02.15.17 SEX OR WRITING?
Both can be done on a plane or in the back of a cab.
Great sex can inspire great writing.
Great writing can score great sex.
Conquering a blank page can be a bigger thrill than nailing a ten.
And probably a bigger thrill than nailing the ten again in the morning.
Sex and writing can both be great accomplishments.
Both can be simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.
Both can leave you satisfied or frustrated.
Both will suffer when you write about sex while having sex.
And Dorothy Parker never said: I hate sex, but love having fucked.
02.07.17 HAMMETT PRIZE NOMINEES ANNOUNCED
Congratulations to the nominees for the 2016 North American Hammett Prize for literary excellence in the field of crime writing.
The Second Life of Nick Mason, by Steve Hamilton
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The White Devil, by Domenic Stansberry (Molotov Editions)
Revolver, by Duane Swierczynki (Mulholland Books)
The Big Nothing, by Bob Truluck (Murmur House Press)
02.01.17 THE BEST SONG LYRIC EVER
Some lyrics are poetry. Some are funny and clever. Some are filler. Some are inspiring or tell a story. Some not so much. Are the words of the prophets written on the subway walls?
Selecting the best song lyric is subjective and comes down to what strikes a chord within you as an individual. My personal favorite was written in the 1966 by Arthur Lee:
I’D SIT INSIDE A BOTTLE AND PRETEND THAT I WAS IN A CAN
Every time I hear Love’s “7 & 7 Is” that line reverberates in my head all day. Everybody has a favorite lyric or an opinion of which is the best ever. What’s yours?
01.22.17 2017 EDGAR AWARDS
Congratulations to all the deserving writers nominated this week by the Mystery Writers of America for the 2017 Edgar Allen Poe Awards, honoring the best mystery fiction and non-fiction published the previous year. The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners April 27th at a gala banquet at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.
01.21.17 THE TEN BEST NOIR FILMS EVER MADE
The 15th annual Noir City film festival is going on now through January 29th at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. They are screening 24 crime capers from around the world, so what better time to announce my list of the Ten Best Noir Films Ever Made.
1. THE KILLING – 1956
Directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the amazing book Clean Break by Lionel White, Sterling Hayden masterminds a racetrack robbery with a great ensemble cast featuring noir regulars Elisha Cook, Jr., Marie Windsor and Ted DeCorsia. This is not just the best film noir, it is frame for frame the best movie ever made.
2. BOB LE FLAMBEUR – 1956
Also known as Bob The Gambler, this French caper film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville offers a perfect blend of substance and style. To be more precise: it’s cool as hell. Bob, played by Roger Duchesne, masterminds a casino heist only to complicate matters by hitting a winning streak at the tables during its execution. Stanley Kubrick called this the perfect crime movie.
3. THE BIG COMBO – 1955
A well-insulated mob boss (Richard Conte) makes a monkey out of an obsessed cop (Cornel Wilde) until the flatfoot changes strategy and goes after him through his girl. Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman as homosexual henchmen were light years ahead of their time.
4. ASPHALT JUNGLE – 1950
Sam Jaffe portrays perhaps the most fascinating criminal mastermind ever as robbery and double cross propel the action of this character driven caper. Director John Huston sets a gritty urban tone, softened a bit by Marilyn Monroe in an early screen appearance.
5. DOUBLE INDEMNITY – 1944
A woman getting her lover to kill her husband for insurance money is a pretty pedestrian set-up, unless Billy Wilder is directing a script he wrote with Raymond Chandler. Add on-screen sexual chemistry between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, and this movie explodes.
6. THE KILLERS – 1946
Based on a Hemmingway story, director Robert Siodmak provided the blueprint for future filmmakers to rise above cops & robbers cliches. This cautionary tale of double cross and murder made stars out of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.
7. BLAST OF SILENCE – 1961
Starkly cold and purposely slow moving, this Allen Baron tour de force traps you inside the mind of a hired killer and doesn’t let go.
8. BORN TO KILL – 1947
Walter Slezak and Esther Howard provide humorous counter balance as psycho Lawrence Tierney murders his way into San Francisco society.
