Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Toni Johnson-Woods on Carter Brown

I interviewed the Australian scholar Toni Johnson-Woods about her book project on Australian paperback crime fictioneer, Carter Brown. I posted the interview in Finnish here, here are the Q&A. Toni's blog on Aussie pulp fiction is here.

Just what are you doing regards to Carter Brown?

Carter Brown is part of a larger project of mine. In 2007 I received a grant from the Australian Research Council to document the spread of Australian “popular” (more often called pulp) fiction of the 1950s throughout the world. Carter Brown was one of the most widespread authors. Carter Brown is really Alan Geoffrey Yates who wrote nearly 300 books as Carter Brown between 1951 and 1985.
What got you attracted to Carter Brown in the first place?

Carter Brown is the person about whom I talk the most because he is probably the best known of all Australian writers. It started, as most research projects do, from a very simple question – who is Australia’s most *popular* author…my colleagues at the University of Queensland and I were having a cup of tea asking this question. Someone said “Carter Brown”. I’d never heard of him so I went to our national library and discovered that he’d written nearly 300 novels. After ten years of studying Australian literature I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard his name mentioned once. Then I dug a little deeper and found dozens of Australian writers had written thousands of books in the 1950s — romances, westerns, and crime. And yet not one academic in Australia had investigated them more fully. So I decided it was time for the academy to get a bit of a wakeup call.

What's interesting about Brown to modern readers? Does he still hold up?

He is of interest to readers because his stories are so representative of the time in which they were written. The language, fashions, technology, consumerism, representations of women, women and sex are all snapshots into the various decades. For instance, the earliest stories are very hardboiled and reflect the James Hadley Chase style of fiction – mean streets, political corruption and dangerous dames. Later the stories are much more light-hearted and poke fun at the “heroes”. The final stories are pretty much sex and sadism. I prefer the light-hearted funny ones and they still are amusing.

Why was he so popular around the world?

I think it was the funny Carter Browns who amused people all over the world. It seems that some humour does transcend national boundaries. My favourite character is Mavis Seidlitz who is a ditzy blonde – she
is like a detective Lucille Ball. I think his steady stream of fiction meant that a publisher could rely on a new title every
month to fill the bookshelves and so maybe it was just because he was there.

How could he be so prolific?

Yates never owned the name “Carter Brown” – it was owned by the publisher Horwitz. So when the owner Stanley Horwitz sold the licence for Carter Brown to Signet in the USA, he signed at 10 books a year deal. So if Yates wanted to earn money he had to supply those ten books. It was a harrowing deal—as often Yates was writing a current book, editing his last book and plotting his next one. He confessed that he took Dexedrine (which was legal then) and would write the whole book in 48 hours. The book then was edited by the Sydney offices of Horwitz, they sent the edited version to the USA where their editorial team fixed mistakes and then the manuscript was sent back to Australia for approval. Can you image the pressure? So from 1957 – 1985 he was writing between 6 and 10 books a year. Most of the earlier “books” were really short – about 34 pages -- and he wrote two of those a month.
I spoke with Yates’ widow last year and she said he didn’t even have a full collection of his books. So I’m unsure if there is a complete collection anywhere in the world. Even the Australian National Library, our legal repository, does not have all of his books.

What can you tell us about your research about Brown in Finland? Did you find any explanation why there was so much of Australian stuff published here?

I was in Finland to present a paper on Carter Brown at the annual SHARP conference. I focused on my findings in Nordic countries; earlier this year I was in Copenhagen and Oslo (I didn’t have time to visit Sweden). I spent the first week in the Finnish National Library; and I spent some time with some enthusiastic collectors. Finland has a unique relationship with Carter Brown because it was the FIRST overseas country to translate him—between 1957 and 1985 Finland published 140 Carter Browns…second only to France (222 books). Finland also has different covers to those in Denmark, Norway and Sweden: it reused the Australian covers. This suggests that Finland had an agreement with Horwitz (the Australian publisher) and not with Signet (the US publisher). Why or how this happened is still unknown. Unfortunately the Horwitz archives are not available and the company was sold last year so we
will probably never know.

