Sunday, September 14, 2014

MEET BETIMES BOOKS


During the past month, Betimes Books has released three Hector Lassiter novels ONE TRUE SENTENCE, (its first time in paperback), FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND (its first time anywhere) and TOROS & TORSOS.

Two more, brand new Lassiters are headed your way in just a few days: THE GREAT PRETENDER (Orson Welles, The War of the Worlds Panic Broadcast of ’38, religious relics and occult-obsessed Nazis) and ROLL THE CREDITS (World War II, the birth of film noir and Hector as narrator for the first time since HEAD GAMES).

By year’s end, or thereabouts, you should have the whole of the Lassiter saga before you via Betimes—a number of other novels and the Lassiter short story collection/miscellanea, WRITE FROM WRONG.

All of this has led to some questions from readers and book folk about Betimes.

In a word, Betimes Books is all about offering quality fiction, in-and-out of genre, running the range from dark literary thrillers such as Betimes stablemate Hadley Colt’s erotic and twisty PERMANENT FATAL ERROR, about a mysterious, long-believed dead author (there is mystery attached to Colt herself, BTW), to edgy literary works—most recently including the republication of Richard Kalich’s CENTRAL PARK WEST TRILOGY.

A couple of months back, I had the good fortune to be afforded an early read of Betimes’ REACH THE SHINING RIVER by Kevin Stevens, a historical crime novel that transports you back to 20th Century Kansas City.

It evocatively tracks racial tensions circa 1935 against a vividly rendered backdrop of corruption and class friction, all of it unfolding to a soundtrack of classic jazz and blues.

Betimes also reunites me with Sam Hawken, who’s written some very fine Borderland noirs including LA FRONTERA and the recently released MISSING (now available from Serpent Tail.)

Apart from sharing some of the same Borderland preoccupations (mine play out in 2011’s EL GAVILAN) Sam and I go way back, having become acquainted moons ago when I was guest editing a Cinco de Mayo edition of HARDLUCK STORIES I dubbed “Borderland Noir.”

(That label’s since become a catchphrase or even title for others and their borderline-tension focused anthologies).

Sam’s short story contribution for that edition later became a chapbook for which I supplied an introduction.


In sum, Betimes is publishing some extremely interesting stuff and, my own works apart, I highly recommend you sample their other wares at Betimes’ official site here

You'll find plenty of sample chapters, excerpts and essays by Betimes authors.

You can also learn more about Betimes at its Facebook and Twitter sites.

I’ll leave you with Hadley Colt’s very powerful and moody book trailer for PERMANENT FATAL ERROR (you can read more about the book trailer's production hereto further entice your palate for all things Betimes:



Thursday, September 11, 2014

TOROS & TORSOS: THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI CONNECTION


ORSON WELLES
in
LADY FROM SHANGHAI

The first three novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

In the first Hector Lassiter novel, Head Games, Hector visited his old friend Orson Welles on the set of Welles’ noir classic Touch of Evil

It was noted in Head Games (set in 1957) that Hector owed Orson a favor connected to something that happened between them ten years earlier.



Toros & Torsos reveals what went down between the two a decade before — specifically, in January 1947 on and around the set of Welles’ other noir epic, The Lady From Shanghai, co-starring Welles’ soon-to-be ex-wife, Rita Hayworth.
RITA HAYWORTH
from infamous
mirror room
shootout
As noir czar Eddie Muller describes in his excellent Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, Welles based his film on If I Die Before I Wake, a small-scale potboiler by Sherwood King, turning it into an immensely complex, globe-trotting affair.”
A key confrontation in Welles’ heady film takes place in a twisted fun house designed by Welles that incorporates severed limbs and mutilated faces — imagery echoing, or perhaps anticipating, the mutilations performed on Elizabeth Short, the so-called “Black Dahlia” in Los Angeles in January 1947.
Welles, an avid magician, used to perform an elaborate magic act (which included sawing a woman in half) on virtually the same spot where Betty Short’s severed torso was found.
That macabre fact, coupled with reports Betty Short was “involved” with a man named George (Welles’ given name), that eerie funhouse movie set, and some mysterious filming delays around the time of the Black Dahlia murder led one True Crime author to put Welles forward as a Black Dahlia murder suspect in a recent book…a scenario explored in the Hollywood portion of Toros & Torsos.

