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Canarsie and Westlake, Parker and Stark (and Me)

[The below first appears as an introduction to Butcher’s Moon, republished in April 2011 by the University of Chicago Press, and is reprinted with the gracious permission of Lawrence Block. You can read his other intros for Backflash and Comeback here and here.]

One night around the end of 1960 or the beginning of 1961, I was in a second-floor flat in Canarsie, an unglamorous part of Brooklyn, located at the very end of the Canarsie Line, a part of the subway system which ran east across Fourteenth Street from Eighth Avenue, then crossed the river, and wound up running on elevated tracks all the way to Rockaway Parkway.  (The train was subsequently designated the LL, until years later they took one of its letters away and it became the L.  No one knows why, but I’ve always figured it was a cost-cutting move.  Of such small economies are great savings made.)

I lived in Manhattan at the time, on Central Park West at 104th Street, so I had to take two subway trains and walk several blocks to get to that flat, but I did it often and without complaint because that’s where Don Westlake lived.  We’d been best friends since we met in our mutual agent’s office in July of 1959, where we introduced ourselves before walking a few blocks to his flat in Hell’s Kitchen.  We sat around there and had a few beers and talked and talked and talked, and that was the pattern that prevailed over the months.  I moved home to Buffalo, met somebody, got married.  Don and his then-wife moved from an unsafe neighborhood to an inaccessible one.  My then-wife and I set up housekeeping in New York, first on West 69th Street, then on Central Park West.  And Don and I got together often, and had a few beers, and talked and talked and talked. Continue reading “Canarsie and Westlake, Parker and Stark (and Me)”

Black Lens: Part XXIII

Story by Ken Bruen and Russell Ackerman

Ken Bruen is one of the most celebrated crime novelists of our time.

Black Lens is his most secret project.

Read on as the unveiling continues.

Every Wednesday on Mulholland Books.

With art by Jonathan Santlofer.

Fade in…

Read Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11,Part 12, Part 13Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19 Part 20, Part 21 and Part 22.





The final arrangements for The Wolf were coming into place.

They even had a rehearsal, yah fooking believe it?

Right down to a cell resembling Ransom’s and some lame dead ass actor playing him.

Went through the motions, The Wolf doing the gig with the psycho and he had to admit, the actor was good, didn’t look like the killer but sure had his moves and the megalomania, and what do you know, The Wolf got into it, began to get the rush.

His cameraman behind him, a silent Scot, and got one of those who didn’t have verbal rabies, you thanked some Celtic God.

Winding down, the Final Act, The Wolf moves to the camera, bends down and takes the blade from the side, turns to Ransom and in one fluid movement ( yeah, they were sure counting on that fluidity) guts the piece of shit.

The Wolf got so into it Benedict had to pull him off, saying drily

‘Save the goddamn method for the real deal.’

The Wolf was breathing heavily, his heart doing its own River dance, he gasped

‘Romanski, he knows, right, I mean he appreciates what it is we’re putting on the line here?’

Benedict gave him a long appraising stare, then uttered, real slow




The Wolf didn’t like being condescended to and especially by this pumped up faggot, he snarled

‘The fuck does that mean?’

Was the gobshite smiling?





The Wolf thought

‘You need you know just one thing as swipe, I don’t forget.. ever.’

The actor glared at him and enough, The wolf asked

‘Yeah, you got a problem?’

No, least not any more.



It was only when the Wolf got back to the new apartment they’d provided, in The East Village, that he realized, in his frenzy, with the sheer rush of the enactment, that


He’d never asked about the escape?




They wouldn’t.

Would they?

He grabbed his cell, time to take out some insurance.


Ken Bruen has been a finalist for the Edgar and Anthony Awards, and has won a Macavity Award, a Barry Award, and two Shamus Awards for the Jack Taylor series. He lives in Galway, Ireland. Learn more at

Russell Ackerman is Guillermo del Toro’s Development Executive. He is currently working on the film MAMA to be directed by Andy Muschietti, DROOD based on Dan Simmons’ novel of the same name, adapted by Brian Helgeland, and MIDNIGHT DELIVERY written by Neil Cross, all set up at Universal Pictures. He lives in Los Angeles.