9. 711 OCEAN DRIVE – 1950
Edmond O’Brien is few peoples’ idea of a leading man, but that works to his advantage as he plays a telephone repairman who cashes in big by creating a hi-tech communication system for a national bookmaking syndicate. But greed quickly blinds this cocky average Joe to the fact that he is in way over his head.
10. THE NARROW MARGIN – 1952
Tough guy cop Charles McGraw guards a mobster’s wife on a cross country train trip so she can testify before a Los Angeles grand jury. Co-starring noir darling Marie Windsor and directed by the much underappreciated Richard Fleischer (Armored Car Robbery, Soylent Green, The Jazz Singer).
09.18.16 WHY DO WRITERS OBSESS ABOUT THE GREAT LAS VEGAS NOVEL?
Is To Kill A Mockingbird a better book than The Great Gatsby? Is Catch-22 better than The Grapes Of Wrath? Even in a society obsessed with winning, most people (awards committees not withstanding) have figured out that you can’t debate the merits of apples and oranges to find the best banana. That one writer’s work cannot be anointed as being better than all the rest, because subjectivity demands that such comparisons are simply not possible.
So why do writers obsess so much about creating the great Las Vegas novel?
The logical answer would be that it’s a challenge. A challenge discussed often when Las Vegas writers gather formally or over drinks. A challenge documented every so often by publications like the Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas CityLife and the Las Vegas Sun. A challenge of conquering the ultimate blank page, not unlike efforts by those who set out to be the first to climb Mt. Everest or swim the English Channel. And since no truly great Las Vegas fiction yet exists, overcoming that challenge will make any writer’s great Las Vegas novel the great Las Vegas novel by default.
John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas and Charles Bock’s Beautiful Children are generally regarded as noteworthy Las Vegas books, but they are certainly not great Las Vegas books, if for no other reason than because with a little tweaking the stories could have been set pretty much anywhere. Slide a couple rungs down the ladder to memoirs by writers who passed through, and you will discover that just because Beth Raymer’s Lay The Favorite is about to become a major motion picture doesn’t mean the book was particularly insightful. Then completely fall into the crapper with the likes of Joe McGinniss Jr. who, in writing Delivery Man, didn’t even give the city enough thought to get the streets right.
Don’t get the impression from this that all books set in Las Vegas are lacking in quality. Far from it. There are many entertaining reads including James Ellroy’s partially-set-in-Vegas The Cold Six Thousand, where his skewed world view is as much a hallucinogenic adventure as anything in the classic Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Though I would call Hunter S. Thompson’s book less a novel and more an example of how truth is so often stranger than fiction.
So why do writers obsess so much about writing the great Las Vegas novel?
The real answer is that Las Vegas is a blank slate with little literary history, making the challenge an attainable goal. But as the last microcosm of the American Dream, Las Vegas’ first great fiction won’t be a postcard or a love letter or a memoir of somebody’s pit stop on the way to someplace better.
The first great Las Vegas novel will be written by somebody who lives it. Somebody whose daily existence picks at a scab that will eventually unlock the spiritual undercurrent that drives a city that is like no other. And that novel will be justly applauded until somebody writes a better one. And eventually somebody will write an even better one than that, sparking the inevitable debate about which of those books is the best. Momentarily forgetting that you cannot compare apples and oranges to find the best banana.
09.11.16 10 GREAT NOIR FILMS YOU MAY NEVER HAVE SEEN
Everyone is familiar with classic noir films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity that feature stars like Bogart, Stanwyck and Edward G. But what about the low budget B Movies propelled by cold-blooded killers like Steve Cochran and William Talman? Unlikely heroes like Don DeFore and talented directors like Richard Fleischer? Not to mention the ironic casting of Jack Webb and Harry Morgan who, before they teamed up to propagandize the evils of smoking weed on TV’s Dragnet, appeared together several times as movie bad guys.
There are over 700 film noir titles and, good or bad, there is something redeeming about every last one of them. Here is a list of ten must-sees you may have overlooked.