By anyone’s standards, Welles’ film’s production was a tortured one. Apart from the friction between Orson and Rita, cast members were frequently ill as production shifted between Mexico and the U.S. and back again.
Welles’ decision to cut and color Rita’s trademark hair, as well as his labyrinthine plot, confused and alienated Columbia mogul Harry Cohn, who ultimately took the film away from Welles.
As Muller notes, associate producer William Castle presciently wrote in his diary, “Cloudy and heat oppressive. First day of shooting on Lady From Shanghai. The darks clouds seemed like an omen…”

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook
THE BOOK TRAILER FOR
TOROS & TORSOS





Saturday, September 6, 2014

COVER SNEAK PEEK: THE GREAT PRETENDER

Just a teasing glimpse of the next title in the newly released and repackaged Hector Lassiter series. Available soon for pre-order, THE GREAT PRETENDER: Orson Welles, voodoo curses, Nazi occultists, the War of the Worlds Panic Broadcast of 1938, the secret history behind the noir classic, THE THIRD MAN, and a search for the Spear of Destiny. Check back for further updates.



Cover design by J.T. Lindroos


The first three novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

TOROS & TORSOS: SURREALIST ART AND MURDER IN OUR TIME?

Cover image by Dali
for Minotaure Magazine

The first three novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

—————————————————————

Art imitates life; death imitates art?

A time back, I put together a post regarding the second novel in the Hector Lassiter series, Toros & Torsos, (now available from Betimes Books) and the fact it spins on the premise that surrealist art and aesthetic theory might have informed or inspired several bloody, unsolved crimes of the 20th Century — most notably the murder of Elizabeth Short, the so-called “Black Dahlia,” as she was dubbed by panting L.A. journalists, circa January 1947.
Statue based on Dali
illustration.

The correspondences between Elizabeth Short’s mutilation murder and photographs and paintings by Man Ray and Salvador Dali were first put forth by Steve Hodel in his 2003 nonfiction study Black Dahlia Avenger, a New York Times notable book and Edgar® Award finalist. (To be fair, James Ellroy had made a particular painting an element of his 1987 novel based on the Dahlia murder.)

Hodel’s theories were greatly expanded upon by Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss in their excellent 2006 release, Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder.
ELIZABETH SHORT

Using the Nelson, Bayliss and Hodel works as a springboard, I extrapolated outward to construct a multi-decade saga that encompasses not only the Dahlia murder and the all-too-real post-war Hollywood surrealist art circle (which included such diverse personalities as John Huston, Fanny Brice and Vincent Price), but also the Spanish Civil War in which the surrealists played a pivotal propaganda role.

Further research in that area uncovered allegations of jaw-dropping reports of Spanish torture chambers designed and constructed to surrealist aesthetics — tantamount to a crazy cross between Escher and Abu Ghraib.

I mixed in some female torsos that began turning up in the vicinity of Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home in the 1950s…actual mutilation murders touched on by Hemingway in the published version of his posthumous novel, Islands in the Stream.

It takes a strong stomach and a cold eye to confront the evidence put forward in the Hodel and Nelson/Bayliss books — particularly in Exquisite Corpse. But once key surrealist works are compared to Elizabeth Short’s autopsy photos (reproduced in graphic detail in the Nelson/Bayliss books) it’s difficult to shake the notion surrealist imagery was very much on the mind of Betty Short’s twisted, never-apprehended killer.
Man Ray's "Minotaur," meant to evoke the head of a bull.
The upper portion of "The Black Dahlia's" severed body
mimicked this position when found in January 1947.

Life imitating art…art imitating death, and for some twisted type, it seems, it wasn’t truly art until somebody died.

Well, that was then. I posited my killer surrealists operating in the period between 1935-1959—again, it was fiction grounded in apparent fact. Many critics of Toros the first time around thought the concept...fanciful.

