of weeks of fairly intense effort. I’d been in the habit of writing my books in New York, in one of a series of pieds-à-terre I kept for that purpose, but toward the end of my time in that house I finally started doing some writing there.
“I didn’t have a den or study but there was a splendid Jacobean refectory table in our dining room, and I wrote Not Comin’ Home to You at that table, starting work late at night when the rest of the family was asleep. I suspect the fallow years since I’d written the treatment had been useful ones; my unconscious had had plenty of time to figure out what to make of the story, and it was very real for me as I wrote it.
“I deliberately set the story in present time—the early seventies—and deliberately avoided the facts of the case and the actual life histories and personalities of the real-life killers. I figured the hell with all that. This was a novel and needed to be reimagined altogether.
“I showed it to my agent, and he showed it to Clyde Taylor at G. P. Putnam’s Sons publishing. I’d called it Just a Couple of Kids. Clyde didn’t care for that and suggested I use the title of a song I’d written for the book. I went along with it because he was the editor and I wanted to keep him happy. But I don’t think it was the right title. Kids would have been better. Or Just Kids. Or, I dunno, something.
“Both Clyde and I were optimistic about the book’s possibilities, not only in bookstores but on the screen. Then, shortly before book publication, Terrence Malick’s film Badlands was released, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as Starkweather and Fugate. That killed any chance of a film sale.
“When I saw the movie, I fell ill-used. I certainly didn’t have any proprietary hold on the source material and it wasn’t unlikely that someone else would be similarly inspired, but my screen treatment had been shown around a couple of years before the movie was made and there was a scene in my treatment that I’d invented out of whole cloth.
“In my treatment, and again in Not Comin’ Home to You, the two killers take refuge in a vacant farmhouse, and have a little domestic interlude during which they are decent, nonviolent people who even take pains to leave the premises in good condition before they move on to resume their killing spree. Now this never happened and nothing like it ever happened, but I thought it would be a nice dramatic touch.
“And so did Terrence Malick, evidently; there’s a similar interlude in Badlands, in which the two build a sort of tree house complex, lashing poles together. (They construct in a couple of hours what would take anybody else two or three weeks, but that’s Hollywood.) At the time, I was certain whoever was responsible for that scene had read my treatment and plucked the idea out of it, and I had fantasies of being introduced to Malick at a party, say, and decking the sonofabitch.
“I never did run into the man, but if I ever do, I have to say he’s safe from my wrath. He probably thought up the scene the same way I did, recognizing that it would work dramatically and that the storyline called for that sort of a break.
“Irish Alzheimer’s is what they call it when you find yourself forgetting resentments. I would appear to be in its early stages.
“A word or two about the song. I wrote it for the book and then used it as an epigraph. While the book was “by Paul Kavanagh,” the song was credited to me, Lawrence Block.
“When I finished the book, my wife read it—she didn’t read everything I wrote, but she read this. I’d decided I was going to dedicate it to my three daughters, but she made an uncharacteristic request: Would I dedicate this one to her? That seemed reasonable enough, and I amended the dedication accordingly:
To my daughters
Amy, Jill, and Alison
and to their mother…
“The marriage, which had almost ended six years earlier, crashed permanently in the summer of 1973. I moved back to the city and my agent Henry Morrison placed the book with Clyde Taylor. I kept Clyde happy by agreeing to his title. And so a book called Not Comin’ Home to You bore the dedication quoted earlier.
“And then about a year after the book came out, a fellow got in touch with me. He was a pianist and composer and voice coach who he lived on the Upper West Side, and his first name was Mack. (I’ll be damned if I can remember his last name, and Google seems incapable of helping me out. I last heard from him in 1977; he was playing piano for a Broadway show, and we met for a drink in the upstairs bar at Sardi’s. An awfully nice fellow, and I’m sorry we lost touch.)
“He contacted me in the first place because he had a young singer he was coaching. He’d picked up my novel, read the lyric, and thought it would be a great song for her. He’d actually written a tune for it, and she’d been working on it and wanted to include it on a demo album, but for all he knew it already had a melody, and might even be recorded, and—
“Well, it wasn’t and it hadn’t, and it was all fine with me. I met him and met her and even went to the recording session. I’d written it as a country song, and his was more of a rock version, but it sounded OK.
“Nothing ever came of it. I’ve long since forgotten her name, and I don’t know if she ever had a career, but if she did, my song’s not what got her started.
“Strange where things lead you, and where they don’t. If this rings a bell with any of y’all out there in ebook country, let me know about it. I don’t really expect to hear from Mack at this late date, or from the singer (an attractive girl, with a good voice), but it could happen. Stranger things do, all the time.”
Note: This reminiscence appears in Afterthoughts, a collection of around fifty similar strolls down Memory Lane in aid of various backlist titles of mine. Afterthoughts is on special 365 days a year, available for a mere 99¢ at the eTailer of your choice—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever eBooks are sold.
Read on for a recent review of Afterthoughts:
January 23, 2012
Andrew Wheeler’s review of Afterthoughts
“Lawrence Block is one of the great mystery writers of our time; this is indisputable — and “our time” ranges back to about 1960, when Block started his transition from a teenage hack writer of sex novels (at amazing speed) into a writer with wider interests but a usual home in the field of crime fiction. But he’s never written explicitly at book length about his career — though he’s obliquely tackled it from several angles, including his books on writing (starting with Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print) and his memoir of racewalking, Step by Step — though the introduction to this book reveals that he did write 50,000 words towards a general memoir, A Writer Prepares, in the mid-90s, but crashed immediately afterward and hasn’t been able to get back to it.
“But Afterthoughts is the next best thing: it collects forty-five short afterwords, written over the last decade or so for reissues, in print or electrons, of Block’s older books, under his own name and most of his pseudonyms (Jill Emerson, Sheldon Lord, Andrew Shaw, Paul Kavanagh), all of which talk about the writing of those particular books and, to differing levels, what was going on in Block’s life at the time.
“It’s not a memoir, exactly — but it’s not not a memoir, either, and that deeply Blockian ambivalence to the clean, straight, obvious answer makes this a wonderful book for Block fans. He writes more thoroughly and in detail about both his early writing life — those sex books, those pseudonymous books, the quickie thrillers — and his personal life at the time than I’ve ever seen him do before. He doesn’t reveal everything, and he doesn’t tell it straight through — but Afterthoughts does become a memoir-in-parts, the way some novels are built up out of disparate short stories: each bit reveals one facet, and then the next reveals another facet, until, in the end, there’s a clear view of Block. It’s not the view, though: I won’t presume to speak for him, but I’ve always gotten from his best work a feeling that human behavior and even selfhood are terribly contingent — any man is who he is at that moment, because of what happened a moment ago and ten years ago, and there are many events and actions that can be described, but not entirely explained.
“So Block tells us what he can: what he remembers, what he judges worth telling, what doesn’t hurt others (he dances around the edges of this; his love-life apparently had some very tabloid-ish chapters), and what is relevant to the backstory of any particular work of fiction. Block’s prose is smooth and lovely as any of his mature work: he’s a writer whose work is always deeply enjoyable to read, with pleasing sentences mustered carefully into pointed paragraphs that add up to precise essays — even as he affects an off-hand, here’s-what-I’ll-tell-you-next tone. Afterthoughts is a fine mosaic memoir of this writer’s career, but it’s also of interest to anyone who cares about writers’ careers in general, about the workings of publishing in the ’60s and ’70s, or just the varied ways that good stories can come to be.”
