March 26, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: In the City

Shane Stevens' novels were all published from the mid 60s through the late 80s (the J.W. Rider books). In my piece on Stevens I quote a good deal from his letters. Much like with the opening dedication of his second novel, Way Uptown in Another World, Stevens speaks a lot about the violence happened all around him. This obviously had an affect on his work, on his opinions of the world, and his own behavior. It's easy to dismiss all of those words as just being posturing or exaggeration or, worst of all, just a reference to his time in Harlem.

But it's not.

For those of us from my generation, it's difficult, I think, to put the time that Stevens was writing into perspective. I know I wasn't alive then. However, I think it's important to be aware of what was going and it's something I didn't really have the space to go into with as much detail as I would have liked in my piece.

The Vietnam War was underway, giving birth to the radical actions of The Weathermen. City streets flooded with flower children looking for meaning beyond their own suburban lives. The inner cities saw an explosion of drug use, first heroin and then, as we moved into the 80s, crack cocaine. The Civil Rights movement fanned the flames of already strained racial tensions; not only from the more passive resistance of Dr. King and his followers but the leftist and militant factions that made up The Black Panthers and The Black Liberation Army (most famous for their Brinks Robbery and the shootout with State Troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike).  The Son of Sam stalked lover's lanes. The corrupt actions of police officers led to the Supreme Court's Miranda Rights decision while the Knapp Commission investigation sent shock waves through the NYPD.

Right in the middle of it all, lived Shane Stevens.

For a greater understanding of Shane Stevens' New York and what was going on, you might check out The Savage City, the most recent book from the always excellent T.J. English

March 24, 2011

Short Story on the Web Nominees

For me writing is a solitary sort of madness...

However, regardless of my own imbalances, it does my misanthropic little heart good to get some recognition--especially when that recognition comes alongside such an extraordinary list of my peers whose work I constantly admire:

Spinetingler Award: Short Story on the Web Nominees

March 19, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: The Crime Writer as Political Activist

On December 3, 1970, The New York Review of Books ran a letter from Shane Stevens in response to an article called "The Dark Night of the Soul." The article was about the Berrigans. The names probably mean nothing to you, but back then Daniel and his brother Phillip were fairly well known. The Berrigans were poets, political activists and priests. They served several terms in jail for their Vietnam protests, helped with the release of the first wave of POWs, napalmed draft records, and spent time on the FBI's Most Wanted.

In Stevens' letter, he addresses the fact that serving time in a federal prison prevents the Berrigans from publishing anything they write during their sentence. Shane closes his letter, "Because so many of us writers today face the possibility of federal imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, it becomes mandatory that we have the regulation changed. Father Berrigan is merely the latest to fall victim to this inhuman bit of indecency. There have been many others. There will be many more."

Dashiell Hammett
What's happened to our writers? Especially our crime writers? We owe our hard boiled/noir tradition to Dashiel Hammett, a leftist who willing served jail time for his beliefs. Crime writing should be boldly confronting all the inequalities under which crime itself thrives. Are we shirking our responsibilities? Where is our Writers and Editors War Tax Protest Pledge?

March 17, 2011

Easy A

Easy A opens with Olive Penderghast using a fake date with a fake boy to get out of a weekend camping trip with her best friend, Rhiannon, and her weird, hippie, nudist parents. When they return to school, Rhi presses Olive to dish the details. Olive gets carried away with her lie and tells Rhi that she lost her virginity—but it’s not that big of a deal since she doesn’t even plan on seeing the boy again. Unfortunately, all this is overhead by Marianne, the school’s Evangelical zealot and moralizing fascist. The story goes viral and Olive is suddenly the school skank.

Several days later, during a discussion of The Scarlet Letter, one of the Christian girls makes a rude comment in class. Olive’s comeback gets her sent to the principal’s office. During her labor intensive detention she admits to the gay and constantly bullied Brandon that she made the whole thing up.

