April 30, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: A Final Question


Originally, I had thought to do these posts on Shane Stevens until my critical/investigative work actually saw print. However, I think this will be my last post for a long while.


Shane Stevens has long been an influence on my own writing. Researching his life, re-reading his work with a critical eye, and preparing my article have deepened that influence. I believe his novels stand as a testament to the true strength of crime fiction as a genre with a purpose and a voice, not merely entertainment and a celebration of the worst humanity has to offer.  In his novels, Stevens confronted rascism, poverty, greed, inequality and injustice. Like Warren Ellis recently said, crime fiction is social fiction.


Or, at least it should be.


Remembering this has empowered my own writing. You see, for the longest time, when I wrote it was only under artistic pretensions. I started getting somewhere when I finally put those aside, told the muse to go fuck herself, and hit this thing hard like it was work. And writing is work. It takes thought and it takes time and it takes effort


But re-reading Shane Stevens, it reminded me that writing is, also, art. Art must confront. Art must challenge. Otherwise, all this is just typing.


All of which, has made Stevens' neglect all the more difficult to stomach.

I wrote my piece on Stevens in the hope it might encourage people to seek out his work. He deserves to be remembered as more than, "that guy Stephen King talked about in The Dark Half." With the explosion of e-books, Stevens could easily undergo a literary resurrection without fear of anyone loosing money on a costly print-run. But I think for that to happen, there has to be a great deal more awareness of the man--which is why I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting a Facebook group dedicated to his work. A place where fans could gather. A place to discuss his work. A place of discovery.


When I was researching Stevens, it quickly became clear to me that the true source of information on the man and his life would have to come from actual people. I spent a lot of my research time attempting to track down people who knew him, people who remembered him. There just isn't anything else out there. Time is too great of an enemy. A Facebook group/fan page could unearth more details. A Facebook group/fan page could bring the people to me, to us, the fans, instead of trying to find them.


What do you think?


Is it worth it?


I honestly don't know and I honestly don't know if I want to dedicate more of my time to thisSure, I would like to come back to researching Stevens someday, when I'm backed by cash and time. Stevens is important to me, to my writing. I owe him a debt for the entertainment, I owe him a debt for reminding me what the purpose of crime fiction is. What the purpose of an artist is. I can actually say something in my writing. I think the only way I can repay that is by forging ahead in my own way because it is my writing. I sort of feel like I need to move on. That I need to take the inspiration he's given me and run with it. 

April 23, 2011

Love The Wrong Way

Since my wife is such a big fan, we streamed an Adrien Brody movie neither one of us had ever seen. Love The Hard Way is a little-known indie that sat on the shelf for a couple years until Brody won his Oscar.

We almost didn’t make it very far. We’ve never had a complaint about anything we’ve watched through Netflix until this film. The audio was fucking awful. A far-off whisper until I cranked the volume up to about 50.

But we persevered. After Hollywoodland, Adrien Brody in a crime drama was enough for both of us to see it through.

In the film, Brody plays Jack, a chain-smoking hustler who secretly wants to be a writer. Jack and his roommate, Charlie, run an illegal betting operation for college students, but score real cash with the help of two “actresses” and a front desk man who looks like a reject from a Bauhaus video. As a group, they run a badger game scheme out of a fancy hotel downtown. The two roommates dress as cops to blackmail businessmen before the "actresses" actually have to put out.

Charlotte Ayanna plays Claire, a pretty young college student from a small town in Maine. She’s a smart girl who's studying to be a scientist. She meets Jack at her part-time job and then, later, on campus when he’s collecting vig from her boyfriend's buddy. Jack convinces her to meet him at the Staten Island Ferry.

She does. They hit a nice restaurant. He flirts. She flirts back and falls for him even though Jack warns her. He’s bad, you see. He only likes things that give him kicks. He’ll just hurt her…

Now, up to this point, I’m digging the movie even if it’s a little rough. Some groan bits of dialogue. Overly staged blocking. Self-consciously arty shots now and again. But in spite of that, there are some flashes of brilliance.