Noir in the Sunshine

IMG_8815So some years ago I was writing this series of P.I. novels about a detective in St. Louis. He wasn’t exactly your classic shamus but he did have Sam Spade DNA and he did walk some pretty mean streets in a gritty industrial city. But what I wanted to do was a second series, something different from what I’d been writing. More of a classic P.I. instead of my St. Louis guy who, while having some of the classic P.I. characteristics, was also a star-crossed schlemiel with a nervous stomach and a suicidal girlfriend. He also had his office over a doughnut shop, and smelled like a doughnut. This turned some women on, some off. Not classic. But the book market being what it was (is), I was going to write another series more in the classic vein, yet in some ways different.

Immediately I thought of California. I’d always enjoyed the California P.I. novel and its great practitioners, Hammett, Chandler, Lyons, Pronzini, Macdonald.

Wait a sec.

Continue reading “Noir in the Sunshine”

Any questions?

This past spring the filmed version of Alan Glynn’s novel Limitless took theaters by storm.  Last week, Picador’s paperback edition of Glynn’s novel Winterland hit the shelves, a book George Pelecanos called  “A terrific read”, and John Connolly characterized as “timely, topical and thrilling.”  Here, Alan discusses the genesis of Winterland, architecture as metaphor, and the real life heart of darkness that informs his next novel, Bloodland.

“Where did you get the idea for your book?”

Whenever I’m asked this question I try hard to give an honest answer but I generally end up feeling like a bit of a fraud, as though I’ve come up with something on the spot just to keep the conversation moving. Because the thing is, by the time I arrive at the end of a book I usually find I’ve forgotten how it got started, its origins obscured somewhere in memory and almost inaccessible now through thickets of notes, outlines, obsessive but often unnecessary research and a seemingly endless process of re-writing.

Thinking back on answers I’ve given in the past, though, I do see a pattern emerging. The account I offer will either be fine-sounding and rational, or slightly random and intuitive – left brain, right brain stuff. Both do the job, and neither, I suspect, is actually untrue. It’s just that I can never be sure which came first . . .

For example, when asked about my first novel, The Dark Fields (now republished as Limitless) I would say either one of two things. I would say that it arose from an interest in the scandals of the late 90s regarding performance-enhancing drugs in sport, and that it was a sort of ‘what if . . .’ story – what if there existed a performance-enhancing drug for lawyers or businessmen or politicians? Out of which came questions about that very American theme of the perfectability of man and the notion of a latter-day Gatsby whose impulse for self-improvement has been reduced to a pharmaceutical commodity.

Or I would say that it arose from . . . not much at all, from a desperate scrambling around inside my own brain for SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. So . . . a situation. Maybe two guys who bump into each other on the street. One is a bit desperate (like I am at the time) and he meets . . . who? His ex-brother-in-law? Someone he hasn’t seen in nearly ten years? Yeah, that’s the ticket. But now that I have them together what are they going to talk about? “What have you been up to? Still dealing?” “Not exactly. How about you? Still a loser?” One thing leads to another and before you know it they’re having a conversation, and possibilities are opening up.

Continue reading “Any questions?”

The World’s Most Overvalued Currency

A pile of loosely scattered real bills.
The cost of living is rising in Brazil. Photo © Michael Sommers.

I don’t need to read an article to tell me how expensive Brazil has become – especially, for those who come bearing American dollars. Having lived in Brazil for 12 years now – and earned the major part of my livelihood in greenbacks, I’m painfully conscious of the fact that since 2003, the value of Brazilian real has increased 122 percent against the once mighty dollar. I’m also pretty aware – as are most of my Brazilian friends – that many things (bus fare, beer, life in general) – are slowly, but surely, getting more expensive.

That said, it took reading an article published on to hit home just how much the real has actually risen and costs have been creeping up due to inflation. Brasília-based reporter Andre Soliani’s point of departure is the fact that it’s now cheaper to stuff oneself on Brazil’s famous barbecue at one of the burgeoning number of Fogo de Chão churrascarias in the U.S. than at the upscale restaurant chain’s Brazilian counterparts.