October 1, 2011
My Afterword for THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC
For my first all-out venture into self-publishing, I’ve collected all the Matthew Scudder short stories, added two new pieces along with an introductory appreciation by screenwriter/director Brian Koppelman, and brought out the resulting volume as an eBook and Print-on-Demand trade paperback. Isn’t it pretty?
I wrapped the book up with an afterword (duh!) to tell a little about how and when the various stories were written, and where they appeared. And this page seemed an appropriate place to share it with you. Perhaps it will induce you to order the $2.99 eBook via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, or Smashwords. Or it might move you to order a signed copy of the trade paperback from one of the mystery booksellers listed on Matthew Scudder’s Page, or directly from LB’s Bookstore.
OTOH, if you’re not going to purchase The Night and the Music, at least the following will let you know what you’re missing…
ABOUT THESE STORIES
I began writing about Matthew Scudder in the early 1970s. My first marriage was in dissolution, and I was living alone in an apartment a block from Columbus Circle. I wrote out a series proposal, my agent made a deal with Dell, and the three books flowed from my typewriter one after another: The Sins of the Fathers, Time to Murder and Create, and In the Midst of Death.
Paperback distribution in general was problematic during those years, and Dell’s troubles were greater than most; they returned much of their manuscript inventory, paid for but unpublished, to authors and agents, and but for the personal enthusiasm of editor Bill Grose, Scudder might never have seen print.
The books were published, but distribution was spotty and sales slow, though people who read them seemed to like them well enough. Paperback originals don’t often get reviewed, but the three Scudder novels did receive a fair amount of critical attention, and Time to Murder and Create was shortlisted for an Edgar Allan Poe award.
But there was certainly no enthusiasm for continuing the series beyond the initial three books, and no reason to believe another publisher would want to take it over. It certainly looked as though I’d be well advised to turn my attention to other books, with other characters.
Scudder, I found, was not that easily abandoned. And so in 1977 I started writing a short story about him, “Out the Window,” and it ran long enough for us to call it a novelette. Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine ran it in their September issue, and two months later they printed another, “A Candle for the Bag Lady.” (The latter was briefly retitled “Like a Lamb to Slaughter,” so that it might serve as the flagship story of a collection with that title, and that’s a story in itself—but one I’ll save for another time.)
Those two novelettes helped keep the character alive for me. A couple of years later I took a chance and wrote a fourth full-length Scudder novel on spec, and Don Fine published it at Arbor House. That was A Stab in the Dark, followed in fairly short order by Eight Million Ways to Die.
That was a pivotal volume, for me and for Matthew Scudder. It was twice as long as the early books, and was as much about the dynamics of alcoholism and the general frailty of human existence as it was about the particular murder investigation which drove the plot. The book got a lot of critical attention; it was shortlisted for an Edgar and won a Shamus award outright. But while it looked like the start of something big, the party appeared to be over.
Because how could I go on writing about Scudder? In a sense, the five books and two stories amounted to a single mega-novel, and it had all been resolved in Eight Million Ways to Die. By confronting and owning up to his alcoholism, my protagonist had come to terms with the central problem of his existence. He’d had a catharsis, and what human being, fictional or otherwise, gets more than one of those?
I figured I was done with Scudder. His d’etre, you might say, had lost its raison. I wished it were otherwise, as I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes and writing in his voice, but I wasn’t willing to force a book into existence.
And that might very well have been the end of it—if not for the third story in this volume, By the Dawn’s Early Light.
Some years before, Robert J. Randisi told me he was hoping to find a publisher for a collection of original private eye stories. If he managed to do so, would I agree to write a story for the volume? It seemed safe enough to say yes, since the likelihood of my ever hearing further seemed remote at best.
But Bob, the indefatigable founder of Private Eye Writers of America, came to me not long after the publication of Eight Million Ways to Die to report success. He’d sold his anthology to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press, and now he wanted a story from me.
I explained that I seemed to be done with Scudder. Bob was disappointed but understanding. Otto was also understanding, but this didn’t stop him from whining and coaxing and wheedling. I explained it was out of the question, and then I went home and figured out how to do it. The story could be a flashback, with a sober Scudder recounting an event from his drinking days.
It worked rather well. Alice Turner snapped it up for Playboy, Bob tucked it into his anthology, and MWA gave it an Edgar for Best Short Story. And then a year later I added a couple of additional plot threads to the story and expanded it from 8500 words to 90,000; the resultant novel, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, is the favorite of a good number of Scudder fans.
It was to take several years before I found myself able to continue the real-time Scudder saga, with his story continuing in his sober years. I picked him up in 1989, with Out on the Cutting Edge, and the books have continued to follow at reasonably regular intervals. In 2011, I went back to fill in a gap; A Drop of the Hard Stuff, while framed with a late-night conversation between Matt and Mick Ballou, takes place in 1982-3, a year or so after Matt leaves an untouched drink on the bar at the end of Eight Million Ways to Die.
And over the years I’ve continued to write short fiction starring Matthew Scudder. “Batman’s Helpers” grew out of a friend’s experience in street-level trademark enforcement; Bob Randisi found room for it in Justice For Hire. “The Merciful Angel of Death” was written in response to the AIDS crisis, and appeared in New Mystery, Jerome Charyn’s International Association of Crime Writers anthology.
I’ve since become friends with Howard Mandel, the jazz authority, but hadn’t yet met him when he got in touch through my agent; Howard was promoting a local jazz festival, and thought a short jazz-oriented piece from me, featuring Matt Scudder, might provide a nice highlight for the festival program. “The Night and the Music” was the result, more a vignette than a story, but I liked the way it turned out, and the sense it provided of Matt and Elaine and their particular part of the city. Over the years, it’s come to be my performance piece; I tent to trot it out when a short reading is called for.
The next three stories are similar in structure. In each, Scudder looks back on an incident in the past, from his days first as a patrolman and then a detective with the NYPD. In “Looking For David,” it’s the killer’s motive which only comes to light years later, when Matt and Elaine encounter him in Florence. “Let’s Get Lost,” its title drawn from Chet Baker’s haunting song, recalls an ex-officio bit of police work, dating back to when Matt was a married cop and Elaine his hooker girlfriend. And “A Moment of Wrong Thinking” puts the spotlight on Vince Mahaffey, the veteran plainclothes officer with whom Matt was partnered in his early days in Brooklyn. There are references to Mahaffey in several of the novels, but this gives us a closer look at him.
All three of these stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
“Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen” was inspired by the final episode of The Sopranos, and was written to be the text of a limited-edition broadside produced by Mark Lavendier. Aside from that appearance, it is published here for the first time. Like “The Night and the Music,” it’s more a vignette than a story, but chronicles an important and perhaps surprising development in Ballou’s life. (Though Elaine swears she saw it coming…)
Finally, “One Last Night at Grogan’s” brings Matt and Elaine Scudder together with Mick and Kristin Ballou for an evening rich in nostalgia and revelation, one more night with music. The story was written specifically for inclusion in this volume, and has never appeared anywhere before.
September 19, 2011
AFTERTHOUGHTS in Hard Cover!
When Afterthoughts first launched as an original eBook, many of you let me know that you were far more interested in a printed book. And some of you bought the eBook only to write me that you wanted a printed copy as well for your library. I’m happy to report that Open Road has a Print-on-Demand paperback on the way, and it should be up and ready in a matter of weeks. The price is not set yet, but my best guess is that it will be somewhere between $9.99 and $14.99. As soon as I have more information, I’ll post it here.
