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Elmore Leonard: Rules for Writing

The best advice for anyone wanting to be a writer is, Write. Sure, read books, learn from others, keep a notebook, but it always comes down to just one thing: you and a blank page.

Here Elmore Leonard explains his rules for writing, in this rather hastily edited package from the BBC Culture Show of 2006. As Leonard explains writing is mainly rewriting, and it takes the pulp fiction maestro 4 pages of hard graft to produce one finished page. Now you know, so get cracking.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The ‘Small Penis Rule’
10:54 am


Small penis rule

Apparently, the “small penis rule” is a sneaky defense strategy authors can use to save themselves from libel lawsuits. Here it is described in a New York Times article from 1998:

...For a fictional portrait to be actionable, it must be so accurate that a reader of the book would have no problem linking the two,” said Mr. Friedman. Thus, he continued, libel lawyers have what is known as “the small penis rule.” One way authors can protect themselves from libel suits is to say that a character has a small penis, Mr. Friedman said. “Now no male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis, that’s me!

Now, from Wikipedia:

The small penis rule was referenced in a 2006 dispute between Michael Crowley and Michael Crichton. Crowley alleged that after he wrote an unflattering review of Crichton’s novel State of Fear, Crichton libeled him by including a character named “Mick Crowley” in the novel Next. In the novel, Mick Crowley is a child rapist, described as being a Washington-based journalist and Yale graduate with a small penis.

I did not know about this. I guess you do learn something new everyday.


Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Anaïs Nin: Talking about her Diaries, Henry Miller, Muses, Dreams, Art and Death

It is always good to have reader feedback on Dangerous Minds and recently Jenny Lens’ interesting comments on Anaïs Nin made me dust off my copies and revisit Nin’s books and diaries. This, of course, led me to check out what is available on YouTube, which uncovered these 4 clips, which appear to have been mainly taken from the documentary Anaïs Nin Observed (1974).

In the first clip, Anaïs explains how her diary started out as a letter to her father, and how it became an “inner journey.” This leads on to Nin reunited with Henry Miller where they discuss the importance of the artist as a liberator.

In the second clip Anaïs discusses art, the artist, and creative anger, concluding that she likes to “feel I have transcended my destiny.”

In the third, Anaïs discusses her favorite heroines, including Lou Andreas-Salomé, the Russian psycho-analyst and author, who was friends with Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Andreas-Salomé was one of the first to write psycho-analytically about female sexuality, long before she met Freud, and was his associate in the creation of psycho-analysis. Nin also talks about Caresse Crosby co-founder of the Black Sun Press, publisher of Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound, amongst many others, patron to the Arts, and inventor of the modern bra. Anaïs then goes on to talk about volume 5 of her Diaries and her experiences of taking LSD, and how she turned into gold. The clip cuts out just as Nin discusses not passing judgement on her characters.

In the fourth, Nin and Henry Miller discuss “death in life,” dreams and the importance of recording them, and whether analysis will destroy the need for them.

More of Anaïs Nin (and Henry Miller), after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Rub Out The Words: New collection of William S. Burroughs letters out this week

Editor Bill Morgan cataloged William S. Burroughs’ correspondence from the early 1960s through the mid-70s, selecting over three hundred letters for Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974, out this week from Ecco.

The material in this new volume covers an era that sprints from Beat to hippie to punk rather quickly. Some of the recipients of Burroughs’ letters at this time were Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, Gregory Corso, Billy Burroughs Jr., Paul Bowles, Ian Sommerville, Alexander Trocchi and Brion Gysin.

Here’s one letter, sent to author Norman Mailer. Mailer had written to Burroughs requesting that he join the anti-war tax resistance protest against the Vietnam War.

Via the Paris Review’s website:

November 20, 1967
8 Duke Street
St James
London S.W.1

Dear Norman,

As regards the War Tax Protest if I started protesting and refus­ing to contribute to all the uses of tax money of which I disap­ prove: Narcotics Department, FBI, CIA, any and all expenditures for nuclear weapons, in fact any expenditures to keep the antiquated idea of a nation on its dying legs, I would wind up refusing to pay one cent of taxes, which would lead to more trouble than I am pre­ pared to cope with or to put it another way I feel my first duty is to keep myself in an operating condition. In short I sympathize but must abstain.

all the best,

William Burroughs

The volume is set for a February 7 publication date. You can pre-order a copy of Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974 at Amazon.

The cover portrait of Burroughs is a Polaroid shot by Andy Warhol. Below, some undated footage of Burroughs and Warhol dining together sometime in the late 70s, or more likely early 1980s that was used in a BBC documentary about the Chelsea Hotel. The voice heard off-camera belongs to Victor Bockris, author of the classic book With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker and Warhol: The Biography.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Dear Me: Diaries and those who keep them

It’s around this time that the enthusiasm started almost a month ago begins to wane, and the pages of the diary remain blank, as days dissolve into weeks. Keeping a diary is hard work, but it is rewarding work. If you’ve started a diary and want a little encouragement to keep going, or even just to start writing, then here is a personal selection of diary and journal writers, who may inspire.
Sylvia Plath kept a diary throughout her life, which reveals a world beyond her poetry. Here is Sylvia setting out on her adventures as a writer, from November 13th 1949.

As of today I have decided to keep a diary again - just a place where I can write my thoughts and opinions when I have a moment. Somehow I have to keep and hold the rapture of being seventeen. Every day is so precious I feel infinitely sad at the thought of all this time melting farther and farther away from me as I grow older. Now, now is the perfect time of my life.

In reflecting back upon these last sixteen years, I can see tragedies and happiness, all relative - all unimportant now - fit only to smile upon a bit mistily.

I still do not know myself. Perhaps I never will. But I feel free – unbound by responsibility, I still can come up to my own private room, with my drawings hanging on the walls…and pictures pinned up over my bureau. It is a room suited to me – tailored, uncluttered and peaceful…I love the quiet lines of the furniture, the two bookcases filled with poetry books and fairy tales saved from childhood.
At the present moment I am very happy, sitting at my desk, looking out at the bare trees around the house across the street… Always want to be an observer. I want to be affected by life deeply, but never so blinded that I cannot see my share of existence in a wry, humorous light and mock myself as I mock others.

Playwright Joe Orton filled his diaries with his sexual escapades, and vignettes of the strangeness of the world, from January 18th 1967.

On the bus going home I heard a most fascinating conversation between an old man and woman. “What a thing, though,” the old woman said. “You’d hardly credit it.” “She’s always made a fuss of the whole family, but never me,” the old man said. “Does she have a fire when the young people go to see her?” “Fire?” “She won’t get people seeing her without warmth.” “I know why she’s doing it. Don’t think I don’t,” the old man said. “My sister she said to me, ‘I wish I had your easy life.’ Now that upset me. I was upset by the way she phrased herself. ‘Don’t talk to me like that,’ I said. ‘I’ve only got to get on the phone and ring a certain number,’ I said, ‘to have you stopped.’” “Yes,” the old woman said, “And you can, can’t you?” “Were they always the same?” she said. “When you was a child? Can you throw yourself back? How was they years ago?” “The same,” the old man said. “Wicked, isn’t it?” the old woman said. “Take care, now” she said, as the old man left her. He didn’t say a word but got off the bus looking disgruntled.

More diaries from Jack Kerouac, Emily Carr, John Cheever, and Andy Warhol, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Miriam Linna: ‘Obsessions from the flipside of Kicksville’

“A weed is a plant out of place.”
― Jim Thompson, “The Killer Inside Me”

As a teenage renegade straight out of the rock and roll heartland of Ohio, Miriam Linna was the drummer in the “Cramps first lineup which played forty-odd dates over an eight month period from the first show on All Saints Night 1976 through July 13, 1977, the date of the NYC blackout.”

I was lucky enough to see The Cramps open for The Ramones at CBGB in April of 1977. The original lineup, Miriam, Bryan, Lux and Ivy, were always my favorite configuration of that great band. They really had it goin’ on. Their look, their intensity and mad energy was alchemical; an exhilarating voodoo that could spook an audience while simultaneously sending them into the throes of rock and roll ecstasy. They got under your skin and fucked around with your spleen.

