Friday, December 31, 2010

21st Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Got married 21 very happy years ago tonight.

Had one very tasty sandal to celebrate. It's what those Tarahumara Indians wear when they run a few hundred miles in the Copper Canyons. Seems very appropriate to eat my huarache in honor of our long enduring romance.

Here's a guy who put the ache in huaraches:

Just finished a wonderful book on running and the Tarahumaras, called Born to Run.

I'm not ready to start barefoot running quite yet, but I learned a lot about a lot of things aside from running in this book. Great characters, great stories, great information about human evolution and the role that running played in shaping our physiological and cultural destiny.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

Good old Crumley. The line, of course, is from The Last Good Kiss.

I'm not sure why I was thinking of Jim today, but I couldn't get him out of my head. I'm reaching the end of my 17th novel. A tough one, a different one, one that's stretched me way beyond my comfort zone. And then Jim popped into my mind. The easy way he had with writing. Not that it was easy for him. It wasn't any easier for him than anybody else. He set himself a high bar and kept jumping over it and over it and over it. But he never complained about it, about how hard it was, what a pain it could be. He didn't complain about much of anything, except ex-wives.

I spent a year hanging around him when we worked together in El Paso. We had some uproarious times. Some evening in Juarez that are etched in my brain forever. Even the evenings I can't remember a damn thing about except me and Jim pissing in a trough that ran under the bar at the Kentucky Club. The trough ran out to the street, and into the gutter. It was a very useful trough. Kept the drinkers drinking, and saved the owners from having to furnish a real bathroom.

Jim and I carried a mattress on top of my car one night. It was to be Jim's mattress for the year he was teaching at the U. We'd roped it down to the roof and we drove from one side of El Paso to the other and when we arrived (not completely sober or straight) we realized the mattress had blown off somewhere along our route. No sweat. We retraced our steps and found it halfway along the way. Tire tracks, lots of them, marked that mattress and dented it permanently. No sweat. Jim used that mattress all year.

He had some trouble with his back that year. But every time he complained about it, we started laughing again. That damn mattress. It must've been run over a hundred times before we found it. Pain that turns to pleasure. Pleasure that turns to pain. Good old Jim. Man, I forgot for a while how much I loved that guy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Here's a new collection of noir stories from Otto Penzler. I have a story in it. Read a review of the book here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Funny Video Book Review

I read Corrections when it came out and it irritated me, bowled me over, kept me fascinated, bored the hell out of me, made me itch and twitch and bitch for weeks. I suspect Freedom will do the same. Haven't yet decided if I want to read it. I'm just getting over a serious itch as it is.

There are lots of people just as irritated about Franzen's special treatment by (especially) the New York Times. But somehow it seems a little disingenuous to bitch (can I use that word in this context? aw, what the hell) about the hot literary novel of the season for being given special treatment because the novelist is a white male when the one(s) doing the complaining are white female bestselling writers. They want the cash AND the prizes, AND the cover of TIME, AND multiple profiles in the Times?? Oh, come on.

Lots of folks are adding their 2 cents. And 2 cents. And 2 cents.

I've written about this phenomenon in my book about bestsellers which will be out next summer from Random House.(an excerpt below) It's pretty much always been this way. The high road literary establishment versus the low road scribblers who make a pretty damn good living. Each wanting what the other one has.

Kind of silly really. And borderline unseemly. Tranquilo hombres y mujeres.

Let the guy have his moment in the literary sun. It'll be brief, then the rest of us can get back to our book a year schedule, while this guy goes back to work for another seven years.

An excerpt from Cracking the Code, my book on a dozen major bestsellers of the 20th century:

Dollars vs. Respectability

Leslie Fiedler, one of America’s celebrated literary critics, noted a classic remark by Melville on this point. “Dollars damn me…all my books are botches.” Fiedler goes on to say that “implicit in (Melville’s) melancholy cry from the heart is a belief, as strong and pertinacious as any myth by which we live, that the authentic writer is neither drawn to nor confirmed in his vocation by the hope of marketplace success, the dream of becoming rich and famous, but can only be seduced by lucre, led to betray or prostitute his talent.”

