Archive for December, 2012

Reading on the Backbeat

December 30th, 2012

I’ve been on a rock “autobiography” binge (the quotation marks are a tribute to the inevitable co-authors), partly as a guilty pleasure and partly as preparation for a possible book, and Slash’s book, titled, naturally, Slash,  is a fair representative of the strengths and weaknesses of the genre.

On the plus side, co-author/ghostwriter Anthony Bozza does a credible job of creating a voice that sounds something like the way one might expect Slash to sound. Also on the plus side, the section of the book that deals with the evolution of Guns ‘n Roses, the discovery of their musical strengths, and the making of the first (astonishing) album are quite interesting.

But the part everyone actually wants to read, the story of the band’s lengthy and acrimonious dissolution as Axl Rose gradually took over the band and even assumed ownership of the name, is incredibly oblique: a few of the tantrums are here, as are the famous shows that began 3-5 hours late, but there’s no clear picture of what drove Axl, undoubtedly one of rock’s towering lunatics, to such extremes. Every (apparently) censored paragraph suggests a whopper of a non-disclosure cause in the papers that finally cut Slash free from the band — or, possibly, the band free from Slash.

Slash comes across as an intelligent, sensitive, talented man who has an infinite reserve of denial. He’s talking about “drinking for fun” when he’s starting at nine A.M., passing out literally every night, vomiting in restaurants, shooting heroin for variety, and nodding out at family Thanksgiving dinners. In the meantime, he’s highly critical of drug use among the other band members, especially the heroin-addled Steven Adler.

As a little roundup of the books I’ve read so far in this genre, Sammy Hagar’s Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock is the most unintentionally funny, a clueless pean of self-praise by someone whose talent definitely took a backseat to his luck; Steven Adler’s My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns N’ Roses is the saddest and (of necessity) the worst-focused. Motley Crue’s blisteringly candid The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band is the most engagingly lurid, and Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue is the most unflinching. Currently reading Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road Out of Hell and finding it surprisingly deep and touching, considering how irritating I always thought its author was.

And then I’ve read a dozen more that are just variations on a theme: talent, group, drugs, excuses, breakup, redemption, even if redemption often sounds like sour grapes. And I’ve got about ten more waiting for me.

The things writers go through.

posted by Timothy Hallinan @ 2:33 PM

Czechered Career

December 26th, 2012

It’s happened.

About eighteen months since I was told I was going to be translated for sale in the Czech Republic, Hrebik Zarazany Do Sdrce is in better bookstores across Prague.  That’s A Nail Through the Heart to those of us in the English-speaking world.

Being translated is one of the really rarefied pleasures of writing.  It’s difficult to explain the satisfaction, but somehow it’s an all-the-way-to-the-toes thrill to know that somewhere in the world someone has labored long and hard over something I wrote, bringing it to a whole new readership.  It’s very, very gratifying.

It also allows me to have the coolest segment in all my bookcases — me in different languages.  Few objects delight me more than the first copy of a book in translation. There it is, with my name in it, a title I’ve never seen or heard before, and I didn’t have to do any extra work.

Now, what I’m hoping for is an invitation to Prague, one of the four cities in the world I most want to see.  I’ll even pay my own way, if someone will just take charge of me, introduce me to some interesting people, and show me around.

Then I can say to people, “I’ll do it right after I get back from Prague.”  I might even buy a smoking jacket.

posted by Timothy Hallinan @ 9:24 PM

The Next (and Last) Big Thing (1)

December 18th, 2012

I’m renovating this defunct virtual neighborhood because a wonderful writer, the Edgar- and Everything Else-winner Bruce DeSilva, appointed me the Next Big Thing.  Thanks, Bruce!

The Next Big Thing is a sort of blog chain letter in which writers (like me) get tagged by other writers (like Bruce) to answer some questions on their blog.  Once we get suckered, the person who suckered us (Bruce) posts his/her own answers to the questions on their blog– in Bruce’s case, that’s here–and, a week later, they point their readers to the sucker (me, in this case) as the next Next Big Thing, at which point those people with an unending appetite for reading writers’ answers to the same set of questions over and over again move ravenously on to my blog.


And then they’re supposed to leap eagerly to the writer(s) I have, in turn, designated the Next Big Thing.  Except that the first eight people I asked had already been Next Big Things, and no one else was willing to be so designated.  So the chain ends here, although I’m designating some Next Best Things (in my opinion) without even asking them.

The questions are all about my next book.  I have three “next books,” so I’ve chosen two of them, the next Junior Bender and the next Poke Rafferty, and am being the Next Big Thing twice.

