It was not a short fight, but it was fast

I have a new short story out on Kindle. 'Huxley' is a detective story about an Auckland ex-cop turned debt collector. The story first appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best International Crime (Constable, 2009). The ebook version has been revised: the opening is different and a number of details have been changed. There are more stories in the Huxley series which I might put out as ebooks later on. You can get it here.

This is part of an ongoing project to digitally convert my back-catalogue, particularly the early and hard-to-find short stories. Special thanks: Messrs Bell & Stratford. (Their new LP coming soon.)


Now playing

Liaisons Dangereuses. (Not to be confused with Les Liaisons Dangereuses.) One of the best electronica albums ever: recognised, but so rare as to be practically mythical.


Here She Comes Now, now

My new ebook is out. Here She Comes Now is a collection of three short stories published on Amazon's Kindle. I will be publishing digital editions of my earlier novels and short stories as well as some new fiction, including a series of detective stories and at least one longer work. Here She Comes Now is the first step. You can get it here.


It's a shame about Ray

I have a three-by-five up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: "... and suddenly everything became clear to him." I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that's implied. There is mystery, too. What has been unclear before? Why is it just now becoming clear? What's happened? Most of all - what now? There are consequences as a result of such sudden awakenings. I feel a sharp sense of relief - and anticipation.
I overheard the writer Geoffrey Wolff say "No cheap tricks" to a group of writing students. That should go on a three-by-five card. I'd amend it a little to "No tricks." Period. I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or a gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, and I get bored easily which may go along with my not having much of an attention span. But extremely clever chi-chi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don't need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.
Raymond Carver, On Writing (New York Times Book Review, 1981)


Strangers making the most of the dark

A lot of people lament how the publishing industry has changed over the years. Your career seems to very much bridge all that - from the small independent shops to the corporatization of it all.
I say to Bob Gottlieb, who's still a very close personal friend, "You couldn't stand to be in publishing today." And he says, "I know." It is very corporatized. We all began to think about that in those days. What was going to happen? These big conglomerates, synergy, all that. People began to worry about it.

Tell me about some more of the big characters.
We just don't have them anymore. Morgan [Entrekin] is as close as we have. And Sonny [Mehta]. There were so many: Henry Robbins, Ted Solotaroff, Joe Fox, Sam Lawrence, David Segal. Even Dick Synder is a lot more colorful than Jack Romanos, who is now gone. I mean, they had passion, they cared about literature. Even Dick, who's not an intellectual. He cared. He was a madman. I mean, we need a little bit more…. Who is a madman now in publishing? Peter Olson, but of a very strange type. I mean, Morgan's eccentric, Sonny's eccentric. Morgan's less eccentric than he used to be. He's getting very conventional now with the wife and the child. It was just different then.

So you miss the personalities.
Yes. I miss the fun. I tell Tina [Bennett] and Eric [Simonoff], "You missed the good days." When I worked for Sterling Lord, I had a loft, a sort of duplex loft apartment on Barrow Street. And Michael Sissons, who's now the head of Fraser & Dunlop, and Peter Matson, who's also an agent, used to give these parties at my house. They would make these drinks of half brandy and half champagne, and people got so drunk. One night Rosalyn Drexler, the lady wrestler and the novelist, picked up Walter Minton and just threw him against the wall. I'll never forget that. There was just more of a sense of fun.

So why was that lost?
It's the corporate thing. People are too scared.
Jofie Ferrari-Adler's 2008 interview with agent Lynn Nesbit.


There is a party, everyone is there

If you were physically incapacitated and could watch only one show for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Law & Order. I panic that there will be a time when it isn’t on TV. When I’m not in New York it makes me miss New York. I think about all the people angry that their streets are being closed off. And I feel like Jerry Orbach might be someone that I will get to meet in Heaven.
Amy Poehler's favourite TV shows. (Pic: Gothamist.)


Now playing

Mr Wilson and, below, with Christine Perfect McVie not setting fire to a gazebo. Tineye can't source the snapshot which looks too good to be real, and probably was. California.


More talk

Philip Temple interviewed by Bob Cornwall:
How did you arrive at that very distinctive style? I've tried hard to find equivalents. Only James Ellroy comes close.

Parts of Ellroy I like, the jarring impact of the language. But there are times when I want to relax. I'd like to see a proper sentence, just one proper sentence.

But generally I've come to it because I want to say things as briefly as possible, and I want to somehow capture how the words feel in my head. So if I leave off pronouns and all sorts of things... As I said to one woman, I've taught English grammar and I know what I am doing. And my dialogue, I've always wanted to truncate my dialogue. Ever since I read George V. Higgins's Friends of Eddie Coyle, I've really wanted to write a book in dialogue. (Now that I am writing film scripts, I don't want to write a book in dialogue!). I've tried to create a distinctive voice, so it's fairly self-conscious. And I don't write like that normally. You won't get an e-mail from me like that.

