AROUND THE BLOCK
by Steven Steinbock
Those who know me well know that I’m a longtime admirer of Lawrence Block and his writing. In the early 1980s I discovered his fiction column in Writer’s Digest, and kept a subscription to that journal until his column disappeared from its pages. I quickly began seeking out his novels, working my way through the books about Bernie Rhodenbarr, Matthew Scudder, and Evan Tanner. I reveled in the wry voice that seemed to pervade all his writing, and found—and continue to find—his novels a (mostly) guiltless pleasure.
Block is a writer’s writer. His columns (most of which have been reprinted in his various books for writers) are a healthy and humorous tonic for the writer’s soul. His approach to his own work is unapologetically mercenary without ever being crass. Most importantly for readers of Criminal Brief, he has long been an advocate and practitioner of the short story. His first fiction sale, if I’m remembering correctly, was to Manhunt, and since then has had more stories in EQMM, AHMM, and Playboy than most writers will ever hope to write.
My friend and Cyber-cousin Neal brought to my attention the latest entry in Block’s blog (see if you can say that phrase quickly five times in a row). In it, using the same cheeky didacticism that he often employed in his old Writer’s Digest columns, he explains to “Arnold” and the rest of his imaginary class about the fall and rise of the crime short story, about the role of electronic media in the new rise, and (in his unapologetic mercenary fashion) about his anecdotage in the process, complete with links to all of his e-published short stories currently available for download.
Even if you don’t download any of his short stories, Block’s column is a fun read and well worth your time. (And if you are tempted, which you probably will be, indulge yourself with “Keller in Dallas,” “Like a Thief in the Night,” “The Burglar who Smelled Smoke” or any of the other stories. If you’ve ever been annoyed by bad-tempered professional athletes, “Terrible Tommy Terhune” is a satisfying match point and is less than a dollar.)
I continue to have mixed feelings about my Kindle. It’s not the same as holding a book, and for me will never replace that tactile sensation. But as I said in a a column last month, the eBook hold certain practical advantages for the book critic. In preparing my latest column for EQMM (which will see light of day in the February 2012 issue), I found the Kindle to be a fast and convenient way to read a lot of books.
Unfortunately, most publishers haven’t joined the party. Very few Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) are available, and those that are have inconsistent formatting. Book publicists everywhere, I love getting your books. But you can save time and shelf space for me, and save money for your company, if you make electronic options available to book reviewers.
And while on the subject of eBooks . . . Yes, Arnold?
Sir, are you going to make one of your conceptual leaps?
I didn’t know I did anything of the sort, Arnold. But now that you mention it, I guess I’m taking you slightly around the Block to where we started. Larry Block has put a number of his nonfiction books for writers in electronic format through Kindle. I’ve immensely enjoyed The Liar’s Bible, which collects about three dozen of his Writer’s Digest columns from the 80s. (If you ever wanted to see what the Grandmaster looked like as a four year-old, or get a glimpse of him as a high school student, this is also your best chance, as the e-book includes a photo album). I’ve also enjoyed Afterthoughts, which collects afterwords and commentaries on several dozen novels and short stories. The latter half of that ninety-nine cent eBook provides a lot of background to his short fiction as well as to his more off-beat (and lurid) novels. Tell Larry I sent you.