A while back, Woody Haut, author of the excellent crime fiction studies Pulp Culture and Neon Noir, among others, very kindly reviewed Toros & Torsos. In passing, he noted, “And don't think surrealist murders are simply the stuff of urban legend. In the part of the world where I'm currently living, near Perpignan, there were a handful of such murders a few years back, the corpses of which supposedly replicated paintings by Dali.”

I followed up on that intriguing aside of Mr. Haut’s. I found an article from The Guardian regarding those Dali-esque crimes… As the author of Toros & Torsos, reading the article was frankly chilling.

As indicated earlier, occasionally, as a novelist you find yourself the subject of these sometimes cutting remarks about the plots of your novels turning on an “outrageous” or “absurd” premise, or you get the left-handed compliment that your novel works despite its “far-out concept” that surrealist art might inspire serial murder.

Yeah, well… Maybe you can’t make this stuff up.

From the March 9, 2000 edition of the Guardian: “Police are wondering if they are not dealing with a serial killer inspired by the tortured visions of Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech, born May 11 1904, died January 23 1989. ‘It's a theory they've tested and are continuing to test,’ says Mohamed Iaouadan, a lawyer. ‘I've seen the files, believe me. They've commissioned analytical reports from art experts on the significance of Dali paintings.’”

As the lawyer quoted in the article goes on to say, “I'm not sure what I think. Maybe it's madness, this Dali stuff. But killers are inspired by films, aren’t they? Why not by decapitations, eviscerations and dismemberments in the painting of the man who made this town famous?”

For more on the contemporary “Dali” case, you can check out the full (and very graphic) account of the crimes in the Guardian here.




ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

Sunday, August 31, 2014

FATHER FIGURE: THE MAN BEHIND HECTOR LASSITER



The first three novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


"Each of my victims had larceny in his heart."

In discussing and writing about Hector Lassiter's supporting "fictional" cast, I've tended recently to focus on Hector’s first great love interest, fellow author Brinke Devlin, crediting her for “creating” the man we come to know as Hector Lassiter in ensuing books.

That’s all true enough, I think.

Brinke returns in Forever’s Just Pretend, the only novel approaching a direct “sequel” in the Hector Lassiter series.

But everyone has parents, and, for better or worse, your folks go at least as far in shaping you as your first great love does, right?

Well…

Hector Mason Lassiter was an early, tragic orphan.

You don’t learn that until you’re about four books in if you encountered the series in its original, partial publication sequence.

Your first inkling comes when Hector confesses his father shot and killed his straying, lusty mother. Hector confides that grim nugget first and only in full-detail to Brinke Devlin after they make love on one dark-night-of-the-soul in 1924 Paris.

In retribution, little Hector shot—but only winged—his wicked-ass father. (The state of Texas did the dirtier deed of putting down Grafton Lassiter for the long count, and with all-due, patented Lone Star haste.)
Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil

So, at base, young Hector was shaped and raised by his maternal grandfather, a storied conman and so-called “Big Store” impresario modeled on real-life grifter Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil. The Kid said you should never soak a mark so dry they're tempted toward self-destruction. "Never send 'em to the river," he cautioned. That motto was damned near the title of Forever's Just Pretend, at one point.

Hector Lassiter's grandfather was also inspired by grifter/playwright Wilson Mizner and a certain beloved and recently deceased TV-actor’s first signature role.

Con men: I love them dearly, and in an admittedly wrong-headed way. I have since I was a kid. Maybe it's in the genes.

You see, my mother had this thing for James Garner and MaverickSeems I came this close to being named “Bret” in honor of Garner’s first starring TV-role. (My father was leaning toward “Harlan” in deference to some now-forgotten trap-shooter—thank God I dodged that bullet, so to speak. My eventual first name is owed to actor Craig Stevens of Peter Gunn fame, another of my mother’s TV obsessions. At least they kept it in the neighborhood of noir.)

Growing up, I didn’t know my mother dug Garner and Maverick.

Then, one night in the early 1970s, I started watching this TV series because I recognized James Garner as the guy in Support Your Local Sheriff, a movie I’d liked a lot not too-long before.