But If you want this book in a truly outstanding edition, you can order it right now and receive it sometime in October. The legendary Otto Penzler of The Mysterious Bookshop has arranged to publish a deluxe hardcover edition of Afterthoughts, with a very limited press run. In an uncharacteristic burst of enthusiasm, I agreed to sign all the copies. The price is $35, and that’s a tad higher than the 99¢ eBook, but I’ve a feeling the edition’s going to sell out in a hurry. Best bet: order toll-free at (800) 352-2840. Or contact the bookshop via email— firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve somehow missed Afterthoughts altogether, I should tell you that we’re keeping the price of the eBook at 99¢. It’s had tons of buzz on Twitter and throughout the blogosphere, as it seems to resonate particularly well with writers; ten people have reviewed the Kindle edition on Amazon, and every one of them gave the book five stars. So it’s a hit, and a bestseller, and all of this makes me particularly pleased that Otto will be doing it proud.
1.800.352.2840. Tell him LB sent you…
August 20, 2011
Five Stars for Anne Campbell Clark!
Here’s a review just posted on Amazon by “Voracious Reader.” It’s hugely satisfying to me, not just because it may induce some readers to become acquainted with this early work of mine, but because it demonstrates the way ePublishing and the social media allow books to find their way to the audience most likely to appreciate them. Because Open Road was eager to make my whole backlist eVailable, Passport to Peril was once again out and about. Because I blogged about it here, and mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter, it came to Voracious Reader’s attention. Now I don’t know VR, but we’re fellow tweeps on Twitter, and that led VR to PTP, and it turned out to be VR’s kind of book. And, because online reviews and, yes, the social media allow readers like VR to share their enthusiasm, the book has a better chance to reach readers than it ever had back in 1967. (And not just because back then most of y’all weren’t out of diapers…)
Enough from me. Here’s what Voracious Reader has to say:
5.0 out of 5 stars
If you like the Helen MacInnes genre, Irish folklore, history and music, or Ireland, this book is for you!
Passport to Peril is Lawrence Block writing in literary drag circa 1967. He wears it well.
As he discusses in his Afterword and on his blog, Block was purposefully aiming for the audience of what one might call the Helen MacInnes genre; books that feature a lovely young woman in a foreign and exotic locale unwittingly drawn into a net of intrigue and danger.
Having devoured many books of this type in my youth because of the opportunity for `armchair travel’ and the interesting background knowledge that they offer, I feel well qualified to say that Block’s excellent entry in this genre not only stands the test of time but also surpasses his models in many ways.
His likable and courageous heroine is a folksinger, who has traveled to Ireland in order to record and collect Irish folk songs. A sense of menace pervades her journey, however, beginning with a mugging during her brief stopover in London. It becomes increasingly clear that those she meets are not always what they seem and that she has become the target of a mysterious and malevolent plot. And, of course, there is also a romance, handled so well here that it fits seamlessly into the plot and is not distracting even to someone like me, who is normally bored senseless by romance or sex in my reading material.
Block clearly knows the Ireland of the late nineteen sixties in which his story is set from personal experience. He lovingly portrays the Irish culture, history, folklore, and, especially, folk music that make up a large and deeply moving part of what is otherwise a highly entertaining tale of intrigue. Some of these passages brought me almost to tears–a feat not easily accomplished.
I highly recommend this book both as a thoroughly enjoyable read and as a glimpse of the now vanished world of Ireland during the nineteen sixties.
August 14, 2011
AN UNKNOWN PEN NAME! A LONG-LOST BOOK! ROMANCE! INTRIGUE! IRISH FOLK SONGS!
And here, without further ado, or further exclamation points, is the afterword for a book nobody ever heard of, by a pen name on one ever heard from before or since:
PASSPORT TO PERIL
by Lawrence Block writing as Anne Campbell Clark
In 1966 I was living at 16 Stratford Place, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I’d spent a year in Wisconsin as an editor in the coin supply division of Western Printing, and just when it looked as though I might have a future in the corporate world, I realized it was the last thing I wanted. I’d been writing books all along, and I moved east and resumed writing full-time.
My agent, Henry Morrison, came to me with an assignment. Lancer Books, for whom I’d written a few books during Larry T. Shaw’s editorship, wanted to publish a romantic-espionage thriller in the tradition of Helen MacInnes. I hadn’t read anything by Ms. MacInnes, though I knew the byline; her books were published in hardcover, and frequently wound up on bestseller lists. Mine would be published as a paperback original, and bestseller status would be not even a fleeting dream.
I don’t know if I actually read any of the books which were to be my model. I probably skimmed a couple. I knew what was required—a clean sweet likable American girl as the heroine, a reasonably exotic foreign locale, and a couple of people who were not what they appeared to be, including an evident villain who turned out to be the unlikely hero and love interest, and a dashingly attractive good guy who turned out to be an absolute rotter.
I could do that.
And I knew just where to set it. Ireland. Where else?
I’d actually been to Ireland, which gave it a leg up on the rest of the world. In the fall of 1964, a few months after the move to Racine, my wife and I flew to Limerick and spent the better part of two weeks driving around Ireland. We had a day in Edinburgh and a few days in England, but Ireland got the bulk of our business.
Aside from brief forays into Canada and Mexico, this was my first time out of the States, and if it felt like an adventure, it felt even more like a homecoming. It’s clear to me that I spent at least one past life in Ireland. Among my earliest memories are ones of listening to Irish songs on the radio. (There was a girl who sang “Toora-loora-loora” on a local amateur show, and I’m pleased to report that she was the winner three weeks running.) I had a set of the Book of Knowledge, and from it I learned all the lyrics to Wearin’ o’ the Green.
When I had begun selling short fiction and was casting about for a book to write, I decided a novel of the Irish rebellion and civil war might be a good choice. But what did I know about it? I amassed an extensive library of English and Irish history, and read a surprising amount of it. And, around the time that my interest in numismatics was steering me toward the job in Wisconsin, I began collecting Irish coins and tokens and medals.
No question, then. I’d set the book in Ireland.
Ever since the trip, I’d been picking up records of Irish folk music. The Clancy Brothers, of course, but also a slew of Folkways albums on which various singers, some more gifted than others, collected songs of the 1798 Rising and other blighted periods in the land’s sad history. As G.K. Chesterton wrote:
For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.
Well, why not make my heroine a folksinger? Why not send her to Ireland to collect songs? There, of course, she could meet the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the sheep in wolf’s clothing, and things would look decidedly dark for a while, but eventually the sun would burst through. I mean, it would have to, sooner or later. As far as we could make out, it was always either raining or about to rain in Ireland, but maybe I could cheat and have a little sunshine toward the end.
I went to New York to write the book. Don Westlake had sublet a studio apartment on West 24th Street in Chelsea; he’d lived there briefly, during a marital rough spot, and kept it as a sometimes office until the lease was up. I moved in, and brought home Passport to Peril ten days later. I don’t know if the title was mine, though I rather think it was. I know the pen name was mine, and I know that forty-five years later nobody else on earth knew it.
Henry knew back then, but I’m sure he’s long since forgotten. My first wife would have known, but I don’t think she ever read the book, and would be surprised if she recalls anything about it. Irwin Stein at Lancer would have known, but would have had no reason to remember. Among the book-collecting fraternity, no one had a clue. This book, and Fidel Castro Assassinated!, are the two works of mine that somehow escaped detection. The latter, written under the name Lee Duncan, was recently reprinted as Killing Castro by Hard Case Crime, and has since become available as an OpenRoad eBook. Passport to Peril now makes its first post-Lancer appearance as an e-book, and I can only hope you’ve enjoyed it.
I read it myself recently to ready it for publication, and I was surprised to find that I liked it. Remember what Yeats wrote?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave. . .