A little later in the same essay, Fiedler neatly summarizes the playing field of modern literary warfare. “For a century and a half, those writers who aspired to critical acclaim and an eternal place in libraries have therefore felt compelled to struggle not just for their livelihood but for their very existence against the authors of ‘bestsellers’ who they secretly envy and publicly despise.”

Speaking of envy, a few years back when Stephen King was honored with the National Book Foundation’s lifetime achievement award for fiction, more than one defender of the literary canon roared in protest. No less than that high-culture lion Harold Bloom called King’s award “another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life.” Book editors around the country weighed in, almost all on the side of the high culture values it is their sworn duty to uphold. In the Washington Post, Linton Weeks posed the argument this way: “The issue: what to make of the gap in our culture between bestselling and well-written literature. The popular and the proper. The slew and the few.”

King tossed gasoline onto this bonfire in his remarks at the award ceremony. “For far too long the so-called popular writers of this country and the so-called literary writers have stared at each other with animosity and a willful lack of understanding. This is the way it has always been. But giving an award like this to a guy like me suggests that in the future, things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been. Bridges can be built between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction.”

Well, I hope this book will serve as some small attempt at the construction of that bridge, but I predict that passing freely back and forth between the land of good taste and the province of low brow will always expose one to such cultural snipers as Vidal, Lane and Bloom and literature professors like my own younger self.

It’s clear enough that Stephen King is not alone among popular writers in yearning for a literary prize or two to set atop their mountains of cash, or at the very least a front page NY Times Book Review as some validation of their worth. And while their highbrow cousins might never admit it publicly, I suspect their hankering is just as strong, only the prize they dream of is something closer to a hefty movie deal.

The math of publishing, like that of the music and film businesses, gives us an insight into the dependence of the American entertainment industry on the blockbuster. Roughly ten percent of the books on any publisher’s list pay for the other ninety percent which either break even or lose money. Given this calculus, Stephen King and his trash-writing colleagues deserve more than a few silver chalices. It’s books like theirs that keep the industry afloat. Stephen King and his kind are the lifeblood of publishing. Simple as that.

Much of what we take as the given state of affairs in the book world, including the very existence of the Sunday New York Times Book Review and the well-stocked superstores and and the lofty jobs of book reviewers and publishing giants would be shockingly altered, if they managed to survive at all, without those ten percent of the books which flood the marketplace with tidal waves of cash.

It’s more than a little odd for an industry that depends so much on its most popular producers, to treat them with such disdain. In Linton Weeks’ Washington Post piece on the Stephen King affair, he claims that great novels “…change lives. They challenge our notions and afflict our comfort at the time they were written and for untellable time to come. They cut through time and space, to the hearts and souls of readers.” In other words great books challenge us and are immortal.

To declare that anyone could possibly know a book to be immortal rather than simply of faddish interest is to claim a prescience no mortal can possess. Yes, as Robert Frost observed, on a strictly personal level we can often sense when we read a work of literature that we’ve taken “a mortal wound” and that book or poem will linger with us as long as we live.

But who can say that Peyton Place, or Gone with the Wind don’t meet both those criteria for a great many people? Did Grace Metalious’s shocking expose of the sexual underbelly and hypocrisy of a small New England town not challenge its readers? You bet it did. And it damn well placed itself squarely at center stage for at least a good long time in our cultural history. As did Gone with the Wind and a host of other popular books. Though it might fly in the faces of the high priests of literary culture, my money is on Gone With the Wind over Humboldt’s Gift in the race to last another century or two, because of its hold on so many readers’ imaginations.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Two Versions

Here are two versions of the same poem by Billy Collins. Both wonderful. One is more wonderful than the other.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Political Discourse

Maybe it's always been this bad.

But I kind of doubt it.

