Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jay Gertzman: "Blood Pudding" (Manhunt, 1953) -- all Goodis' themes in one place?!

Pulp According to David Goodis
Sewn into Goodis’ plot are a remarkable number of story lines he was, or soon would be, working on in his novels. Ken has served 9 years in San Quentin, but is now pursued and alone, as are Parry in Dark Passage (1946), Hart in Black Friday (1954), and Vanning (Nightfall, 1947), all escaping from people who want to kill him. Ken’s “sad, lonely grey eyes” and resigned smile are typical of many of Goodis’ protagonists: Eddie, Whitey, Blazer (Fire in the Flesh, 1957), and Corey (Night Squad, 1961). Street of No Return, written about a year after “Black Pudding,” has a coldly determined crime boss, Sharkey, a further, more detailed version of Riker, Ken’s pursuer. Both have a “gotta have it” yen for a woman the protagonist has been with. In the short story she is Hilda, an elegant woman whom Ken, like Whitey in the novel, sees twice: once when they meet, and then when, about a decade later, a transformed Ken and Whitey torture themselves by seeing her as exactly the same flawless creature, but now ineffably remote. Hilda has platinum blonde hair, as does Geraldine, the Lilith-like cocaine addict to whom Al Darby is slavishly entangled in Of Tender Sin (1952). Both Geraldine and Hilda have the sadistic, debasing tactics of Cora in Behind This Woman (1947) and Madge in Dark Passage. Hiding in a cellar, Ken meets Tillie, whose deceased husband pimped her out, beat her, and in a fit of self-inflicted self-hate, threw her out a third storey window, causing a skull fracture and a horrible scar running from forehead to lip on one side of her face. An opium addict herself as a result, she tells Ken revenge (black pudding) will give Ken a backbone, so that he can fight Riker’s gang instead of submitting or always running. In Dark Passage, Irene does that for Parry, and in Down There (1956), Lena does it for Eddie. Tillie’s husband’s suicide (he “took a meat cleaver to himself”) was her revenge. “He just couldn’t stand to live with himself.” In Goodis’ last novel, Somebody’s Done For (1967), there is an especially eerie echo of this line. The protagonists’ father died of a coronary, but his daughter says, “But mostly it was because he was fed up with himself.” That death occurred at age 49, virtually the same age as the writer’s own. Finally, Goodis fans, intensely loyal, are familiar with the first sentence of his first novel, Retreat from Oblivion (1939): “After a while it gets so bad you want to stop the whole business.” 
This points not only to a nimble mind, but to the attempt to circle around a response to a key moment which captured an individual and still does. One of Kafka’s aphorisms states, “Writing is only an expedient, as for someone who is writing his will shortly before he hangs himself—an expedient that might last a whole lifetime.” Many writers tell the same story over the course of their career. Hemingway is an example, always returning, like Nick in “Big Two-Hearted River,” to sites of an injury.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gene Shay dishes the dirt on Jayne Mansfield (jr.) in THE BURGLAR

The grandfather of Philadelphia folk music is retiring from the radio.
Ever since he took over Joel Dorn's slot on WHAT-FM in 1962, Gene Shay has been on the air in his hometown with his Sunday night folk-music show. But on Feb. 1, the DJ who grew up Ivan Shaner in Nicetown will close the book on The Folk Show with Gene Shay, which has aired on WXPN (88.5-FM) since 1995.
To say Shay is a Philadelphia music-scene institution would be an understatement. The influential DJ, who got his start as an intern at Temple University station WRTI while a student in the 1950s, brought Bob Dylan to town for his first Philadelphia show at the Ethical Society in 1963. In 1967, Joni Mitchell performed "Both Sides Now," for the first time on his show, days after she wrote it.
And since cofounding the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1962, he has served as emcee - and told corny jokes - at all 53 editions of the fest, a gig he has no plans to give up.Gene Shay remembers: Stories of the folk music life in Philly

  Jayne Mansfield. When Shay was working at local TV station Channel 10 in 1957, the blonde bombshell was in town shooting The Burglar, a movie co-starring Dan Duryea based on a noir novel by local writer David Goodis. Shay has a small part in the film. Mansfield brought her daughter, Jayne Marie Mansfield, also known as Jayne Mansfield Jr., with her on set to scenes that were shot at the TV station. "I worked in the program film department," Shay says, "and while I was in there watching footage, her daughter would sit in my lap. So I'd call up my mother at the brassiere store and say, 'Hey, guess who's sitting on my lap! Jayne Mansfield!' And it was true."