True too of the Ireland of the 1960s. It was a curious pleasure to revisit the time and place, if in my own work.
August 9, 2011
DEAN WESLEY SMITH BOOSTS AFTERTHOUGHTS IN HIS INDISPENSABLE BLOG
“Anyone who wants to be a writer, who is thinking of being a writer, or who just likes to read how a writer thinks will want to read Lawrence Block’s new book on writing called Afterthoughts. Plus it gives a very real, very clear picture of how things were in a long-ago time in this publishing business. Writers, you MUST READ Lawrence Block’s Afterthoughts.
“Afterthoughts entertains, informs, and teaches. It doesn’t get better than that from a grandmaster of fiction…It’s only 99 cents, so even the most broke writer on the planet can afford this one.
“Go Read Afterthoughts. Have I said enough? This is called a recommendation, folks.”
August 8, 2011
DOM RISK REVIEWS AFTERTHOUGHTS FOR IBOOKS UK
“Afterthoughts is three things. Firstly it is a collection of all the prologues & epilogues that LB has added to various stories throughout the years as they’ve received new attention. Secondly, it is a fantastic introduction to not only the unknown, but also the known titles by him. I consider myself a big fan, having several of the lost gems that for years LB had disowned, yet it reminded me of the existence of the Tanner series that I never really tried before. Obviously that will be remedied forthwith. Third, and most importantly in my view, it’s an autobiography of Lawrence Block through the years that generally matter to us strangers – the writing years. Reading about the aspects of his life that inspired sections of his stories was just fascinating to me.
“One might view Afterthoughts as really good marijuana – it is the gateway book to get you onto the harder stuff – be it the Heroin of Scudder (serious, hard hitting); the Magic Mushrooms of Bernie (makes you giggle) or the Ecstasy of Chip Harrison (horny but nice with it). Pretend they are Pokemon – you’ve gotta get them all!”
August 7, 2011
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT AFTERTHOUGHTS…
I received the following IM from a prominent small-press publisher: “Larry, understand that I don’t have the @#$%ing time for this sort of nonsense, but I started reading Afterthoughts today, and found myself a quarter of a way through before I could stop myself. You’ve done us readers a great thing by gathering all of those essays together.” Bill S.
And here are some posts by Facebook friends:
“Finished it last night, thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll have some comments about it on my blog sometime next week, more than likely.” James R.
“LOL, I started mine yesterday too. I ended up reading into the wee hours of the morning. Thanks for doing this!! ” Debbie S. W.
“I’m reading it too, and find myself wanting to read each of the books. Which was your master plan, yes? Good thing I already have a lot of them!” Susan C. P.
“Just started Afterwords and I can already tell that I’m not going to get my chores done today!” Lisa O. W.
“Read it through in one sitting which was amazing considering that I stopped every few minutes to download one of your books. I think my Nook is about to burst into flames…” Mary McC.
I was able to assure Mary that her Nook could take it. In fact a principle applies here that’s rather like that underlying weight resistance training. The more books you load onto your Nook or Kindle, the stronger it becomes. Should Afterthoughts inspire you to treat your eReader of choice to a good nutritious meal, may I recommend that you go to the About LB’s Fiction page of this very blogsite? Some of the eBooks, especially the new ones from Open Road, can be almost impossible to find with Amazon’s temperamental search engine. Here on my blog you’ll find a list of everything that’s presently available (updated as new titles are released) with live links that will take you right to the correct order page.
August 2, 2011
AFTERTHOUGHTS ON SALE FOR IMMEDIATE DELIVERY!
AFTERTHOUGHTS, my new book consisting of individual essays written for some fifty works of mine, is now available as an Open Road eBook for the bargain price of 99¢. If you pre-ordered Afterthoughts for Kindle, you’ve received it by now; it soared through cyberspace this morning. If not, you can order it right now for Kindle or Nook
The posts below this one will give you an idea of what you’ll get. For each of my 40+ Open Road eBooks, and for several other titles as well (all eight Evan Tanner books, for example, and a few examples of Midcentury Erotica not yet ePublished) I’ve written a discussion of the book and of the circumstances of my life at the time it was written. Somewhere along the way I realized that these pieces, taken together, constitute the memoir of my life as a writer people have been asking me to write for decades. I’m glad I waited, because I found myself being much more open and candid than I would have been even a few years earlier.
Why only 99¢? Because my publishers and I suspect you’ll be sufficiently intrigued by some of what you read to buy some of the books in question. But if all we get from you is 99¢, and all you get is this one book to read, we’ll all come out of it just fine.
In case you missed it, here’s the link again. Afterthoughts.
And now read on and sample some of the book’s contents:
July 25, 2011
In May, while I was out in California promoting the just-published A Drop of the Hard Stuff, I teamed up with Robert Silverberg for an onstage dialogue at a library in the Bay Area. We talked about our separate genres, crime and science fiction, but much of our talk concerned our shared past in what we’ve come to call Midcentury Erotica. (Mulholland Books has since posted a transcription of the entire session on their site.)
An enduring embodiment of my own adventures with paperback erotica is Campus Tramp. Christian Feuerstein, an ardent Antioch alum, was instrumental in getting the book reissued by Creeping Hemlock Press, and two days ago I had lunch with Christian and her husband, Michael Heffernan, and we talked about the book and its totemic place in the college’s institutional mythology. So here’s my afterword, written originally for Creeping Hemlock and subsequently included in Open Road’s eBook.
In June of 1955 I graduated from Bennett High School, in Buffalo, New York. The school was named after one Louis J. Bennett, and you now know as much about the man as I ever did. One’s name on something enduring–––a school, a bridge, a building–––is thought to provide immortality of a sort, but if that’s immortality, well, I’m with Omar Khayyam. Take the cash and let the credit go, because what’s the big deal about having your name bandied about by people who haven’t got a clue who you were?
But I digress.
I graduated from Bennett, I spent the summer as a counselor–in–training at Camp Lakeland, and in September I arrived at Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. My parents had both graduated from Cornell, as had both of my mother’s brothers, and it had been taken for granted that I would follow in their wake. But sometime in my junior year they’d heard about Antioch, where the son of a friend of a friend had gone, and decided it was just the thing for their son. Antioch’s most striking feature was its co–op plan, whereby students were placed for half of each year in jobs designed to give them genuine vocational experience. They liked that, and they also learned that Antioch was a refuge for the quirky and the unconventional, and that sounded about right for young Larry.
The summer before my senior year, we visited the campus on the way home from a Florida vacation. I seem to recall a student showing us around, pointing out buildings like a hunting dog pointing out game birds. Did it make an impression? Not that I recall. My parents thought I should apply there, so I did. They thought I should apply to Cornell as well, so I did that, too. I was a pretty suggestible kid, and inclined to do as I was told.
All of that changed, but never mind.
I was accepted at both schools, and I learned I’d get a nice scholarship to Cornell, having scored high on the New York State scholarship exam. My folks sent me to Antioch anyway, and not without financial sacrifice. They really thought it would be good for me, and, looking back, I guess it was.
I spent the whole of my freshman year on campus in Yellow Springs, as did a substantial percentage of entering students. I had known for a couple of years that I was going to become a writer, and I wrote some poems and short stories. I submitted them to magazines with no real hope of success and regarded the inevitable rejection slips as badges of honor, and ample compensation for my efforts. I displayed them with some pride on my dorm room wall.