That TV series turned out to be The Rockford Files and the first-run of an episode called Tall Woman in Red Wagon in which Rockford runs around with a mini-printing press, cranking out bogus business cards and passing himself off under all flavors of false identities.
Scene from Rockford Files: "Tall Woman in Red Wagon"

I loved it. I watched the next Rockford episode with my mother; she told me about Maverick. In those pre-cable, pre-VCR/DVD days, it was an enticing form of torture to know this other series with Garner was out there but frustratingly unobtainable.

Then, in the 1980s, one of Ted Turner’s stations started playing vintage Maverick episodes.

The installment in question is called Pappy. Some Maverick purists and the series’ creator, Roy Huggins, detest that one.
James Garner as Beauregard Maverick

Let’s concede a certain knowing love for it. Pappy introduces—about 50 episodes in—the Maverick brothers’ oft-quoted but previously off-camera sire, Beauregard Maverick, played by…James Garner.

(In a kind of meta, Lassiteresque plot twist, Garner ends up playing his own character, his father, and himself impersonating his father—call it mirrors-within-mirrors. As noted, it’s pure Lassiter.)
James Garner and, er, James Garner, and Jack Kelly:
Three mavericks; two actors.

Hector’s grandfather—the man who raised Hector and must surely have gifted the young Lassiter with a penchant for The Story, The Patter and a certain yen for The Big Con—is Beau Stryder, a thinly-veiled homage to James Garner and “old Beau Maverick.”

Mr. Stryder is in full, later-life flower when we meet him in the opening pages of Forever’s Just Pretend. Beau's penchant for confidence games casts new light on some of the later games his grandson plays with historical relics in The Great Pretender and in Head Games (all those bogus skulls...).

It’s also established in Pretend that Stryders are gifted with unusually long lives...

As a certain author said of an iconic conman in a novel from the early 19th Century, it’s just possible you might meet Beau, this venerable confidence man, again at some point down the road.

To quote that author, and that novel: “Something further may follow of this Masquerade.”



ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


Thursday, August 28, 2014

TOROS & TORSOS, HEMINGWAY & THE 1935 GREAT KEYS HURRICANE






The first three novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


This Labor Day weekend marks the 79th anniversary of the Great Florida Keys Storm of 1935 — still the most powerful hurricane to strike the United States. 
The storm is a critical element in my novel TOROS & TORSOS, newly available in repackaged and expanded form in paperback and eBook formats from Betime Books (ordering information below).
The ’35 hurricane occurred at a time before tropical storms were given names. Storm forecasting was an uncertain science.

Officials charged with the responsibility of informing and evacuating citizenry in the storm’s path were more grossly incompetent in performing their duties than those who bungled evacuations in the run-up to Katrina.

Toros & Torsos opens in Key West during Labor Day weekend, 1935. It finds Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway preparing for the hurricane and traces their activities during and after the monster storm swept north of Key West.
America’s southernmost island was spared; the hurricane instead swamped and devastated the upper middle keys, killing numerous World War I vets left stranded on low-lying labor camps by dithering federal officials who had adequate time to evacuate them. 

The needless deaths of the vets and others had the effect of politicizing a previously apolitical Ernest Hemingway (admittedly, never an FDR fan) who was among the first to reach the destroyed keys to lend support and aid in collecting storm victims’ swollen, rotting bodies.

Hemingway wrote, “I would like to make whoever sent them there carry just one out through the mangroves, or turn one over that lay in the sun along the fill, or tie five together so they won’t float out, or smell that smell you thought you’d never smell again, with luck when rich bastards make a war. The lack of luck goes on until all who take part in it are gone…You’re dead now brother…Who left you there? And what’s the punishment for manslaughter now?”

In writing the Key West portion of Toros & Torsos, I consulted numerous Hemingway biographies, but the book I leaned hardest on is Phil Scott’s Hemingway’s Hurricane, which is not just the most comprehensive resource for Hemingway’s storm experience, but an excellent overview of the 1935 disaster that will be of interest to anyone who believes Katrina and government officials’ failure to adequately prepare for that gathering storm was an isolated phenomenon.


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook