Join us at Shade Bar this Sunday, 7/13, at 6pm for readings from Jen Conley, Sarah Weinman, Reed Farrel Coleman, Barry Lancet, Alex Segura, Ben Lieberman, Vincent Zandri, and S.A. Solomon.
I went on a guided, behind the scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal with some crime writers during BookExpo America. Danny Brucker was our guide, a boisterous and funny character out of a Westlake novel. Plenty of photos, trivia, and lesser-known history at my Criminal Element article, ‘The Dirty, Criminal Past of Grand Central Terminal.’
Yesterday I helped paint and spruce up ElmCor, a community youth, senior and rehab center in Flushing Queens. Here is a photo of us painting the boxing gym:
Afterward we had our holiday party, which included a silent auction for Aero Cares, a charity that helps fellow employees in time of disaster or hardship (it helped a lot of employees out during Sandy, Katrina, Irene, and recent snowstorms). I donated three signed copies of Blade of Dishonor, and raised over $300 for the cause:
I also bit on a nice lino print of an Imperial Walker from Star Wars and lost, but I did win a funky archival ink print that reminded me of the writing process. I’ll share a photo once I pick it up.
Joey Chestnut ate 69 Nathan’s Famous hotdogs in 10 minutes yesterday, in the 98th annual Coney Island hotdog eating contest. Sonya Thomas ate 36 and 3/4 in the women’s competition.
I’ve eaten two Nathan’s Famous hotdogs in one sitting. They are not the best in America- but they are damn good, with great snap and savor. The Coney Island location treats them with the proper respect, and also serves nice crispy fries. Plus, Coney is just a place worth visiting. I can think of few places that distill the essence of American culture, good and bad, as finely as Coney Island. The rampant entrepreneurs, the hucksterism and showmanship, the chaotic tangle of buildings old and new, the crazy rides that probably haven’t been properly inspected by an ungreased palm in years, the gorgeous freaks at the Coney Island freak show, and jumble of cultures old and new. The Russians in Brighton Beach, the oldest pizzeria (Totonno’s), it’s the bottom corner of the Brooklyn chex mix bag where all the flavors are compacted into sharp, overpowering little pebbles. The neighborhood has an energy, and if there were American warrior shamans who could leech magic from the soil, this would be an epicenter of enormous power.
That power fueled Joey Chestnut to breaking his world record this year. Last year he ate 68. If you really want to watch someone gulp down that many hot dogs, here is a video.
For the record, my top hot dogs:
Ripper with Relish, Rutt’s Hut, Clifton NJ
The Spicy Redneck, Crif Dog, Lower East Side, NYC
Chicago Dog loaded, Wiener’s Circle, Chicago
Rahall’s Red Hot Weenie, Hillbilly Hotdogs, Lesage WV
Pink’s, Los Angeles, CA
Chili Cheese Dog, Hiram’s Roadstand, Fort Lee, NJ
Nathan’s Famous, Nathan’s, Coney Island NY.
The Texas Tommy, Big Daddy’s, Park Ave, NYC.
It’s 1967 and Moe Prager’s girlfriend has been beaten into a coma and left to die on a Brooklyn street. The same day, someone tries to run down his best friend. Moe, a college student, sets out to find the people behind these attacks, but is surprised at every turn as he pieces together the connection between the local mob, a radical student group, and an undercover cop. All roads, it seems, lead to ONION STREET.
Reed Farrel Coleman has been called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the “noir poet laureate” in the HUFFINGTON POST. He is the author of sixteen novels, three time recipient of the Shamus Award and a two-time Edgar Award nominee, winner of the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards and a founding member of MWA U.
TP: Hi, Reed. Welcome to Belly Up to the Bar. In honor of your Brooklyn roots, I’ve got Sixpoint Sweet Action on tap. But we’ve got a full bar. What can I get you?
RFC: I’m a big fan of Brooklyn Brown ale, but if you don’t have any of that on tap, I’ll take a pint of Blue Point Toasted lager.
TP: Man after my own heart. Let me crack you open a longneck. For readers who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Moe Prager, give us the lowdown on him, and what he’s up against in ONION STREET.
