Kill Bill, Kill Cinema

I enjoyed KILL BILL.  Well, at least parts of it. Was it a great movie? No. Was it visually interesting and fun? Sure. That said, I think Ron Rosenbaum’s observations in The New York Observer are absolutely correct:

I don’t blame you if any or all of these made it impossible for you
to stay awake for the eyeball-squishing, that moment of cinematic
mastery, the true climax of the two-part, four-hour Tarantino

Still, it’s too bad if you missed it, because it was the perfect
epitome of and metaphor for what I would like to call "The Cinema of
Pretentious Stupidity." The eyeball-squishing represented the crushing
of vision by lead-footed pretension, the blinding of creativity by
referentiality. The idea that ceaseless tedious references to obscure
martial-arts movies known mainly by video-store geeks adds up to art.

I’ve heard so many defenses of Kill Bill that depend on the
apparently marvelous and unheard-of-before wonder of its
referentiality. Dude, just because you make a reference—or many
references—doesn’t make it meaningful or worth four hours of our time.

(Thanks to Ed Gorman for the heads-up on this!)

Scientology on the Set

Here’s an astonishing little  snippet from Spiegel’s terrific interview with Tom Cruise. The italicized comments in brackets are mine..

SPIEGEL: We visited one of your locations near Los Angeles and were amazed to find a fully staffed tent of the Scientology organization right next to the food tents for the journalists and extras.

Cruise: What were you amazed about?
[Translation: I’m rich and powerful and I can do whatever the hell I want. Don’t you realize that?]

SPIEGEL: Why do you go so extremely public about your personal convictions?

I believe in freedom of speech. I felt honored to have volunteer Scientology ministers on the set. They were helping the crew.
[Helping the crew with what?] When I’m working on a movie, I do anything I can to help the people I’m spending time with. I believe in communication. [I’m sure the crew was clamoring for a Scientologist on the set. Crew members often need to get in touch with their past lives while moving lights around. That’s also why you see so many ministers of other cults and religious faiths on movie sets.]

SPIEGEL: The tent of a sect at someone’s working place still seems somewhat strange to us. Mr. Spielberg, did that tent strike you as unusual?

Spielberg: I saw it as an information tent. No one was compelled to frequent it, but it was available for anybody who had an open mind and was curious about someone else’s belief system.
[So why weren’t there ‘information tents’ from other religious groups and cults on the set…or on the sets of your other movies that don’t star Tom Cruise? I didn’t realize a movie set was a religion and cult faire].

Cruise:The volunteer Scientology ministers were there to help the sick and injured. [Was it a movie…or a war zone? And what help could Scientologists provide to the sick and injured? Isn’t that why you have a nurse on the set? Or how about just calling some Paramedics?] People on the set appreciated that.  [Oh yeah, I bet.]

Imagine what would happen if I was producing a TV series and invited
some Mormons or Jews or Christians or Muslims to pitch tents on the set and minister to the "sick and injured" on my crew. There would be an uproar, and justifiably so. But I’m not Tom Cruise. I don’t make billions of dollars  for Hollywood studios.

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Help Wanted: Humans Only, Please

Today, I received this email from Wayne Manzo

I would like to produce a weekly investigative news program based on my
research and web magazines.

The show will be investigative news but
from a different angle__that we humans are living with ET and it is the
aliens that are controlling our human reality.

I need humans who are
interested in getting involved in the pre-production logistics of this
type of program.

Contact me in interested.

Since he’s interested only in working with humans and I am Glarp, alien recon-leader from the planet Glorp, I didn’t reply.

Jag Rag

I received this email today. I’d reply, but I have no idea what she’s asking or why she’s asking me.

Yes, we have heard that tonight is the last night for the program of JAG, with Harmon Rabb and the other characters.  And we’d like to know what’s what with that program.  And if so, we want to make sure that we’re home to see it. For we have really enjoyed that show and wished that Harmon and
Mac could have gotten married or at least could have had that baby that they had talked about in the show.  But I guess that never happened.  My email address is:

New Definition of Vanity Press

Keith Snyder proposes a new definition of  "vanity press" that reflects the way self-publishing has evolved since the advent of print-on-demand technology:

We need to stop telling people a vanity press is a company that charges fees, and start telling them a vanity press is a
company that makes the bulk of its money from a very large number of
very small print runs that it sells mainly to people the authors know.

That’s a 21st-century vanity press.

He may be on to something here, though the definition may need a little refining to fully cover scams like PublishAmerica and their ilk.

(Thanks to Paul Guyot for the heads-up).

The Dollars and Cents of Writing

Romance novelist Alison Kent shares the dollars and cents behind life as a professional writer, sharing with readers of her blog exactly what she was paid, in advances and royalties, for one of her books. And it works out to this:

$18,191.15 from June of 2000 when I sold to December 2003. Thirty
months. That’s approximately $3.50 an hour if you calculate from
contract date to the royalty statement I pulled. The book only took
three or four months to write, of course, but you get the picture.
Making a living in category can’t be done without MULTIPLE releases per

It was brave and extra-ordinarily helpful for Alison to share this (braver and more helpful than I am) with aspiring writers. Just because you get published doesn’t mean you’ve got it made, that you’re swimming in money. Many of the mid-list authors I know have full-time day jobs…because they couldn’t possibliy live on what they make as authors.  Kudos to Alison for giving aspiring authors a glimpse of the real world (and also explaining why some authors must write more than one book a year)

Congrats to the Edgar Winners!