The Cramps opened up a door that led to a mother lode of forgotten bands and singers that had been residing in the shadows, left behind by deejays, music critics, record labels - the mole-like gatekeepers of pop culture. While radios spewed their acrid breath, Cramp acolytes like myself followed Lux and his bandmates, lurching steadily ahead like the freshly exhumed living dead in Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie, into the heart of rock’s dark and tangled jungle, excavating and unearthing lost vinyl treasures and musical artifacts that contained real magic.

The Cramps, and the second wave of garage bands that followed in their wake, were as much musical anthropologists as they were rock and rollers. Like punk pioneers Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie and The Dictators, The Cramps were on a mission from god to revive the roots of rock at a time when what was being called rock and roll was mass-marketed product that had about as much in common with Little Richard and Gene Vincent as Lana Del Ray does with The Del- Vikings.

From her early days in New York’s downtown music scene to archivist of all that is hep, Miriam Linna was, is and always has been a rock fanatic . She, along with the fabulous Billy Miller, created one of the coolest record stores and record labels on the planet, Norton Records, and her love for the distilled, cut-to-the-chase, blunt energy and gutbucket prose of pulp novels led her to start her own publishing company Kicks Books.

Having published work by Nick Tosches, Sun Ra, Andre Williams, Eddie Rocco and with upcoming titles from Harlan Ellison and Kim Fowley, Linna is bringing the same passion and intelligence she brought to Norton Records and Kicks magazine (with Miller) to the world of book publishing and, as usual, she’s doing it in her no-bullshit way.

Dangerous Minds:  From playing drums with The Cramps to being a co-founder of Norton Records and now a publisher of books by Sun Ra and Andre Williams, you’ve forged a path of being a champion for music and literature that might have gone undiscovered without your help. What first inspired you to explore the world of outsider art and obscure rock and roll?

Miriam Linna:  I don’t consider the music, movies, or books that make my life worthwhile “outsider art”. Actually, I’m repelled by what the expression represents and have no association whatsoever with anyone who is involved with it. Like most people, I like what I like. On top of that, I’m curious, obsessive and refuse to be told what to do and how to do it.

DM:  In spite of all the talk of the publishing business dying and the emergence of electronic books, there seems to be a movement toward a return to books you can hold in your hands kind of like the resurgence of interest in vinyl records. Would you agree?

ML:  There is no charm in digital anything.

DM: I like the format of your books. The fact they fit in your pocket is like old style pulp paperbacks. What prompted that design decision?

ML:  I’ve always considered “hip pocket paperbacks” the perfect book format. I like paper, I love books. I’m a nut for Signet- style “talls” and find a slim, unique book capable of causing all sorts of visceral reactions extremely appealing.

DM:  How did you come upon the poetry of Sun Ra?

ML:  Music historian and Sun Ra archivist Michael Anderson contacted us when he discovered a large cache of Sonny Blount dictations and recordings on tape. Norton records had issued three albums of early Sun Ra music, and followed with three spoken word albums culled from these newly discovered recordings. I transcribed the audio, plus several additional tapes’ worth of lost poetic dictation. This material trashed my horizontal with its consistency—here was a cohesive collection of poetic writings—pretty much all attitudinal science fiction with a serious political bent.  Afro-futurism at its earliest and most intentional. 

DM: Given your involvement with Norton Records, you’ve obviously grown to know Andre Williams over the years. Did he bring you his novel and short stories?

ML:  Andre had no novel or short stories until he went into rehab a couple of years ago. He called me when he went in (not of his own volition), saying he was going to bust out. I told him if he did that, he would not live to see the end of the year. We started talking and he said if he was going to stay he needed something to do, that he was going stir-crazy. We got around to talking about him writing, and I suggested he write some fiction. This was a new concept for him, but I knew already from his brilliant plot-rich song lyrics that he was a class-A storyteller. Over the several weeks of his rehabilitation, Andre and I spoke at least every two or three days via collect phone calls, with him faxing in drafts and outlines. Right off the bat, I was shocked by the fact that he was writing from the first person vantage point of a fifteen year old girl named Sweets, a kid who gets in trouble, becomes a prostitute, a madam, a drug runner, and everything in between.  Andre’s storyline was part fever dream, part wishful thinking (loaded with cocaine and sex), part autobiography. I promised him that if he could stick with it and finish a short novel, that I would publish it.