ARMORED CAR ROBBERY – 1950
Directed by Richard Fleischer. Starring William Talman & Charles McGraw
PRIVATE HELL 36 – 1954
Directed by Don Siegel. Starring Ida Lupino & Steve Cochran
FEMALE JUNGLE – 1956
Directed by Bruno VeSota. Starring Lawrence Tierney & Jayne Mansfield
APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER – 1951
Directed by Lewis Allen. Starring Alan Ladd & Phyllis Calvert
SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 1950
Directed by Boris Ingster. Starring Don DeFore & Andrea King
HIGHWAY 301 – 1950
Directed by Andrew L. Stone. Starring Steve Cochran & Virginia Grey
TRAPPED – 1949
Directed by Richard Fleischer. Starring Lloyd Bridges & Barbara Payton
BLAST OF SILENCE – 1961
Directed By Allen Baron. Starring Allen Baron & Molly McCarthy
THE GIRL HUNTERS – 1963
Directed by Roy Rowland. Starring Mickey Spillane & Shirley Eaton
09.07.16 5 MUST-READ LAS VEGAS BOOKS
Las Vegas is the most iconic city on earth. And to understand what makes it tick, you first need to understand the circumstances of its history. Understand the people who gave the city its personality and set in motion the evolutionary process toward what the former railroad water stop would eventually become.
Las Vegas’ brief history has been misrepresented in movies and on television to the point where most people believe the sensationalized fiction to be fact. These five non-fiction books offer a good head start at setting the record straight.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED LAS VEGAS by W.R. Wilkerson III(Ciro’s Books, 2000) — This book effectively debunks the myth that gangster Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo Hotel and gave birth to the Las Vegas Strip.
THE GREEN FELT JUNGLE by Ed Reid & Ovid Demaris (Buccaneer Books, 1963) — Providing documented evidence, this book caused a sensation as the first to expose Las Vegas as a front for organized crime.
BIG JULIE OF VEGAS by Edward Linn (Walker Publishing, 1974) — The ultimate casino insider covers all the angles with anecdotes from the wild 1960s high roller junkets to the Dunes.
HOWARD HUGHES: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue by Geoff Schumacher (Stephens Press, 2008) — This biography does a great job of separating fact from fiction in chronicling the life and times of the ultimate Las Vegas legend.
CASINO: Love And Honor In Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi (Simon & Schuster, 1995) — The notorious tale of betrayal and greed among the mobsters who screwed up a sure thing and changed the casino business forever.
12.05.15 TIKI DRINKS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Have a cool Yule with these delicious Christmas originals
from Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas.
1 ounce Cruzan 9 spiced rum
½ ounce Hana Bay 151 proof rum
½ ounce falernum
¼ ounce cinnamon syrup
½ ounce white grapefruit juice
2 ounces orange juice
2 ounces cranberry juice cocktail
Build over ice in a 14 ounce double old fashioned
glass, then pour contents into a cocktail shaker.
Shake well, then re-pour into the glass.
Serve garnished with pineapple and a cherry.
RUM RUM RUDOLPH
1 ounce Cruzan 9 spiced rum
1 ounce Hana Bay 151 proof rum
½ ounce cinnamon syrup
¼ ounce vanilla syrup
½ ounce Coco Lopez
dash Angostura bitters
2 ounces orange juice
Build over ice in a 14 ounce double old fashioned glass,
then pour contents into a cocktail shaker.
Shake well, then re-pour into the glass.
Sprinkle nutmeg on top, then serve garnished with
Enjoy these plus 75 more easy to make at home
favorites from the bestselling book Liquid Vacation
08.24.15 CLAM DADDY by P Moss – READ THE STORY – WATCH THE VIDEO
While most of the better topless establishments in Las Vegas cloaked sexual fantasy in the sophistication of plush decor, flavored martinis and fine dining, the clam joints were more base. Totally nude with zero left to the imagination. Jerry found nothing sexy about a girl squatting over his face and cracking open a sideways window to her spleen. Yet there he was.