Monday, August 2, 2010


An interesting problem with the rise of ebooks is that there's no official (meaning New York Times) bestseller list for them. Not yet anyway.

Like it or not, this ain't going anywhere but up.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Today's Harvest

August begins nicely:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life with Bats

This cute little bugger is one of 5 (Five) bats that appeared inside our house in the woods this week. I caught four of them with towels. Like a matador.

Had to have rabies shots, five on the first go-round, and one every few days afterwards.

Making things a little more complicated about solving our bat problems, I found that bats are federally protected (like bankers and hedge fund managers), so you can't just go up in their roosting area and nuke them.

I know, I know. They do a million wonderful things for the environment. All those insects they scoop up and all that.

This is apparently bat season, when the young bats are flailing around, making the bat roost a chaotic place and causing them to make bad decisions about where to go hunting. Like our living room.

You have to plug the places they enter the house and put a one way flap on their entry points into the house. A flap door so they can exit but not return. All this is very complicated and expensive, and the bat people who do the work are in big demand, so there's a wait before anything final can be done.

Meanwhile, no bats have reappeared in the last few days after we plugged a few suspicious spots around the fireplace. But we still duck and cover when a moth flutters nearby.

Naturally, it's all good material, and it just so happens I've got a dandy way to use all my new bat knowledge in the Thorn novel I'm working on at the moment.

That's one of the great things about writing these books. No matter how bad things might get in the real world, I find myself almost immediately grateful to have such good new material for fiction.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Go Ahead, It's Healthy

Just as many of us have been saying for years, don't knock ogling.

I don't think they meant man boobs.

So purely in the interests of good health, here's your fifteen minute workout, a few boobs.

And another fifteen for good measure.

P.S. If only it were true.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Glad to know there's a Good Republican Idea. Even if they disavow it now.

I keep hearing that this is just a natural cycle. It's happened before.

Don't worry about it. Our grandkids can solve it.

Don't worry, be happy. There are plenty of people who can refudiate all these dire forecasts. Including one who believes she's Shakespeare's equal.

Unfortunately almost all of them are basing their opinions on financial impact of regulations, not science. It costs too much to save the planet.

Oh, yeah, and there's that great anti-global warming argument that a few of you have commented on here: Al Gore lives in an energy wasting house.

So, in a few years we'll be buying our windmills and solar panels from China.

At least they'll be cheap.

In case you want to do something there's always a call to your friendly congress person.

Oh, hell, maybe I'm just being an alarmist.

I think I'll go pick some blackberries in our secret spot. They're a month early this year. I wonder why.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

David Foster Wallace

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

So I plugged the first two paragraphs of the new Thorn novel into the website I Write Like, expecting Stephen King's name to pop up, but no... It's David Foster Wallace. A blessing or a curse?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

This is Me Sort of Smiling

Here's a photo of me I lifted from Big Al's website. Check him out for your Florida author needs.

He took it while I was on my Silencer book tour, visiting Haslam's Bookstore in St. Pete. A great bookstore, by the way.

Monday, May 24, 2010

French Open

They don't call it the French open for nothing.

Venus is offended that anyone would want to discuss her skin-colored underwear. Okay, we won't discuss it.

And then there's this real obscenity making its debut at the French Open, Rafa Nadal's new watch. Cost, a mere, 425 thousand dollars. Oh, Rafa.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Back to Blogging

The photo was taken at the Floridita bar, one of Hemingway's hangouts in Havana. It was taken by Dink Bruce (son of Toby Bruce, Hemingway's right hand man). Photography is only one of Dink's many skills.


Dink and Les Standiford and I were in Havana recently. It's an extraordinarily beautiful city, but very sad as well. The architecture is amazing, as richly detailed and varied as Florence or Madrid or Sevilla. But inside those beautiful buildings are tenements. People living in extreme poverty.

As you may have noticed, I've been taking a break, a long break from blogging lately. Lots of things have distracted me. I was finishing up a new non-fiction book on Bestsellers, for one thing. The book grows out of a course I taught at FIU for many years.

