Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fun at Chicago's Field Museum

It was a scene straight out of Ross Thomas, or even V I Warshawski: black limos pulling up in front of a marble facade, security guards and city cops surrounding the people as they got out, whisking them inside. Across the street, a handful of people without influence, harassed by the cops for trying to hand out leaflets.

At the end of the novel, justice somehow triumphs. At the end of the morning in Chicago, money won.

What was the story? Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing Company. An ACLU lawsuit charges that Jeppesen has sold direct flight services to the CIA that enabled the delivery of captives in U.S. custody to secret overseas locations where "friendly governments" as well as CIA operatives carried out their torture. Boeing refuses to provide information on the subject; and the judge hearing the case accepted the CIA's claim that any pursuit of the matter in court would breach necessary government secrecy; this ruling is currently under appeal.

Boeing shareholders were meeting at the Field Museum on April 28; I was part of a small band who went to inform the shareholders that their company is directly involved in torture.

Police and museum security forces came to our ten-strong group of protesters and told us we were confined to a tiny space about a quarter mile east of the museum entrance, that if we wanted to hand out material or talk to anyone, that was our “first amendment” space. As protesters, we could not be on sidewalks or streets because we were a hazard to public safety. Nor could we be on the museum grounds because they were private property, not covered by the first amendment.

I left the protest and went to sit on a curb looking at the shareholders as they arrived. I took pictures with my cellphone, but I confess they weren’t clear enough to shame anyone. It started to rain; people stopped arriving; I began texting a friend.

Suddenly two cops and a museum security man appeared and demanded to know what I was doing.

Me: “I’m sitting here sending a friend a text message.”

Cop 1: “And then what do you plan to do?”

Me: “I don’t know. Perhaps telephone my husband. Is any of this illegal?”

Cops1 & 2 take off. Another cop drives up.

Cop 3: What are you doing here?

Me: I’m a citizen out for a walk. I don’t know why I should be accosted for that.

Cop 3: Accost? No one accosted you. They were just making conversation.

Museum security man: Come on, let me take you to see (and he named two people I didn’t know.)”

Me: I don’t know them.

MSM: You were just talking to them.

Me: I’m a Chicago writer. I enjoy events involving my city—I get lots of good ideas for stories that way. And I think it’s wonderful that the museum pays such personal attention to every citizen who happens to be nearby.

3rd cop: What are you doing here?

(A 4th cop, on a bike, arrives and plants herself between me and the parking lot.)

Me; I’m a citizen. I didn’t know there’d be so much interest in a citizen taking a walk in the morning.

MSM: Let me walk you over to the protest. Come on.

Me: I’m gathering material for my work. Let me have your name—I’ll be glad to include you in my blog posting.

MSM leaves. Cop 3 tells me to keep my feet out of the parking lot—my butt on the curb is okay. A young woman arrives with fliers about Jeppesen and its torture. She can stand next to me holding them, but Cop 3 tells her she cannot hand them out unless she is standing in the “first amendment area.” I call the ACLU to find out what the law is regarding handing out fliers and leave a message.

End of my part of the story. Later, I learn that some nuns with the 8th Day Center for Justice were at the shareholders meeting because their religious order owns some shares in Boeing. They introduced a human rights resolution, discussing Boeing’s involvement in torture, and at least forced shareholders and management to listen to what their company is doing.

These Sisters are heroic, but they didn’t change the outcome for our country’s engagement in torture. Ross Thomas would have found a way for them to force Boeing to scuttle their connection to the CIA. It would have involved a wonderful quadruple cross such as only he could carry off. Even V I might have managed a small victory. Me, I have spent the last 24 hours feeling utterly helpless.

And I wonder, too, about these things:

1, Why are Chinese risking their lives to protest their government’s behavior in Tibet, and why were there only ten of us protesting Jeppesen’s torture flights?

2. Does the First Amendment exist any more, when protest at the museum and at political conventions, and anywhere else, is walled off remote from public view? (Remember last summer when the police arrested Quakers at Taste of Chicago for advocating peace “too close” to an army recruitment booth?)

3. Why am I paying taxes for cops who protect corporations and harass citizens?

4. Who knew that the Field Museum's high ticket prices included paying for my own private security escort?

5. What is it about money that makes the museum’s security staff so obsequious to members of a corporation?

Sara Paretsky

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The End of The Long Goodbye

By Barbara D’Amato

This is the last of The Outfit’s postings on Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Our attention to it was inspired by the Chicago Public Library’s choice of the book for their One Book One Chicago program.

After posts on Chandler himself and the book’s content, I thought it would be appropriate to ask, “How does Chandler get his effects?” And to focus this question, we could examine Chandler’s revisions of the very end of the novel, the last couple of sentences of The Long Goodbye. The changes they passed through tell something about Chandler’s thinking and demonstrate his care for his craft.

The late Hugh Holton, a police officer who wrote thrillers centered on the Chicago Police Department, was often asked at lectures how long it took him to write a book. He would say, “Six weeks,” and when the gasping stopped, would add, “And eleven months to rewrite.” Chandler’s rewrites are so meticulous, they remind me that he began his writing career as a poet.

Mark Coggins is the Shamus and Barry-nominated author of The Immortal Game, Vulture Capital and Candy from Strangers, featuring private eye August Riordan. Bleak House Books published his fourth book, Runoff, last November. In addition to writing fiction, he is a Chandler scholar, author of the article, “Writing the Long Goodbye.” In it Coggins says, “I recently had the opportunity to examine some 200 pages of original typescript with excised or rewritten scenes while visiting the special collection of Raymond Chandler papers at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.” What he found gives fascinating insight into how Chandler wrote.

He worked on The Long Goodbye intermittently from 1949 until May of 1952, at which point he turned it in to his agents—finished, he thought. They didn’t like it. They said Marlowe had become too sentimental.

Chandler went back to his typewriter for a couple more months.

He did, in fact, work on a typewriter, but the sheets Coggins saw were not standard typing paper. Chandler used small yellow sheets 5.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches high. Coggins says this was to limit the amount of retyping he had to do if he revised a page. Coggins was not permitted to photocopy the pages, since he could not secure permission from the Chandler estate, but he described the pages and even made mock-ups, which can be viewed in his article.

Chandler apparently rewrote drastically, underlining on a page only the material he wanted to keep, then retyping a largely new take on the scene. Whole scenes were eliminated entirely.

But to get to my example, the book’s closing words:

Coggins compared two versions of The Long Goodbye, June 24, 1953, and July 9, 1953, and the published ending, and found four different versions.

FIRST VERSION -- June 24, 1953:
He turned quickly and walked out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going along the hall. They died. Then I just listened.

Slow curtain.

Coggins finds this too abrupt and believes in writing it this way Chandler may have been responding to his agents’ objections to Marlowe having become too soft and sentimental.

He turned away quickly and went out. I watched the door close and listened to his steps going away. After a little while I couldn’t hear them, but I kept on listening.

Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t tell you.

THIRD VERSION – also July 9:
He turned and went out. I watched the door close and listened to his steps going away. Then I couldn’t hear them, but I kept on listening anyway. As if he might come back to talk me out of it. As if I hoped he would.

But he didn’t.