[pullquote align=”right”]The Brazilian government has attempted to check both rising costs and the rising real, but so far efforts have been in vain.[/pullquote]The article goes on to point out a wide range of consequences to Brazil’s astronomic economic growth and the attendant “currency war” that the country appears to be losing; as the real continues to soar against the dollar and other international monies, it has become, in the words of Goldman Sachs, “the world’s most overvalued currency.” Among the most striking results is the fact that the cost of living in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Brasília is now higher than any U.S. city including New York, according to London-based human resource company, ECA International.

The Brazilian government has attempted to check both rising costs and the rising real, but so far efforts have been in vain. The inflation is a consequence of decreasing poverty, increased purchasing power (particularly among Brazil’s vast emerging middle class), and record-low unemployment, all of which are propelling an unprecedented shopping spree among Brazilians with money to burn.

Meanwhile, seduced by the economy’s robustness and stability, not to mention some of the highest interest rates on the planet, foreign investors have been pouring their capital into Brazil at such rates – $45.9 billion so far this year – that the government has tried to actually dampen enthusiasm (and the real’s gains) by imposing taxes on capital inflows and foreign loans.

As I noted in an earlier post – in which I described how Brazil’s booming economy influenced many of the changes I made for the soon-to-be-coming 3rd edition of Moon Brazil – this means that Brazil is no longer the budget paradise that it once was for foreign travelers. However, it doesn’t mean that traveling cheaply in Brazil is impossible; it’s just more of a challenge.

By doing a modicum of research, making careful choices, getting out of the major cities (or their swankiest neighborhoods), and living, and spending, like the locals (just not the wealthier ones), you can still live it up for less than it would cost in most parts of North America and Europe – especially if you steer clear of McDonald’s.

Yes, unlike North America where a meal under the Golden Arches is still a good deal, it’s a sign of the times that in Brazil – according to data compiled by Bloomberg from The Economist’s Big Mac index– the iconic burger (which in 2010 sold for $5.26 in Brazil compared with $3.71 in the U.S.) is the fourth most expensive in the world! Better to do like Bahians and stick to acarajés.

Twin Cities for Kids: Must-Sees and Special Deals

Exterior view of the Guthrie Museum.
Guthrie Museum by Richie Diesterheft, licensed Creative Commons Attribution

Minneapolis and St. Paul are, in general, very kid-friendly. Unless you’ve chosen one of the poshest restaurants in town, it’s not hard to find booster seats, kids’ menus, and crayons. Arts venues, too, welcome kids, although you should note that some, including the Guthrie (818 2nd St. S., Minneapolis, 612/377-2224) have a minimum age for most of their shows.

The must-see list for families visiting the Twin Cities is long:

Reminder: Always confirm hours and admission prices with the venue!

Keep an eye out for monthly special deals:

Admission to the Minnesota Children’s Museum is free on the third Sunday of the month. The Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612/375-7600) hosts an all-out family-oriented bash on the first Saturday of the month, free of charge. The joint is hopping as families work on two crafts projects, rock out at the dance party in the auditorium, and watch offbeat films and live performances. (Note to those traveling without children: This is not a good day to try to enjoy the exhibits.) And admission to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis, 888/642-2787) is always free, but the museum hosts Target Family Day one Sunday a month, with art projects, performers, and special tours for families.

Finally, on select winter Saturdays, the Jungle Theater (2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612/822-7063) collaborates with the Wild Rumpus (2720 43rd St. W., Minneapolis, 612/920-5005) bookstore to put on live readings of favorite children’s books. For a schedule of all children’s theater shows and all family-oriented activities in the Twin Cities, go to the calendar section at Minnesota Parent.

If you’re traveling with toddlers, you need somewhere for them to get their wiggles out. You’ll find great playgrounds in downtown Minneapolis’s Loring Park (15th St. W. and Willow St. S., Minneapolis), on the shores of Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet in South Minneapolis, and in St. Paul’s Como Park. Inclement weather? Run the kids ragged in the empty hallways of the Mall of America (60 E. Broadway, Bloomington, 952/883-8800) in the hours after the doors open at 7 a.m. and before the stores open at 10 a.m.

Got older kids who have to move, move, move all the time? Take them to 3rd Lair Skate Park (850 Florida Ave. S., Golden Valley, 763/797-5283), rent them a board and a helmet, and say, “See you in three hours.”

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Minneapolis & st. Paul.