Mostly, the power comes from the two leads. Sure, Brody’s character comes off more as a smug, young prick rather than a weary, streetwise hood but it works. Along with his secret room in a storage unit, it helps contribute to the idea that maybe there is something real underneath the pleather snakeskin jacket. Brody has enough charisma to power through some of the awful bits of dialogue. He manages menace fairly well. And, honestly, I don't think there's an actor around who can emote anguish and sorrow the way he can. As my wife says, no one cries on screen like Brody.

Charlotte Ayanna is just painfully pretty and fresh-faced and unconsciously sexy. Next to Brody’s tall, thin frame, she looks tiny. She manages to convey innocence beautifully with an almost purposeful naivete. Together, her and Brody have some amazing chemistry. Their moments of intimacy manage to be both touching and sexy without feeling vulgar.

Wonderful things can be done with very simple plots, with very familiar plots. It’s easy to forget that. I know, as a writer, for a long time I thought "stunning" and "memorable" required complexity. Intricacies upon intricacies. It doesn't. The things which carry punch are the simple things. The things like love and hate and regret and sorrow and betrayal. The things we all know. Everything else is just window-dressing.

Besides, believe it or not, I’m a fucking sucker for a love story. For a boy meets girl story. I wanted to know what happened. How did this version play out? I knew pain was coming. I was prepared for it. I knew Jack and Claire wouldn’t have an easy time.

 The sad thing is? When it came? That's when the film lost me…

So, Claire returns early from a trip to another university and catches Jack in bed with one of the badger game girls. Claire has a breakdown. Jack tells her not to cry, that he “doesn’t deserve tears.”

She leaves. Wanders the streets. Gets mistaken for a prostitute by a man on the street. So, what does she do? She lets him fuck her—bareback—for $50 bucks.

Riiiight.

Then she goes and sees the Bauhaus clerk. Asks for a place to stay and tells him she wants in on the badger game scam. Of course, the next scene is Jack and Charlie in their cop uniforms busting into a new motel room only to find Claire riding some fat, old dude.

Riiight.

But it doesn't end there. It keeps spiraling straight down the gutter. Character inconsistencies. Contrived plot points. Forced actions. Confusing behavior. And just all around nastiness until it careens to a ridiculous, bullshit, pseudo-intellectual ending full of ridiculous dialogue and exposition.

Here's the thing--there's nothing wrong with grit. There's nothing wrong with dark. But there has to be something else there. The grit has to come with a purpose, with a fucking meaning. Because I have news for you, okay? Simply piling on heinous action after heinous action? It accomplishes nothing.

You got that?

Nothing.

"Grit" alone does not automatically equal depth.

Ever.

Shane Stevens Saturday: Privacy and The Writer

The one thing that can't be disputed about Shane Stevens is that he is a private man.

I think that's a difficult idea to process. We live in a different world now. Today, information on anyone is much easier to find. Not so in Stevens day. You could go through life without leaving much of a trace. And when you combine that period with someone who is as naturally secretive as Stevens, you get...nothing. You get his meager Wikipedia entry.

Yet, beyond how our world has changed, the writing game has shifted. The nature of the industry now seems to require every writer, whether established or just beginning, to be on Facebook and Twitter, maintain a blog, sign fans up for their mail list and hold contests.

Shane Stevens didn't have to do any of that. At all.

Is this a good thing?

I mean, for us, as writers? Wouldn't we all be writing more if we didn't have to do this? Does are visibility make it more difficult to separate the writer from the writer's work?

And what about a writer like Shane Stevens? A man who values his privacy beyond anything else? How would he make it today? Could he?

April 21, 2011

Dispatches from a Dead Brain

We’ve had one less person at work. I’ve being doing the job of two people during one of the busiest times of the year. For months now, I’ve been working on my investigative/critical piece on forgotten author, Shane Stevens. I finished it up a couple of weeks ago and it’s currently being looked over by someone whose opinion I value.