Any interesting anecdotes you can share about CB?

Australia’s popular crime writer Peter Corris tells how he used to steal Carter Browns from his local newsagency. He says Carter Brown influenced his writing style. Mickey Spillane trashed Carter Brown on American television once – apparently Spillane had been drinking and Yates found it amusing. Yates had been writing about the USA for half a dozen years before he finally visited there. He was very popular in Japan – and his Japanese covers are the most beautiful of all I think. His material was turned into two French films (both are pretty ordinary). Richard O’Brien of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame has written a musical, The Stripper, based on the CB book of the same name. It is supposed to be playing in the UK at the moment.

You've read some other Australian writers and I've understood they are pretty bad compared to Carter Brown. Is this true?

Yes. Because CB was so successful a rival publishing company started Larry Kent. Kent lacks the humour of CB. He is just a little too violent for my taste. Marc Brody’s stories are just poorly written and an effort to read. Carl Dekker has an interesting “hook” each story is written in a different location – again, the writing is pretty poor. The best of the ‘second’ string CB is K T McCall – the author is supposed to be the girlfriend of Johnny Buchanan, but really the series was written by two women.

Could you name some other interesting Australian writers?

I believe that Australian Peter Temple is one of the leading crime fiction writers in the world today. But as to the fiction of the 1950s – I find myself more engaged by the westerns—Marshall Grover, Emerson Dodge…there are dozens of them. I think I’ve read way too many crime fiction novels and so I find

Why was there so much pulp and paperback publishing in Australia? Could you share some of that history?

In 1939 the Australian government imposed taxes on non-essential imports such as books. After the war was finished the taxes were not lifted and so Sydney publishers found a gap in the book market. Previously the majority of cheap fiction had come from America – Australia hadn’t developed its own publishing ethos. Suddenly there was a ready market for cheap fiction – these publishers desperately looked for authors who could write genre fiction (romances, westerns, crime, science fiction) quickly. They wanted to fill the stands at railways with reading material each month. As there weren’t that many experienced writers, the publishers asked all sorts of people to write. The result was that anyone who could provide enough words got published – hence the poor quality of some of the material. Still it provided extra income for railway workers, accountants, teachers and those willing to spend their weekends writing at their kitchen table. Many of the writers I interviewed admitted that they wanted the extra money to buy a house. It was the post-World War Two boom in Australia.

What's next after your CB book is completed? More Australian pulp?

After I’ve finished the CB book (which has taken me about three years) I am going to publish a complete list of all of the Australian authors and editions I have found—that should be a couple of volumes. At least that’s what I hope. My next big project is to trace all the Australian westerns published around the world. Western fiction is the least researched of all ‘pulp’ fictions.

The pictures are Finnish editions of Carter Browns, the latter two are with original Australian covers.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My other new webzine out

I moved some time ago my crime fiction fanzine, Isku, to the web here. Now I moved my other fanzine, Pulp, to the web. It's in here. Everything is in Finnish, but there are some Australian paperback covers, which you might be interested in.

Pulp-lehden nettiversio luettavissa nyt täältä! Artikkeleissa australialainen kioskikirjallisuus, H. Ahtelan kauhunovellikokoelma Dégénéré (1918), Kari Suomalaisen jännärit ja Aake Jermon rikosromaanit.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday's Forgotten Film: The Big Town

Neo-noir isn't a genre only for the 2000's. They made neo-noir films already back in the 1980's, films that were knowingly full of neon lights, femme fatales, crooks with guns, heroes with raincoats, set in the fifties or the sixties, with the soundtrack blasting jazz or old rock'n'roll. Heck, someone might say that Chinatown and Dick Richards's Chandler film Farewell My Lovely with Mitchum as Philip Marlowe were neo-noir films.