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part II

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Fun & Games we matched Duane Swierczynski up with Josh Bazell, author of the acclaimed novel Beat the Reaper. When we last saw our heroes (see Part I), Duane had asked Josh how far he had gotten with his plan to become a comic book artist.

JB: Not far. When I was about ten I realized I didn’t have the talent.  All I had was How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, which in retrospect was useless.  But until them my goal in life was to go to the Joe Kubert School, because it ran advertisements in comic books. It may be the saddest story ever told that’s not about a Boston terrier. What was your first idea of yourself as a writer?

DS: As a kid, I was inspired by comic books. I’d try to draw comic strips, but I realized at a young age that I wasn’t good at drawing. So instead, I remember cutting up an old Iron Man comic and using the art to make my own story. New captions, new dialogue. I knew I couldn’t draw for shit, but I could use someone else’s art to make my own story. I guess I was that kind of kid, who grew that interest in writing. Since I couldn’t draw, I decided that maybe a short story would be fun. I’m very inspired by comics, but also by movies, I caught the storytelling bug early. I’m not even sure I was aware of it, but it’s what I was doing.

JB: Was this your first job?

DS: Well, my VERY first job was, I was a keyboard player in a bar band when I was ten. My dad’s bar band, a wedding band. So my first paying job was playing Doors cover songs in dive bars in Philadelphia.

JB: Can you play the keyboard intro to “Light my Fire?”

DS: I can still do that! It took hours to learn, but it was worth it. It impresses the chicks.

JB: That’s badass!

DS: My dad actually made me spend a whole afternoon learning the organ solo for “In-A-GaddaDa-Vida”. Playing it over and over again. So, actually, I’m a frustrated musician too. You talk about wanting to do one art and sliding back into something else. I wanted to be a famous musician or a rockstar and I don’t have a good singing voice and I’m not very good at playing. So, I knew I couldn’t do it professionally. So, I fell back on writing.

JB: Do you still do it for fun?

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part II”

A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part I

In our ongoing celebration of the publication of Fun & Games we matched Duane Swierczynski up with Josh Bazell, author of the acclaimed novel Beat the Reaper. Josh called Fun & Games “Insanely Entertaining.” Here is Part I of the result of their conversation which touches on entertainment, series material, Aquaman and Die Hard.

Josh Bazell: Duane. Fun & Games. Awesome book. I think that when they first gave it to me to blurb, I said something about it continuing your experiment, as I saw it, as to how far you can push the entertainment value of a novel. I don’t know how you feel about public discussion of technical stuff. But what I’m curious about, as a writer, is how conscious of that are you? How much of your career is about coming up with a book that is a perfectly pure action novel?

Duane Swiercynski: Good question! I mostly try not to bore people. That’s my goal. Get them turning pages no matter what.

JB: That’s actually my philosophy also. It’s probably the #1 thing I think about as a writer.

DS: I feel like, if I’m bored writing it, I should cut it or move on quickly. I also really focus on voice as a writer. That greases the skids for people and keeps things going. I’ve done both, but I want to ask you if you plot in advance or outline, or just explore the plot and figure it out as you go?

JB: I am an obsessive outliner. Of the Harry Wittington school, that I would rather build a house without a blue print than write a novel without an outline. I find in my own work that I have plenty of room to be creative on the page without having to worry about whether the scene is going to end up where I want it to. That said, there are people who I respect, Thomas Perry and Elmore Leonard come to mind, who say that they don’t outline and that outlining would remove a lot of the fun they have. On the other hand, both of those people have developed plotting techniques that make it easier to plot on the fly, like Thomas Perry when he uses a cat-and-mouse format. And both of those guys have been in this game for long enough that they are clearly doing a good amount of planning subconsciously that a lot of us are doing on paper. I don’t really know how to do it without outlining. But it has occurred to me to try.

DS: What you say rings true. When I do plot, with guideposts to leave enough room to have fun on the page. And you can always change the guideposts. You’re not locked into it. But I do like having a plan.

