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March 2005
By A Spider's Thread

Goldilocks on a Bender

Oprah has her favorite things, so why can't I? And unlike Oprah, I won't de-favoritize -- scroll way down -- those who feel they can't award my imprimatur with 300 freebies.

Gimme More: In particular, give me more of books like Gimme More by Liza Cody. This may be a dangerous rule to make, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I've never gone wrong listening to Val McDermid. First, seabreezes, now this Cody book, a 2000 release that I had managed to miss. To summarize it seems almost insulting. Just get it, read it and then you'll get it. And, no, there's not a U.S. edition, but did you know that independent bookstores such as Mystery Lovers Bookshop will special-order UK books?

As of this month, you'll be able to buy a copy of Drama City in bookstores everywhere. Do it. George Pelecanos's latest novel is practically an object lesson in how a writer should follow up a critically acclaimed wonder such as Hard Revolution. Again, a basic description would seem hollow or hokey. But I loved this tight, lean, human-scale story and think it's as good as Hard Revolution, albeit very different.

Office Space. Okay, I was the last person on the planet to catch up with this film, which is in constant reruns. But I never seemed to come in at the beginning. I finally synched my schedule and watched it straight through. For the record, I don't think I've ever identified more with a film character than I did with Milton. I don't have a red Swingline stapler -- but I do have a white one, which is how the famous stapler in Office Space began its life. (At the time, Swingline didn't even make a red stapler, so the one in the film is a white one spray-painted red. Only later did Swingline capitalize on the stapler's cult status. So when is some enterprising company going to market the "Jump to Conclusions" mat?)

See a common theme here? Well, no, I guess I didn't provide enough information to make that possible. The three works above are, each in their own way, about the world of work. A subject often notably absent in literary fiction.

Which brings me to --

Gimme Less: A few days ago, I gave up on A Well-Regarded Novel midway. For all its pretty sentences and astute observations, it was simply the most uneventful book I have ever read. In a recent interview, the writer bridled at this characterization, which appeared in at least one review. (An approving review nonetheless. Lack of action is apparently not a flaw in literary novels.) The book is awash with events, the writer insisted. It teems with plot to the point where the writer was worried it might seem ludicrous. I'll respectfully disagree.

For me, the lesson was that I'm done with a certain type of book. I've aged out, or moved on, or just read enough of its ilk. And that's why I'm not naming the book. As Ralph Tabakin says of color television in Diner: "It was just not for me."

Just Write: I like reading approving profiles of my friends and the Book Standard article (link via Sarah) on Mark Billingham was no exception. But I did flinch a bit at the passage: "Meanwhile it's time for Billingham to gear up for the strange routine of the book-a-year author -- promoting the new book, preparing to visit the US to promote the one before that, while also finishing the one that will be out next year."

There are stranger things in heaven and earth than writing a book-length work of fiction on an annual schedule. Much stranger. Fact is, the "book-a-year" writers I know and admire are not producing annually out of compulsion, economic necessity, or corporate pressure. They do it because they can. The primary reason I write a book a year is because it keeps me sane and grounded. I hate to think what my life would be like if I had my days free to ponder the publication of my next book, which is now out of my hands -- copy-edited, proofed, in galleys. I write a book a year because it's an enormous privilege to be a working writer -- and there's no guarantee that such good luck holds.

Quiz Time

Speaking of galleys -- I have some and I'm willing to give away two via this website. To win a galley of To the Power of Three, a stand-alone novel with some recurring characters from Every Secret Thing, answer the following trivia questions. Cut-off for entries is March 21st, when I'll put all sincere responses in a hat or some other receptacle. (Yes, sincere, for it will be extremely difficult to score 100 percent on this quiz.) I'll announce the winners here next month -- and also explain the reason behind the quiz's theme.

Part I:

Name the Stephen Sondheim musicals from which the following songs were cut during try-outs.

1) "Can That Boy Foxtrot!"
2) "There Won't Be Trumpets"
3) "Momma's Talkin' Soft"
4) "Happily Ever After"
5) "Love is in the Air."

Part II: Short answer

  1. If you have a seed and a plow or two, and a bull that's keeping company with a cow or two -- well, what do you have?
  2. The title role of this 1966 musical was adapted to fit many leading ladies' strengths and perceived strengths; Ann Miller, subbing for the original Broadway star, even tap danced one of her numbers -- and I'd kill to know what Edward Tanner had to say about that. Name the show -- and Tanner's relationship to it.
  3. Why when I speak does he vanish? Why is he acting so clannish? Turns out he's -- the title of this song. Hint: The song's lyricist also collaborated with the composer's father and was mentored by the composer's father's best-known partner. Got that?
  4. Before he played Milwaukee's most avuncular father on television, he saved a city from graft and corruption. The name's . . . ? (Actor and character, please.)
  5. If Laura Lippman and Tess Monaghan were to sing a duet*, it would have to be this smartly cynical song of duality that closed the first act of this 1989 musical. Name the song and the show.

  6. (*And if this happens, please pry the cocktail from my clammy hand and stage an intervention ASAP.)

Part III: Short Essay (Choose one):

What does it feel like to finish the hat? And isn't it possible that there are one or two women out there who understand what it is to finish the hat and will still wait for you after you've finished the hat? George, have you ever considered the fact that you're just a colossal pain in the ass? Look at her, George -- Dot, as embodied by Bernadette Peters at her most glorious. Creamy shoulders, amazing cleavage. I'd take her to the Follies, George. What's your problem?

Or:

How many bullets are left in the gun, Chino? Feel free to justify your answer with reams of pedantic information on firearms, circa 1957.

Department of BSP

February was a short month long on good news: By a Spider's Thread was nominated for an EdgarŽ and an Agatha for Best Novel. In the words of the co-dedicatee of By a Spider's Thread: Schweet!


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