Jerry’s face was lined too deeply for a man of 43. His tie was loose and his blue suit needed pressing. The music inside the club was loud. Unfamiliar. On the stage a naked girl swung upside down on a pole, while on couches and cushioned chairs dancers tickled their private flesh against the noses of strange men for $20 a song, then lingered to tease up $20 more. Or however much they could gouge for ambiguous promises in the private VIP room. These girls weren’t selling sex. Well, some were. But most were trading a commodity far more intimate, which started with a smile. Maybe a compliment. Then in the blink of a moment nipples would be brushing against the sucker’s face. Bare snatch grinding his crotch. Those few minutes could make even the most pathetic loser feel like a somebody. Men thought they came to places like this for sex, or the illusion of sex. But in reality, they all came for that one thing which all too often eluded their daily routine. The chance to feel special. A feeling they could still hold close even after walking out of the club back to a bitch wife or a dead end job.
Jerry watched as on stage the pole dancer now squatted spread eagle, whiffing distance from the hornballs seated ringside. Tourists and frat boys. Attorneys and plumbers. All leaned closer as the dancer reached two fingers between her legs and flashed the pink of her clam with the same wink of innocent flirtation as a coed revealing her thigh on a ‘50s cheesecake calendar. They may have differed in hair, height and tattoos, but to Jerry the dancers all looked alike. They moved alike. Had the same base wretchedness as all women, only here it was not hidden behind proprieties such as dating and marriage. And then he saw her. A girl who looked out of place.
This girl was different from the rest, even as across the room she rubbed her naked flesh against the crotch of an overly eager kazoo salesman. Playfully pushed his hand back as he bent the rules and touched her, but not so defensive as to break the mood. In a room where most every dancer sported a rack from the same torpedo factory, this one was the girl next door. She was almost tall. Real tits pert with youth. Her long red hair had a bit of natural curl. Her face was pretty. Her smile genuine. She was Playboy in a room full of Hustler and Jerry could not take his eyes off her.
He watched as she flirted and did her thing. Visually stalked her. Trying to build up his nerve to approach her. Took it personally as she slithered free from her G-string and aroused a middle aged tourist. Then another. And finally another who forked over enough green to take her into the VIP room. After about ten minutes she exited alone, then reacted as she caught Jerry staring at her from across the room. She put on a flimsy top and walked toward him. He began to perspire. More with each approaching step. Nervous. Wanted to run. But why? This was why he was there, wasn’t it? They stood face to face.
“Hi Daddy,” she said through an uneasy smile. It was odd that a girl who bared her all to strangers could be embarrassed. She tried not to show it. No dice. “What are you doing here?”
“This was a mistake.” His being there humiliated them both. He wanted to melt into the wallpaper. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come.”
“It’s just a job, Daddy. Please don’t be embarrassed.”
“It’s not that.” Of course it was that. But there was more. Something far more unsettling than seeing his naked 19 year old daughter soliciting boners from strange men. “Could we go somewhere and sit down?”
He followed as she took his hand and led him to a sofa in a dark corner. Perspiration became sweat as he could smell the two naked blondes tag teaming a limo driver on the chair directly across from them. Jerry’s rehearsed speech had been ambushed by anxiety. Apologetic words stumbled from his tongue. “You have to understand I wouldn’t embarrass you like this, but it can’t wait until morning.”
She self-consciously folded her arms across the sheer fabric of her top. Worried about the magnitude of news that couldn’t wait.
Jerry would not humiliate himself further by going into detail. He leaned back and took a breath. Struggled to find the right words. Realized there were no right words, then blurted, “I need $800.”
Huge relief. She thought someone had died.
He was still sweating. “I need it now.”
“Relax Daddy. I’ll give you the money.”
Just like that. The answer he needed. But instead of breathing easy, it made him feel even worse as he realized what a pathetic loser he had become. All for a lousy $800. Was he now the child and she the parent?
As he watched his daughter walk past a bouncer and disappear behind a curtain, Jerry thought back to a time not that many years before. When she was six. He had held her securely in his arms after she had awakened crying during a thunder storm. Told her that he would never let anything hurt her. The standard throw away promise to a kid too young to know better. But Jerry had meant every word, and it turned out to have been the defining moment in their relationship. He worked hard over the years to be the best father he could be. He asked instead of told. Listened before he reacted. Soothed the pains of puberty and puppy love. Ever since that night when she was six he had spoken honestly to her as a person instead of talking down to her as a child. And she had loved him for it.