I've also been working on the new Thorn novel. More trauma for the guy. More loss, more adventure. This time he'll go a few places he's never been before. He gets involved with a woman who writes for the Miami Herald. He also discovers a couple of things about his past that he didn't know.

I've also been working on another non-fiction book proposal that has something to do with Hemingway. Just got back from Havana where I did a little research. This is a short video along the Malecon in a 57 Chevy on the way back from lunch at the Hotel Nacional.

Also been reading books on my Kindle and other books the Here's a very informative article on the state of Barnes and Noble and the book biz in general as it faces the rising tide of e-books.

Seems inevitable that a great majority of us will be reading on some electronic device in the next ten years or so. I like my Kindle, and lust for an iPad. But just as we couldn't see the iPad coming five years ago, it's unlikely that these will be the forms our ebooks will be taking five years from now.

All this matters to me as a reader, but it matters even more as a writer and friend of booksellers. The downward pressure on price has already started to effect the book biz, shaving away margins and depressing author "salaries." And as the article above makes clear, bookstores are going to have to do even more radical re-inventions if they're going to survive the next wave of change.

Here's a shot of me waiting for my lunch companions to go back downtown.

The car might look cool, but it was certainly showing its age. Noisy gears, rattling engine block, body held together with duct tape and a prayer. It's a credit to Cuban ingenuity and resourcefulness that the old girl was still running.

Here, in no particular order, are some images from the streets of Havana.

A fruit market with two fruits

Art, old and new.

A hotel as ornate as a cathedral.

Woman in red.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Key West Swarming with Tourists

Watch an old video of the road to Key West being built. And the prophecy that's come all too true.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Here's a truly wonderful video of JK Rowling giving a commencement address at Harvard. An incredibly moving speech.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Early Jim

Somebody sent me this to make me feel bad I suppose.

Tim Tebow

Love him or hate him.

I've had seriously mixed feelings about this guy, mainly because of the pushy way he promotes his religious views. Do we really want college athletes to wear Bible verses or passages from the Koran on their faces during games?

But still, this writer in the Washington Post makes some excellent arguments, and I'm almost convinced.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Dallas Morning News

Yet another wonderful review in the Dallas Morning News:

James W. Hall should be adopted as a Florida state treasure.
But he won't be.

The Florida he has depicted over the course of nearly 20 terrific thrillers is, at its heart, as dark as a northern Siberian night in midwinter. He does a fine job, though, of making the Sunshine State a complex and intriguing location, in which avarice, violence, delusion, great heroism and sometimes even serious (if complicated) love play out.

Silencer, his latest entry featuring his ingenious hero Thorn, keeps his flag flying high. Although the premise – Thorn inherits a vast fortune – seems a bit tenuous, once we accept it, which we do after a chapter or so, the drama begins to build.

To use his money for the highest good, Thorn makes a deal with an important central Florida landowner to take vast acres out of commercial use and keep them natural for posterity. Unfortunately, one of the landowner's sons has another idea, which quickly leads to chicanery, murder and the near demise of Thorn (along with his longtime girlfriend, the talented sister of a former biker gang leader, and the landowner's other son, a Miami mounted police officer).

Fortunately, Thorn knows how to employ various artifacts, such as a family wedding ring and a powerful pistol, to keep himself and others alive.
To reveal more of the plot would spoil it.

Let's just say that this suspenseful novel also features a retiring central character who assumes a forceful role, two strong women and some excellent lore about hunting African beasts in central Florida. We also learn about old Floridian ruling-class conclaves and contemporary Floridian morals, or lack thereof, in a way that makes the Sunshine State look darker and darker as the story unfolds.

Providence Journal

Here's a nice review of Silencer from the Providence Journal:

James Hall’s enigmatic hero Thorn is back in “Silencer” (Minotaur, 276 pages, $24.99), albeit no longer the same simple rapscallion. Indeed, his last adventure, “Hell’s Bay,” ended with him inheriting a 10-figure fortune from a grandmother he hadn’t known he had.