But mostly I'm interested in the way we share, although we may come from opposite sides of the world, we're part of a linguistic community. And the way we speak to each other, we leave things out, we don't have to say full sentences, or point everything out. And when you find people that work together intimately, or who spend a lot of time together (women are like this sometimes, domestically, whatever), particularly colleagues who do the kind of work that doesn't lend itself to exposition, like, we know what we are doing here, they don't spell things out to each other.

So what I am trying to do is to say, inside this community, this linguistic community that we share, when we speak to each other, what don't we have to say. That's what I've tried to do. I've tried to take all of the bits out that people would not say to each other. I want to come close to some sort of naturalistic language. If you try too hard, it's art. And there's another line you can fall over, into transcript, and it goes clunky on you.
Full interview here.


A little knowledge

A few streets away in Hackney, the area Gartside credits with reviving him a second time after another few lost years, there are hundreds of new Scritti Politti songs in unfinished digital form. Gartside admits he suffers from completion anxiety. "But I'm convinced that I have to keep making music," he says, "and that I haven't come close to making the best music that I can. Though I've had a very low opinion of myself, the fact that the best work I've yet done is sitting unfinished on a hard drive back home must be good."
Full interview here.


Hard boiled

Fran Lebowitz on reading:
I like hard boiled detectives. I really don't like the English. If I see the word Don and it's not someone's name, I'm out of there. Nero Wolfe is one of my favorites because I love to read about food... John [D.] McDonald is another one of my great favorites. When my first book was published in paperback it was with Fawcett and I guess I told the publisher how much I liked him. I guess she told him because he wrote me a letter and told me how much he liked my book. I was thrilled. They made me an honorary member of the John McDonald fan club, with the badge, certificate, and everything. The Travis McGee's are the best.

I liked Robert Parker before he became a social worker. Elmore Leonard. I even like his bad ones. I think Joseph Hansen's the best living detective writer. The Dave Brandstetter series. The detective is a guy whose father owns something like Metropolitan Life Insurance, a zillionaire. The son is gay and he's the detective. He's a death claims investigator.

Hansen stopped writing them about five years ago but I still think he's far and away the best.
Full interview here. Public Speaking, the Martin Scorsese-directed HBO documentary on Lebowitz, is here.

Billion Dollar Brain

Robert Gottlieb on the art of editing:
For a while I was editing the two best writers of quality who were writing spy novels, John le Carré and Len Deighton, and you couldn’t find a more perfect pair of opposites in the editorial process. Le Carré is unbelievably sensitive to editorial suggestion because his ear is so good and because his imagination is so fertile—he’ll take the slightest hint and come back with thirty extraordinary new pages. Deighton, on the other hand—who is totally willing, couldn’t be more eager for suggestions—is one of those writers for whom, once a sentence is down on paper, it takes on a reality that no amount of good will or effort can change. So you can say to him, Len, this is a terrific story but there is a serious problem. He’ll say, What is it? What is it? And you say, Well, on page thirty-seven this character is killed, but on page a hundred and eighteen he appears at a party. Oh my God, Len says, this is terrible, but I’ll fix it, don’t worry. Then you get the manuscript back, and you turn to page thirty-seven, and he’ll have changed it to, He was almost killed.
Full interview here in The Paris Review.
Hat tip: Quote Unquote.


Claridge's Hotel in London is famous for catering to the idiosyncrasies of its guests. If you like mineral water at your bedside every night, the staff of Claridge's will notice this, and each night you'll find the bottle of mineral water by your bed. If you like it half empty, you will find it half empty. And since the staff is English, no eccentricity is too bizarre to indulge.
I lived at Claridge's for several weeks in 1978, rewriting a screenplay. I was typing and cutting and pasting the pages together. But I couldn't get an ordinary tape dispenser; I just had a plain roll of Scotch tape and a pair of scissors. Of course, every time I cut a piece of tape, the edge would fall back onto the roll, and I'd have a terrible time prying it free with my fingernails to cut another piece. Eventually I hit on the expedient of cutting long strips of tape, and running them lightly down the knobs of my desk drawers on both sides of the desk. This allowed me simply to cut between the knobs to get a piece of tape. I followed this procedure of taping the drawers for several weeks.
A year later I returned to Claridge's and checked into a room. It was a nice room, but it had a peculiarity: someone had stretched rows of Scotch tape down all the drawers of the desk in the corner.
-- Michael Crichton, Travels (2002)


Bedside reading

Liquidamber by Chris Bell, available in print and ebook.