Olive’s confession gives Brandon an idea that sets up the rest of movie. He’s tired of getting bullied. If Olive will pretend to sleep with him then maybe everyone will leave him alone. She agrees and concocts a hilarious scheme they execute perfectly at a popular girl’s house party.

Again, the story goes viral.

The other kids stop bullying Brandon and start paying Olive attention. For all her intelligence and self-assurance, Olive has never had this much notice before. Not wanting it to end, she starts dressing sexier and wearing a large A on her chest.

Meanwhile, the actual truth of the party sexcapades spreads through the nerd-vine. Soon, every geek, dweeb and high school untouchable beats a path to Olive’s door. They want the Brandon treament and they'll pay for it.

Olive agrees and that's when everything starts to get out of hand...

Easy A was all surprises for me. First and foremost, the film actually has a plot, a plot with acts, a plot with structure, a plot with all those things a plot is supposed to have. And for once, it's not the lazy go-to plot former Saturday Night Live members have beat into the ground and use to frame a series of random and unconnected sketches about the same charactersave, stop, finish, win at/for X before X is sold, closed down, moves away, remarries.

It's a genuinely funny film. It relies on dialogue and situational  humor without resorting to the crass dick/fart/gross-out idiocy that's dominated comedy for years. There's none of those awkward moments where a bit goes on and on even though it stopped being funny 5 minutes ago and the director should have trimmed it during editing but is too much of a pussy to say anything to Will Ferrell/Mike Myers/Adam Sandler. For once, it was nice to watch something that wasn't nonsensical, farcical or absurdist. Something that didn't reek of the college level aren't-I-so-smart humor of Adult Swim's "original programming" that mostly makes me want to change the channel. You know, I mean those sort of truly unfunny things that Sarah Silverman has based her career around while convinced herself she's actually humorous and that men don't just go to see her just because she's kinda cute and when do cute girls say random things like, "poop" anyway?

Screenwriter Bert V. Royal wrote a film that's modern and timely on one hand, but steeped in the films that I loved as a teenagerFerris Bueller's Day Off, Can't Buy Me Love, Say Anything, and John Hughes' entire body of work.

The cast is exceptinal. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson shine. The two of them have maybe 10 minutes of screentime, but are unforgettable as Olive's parents. Even in smaller parts Thomas Hayden Church continues to bury Lowell Mather with solid acting. For once I almost forgot that Lisa Kudrow was on Friends. Malcolm McDowell continues to chew scenery and sleep his way through menace-by-rote, but it's all perfect for a school principal. And, finally, Emma Stone is a dream as Olive. For someone her age, she's incredibly comfortable with both the comedic and the dramatic. She has a wonderful husky voice and exudes an appealing combination of understated cool and overstated dork.

If I were 14, I'd buy copies of Tiger Beat for her.

Easy A isn't a perfect film. For all it's honesty and it's modernity, it stops just sort of satisfyingly confronting some of the big topics it raises: the hypocrisy of religion, the sheer cruelty of high school, our society's twisted issues with sex. Most of all, and this is where it actually disappoints, it pussies out on examining why a smart and self-assured girl would feel so desperate for attention that she'd willingly pretend to be a whore.

But Easy A is the best comedy I've seen in a long time.

March 12, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: The Me Nobody Knows

I've been able to verify that Shane Stevens wrote two different screenplays for Hollywood. The first was the planned adaptation of the musical The Me Nobody Knows. Essentially a series of connected vignettes about being poor, the musical was itself adapated from an anthology that collected the writings of New York City school children. On one hand, it seems a little strange, even with the subject matter, that Shane Stevens would be writing the screenplay for a musical. On the other, it is called "The Me Nobody Knows."

Finally, as part of the massive deal surrounding By Reason of Insanity, Stevens wrote the screen adaption of his novel for Columbia Pictures. Neither one of the two screenplays were ever produced. I've heard rumors that Stevens did other work in Hollywood, but I've never been able to verify that and, if he did, it must have been uncredited re-writes and polishes of someone else's work.