With money, though, come problems and Thorn faces a host of them this time out, not the least of which is getting kidnapped by a pair of murderously deviant brothers right out of the Carl Hiaasen school of Florida lowlifes. They’re actually hired to kill Thorn, but opt to snatch him instead in order to see if there’s more they can get from the job than their bargain basement fee.

Ernest Hemingway explored similar territory in his brilliant short story “The Killers,” and the comparison holds further since Hall ranks with James Lee Burke as a brilliant stylist, lyricist and novelist as well as storyteller. And, make no mistake about it, there’s plenty of story in “Silencer,” including an animal preserve for rich folk who like to shoot geriatric big game and a sinister plot involving, as always, the tortured state of Florida’s land and environment.

Hall never disappoints and “Silencer” is no exception. Like Burke, to read Hall is to savor every sentence and description, and Thorn remains crime’s most unusual, if phlegmatic, protagonist.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Tour

Home from Phase 1 of book tour. Will give a full account later, but here's a nice review I collected along the way.

In the Dallas Morning News.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Library Journal

Library Journal likes it too.

Hall, James W. Silencer. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2010. c.304p. ISBN 978-0-312-35959-1. $24.99. M

Thorn shows no sign of changing his laid-back, loner ways in Hall’s (Hell’s Bay; Magic City) fine 11th novel featuring his laconic hero. When Thorn’s girlfriend, Rusty, finds a deal that will help him spend some of his vast fortune while saving a large tract of land in central Florida from development, he jumps at the opportunity. Unfortunately for Thorn, his willingness to be a good guy soon puts him in a sinkhole, literally—he’s tossed in by thugs working for developers anxious to prevent the land from going to Thorn. As Rusty and old friend Sugarman try to help Thorn and save the deal, they endanger themselves.

Verdict Thorn is among the most likable heroes in crime fiction. There is a fair amount of action that fans expect, but the story really revolves around Hall’s outstanding characterization of Thorn, Rusty, and Sugarman. Sure to please fans of the series, this is another winner. [Library marketing campaign; see Prepub Mystery, LJ 9/1/09.]—Craig Shufelt, Fort McMurray P.L., A.B.

Mississippi Votes for Thorn

Aw, shucks, even Mississippi has something nice to say. Right here.

Another Review

The Jacksonville Times-Union gives Thorn some ink. Read it here.


Silencer gets a very smart and thorough and well-written review (which also happens to be positive).

Read it here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Golf Properties?!


Where did this come from? Thorn as Tiger Woods?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Slush Piles

Fascinating stuff on slush piles, and what's replaced them in publishing.

Silencer Review from Associated Press

Bruce DeSilva, long time reviewer for the AP, and soon to be thriller novelist himself (I read Rogue Island in galleys and thought it was terrific), gave me a thoughtful, intriguing and positive review right here

Nice start to the day. Bruce can play rough(but fair) sometimes. Glad to have him on my side this go round.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Newspaper Review of Silencer--A doozy

You can read here the first newspaper review of Silencer.

Oline Cogdill spotted a feature of the storyline that I knew was a big storytelling risk. I kept Thorn in a very static situation for a long section of the novel. He's being held captive, trying to escape, but he only manages an inch by inch movement out of his predicament. And it takes several chapters before the problem is resolved.

The writing challenge was to keep all that engaging by using a lot of small details while slowly ratcheting the suspense, then throwing in some surprising setbacks along the way. Thorn makes some progress toward escape, then has to pause and consider the next hurdle and find some creative solution to the next issue. It was fun to write that section, but I did worry that some readers might grow weary of the incremental movement.

So many writers have their heroes zip from one scene to the next, solving every new crisis with superheroic ease, (and I've done that a lot too), that I just wanted to try something a little different. Glad to see a reviewer noticed and approved.