Chew-Toys of the Mind

So Jim Macdonald and I were sitting around the office this afternoon, and – as happens with writers – we fell to discussing Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, and how Hammett had managed to come up with one of the handful of infinitely reusable plots.  Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one; likewise Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale” and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  Plots like these, once their first artist discovers them, can be remixed, remade, adapted, or otherwise messed around with almost ad infinitum and still retain their energy.

Red Harvest – originally a fix-up of four short stories from Black Mask magazine – was part of the inspiration (along with other Hammett works) for Yojimbo by Kurosawa.  Then Sergio Leone adapted/translated/stole/was inspired by Yojimbo to make A Fistful of Dollars, and Walter Hill subsequently did the same with Last Man Standing.

“If they were to remake Red Harvest as a Muppet movie,” Macdonald opined, “it would still be a good movie and I’d watch it.”

“If they did,” I wondered, “who would play the Continental Op – Kermit or Fozzie?”

And Macdonald replied, “Miss Piggy would play the Continental Op.”

“You mean, a gender-flipped Muppet Red Harvest?”

“Yep.”

And I had to concede that he was right.  Miss Piggy would absolutely rock a trench coat and fedora.  And she’s probably the only Muppet who could believably do hard-boiled noir.

Albacon Afternoon

What we’re going to be doing Sunday afternoon:

Madhouse Manor

AlbaconAlbacon (one of our favorite cons) has been postponed due to Corona Virus.  But do not despair!   The nice folks who run Albacon are hosting Albacon Afternoon this Sunday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.  Doyle and I will do a reading, and maybe a bit of discussion.

Alas, the Ice Cream Social will have to be on an individual at-home basis, so lay in some ice cream and toppings, and come to the Zoom-based mini-con.

Register for Albacon Afternoon.

Sunday, August 30, 1:00-3:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

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Reading

As in, like everybody else in these socially isolated days, I’m doing a lot of it.  Especially a lot of re-reading of old favorites in the mystery genre – probably because with an old favorite, you don’t get any unpleasant surprises.

Also probably because the best mysteries end up with truth revealed and justice done and good order restored – which makes them particularly comforting reads during trying times.

Somebody out there amongst the nattering literati is probably even now gearing up for an op-ed or a literary magazine column or a public blog post about how all this makes mystery novels the ultimate bourgeois reading experience and thus one that should be shunned, or at least regarded as a guilty pleasure, by all good little progressives and radicals.  To which I say, screw them.  They’re the lineal descendants of all those Puritans who thought that fiction in general was morally suspect, and of their Enlightenment grandsons who thought that novels were a female vice and a symptom of social decay.

(What these Pecksniffian pronouncers have to say about sf/fantasy is almost as bad, and what they have to say about romance is even worse.  As far as they’re concerned, art should be like castor oil:  If it doesn’t taste bad, it can’t be good for you.)

Shaking the Old Tambourine

It’s paying-off-the-winter-electric-bill time (somewhat later than usual this year, thanks to the pandemic), and it’s also coming up on pay-the-town-property-tax time, so it behooves me to point discreetly to the Editorial and Critique Services link up at the top of this blog.

Short version: If you’ve got a book you think needs an editorial polish before you either self-publish it or send it out into the wide world to seek its fortune, my rates are reasonable and I’m available.

My New Favorite Movie

Madhouse Manor

A while back I had some computer problems.  As in Black Screen of Death computer problems.  As in Called-MicroSoft and the Level-One-tech-couldn’t-help-me problems.  So that is how I wound up on the phone with a Level Two tech, a nice young man who lives in Mumbai.  The process took quite a while, what with downloading and installing stuff.  And during all this we talked on the phone.

The conversations went hither and yon, with us showing each other pictures of our home towns (he’s from up north, in the mountains where there’s snow, but there are no jobs up there, which is why he’s in the city).  And we talked about films.  His first James Bond film was with Pierce Brosnan in the role, but we agreed that Sean Connery is the iconic Bond.  And … he mentioned his favorite movie.  Since I love movies, I had to go find…

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One Thing They Could Do, Right Now. . .

. . . while they’re working on the complete replacement/restructuring of the entire US police system:

They could get rid of all the SWAT teams and other similar units out there.  Because the kind of incident that really requires a massively armed police response is fairly rare (to the point of being, most of the time, nonexistent) – but if you’ve got a dedicated unit meant for just that purpose, they’re not going to want to sit around waiting for that maybe one day out of a year when they might be needed.  And heaven forbid a so-called elite unit should go back to directing traffic and pulling cats out of trees instead of doing macho stuff with body armor and heavy weaponry.

So instead, they end up getting called out for all sorts of things, and make things worse as often as or oftener than they make things better.

One of the good things about life up here in far northern New Hampshire is that if we want a SWAT team, we have to send down to Concord for one, and it takes them three hours to get here.  So mostly we don’t bother, and it works just fine.  We’ve had a couple of so-called “armed standoffs” over the years – there was the guy who was supposed to come in for a court date, for example, and instead decided to exercise his right to keep and bear arms in the woods beyond his house; what happened was that the local ambulance squad staged down the road a bit, just in case, and a Fish and Game officer sat in a lawn chair just outside the woods with his radio and said words to the effect of, “Don’t worry.  It’s going to start raining in about three hours, and he’ll come in.”  Which it did, and he did.

SWAT would have probably gone into the woods in force, and ended up killing the guy in question, plus a couple of stray hikers and maybe a bear and a raccoon or two, not to mention shredding all the trees and bushes for a mile or so around. 

It Really Shouldn’t Be Necessary to Say This.

In a just and perfect world, it shouldn’t be necessary to point out that purposefully kneeling on someone’s neck until they’re dead is a bad thing, and that the person doing it is most emphatically not one of the world’s good people.

But this isn’t a just and perfect world, however much we would like it to be. So: Purposefully kneeling on someone’s neck until they’re dead is a bad thing, and the person doing it is not one of the world’s good people.

I don’t know if we’ll ever make this into a just and perfect world — but surely, if we try, we can make it at least a bit more just and a little closer to perfection.

(I swear, it’s like housekeeping. Some days you manage to accomplish a massive feat of organization and improvement, and on other days it takes all the work you’ve got in you just to keep the whole place from backsliding again into chaos.)

Comfort Food for Trying Times

Or, it’s been a while since I posted a recipe.  My mother used to make this one; I don’t know whether it was Texas Depression-era family comfort food for her, or WWII Women’s Army Air Force food, but she would put it together for the family in a cast-iron skillet, possibly toward the end of a budgetary month (the key ingredients being shelf-stable, it’s a good recipe for that.)

Creamed Beef on Toast

Ingredients

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper (freshly ground, if possible)
1/4 cup flour
4 T butter
1 1/2 cups (one 12-ounce can) evaporated milk
2 4-ounce jars dried beef
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)

Preparation

Put dried beef in a colander and pour boiling water over it; pull beef apart and tear into thumb size pieces; set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet, whisk in the flour until smooth.

Add the milk and water, stirring rapidly with the whisk until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the seasonings; add the chipped beef and stir to mix thoroughly.

Heat through and serve on toast points. (Or unpointed toast, or biscuits, or whatever carbohydrate takes your fancy. I’ve heard of people putting it on baked potatoes, even. But toast is easy.)

Serves 6 people once around, or 3 people with seconds. Or one person on a comfort food binge who doesn’t mind reheating leftovers.