Michael Haskins

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jimmy Berslin, the Mafia, and Omertá

Jimmy Breslin could write a grocery list and I would want to read it. His collected columns, in at least two books, are exciting reading because of how he records characters, especially criminal characters. The small details he catches are wonderfully revealed in his writings. While he often uses wit in presenting details, the underlying facts of criminals, especially the old Mafia, comes through as he attended, cold, brutal, and often foolish.
Any mystery writer that uses organized criminals as characters, or even as background, should go and get Breslin’s new book, “The Good Rat.” Breslin spent time researching the incidents he writes about and attended the trail of the two NYPD detectives, Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, who were recently convicted as murder-for-hire contract killers for the Mafia.
Nothing in the organized criminal life is sacred to Breslin, not the legends, long departed, or the new Mafia and its misfits. He definitely eliminates any belief by today’s organized criminal in the Mafia’s blood oath, Omertá – silence.
“The Good Rat” is in the research section of my home library and it should be in every writer’s, because it takes the glamour out of organized crime and brings it down to the human level, greed, and power and how it doesn’t always fall to the brightest.
For two reasons, Breslin has included part of the court transcript in the book. One reason, he tells the reader, is because he couldn’t write it better than it played out in court. The second reason, though he doesn’t clearly admit it, is some of the testimony is so unbelievable, written as prose might leave the reader doubting its honesty.
In the ‘90s, many of us were infatuated with the trials and tribulations of the Teflon Don, John Gotti and his henchmen. Breslin’s handling of Gotti, and how he helped destroy the old guard Mafia, made me stop and wonder why he was handled with such kid’s gloves in the media during his trials. Gotti, Breslin writes, broke the rules to get to be boss and, in so doing, began the decline of the Mafia.
The FBI, which denied the existence of the Mafia thanks to J. Edgar Hoover, has, in the past decade, brought many of the foot soldiers, made men, and bosses to justice; more often than not, because of the failure of Omertá among its members.
Breslin writes with authority, because he knew many of the old time Mafia bosses and drank and ate at their hangouts. His recounting incidents are often humorous, but the underlying facts show blown up egos and callous individuals.
I think some of the humor that Breslin has put in all his writing, columns, books and magazine articles, is because if he only presented the facts to us, the excitement read into the pieces would be gone and replaced with boredom. He has taken boring individuals, ala Damon Runyon style, and made their story interesting.
A native New Yorker, he grew up with many of the old gangsters and, thankfully, he says, many of them loved to see their names in the paper, so they often wanted him to hang around the same restaurants and bars as they did.
Yeah, it is a good reference book for mystery writers. I mean, come on, how many of us could come up with names like Thomas “Three-finger Brown” Lucchese or Jimmy “the Clam” Eppolito or have a Jewish gangster, Burt Kaplan, working with the Mafia, help bring down two NYPD hit men because he feared an old friend was gonna rat him out first?
The scary part of this book is how matter-of-factly Kaplan talks of robbery and murder, sometimes to friends, during the trial.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SleuthFest and the release of "Chasin' the Wind"

