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.

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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)


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Are the best lyrics romantic like those sung by Sinatra or Tony Bennett?  Are the best lyrics amusing non sequiturs from the Ramones or the thought provoking convictions of Bob Dylan

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:


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?

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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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).

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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.

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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.

Directed by Richard Fleischer. Starring William Talman & Charles McGraw

Directed by Sam Fuller. Starring Cliff Robertson & Beatrice KayUnderworld

PRIVATE HELL 36 – 1954
Directed by Don Siegel. Starring Ida Lupino & Steve Cochran

Directed by Bruno VeSota. Starring Lawrence Tierney & Jayne Mansfield

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

The Girl Hunters

Directed By Allen Baron. Starring Allen Baron & Molly McCarthy

Directed by Roy Rowland. Starring Mickey Spillane & Shirley Eaton

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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.

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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.

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02.09.15 THE CURSE OF FRANK SINATRA – a short story by P Moss

Beth smashed a lamp against the living room wall, cursing the jagged pieces of porcelain as if they had betrayed her.

Stewart sat on the sofa threading an eight-millimeter projector with a newly discovered home movie, amused by the crackhead logic of his little sister thinking she would discover bundles of $100 bills hidden inside a lamp.

Beth trashed closets and ripped up carpet, positive that there was treasure hidden somewhere in their dead father’s house.  Convinced by the memory of that certain Christmas when they were kids, when their mother had secretly traded in the old man’s Buick for a new one. Then like in the car ads on television, Christmas morning saw a shiny new sedan parked in the driveway wrapped in ribbon and bow. But unlike television, the old man created an ugly scene as he bullied the car dealer away from his family and managed to un-do the deal. By noon the old Buick was back in the garage where the old man unscrewed the interior panel of the driverside door, then blew out a tremendous sigh of relief.  The $197,000 in cash was still there.

For decades the old man earned a middle-class living blowing his trumpet in showroom orchestras on the Las Vegas Strip. Raised his family in a modest beige stucco house just like every other beige stucco house on the block. So where did a working stiff get $197,000 in cash? That was the question their mother had asked. Good luck at the dice tables was his answer.  Didn’t want to raise a red flag with the IRS by putting it in the bank.  After she died, the old man joined the country club and traveled annually to New Orleans and Newport for the jazz festivals. High living for a retired trumpet player, making his straight laced thirty-year-old son certain the money had been long ago spent. But Beth was not so easily convinced. Her long blonde hair and killer body had made it easy to tease up whatever drugs she wanted from the LA club kids who flocked in legion to Las Vegas every weekend.  But too much was never enough and it wasn’t long before she spiraled out of control, twice facing hard time for grand larceny.  Avoiding prison required a pricy lawyer and both times the old man paid. Beth vowed to find his money if she had to vandalize the house to its foundation.

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