One of the neo-noir films from the late eighties is now pretty forgotten The Big Town (1987). It seems forgotten even though it boasts a stellar line-up of actors: Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Skerritt, Bruce Dern... I watched this just now, since I bought it very cheap on VHS. I'd seen the film when it was new, and I'm pretty sure I wrote a review of it for a local newspaper (I was 15 at the time, so the review might not have been very good). I remember thinking that it was a mediocre film even at the time, but for some reason it has stuck with me. I liked going back to it, even though I think the film is still mediocre. Matt Dillon and Diane Lane are very attractive and the theme of a young rookie invading the dice scene of a big town - here Chicago - is always alluring. But some of the motives behind the people's actions in the film remain unclear and the film drags in the middle. TV director Ben Bolt doesn't get everything out of the events and the scenes just keep on following each other. He also doesn't get the best out of the actors and lets some rule the scene, especially Bruce Dern, who just shouts and yells. (Incidentally, I also saw Silent Running with Dern and the same thing there, too. He almost ruined the whole film.)

The Big Town is based on a novel by Clark Howard, called The Arm from 1967. I haven't read the novel, but I'm sure his style and voice bring more depth to the story that otherwise remains pretty bland, as his short stories are very, very good. I wish someone who's read the book would comment on how it differs from the film.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rare Clint Eastwood western

Over a week ago, at the annual Summer meeting of the Finnish Western Society, paradoxically called "pukkujoulut ("Lidl Christmas" or something like that), held in Oulu we watched a rare Western movie from the fifties that's reportedly never been released on VHS or DVD. Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958) would be totally forgotten these days if it didn't star the young Clint Eastwood in his first film to get a screen credit. He's billed third in the opening credits, but there was a rerelease - probably later in the sixties, after his Italian Westerns - in which he was credited first.

The film is not a B-picture, as someone might have an urge to call it. It's more like a cheap A-western, shot in black & white Cinemascope (or actually Regalscope). The film was written by prolific pulpster and later prolific B-picture writer John K. Butler (whose Steve Midnight stories from the Dime Detective are very good), and I think this shows in the dialogue. It's very crispy at times: "What happened to him? He's much nicer now than before." "The Indians made him nice."

Otherwise the film's virtues pretty much end there. Eastwood isn't very good - he plays a young, hot-headed Southerner, who's in with a ragtag crowd of other Southerners who haven't given up the fight after the Civil War. Eastwood grins uncomfortably through the film, and one won't give him a long future on silver screen. Scott Brady, the first-billed star of the flick, plays a Yankee officer who leads a small gang of soldiers. They end up ambushed by some Indians - we never see much of them and they act pretty stupidly. (Which is of course a Western cliché, but these guys are really dumb. And there's not too many close-ups of them. Maybe their contract with the studio didn't say anything about the close-ups. Actually there are not too many close-ups of other actors either.)

My biggest problem with the film - beside that it's wooden and doesn't pack much suspense - is how the only female character is portrayed very stupidly. Her whole family is slaughtered, even to the smallest kid, and yet she tries to hit on all the men she sees, with a greedy lust in her eyes. Maybe she's gone into a severe shock after traumatic events? And yeah, okay, the film ends more abruptly than anything I've seen in a long time.

Eastwood has been reported saying that Ambush at Cimarron Pass is "the lousiest Western ever made". In this interview he says the film almost destroyed his career, because he thought he never wanted to act again. (His wife talked him out of the decision, and then came Rawhide.) Is it because of Eastwood the film has never been released on video? Has he put a ban on it? It seems the film can be seen occasionally on something called Western Channel. Our version was taped from a small Finnish cable channel in the mid-eighties and transferred to DVD. We had a great time watching the film, as we had a small cinema at our use. I bet there are not that many people alive who have seen this on silver screen.