Coggins notes that the second July 9 version was written in pen, which Chandler did not often use. He believes this indicates the difficulty Chandler was having striking the right tone. Coggins says “After rereading this [version three], Chandler must have felt he had overcompensated. The final sentence, ‘But he didn’t’ almost comes across with a catch in the throat.”

He turned and walked across the floor and out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going away down the imitation marble corridor. After a while they got faint, then they got silent. I kept on listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop suddenly and turn and come back and talk me out of the way I felt? Well, he didn’t. That was the last I saw of him.

I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

Coggins’s view is that the extra description in the final, published version “slows the narrative and adds weight to what is occurring. It also manages to convey an appropriate depth of feeling at the parting, while at the same time retaining Marlowe’s cynical worldview.”

Okay. What do you think of his choices? I hesitate to admit I prefer the first version. It seems clean and straightforward to me. My feeling at that point in the book would be that if the reader didn’t get it by now, tying a ribbon on it wouldn’t help.

The “don’t ask me why” in the second version has a whiff of begging for sympathy.

To me, he certainly did overcompensate in version three. It’s a bit too self-pitying.

The final version ties it up nicely, but why add the cops? A late attempt to return to the tough-guy persona?

If I’d been writing the book, I would have gone with version one. Probably that shows why I’m not Chandler. But I would be really interested to know what other people think.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Enough Already--And a Contest

by Marcus Sakey

Chandler, Chandler, Chandler.

We've talked about him at some length now. You've read stories of first exposure, weighed his misogyny, agreed that he was a master stylist and a pretty weak plotter. We've broken down Marlowe, talked about booze and stereotypes and the self as a symbol.

This is the part where I admit that I'm not a Chandler scholar. This was actually my first reading of his work, and while I was startled and delighted by the language and the social commentary, I'm not really in a position to instruct anyone on it.

So here's the plan. When Kevin and I taught at the library, we warmed up the students by asking them to write a Chandler-ism. A one-liner description rich in attitude and flair and noir sensibilities. (Check here if you haven't read Chandler and want to see what I'm talking about).

It turned out to be a lot of fun. Here was mine:
"The dope was pure as a nun's daydream, and the woman holding it was all daydream but no nun."
Kevin's (and I'm paraphrasing here bro, my apologies for where I mangle it) ran:
"The sign in the window advertising pedicures was written by a hand that you would never want touching your foot."
Now it's your turn. Gimme your best shot. It can be about a car, a lover, a fight, an alley, a crime, whatever. Something from a work in progress or something you make up on the spot.

The winner, chosen in an unapologetically subjective fashion--in other words, by me--wins a prize.

Two, actually: an autographed advance copy of my forthcoming novel GOOD PEOPLE, which isn't out until August, and an autographed advanced copy of my friend Julia Spencer-Fleming's upcoming book I SHALL NOT WANT, which isn't out till June. Outfitters can't win the prize, but I hope you'll participate.

So let's see what you folks got. Talk Chandler to me.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Long Goodbye

by Michael Dymmoch

My first encounter with Philip Marlow was in school. Chandler’s work wasn’t on any reading list, and I didn’t know crime fiction from newspaper filler. But I knew I liked the prose. I was an ugly duckling of a writer then, wondering why I wanted to hang out with art majors instead of other science geeks. I didn’t know a simile from sansemilla or a metaphor from a metronome. I still thought writers were inspired by God.

Years later, when I discovered I wasn’t a duck at all—or a chemist for that matter—I read Chandler again. And as a writer, I like the prose even more because I know how hard it is to write well. And to write beautifully. And to say more with metaphor than with mere description. Now, I know Chandler should have been on my schools’ reading lists.

Take, for example, his description of a man too far gone into the bottle: “He was leaning against a store front. He had to lean against something. His shirt was dirty and open at the neck and partly outside his jacket and partly not. He hadn’t shaved for four or five days. His nose was pinched. His skin was so pale that the long thin scars hardly showed. And his eyes were like holes poked in a snowbank.”

After Marlow rescues and feeds this individual, “His face now had a little color and the eyes were not so far back in his head that you had to grope for them.”

The beauty of metaphor is that it says so much more than the literal meaning of the words—paints the story and the subtext. Chandler was the master. His prose is elegant the way a great mathematical proof is elegant, or a tersely written bit of computer code. It does what’s needed without wasted words. And what a pleasure The Long Goodbye is to read.

Chandler was pretty good at suspense, too. Take the opening of chapter five: "The gun wasn’t pointed at me, he was just holding it.” Or the ending of chapter eight: "'Guess you won’t be with us long, if you’ve got Endicott,' he said pleasantly as he locked me in. I said I hoped he was right." Chandler was, after all, the man who advised, “In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns."

While it’s true the plot of The Long Goodbye rambles a bit, it covers a great deal of ground. Chandler managed to get in social commentary, a great shot at corrupt cops, and a portrait of California that made me feel I’d been there.

For the reader who loves words, following the story is like discovering wonderful sights when you’ve strayed from the Interstate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


(Ed’s note: This is a longer post than usual, but really worth it. So go round up a cup of coffee and a cigarette… and dive in…)

Friend-of-the-Outfit JIM DOHERTY has served American law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels for over 15 years, policing jurisdictions from college campuses to military bases, inner city streets to suburban parks, and railroad depots to rural dirt roads. His collection of true crime articles, Just the Facts – True Tales of Cops & Criminals, was a Macavity nominee, and a chapter from the book, “Blood for Oil,” won the Western Writers Spur Award for Best Short Non-Fiction. Jim’s lectures on Chandler’s early work were published on the B&N website as the e-book Raymond Chandler – Master of American Noir. His short stories featuring cop Dan Sullivan have appeared in Writers’ Journal, Over My Dead Body!, and Blue Murder. His first, still unpublished novel, An Obscure Grave, was a finalist for the CWA’s Debut Dagger.

See if you can identify a particular fictional character from the following description:

-- An unmarried male
-- American
-- Ex-cop
-- In his 30’s (at least when the series begins)
-- Who owns and operates his own one-man agency
-- And works out of a large American city
-- Telling his own stories in the first person

Yeah, you’re probably thinking, that’s a pretty good capsule description of Philip Marlowe. So what’s the point?

It’s also a pretty accurate description of 80-90% of all the hard-boiled private eye characters created since Marlowe. But why is that? Why is the archetype not Dashiell Hammett, who, for practical purposes, founded the hard-boiled school, but Chandler, the self-acknowledged Hammett disciple?

Talent? Perhaps. But a lot of people, including me, would give you an argument. After all, it’s Hammett, not Chandler, who wrote what is generally regarded as the best and most famous of all hard-boiled private eye novels, The Maltese Falcon.

Yet, when we think of a private eye, it’s not the operative of a large world-wide agency that comes to mind, nor even one half of a two-person partnership; it’s the lone wolf in his shabby office barely eking out a living. It’s not the spare, stripped-down third person style that we associate with the PI; rather it’s the more personal, more elegiac first person style. Indeed, that first-person style is so pervasive that private eye stories in other mediums, like film and television, routinely replicate it by voice-over narration.
It’s not the hard-nosed professional who can sleep with a woman one day and turn her over to the cops the next that’s our prototype; it’s the slightly tarnished modern-day knight errant, forever on the lookout for a damsel in distress to rescue.