RFC: Moe is both what you’d expect from a hard-boiled ex-cop turned PI and nothing you would expect from one. He’s a deep thinker and has a longstanding struggle with the subjects of God and religion. He has aged through the course of the series and undergone all sorts of growth, change, and tragedy. I thought it was a good time to tell the story of how he went from being an aimless college student in the late ‘60s to a cop. And that’s where we find Moe in ONION STREET. Unlike in the earlier books, this is Moe with no law enforcement experience. We watch him come to grips with the harsh realities of crime.
TP: With the Moe Prager novels, you dive into the past with great realism. When I read THE JAMES DEANS I thought you’d written it in the early ’80s. It really sparked my nostalgia for dirty old Times Square. For ONION STREET you go deeper into Moe’s past, into the turbulent late ’60s. What draws you back, do you see us making the same mistakes, or is it just a richer canvas?
RFC: I grew up in the ‘60s, but I wasn’t yet a man. Oddly, in recounting it, I was shocked to recall just how many earth shattering events happened in such rapid succession. In the first six months of 1968 alone there was the Tet Offensive, the Pueblo incident, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. However, what people forget or people who didn’t live through it tend not to realize is that life went on. What I wanted to do was to focus on that part, how in spite of the world going to hell around Moe, what concerned him was his own small world. I also wanted to show how his small world and the larger world bled into each other.
TP: I’m looking forward to reading your recreation of the Lower East Side. You have a great ear for dialogue and a fierce emotional undercurrent runs through your work. What stuck out for me were the struggles and family crises Moe endures. I bet he yearns for the day a PI just got a tire iron to the back of the head. Do we see a less battle-hardened, more vulnerable Prager in ONION STREET?
RFC: Exactly. I wanted to show the readers a Moe stripped of his worldliness and experience. Moe has always been a stumbler, but I wanted readers to see his first stumble as a parent might watch a child’s first step. The funny thing is that Moe never really loses his vulnerability. No matter how many blows he takes, he is never hardened to the emotional impact of the events in which he is either a witness or a player. I think that’s one of his great appeals to me and to readers.
TP: I like that Moe sees his wife’s Irish family dynamic as an outsider. The character of his father-in-law, the defanged power player, is intriguing. Where do you get the inspiration for the pay-to-play corruption you detail so well? Do you have a background in law enforcement or politics?
RFC: I don’t actually have any law enforcement background at all. I have many cop friends and I find them interesting characters. They live in a world apart and a part of our world. I love that tension and inherent drama in that. As far as corruption, that I know something about. I grew up in Brooklyn during the height of Mafia influence and I worked in the cargo area at Kennedy airport for five years (see Goodfellas). I worked with guys just like the people in the movie. No kidding. And when I was young, my dad owned a supermarket. He used to buy his meat from Paul Castellano, who later became the head of the Gambino Family and was gunned down in front of Sparks Steakhouse.
TP: I worked at the docks in Port Newark for a time, myself. It’s an experience, isn’t it? You’ve said that you hate research and THE JAMES DEANS was written without outlining, with very few edits. I’ve “pantsed” one novel, and I’ve taken to outlining, in pencil at least. Do you write as you go, or do you work the story out in your head before you attack it?
RFC: Each book is different. Sometimes the whole plot to a novel appears in m head. Other times, I’ll read something in the newspaper and that will spark an idea and that will get me going. Sometimes I only know the ending. Sometimes I only know the title. I go with it. There have been times when I’ve just sat down, started writing, and went with it. Although my writing process is always the same, I let keep my mind be open to any good idea or any spark. Although I don’t outline, I am not an anti-outline Nazi. I just have a mind that works the way it works. I don’t enjoy writing an outline because it destroys my enjoyment and surprise.
TP: I was out in the Rockaways a month after Sandy, helping gut people’s homes. It was as bad as everyone says, but people are standing strong. How’s Coney Island holding up? James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown told how Katrina punched a ventricle out of the heart of New Orleans, will you be writing about Sandy or is it too close to home?
RFC: I don’t write message books. If I have an idea to write a book that involves Sandy, I’ll write it, but it would never be my starting point. I don’t live in Brooklyn any longer, haven’t for three decades, but my childhood friend’s house got flooded and he lives a mile away from the beach. Coney Island got slammed.
TP: I haven’t been to Coney recently, except for a pilgrimage to Nathan’s before the storm. But your description of Brennan & Carr’s roast beef dip is killing me. If you could only visit New York one last time, where would you grab a bite?
