Hush, It's a Game
the too-long-neglected Australian master of suspense, never wasted
time or ink when she started a new thriller. In Hush, It's
a Game (which originally appeared outside the U.S. in 1967),
she cuts characteristically to the chase: Frank Aldan has just
been released from prison and is tracking down his former girlfriend
and partner-in-crime, Isobel Tarks. They'd seemed headed for
marriage--Frank thought--and they'd managed to build up a nice
if ill-gotten nest egg, but then Frank woke up one morning to
find Isobel and the loot gone. Now, post-prison, he's out for
He quickly gets satisfaction (this is a Carlon thriller, after
all), but a couple unexpected problems crop up for Frank. First,
when he dispatched Isobel, he unwittingly left a six-year-old
girl locked in the apartment with Isobel's corpse. Second, his
ex-wife shows up at the airport just as he's about to escape
to New Zealand. Since she's accompanied by her brawny brothers
and father, Frank has no choice but to let the plane to freedom
slip away. The ex-wife doesn't know about Isobel's murder, of
course, but she knows Frank well enough to realize he's about
to skip out on his alimony payments. And she's not going to let
Frank leave the country until he can sign over his traveler's
checks to her. Given that it's Christmas Eve, that means he's
stuck in town for several days, waiting for the banks to open.
But the real tension, of course, lies in the apartment with
the six-year-old girl. Carlon has a ruthlessly sadistic streak
that allows her most vulnerable characters to get into horrifically
painful dilemmas, and her work here with the little girl Virginia
is no exception. Exploiting the gap between our knowledge and
Virginia's blind innocence, Carlon writes that
Virginia wondered in sudden excitement if perhaps after all
it was a game; that a wonderful, wonderful surprise was coming;
a surprise so lovely that bedtime could become elastic for it.
Perhaps, she thought hopefully, the stranger had been a friend
of her father's, coming to say a wonderful surprise had to be
collected. And Miss Tarks had gone to get it. She was being longer
than she'd expected to be, that was all.
She began to laugh and because life was suddenly such a happy
thing, an exciting thing, she began to sing again, going to the
window, sliding back a little and peering out, down into the
world of the courtyard far below where Christmas lights were
lit on a tree in the court, and gazing at lighted windows across
the way and lights dancing on the harbour.
"It's Christmas," she said aloud, "Christmas
and I'm having a surprise," and she laughed again from sheer
Poor Virginia isn't Carlon's only character to suffer at her
creator's hands (the little boy in The Price of an Orphan
certainly suffers at great length, as does the heroine in The
Unquiet Night). But the additional promise of a happy Christmas
makes Virginia's naïve optimism particularly touching. Frank
may be caught up in his own intricate machinations, but it's
clearly Virginia we care about, and Carlon's brilliant plot mechanics
(truly, she's the genre's unheralded master of plot developments)
make us suffer deliciously through Virginia's plight.
Soho Press plans to continue its reprints of Carlon's thrillers,
so the burning question--can Patricia Carlon do no wrong?--remains
unanswered. So far, though, the answer is a resounding no: she's
as close to perfect as the genre can get.
Editor's Note: Click here to read WAG's combined review of Patricia
Carlon's The Price of an Orphan and The Unquiet Night.
Back to Archived Short
Whose Song? And Other Stories
If all stories
are driven by conflict, Thomas Glave's short fiction needs a
stronger term--Glave's stories are driven by fire...fear...hatred...
death . That might sound too strong, perhaps, unless you've read
his stories. I defy you to find one mild, quiet-hearted story
among the nine included in his stunning debut collection, Whose
Song? And Other Stories. Again and again, we find that many
of Glave's characters are in a death grip they once--long ago--thought
was a gentle caress. The narrator of "Accidents," for
instance, finds the world suddenly fraught with unnerving, fantasized
threats after his mother drowns in a car accident, and the narrator
of "--And Love Them?," turns from a monologue on racism
to a breathtaking recollection of a date that ended with what
might have been a rape. The story settings are wide-ranging
(New York City, Jamaica, the American South), but Glave's characters
are linked by shared fundamental needs and fears, and it's most
often the hatred his characters conceal from each other that
drives the tension in this collection.
The range of Glave's narrative voices and the sheer number
of ways in which he approaches his stories reveal an impressive
degree of narrative mastery. But it's his formal experimentation--idiosyncratic
use of parentheses, word clusters, double columns of type, unpunctuated
paragraphs that look like prose poems--that makes these stories
remarkably fresh and unpredictable. And that, in this long age
of minimalist short stories, is truly an unexpected delight.
Glave, who is an assistant professor of English at the State
University of New York, Binghamton, has been anthologized in
prestigious collections (Best American Gay Fiction and
Prize Stories 1997: The O. Henry Awards, among others),
and the Village Voice Literary Supplement recently declared
him "a writer on the verge." I don't think they're
wrong: Glave is a literary voice to be followed avidly.
Back to Archived Short
A Grand Guy: The Art and Life of Terry Southern
and satirical novelist Terry Southern interacted with so many
philosophers, writers, actors and directors over his long career
that readers of A Grand Guy, Lee Hill's new, whoppingly
entertaining Southern biography, might be tempted to create a
drinking game called Six Degrees of Separation from Terry
Southern. Who but Southern, after all, can connect both Jean-Paul
Sartre and Eddie Murphy in one step?