Many of the writers who follow what I’m calling “The Marlowe Paradigm” have been up-front about it. In an omnibus volume collecting three of his Lew Archer novels, Ross Macdonald (the “Holy Spirit” to Hammett’s “Father” and Chandler’s “Son”) flatly stated that Archer was deliberately “patterned on Marlowe.” Robert B. Parker has said that he started writing his series about Boston P.I. Spenser because he was frustrated that Chandler hadn’t written more Marlowe novels. Loren D. Estleman, when he heard someone describe his Amos Walker character as “Philip Marlowe in Detroit,” admitted this was an accurate statement.

Others choose a less direct way of acknowledging their source. Science fiction writer Milton Lesser adopted the Chandlerian pseudonym “Stephen Marlowe” when he began a series about a DC-based shamus named Chester Drum, eventually taking it as his legal name. Thomas B. Dewey’s The Mean Streets, generally regarded as the best in his series about the Chicago op known only as “Mac,” takes its title from a phrase in Chandler’s article “The Simple Art of Murder.”

And dozens, indeed hundreds, of others have followed the paradigm just as faithfully without ever acknowledging it. Indeed, their use of it may have been almost subconscious, something they weren’t even aware of.

So pervasive was that pattern that, in 1988, when editor Byron Preiss proposed an anthology of new Marlowe short stories by contemporary PI writers, to be called Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, as a way of celebrating Chandler’s centenary, William DeAndrea, one of the authors asked to submit, respectfully declined with the wry observation that writing new Marlowe stories seemed to be what most of the those invited to contribute were already doing anyway.

One of the most interesting things about that anthology, by the way, is the degree to which the contributors approached Marlowe as a tabula rasa on whom they could impose their own notions of characterization, themes, and story-telling techniques. Hence, Max Allan Collins, who writes historical private eye novels based on famous real-life crimes, fictionalized a real life crime and had Marlowe solve it. Midwestern law professor Francis M. Nevins wrote a story in which Marlowe travels to the Midwest and gets involved in a case that turns on an interpretation of probate law. Native New Yorker Robert J. Randisi brought Marlowe to the Big Apple for an adventure set in Manhattan’s Grand Central Station. Mexican mystery writer Pablo Ignacio Taibo II’s story took Marlowe south of the border. Edward D. Hoch, best-known for short stories featuring classically skull-crushing puzzles, involved Marlowe with a classic puzzle. And Roger L. Simon, whose Moses Wine novels are marked by an unabashedly left-wing sensibility, wrote Marlowe into a story promoting Simon’s leftist political views. Marlowe’s iconic status had allowed him to become whatever those writers wanted him to become.

And, as much as private eye fiction has evolved since Chandler passed from the scene, the Marlowe Paradigm remains the most frequently used model. Consider the private eye sub-genre’s most obvious innovation over the last quarter century or so, the use of female protagonists in what was previously an all-male preserve.

Writers like Sue Grafton, Sara Paretskey, and Maxine O’Callahan are all, quite rightly, praised as innovators, and yet, aside from their genders, how much do their characters, Kinsey Milhone, V.I. Warshawski,, and Delilah West, veer from the Marlowe paradigm? Milhone and West not at all, and Warshawski only that, in addition to not being a man, she’s not an ex-cop.

So we come back to the original question. Why is Chandler’s model so pervasive?

Perhaps Marlowe’s status as the PI archetype stems from his striving to live up to the knightly virtues of chivalry and honor. Hammett’s protagonists might do heroic things, but they do it less from an over-arching moral sense, than simply because it’s their job. Sam Spade sums it up by shrugging his shoulders and offering the inadequate explanation that, “When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it.” By contrast, Marlowe, whose very name evokes images of Medieval do-gooding, continually agonizes over his chosen profession not being “a game for knights.”

But I think there might be another explanation. And, not surprisingly, Chandler hinted at it himself.

In a 1948 letter to fellow mystery writer Cleve F. Adams, Chandler remarked on the fact that he seemed to have replaced Hammett as the leading proponent of hard-boiled crime fiction.

“Since Hammett has not written for publication since 1932,” he wrote, “I have been picked out by some people as the leading representative of the school. This is very likely due to the fact that The Maltese Falcon did not start the high budget mystery picture trend, although it ought to have. Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet did, and I was associated with both of them. The result is that everybody who used to be accused of writing like Hammett may now be accused of trying to write like Chandler.”

Moreover, Chandler, as he mentions, was associated with high-budget films, with “A” pictures as they were once called in the movie industry. And because of the way he sold those books, one at a time rather than all in a group, different studios bought the rights to different books, and subsequently made different Marlowe pictures.

This was in sharp contrast to what was then the common practice for a series of mystery films featuring the same continuing character. Usually a studio would simply buy the rights to all the books featuring a given character, as well as rights to the character him (or her)self, and go on to release a series of quickly made, comparatively low-budget “B” films featuring the same cast in picture after picture, which had the effect of identifying a particular actor with a particular fictional detective.

Dick Powell, anxious to change his image as a juvenile tenor in Busby Berkeley musicals, was the first to tackle the role in the seminal film noir Murder, My Sweet (RKO, 1945), based on Chandler’s 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely. In the opinion of many, including me, Powell’s performance was the best, most faithful interpretation of Marlowe., and it brought about precisely the image change he hoped it would. For the rest of his career, Powell played tough guy roles in films like Cornered (1946), Rogue’s Regiment (1948), To the Ends of the Earth (1948), and Cry Danger (1951).

Humphrey Bogart, who’d already played Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade in the 1941 film version of The Maltese Falcon, was the next in The Big Sleep (Warner’s, 1946). Already regarded as Hollywood’s top tough guy, Bogart’s performance in Sleep simply grafted of his already well-honed, familiar screen persona onto Chandler’s character. Hence, while in Murder, My Sweet, Powell became Marlowe, in The Big Sleep, Marlowe became Bogart. Still, if you’re a hard-boiled private eye character, there are few actors it’s more appropriate to “become” then Humphrey Bogart. On the strength of his portrayals of Spade in Falcon and Marlowe in Sleep, Bogart, more than any other actor, has become the visual embodiment of the hard-boiled private eye.

Robert Montgomery was the next to try his hand at the part in The Lady in the Lake (MGM, 1946), remarkable for two reasons. First, it’s the only Marlowe film on which Chandler did any work on the screenplay (though he lost interest quickly, and is not credited except as the author of the source novel). Second, Montgomery, who also directed, had the original notion of coming up with a visual equivalent for Chandler’s vivid first-person narration. He made the camera Marlowe’s eyes. The audience saw everything from the hero’s point of view, and, except for a few scenes in which Marlowe looked in a mirror, Montgomery’s performance consisted almost entirely on off-screen voice work. The gimmick became tiresome at feature-length, though, and the resulting film is now something of a technical curiosity that never achieved the classic status of MMS or TBS.

A too-youthful George Montgomery (no relation to Robert) was the final film Marlowe of the decade, playing the detective in The Brasher Doubloon (20th/Fox, 1947), based on Chandler’s 1943 novel, The High Window. An attempt was made to overcome Montgomery’s boyish appearance by having him grow a mustache, and, to date, he is the only big screen Marlowe with facial hair, but the device didn’t work. Next to more mature actors like Powell, Bogart, and Robert Montgomery, George Montgomery lacked the gravitas to carry the part off. Still, based on later performances, it’s likely he’d have been quite good in the part had he waited a decade or so.