There's a long comment on IMDb here, which contradicts a lot of things I've said here. It is true that I fell asleep in the middle and maybe all the good parts came during those 5-10 minutes. See also this blog post. Seems like there's an illegal download doable from here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My books this Fall

This is a note I posted on Facebook: it's about my forth-coming books.

Koska Helsingin Sanomat ei maininnut minua sanallakaan ensi syksyn kirjojen listauksissa, ajattelin edes täällä kerrata ne muutamat opukset, joita olen ollut väsäämässä ja joiden on tarkoitus ilmestyä ensi syksynä. Totta kai on niin, että osasta näistä ei tiedä ketkään muut kuin minä ja kustantaja; lisäksi osalla kirjoja ei ole vielä käyttökelpoista nimeä, mutta - osittain - senhän takia tämä Facebook on olemassa, että voi markkinoida omia tekemisiään. Mukana ovat lisäksi kolme dekkaria, joiden ilmestymisessä minulla on ollut osani. Tai mainitaankin ne ensiksi, koska niiden markkinoinnista saan rahaa.

Tapani Bagge ja Harri István Mäki: Paha paikka. Arktinen Banaani.
Kevin Wignall: Lipun varjo (Dark Flag). Arktinen Banaani.
Ken Bruen: London Boulevard. Arktinen Banaani (saattaa siirtyä ensi keväälle riippuen siitä, milloin kirjasta tehty Colin Farrell/Keira Knightley -elokuva tulee Suomeen).

Omat kirjani:

Artikkelikokoelma tekijänoikeuksista. Toim. yhdessä Jussi Förbomin kanssa. Avain/BTJ.
Historiallisen romaanin taitajia 2. Yhdessä Jukka Halmeen ja Sari Polvisen kanssa. Avain/BTJ.
Vanhojen erätarinoiden kokoelma. Turbator.
Vanhojen suomalaisten kauhunovellien valikoima. Faros.

On puhuttu myös Marton Taigan scifi-tarinoiden kokoelmasta, mutta en tiedä, ehtiikö se ilmestyä syksyksi. Lisäksi jos suinkin ehdin, laitan kasaan ja kansien sisään myös monta vuotta tekeillä olleen Outsider-artikkelikokoelman.

Jotkut ovat sitä mieltä, että tällainen toiminta - kirjojen kasailu - ei ole kirjailijuutta, vaan pelkkää toimittajuutta. Mene ja tiedä: toisaalta minulla on myös omia proosahankkeita koko ajan.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two new private eye novels: Coleman and Winslow

I've been reading some new private eye novels, as I'm writing an article on them (my research ain't what it used to be and seems like I'll have to do only with some interviews, but such is life). There was a boom in private eye fiction from, say, 2005 on, at the same time new interest in hardboiled and noir came forth, but it seems like the economic depression and the publishing crisis almost made the boom diminish and many writers are now publishing with smaller outfits or doing self-publications.

Still there are new interesting books. Don Winslow and Reed Farrel Coleman aren't exactly new, but both bring fresh voices to the genre that's been deemed defunct several times after Raymond Chandler's death. This is the case especially with Coleman, whose Moe Prager books are very touching and moving, even though there's not much action and Moe Prager is a pretty ordinary guy. It's just that his life is full of mistakes, lies, secrets and agony. The private eye's tragedic life has become a bit of a cliché nowadays (look for example at Declan Hughes's Ed Loy books or Russel McLean's The Good Son), but Coleman makes the theme much more real than many of his contemporaries. The Moe Prager books form an epos, starting from the seventies, ending up in the present day, and the newest one, Empty Ever After, is just as good as any in the series. (It's maybe slightly better than the previous one, Soul Patch, which suffered a bit from Moe Prager's stream of consciousness; I thought those bits were unnecessary.)