DM: Nick Tosches wrote one of my favorite rock books, “Unsung Heroes Of Rock and Roll.” You recently published his “Save The Last Dance for Satan.” When did you and Nick meet?

ML:  I’ve known Nick for many years. He wrote the intro to “Sweets,” and he and Andre read together at the book launch at St Mark’s Church here in New York.

DM: You published “The Great Lost Photographs Of Eddie Rocco” in 1997 and it has since become a collector’s item. Any plans for a second edition?

ML:  Plans, yes. Something definite - not at the moment.

DM: Where do you see the business of music heading? It’s getting harder and harder for bands to exist when their art is so easily downloaded for free on the Internet. Do you ever despair for the future of rock?

ML: I’m not worried. Real music will always be made by real people for real people. Real records will be made so long as they can be manufactured. Should the day come when all manufacturing ceases, well, we have countless great existing shellac and PVC discs of various sizes spinning at various speeds to discover and thrill to. And if they stop making phonographs, then they will become a commodity, but those who need them will be able to maintain them. Maybe some enterprising individual can reinvent the wind-up pre-electricity phonograph for when the power grids go down and even the download monsters and children of the damned Internet can wallow in silence while the analogue minions crank up wax by candlelight. Now there’s an Escape From New York for you!

DM: Are you still playing music?

ML: I play drums in my long time band the A-Bones and my not-so-long-time band the Figures of Light.

DM: What’s in the pipeline for Kicks Books?

ML: Harlan Ellison’s “Pulling A Train” and “Getting In The Wind”... Kim Fowley’s “Lord Of Garbage”... Andre Williams’ sequel “Streets”... and in a larger book format “I Fought The Law (The Authorized Biography of Bobby Fuller)” by Randy Fuller and myself… and eventually my “Bad Seed Bible.”

You can follow Miriam on her ultra-groovy blog Kicksville66, where the writing is fast and furious. You can also visit Norton Records Records website “where the loud sound abounds.”


Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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Vera Brosgol: ‘What were you raised by wolves?’

She may be only starting out, but Vera Brosgol is one of the most talented comic artists around. Her first graphic novel Anya’s Ghost kicked ass, and last month she made available the whole of her brilliant What were you raised by wolves? on-line. This is a fantastic story of a girl who….well, you’ll find out, and can be read here.

Born in Moscow, Vera moved to the United States when she was 5. She currently works at Laika Inc. in Portland, Oregon drawing storyboards for feature animation. For more information on the divinely talented Ms Bee (and on how to get started as graphic artist) here. And look here for her books and for prints.
With thanks to Steve Duffy

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Harlan Ellison live webcast this Thursday
02:26 pm


Harlan Ellison

Above, Harlan Ellison in 1977

Last November, Cinefamily held an event called “The Glass Teat” with writer/raconteur Harlan Ellison. The evening was such a success that they’re doing a second installment this Thursday:

One of America’s most prolific and dangerous writers, Harlan Ellison radicalized science fiction from the 1960s onwards with swirling, shouting, freaky, psychedelic and sexual visions realized across over 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays and essays. That would be enough for most — but Ellison is also one of the great TV writers, responsible for iconic episodes of The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, to penning the most popular episode of the original Star Trek, and much, much more. And, somewhere in there, he even found the time to write “The Glass Teat”, a seminal work still considered one of the most important and scathing books ever written on the nature of television. Join guest moderator Josh Olson (Oscar-nominated screenwriter of A History of Violence) for a very special evening, as Harlan makes a very rare and highly spirited personal appearance at Cinefamily to discuss his love/hate relationship with TV, followed by a screening of several of his best episodes!

Get tickets here.

Cinefamily, 611 N Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, 90036

If you aren’t in Los Angeles, fret not, for you can tune it to a live webscast of the entire event on the Cinefamily blog at 8PM (PST) on Thursday, January 19th.

Below, Harlan Ellison talks revolution, reality and “speculative fiction” in the late 60s/early 70s:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘OK, no job!’
10:16 am


OK, no job

Here’s a scan from the book More Picture Stories: Language and Problem-Posing Activities for Beginners which is “perfect for students with little or no literacy skills in English.”