Each of the films, and each of the performances, adhered, with a fair amount of faithfulness, to Chandler’s vision of the character. Hence audiences were seeing someone who was simultaneously different in each picture, and yet the same in each picture.

Over the next twenty-odd years, Marlowe was absent from the big screen, though his adventures could be heard on radio or seen on TV. But those four films released between 1945 and 1947 already set the pattern. Not only for the way Marlowe would be depicted, but for the way any hard-boiled private eye character, in any medium, would be depicted.

This is all speculation, of course, and to those of us who live for words on the printed page, the notion that screen adaptations would be more influential than the original works might seem counterintuitive, if not downright sacrilegious.

Ultimately, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter. Raymond Chandler remains important not just for what he wrote, but for the effect his writing had on those who came after. Arguably, he was the most influential mystery writer of the 20th Century. And whether his pervasive influence stems directly from his own work, the heroic image he created, or the adaptations made from that work, there’s no denying that every crime writer who ever sent a tough private eye on an adventure down a big city’s mean streets in the search for hidden truth owes a huge debt to Chandler. So complete is his influence that it’s become almost subliminal, part of our collective “pop culture” DNA.

Jim Doherty


Mystery Ink, the website run by Chicago Sun Times crime fiction reviewer David Montgomery, announced the winners of the seventh annual Gumshoe Awards, and guess who won Best First? That's right... it's Outfiteer Sean Chercover for BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD! Here's the list:

Best Mystery:
James Lee Burke - The Tin Roof Blowdown (Simon & Schuster)

Best Thriller:
Robert Crais - The Watchman (Simon & Schuster)

Best First Novel:
Sean Chercover - Big City, Bad Blood (William Morrow)

Lifetime Achievement Award:
Donald E. Westlake

Best Crime Fiction Website:
The Thrilling Detective: www.thrillingdetective.com

For more information, go to: http://www.mysteryinkonline.com/gumshoe.htm


Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Long Hello to The Long Goodbye . . .

by Sean Chercover

"Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say." - Raymond Chandler

That quote always kills me. Sad as hell, and although I don’t think it is necessarily true, it was true enough about Raymond Chandler’s writing life.

THE LONG GOODBYE (TLG) is commonly regarded as Chandler’s finest work – the apex from which he descended very quickly. With this book, he’d mastered the “art or craft of fiction” . . . and after this book, it seemed that he had little else to say.

I first came to Raymond Chandler as a teenager. Already a fan of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane and John D. MacDonald, it was Chandler’s use of language that first knocked me back on my heels. Those magic similes; those perfect observational paragraphs. Upon later readings, I was taken by the strident (and often prescient) social commentary.

And those preeminent qualities still jump off the page and grab me by the throat . . .

But THE LONG GOODBYE now also moves me as a novel of naked self-assessment. Not only was it Chandler’s last great work, but it foretold his sad decline.

Much has been made of TLG’s value as a work of social criticism, and I do think that is where its major strength lies. (I also recommend Chandler’s previous novel, THE LITTLE SISTER in this context.) The Long Goodbye and The Little Sister both take on the big issues that previously had been almost exclusively the domain of literary fiction.

And both books display Chandler’s breathtaking use of language, at a time when his skills were at their peak. The masterful similes and perfect paragraphs that have been noted in previous Outfit posts (scroll down for more on this).

No, plots were not Chandler’s forte (to put it very mildly). And I agree that he did not write women well. But damn, did he ever give us a couple of complex and damaged men in The Long Goodbye.

It is clear that two of the major characters – Terry Lennox and Roger Wade – are Chandler himself, at different points of his life.

Terry Lennox is a damaged war veteran, drinks too much and doesn’t like himself much at all. He is pathetic and ineffectual, but he hasn’t given up, not completely . . . and despite the wreck that his life has become, he is still looking for a chance at reinvention. We like him for that, and Philip Marlowe does too. Marlowe is uncharacteristically sentimental about Lennox and sacrifices a great deal, to support the man Lennox could’ve been / should’ve been / could’ve become.

Like Terry Lennox, Chandler was a veteran of WWI, left scarred and insecure by his war experiences, who lived the high society life of big money and fancy cars and marital infidelity . . . before he burned out and lost his job in the oil industry and reinvented himself as a writer of hardboiled detective fiction.

The other major autobiographical character, Roger Wade is a bestselling novelist struggling to finish his latest novel, struggling with alcoholism . . . and losing. Marlowe bristles at Wade’s ego and self-pity.

Chandler, like Roger Wade, had become a bestselling novelist who felt that he deserved more respect than he got. Like Wade, he had a complicated marriage, no children, many readers, and a growing problem with booze.

Philip Marlowe is the lens through which we see these very different self-portraits. Marlowe clearly favors Terry Lennox – Chandler’s younger self – and who wouldn’t? But he also comes to acknowledge a redemptive quality about Roger Wade.

To Eileen Wade, Marlowe says, “Your husband is a guy who can take a long hard look at himself and see what is there. Most people go through life using up half their energy trying to protect a dignity they never had.”

Reading THE LONG GOODBYE, one might say the same thing of Chandler.

If THE LONG GOODBYE is Chandler’s last great work, it is also his most complex, and it rewards multiple readings. Every time you read this book, it reveals more of itself. This may be, in the end, what marks it as literature.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


by Libby Hellmann

Raymond Chandler is perhaps one of our finest prose poets, and his talents are on full display in THE LONG GOODBYE. Not only is his prose elegant, rhythmic and supple, but he can imbue a simple description of a person or place with such a philosophical or sociological perspective that you will never again think of that person or place the same way. Add in his plot twists, one-of-a-kind characters, and noble themes that sneak up on you unawares, and you have a master not just of crime fiction, but of modern American literature.

So it may seem harsh, even petty, to bring up what some consider his Achilles' heel. And I hope I do this in a wry but affectionate way. But the fact is that Chandler was not a woman’s man. A man of his time, he portrayed women as either victims, sex objects, or evil temptresses. True -- other crime fiction authors of the era were more misogynist, but Chandler doesn’t redeem himself much in this regard.

One passage in THE LONG GOODBYE, in which Chandler riffs on blondes, is especially noteworthy. Reading it still feels a little like nails against a blackboard, but I’ve reprinted (most of) it below.

All blondes have their points…. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review.

There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and… very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because… she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provencal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

With the acute realization that I’m not even close to Chandler’s skill level, I nevertheless decided to have some fun at his expense. Here’s my attempt to turn the tables by re-writing the passage from a woman of today's POV.

All men have their points…. There is the guy with the cute ass who struts and swaggers, and the deltoid-rich hunk who checks you out with a dull, vacuous stare. There is the stud who gives you a charming smile full of attitude and reeks of Opium and opens doors for you but is always very very tired when you get back to your place. He flashes you a sad but slightly smug look and tells you he has an early morning meeting and you want to slug him except that you are glad you found out about the meeting before you invested too much time and money and hope in him. Because the meetings will always come first, and the commitment won’t, and you’ll be sitting at home alone with a pound of chocolate and a bottle of wine wondering what you did wrong.