I am preparing for two important events in my life.
First, I am the ‘panel’ for an afternoon discussion on blogging at SleuthFest; second, is the release of my book, Chasin’ the Wind, on March 19, and I have begun to set up readings and signings. Both are exciting and new experiences, to me.
I am going to SleuthFest 2008, a Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter annual event held at the Deerfield Beach Hilton, in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Feb. 29 – March 2. I am hosting a discussion on “How to Write a Better Blog,” on the afternoon of the 29th. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are probably wondering how I got that assignment. I’m wondering too!
I thought it was a panel discussion I was assigned to, and when I asked why I was the lone panelist, I was told, “No one else volunteered.” I guess I was out of the room when I volunteered, because I missed my doing it.
I have put together handouts for the program. I have a two-page list of blogs I read and then I took my cheat-notes and decided to put headings on ‘em and now they are included in the handouts. Of course, I have no idea how many copies I need. Make too few and I have unhappy attendees and make too many and I look like an egomaniac! How’s that for a no-win situation.
Since blogging is a personal decision, with a gazillion varying likes and dislikes, I’ve decided to make the 50-minute program audience participation. I will raise the questions, give a short suggestion based on my likes and dislikes, and then pool the audience. The handout will give an outline of the topics and, I hope, will get the participants thinking a head, so quiet won’t blanked the hall when I’ve stopped speaking.
I want to know what you like, or dislike about blogs you read. Let me know and it may help me get through this, especially if you hit on something I missed. If you’re a blogger, let me know your secrets.
With a little bit of luck, I will keep everyone busy talking for 50-minutes. Wish me luck.
If you attend SleuthFest, and come to the blogging program, please introduce yourself. Even if you don’t attend my panel, say hi in the hallway.
The only negative, for me, is that my book will not be available by SleuthFest and I miss the opportunity to reach many people who might be interested in reading it. Getting a signed first edition of a first book makes it a collectable book, but alas, the gods were not smiling when they chose a publication date. Hopefully, some potential readers will remember to order it online or at their favorite bookstore, after they arrive home.
For more information on SleuthFest, go to www.mwa-florida.org.
Even more exciting than being the lone panelist at SleuthFest is the publication of my mystery novel. Chasin’ the Wind ships on March 19th and that should put it in stores by the 28th – one month too late for SluethFest! Anyone that pre-ordered Chasin’ the Wind on Amazon.com can expect it in the mail around that time.
The closer the publication date gets the more anxiety I have. I heard, but didn’t believe, that writers are very insecure individuals. I believe it now!
I have three signings in Key West: April 5, Key West Island Books; April 12, Fairvilla 1-3 p.m., and April 25, at the Hog’s Breath Saloon. Times are being discussed for the bookstore and the Hog signings.
I am also going to be interviewed by Ed Scales on his Sunday afternoon show on US1 Radio and on Richard Grusin’s talk show, Crusin’ with Grusin, on a Sunday morning, also on US1 Radio. When I know the dates and times, and you are interested in listening to the shows, I will post the information on my website, so you can listen to US1 Radio on the web: www.us1radio.com.
There are also two Friends of the Library talks scheduled. On March 27th, I am with the Friends at the Marathon Library and May 22, with the Friends in Fort Lauderdale.
The anxiety hits when I remember other writers talking of signings and readings where no one came to buy a book! How frightening, if that happened in Key West!
I am also preparing to follow up with bookstores in New Jersey/New York area and Southern California that I approached last year about signings. Ideally, I would sign at bookstores in NJ/NY in mid June. That would allow me to meet my new granddaughter, whose due in late March. Of course, I also get to see the proud new parents, Seanan and Paul. And my recently married daughter, Chela, and her husband Bryan, too. My major cost would be the airline ticket, since I would stay the weekend with Seanan and Paul.
If you live near any of these bookstores, please stop in or call and ask them to host a signing, because you want to buy the book: Barnes & Nobel in Paramus, NJ and the Barnes & Nobel in West Nyack, NY; also the Borders in Ramsy, NJ. I would appreciate it.
I hope to go to Southern Cal in July. There, I stay with my sister Patty and her family, Uncle Howie, Coco Joe and Alexis. Hey, don’t knock it, I am saving a fortune on hotels in both NJ and California.
In NJ, I could sign at the three stores during a long weekend visit, and in Southern Cal, I could do the signings during a two-weekend stay.
If you live in Southern California and visit any of these bookstores, please stop in or call and ask them to have a signing: Dutton’s, in Brentwood; The Mystery Bookstore located by UCLA; Mysteries to Die For, in Thousand Oaks; the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, in La Canada Flintridge.
I suppose I would be disappointed if all three stores in NJ/NY and the ones in Southern California turned me down. I would go even if only one store held a signing for me. I left my press package and an advanced reading copy of the book with each store in NJ/NY, and am preparing to send the ADRs to the stores in California, where I left a press package, less the ADRs, last July.
The problem is the publisher. Five Star’s distributor doesn’t offer a good discount to bookstores. Don’t ask! It’s a long screwy story! But Five Star does offer a 40-percent discount if the store buys directly from them for an author signing and gives the author a form with a discount code for the store to fill out before placing its order.
You would think that’s a good thing, right? Well, too many of the bookstore managers I talked to were hesitant to have to go through the extra work to order directly from the publisher. A visit or call from you would be a great help.
And I thought writing the book was the hard part!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Adrian McKinty on James Ellroy

One of my favorite blogs is Irish writer Declan Burke’s http://www.crimealwayspays.blogspot.com/. As if there are not enough American mystery writers, my library is now beginning to hold Irish mystery writers, because of Declan.

Irish writer Adrian McKinty now lives in Colorado and even taught at one of the state’s universities. He has an interesting guest blog on crimealwayspays that deals with James Ellroy’s work.

McKinty, no slouch himself, with his “Dead Trilogy,” The Dead Yard, Dead I Well May Be and The Bloomsday Dead (the last honoring James Joyce and his Ulysses and, like Joyce’s novel, The Bloomsday Dead takes place on June 16, for 24-hours in Ireland) along with a stand alone novel, Hidden River. I have read them all and McKinty's writing leaves you breathless.

McKinty is well worth reading and when Dec’s Eightball Boogie and The Big O are published here in the states, within the next few months, they too will be worth reading. Or, I guess, you can do like I did and order them through his website and be the first in America to discover this talented Irish writer.

Back to McKinty, his blog has an interesting take on Ellroy’s work and I thought you might enjoy what McKinty said and why he said it.

Enjoy the site.

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