Friday, January 16, 2015

Trent Zelazny on David Goodis

If you ask any wordsmith who their favorite writer is, you’ll probably find that more than nine times out of ten, they can’t simply pick just one. You will often also likely be surprised at some of the answers you’ll get. For me it can vary from week to week, even day to day or hour to hour. Sometimes minute to minute.
When I think about my favorite writers a whole list pops up. Joe Lansdale comes immediately to mind, as does Cornell Woolrich, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, my father, as well as some of the usual suspects, like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But more often than not, if you were to ask me which writer helped me to shape my writing the most, you’ll usually get the same answer. David Goodis.

A native of Philadelphia, Goodis also spent parts of his life in New York City and Hollywood during his professional years (he died about ten years before I was born). With the exception of one book taking place in NYC (Nightfall) and one in San Francisco (Dark Passage), Goodis cultivated the shadows of his Pennsylvania home town, using it as a template to craft his hard-boiled—or hardcore—stories about dark lives. You know the kind. Lives gone wrong, lives filled with criminality, alcoholism, and human despair, all majestically painted in a dreary, blighted landscape.  He has been called the “Poet of the Losers,” and while in some aspects the title seems apt, from other angles it seems a bit off the mark. I feel one could just as easily call him the “Poet of the Common Man.”

I discovered Goodis the way a lot of people find authors—through the movies. For years I worked in a video rental store that carried virtually every kind of movie imaginable. It was a treasure trove for the movie lover, and if you weren’t a movie lover when you started working there, you most likely were one when you left.

One day I was putting away The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and thought to myself that, other than a few Cagney flicks and some Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers romps, I really wasn’t very well-versed in classics. That same night I took The Treasure of the Sierra Madre home and watched it. Well, my friends, this movie so excited me that suddenly I had to see everything Bogart had ever been in. Moreso, it excited me about the classics, and even moreso, about Film Noir. For something like eight or ten months I don’t think I watched a single movie in color. I was all about the old black and whites.

And what do a lot of people, especially writers, do when they see a movie they really like? They check to see if it was based on a book, and if it was, who wrote that book. I read B. Traven’s novel and liked it, but then there was the night I took home the classic Bogart and Bacall movie Dark Passage, about a man convicted of murdering his wife who escapes from prison to prove his innocence, finding that his face is too well known, and is forced to seek some illicit backroom plastic surgery (which was a rather new concept at the time). When I finished watching it my first thought was that it was like something that could have come out of Donald Westlake’s pseudonym Richard Stark—I mean, the man did write a Parker novel called The Man with the Getaway Face. But it was the atmosphere and the flavor, the characters. I was already a huge Richard Stark fan, and this movie gave me the same kind of warm, fuzzy feeling.

I went back to the beginning of the movie and saw that it was based on a novel by a man named David Goodis. Excellent, I wrote his name down, and the very next morning I went to the library. I searched, in hopes of finding the book that was the basis for this great movie I had seen the night before. But, alas, there was no Dark Passage. In fact there was only one book in the whole library by Goodis, D.

I pulled it off the shelf and it had the same cover art to another movie we carried at the Video Library (no relation to the Public Library). A French film by François Truffaut called Shoot the Piano Player. I had not seen this movie but it was well-regarded and, hell, if it was the same author who had penned Dark Passage, I was gonna give it a shot.

That’s where my true writer crush began. With the very opening paragraph:

There were no street lamps, no lights at all. It was a narrow street in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. From the nearby Delaware a cold wind came lancing in, telling all alley cats they’d better find a heated cellar. The late November gusts rattled against midnight-darkened windows, and stabbed at the eyes of the fallen man in the street.

Needless to say, I checked it out and took it home, and with each page I read, I found myself reading a little slower and a little slower. This man had a unique prose style I hadn’t seen the likes of before. His characterization was solid, deep, philosophical, but without pretense. Ten or twenty pages in I said to myself, “This guy has got something I want.”

Given that Shoot the Piano Player (originally titled Down There) was the only book in the entire Santa Fe Library system, I immediately went online, and found and bought whatever I could. Cassidy’s GirlNightfall,The BurglarOf Tender SinNight Squad… and yes, eventually, Dark Passage. I was in literary heaven. Even now, when I need a kick-start, I often pick up a book by David Goodis, open it to any random page, read just a paragraph or two, and my juices start to flow.