The school year ran through June, and come August I was in New York, living in Greenwich Village and working in the mail room at Pines Publications, a diverse publisher of paperbacks and magazines. I returned to Antioch for the fall semester, spent the winter job period working in Buffalo at the Erie County Comptroller’s Office, went back to Antioch for the spring term, and then arranged that my next job would be Own Plans–––I went home, bought an aging Buick, and drove it to Cape Cod, where I intended to get a subsistence job while writing stories. I’d almost sold a story that I’d written while living in the Village, and figured I could rewrite it and sell it, and write other things, and sell them, too.
I got a room in an attic and wrote a batch of stories, but all in all the Cape didn’t work out too well, and I wound up in New York, where I went to an employment agency and took a blind test and landed a job as an editor at a literary agency. Every day I would read a batch of stories submitted, along with reading fees, by what the world had not yet learned to call wannabes. It was my task to write them lengthy letters assuring them that they were supremely talented (they were not), that it was the plot structure of their stories that was at fault (that was the least of it), and that we would welcome further submissions from them, with further fees. (That last, I must say, was the truth.)
It was purely wonderful experience, the best possible training for a writer, and I could see right away that this was not a job I wanted to abandon at the end of a three–month Antioch job period. Besides, I’d sold the story I revised on the Cape, and had every reason to assume I’d sell more, now that I was working for a literary agent. So I dropped out of Antioch and kept the job.
If it was too good to give up after three months, it wasn’t so great that I wanted to hang on to it for more than a year. I resigned at the end of the spring of 1958, went back to Buffalo, wrote a sensitive lesbian novel in a couple of weeks, sent it to my agent, went off to Mexico with my buddy Steve Schwerner, came back sooner than we’d planned, and, on the strength of that lesbian novel, got an assignment from my agent to do a book for Midwood Tower, a new firm under the aegis of one Harry Shorten, devoted to the publication of sexy paperbacks.
I wrote a book called Carla, and it was catnip to Harry Shorten. There was one scene in which the titular heroine (and that’s the right adjective, trust me) has it off with a gas pump jockey in the service station’s grease pit, and Harry thought that scene was the cat’s pajamas. It blew him away, so to speak, and he wanted more.
Well, here’s the question: How are you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?
All I wanted to do, really, was write books and stories. And I’d sold upwards of a dozen stories to the crime fiction magazines, and some articles to men’s magazines, and a little of this and a little of that. And Harry Shorten wanted more books from me, and the first house that got a look at that lesbian novel, Fawcett/Crest, decided they wanted to publish it. So I could write books and stories and actually get paid for them, or I could read Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett and write papers on the Eighteenth Century English Novel.
Well, what do you think happened?
I got through the year, but don’t ask me how. I did try to drop out during the fall, but was persuaded to change my mind. I edited the Antioch Record winter quarter, and that went okay, but during the two academic terms I did not exactly cover myself with glory.
Then summer came, and I couldn’t find a co–op job that I liked, and don’t suppose I looked very hard for one. I arranged to go Own Plans again, and moved to New York, where I took a room at the Hotel Rio on West 47th Street and began writing books.
The first was Campus Tramp.
You were probably wondering if I’d ever get to it, and so was I. But here we are, in July of 1959, and there I was, in my room at the Rio, typing furiously. By this time I’d written and sold four books–––Strange Are the Ways of Love, by Lesley Evans, published by Crest, and three novels published by Midwood under the name Sheldon Lord–––Carla (which I mentioned having written in Buffalo) and two books I knocked off during that year at Antioch, A Strange Kind of Love and Born to be Bad.
Now my agent informed me that a new publisher, one Bill Hamling, was starting a company to be called Nightstand Books, and that I’d been chosen to write for them. Midwood had been paying me $600 a book, and Hamling would pay $750.
I decided a college novel might be just the ticket. I’d been trying to figure out what to try for Fawcett/Crest–––they, after all, had paid me $2000 for that lesbian novel. But on some level I didn’t really believe I was good enough to write for that good a house, and that kept me from trying. I’d been thinking my second book for Crest might be set on a campus, and when Nightstand came along I took that idea and aimed it at them.
And wrote Campus Tramp in a couple of weeks.
The only college with which I was familiar was Antioch, so it was an easy decision to set the book there–––or at its fictional equivalent, which I called Clifton. And, to amuse myself and any other Antiochian who might read the thing, I gave every character in the book the name of an actual Antioch dormitory as a surname. Since most of the dorms were named after people, guaranteeing them the immortality of, say, Louis J. Bennett, it wasn’t a stretch to fasten their names to human beings, albeit fictional ones.
And, while I was at it, I named the buildings on Clifton’s campus after some Antioch people.
I finished the book, walked a block and a half to Fifth Avenue, and turned in the manuscript to my agent, who dutifully sent it to Hamling, who thought it was just fine, even if it didn’t have anybody screwing in a grease pit. I was invited to pick a new pen name, and chose Andrew Shaw. And Mr. Shaw now had an assignment to produce regularly for Nightstand, even as Mr. Lord was still very much in demand at Midwood. The only place that didn’t want me, it turned out, was Antioch.
It was not long after I turned in Campus Tramp and started writing something else that a letter from Antioch’s Student Personnel Committee reached me at the Rio, informing me that a review of my performance the preceding year left them with the sense that I might be happier elsewhere.
I thought that was damned perceptive of them. I would indeed be happier elsewhere, no question about it, and wasn’t it considerate of them to point that out to me? I’d already tried to drop out once, had been talked out of it by my parents, but now I had the perfect excuse. I’d been, as the British say, sent down. (It sounds much nicer than expelled, doesn’t it?) And, having been sent down, I could stay down. I was free.
I think–––and thought at the time–––that I could have talked my way back in. The tone of the letter suggested as much. But why would I want to do that? I had books to write.
And then a curious thing happened. Campus Tramp was published, and word got around Yellow Springs that it was my revenge on the school, that I’d savaged the place as a way of getting even.
Getting even for what, for God’s sake?
For expelling me? That was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me. For schooling me for several years? I can’t think where I might have more enjoyably or profitably spent those particular years. I had no quarrel with the place, and if it was anything vis–à–vis Antioch, the book was a wink and a nod, a veritable homage.
Besides, when I wrote it I still fully expected to return to Yellow Springs in the fall. I had a year to go, and then I was scheduled to graduate. I didn’t much want to go back, but I’d planned to do it anyway, so I certainly didn’t think of myself as burning any bridges with Campus Tramp.
Over the years, the story of Linda Shepard became a part of campus folklore. I’ve heard of copies commanding unlikely prices at Senior Sales. A young woman I know—the aforementioned Christian Feuerstein—has been known to give dramatic readings at alumni gatherings.
Nightstand reissued the book a few times over the years, in one instance doing the curious task of un–Bowdlerizing it–––i.e., some poor schnook of an editor went through it and added dirty words, in recognition of looser standards in the industry. Consider this schlepper whenever you start to think you have the worst job in the world.
I never thought Campus Tramp would be around in the present century, and never thought I’d want to allow it to happen–––or to put my own name on it. But when Creeping Hemlock Press proposed a handsome new edition, how could I say no?
After all, I wrote it. And I’m never going to have my name on a high school, or a bridge, or even a public toilet, so I have to take my Louis J. Bennett–style immortality where I find it. Remarkably, I find I’m out–and–out delighted that it’s now available as an ebook. An old friend from—yes, Bennett High—recently emailed me to say he’d read and enjoyed Campus Tramp, and somehow found elements to praise therein. And praise, like immortality, I’ll take where I find it. Why not?
July 20, 2011
My ePublishers at Open Road just made Deadly Honeymoon part of Amazon’s The Big Deal promotion, dropping the price from a not-unreasonable $7.99 to a grab-it-quick bargain price of $1.99. And the other day my agent made an audio deal for the book with Dreamscape. What better time to share the afterword I wrote for the eBook?