Don Winslow's Boone Daniels is a different case altogether. He's not doomed or tragedic, he only wants to surf. To make some money, he works as a reluctant private eye from time to time. He first appeared in The Dawn Patrol, which I recently read and liked quite a bit, even though there was too much of Robert B. Parker in it. I don't really care for the macho posturing about the honour code and all that, even though Boone Daniels keeps his mouth shut about these things more than Spenser. I liked the bits about the cultural and geographical history of surfing in California. There could've been more action in the book, though.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shamus nominations

The nominations for the Shamus awards in private eye fiction. Congrats to everyone nominated!

Best Hardcover PI Novel
The Silent Hour by Michael Koryta (Minotaur/St. Martin's)
Where the Dead Lay by David Levien (Doubleday)
Locked In by Marcia Muller (Grand Central)
Schemers by Bill Pronzini (Forge)
My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (William Morrow)

Best First PI Novel
Loser’s Town by Daniel Depp (Simon & Schuster)
The Last Gig by Norman Green (Minotaur/St. Martin's)
The Good Son by Russel D. McLean (Minotaur/St. Martin's)
Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks (Minotaur/St. Martin's)
Chinatown Angel by A.E. Roman (Minotaur/St. Martin's)

Best Paperback Original PI Novel
Dark Side of the Morgue by Raymond Benson (Leisure Books)
Sinner’s Ball by Ira Berkowitz (Three Rivers Press)
Red Blooded Murder by Laura Caldwell (Mira)
Vengeance Road by Rick Mofina (Mira)
Body Blows by Marc Strange (Dundurn)

Best PI Short Story
"The Dark Island" by Brendan DuBois, Boston Noir (Akashic)
"Deadline Edition" by S.L. Franklin, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2009
“Blazin' on Broadway" by Gary Phillips, Phoenix Noir (Akashic)
"Suicide Bonds" by Tim L. Williams, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2009
"Julius Katz" by Dave Zeltserman, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2009

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First review of my sleaze novel!

Miina Supinen, known and respected writer, says of Lausteen himokämppä / The Lust Cabin of Lauste:

"Kiitos Lausteen himokämpästä. Se oli hyvä! Ei kiihoitusmielessä ihan mun heiniä, mutta ihailin ammattilaisen työtä. Sujuvaa tekstiä ja dialogi oli tosi napakkaa. Se Rimma Kovankon hahmo oli musta kuvattu harvinaisen hyvin. Oli hyvä veto kuvata kaunista naista sillä tavalla, ettei yhtään kertaa käytä sellaisia ilmauksia kuin kaunis tai hyvännäköinen. Muutenkin koko tyyppiin jäi sopivasti salaperäisyyttä."

"Thanks for The Lust Cabin of Lauste! It was good! Maybe not my cup of tea in the excitement sense, but I admired the work of a professional. Fast reading and the dialogue was really crispy. The Rimma Kovanko's character was very well done. It was a good thing you described a beautiful woman without using words like beautiful or good-looking. And the whole character stayed nicely secretive in the end."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On my 12-hour novel

As you recall, last Friday I wrote a 17,000-word novel in 12 hours. Some thoughts on the process follow.

I can't believe how someone like Barry Malzberg or Arthur J. Burks have been able to write more in a day. (Remember this: Malzberg wrote a 60,000-word novel in 16 hours.) Writing for so long feverishly was very, very tiring. I got my back sore and my stomach almost started to cramp. And those guys wrote with a typewriter, not with new laptops! (Okay, Burks may have dictated.) And how's anyone been able to continue producing those lengths for days and days in a row?

But I proved myself that something like this is indeed possible. You have to remember that the Finnish 17,000 words should be something like 26,000 words in English, as we don't have the "a's" or "the's" or "from's" or any of those in our language. So, the NaNoWriMo challenge of 50,000 words in a month mutates into 35,000 words in Finnish.

Yeah, okay, NaNoWriMo? What's the point writing 50,000 words in a month, when one can do that, say, over a weekend? (Maybe one of these weekends I'll do exactly that.)