Here are the questions and my answers.

What is the working title of your next book?

Little Elvises: A Junior Bender Mystery

Where did the idea come from?

Back in the 1960s, a bunch of modestly talented Italian kids from Philadelphia were positioned, one at a time, as the “new” Elvis by an ambitious and very smart manager.  They attained brief stardom, made some of the worst records in the history of electronic sound reproduction, and then were replaced by the next one in line.  I wanted to write something about the way American pop culture imitates itself, the way it stamps out little tin copies of anything original that makes money.  This is what it turned into.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a mystery with a laugh track.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

For Junior, Robert Downey, Junior, ten years ago, or Jonny Lee Miller now.  For the music promoter Vincent De Gaudio, the porn star Ron Jeremy.  For the recently-but-untearfully-widowed Ronnie Bigelow, Natasha Henstridge.  For the world’s oldest still-dangerous gangster, Erwin Dressler, Alan Arkin, made up to look older although Dr. Jack Kevorkian was the face I had in mind when I wrote him.

Natasha Henstridge

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Compelled to get an aging, probably ganged-up music promoter off the hook for a murder he might well have committed, Junior Bender enters the world of truly awful rock and roll in search of the answer to a question that’s fifty years old–and almost gets killed doing it.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s going to be published by Soho Crime in January of the coming year.  The deal was made by my uber-agent, Bob Mecoy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

About eight weeks.  The Junior books, unlike the Poke Rafferty books, come very quickly.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Mysteries and thrillers by Donald E. Westlake, Jonathan Gash, and, to a lesser extent, Elmore Leonard.  They all write or wrote about people of dubious moral standing behaving more or less badly in a world that doesn’t deserve much better.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All the Juniors come from Junior’s voice, telling me a story. My role is to listen and get it down and then relate it to something that interests me (like that little bit about American pop culture above) because tying the story to my own interests guarantees that my energy won’t flag.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I actually listened to quite a bit of this music before and during the writing of the book, and I think I deserve a readership of awed millions for having endured that in the name of art.

Next Big Things:

If there were any justice, the Next Big Things would be:

Edward Wright, author of the John Ray Horn mysteries and some compelling stand-alones–most recently From Blood; and

John Falch, whose phenomenally ambitious first novel, The Yellow Bar, was one of my top reads of 2012.

Both tremendous writers.



posted by Timothy Hallinan @ 9:57 PM

The Next (and Last) Big Thing (2)

December 18th, 2012

The other next book I want to talk about is the sixth Poke Rafferty, which will come out (probably) in January of 2014 because I’ve taken so long to write it.  Same questions, different book.

What is the working title of your next book?

For the Dead: A Poke Rafferty Thriller

Where did the idea come from?

I wanted to write a book about Miaow, which this may or may not turn out to be.  I was interested in what happens to someone, especially someone in the immensely vulnerable early teens, who–out of insecurity–creates a false personality and then has it stripped away.

What genre does your book fall under?

If it’s not a thriller, I’m in trouble.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Mmmm.  I beg off that.  Almost all the characters in this book are Thai, and while I could suggest a few actors, I don’t think they’d mean much to most non-Thais.  And if I were to try to come up with non-Thai equivalents, most of them would be obscure to modern Western audiences.  For instance, to play Thanom, Arthit’s immensely corrupt superior in the police, who has a big role in the book, I’d cast Takashi Shimura, immortal for his role in Kurosawa’s “Ikiru.”

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Miaow and her boyfriend, Andrew, buy a stolen iPhone to replace the one he lost, they find on it a series of photographs that lead to a decades-old, but still lethal, scandal that ultimately brings Poke and Arthit up against some of Bangkok’s most powerful individuals.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’ll be published by Soho Crime under the auspices of my super-agent, Bob Mecoy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

If only I knew.  It feels like most of my adult life, and it’s not done yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think it’s a cross between Therese Raquin and Dr. Dolittle. I have no idea how to answer that question.  I suppose it’ll be quite a lot like the other Poke Rafferty books, only–you know–different. It’s a thriller about a family.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve wanted to write a book that was mainly about Miaow since I began the series.  And I really like writing Andrew, Miaow’s Vietnamese boyfriend.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Many people might be interested in seeing just how much of a writer’s blood can be soaked into roughly 300 pages. Once again, I don’t actually know how to answer this question. I don’t have much faith in my ability to tell even a short joke without losing my audience, and I have no idea why anyone would read me for hours and hours. Okay–I really like the characters.  I can say that.


posted by Timothy Hallinan @ 9:56 PM