JB: You always can change the goalposts and you always have to. So, Charlie Hardie is a series character and you do a masterful job of leaving some things unexplained in the book. I wondered if this had something to do, possibly, with your work in comic books.  The book succeeds as a book, at the same time that it feels like it is going to succeed in a larger series. The issues that are left hanging are not even things you realize until you’ve thought about the book for a while. You clearly have an idea of where this series is going.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Duane Swierczynski and Josh Bazell: Part I”

Gualeguaychú: The Biggest Party Town in Entre Ríos

Dancers in feathered costumes stand on gilded pillars on an elaborate float featuring a large carved face.
An elaborate Carnaval float. Photo © Kevin Jones, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Entre Ríos’s biggest party town, Gualeguaychú hosts Argentina’s top Carnaval celebration—not quite Rio, but worthwhile if you’re in Buenos Aires instead of Brazil. Dating from 1783, it has a smattering of colonial constructions, but it is most popular with Argentines for access to its namesake river. To the east, the Puente Internacional General Libertador San Martín offers the southernmost bridge access into Uruguay, to the city of Fray Bentos. In recent years, though, anger over a proposed pulp mill on the Uruguayan side has brought roadblock demonstrations by Argentine environmental activists and less savory opportunists.

Gualeguaychú (pop. about 100,000) is 220 kilometers north of Buenos Aires via RN 14 and an eastbound lateral road that leads directly to the central Plaza San Martín, a square occupying four full blocks. To the east, the Río Gualeguaychú, a tributary of the larger Uruguay, meanders southward.

Sights and Recreation

Dating from 1914, the city’s only national historical monument is the Teatro Gualeguaychú (Urquiza 705). It’s still the principal high-culture venue, with theater, music, and dance performances. At the northeast corner of Plaza San Martín, Gualeguaychú’s oldest construction (1800) is the Solar de los Haedo (San José 105, 9 a.m.–11:45 a.m. and 5–8 p.m. Wed.–Sat., 9 a.m.–11:45 a.m. Sun., free), which Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi used as his headquarters during the Uruguayan struggle against Rosas.

José S. Álvarez, better known by his pen name Fray Mocho, resided at the Casa de Fray Mocho (Fray Mocho 135), which awaits restoration as a museum. Álvarez founded the early-20th-century satirical magazine Caras y Caretas, the counterpart of England’s Punch.

On the grounds of the former Estación Ferrocarril Urquiza (railroad station, Avenida Rocamora and Avenida Irazusta), the enclosed Corsódromo is the main site for the midsummer Carnaval parades. The station also contains the open-air Museo Ferroviario, with antique steam locomotives, dining cars, and other rolling stock.

Entertainment and Events

The landmark Teatro Municipal (Urquiza 705, tel. 03446/42-7989) remains the principal performing arts locale.

Oriented toward visitors from Buenos Aires, Gualeguaychú’s Carnaval del País celebrations take place weekends in mid to late summer, depending on the Lenten calendar. If bad weather intervenes, though, the final weekend may even be pushed back in Lent. Admission to the Corsódromo costs around US$16 pp, with the best reserved seats an additional US$10 pp.

Information and Services

Gualeguaychú’s main Oficina de Información Turística Puerto (Tiscornia and Goldaracena, tel. 03446/42-3668) is on the riverfront Paseo del Puerto. At the bus station, it also has a convenient Oficina de Información Turística (Avenida Artigas and Bulevar Jurado, tel. 03446/44-0706). Both have helpful personnel, thorough information that includes accommodation details, and improved maps. Hours are 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily in summer, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. the rest of the year.

For motorists, ACA is at Urquiza 1001 (tel. 03446/42-6088). Half a dozen banks along Avenida 25 de Mayo have ATMs, but there are no exchange houses.

Correo Argentino (Urquiza and Angel Elías) is the post office; the postal code is 2820. There are Telecentros at the bus terminal and at 25 de Mayo 562. Cibernet (25 de Mayo 874) has fast Internet access. For medical services, Hospital Centenario (25 de Mayo and Pasteur, tel. 03446/42-7831) is west of downtown.

Getting There and Around

Gualeguaychú’s shiny new Terminal de Ómnibus (Avenida Artigas and Bulevar Jurado, tel. 03446/44-0688) is at the southwest approach to town. Buses to Fray Bentos and other Uruguayan destinations are suspended until further notice because of the pulp mill controversy.

Otherwise, sample destinations, times, and fares include Buenos Aires (3 hours, US$11); Paraná (5 hours, US$12); and Córdoba (11 hours, US$40).

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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