There's just one point: how could those guys I mentioned above write stuff that they were able to sell? I haven't as yet tried to read what I wrote last Friday, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to sell it. Well, maybe to a ultra-cheap paperback publisher like Vega Books or PEC or Epic, but not anywhere else. (And in this day and age, the answer is simple: nowhere.) Some of the early pulpsters were able to do only one copy and sell it. Arthur J. Burks was one of them. He is said to have written a story in a bar, walk to the office of a magazine and come back to the bar with the money in his hand. I'm sure I'll have to go through my story many, many times, before I'm happy with it.

Is it just experience and practice? As you know, I haven't published any fiction commercially. My two short novels are self-publications and my few short stories have come out in fanzines. I have two novel manuscripts sitting in the office of a publisher, but so far nothing has happened. So one might think I could do a better story in one sitting in, say, 2020, after I've written more of this stuff.

Wait. I'll be almost 50 by then. Even at 38 I got the feeling I should've been in a better shape for the writing session.

Someone might ask, why I wrote the thing in 12 hours. Why didn't I write it in 16 or 18 hours? Because I was going to step in a train at nine p.m. and leave to Oulu (a city in northern Finland, many, many miles away). I could've started earlier, but I had met a friend of mine over a couple of ciders and beers just on Thursday night and had gone to sleep a bit too late. My bad. I could've started on 8 a.m. or even earlier had I slept more. There were also some interferences during the day: a friend of mine called about our trip to Oulu, I had to go the post office to post some books (it took only 15 minutes at most, since we live very near the office), I had to buy some food and prepare the dinner, since I'd forgotten to buy a microwave dinner. So actually I had only 11 hours to finish the novel.

I posted the progression on my word count in Facebook. I seem to have written the first 2,000 words in one hour and then almost 3,000 words in two hours. Then I seem to have slowed down, but the overall writing speed was 1,500 words per one hour. I got into problems in the last pages: I wrote: "15 203 words and I'm stuck in a dead end. One hour and twenty minutes before the train leaves." Then I wrote: "Still 30 minutes and I'll have to come up with a sad ending. [As befits a private eye novel.] 'Everything was in vain.' 'Stuff that dreams are made of.' Oh, I already used that one."

I wrote the last lines in six minutes. I got them done 25 minutes before the train left. You can imagine I left in a hurry. And I was sweating like a pig during the last two hours. (A friend of mine actually came to pick me up and he laughed when he saw me having just stepped out of the shower: "Are we leaving or not?")

The story, the style? You can pretty much guess the style is hardboiled and pulpy. The main character of the novel is my private eye hero Joe Novak. He gets mixed up in two intrigues at the same time: an old Nazi comes to Los Angeles to avenge the wrongs Novak did to him during the WWII, plus a beautiful young lady asks him to bodyguard her when she's trying to recover a lost Inca treasure from the bottom of the sea. The story is set somewhere in the mid-sixties. I'm not sure if the two separate storylines mingle together seamlessly - I'll have to read the whole thing to find out. But of course this kind of thing is easier to write with 1,500 words per hour than serious literary fiction, even though it is very difficult to keep various things going at the same time. (Someone might actually say that that's what's difficult.)

There's just that the book got a bit too violent and grim. I had had the storyline about the German Nazi avenging the wrongs in my head for a long time, but I had been thinking that there wouldn't be much violence and the book would be more about the sentimental and sad feelings about how revenge isn't going to do anyone any good and how these old men (I was thinking I'd set the story in later times, say in the 1980's) aren't actually able to fight anymore. But no. The story got totally out of my hands, with lots of explosions, shootings and sadistic violence. Which kind of makes me sad - this is not the book I meant to write.

But I'm not complaining. I did what I set out to do: write at least a 15,000-word novel (or novella) within one day. I was able to do it and am sure I'll be able to do it again.

(The book in the picture is an Epic Book from the early sixties, just to show which kind of publisher would possibly touch the manuscript I wrote.)

Friday, August 06, 2010

I did it!

16 902 words in almost 12 hours! Nonstop action, Inca gold, nazis, mad doctors, femme fatale and a private eye!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

I'm gonna be a real pulp fiction writer tomorrow

Something I've wanted to do for a very, very long time: I'm going to write a novel tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. I'll start after I've had breakfast and stop only for eating and showering. My goal is to write a novel (or rather a novella) of 15,000 to 20,000 words, so it's something Harry Whittington might've done to be published as an other side of an Ace Double. (Or perhaps a bit shorter.)

I remember I tried to do this already in the eighties, when I was a teenager. I'd read how Chandler had written the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia and I dreamed of a hotel room with only me and my typewriter. Nothing came out of it. I tried again in the nineties. I bought a bottle of whiskey, but that certainly didn't help my writing. I don't think I got anywhere with that.

But now I know more about writing and all that comes along with it. At least I know better not to touch alcohol during the process. And I'll be at home alone, since Elina and Kauto left just now to visit Elina's parents. It's a great benefit.

What will the book be about? It will be a Joe Novak novel, about my private eye hero, whose sometimes pathetic adventures I've been chronicating for almost 20 years. He appears in my self-published novel Outoa huminaa, Joe Novak and in a dozen short stories. (One of these days I'll do a collection.) The story will be based around this unused cover Jukka Murtosaari did for a magazine I never got around to doing - I guess one of those guys is Joe Novak. I'll take the lettering out and smack the illo on the book cover. As for the actual plot, I've been carrying an idea with me for some time now and I think this is the best time to use it.

So, wish me good luck! I'll be on Facebook giving away the word counts during the day.

PS. Don't forget Barry Malzberg's 60,000-word novel written in one day! And he didn't have to resort to self-publishing!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

My sleaze novel

Seems like I'm more prolific nowadays doing self-published books than doing "real" books for "real" publishers. This, Lausteen himokämppä, is my second novel, an attempt at an old-fashioned sleaze paperback. "Attempt", because it turned out to be nastier than many of the old school sleaze books, like the ones written by Lawrence Block or Robert Silverberg. At times this approaches a hardcore sex novel of the later decades, but the sex scenes are always plot-related.

But Lausteen himokämppä is also a crime novel, just like many of the sleaze paperbacks Westlake, Silverberg and the other writers wrote in the late fifties and early sixties for publishers like Midwood. This is about three police officers in Turku, Finland, trying to outscheme each other. They have all fallen - not in love - for a Russian woman living in the suburb of Lauste, who seems to be working the night shift. There are many outbursts of irrational violence, which I hope shows the influence of early Charles Willeford and Jason Starr.

The word count falls under 20,000, and the format is a small paperback. The cover illustration is from an old pantyhose package. The cover didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but maybe it suits the retro sleaze feeling - the Finnish sex paperbacks of bygone days were far from professional products! (The same feeling is captured also in the end where the sex scene gets too convoluted and the dildo is in and out at the same time!)

Note that I'm using a pseudonym here. I don't know why, maybe I got ashamed - I've said for years that even the dirtiest smut must be published under your own name! "Mikael Messi" is a so-called porn name: take your second first name and the name of the street you lived in when you were a kid. The "X" is just a joke, but it's also an allusion to the pseudonym John Jakes used in his sex novels: J. X. Williams.

The book is available straight from me for 7 euros. You won't find this in any bookstore!

And oh, the title: Lausteen himokämppä might be translated as "The Lust Cabin of Lauste".