She loved him still. Loved him this night even more as now she was able to be there, no matter what the circumstance, for the man who had always been there for her. The man who had picked her up whenever she had fallen. The man who made certain she would grow up in a stable environment even after his own had been shattered by a sanctimonious ex-wife who believed that sucking off the lawn guy was not infidelity. Kind of like good Catholic girls taking it in the ass to retain their virginity.
Jerry had loved his wife. Been faithful and true to his marriage vows for 22 years. His reward? Exile to a furnished one bedroom apartment while his ex-wife was now free to give her all to tradesmen in any part of the 2800 square feet with a pool for which Jerry remained obligated to the mortgage company every month. Even in a community property state, her lawyer had stretched him past the limit. But for years Jerry had earned a good income as a casino executive and he managed to get by. Then came the recession and Las Vegas tourism took a direct hit, as did many in the local work force. Jerry was a middle management suit without a contract and this made him expendable.
Wall Street, the banks, Congress. There was no shortage of villains for the casinos to blame in the shtick they fed the press justifying across the board layoffs. But it was hard not to read between the lines as they pled poverty in one breath while grandstanding multi-billion dollar expansion projects with the next. After a while the local economy leaned toward recovery, but by then the layoffs were old news. Except to the people who were still out of work.
Jerry was too old. He was overqualified. He was a day late. The excuses were boilerplate. A lateral move was impossible. Even a downward move wasn’t realistic as hotels were now hiring kids fresh out of business school for half Jerry’s price. It was like pushing a rock up a hill. Unemployment compensation lasted only so long, and what he had managed to keep in the divorce he pissed away on luxury items like food and rent. All the while still obligated for 2800 square feet with a pool.
Finally Jerry was offered a job as the live-in manager of an aging 96 room motel a couple blocks off the Strip. Professionally beneath him, certainly. But he took it so he could eat while continuing to look. Eventually he stopped looking as he grew to like the job. It was easy. Location meant he didn’t need the responsibility of a car. Not having to pay rent, the salary more than covered his monthly nut. And working for an absentee owner eliminated the corporate stress of having to look over his shoulder. After work he gorged himself at the casino buffets, enjoyed a few beers at the sports books and went to the movies. All within walking distance. Life was simplified. Life was good. He enjoyed playing video poker. And then he began to enjoy it too much.
The owner of the motel had the books audited every three months, and the accountant was coming in the morning. Two weeks early. Was it because Jerry had borrowed from the motel account to cover his gambling losses? No. But Jerry knew that if the $800 was not put back before breakfast, it would be.
What Jerry had done made him sick to his stomach. Unemployment, even prison, would be preferable to the degradation he suffered having to beg money from his daughter. A daughter who he had watched, just a year before, cheerleading at her high school football games. A daughter who, just a year before, had swooned over posters of teen idols on her bedroom walls. A daughter who now shaved her asshole to glom twenties off drooling conventioneers. Jerry certainly wasn’t thrilled about it, though he had somehow managed to come to terms with the thought of her working there. What choice did he have? Just for a while to save some money, she had told him. Hey, most teenage strippers kept work a secret from their fathers (her mother thought she worked for the phone company). But father and daughter had always been close. A special bond. He appreciated her honesty, but having to actually see it for himself tore him apart as it would most any father. He hated himself for being in the position of having to come there. He hated himself for embarrassing his daughter by coming there. He hated himself.
As she came back into the room, it was obvious by the confidence of her walk that she loved her work. And why not? The attention she got was a real high. She wanted to hug her father. The man who had always made certain nothing would hurt her, yet now felt such hurt himself. Wanted to hold him securely in her arms as he had done for her when she was six. Wrong place. Wrong outfit. She pressed some folded bills into his hand. “I love you, Daddy.”
Then he was gone.
Jerry walked past idle warehouses toward the lights of the Strip, struggling to come to terms with what he had just done. With what he had become. A pathetic loser, sponging off his kid. Maybe in the morning he would be able to look past the self pity and realize that his daughter didn’t see him that way at all.
Jerry had hit rock bottom. Maybe in the morning he would realize that it was the place from which all great comebacks were staged.
Maybe he wouldn’t.