There is the drunk who doesn’t care what he drives as long as it’s your car, or where he goes as long as it’s a bar and there is plenty of booze. There is the friendly glad-handler who is your pal but wants you to pay your own way and knows everything there is to know about men and women and relationships and has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do and is your best friend until someone prettier or richer or smarter and can recite Hank Aaron’s at-bat stats walks into the room.

There is the pale, pale man who looks like Truman Capote with a dark suit and silk scarf and he speaks softly and you can’t touch him because he knows everyone and their personal peccadillos too. He reads The Waste Land or Dante or Kafka or Kierkegaard – in their original language – and he’s studying Chinese. He’s into rock and when the Stones come to town, he will have front row seats and will tell you exactly when Keith Richards comes in a quarter of a beat too late. They say Elton John does that too. That makes two of them.

And lastly there is the young Richard Gere look-alike who will outlast his girlfriends and then marry an older wealthy woman and end up with a ski chalet in Gstaad, a beach house in the Grand Caymans, a Lear Jet complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of Arabians (both equine and human), all of whom he will treat with the diffidence of a patron in a white tablecloth restaurant nodding to the busboy.

So, what do you think? (Be kind...)

Anyone else want to give it a try?

PS. It's probably fitting that I'll be guest blogging on The Lipstick Chronicles tomorrow. Check it out.

The Great American Novel of Alcoholism

Today’s guest blogger and friend-of-the-Outfit, Sam Reaves, has written seven Chicago-based crime novels, including the Cooper MacLeish series, the Dooley series and the forthcoming stand-alone Mean Town Blues. As Dominic Martell he has penned a European-based suspense trilogy. Reaves has traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East but has lived in the Chicago most of his life. Visit Sam at www.samreaves.com. (Ed’s note: Sam’s most recent release, HOMICIDE ’69, is a must-read for anyone who loves the Sixties, Chicago, and crime.)

The Long Goodbye is a lot of things: Raymond Chandler’s best book, a jaded look at post-war Southern California dystopia, a savage flaying of the rich, prime evidence in the ongoing debate about whether crime fiction can qualify as literature. It may also be the Great American Novel of Alcoholism.

There’s no doubt that it’s a serious novel; we’ve moved a long way past the pulps here. If Chandler’s unblinking contemplation of human frailty doesn’t move the book into the literary big leagues, his language by itself does.

Chandler’s style has spawned so many imitators that it’s easy to forget how incisive and apt and startling the original was. The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back... The book is full of Chandler’s carefully machined similes, so easy to parody and so hard to nail, and on every page he finds new ways of using the language to convey atmosphere or personality with precision: "I couldn’t hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed." Chandler was one of the great stylistic innovators in American literature.

And the theme of this novel? A professor told me once that love and death are the only two great literary themes, and they’re both here in abundance. It’s a murder mystery, of course, so the death is a given. As for the love, much has been made of the friendship between Marlowe and Terry Lennox, the supposed homoerotic subtexts teased out and contrasted with Marlowe’s prickly relations with women, but none of the love interests, male or female, really stacks up to the main object of desire, the brooding presence that dominates the novel, which is booze.

Alcohol is the presiding deity of Chandler’s world and the mainspring of the story. It’s hard to think of another novel so sodden with drink (though Under the Volcano leaps to mind). Terry Lennox is “plastered to the hairline” in the very first scene, and there is hardly a passage in the book that doesn’t involve the quest for alcohol, its immediate effects, or a stinking morning-after hangover. It is Lennox’s native dignity even while hopelessly drunk that awakens Marlowe’s sympathy and sets the story in motion. The crime at the heart of the book involves the struggling novelist Roger Wade, whose problem is that he “just goes nuts when he drinks.” In fact everyone in Wade’s circle drinks: Chandler’s description of the nightmare cocktail party in Chapter 23 is enough to make you run to the phone book for the number of your local AA chapter. Marlowe himself downs his share of drinks, of course, even confiding, after a description of the police drunk tank: “That is the depth of misery. I’ve seen it.” Alcohol is a central, malevolent presence in the novel.

Raymond Chandler was, famously, an alcoholic, and this is his literary reckoning with it. It’s hard not to wonder how much of Roger Wade is Raymond Chandler, particularly in the strange soliloquy Wade leaves on the typewriter for Marlowe to find in Chapter 28. Chandler was evidently a man locked in mortal combat with drink, and to judge by this novel, the drink was winning. Far from glamorizing drink, The Long Goodbye does its best to shine a cold hard light on it. Read the extended passage at the beginning of Chapter 13 (unusually discursive for Chandler) as Marlowe sits in a bar , watching a drunk talking to the bartender:

…you knew that he got up on the bottle and only let go of it when he fell asleep at night. He would be like that for the rest of his life and that was what his life was... There is a sad man like that in every quiet bar in the world..

Of course, like all drinkers Chandler was ambivalent about alcohol; this is hardly a prohibitionist tract. Terry Lennox’s ode to “the first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar” at the beginning of Chapter 4 never fails to make me want to rush out and get a cold one. And Marlowe drinks with evident relish and reasonable control throughout the book. He is perhaps the drinker Chandler wished he could be.

If not a prohibitionist tract, The Long Goodbye can certainly be seen as a cautionary tale; the drunks in this novel are wounded, dysfunctional people. But Chandler never lectures as he tells their story, and that is one mark of serious fiction. Great art is not didactic. But it does take us inside human problems and human hearts; it makes us see. And you’re not going to find too many books that do a better job of illuminating the strange calvary of the alcoholic than The Long Goodbye. It is a great American novel.

Sam Reaves

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What a Lovely Way To Burn

By Kevin Guilfoile

The first time I laid eyes on a Raymond Chandler novel it was late at night in an old country house after my sister tried to poison me.

I was twenty-five and the whole family was back home in Cooperstown for Thanksgiving. The cozy Cape Cod in which I had grown up was overrun with toddling nieces and nephews so I was sleeping around the corner at my friend Nort's house, a beautiful 150-year-old Victorian mansion that, after we graduated, Norton's parents had converted into a stunning bed and breakfast.

Saturday night my sister Ann made lasagna and it was delicious enough that I had seconds and thirds. But she must have picked up some bad garlic at the Great American and around midnight I was sending it all back in one of the Overlook's spacious second-floor bathrooms.

After an hour or more of retching I finally returned to my room but I had the sweaty shakes and my stomach was still spinning around the uneven bars and there was no way I was going back to sleep. There was a shelf with a generous selection of old books and, surely seduced by the title, I picked up a musty hardcover of Chandler's first and most famous novel. I spent the next five or six hours until sunup transfixed and confused and awed and bewildered.

Now as even the most fervent Chandler admirer knows, his plots are a mess. If I spent the next few paragraphs telling you as plainly as I could what The Big Sleep is about (or The Long Goodbye) you would probably reread it six or seven times and then surrender with a chuckle. In fact, there's a famous story about the making of the movie The Big Sleep that I shared at a workshop Marcus and I taught at the Chicago Public Library. (I've heard several versions of the tale and don't know which one is true, but I told the most entertaining one and trust that Chandler scholars will now correct me in the comments.)