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Still on Jason Pinter's The Mark

I forgot to say in my earlier posting about Jason Pinter's first novel, The Mark, that I read it in Finnish translation, as Merkitty mies. The Finnish edition might actually be a bit hard to find, since it'a Mira book (basically a Harlequin, since Mira is an imprint of Harlequin) and the Mira books are for sale only for a short time and libraries don't pack them. As Merkitty mies was published some time last year, you won't find it from anywhere else than the used book stores. Which might be difficult, since the Rautakirja chain of kiosks are usually ordered to destroy the unsold books.

Old Finnish fantasy and science fiction

More on the books I read during our vacation trip:

We carried Aili Somersalo's Mestaritontun seikkailut with us to read it to kids before bedtime. It didn't go very well (Kauto especially got bored with it) and the book is still unread. I was reading it also to myself, because I've been interested in the book for quite a while: it was originally published in 1919 and is a classic piece of Finnish fantasy. Well, it's a fairy tale and not fantasy by strict genre standards, but there is still a good touch of high adventure and romance in the book. The book tells about Mestaritonttu (Master Tomte or something to that effect), who decides to take a leave from the Fairyland where he's been serving as the king's master. He wanders around, ends up in a strange place and gets mixed up in a fight between some witches and the king of the sea. There's also a maiden who's under a spell and locked up in a stone.

If there were a tradition of publishing reprints old Finnish fantasy, this should go high up in the list. It's been reprinted many times, but as it's a bit slow, young kids won't necessarily like it nowadays, and the reprint should be targeted at mature readers who are interested in the history of the genre. And one could hope the text for the reprint would be taken from the first edition of the book, published under the pseudonym Aili Tarvas. The cover shown above is by Onni Mansnerus, who did the illos for the 1940's reprint. They are very nice.

There were fantasy elements also in the short stories of the author who's best known as Larin-Kyösti. [The article behind the link is actually in English, take a look!] I had an old collection of his short stories with me and I read some of the ones that were more genre-oriented. I don't think Larin-Kyösti had any particular genre in mind, but there were elements of fantasy and fairy tale in many of the stories, and I got to thinking one could do a collection of fairy tales and fantasy stories of old Finnish writers, of those who were are not normally linked to either genre. Of Larin-Kyösti's stories, particularly "Metsän henki / The Spirit of the Forest" would work perfectly in this kind of a book. Of the other stories, "Paholaisen soitto / The Devil's Music" is a fast-paced fantasy of the Devil visiting a church.

Into Jyläskoski was a pretty obscure Finnish writer who worked casually from the 1950's to the 1970's (publishing then one non-fiction book about booze smuggling in Finland). I've seen one or two of his short stories in various old Finnish fictionmags, but he was never a full-time writer. He published two novels in his lifetime, and one of them was a science fiction novel, called Marsion radiolentäjät / The Radio Pilots of Mars. It was published in 1955 with good illustrations by Olli Ålander. It's a pretty boring YA book, but it has a storyline one could use in a writing project and set a story of a set of stories in the same universe: the Martians have come to Earth in the early 20th century and have decided to reside in the Himalaya mountains. From there they abduct people to help them with their further attacks.

In Jyläskoski's book three young kids are abducted in the beginning of the novel and as they are all radio amateurs, the Martians put them to work as radists. There's not much sense in the book (it's never really shown what actual threat the Martians pose to people on Earth) and as it's also slow-paced, it was pretty tasking to read it to the end, but I struggled.

I also had Jalmari Vaula's fairy tale Udina from the late 1940's with me, but I never got around to reading it. Last winter I read Vaula's paleofiction novel, Kuolemanlaakson kurimuksessa / The Death Valley Maze (1952) and despite its silliness I enjoyed its fast pace and no-nonsense story telling. Now I'll have to get back to reading work-related stuff, which, unfortunately, means Robert Harris and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Hopefully Isabel Allende's novels are better.

Sorry, no pictures from Into Jyläskoski's Martian novel - the Photoshop program won't open anymore in our computer! I'll try to get something worked out, and I'll write a longer piece on the book later on (in Finnish).