Consequently, my brain has been fried. I’m lucky I still remember how to type. I fully expect my brain to remain offline for the next couple of weeks. But I plan on going do swinging until April dies the death it deserves.

So, updates—

Head over to Spinetingler where I’m featured as part of their Conversations with the Bookless series. I probably run my mouth too much, but I believe everything I say and at least I'm saying something.

Shotgun Honey has only been around for a couple of weeks, but they’ve burst on the scene with the force of an 8-gauge blowing through clapboard. In a couple weeks my own voice will add to the boom.

In roughly two months, The Crime Factory print anthology will appear and remind everyone again why Keith, Cameron, and Liam kick so much ass.

April 9, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: Author Photo

There is only one thing that's harder to find than information on Shane Stevens.

His photograph.

And I have one.

John Legg wrote a book almost 15 years ago called Collecting Shane Stevens. The slim volume included a tad bit of biographical info and a short bibliography while focusing on tips and ideas, pre-Amazon and internet explosion, for collecting copies of Shane Stevens' novels. I spoke to Legg and he sent me a scan of the author photo from the back cover of the hardback printing of Way Uptown In Another World.

That photo was taken by a man called Alan Caruba. I spoke to Caruba and obtained his permission to include the photo with my own article.

When it appears, you'll finally see a photograph of the most elusive man in crime fiction.

April 8, 2011

Faster

A botched bank job gets his brother killed and the Driver thrown into prison. For the last ten years he's planned his revenge. On the day of his release, he foots it to a junkyard where a car and a gun are waiting for him. He hits the road in fifth gear, ready to make the crew that murdered his brother pay in blood.

Two men follow. One a junkie cop hoping to fumble his way through the case and into retirement. The other an unbalanced hit man with his therapist on speed dial. They chase the trail of bodies and burnt rubber as the Driver unravels the mystery of who set him up.

Faster is almost a perfect piece of hardboiled noir. It's beautifully paced. Plot constantly moving forward. Revealing bits of backstory and new clues to the doublecross with no wasted movement or dialogue. The film strikes a very nice balance between gritty realism and Hollywood escapism with very little of the over-the-top frills most audiences have come to expect.

The cast is good. Carla Gugino makes the most of a lightweight role. I didn't recognize Moon Bloodgood as Billy Bob's ex-wife. Thornton is perfect as the burned out Cop giving it one last shot. But the real standout is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He dominates the screen from that first opening shot of Driver pacing in his cell like a caged animal ready to explode with vicious violence. Johnson moves through the film without just relying on his imposing, physical presence. He invests Driver with a sense of sadness and regret, while at the same time conjuring this incredible aura of unstoppable force.

The problem is that the last third of the movie just  fizzles. It's like the writers give up. Instead of remaining true to the story, they force an ending of awkward expositions and unfulfilling resolutions--all to hammer home a half-assed theme of redemption that I don't think the rest of the movie supports.

Faster is a film worth watching even with the chump ending. Two-thirds of the movie is brilliant. When The Rock made his transition from the squared circle to the big screen, that two-thirds is what I thought I could look forward to. Instead I got films like The Tooth Fairy. I hope this movie will be a turning point in his career.

April 2, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: Ellery Queen

Shane Stevens didn't write very many short stories. He limited his shorter works to nonfiction pieces, essays, and book reviews. However, I do know of one short story publication I desperately wish I could find since it's a surprising one.

The February 1969 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine includes a rare short by Stevens. It's a story called "The Final Adventure" and it's about Sherlock Holmes.

That's right, Shane Stevens wrote a Sherlock Holmes story.

Of course, he wrote it on his own terms. An issue of The Baker Street Journal called Shane's Holmes pastiche, "sacrilegious and rather gruesome". An impressive feat to accomplish in a mere 5 pages of fiction.

April 1, 2011

Voting Opens Today


No relation.

Voting for the Spinetingler Awards opens today.

The categories are all stacked with quality nominations. I voted already, first thing is the morning. I had a hard time deciding...well, except for one category.


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