The movie starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and was directed by the great (Goshen, Indiana native) Howard Hawks and the screenplay was co-written by William Faulkner. During filming, Hawks realized that the screenplay never revealed who murdered General Sternwood's chauffeur and he asked Faulkner to fix that in the script. Faulkner went back to the book and couldn't figure it out so he cabled Chandler. Chandler replied angrily that it's all in the novel and Faulkner should just look it up and see. When Faulkner persisted, Chandler went back to the book and realized, to his shock, that he had just forgotten to resolve the storyline. With the book having gone through several printings, Hawks's question--Who killed Owen Taylor?--was now an unknowable mystery. In six years, no other reader or editor or critic had even noticed.

After I told that story one of the directors of the One Book, One Chicago Program approached with a grin. She told me the library had ordered hundreds of copies of The Long Goodbye in advance of the event. It turns out that due to a binding error one of the several editions sent to the CPL was missing more than thirty pages. Dozens of these inelegantly abridged books had been in circulation for weeks before anyone even noticed.

But the marvelous sting of Chandler's voice, like good whiskey on the nose, is the real reason to read him. He didn't just invent the modern detective novel, he reinvented the first-person narrator. He has been imitated so often that many of the writers influenced by Chandler have never even read him. In fact one of the pleasures of reading Chandler for the first time is how much of it seems familiar. Some sour critics have claimed this has dated the writer, that his style has been so thoroughly appropriated it's rendered his novels irrelevant. Retroactively hack. But to suggest that is to ignore the rhythm and snap of Chandler's prose. There are many authors I admire who have written terrific novels that contain not a single individual sentence that would knock you on your ass. Chandler often has two or three of those a page.

It doesn't include any of Chandler's famous one liners ("She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.") but here's perhaps my favorite passage from The Long Goodbye:

I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar--that's wonderful.

I have opened a lot of taverns in the last twenty years and I promise you no writer--certainly no Chandler imitator--has ever described five o'clock better than that. And if you're up with a bad-garlic fever and you're looking for someone to help you through a long night in an old house full of its own unknowable mysteries, Phillip Marlowe is the guy you want between covers.

If there are a few pages missing, or thirty, it won't even matter.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Long Good-Bye

“I knew the character of Marlowe had changed and I thought it had to, because the hardboiled stuff was too much of a pose after all this time. But I did not realize [he] had become Christlike, and sentimental, and that he ought to be deriding his own emotions.”

Chandler wrote this to his agent, Bernice Baumgarten, after getting her negative comments on the first draft of The Long Good-Bye. He was often bitter, feeling that his work was under-valued. “I might be the best writer in the country,” he wrote to his editor after sending him the second draft, “and with two exceptions I very likely am, but I’m still [considered just] a mystery writer.” He added, “You’d better do a damned sight better with The Long Good-Bye than you did with Little Sister.”

Chandler was near the end of his writing life when he finished The Long Good-Bye. He was ill, from the alcoholism which plagued him much of his adult life, he was in turmoil from the illness of his wife, Cissy, and he fretted, as he constantly did, that his work wasn’t properly appreciated.

Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23, 1888 and he lived in America until he was seven, when his father abandoned the family for good and his mother returned to her native England. As a young man, Chandler hoped to write urbane aesthetic essays in the manner of Oscar Wilde. He angered the uncle who had supported him by abandoning a promising Civil Service career for literature. After several fruitless years, in which he had a few reviews and essays published, he left England to return to North America. In later life, he looked back on his young self with a kind of bitter mockery: “Like all young nincompoops, I found it easy to be clever and snotty...”

He served with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces during the First World War. After the war, he spent two decades moving from job to job. He became a senior officer at various companies, but between his drinking, his restlessness, and his womanizing, he found it hard to stay anywhere long. And he still longed to make his name in fiction.

In the thirties, at the height of the Depression, laid off from the oil industry, he turned to the pulps. He labored hard over his early stories, determined not to fail a second time at a literary career. An admirer of Hemingway, Chandler outlined Hemingway’s stories and then tried to rewrite them. He finally, in 1935, began selling his own stories to Black Mask. And in 1938, he published the first of his seven Marlowe novels.

The Long Good-Bye is usually considered his most important, fully realized novel. Because it has the fewest elements of a true mystery, critics claim that it “transcends the genre,” that it is a real novel, and that it merit’s Chandler’s assertion that he was one of the great writers of the Twentieth Century.

At its heart, The Long Good-Bye expresses Chandler’s bitterness and his weariness. Although Marlowe is beaten, is sent to prison, and has his life threatened, these action scenes are small punctuations in a novel about men trying to make sense of a world where they don’t feel at home. The first part of the book is an almost dreamlike series of conversations between Marlowe and Terry Lennox, a man scarred by war and by money. The middle, where Marlowe is involved with Roger Wade and his wife, has long passages filled with Chandler’s own torment about the state of his writing.

In a letter to his Hollywood agent, written while he was struggling with the second draft The Long Good-Bye, Chandler said, “I am suffering from...atrophy of the inventive powers. I can write like a streak but I bore myself.” And he added to his British publisher, “If I can do it wrong once, I can do it wrong again.”

Chandler’s doubts, his suicide efforts, his drinking, all bubble beneath the surface of The Long Good-Bye. Perhaps because of them, the novel remains a haunting look at what war and peace do to men, at how hard it is to be creative, and how hard it is to be alone.

Sara Paretsky

Note: The quotations are taken from Allison & Busby's Raymond Chandler Speaking. Biographical data come from Baker & Nietzel's Private Eyes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

There Is a Tide

by Barbara D'Amato

We’re about to launch into our two-week Raymond Chandler binge, so I thought I’d take a look at one of his predecessors, Agatha Christie. I’ve recently been rereading THERE IS A TIDE . . . . It was first published in 1948, just six years before THE LONG GOODBYE, [1954]. Both books deal with aspects of the post-World War II years. The central question in THE LONG GOODBYE is the character of a man altered by fighting in the war. Christie, not surprisingly, is more embedded in the aftereffects of the war and the changes in British society. The Brits lost close to 400,000 people in military deaths, and that doesn’t include civilians killed in bombing raids, or non-military personnel, like ambulance drivers, medical support, and so on, at the front. There was no town in the U.K., and scarcely any family, without its losses. The war changed British society to a degree Americans couldn’t imagine.

The story:

Wealthy Gordon Cloade is killed in the Blitz, the house he was in destroyed and four people in it killed. His widow, Rosaleen, stunned by the blast, inherits his estate and moves to his family home in Warmsley Vale. Her former husband disappeared in Africa and was reported dead. Now there are rumors he may have faked his death. Gordon Cloade had promised to help his several strapped relatives financially, but the widow has no reason to do so. However, if her former husband never died, she was not legitimately married to Cloade and cannot inherit his estate.

The characters include Cloade’s niece Lynn who had served in the Wrens during the war. Lynn has seen the world. She has come back to Warmsley Vale much changed, finding her home and tame and small. Her longtime fiancé has stayed at home through the war because as a farmer his production was vital to the war effort. He now feels that the world and his fiancée look down on him for not having served.

There are Christie’s deft, Rembrandt sketches of the possibly-stodgy fiancé, several Cloade relatives, and of Rosaleen’s brother David, a bold, risk-taking young man with a wonderful war record—just the sort who doesn’t do well in peacetime.

The novel has all of Christie’s legendary smoke and mirrors. And mirrors behind mirrors. Chandler and Christie have somewhat similar writing techniques--short, declarative sentences, not heavily reliant on subordinate clauses and flowery touches, although Chandler is much more into simile and metaphor than Christie, despite the fact that the writer character in THE LONG GOODBYE seems to belittle simile.