March 11, 2011

Kung Fu Factory

Rina Takeda in the film, High-Kick Girl
 The special issue of Crime Factory is now available in print, .pdf, and, as soon as a some technical details are fixed, Kindle format.

As a writer and a martial artist, I was honored to be invited to participate. A couple of weeks ago when I was sent a version for final edits, it blew me away. The roster of writers was impressive. But the finished product is even more astonishing thanks to the quality work put in by Keith, Cameron, and Liam. Crime Factory is obviously a labor of love and it's never been clearer than with this special edition.

So, dig if you will:

From the far East-to-the backwoods of the American Nightmare - Crimefactory Magazine Presents: Kung Fu Factory! Crimefactory's hardest hitting pulpfest to date! Featuring new fiction and features by Christa Faust, Anthony Neil Smith, Frank Bill, Cameron Ashley, Duane Swiercynski, Chad Eagleton, Chris La Tray, Matthew McBride, Liam Jose, Jimmy Callaway, Garnett Elliot, Bryon Quertermous, the Nerd Of Noir, Michael S. Chong, and Joshua Reynolds!

Head over now and check out Kung Fu Factory!

When you finish, let me know what you think of my face-brusing, bone-shattering tale, "Down By The Water". Fans of The Dogfight should be sure not to miss it. My story reveals more about Johnny So Long and his Sayonara Boys while shining light on the longterm effects of Heckler and Doyle's actions.

March 5, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: Acid Trip in the East Village...

While re-reading Way Uptown In Another World lots of things struck me. This is one of them. Marcus Garvey Black, the main character, young African-American conman, asks an East Villiage dealer named Super Spade about this new "acid thing" going around. Garvey wants to know if Super Spade is worried about what's gonna go down when the heavies try to take over.

Super Spade isn't worried about that. He knows it'll never happen. Acid, he tells, Marcus is too dangerous.

Marcus wants to know for whom. Super Spade tells him:

'"For whoever ain't taking it. Listen, baby, this acid ain't like the hard stuff. Society don't care nothing about the junkies cause they ain't no threat really. They just got a job like everyone else. Their job is taking junk. They steal and kill sometimes but that gives the po-lice something to do. And everybody's happy, you dig?  But acid's a whole other thing. It lets you see what life oughtta be like. It makes you a revolutionary. Not for one stupid fuckin' country over another, that's just a game. But for a whole diff'rent kinda life where there's no power shit at all. You dig?"

I nodded.

"Now society ain't about to let go of the golden apple. Too many power junkies got their teeth in it. And they already getting hip to the acid message. Soon they gonna come down and wipe out all the acid freaks like they was some kinda disease, man. And if they don't do that, they'll get some science shit out front to scare everybody off. But whatever they do, they ain't gonne let love take over 'cause that'd be the end of the world."'

It's about the power trip. And like always, Stevens is telling us it doesn't have to be.

March 3, 2011

Karate Kids

Recently we watched both versions of The Karate Kid.

The original was airing on television the other day. I’ve always liked that movie and hadn’t seen it for a long time. While the clothes and the soundtrack do date the film horribly in spots, I was pleased to see that it held up well.

Until then I didn’t really have any desire to see the remake. First of all, I generally loathe remakes. I can’t think of too many examples where a remake has improved on the source material. And besides that it really annoyed me they called the Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan version The Karate Kid. There’s no karate in the film. They practice kung-fu.

But anyway…

The basic plot of both films is the same. Kid moves to a new place with his mom. He crushes on a rich girl. Doesn’t fit in. He gets bullied and beaten up by some other kids who learn martial arts from some dickhead. Kid befriends the maintenance man. Turns out the maintenance man knows how to fight. Maintenance man teaches kid martial arts and some life lessons. Kid and maintenance man become close. Kid has showdown with the bullies at a martial arts tournament and wins.

