Stark House Press keep so many of the great crime writers, particularly from the fifties and sixties paperback era, alive and well in print. Whether W.R. Burnett and Gil Brewer or even more obscure authors like Jada M Davis or Arnold Hano, they bring some of their best work for today’s readers to enjoy. Crime fiction author and expert Rick Ollerman has contributed dozens of introductions to Stark House reprints. They are much more than a few pages of praise, being highly informative and written with a personal view and opinion that often explores the genre and writing itself. Recently, most have been collected, along with new material, in Hard Boiled, Noir, and Gold Medals.
One can tell Ollerman goes through some deep reading before he writes an intro. One on Harry Whittington, “the king of the paperbacks” runs thirty pages. He finds the best possible way to connect history and critique. when writing about Peter Rabe, he deconstructs an action sequence from Murder Me For Nickels, showing how he inserts the protagonists emotional point for view of the violence, without breaking the flow of the writing. Even if you have loved these writers and books before, you will have a better understanding of why.
Ollerman comes at his subjects from fresh angles. When discussing the two lifelong friends who wrote under the successful pseudonym Wade Miller, he compares them to the two cousins who made up Ellery Queen, who shared a much more fraught collaboration. He puts Texas author Juda M. Davis on my my radar. Born into poverty so rough, his family barely noticed the depression, Davis traded most of his creative years for a lucrative career at Southwestern Bell. As well as shining a light on an author deserving an audience, also uses it as a discussion on a an artists need to create that conflicts with the need to provide for himself and his family.
Ollerman weaves new, more personal pieces through his work, giving it the feel of an educated fan sharing the books he loves with another. He will put you on the trail of new authors and maybe challenge a few of your opinions, all without spoilers. After reading Hard Boiled, Noir, And Gold Medals, Rick Ollerman will need no introduction.
Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Lionel White is one of those classic hard-boiled authors more people should know about. He was the master of the caper. Well-planned heists, robberies, and kidnappings and the place of fate (or more often human emotion) that unravels the best-laid plans were his specialty. His novel Clean Breakis a prime example.
Clean Break concerns the planning, execution, and aftermath of a race track robbery of close to two million dollars. Almost every perpetrator is a “normal citizen” acting as an inside man. Aside from the fresh-from-prison master mind, Johnny Clay, they only know their particular part of the job. One of the men’s wives is seeing a hood on the side, and the two of them hatch a plan to rob the robbers.
The heist is the major character. The planning and execution is shown down to the detail. White uses an innovative technique in rewinding time to follow each participant in their part of the job. Critics often give credit for clarity to Stanley Kubrick in his film adaptation, The Killing, yet White’s clean and lean style allows him to tell a complex tale without the reader without ever being lost. The execution is so sharp, the inevitable unraveling hits you in the gut.
That’s not to say the characters aren’t indelible – Johnny Clay is a stick-up man with ambition. This is his first big-time score, a factor that creates suspense by keeping us in the shadows as to if he can pull it off. Other than his attachment to contacts in the underworld and his honor-among-thieves morality, he makes Stark’s Parker look like Mr. Personality and probably sizes everyone he meets as a partner or a victim. Even the “normal citizens,” including a cop with mafia connections and a degenerate gambler-turned-track-bartender, are morally compromised. Clay says they all have a little larceny in them. Not only did White not bother to make his criminals sympathetic, he offered very little to understand them. He knows you don’t read heist novels for heroes.
i was happy to discover that publisher Stark House has recently brought Clean Break back into print. Clean Break is available in an omnibus edition with White’s novel The Snatcher that also includes a great introduction by crime fiction writer and historian Rick Ollerman. The Snatcher is a kidnapping story with such a detailed crime, a French desperado was able to use the plot to execute a successful kidnapping of his own. Both show White’s expertise in criminal operations. It makes you wonder if Lionel White did something on the side to supplement his writing income.
Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Rick Ollerman will be joining us for our Noir At The Bar tonight at Threadgill’s South. Rick has a voice that has one foot in the modern and one in paperback classic. His latest, Mad Dog Barked, introduces us to PI Scott Porter who becomes the caretaker of a first edition of Murder In The Rue Morgue that draws all kind of disaster. We caught up with Rick to talk about the book and his writing.
MysteryPeople Scott: Mad Dog Barked is such a distinctive title. Did it come before or after finishing the book?
Rick Ollerman: It’s actually part of a line from a Jack Kerouac poem. I’d just started writing Mad Dog Barked and I knew the sort of character Scott Porter was going to be. When I read that poem, that particular line stood out, not just for being such an interesting phrase but for all the sort of meanings and complexities that reflected what I wanted to do with Porter. Was Porter a “mad dog” making noise? Was he driven to behave in a certain way? The title actually helped me shape the character and in the past, my titles have always been determined after the books had been written. This was more fun.
NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES: Advice and Opinions On Two Forms of Writing
by Rick Ollerman
A friend of mine recently asked me about a problem she’s having writing a novel. She writes mostly short stories and I write mostly novels and while she says she has the ending “set” and a solid beginning, she’s struggling with what comes between. Endings aside, she wanted to know if I ever struggled with the last two thirds of a novel.
The short answer is no, I don’t, but that’s because the process of writing a novel is different than writing a short story. A short story should be something that you can hold in your head in its entirety. You can’t do that with a novel, it’s just too damned big.
When I write a short story I need to know the point I want to make before I begin. I need to know what I’m writing to, what the thing is I want to say. It could be the expression of a mood or an emotion, the consequence of an action, or the classic twist the reader shouldn’t see coming. In the case of a forthcoming anthology based on the music of The Replacements (Waiting To Be Forgotten, 2016?), the point was derived from one of their songs.
This is not so for a novel. When I begin a new book-length project I start with a concept that usually comes from asking “what if” or “how come” sorts of questions. Those answers give me the characters. Put them together and I can write the opening. When people ask the seemingly eternal but silly question about what’s more important, characters or plot, there’s no real answer because both are needed to write a good book. In fact, I’d offer the formula “characters + plot + setting = good book,” assuming of course that the book is well written in the first place.
Zoë Sharp will be one of our authors at our upcoming Noir At The Bar, an event celebrating the magical mixture of author readings and brews. Noir at the Bar takes place at Threadgill’s South and begins at 7 PM, Tuesday September 20th. Her latest book features Kelly Jacks, a former Crime Scene Investigator turned crime scene cleaner after being framed for murder. Meike Alana caught up with her for this interview bout her latest, The Blood Whisperer.
Meike Alana: At one point, a character tells Kelly Jacks that she may not have a dick but she certainly has balls (a great line, by the way). Can you tell us a little bit about how you developed a character as complex as Kelly?
Zoë Sharp: Well, I’ve written eleven novels in the Charlie Fox series, but there are other stories I want to tell that wouldn’t be a good fit in Charlie’s world.
The idea for The Blood Whisperer came about because I was intrigued by the idea of writing a series of standalones⎯which sounds like a contradiction, I know. They would be individual stories, with different main protagonists, but all strong female characters who were, for whatever reason, slightly on the wrong side of the law. So, where the first reaction of a ‘normal’ person when confronted with the kind of danger Kelly faces would be to go to the police, for her that isn’t an option. She has to rely on her instincts to keep her alive.
Kelly very much evolved as I wrote the book, which is how I like to develop characters. I know some people write complicated biographies before they begin, but until a person walks onto the page for the first time, they haven’t really taken shape for me. Her interest in free-climbing, for instance, began as a method of escaping from the four walls of her home, a way of finding an additional sense of freedom having endured being in prison, but it quickly became an integral part of the story.
“The idea for The Blood Whisperer came about because I was intrigued by the idea of writing a series of standalones⎯which sounds like a contradiction, I know. They would be individual stories, with different main protagonists, but all strong female characters who were, for whatever reason, slightly on the wrong side of the law.”
Noir At the Bar will be back in action Tuesday, September 20th at Threadgill’s South. Along with local author, musician and man-about-town Jesse Sublett, we have two authors from outside the state and one from Britain. This could be the closest we come to being classy.
Rick Ollerman hails from Florida, where his latest book, Mad Dog Barked, takes place. Rick has his feet firmly planted in the hard boiled tradition to tell his two fisted tales. Mad Dog Barked gives us hard drinking and harder living private detective Scott Porter, who becomes the caretaker of a first edition copy of Poe’s “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” that draws the attention of old school gangsters and several other nefarious types.
Our first author from across the pond is Zoe Sharp. She is best known for her series character, Charlie Fox, who is often described as the female Jack Reacher. Her latest is a standalone, Blood Whispererthat deals with a wrongfully-imprisoned-crime-scene-investigator-turned-crime-scene-cleaner who is framed for murder. Zoe doesn’t tour the States often so catch her while you can.
John Lawton is an American who writes about Britain. The Unfortunate Englishman is his second book to feature Joe Wilderness, an agent for MI6 (or so we think, it’s a little complex). Come out and see why he is a MysteryPeople customer favorite.
Noir at the Bar takes place at Threadgill’s South (off of Riverside.) Our next Noir at the Bar is Tuesday, September 20th, at 7 PM. Recent books by each author will be available for purchase at the signing. We’ll be giving out books left and right, so come prepared for wonderful readings and some free reads!