After spending his childhood in Texas and serving in the Army
during World War II, Southern (like a lot of other veterans)
used the GI Bill as his ticket to fairer climes. In Southern's
case, that meant Paris, and a happily unstructured life as a
student at the Sorbonne. While he attended lectures by heroic
figures like Sartre and Albert Camus, Southern's real classroom
was Paris's café society, with its easily gotten drugs,
jazz clubs offering the big names of the Bebop movement, and
a chummy environment that linked him to unknown American writers
who would soon become intellectual household names (William Styron
and George Plimpton among them).
In Paris and later Greenwich Village, Southern played what
he called the Quality Lit Game to critical acclaim, but it didn't
translate into financial success. (Once, while doing a temporary
stint as an Esquire editor, Southern actually had to use
an ink pen to color his knee dark blue in order to hide a quarter-sized
hole in his suit pants.) Then in 1962, with three published novels
under his belt (Flash and Filigree, The Magic Christian
and Candy), he interviewed Stanley Kubrick for an article
in Esquire, and shortly afterwards he got a telegram query
from Kubrick that would change his life irrevocably: would Southern
be interested in working on Kubrick's new film?
The project, of course, was Dr. Strangelove, and its
success brought Southern a string of lucrative screenwriting
jobs (including The Collector, The Loved One, Candy,
Barbarella and Easy Rider). By 1967, he was such
a hip icon he showed up on the cover of The Beatles' Sgt.
Pepper. Tax problems put a damper on Southern's fun in 1968,
though (they would recur in the 1980s and finally in 1992), and
with few film prospects panning out, he reached a low point in
the 1970s. His only on-screen credit of the decade was a TV script
for CBS's The American Parade, and as Hill points out,
Southern even offered to write anything for National Lampoon
"for $100 a shot."
He worked a single season (1981-1982) as a writer for Saturday
Night Live, but for all his fame as a satirical genius, Southern
simply didn't fit in to SNL's skit formulas--or its aggressive,
youth-driven environment. In a remarkably brief period, Southern
had slid from the ultimate hipster to someone who felt uncomfortably
old among the competitive SNL writers. ("I feel like
the professor at the end of The Blue Angel," he told
one SNL staff member.) To call the last fifteen years
of Southern's career 'tragically unfulfilled' is to risk damnable
understatement (he died in 1995).
Happily for a biographical subject who managed to mingle with
so many diverse groups and movements, Hill is a remarkably knowledgeable
and careful biographer. He can write intelligently about Henry
Greene, the English novelist who influenced Southern's first
novel (Flash and Filigree), but he's equally at home writing
about the making of Easy Rider and the tumultuous machinations
inside SNL in the early 1980s. (Hill's long chapter on
Southern's collaboration with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove
is particularly captivating.) A Grand Guy is a well-researched
work, but perhaps above all else, it's a consistently intelligent
look at the diversely compelling world in which Southern worked.
Highly recommended for a broad audience--from Sartre and Camus
enthusiasts to Kubrick and head-trip film aficionados.
Back to Archived Short
How to Publish and Promote Online
M.J. Rose and Angela Adair-Hoy
St. Martin's Press
M.J. Rose and
Angela Adair-Hoy are ready to share the secrets behind what has
generated the biggest buzz the publishing industry has seen in
quite a while--the e-book--and given their personal success with
the medium, we should probably heed their advice.
In 1996, M.J. Rose's erotic novel Lip Service garnered
her agent rejection slip after rejection slip on the grounds
that, while the editors enjoyed it, the marketing executives
weren't sure how to sell it. Then, while doing research for another
project, Rose stumbled onto a brand new publishing tool: the
World Wide Web. With little to lose, she took a chance and put
an e-book version of Lip Service on the Web. A few orders
trickled in. With some savvy marketing, those few orders multiplied,
and in time, Lip Service became the highest ranking small-press
novel on Amazon.com, where it caught the attention of a publishing
executive who bought the book for mail-order book clubs. Then
Pocket Books bought the rights to it and released it in hardcover
in August 1999. Since it was the first self-published novel and
the first e-book to be picked up on the Web by a publishing house,
it's not too grandiose to call it an historical moment, of sorts.
Her second novel, In Fidelity, has just been released
by Pocket Books.
Angela Adair-Hoy was the publisher of an electronic weekly
newsletter, WritersWeekly, geared towards writers. She
received so many requests from new authors seeking information
about e-publishing that she decided to put together her own e-book.
Five minutes after posting it, she had thirteen orders. And they
kept rolling in--more than $1,000 worth in the first three days.
Now, she and her husband run an e-publishing company (Booklocker.com),
and sales of her own how-to e-books exceed $5,000 a month.
In How to Publish and Promote Online, Rose and Adair-Hoy
show precisely how they succeeded--and how you can too. This
is nuts-and-bolts advice that covers everything from e-book formats
to cover design and--most importantly--marketing strategies,
and it's an invaluable resource for anyone looking at e-publishing
as an alternative to traditional avenues.
Can I recommend this book? Probably not highly enough. Suffice
it to say I'm following their advice, and I'll let you know if
it works for me.
Back to Archived Short