Even more than usual, 2007 has been a year of peaks and valleys for us. To get the valleys out of the way first . . . In January, my mother suffered a massive stroke. She tried for a while to come back from it, but her age, the severity of the stroke, and other medical problems were just too much for her to overcome and she passed away in June. Also in January, Livia’s mother had foot surgery, and on the same day, the day of our worst ice storm of the winter, her dad slipped on the ice and broke his ankle. So both of my in-laws were laid up for several months, and they’ve had other medical problems that have had to be dealt with. The first half of the year, though, with my mom and both of Livia’s folks all in bad shape at the same time, it was fairly rough.
Not to dwell on the negative, though, let’s move on to better things, such as the month Livia and I spent down at the Gulf Coast, doing research for one of her books and generally having one of the best times of my life. That was certainly one of the highlights of the year, and I’ll touch on the others in my usual end-of-the-year reports, which I’ll get around to after the December end-of-the-month update.
Writing -- December
After a down month in November, my production was back up to its usual rate in December. I’ve seen this pattern repeat itself again and again – I turn out a lot of pages for a few months, then I get tired and the number drops for a month or so until I get a second wind. It’s discouraging when the pages don’t come as fast as I want them to, but I’ve learned to be patient and work my way through it.
Reading – December
Here are the books I read this month, an odd assortment, as usual:
WYATT EARP: THE JUSTICE RIDERS, Richard Dean Starr
BEAST IN THE TOWER, Julie Miller
DEAD STREET, Mickey Spillane (w/ Max Allan Collins)
LONGARM AND THE HOLY SMOKES GANG, Tabor Evans (Peter Brandvold)
THE ROAD TO CIVIL WAR, Brian Michael Bendis and J. Michael Stracyznski
SECRET AGENT X: FACELESS FURY, Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)
THE DEADWOOD DRIVE, Dan Cushman
CIVIL WAR, Mark Millar
DEADLY BELOVED, Max Allan Collins
DOOMED DEMONS, Eustace L. Adams
QUEENPIN, Megan Abbott
THE CASE OF THE HESITANT HOSTESS, Erle Stanley Gardner
Movies – December
After a slow start we wound up watching quite a few movies:
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE
DECK THE HALLS
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
THE NANNY DIARIES
RUSH HOUR 3
MY FAVORITE WIFE
This list doesn’t include the movies that I slept most of the way through.
Now for the yearly wrap-up.
Once again I set a record for the amount of work I produced, including a record month (the one we spent at the coast, which proved to be highly productive). I topped a million words again for the third year in a row, for whatever that’s worth.
On the publishing front, 15 of my books came out this year, also a record, under seven different names including my own. The two with my name on them, DUST DEVILS and DEATH HEAD CROSSING, are the real highlights and the work I’m most proud of in recent years. They’ve garnered the best reviews of my career, and I’m very grateful that people have enjoyed them. One of my goals for 2008 is to write another crime novel under my own name, and maybe by stating that in public like this I’ll actually get around to doing it. Don’t get me wrong – I greatly enjoy the series work that I do and I’m glad to have the work. But there’s something special about telling your own stories, and I’d like to do more of it.
I read 141 books this year, up two from last year’s 139. My most-read author was Erle Stanley Gardner with five books, all of them Perry Mason novels. Here are my top ten favorites, alphabetical by author as usual, with a few comments on each:
QUEENPIN, Megan Abbott – I said in my informal review of this book a few days ago that it was short, fast, and mean. It’s also one of the best noir novels I’ve read. Abbott’s first two novels, DIE A LITTLE and THE SONG IS YOU, were also strong contenders for this list.
HAWKE, Ted Bell – Over-the-top espionage action/adventure with a slightly tongue-in-cheek quality to it, more reminiscent of OUR MAN FLINT than AUSTIN POWERS, and great fun.
THE VENGEFUL VIRGIN, Gil Brewer – What I said about QUEENPIN? Short, fast, and mean? Same here. A classic noir reprint from Hard Case Crime with my favorite cover of the year.
DEADLY BELOVED, Max Allan Collins – Another Hard Case Crime book, this time an original and the first novel featuring Collins’ comic book character Ms. Tree. A great hardboiled private eye yarn.
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, Sara Gruen – A mainstream novel about circus life in the 1930s. Captures the era very well and tells a dramatic, touching story.
MIAMI PURITY, Vicki Hendricks – Like Megan Abbott, Vicki Hendricks has a strikingly distinctive voice that’s displayed to great effect in this noir novel. The other book of hers I read this year, VOLUNTARY MADNESS, was a near-miss for this list.
THE CRIMES OF JORDAN WISE, Bill Pronzini – One of the most smoothly-written crime novels you’re ever likely to read, with a definite Gold Medal tone to it.
THE BLONDE, Duane Swierczynski – Quite possibly the fastest-paced novel I’ve ever read, with sure-handed action scenes and hilarious dialogue. The follow-up novella, “Redhead”, is almost as good.
BEGGARS OF LIFE, Jim Tully – A tough, at times beautifully written non-fiction account of Tully’s life as a hobo during the early part of the Twentieth Century, and as hardboiled as any novel.
FRIGHT, Cornell Woolrich – Another Hard Case Crime reprint of a classic noir by one of the classic noir authors. A little more deliberately paced than some of Woolrich’s work, but truly chilling.
If I was to pick a favorite new author this year (new to me, anyway) it would have to be a three-way tie between Megan Abbott, Vicki Hendricks, and Duane Swiercyznski. I’ve read all of Megan’s books so far, but thankfully I still have a few of Vicki’s and Duane’s to get to. And I’m looking forward very much to anything new by any of them. They’re now must-read authors for me.
I watched 84 movies this year, and I think I mentioned every single one of them here on the blog, even when I didn’t comment at length about some of them. In picking the ones I found the most enjoyable, I confined myself to movies that I’d never seen before, otherwise the list would be top-heavy with films like THE MALTESE FALCON and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. So, while I don’t claim that any of these are classics of the cinema, here are the movies I liked the best this year, in the order I watched them:
CASINO ROYALE (the Daniel Craig version)
BLACK SNAKE MOAN
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
As you can see, I don’t go in for arty films. I like humor, stuff that blows up real good, and pretty women. Get all three of those in a movie and I’m pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it. Throw in a swordfight and some quicksand and you’ve got a classic.
To sum up, Dickens got it right with that “best of times, worst of times” stuff. That was 2007 in a nutshell around here. I have high hopes for 2008 while still maintaining my usual edge of pessimism.
Thanks to all of you who read this blog every day, every so often, and everything in between. I hope all of you have a very Happy New Year.
I've discovered since posting this that my short story collection from Ramble House, OLD TIMES' SAKE, came out in late December, so that makes 16 of my books published in '07, also a record, of course. And three of them had my name on them -- which may also be a record.
The Dark Side of the Island
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