Basically, this a picture book for people who speak little or no English and are just arriving to the United States. The above picture depicts the classic “casting couch” scenario.

(via reddit)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Dream Queens: ‘Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of NYC 1989-92’

Now here’s something that was sure to be found in the more fabulous Christmas stockings this past festive seasons. Published by the respected London-based record label Soul Jazz, Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is a collection of photographs by Chantal Regnault documenting the titular scene just as it gained worldwide attention thanks to the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Madonna.

Don’t be fooled if you think that voguing was a mere fad that came from nowhere to disappear just as fast as it sprung up 20-odd years ago. Yes, Madonna brought the dance form to the public consciousness, but if you think she invented it, then child, you need educatin’. Voguing started in Harlem in the 60s, where black and latino drag queens and transexuals had started to host their own balls (beauty pageants) outside of white society, and pioneered a new form of dance based on poses copied from Vogue magazine.

But the history of the drag and gay ballroom scene goes back much further than that - by about another hundred years, as explained by noted author and disco historian Tim Lawrence, in his foreword to this book:

Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge staged its first queer masquerade ball in 1869, and some twenty years later a medical student stumbled into another ball that was taking place Walhalla Hall on the Lower East Side. He witnessed 500 same-sex male and female couples ‘waltzing sedately to the music of a good band.

How things have changed - the modern voguing ballroom scene is/was anything but sedate! Lawrence goes on to put into context the concept of a “house” (in effect a surrogate gay family or gang), which has long been a central aspect of vogue and drag culture:

Referencing the glamorous fashion houses whose glamour and style they admired, other black drag queens started to form drag houses, or families that, headed by a mother and sometimes a father, would socialise, look after each other, and prepare for balls (including ones they would host and ones they would attend).


The establishment of the houses also paralleled the twists and turns of New York’s gangs, which flourished between the mid 1940s and the mid 1960s as the city shifted from an industrial to a post-industrial base while dealing with the upheavals of urban renewal, slum clearances and ethnic migration. As historian Eric Schneider argues, gangs appealed to alienated adolescents who wanted to earn money as well as peer group prestige.

Despite the faddish nature of Madonna’s daliance with this scene, voguing and ballroom documentaries like Wolfgang Busch’s How Do I Look and Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (not to mention performers like the late Willi Ninja and his extant House of Ninja) have done much to establish the history of this world and inspire new generations to take part. And it’s not hard to see the appeal - in a recent interview with The Guardian, Chantal Regnault eplained how voguing and its culture helped re-invigorate New York’s nightlife at the peak of the AIDS crisis:

...the Ball phenomena kind of revived New York nightlife, which had shrunk drastically as the first wave of AIDS related sicknessses were decimating the community. The Queens became the stars of the straight New York clubs, and began to be recognized, appreciated and photographed. They appeared on TV shows and were interviewed by TV icons. The voguers also became a big attraction and soon everybody wanted to emulate their dancing style. Two figures were instrumental in launching the trend in the awakened downtown clubs: Susanne Bartsch and Chichi Valenti, two straight white females who both had a knack for the new and fabulous and a big social network.

Why 1989-1992? What happened next?

1989-1992 was the peak of creativity and popularity for the ballroom scene, and when the mainstream attention faded away, the original black and Latino gay ballroom culture didn’t die. On the contrary, it became a national phenomena as Houses started to have “chapters” all over the big cities of the United States. But I was not a direct witness to most of it as I moved to Haiti in 1993.

As Regnault states voguing is still going strong today, with balls in many of America (and the world’s) largest cities, and this book is a perfect introduction to a compelling, not to mention often over-looked, aspect of gay and black history. Regnault managed to capture some of the most recognisable faces from that world showing off in all their finery, while there are fascinating interviews with some of the key players like Muhammed Omni, Hector Xtravaganza, Tommie Labeija and more. Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is quite simply an essential purchase for fans of underground culture.

Avis Pendavis, 1991

Cesar Valentino (right), Copacabana, 1990

RuPaul, Red Zone 1990
Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 by Chantal Reignault (with an introduction by Tim Lawrence) is available to buy from Soul Jazz Records.

With thanks to Legendary Ballroom Scene for the scans.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Paris Is Burning’: Vogue Realness

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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