The premise of Deadly Honeymoon, that is. It was Don Westlake’s idea, and I remember the evening he recounted it to me. My then–wife and I were at an upper flat in Brooklyn’s remote Canarsie section, where Don and his then–wife lived. We’d get together a few times a month, at their place or ours, and sit for hours talking and listening to records. And, as often as not, drinking something.
Don and I sometimes showed each other work in progress on evenings like that. I remember reading a dozen pages, typed on the same model Smith–Corona manual portable that he’d use for the next half century, in which a man was striding purposefully across the George Washington Bridge; when a motorist offered him a lift, the fellow—Parker, by name—told him to go to hell.
“This is great,” I said, or words to that effect. Do you know where it’s going?”
“No,” he said, “but I think it’ll be interesting to find out.”
Indeed. Don wrote twenty–four books about Parker without ever telling us his first name; the last, Dirty Money, was published in 2008 a few months before his death.
Besides showing each other what we’d been writing, we talked about what we were thinking of writing, and one night Don mentioned an idea he had: a young couple on their honeymoon, the groom beaten up and the bride raped, and the couple, rather than report the incident to the police, decide to seek justice on their own. Did he have a title? He did. Deadly Honeymoon.
We drank some more beer and talked of other things, and that was that. This would have been in 1961. By the middle of the following year my wife and infant daughter and I had relocated to a house in a suburb of Buffalo, and Don and his wife and sons had moved to a house in Englishtown, New Jersey. And it would have been sometime in 1963–4 that I picked up the phone and called him.
“Remember Deadly Honeymoon? Did you ever do anything with that idea?” He hadn’t. “Well, do you think you’re going to?” He allowed that it seemed unlikely. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “I can’t get it out of my head. Would you mind if I took a crack at it?”
He told me to go ahead.
I don’t remember much about the actual writing of Deadly Honeymoon, which suggests that it went smoothly enough. It was published in 1967 by Macmillan, and constituted my first appearance in hardcover. Everyone assumed this was a Big Step Up for me, and in a way I suppose it was, but I knew the book had not gone to Macmillan until half a dozen paperback publishers, starting with the folks at Gold Medal who’d brought out Mona (now Grifter’s Game) and Death Pulls a Doublecross (now Coward’s Kiss) had declined to publish it. Gold Medal had paid a $2500 advance for each of the books they’d done, while Macmillan was willing to go $1000.
Still, hardcover publishers took you to lunch, and I got two or three very pleasant lunches with my editor, a thoroughly charming woman named Mary Heathcote. That has to count for something. And my parents were very proud, and that’s something, too.
When Don read the book, his reaction was interesting. He liked my idea of having Dave and Jill go after the bad guys together. “I’d have sent her home to her parents for the duration,” he said, “or stuck her in a motel somewhere. And he’d have done it all on his own, and then reclaimed his bride in triumph.”
Here’s the thing—I’d always assumed, from that initial moment in Canarsie, that their revenge would be a team effort. That was the idea I thought I was stealing. But it turned out that I’d stolen that part of the idea from my own self.
Never mind. I dedicated the book to Don. Least I could do.
It was Henry Morrison who sold Deadly Honeymoon to Macmillan, and the ink was barely dry on the book’s first printing when he sold movie rights to producer William Castle. No end of screenwriters took a shot at adapting it, and the project just got worse and worse as it went long. The film did get made, and was released rather tentatively in 1973, with the title Nightmare Honeymoon. It starred Dack Rambo and Rebecca Dianna Smith, with Pat Hingle as the crime boss, and it was set in New Orleans, and, let us come right out and say it, it stank on ice. The formidable Elliott Silverstein, who gave us such a genuine delight in Cat Ballou, directed Nightmare Honeymoon, and I understand he thinks even less of the picture than I do.
In case you were wondering, it’s not available from Netflix. And that’s okay with me.
In book form, Deadly Honeymoon has been in and out of print over the years. Macmillan sold paperback rights to Dell, and a couple of other paperback houses have reprinted it since then. And now it’s available as an ebook, and isn’t that a wonder?
HERE’S WHAT I INITIALLY POSTED ABOUT AFTERTHOUGHTS, BEFORE THE BOOK BECAME AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER:
When I was preparing forty-plus backlist titles for publication as Open Road eBooks, I decided to add value by contributing an afterword of 1000-2000 words to be appended to the end of each book. It turned out to be fun to do, and I frequently found I had more to say about the circumstances of writing the book, and my life at the time, than about the text itself. After all, anyone reading an afterword could be presumed to have read the book, and no one ever mistook me for James Joyce or my books for Finnegan’s Wake. You don’t need me to tell you what you just read.
What I didn’t stop to realize was that the only people able to read my afterwords had already bought the books, and no matter how interesting my recollections might be, they wouldn’t be prompted to download a spare copy. I was preaching to the choir, after having first chased everybody else out of the church.
Then it struck me that, taken together, my various afterwords constituted a piecemeal memoir of my early years as a writer. I’d been urged to write such a memoir for years, and once turned out 50,000 words of one only to abandon it. And what I was writing now was better, because one thing age does, on its way to transforming you into a drooling and doddering wreck, is to render you rather more candid than you’ve been in the past. You get so you just don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of you.
So why not put all these pieces together and call them a book? And toss in some other bits, including the intros I did for the eight Tanner novels, and one written for a Mystery Guild special edition of The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling. And so on. And, because the book’s likely to serve a promotional function, why not make it remarkably easy to buy? Why not put it up there for 99¢—not as a short-time special, but as a regular thing?
My friends at Open Road liked the idea, and the eBook, “Afterthoughts,” should be on sale sometime in August. Rest assured I’ll make sure you know about it. [ON-SALE DATE IS AUGUST 2; PRE-ORDER NOW!]
But in the meantime here I am with a brand-new blog, and I’ve added this brand-new page to it, and perhaps I can use it to give you a foretaste of “Afterthoughts,” and possibly even induce you to sample one of my less-familiar works.
Where to begin? With this one, I think; it’s a book I still have a fondness for some 45 years after I wrote it. Some people see it as a forerunner of the Matthew Scudder series.
In the summer of 1964, I moved from the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda to Racine, Wisconsin, to take an editorial position in the coin supply department of Whitman Publishing Company, itself a division of Western Printing. I enjoyed my time in the corporate world, but a year and a half of it turned out to be enough, and in early 1966 my then–wife and I and our two daughters moved into a well–appointed large house in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was down the street from my agent, Henry Morrison, and a block away from Don Westlake, my best friend.
I’d done some non–numismatic writing during my sojourn in Racine, completing the second Jill Emerson novel (Enough of Sorrow), a Gold Medal crime novel (The Girl With the Long Green Heart), and the first Tanner adventure (The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep). In New Brunswick I installed my massive oak desk in a third–floor study and went right to work on a second Tanner book. I was free–lancing full time again, and glad to be back to it.
Once a week I’d go to New York, generally getting a ride in from Henry. I’d participate in the weekly poker game that four or five of us had kicked off in 1960—and that continues to this day, albeit monthly rather than weekly. And sometimes, after the game broke up, I’d pursue other interests in and around Times Square, catching a train home the following afternoon.
Around this time a lot of criminals drew “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards, courtesy of some Supreme Court decisions. Because their confessions had been improperly obtained, because they’d been denied counsel, because in one way or another their rights had been violated, they got to walk out and go home—at least until they got picked up for doing the same thing over again.
That was something to think about.