So, as a writer, what did I learn most from David Goodis? Two things, one very important, one something I more just studied and, at times, mimicked. We’ll start with that one.

His vivid prose. His choice of words, his beautifully in-depth stream of consciousness that always enriches both the story and, more importantly, the character. His use of repetition without at all seeming repetitive. I’ve mimicked, I’ve tried, I’ve borrowed, but only David Goodis can write like David Goodis, as I’ve since learned only Trent Zelazny can write like Trent Zelazny, which brings me to the important one…

Honesty. While some may not find his prose as beautiful as I do, what they convey above anything else, is honesty. I believe the man, at least on paper, was completely and utterly honest with himself. When I was an alcoholic and my fiancé committed suicide, that was when I truly got it. I lost myself in Goodis again, and this time, after having suffered such horrible tragedy, he took me by the hand, and with each word he wrote, he explained to me that what I had to do, now more than ever, was be honest with myself. I agreed, brought up a blank screen, and in a very short time, while still a drunk, wrote Fractal Despondency, which even now, some three years since its release, some say is the best thing I’ve written. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but it was a big shift in my writing, as well as in my life. (By the way, I've now been sober three and a half years on the 28th of this month.)

I would still very likely be a writer, but due to things that happened in my life, I’m a very different writer than I probably would have been otherwise. And it’s primarily thanks to David Goodis who helped me figure out how to shape chaos into some semblance of order, that I am the actual writer I am.

Thank you, Mr. Goodis. Here's one guy on the planet whose life you changed, and I am eternally grateful to you.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jeff Wong Doing What He Does Best

Dust jacket illustration by Jeff Wong.
We’re pleased to be publishing the first trade hardcover of Lawrence Block’s The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, featuring a delightfully retro cover by Jeff Wong.
Ever since The Burglar on the Prowl climbed the bestseller lists in 2004, fans have been clamoring for a new book featuring the lighthearted and lightfingered Bernie Rhodenbarr. Now everybody's favorite burglar returns in an eleventh adventure that finds him and his lesbian sidekick Carolyn Kaiser breaking into houses, apartments, and even a museum, in a madcap adventure replete with American Colonial silver, an F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscript, a priceless portrait, and a remarkable array of buttons. And, wouldn't you know it, there's a dead body, all stretched out on a Trent Barling carpet.


  Lawrence Block Newsletter

subpressspoons 2

(You’ll note that the page I’ve linked to shows two titles of mine currently available—SPOONS and DEFENDER OF THE INNOCENT—along with eight other titles of mine that SubPress published over the years, in trade and limited editions, all of which have long since sold out and are only to be found in the aftermarket. This always happens with their editions. They very rarely go back for a second printing, and when a book of theirs is gone, it’s gone—and can only be had at a premium. Will this happen with SPOONS and DEFENDER? Yes, probably. So this constitutes A Word To The Wise—and to you too, Arnold.)

Jeff Wong’s dust jacket is a complete departure from both Manny’s painting for the paperback and the Brooklyn brownstone steps that grace Orion’s edition—and I find it quite elegant in its simplicity. The book around which it will be wrapped will be the high-quality printing and production that is Subterranean’s hallmark. I’ll tell you, if I didn’t know I’d be getting author copies, I’d run out and pre-order this one myself—and I can only urge you to go now and do likewise.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Jay Gertzman: Pulp's Big Moment

Louis Menard’s “Pulp’s Big Moment” (Jan 5th, 2015 issue) describes an arc that begins with “pulp” and ends with “literature.” It reaches from 25 cent paperbacks to Grove Press. Among the pulp Menard denigrates are Steve Fisher's _I Wake Up Screaming_ (which can be compared to West's _Day of the Locust_), Henry Kane, Peter Rabe, and any illustrator of newsstand ("cheesy," not art) paperback covers.