Best Novel: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker (William Morrow)

Best First Novel: Country of Origin by Don Lee (W.W. Norton & Co)

Best Paperback Original: The Confession by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime)

Best Short Story:  "Something About a Scar" – Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You by Laurie Lynn Drummond (HarperCollins)

Best Fact Crime: Conviction:  Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a Detective’s Twenty-Year Search for Justice by Leonard Levitt (Regan Books)

Best Critical/Biographical: The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W.W. Norton)

Best Young Adult: In Darkness, Death by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler (Philomel Books)

Best Juvenile: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press)

Best Play: Spatter Pattern (Or, How I Got Away With It) by Neal Bell (Playwrights Horizons)

Best Television Episode Teleplay: Law & Order:  Criminal Intent – "Want", Teleplay by Elizabeth Benjamin.
Story by René Balcer & Elizabeth Benjamin

Best Television Feature or Miniseries Teleplay: State of Play by Paul Abbott (BBC America)

Best Motion Picture Screenplay: A Very Long Engagement – Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, based on the Novel by Sébastien Japrisot (2003 Productions)

(Thanks to Sarah Weinman, from whom I stole this post)

What Should the MWA Be?

There’s been some talk here, specifically in the comments to my "Hot Button Comments" post a few days ago, about what the MWA should be.  It’s a discussion that’s certainly on the minds of many mystery writers I know…and seems timely, given that the Edgar Awards are occuring tonight.

Here are some excerpts from several of Michael Bracken’s comments:

My concern throughout the discussion is to ensure that work that
doesn’t clearly fit either end of the spectrum (bestselling novel
published by major NY house at one end, perhaps, and never-appeared in
print in any form at the other end) is given fair and appropriate
consideration and that the line between "professional" and
"unprofessional" isn’t drawn arbitrarily because someone or some group
is unwilling to carefully examine that gray area between the extremes.

More importantly though, why does one need to have a book published to
be a mystery writer? Why is it that mystery novelists (and I’m
generalizing here, not picking on David specificially) who want to
reform the MWA seem to constantly ignore those writers who write short
mystery fiction?

What we can hope to happen, David, is a reasonably level playing field
where short fiction writers are treated in a manner similar to
novelists and that they have an equal voice in any organization of
professional writers.

One of David Montgomery’s replies was:

Letting everyone in makes about as much sense as the WGA
opening up their rolls to people who like to watch movies. It’s a
professional writers group, and should remain such.

With all due respect to Michael, I agree with David.  The MWA began as an organization for professional
mystery writers and should remain so. I remember how I felt when I got
my WGA card… I knew then that I’d become a professional TV writer and
I was thrilled. I felt the same way when I qualified to join the MWA. I
think the more flexible MWA becomes in their admission requirements the
less meaning membership will actually have. Is that elitist? Yes, it
is…and it should be. What is the point of having a professional
organization if you let in anybody who can pay the dues?

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Now The Truth Can Be Told

A few months ago I was contacted by law enforcement on a matter of national security. It turns out that somebody working on a top-secret weapons project had taken his name, and his entire personal background, from a character in one of my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels. No joke, friends. This is a true story.

Investigators contacted me, through my publisher, to ask me how I happened to create this character, his backstory, and how I chose his name.  I spoke to the investigators and told them quite simply that I made it all up as I went along. I have no idea how I came up with the name, it was just random association. I liked the way it sounded.

They wouldn’t tell me any details in return…  except that the guy legally changed his name to the name of my character the same month my book came out and that he apparently identified with aspects of the characters background and motives, adopting them as his own.  The guy couldn’t have been very bright…adopting this character’s name is akin to plotting to rob Fort Knox and changing your name to Auric Goldfinger first. And can you imagine what kind of guy would legally change his name to match a bad guy in a DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel??

I did ask the investigators how they made the DIAGNOSIS MURDER connection. I don’t kid myself, I know how obscure my books are in the whole scheme of things.  Turned out they ran a Google search on his name as part of their background check and only four listings came up…three of them references to my book. Then they read the book and were surprised how many of the details of this character’s life matched the man on their weapon’s project.

Needless to say, I found the whole thing unsettling. It’s the first time, that I know of, that anything I’ve written has been imitated or recreated in real life. I’ve often wondered since that call how the whole thing turned out.

Who knows, maybe I could get a DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel out of it…

Worst Opening Lines II

The post yesterday about the Dark & Stormy Nights contest reminded me of one of my favorite bad opening lines — it’s from a self-published novel by R.J. Carrie-Reddington entitled "Six Days of the Pigs."

Midway between dawn and sunrise the Tuesday morning air, heavy with
nature’s fog, reeked with the acrid odor of pig feces as the skinny white man
stood at the edge of the front porch, listening to Addie cry.

There’s a good reason why this book was self-published