Around the same time, I was having the occasional blackout after the occasional long night of heavy drinking. I didn’t get drunk every time I drank, nor did I have a blackout every time I got drunk, but once in a while I’d come to with no recollection of having gone to bed. Sometimes I’d have spotty memories of a couple of hours. Sometimes I’d have no memory at all.
In time I’d learn that blackouts are almost invariably a marker of alcoholism. While not all alcoholics experience them, anyone who does may be said at the very least to have something problematic about his drinking. I didn’t know that then, and simply regarded blackouts as an unfortunate consequence of having had too much to drink. They were, I was fairly certain, something I could learn to avoid.
And my blackouts generally consisted of an inability to recall a tedious hour or two at the end of an extended evening, when no one was likely to have said anything worth remembering in the first place. A fellow I’d worked with a decade ago at Scott Meredith, a merchant seaman–turned–writer named John Dobbin, told me how he’d go on a toot on shore leave and wake up a couple of days later. In Cuba, he said, he came to one time in a bed with six prostitutes.
I sort of envied him. Hey, nothing like that had ever happened to me.
Suppose a man woke up in a Times Square hotel with a splitting headache and no recollection of going there? Suppose he wasn’t alone? Suppose there was a woman there, one he’d never seen before?
Suppose she was dead?
Suppose this had happened before? Suppose he went to jail for it, and a Supreme Court decision got him through the revolving door and back on the street?
Suppose he did it again?
Well, there was the premise. I wrote the first chapter of what would turn out to be After the First Death and showed it to Don Westlake. “There’s one thing you don’t have to worry about,” he told me. “Nobody who reads this chapter will be able to keep from going on to the next one.”
After the First Death was unquestionably the most personal book I’d written. The pseudonymous soft–core erotic novels were, for the most part, derivative fantasies; the lesbian fiction, however earnest and well–intentioned, was the projection of some sort of alter ego. The various crime novels, and certainly the Tanner books, had characters with whom I could identify—but they weren’t me, and their life experience was not mine.
This book came closer. The blackouts, the hookers—there was a lot of my life that found its way into Alex Penn’s life. He was not me, nor I him, but we had a few things in common.
And his girlfriend, I should say, was drawn from life. Her long speech, about an affair that didn’t work out, is pretty close to verbatim.
Macmillan published the book. It was my second hardcover, appearing two years after Deadly Honeymoon. It didn’t set the world on fire, but then I never aspired to touch off a global conflagration. It’s been in and out of print over the years, and I’m pleased to have it available now in eBook form.
It was quite a few years and a great many books before I wrote again about drinking and blackouts and all that. “The Sins of the Fathers” came out in 1976, and was the first of seventeen novels about one Matthew Scudder. Some people see After the First Death as a precursor to the Scudder books, and there’s certainly a thematic connection. And again to state what should be obvious: I’m not Matthew Scudder, and he’s not me. But we have a few things in common.
August 23, 2011
A little more than a month after I posted the folloowing KILLING CASTRO afterthought, I found this remarkable review on the website pornokitsch.com.
July 16, 2011
Killing Castro is bargain-priced at $2.99 now, courtesy of Open Road eBooks, so its afterword would seem like a logical one to post right about now:
In February or March of 1961, my then–wife and I were living in a spacious apartment in a luxury building with Central Park across the street and a slum on our other three sides. She was more than slightly pregnant, and I was too young to worry much about the upcoming obligations of fatherhood. I was writing, and selling what I wrote, and there was nothing wrong with that.
One day my agent, Henry Morrison, came to me with an assignment. Charles Heckelmann, an editor at Monarch Books, itself a second–rate paperback house, had a book he wanted written. The title was to be Fidel Castro Assassinated, and that pretty much tells you what he had in mind, but that didn’t keep him from spelling it out. “A group of Americans go to Cuba,” he said, “and their mission is to assassinate Castro, and they do. They pull it off.”
Now he might have gotten the idea from The Day of the Jackal, but that would have required more in the way of precognition than Charlie could bring to the table, as Frederick Forsyth’s novel wouldn’t appear for another ten years. Matter of fact, I believe I know where he got the idea, and the question of precognition, or more specifically the lack thereof, is very much a part of it.
He got the idea the same place he got the one for a quickie biography of Elizabeth Taylor.
Now I was never offered that job, but my good friend Donald Westlake was. And Don took it on, and did a creditable job of sifting clippings and pasting together something that made Heckelmann happy, and it was in due course published: Elizabeth Taylor: A Fascinating Story of America’s Most Talented Actress and the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, by John B. Allan. Don never used that pen name before or since, nor did he write any other biographies of actresses. And I don’t know that Monarch published any other actress bios, either.
So why did they want this one? Because Ms. Taylor had been ill a lot at the time, and Heckelmann figured there was a good chance she was dying, and if she kicked off, well, he wanted to have a book on the stands before the body was cold.
Get the picture? Fidel Castro was neither America’s most talented actress or the world’s most beautiful woman, but he was very much in the news, and there were rumors—well–founded, it would turn out—that some important and well–placed persons were plotting his assassination. Well, by golly, if someone was going to kill Castro, why shouldn’t Monarch make a buck on the deal?
I suppose it was worth a gamble. I got $1500 for the book, and I think Don got about the same for the Taylor opus, and it’s not as though either book required its subject’s death in order to sell a few copies. And if either longshot had come in, well, Heckelmann would have looked like a genius. A ghoulish genius, but a genius all the same.
Ah well. Last I looked, Fidel and Liz were both still alive. [That was true when I wrote this piece. She’s left us since then, but Fidel’s still got a pulse.] Charlie, on the other hand, died a while back.
It was a challenge, writing the book. I didn’t know a whole lot about Cuba, and I was limited to what I could find out at the library, because a $1500 advance wasn’t going to send me to Havana to do on–the–ground research. And Heckelmann wanted the book in a hell of a hurry. God knows what he’d heard. . .
I wrote it quickly enough, and I happen to know that I finished it on March 29, 1961. How do I remember? Well, if I’d forgotten, the dedication would remind me:
This is for AMY JO, who was born yesterday…
If I didn’t learn all that much about Cuba, I did learn a little about writing—specifically, about writing action scenes, something with which I’d had little experience. And I guess the book came off okay. Here’s what a very generous Amazon reviewer had to say when Hard Case Crime published the book:
Hard Case Crime has done it again, bringing us a 1961 pseudonymous thriller from Lawrence Block. Killing Castro focuses on one member of a ragtag ensemble cast who have accepted a commission to kill Fidel Castro. They begin in Tampa, make their separate ways to Havana and . . . well . . . don’t think that later history guarantees that Fidel will make it through the final reel.
The narrative is taut, the language pulpy, the plotting perfect. Drenched in booze, cigarette and cigar smoke, beans and rice and sex, the story moves to its satisfying conclusion. Along the way there are interspersed accounts of Fidel’s rise to and abuse of power. And give Block special points for his knowledge of Cuba in general, Havana in particular.
The book underscores Block’s persistent and longstanding talent for this sort of writing. He does it now and he could do it then. And no, hitman Turner in this book is not the prototype for Block’s current hitman, John Keller. He’s his own man and he’s got some dangerous partners. Fidel, watch your back.
I got another very generous review around the same time from an old friend of mine, long active in leftist circles. “You had the right slant on Cuba all along,” she wrote. I did? Well, even a blind sow finds an acorn once in a while.
I’ve written a whole lot of books under a whole lot of names, and there are readers out there who’ve devoted a lot of time and energy into rooting out this pseudonymous work of mine. I’ve been credited—if that’s the word—with a good many books I had no connection with, but I can think of only two books that no one knew were mine.