It is a real problem for the New Yorker that newsstand paperbacks ("comic books for grown ups") were conflated in the public mind with the “serious” works that quality paperback firms such as Anchor published. Menard describes the sexy cover of _1984_. The investigating committees had the same attitude toward this kind of thing, but instead of objecting to paperback cover art's "immorality", Menard objects to its absence of the kind of cultural capital that Orwell deserves. A distinction without a difference.
Pulp should not be contrasted with literature, whatever the latter may be. Here are some writers whose careers were largely in pulp hard- and soft-cover, and yet are good enough to be included in The Library of America: Charles Willeford, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, James M Cain, Horace McCoy, Jim Thompson. Despite venal publishers (all publishers have mixed motives), these writers would not have reached the particular prominence they attained without the milieu in which they worked.
All writers, even those for Knopf, Random House, or Doubleday, are given parameters to accept. That is why Henry Miller (the Tropics) and William Burroughs (_Junkie_, _The Hippos . . . _ , _Naked Lunch_ were not enthusiastic about the trials in which Barney Rosset, a most heroic fighter for freedom of expression, won for them the right to publish their work. They realized that if vulgarity was a negative (and it is not, except in the sense that soap-opera, date movie romance are vulgar), then it was also an honest part of modern experience. They were also not happy with the rationale: the editions would be for “serious” readers of “a work of literature” who were not pruriently curious. Bunk. I'M a serious reader.

Pulp According to David Goodis's photo.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two Extracts from Aline and Valcour by the Marquis de Sade, translated from the French by Jocelyne Geneviève Barque and John Galbraith Simmons