The Macchio/Morita Karate Kid works because of the ability to identify with the character of Daniel LaRusso. Daniel’s a gangly and goofy teenager. His dad has just died. He and his mother are forced to move from one coast to another due to a job opportunity. Daniel’s the odd man out in the new school. He looks different from the other students—he’s swarthy and everyone else seems to be Aryan poster children; he’s poor and they’re all rich; he talks with an accent they don’t have and uses slang they don’t know. He ends up crushing on the popular girl that’s way out of his league. And now he’s the target of the school dickheads.

But Dre Parker, as played by Jaden Smith, is a little kid. He’s every bit a little kid and, worst of all, he seems cooler as a little kid than any of us do as adults. The new film never really addresses him being the odd man out. There’s never an issue of him looking, talking or acting differently from everyone else. And there absolutely no mention at all of him and his mother being the only African-Americans we ever see on screen. The bullies tormenting Dre are also little kids. So, not only do we never get any sort of real sense of why they’re bullying him, especially when they seem to leave everyone else alone, they have no air of menace. When you’re a 17 year old teenager, physically you’re pretty much a grown man. As a grown man you pose a threat an 11 year old just can’t, even if the 11 year old is making his widdle grimacy maaad faace at chu.

The teenager is the eternal outsider.

A little kid is just a little kid.

I remember what being a teenager is like. I remember what it felt like to not fit in and think no one else understood that. I remember wanting to talk to the pretty, rich girl at school and not being able to. I remember getting teased and I remember being bullied. I remembered trying to fumble my way through all those big life events.

The only thing I remember about being 12 is the huge internal debate of: Do I play with my G.I. Joe or Star Wars' action figures?

But Dre’s age ruins something even more important. If you’re going to acknowledge the Karate Kid as having any emotional resonance and power beyond entertaining you for 90 minutes, it comes from the relationship of the two main characters. Miyagi fills the gap left by Daniel’s dead father. Daniel fills the hole left by Miyagi’s dead family. Their relationship operates on multiple levels, father and son, teacher and student, and friends. That dynamic shifts and changes throughout the film as Miyagi helps Daniel along on his journey into manhood and he’s confronted by all those big life questions: what does it means to be a man, what is honor, and what is friendship?That's a relationship a grown man can't have, on the same level, with a child.

The only thing Mr. Han does is teach Dre kung-fu.

March 2, 2011

The Double-D...Reissued

Christopher Pimental accepted the second story I ever sent out, “The Double-D.” It’s a twisted piece about John Dillinger’s pickled penis. In the story a nameless narrator is working for a rich eccentric who likes to collect seedy and one-of-a-kind memorabilia from figures involved in crime. You see, according to legend, Dillinger had a monster schlong. Supposedly, after the gangster's death by cop, J. Edgar Hoover had his manhood amputated and put in a jar he kept on his desk.

The idea came to me after details of the Marilyn Monroe sex film surfaced. If I remember correctly, the footage was purchased by an individual working for an unnamed private collector. I thought the whole thing was fascinating. How do you find out something like that exists? Who do you send after it and why? Monroe’s fellatio performance sent my imagination working in overdrive.

I was proud of this story when I sent it out.

When it saw the light of day, I was even more proud of it—thanks to Christopher Pimental. I owe him a debt I can probably never repay. He was an amazing and thought-provoking editor who took an interesting story with tons of promise and helped me turn it into something stunning. Pimental not only taught me more about writing than anyone, but he was the one to finally break through all the bullshit to show me how to think about writing as a process.

Recently, Christopher has morphed what used to be his Bad Things Pulp Pages into a slicker, streamlined and visually appealing site. I suggest you go check out. Not only can you read some of the best stories from back in the day, but there are links to Pimentals’ own noir and hard boiled writings.

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