THERE IS A TIDE . . . is not Christie’s best work. It is somewhat too complicated, a criticism which could be made of THE LONG GOODBYE as well. And a minor flaw is that the resolution of the romance between the lead character and the pre-war fiancé is a little pat. However, it is a wonderful time capsule, a picture of a bomb-blasted culture in the years immediately following the war. And an interesting contrast to THE LONG GOODBYE.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Future Looks Bright

by Marcus Sakey

So as all of you know, the One Book, One Chicago selection this year is Raymond Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE. Because of that the city has graciously included The Outfit in a number of events, most of them thrown by the Chicago Public Library system, and all of them free. This last weekend, we were asked to teach a class to aspiring teen writers.

As you can probably guess by our posts here, both Kevin Guilfoile and I jumped at the chance to warp the minds of the next generation.

After a long winter, last Saturday was the first indisputably beautiful day of the year, and we had a feeling we might end up in the library alone. But instead, we were joined by a group of teenagers who
were not only interested in learning about writing, but had, on their own, written short stories and poems, and even started novels.

For the record, at that age, I put most of my effort into skateboarding poorly and playing Nintendo.

Kevin and I had discussed our plan ahead of time, and decided that rather than give a long and boring talk, we'd chat a little about Chandler, then introduce some brief writing exercises. To begin with, we talked about Chandler's language, especially his descriptions ("She was a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window."), and then we asked the students to write a couple of their own. Not, to be honest, expecting much.

Boy, were we surprised.

These kids, all of them, they not only got what we were talking about, they could work with it. They played with metaphor and rhythm and style.

So far, so good. Ice broken, we moved onto the fun part. We asked them, as a group, to plan a crime. I'd no sooner said, "What do you want to do?" then one of them piped up "Kill someone."

My kinda people.

"Yeah?" I asked. "Who?"

"A dance choreographer," another said.

"And why are we killing her?"

"Him," a third replied. "Because he made deals to give money to some gangsters, and then he didn't."

Not bad. Not bad at all. We kept going in that fashion, and I'm not blowing smoke when I say that these kids got it. They understood the basic ideas of plot and complications, of how you make a story. Of the importance of obstacles and surprises. They debated whether to kill the choreographer themselves, or to hire someone; whether to do it on a city street or in a country cabin; how they would get the victim there, and from whose point of view the scene would be written.

As an unabashed addict of story, I gotta say, it was heady stuff. Because if these kids keep at it, if they keep reading and they keep writing and they fight through the frustration and doubt that come with trying to write for a living, then we've got a bright future ahead.

After we settled on the details of the scene, we asked each of them to spend a few minutes writing the first paragraph or two of the story. Some wrote as detectives, some as killers, some as the victim. They wrote in first and close third, and they started in the action.

In short, they did great.

At the end of the session, we asked the students to ask their parents if we could post excerpts from what they wrote here. Thus far, two have gotten consent and sent us their stuff; hopefully some of the others will as well. What you see here is unedited, untouched by Kevin or me, and it was written on the spot. Check it out, fellow readers--and imagine what they'll be capable of in ten or twenty years.

Freddie (Jones College Prep):
Desmond promised himself that he would retire three years ago. He made an oath to get away from this gore-filled life of violence and crime. There was just one problem, it was just too fun. To him there is nothing more exciting than searching for a place to dispose of the body before the cops realize that his “client” is missing. There was no sound more pleasing than the deals and bargains his clients try to make that turn to squeals and whimpers as they realize that all hope is lost. Tonight, Jasmine Lawson would find out just how comfortable the trunk of a Lexus really is.

David (St. Ignatius College Prep):
I lived in a time where rules were broken, where people controlled each other and some of the most powerful ones controlled the government. I know only one name, and I’ve kept this name ever since the years of my childhood. This name has haunted me and poisoned my mind. This name was Danny Anderson, the most known and popular fella in our town. He ruled our streets like a king, demanding respect from all. Many never saw him, few knew him. My only connection to him was through my father, who was a close friend of his and worked for him. In what, you ask. I bothered my father with so many questions it was like shooting bullets from a semi-automatic pistol. He responded with short answers but never into detail and eventually he would flame up. I never knew what he did as an occupation. I never knew who his friends were. I never knew… It wasn’t until that cold, frosty, dark night… when I snuck out for the third time to follow my father.

Monday, April 07, 2008


by Michael Dymmoch

It started small.

A friend’s daughter attended a private school that collected paper to help defray its costs. So I asked my building manager if I could recycle our junk mail. When I asked if I could put a blue recycling container in the mail room, the board not only said yes, they provided a container. I live in a 250 unit condo building, so pretty soon I was hauling 300 pounds of junk mail per week to the school. That gets old very fast, but I’m stubborn. I kept at it.

Then we had a telephone book delivery at my building—250 copies of several different directories. Problem was, most of the residents have computers and internet access. We don’t use telephone directories. We still had most of the directories that were delivered six months earlier. And we don’t have storage space for things nobody wants. So the old directories were dumped in the trash. From which—with the help of one of our building engineers—I rescued them. It took me ten trips to the school to recycle all those directories.

That must have made someone feel guilty, because the building manager soon informed me that the board had decided to put a dedicated recycling container in the trash room—one pick-up a week. They painted it blue and stenciled “RECYCLE ONLY" on the side. And they put up a poster detailing what could be recycled—basically the same things the city accepts in its recycling drop-off centers. I volunteered to keep an eye on it.

It wasn’t long before we were overfilling the container weekly with recyclables, even some things that had to be recycled at The Salvation Army (old clothes) or the Brown Elephant (books) or the City of Chicago Hazardous Waste & Recycling Center (tech trash).

I’m now devoting ten hours a week to breaking down boxes and sorting stuff. And stopping at the Salvation Army and the tech trash place at least once a week. Some days, I feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. On the plus side, however, I don’t have to go to the fit center to work out.

At present, we’re filling our recycling container three times a week. And diverting another container’s worth of clothes, books, packing peanuts, plastic bags, and other things away from the landfill.

If your building doesn’t have recycling, and you’d like to start it up . . .

Things you’ll need if you decide to start a recycling project:

Cooperation from your condo board or building manager.

Dedicated (read that moderately obsessive) volunteers to flatten boxes and deal with things left in the recycling container that don’t belong there.

A place to locate your container. (You’ll have to limit public access to prevent fly dumping.) Many apartment and condo buildings have a trash room with space for containers. Most cities have regulations about what you can store on site or outside—check before you start.

A reliable company to haul things away.

Signs telling people what you can accept. And what you can’t. Signs (or, better yet, handouts) telling people where they can take things you can’t accept.

Handouts to let residents know about recycling in your building.

Safety First:

Wear gloves and safety glasses.

Learn the safe way to use a box cutter. Keep it closed and in your pocket when it’s not in use.

Keep waterless hand cleaner, Band-Aids, and Neosporin handy.

Ask your doctor if you need a tetanus shot.

Things to remember:

Start Small. Be sure you can dispose of everything you’ll collect so things don’t pile up.

People don’t read signs. Expect to spend time relocating things that aren’t recyclable.

Many people don’t care. You can change this--be nice.