Fidel Castro Assassinated! was one of them. The pen name—Henry Morrison’s selection—was Lee Duncan. Heckelmann may or may not have thought that was the author’s real name, but it was the only name he had, and he slapped it on the book and that was that.
Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime came up with the new title, Killing Castro, and I think it’s a great improvement. And now, as this fifty–year–old tale bounces around cyberspace as an eBook, I can only sit back and wish it well. And hope you enjoyed it.
July 19, 2011
Two months ago, I shared a stage at the Belmont CA library with Robert Silverberg, the legendary science-fiction Grand Master. While Bob and I found success in different genres, we shared a past in the overwrought field of Midcentury Erotica, and that’s what we mostly talked about that night.
This morning, my publishers at Mulholland Books posted a transcript of the first half of our conversation on their destination website. So it seems a particularly appropriate time to give y’all an idea of what these books were, and the sort of experience that writing them constituted for a Very Young Man. And why not begin at the beginning, with my first published novel?
In the summer of 1958, my buddy Steve Schwerner and I flew from New York to Houston, hitchhiked to Laredo, disported ourselves across the river in Nuevo Laredo, took a bus to Mexico City, did some more disporting, and took another bus to Guadalajara, where a right–wing political party staged a riot while we were trying to get back to our hotel after dinner. A pair of enterprising cops arrested us, threw us in jail overnight, and played bad cop–worse cop with us until we signed over all our traveler’s checks, whereupon they put us on a bus back to the border.
So I got home a little earlier than I’d planned.
And one of the things waiting for me at my folks’ house in Buffalo was a letter from Henry Morrison, who was then my agent at Scott Meredith, where I’d been lately employed. “I hope you know what a sex novel is,” it began, “and how to write one, because we’ve got an assignment for you.”
Now I’d already written a novel, about a young woman’s sexual identity crisis in Greenwich Village; Henry had read it, and sent it over to Crest Books, then the country’s premier publisher of lesbian fiction. They would in time accept it, and publish it as Strange Are the Ways of Love, but that lay in the future. For now, though, Henry knew I could start writing a book and get to the end of it, and that was enough to get me this assignment.
The note went on to explain that a fellow named Harry Shorten, who’d created the cartoon “There Oughta Be a Law,” had started a publishing house called Midwood Tower. He was looking to develop a line of erotic paperback novels much like those of Beacon Books. And Henry had picked me to write one for him.
Well, okay. I went out and picked up one or two Beacon novels, and if I didn’t exactly read them I did look them over enough to see what they were. They didn’t require scrutiny. Because I did know what a sex novel was, and I seemed to know how to write one.
So I went ahead and did just that. The protagonist’s name was Carla, and that was my title. Carla, by Sheldon Lord.
It never occurred to me, not for a moment, to publish the book under my own name. I wasn’t ashamed of it, I didn’t think my writing it was evidence of moral turpitude, but neither did I entertain the notion that it was a contribution to the world of literature. It was a sex novel, for God’s sake, and it was to be published by a publisher of sex novels, and what kind of a ninny would put his own name on such a thing?
(Well, Charles Willeford would and did, as I was to find out years later. Some low–rent paperback houses, Beacon among them, published early work of his, and he used his own name. But Charles was one of a kind, a man who had elevated not giving a rat’s ass to the level of an art form. Never mind.)
The name I chose was Sheldon Lord.
Now Carla was not the first book I wrote, but it was the first book I sold, and the first to be published. It was not, however, Sheldon Lord’s first appearance in print. I’d first used the name when I had two stories slated for the same issue of one of the digest–sized detective story magazines. The editor wanted to use a pen name on one of the stories, and I came up with Sheldon Lord.
(Richard Stark, the name Don Westlake used on all his hardboiled Parker novels, had a similar origin. Don was sleeping, and a call from his agent awakened him albeit barely. He had two stories in the same issue of a magazine, and what name would he like on the lesser story? “Richard Stark,” Don snarled, and went back to sleep.)
Sheldon Lord. And where did that name come from? Well, I’d known a girl at Antioch named Marcia Lord, and I really liked her last name. And I liked the name Sheldon, too, though I can’t offhand think of anyone who bore it. Sheldon Lord. I used it on that second short story, and I used it on a batch of articles I wrote for a couple of male adventure magazines. (I mean, would you want your own name on “Reinhard Heydrich, Blond Beast of the SS?” Well, neither would I. There was one similar article I wrote that purported to be an as–told–to piece, and my byline on that one was “by C. O. Jones as told to Sheldon Lord.” The editor got the joke and spiked it, changing my evanescent collaborator to C. C. Jones.)
Carla, by Sheldon Lord. I sat down in my bedroom on Starin Avenue, at the same maple desk on which I’d written Strange Are the Ways of Love a month or two earlier, and I wrote the book and sent it off. Harry Shorten loved it, Henry wrote, but the book wasn’t long enough. It needed another chapter. Could I write another chapter to be inserted anywhere in the book?
So I wrote the chapter in which Carla goes on the prowl and winds up with Lou, and we have to all the way to the scene’s end to realize it played out a little differently than we’d thought. I sent it in with a note saying that here was a chapter, and it could be inserted anywhere in the book.
The book’s set in Buffalo. I was born and grew up in Buffalo, and lived there briefly on a couple of occasions after college, but I haven’t set much fiction there. Buffalo street names can be found in several of my stories about the criminous criminal lawyer Martin H. Ehrengraf, although their setting remains unspecified. A lost crime novel, one I called Sinner Man, had a Buffalo setting; it was sold, after many turndowns, but doesn’t seem ever to have been published, and its setting might as well have been the Bermuda Triangle. The only book in which a Buffalo setting carries any weight is A Week as Andrea Benstock, which bore the name Jill Emerson.
Is it significant that my very first published novel takes place in Buffalo? I don’t think so. It was a locale of convenience; I was in Buffalo as I wrote the book, so what was more natural than to set it there? The book itself took the sort of situation James M. Cain and his many imitators used all the time: a triangle, with a rich old husband, a hot young wife, and a youthful lower–class lover. Nothing original there, and certainly nothing that screamed Buffalo. I didn’t know any people like that, in Buffalo or anywhere else.
By the time I headed off to Antioch in September, I’d begun to wonder if I was making a mistake. What did I need with college?
I’d just had a year off. When I landed an editorial job at the Scott Meredith agency the previous summer, I’d realized there was more to learn there than on campus, and I dropped out. By the following spring I’d been there long enough, and was ready to go back to school.
But now I’d not only published a slew of short stories and articles, but I’d actually written two novels and sold one of them, and the guy who’d bought Carla was hungry for more. He wanted another book, and seemed likely to want more after that.
(What sold Harry Shorten, it turned out, was the scene in the grease pit, which gives down and dirty a whole ‘nother meaning. When I actually met Shorten, a couple of books later, he kept talking about the grease pit scene in Carla. Now I don’t think I’d ever seen a grease pit. I just sort of knew that they had them in service stations, so the grease would have someplace to go. You know what they tell you about writing what you know? Well, the hell with that.)
All I wanted, all I’d ever wanted, was to be a writer. Not a journalist—I knew I didn’t want to have to ask people questions they didn’t want to answer. I wanted to make things up. I wanted to write novels, and get paid for them, and have people—women, in particular—read them and admire me.
Well, I wasn’t sure the best way to win female admiration was by writing about Carla and the grease pit. Still, as I braced myself for a class on the Eighteenth Century English Novel, I couldn’t help but wonder: What the hell was I doing back here?