Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shutting it down

I guess it is time to move on. Sad to say that this will be the last post on this blog. After this, I am shutting it down. As much as I have loved keeping it up, it has become too cumbersome and I find Tumblr much more user friendly. Those 8 who have followed me, thank you, Look up whit howland on Tumblr.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Inside Job, by Len Levinson

The Inside Job is a strange beast. On balance it is noir and it almost takes the notion too far. One of the things that makes noir a viable genre is a morsel of redemption in the main character. In this novel, the main character has none. You don't like him from start to finish. He represents everything I remember about the ugly 1970's male. I can  picture the shaggy side burns, poorly styled hair and the ill fitting suits with fly away collars. And that is where this novel really works and makes it enjoyable.

Levinson, despite breaking some rules of story telling had me captivated from beginning to end. He has an uncanny ability to set scene and atmosphere. He also had a keen eye for the grittiness of New York in the 1970's. You felt the danger, the grime and the lawless nature of the time and place. This is what makes The Inside Job a great book. If one wanted do research about the era, this is the story to read.

I also liked the piece for the same reason I liked the movie Thief in that it is about a low tech blue collar heist. Again, Levinson takes it a step farther and has the main character and his crew a bunch of angry, desperate, dumbskies. It just goes to show that back in those days it was a lot easier to do crime and get away with it.

If you like the work of George V Higgins, especially his classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle, then you will like this book. I loved this book and as for Len Levinson, I love this "freakin" guy. He writes books that I want to read. He is pure escapism and his writing is on par with my all time favorite Mickey Spillane. So, as you can see this is really not a review of his book because I am more of a cheerleader. Get The Inside Job and all of his other books from

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Shemp from The Three Stooges

Shemp Howard who was born Samuel Horowitz was one of three of the third stooges. The others were Curly and Joe Derita. Shemp was my favorite. His stooge character was a lot more subtle than Curly. I find a lot of similiarities between he and Michael Richard's Kramer on Seinfeld. I think Michael Richards studied
and imitated a lot of Shemp's mannerisms.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Give Em Hell Malone

Give Em Hell Malone was directed by Russell Mulcahey and stars Thomas Jane, Ving Rhames, and Elsa Pataky. It's a riff on Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, namely Kiss Me Deadly, right down to the mysterious case.

I am in a weird place with this one. The movie was sold to me as being set in an alternate fifties very similar to Sin City, and on that point alone, it had me wanting to see it. In actuality, the film was definitely set in the present with the main character wearing a fedora and trench coat which made it hokey instead of cool. This might not have bothered me if I was forewarned.

What disappoints me the most is that a movie like this had real potential and it could have been a lot better if they had spent the money and gone full retro with the look. I was half expecting something like Streets of Fire which had a hybrid look as well.

But  Give Em Hell Malone looked cheap in a very bad way-- like a total parody of the genre.  Again that would have been ok if I had known what to expect. But it was advertised as more.

The other thing that bothered me, and I think we need to retire, is the stereotypical Asian babe Martial arts assassin. It was great in Sin City, but it was a lazy construct in this one and made it more cliché.

The more I write and the more I think about this opus, it has all the worst elements of a Roger Corman movie and none of the charm. Skip this one and check out the real stuff.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Len Levinson and Doom Platoon

With Doom Platoon you are in war pulp heaven. Penned by Len Levinson under the name of Richard Gallagher, the book is a nonstop tilt a whirl hurl and churl actioner. On top of that, it has a cover to die for. Usually I read these kinds of books to see if I can incorporate some of the style into my own writing. But not this one. This one is pure pleasure and I have decided that I'm going to read all of Levinson's work for enjoyment only.

The plot is a loose bucket of bolts. It is about an army platoon in WWII that is assigned by the brass to hold off a German Panzer division on the road to the town of Dillendorf Germany. It is a suicide mission and the men know it. But since they are the dogface soldiers they are, they grit their teeth and take it.  The story takes another turn after the battle and then another.

The novel is also crude and bawdy. The characters are the typical stereotypes you find in war flicks: the New Yorker, the Texan etc-- and the SS and German characters are comic book evil. But clichés aside, Levinson does an excellent job of making the American characters likeable even when they are throwing insults at each other. Len's prose style is very visual and very cinematic. You can picture yourself up there on the hill taking German mortar rounds and butt-stroking a German soldier with your rifle.

The book does have its flaws and at times it gets a little hokey-- especially the scenes with Mazursky, Dexter and the German Baronesses. But that's all part of the fun. If you are a pulp and men's adventure nerd then Doom Platoon is one you should check out, as with Levinson's other books. Like I said, I definitely will.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Quotes from authors who have inspired me

I thought I would share quotes from authors who have inspired me. I would be remiss not to quote from Mickey Spillane.

"Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn't. Of course most of mine sold for 25 cents, but still... you look at all this stuff with a grain of salt."
"Always do sober what you would do drunk. That'll teach you to keep your mouth shut."
Ernest Hemingway


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Story Flow

A friend at breakfast quoted Elmore Leonard as saying "you should spend as much time with your characters as possible, and if you do, they will write the novel for you..." Good advice from a master. It's what I am doing with these two stories I am working on. Not only am I spending time with the characters, I am also spending time with the plot and the setting. There is no need to crank these babies out and I can just take it easy and be inspired. Then, when I am ready the story will flow like a wild rushing river.

The other thing that is on my mind is memories. I am one of those people that has a photographic memory. I can remember things all the way back to when I was five, and I am also one of those people that can look at pictures and not ask this question :"What was I wearing and what was I thinking when I was wearing it?"

I know what I was wearing, and I know why, and know that it was appropriate for the time and place. So how does this all tie into writing? Memories of my own life are what I use to make my characters more real and personal.  In other words, they help me inject some of my own self into my characters which makes it easier to tell the story because it is a lot more personal.