Don’t lose your cool. People make mistakes that you’ll have to deal with. And you’ll have to deal with the same (to you) mistakes made by different people. Be patient.

Take time for training. Believe it or not, some people don’t know about recycling. If you explain it nicely (without preaching) and point out the advantages, they’ll often get on board.

Anticipate problems. It takes time to iron the wrinkles out of any new project.

Ask for help. If you’re doing it alone, you’ll burn out very quickly, but if you share the work, it’s easier. Take occasional vacations.

If you can figure out a profitable way to recycle polystyrene (i. e. Styrofoam), you may become a millionaire.

Where to Recycle Things In Chicago That The City/Hauler Won’t Pick Up: (Always phone first.)

Batteries, Akaline, Lithium, and All Button Type

Walgreens Stores and Chicago Public Libraries

Books (except manuals and text books)

Most public libraries accept books in good condition for resale to their patrons. Ask yours.

LITTLE CITY (formerly Brandeis) BOOK SALE
Call 847-221-7856 for drop-off locations or pickups (150 book minimum).

Brown Elephant
3651 N Halsted, Chicago, 773-549-5943
5404 N. Clark, Chicago, 773-271-9382
1459 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 773-252-8801

Clothes, furniture, household items: (Call for pick-up and information)

Mt. Sinai Hospital Resale
814 W Diversy Parkway
Chicago, IL 60614
773 -935-1434

The Salvation Army 312-738-4360

Brown Elephant Stores
3651 N Halsted St, Chicago, 60613 - (773) 549-5943
5404 N Clark St, Chicago, 60640 - (773) 271-9382
1459 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, 60622 - (773) 252-8801

The White Elephant
2380 N Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614

(Most of the above will give you a receipt for your donations that you can use if you itemize on your taxes. Check with your tax preparer.).

Please don’t take them broken, torn or soiled items. They have to pay to dispose of anything they can’t sell.

Cell phones:

At Cell Phones for Soldiers,
click on “Help out our troops” and you can print out a postage-paid mailing label to recycle your used cell phones.


Computers for Schools Chicago
3350 N Kedzie, docks # 2 & 3
Chicago, IL

Dead Computers, Electronic junk, Hazardous materials

City of Chicago Hazardous Waste & Recycling Center
(Chicago Residents)
1150 N Branch St, Chicago
7:00 am – noon Tuesday
2:00 PM to 7:00 PM Thursday
8:00 AM to 3:00 PM the 1st Sat of each month

Solid Wast Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) Illinois residents only


Orphans of the Storm Animal Shelter
2200 Riverwoods Road
Riverwoods (Deerfield), IL 60015
Phone: 847-945-0235
Email: info@orphansofthestorm.org

Newspapers & Towels:

The Anti-Cruelty Society
510 N. LaSalle
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 644-8338
12:00 noon - 7:00 pm Monday through Friday.
12:00 noon - 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday

AnimalCare & Control
2741 S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 747-1406
noon to 7 pm daily (phone first)

Paper Shopping Bags:

Check with your local resale store (i. e. Brown Elephant, Salvation Army).

And Church rummage sales often need bags.

Packing Peanuts:

Call 800-828-2214 for where to take peanuts in your area.

UPS STORES take peanuts.

527 Dundee Road
Northbrook, IL 60062

Plastic Bags:
Many retail stores recycle plastic bags (e.g. Jewel/Osco). If your favorite store doesn’t, ask why not.

Check with your cleaners. Many take back and recycle plastic cleaners bags and coat hangers. (Please package them neatly.)

You can also sell unwanted items on Craigslist or eBay

Friday, April 04, 2008

Crazy In The Head . . .

by Sean Chercover

So I recently finished a manuscript. A huge relief. Understatement of the year, right?


But it's funny how different writers react differently to finishing a book. I call writer friends, tell them I finished, and some say:

"You must be so elated . . . there's no better feeling."

While others say:

"Oh, I know how hard that is . . . try not to get too depressed."

I'm more inclined toward the second type. I usually feel brief elation after typing THE END, but then I get a little blue.

Actually, no. More discombobulated than blue (and what a great word, discombobulated).

Confused. Untethered. Caught between two worlds.

In the coming days, my wife and child and parents and friends will emerge from the fog, will once again become more real to me than the imaginary people who've been camping inside my head for the last year, making themselves at home, redecorating the inside of my skull, spilling beer on the couch and dropping cigarette butts on the linoleum.

The real people in my life are much better behaved. I'm looking forward to getting to know them again . . .

A madness shared by many.

Just got an email from my friend Tibor.

Tibor said, "sleep is your enemy, hallucinations are your angels."

He's right, of course. Here's what it's like inside my head at the end of a book . . .

It's like this:

This may be my favorite movie ever . . .

Now, if you want a more rational blog post, scoot on over to Murderati, where Libby is the guest blogger.

Because I really can't help you here. You see, I just finished a book. And the inside of my head is, well . . .

Like this:

ps: Thanks to Brian Lindenmuth for bringing this awesome movie to my attention.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Lessons From the Road... or the Adventures of Thelma and Louise

by Libby Hellmann and Cara Black

It’s that time again. I’m on book tour for EASY INNOCENCE, my fifth crime fiction novel. Actually this is going to be a joint blog with partner in crime and road runner Cara Black. Her new novel is MURDER IN RUE DE PARADIS.
We’re going to share some lessons we’ve learned from the road. BTW, Cara insists that whoever Susan Sarandon played in the film is who she wants to be, which makes me the other one. Got that?

Lesson 1. Don’t go it alone. I’ve done tours alone, I’ve done them with people. It’s much more fun when you’re with someone who can share costs, driving, toiletries, and more. Also keeps you from talking to yourself.

Lesson 2. Cara and I toured together four years ago. Part of that time Kent Krueger was with us. Besides being a fabulous writer, he has an unerring sense of direction – even in Pittsburgh. We don’t have Kent this time, but we do have Lucy…my brand new portable GPS navigator and new best friend. Lucy never talks back, she’s patient when we make a wrong turn, and she always lets us know where we are and where we’re going. Even in Pittsburgh.

Lesson 3. Tour with someone who’ll turn to you in the car and say “You know, you ought to consider putting your climax a few miles south of here in Douglas, AZ.” Or, someone to whom you can say “I think Aimee would love that scarf, don’t you?” The best part of the long drives is the brainstorming…ideas, plots, character development, obstacles, and settings. I usually get back home fresh and inspired and ready to muscle up my writing.

Lesson 4. If a rental car company offers you a gold card, take it.

Lesson 5. Eat well at signings and other events. It might be your only meal of the day.

Lesson 6. It helps to travel with someone whose children are approximately the same age as yours. Those frantic cell phone conversations in rural Ohio during which your daughter tells you the police have just left the house, or your son tells you his best friend’s father’s car had a little problem while he was driving it, are much easier to tolerate when the person you’re traveling with understands.

Lesson 7. Don’t be upset when the empty seats at a signing event outnumber the occupied ones. It’s not your fault, it’s hers. On the other hand, when you finally meet a fan whom you’ve gotten to know through years of emails, there’s no better sense of affirmation. That’s really what it’s all about.

Lesson 8. Note to selves: Instead of a Ford Focus – need a convertible next time. But do not drive over cliff.

Also...find Brad Pitt or other boy toy.