Colder than the coldest winter was cold

RIP Dana Wynter AKA Becky, Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).


Christopher Hitchens on writers and their voice:
The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. Think of your own favorite authors and see if that isn’t precisely one of the things that engage you, often at first without your noticing it. A good conversation is the only human equivalent: the realizing that decent points are being made and understood, that irony is in play, and elaboration, and that a dull or obvious remark would be almost physically hurtful. This is how philosophy evolved in the symposium, before philosophy was written down. And poetry began with the voice as its only player and the ear as its only recorder. Indeed, I don’t know of any really good writer who was deaf, either. How could one ever come, even with the clever signage of the good Abbé de l’Épée, to appreciate the miniscule twinges and ecstasies of nuance that the well-tuned voice imparts? Henry James and Joseph Conrad actually dictated their later novels—which must count as one of the greatest vocal achievements of all time, even though they might have benefited from hearing some passages read back to them—and Saul Bellow dictated much of Humboldt’s Gift. Without our corresponding feeling for the idiolect, the stamp on the way an individual actually talks, and therefore writes, we would be deprived of a whole continent of human sympathy, and of its minor-key pleasures such as mimicry and parody.
The full Vanity Fair article is here.


I hurt somebody's feelings once

As a young man you were influenced by the music and writing coming from America, rather than Japanese culture. What were these influences?

I think this is like asking an Englishman like Eric Clapton why he’s so drawn to the blues. If you asked Clapton the same question, I have a feeling he’d shrug his shoulders and say he isn’t sure why.
Haruki Murakami interviewed in 2004, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel. Full interview here.

Pictured: Ronin (1998). That third car chase here.


Is it just –

David Mamet interviewed by Fred Topol in 2004:
Do you see your career in any kind of continuum? There’s a sense, like with Soderbergh, when he did FULL FRONTAL and he did SOLARIS, and SOLARIS didn’t happen and FULL FRONTAL was kind of mixed. Now, he’s back to OCEAN’S TWELVE because he’s looking at the mountain-scape of his career and the effect of money on it. Do you ever consider that in your career, or are you writing from your soul and working from there?

I don’t know. I’m just making it up as I go along.

Well, is it just—

Well, it’s always there. I think no matter what anyone says, you always make it up as you go along. It’s like they say when you have babies, you know, nobody gave you a how-to book. Nobody gave you a manual. The important things in life, whether it’s your career, whether it’s your marriage or whether it’s child rearing – you make it up as you go along. You try to have certain precepts and hold to them, but sometimes they even change.
Full interview here.


Je vois la vie en rose

Q: I’ve been wondering, because of something Bruce said – he mentioned the Rockford Files in terms of some of the tone of the show – and I get the impression that Burn Notice is kind of a mash-up of the Rockford Files and It Takes a Thief. I was wondering how you get that balance?

Matt Nix: I’d say that there’s actually a lot of kind of classic television, and The Rockford Files, It Takes a Thief. People bring up Magnum, MacGyver, The A-Team, a lot of these shows, some of which I watched, and some of which I didn’t watch. But all of us, between the entire staff, we all watched all of those at one point or another. And I think that one of the things we kind of use as a touchstone that owes a lot to that kind of classic television is the idea that we’re really – like, Michael is a classic hero. We all like Michael. We all like Sam. We all like Fiona. We all like Madeline.

I think if you think about a lot of contemporary television, including a lot of my favorite shows, I should say, I mean I’m not slamming this at all. It is an important part of contemporary television, feeling ambivalent about the characters that you’re watching is, you know, it’s kind of something that people do now. And I think Burn Notice is not that. I think that when you look at Rockford, Rockford is just kind of a guy. At least my reaction to him was, you know, he’s a guy you want to know, you know, like Magnum is just cool, like, he’s a good dude.

And when we’re all writing Sam, you know, we’re thinking about what’s the brother we want. Who’s that guy? When we think about Michael, it’s whatever challenges or whatever darkness he may struggle with, ultimately he’s a hero. He’s a guy who’s going to put his ass on the line to save people, and so that kind of – you know, those are the kinds of touchstones we use, and I think that is a bit of a throwback to classic television.

It’s a world where people are really trying to do the right things for other people, and where the characters on the show, however they bicker, are a family and they stick together, and that’s what they do. And I think that’s sort of comforting, and it’s fun to write, and I think there are a lot of interesting and subtle things to explore within that. But, you know, that’s the kind of television that I really cared about growing up, and I think there’s a place for it, and that’s part of what we’re doing.
Full interview with Burn Notice creator Matt Nix here.