 Is that the way of depravity…?
No surprise that Sade would defend what came to be known as homosexuality but his reasoned defense of it is unusual for its rejection of nurture or upbringing as its cause in favor of what would within a couple of centuries be largely acknowledged as owing to inborn biological or constitutional features. From the character known as Sarmiento, a thoroughly unpleasant Portuguese adventurer who has gone native in Africa, a hundred years before Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
Portrait of Marquis de Sade. Charles Amédée Philippe van Loo
(1719-1795). © Photo Thomas Hennocque/ADAGP
“And were this penchant not a natural one, would we receive its impressions from childhood? Would it not give way before efforts of those who would guide the early years? Let us examine the human beings branded by it, for it makes its stamp felt despite all efforts to oppose it; it strengthens with passing years; it resists advice, solicitation, terrors of the life to come, punishments, contempt, and the tartest traits of the opposite sex. Is that the way of depravity, the way of such a proclivity? How do we want to explain it if not as clearly owing to Nature? And if that is the case, what is there to be offended about? Would Nature inspire something that outrages her? Would she permit something that disrupts her laws? Would she bestow the same gifts on those who serve her as on those who degrade her? Let us better study this indulgent Nature before daring to fix her limits. Let us analyze her laws, scrutinize her intentions, and never venture to make her speak without listening.
“Let there be no doubt in the end: our wise mother has no intention of extinguishing this proclivity. To the contrary, it forms part of her plan that some men do not procreate at all and women older than forty cannot; propagation is not one of her laws. Nature does not esteem it and it does not serve her; we can use it as it seems good to us without displeasing Nature, or in any way attenuating her power.
“So cease inveighing against the simplest deviation, a fancy to which man is propelled by a thousand physical causes that nothing can change or destroy, a habit that serves both Nature and the state itself yet commits no wrong upon society, and which finds antagonists only among the abjured sex—little reason, all in all, to raise the gallows. You may not want to imitate the Greek philosophers, but at least respect their views. Did not Lycurgus and Solon bring Themis to defend these unfortunates? They adroitly turned the reigning vice they found there to the advantage and glory of the nation. They profited from it to stir patriotism in the souls of their compatriots. In the famous battalion of lovers and beloved—men and boys—resided the value of the state. Understand that what makes one people flourish can never degrade another. Care about curing these infidels involves only the sex they reject, done with chains of flowers in the temple of love; yet if these be broke, if they resist love’s yoke, don’t suppose sarcasm or invective, any more than iron chains or the promise of execution, could more surely convert them. One must deal with fools and cowards on one side, fanatics on the other. We can be guilty of stupidity and cruelty, and come away with not one vice less.
—From Aline and Valcour, Letter 35
As to those ministers of heaven…
After young, energetic, congenial Sainville spirits his beloved Léonore away from the nunnery in which she was doomed to a life of celibacy, he marries her (sort of) in Lyon and they honeymoon in Venice. But their wedded bliss is interrupted by her abduction, which sets him on a worldwide search to find her. Sade creates in Sainville a deist—an enlightened believer in a non-interventional God, which brings him nothing but grief:
As heaven is my witness, until [our arrival in Lyon] I’d respected the virtue of the woman I wanted for a wife; I considered that the prize desired would be diminished if I permitted love to break the hymen. But an incomprehensible difficulty destroyed our mutual restraint, and grossly imbecilic behavior on the part of those whom we importuned to help prevent the crime positively plunged us into it.  O! Ministers of Heaven! Will you ever realize that it is far better to accept a lesser evil than to occasion a greater one, and that your worthless approbation, to which we would readily submit, has nevertheless far fewer consequences than all those that result from your refusal?
The Vicar General of the Archbishop, from whom we requested benediction, harshly dismissed us; and three other priests in the city subjected us to the same unpleasantness. Léonore and I, rightfully annoyed by obnoxious prudery, resolved to take God as our only witness, in the belief that by invoking His name before His altar we would be married just as well as if the whole Roman priesthood had sanctified us with all the formalities; it is the soul, the intention, that the Eternal One desires, and when devotion is sincere a mediator serves no purpose.
Léonore and I betook ourselves to the Cathedral. There, during the Eucharist, I took the hand of my beloved and swore to belong forever only to her; she did the same. We both submitted to heaven’s vengeance should we betray our oath. We declared our union to be confirmed as soon as we might and that same day the most charming of women made of me the happiest of husbands.
But the very same God we’d just so zealously invoked had no desire to prolong our happiness. You’ll soon see what awful disaster He decided upon to disrupt its course.
We reached Venice without further incident. I considered settling in that city, in the name of Liberty and as a Republic that always appeals to young people; but we quickly realized that if some cities in the world merit to be so qualified, Venice is not among them—unless one so credits a state characterized by the severest oppression of its people, and the cruelest tyranny of the wealthy and powerful. 
We took lodgings on the Grand Canal in the house of one Antonio, who ran a comfortable enough place, Aux Armes de France, near the Rialto Bridge. Thinking only of pleasure, we spent the first three months just visiting beautiful sites in the floating city! The pain that came after was entirely unforeseen. Whilst we believed we were walking amidst flowers, wrath was preparing to break above our heads.
Venice is surrounded by many charming islands where the aquatic city-dweller, away from his stinking lagoons, betakes himself from time to time to breathe a few atoms of less insalubrious air. In imitation of this habit, with Malamoco Island more pleasant and cooler than any other we had visited, and more attractive, we dined there several times a week.  We preferred the house of a widow who came highly recommended as good and reasonable, and who for a modest price offered an honest meal and the use all day of her charming gardens. A superb fig tree cast its shadow over a portion of the charming promenade. Very fond of the fruit, Léonore took singular pleasure in an afternoon collation, right there beneath the tree, choosing those that seemed ripest.
Then one day—fatal moment of my life! As I watched her so fervently absorbed in that innocent springtide pursuit, I asked her permission to leave for a brief while to visit, out of curiosity, a renowned abbey nearabouts where famous works of art by Titian and Paolo Veronese were carefully preserved. Moved in a way she could not control, Léonore stared.
“Well!” she told me, “no sooner you’re my husband than you crave pleasures without your wife. Where are you going, my friend, and what painting could be worth as much as the original you already possess?”
“None, most assuredly” said I, “as you well know. But I also know that it’ll take me just an hour and such objects interest you but little. These magnificent gifts of Nature,” I added, pointing to the figs, “are preferable to the subtleties of the art I wish to briefly admire.”
“Go then, my friend,” said the charming lass. “I can stand one hour alone without you.” She added, looking to her tree, “Go, hurry to your pleasures, I will taste my own.”
I kissed her, she wept. I decided to stay, she objected. It was a brief moment of weakness, she said, that she could not quell. She demanded I go where curiosity led; she accompanied me to the gondola, watched me climb in, stayed by water’s edge while I slipped away, weeping again as the oars touched the water; then she disappeared from view in the garden.
Who would have said that this was the instant that was going to separate us! Or that our pleasures would be swallowed up in an ocean of misfortune!
— From Aline and Valcour, Letter 35


Marquis de Sade
Social relevance and literary influence continue to mark the posthumous career of Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, MARQUIS DE SADE (1740-1814), author of Juliette, or the Prosperities of Vice, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and other works.
John Galbraith Simmons
Jocelyne Geneviève Barque
JOCELYNE GENEVIEVE BARQUE and JOHN GALBRAITH SIMMONS are currently completing their translation of Aline and Valcour. Their translation-in-progress was recipient of a 2010 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. Previous brief extracts from the novel appeared in the Brooklyn Rail (February 2009 and September 2013).