RFC: That food question is tough, man. Brennan & Carr would be right there with Nathan’s (only from Coney Island) French fries, Grimaldi’s pizza, Katz’s pastrami.
TP: Grimaldi’s. I waited two hours in the cold to get in once. Still better than pizza I had in Napoli. One thing I noticed, and admired, was that your bio doesn’t punch up your past, and try to find some link to law enforcement or crime. It gets amusing when a writer or publisher feels they have to “grit up” their background to make the stories authentic, like you can’t write what you haven’t lived.
RFC: People don’t really know what tough is, so why bother. I drove a home heating oil delivery truck for almost 7 years. You try doing that in bad weather in bad neighborhoods for a while. That’s tough. Working at the airport. That’s tough. Carrying a gun? Not so tough.
TP: You have quite a few other series. Gulliver Dowd, Joe Serpe, Dylan Klein. What’s next for Moe, and the rest of your rogue’s gallery?
RFC: Alas, for Moe there is but one more book, THE HOLLOW GIRL. It will be out in 2014 and then Moe and I will part company. The first book in the Gulliver Dowd series, DIRTY WORK, came out in March. The second in the series, VALENTINO PIER, will be out in the fall and I’m in the process of re-upping to do more books. I am also writing the e-book exclusive Det. Jack Kenny series for Hyperion with retired NYPD Detective John Roe. BRONX REQUIEM, our first, came out last November and we’re working on our second, HARLEM NOCTURNE, right now. I’m afraid there won’t be anymore Dylan Klein books, but there may be a big surprise for fans of the Joe Serpe books. Tyrus Books and I are negotiating to e-publish GUN BUNNIES, an alternative second novel in the series. Gee, I wish I was busy.
TP: As for Moe, all good stories have endings. I’m eager to catch up so I can see the finale. Thanks for taking the time to drop by with so much on your plate, Reed. See you at the release party!
Had one of these at the Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village the other day, right around the corner from Todd Robinson’s watering hole, Shade. The Minetta is a fancy brasserie which serves an excellent Manhattan and Sazerac and delicious appetizers like salt pond oysters with truffled pork sausage. The oysters were fresh and sweet. Having read Mannahatta, about the original forested wilderness of Manhattan island, I know the Minetta was a brook that still exists underground. There was a huge salt pond in the area as well, and both the Natives and the Dutch settlers ate enough oysters that the shells form a sedimentary layer all over the tip of the island. Nowadays if you ate a New York bay oyster, an alien will pop out of your chest.
The burger is twenty six bucks and ground from aged beef. They have a standard burger for seventeen bones. You do get fries with that. Sorry, frites. The fries are good, not as good as Bourdain’s at Les Halles. The burger is one of the few that tops the Les Halles burger, which is ground to order from sirloin trimmings. The Black Label one-ups it by using only dry-aged beef, giving the crust a distinct mineral tang that steakivores will appreciate. Inside it’s just a balanced, excellent burger- not too fatty but certainly not lean or dry. I will name it my new favorite, but let’s be honest- I’m not gonna lay down $26 for a burger that often. Krug’s is still my go-to.
Here’s the list for you new folks.
1. Black Label Burger, Minetta Tavern NYC
2. Les Halles burger, John St. NYC (the one on Park Ave’s burger is not as good)
3. Krug’s Tavern, Newark NJ
4. The Ghetto Burger, Ann’s Snack Bar, Atlanta GA
5. White Manna sliders, Hackensack NJ
6. HB Burger, NYC
7. The Frenchy, DBGB, NYC.
8. The Baconeator, Morris Tap & Grill, Randolph NJ
9. Triple Smokehouse Burger, Cloverleaf Tavern, Caldwell NJ
10. Jucy Lucy, Matt’s Bar, Minneapolis MN.
(if you like looking at Cheeseburgers, check out my buddy Mike’s blog www.cheeseburgerpictures.com )
These are opinions. Ray’s Hell Burger in VA closed; I haven’t been to Kuma’s in Chicago. In-N-Out and Elevation Burger, Shake Shack and the Joint at the Le Parker Meridien hotel are all up there as well. And I plan on a long road trip on the west coast eating nothing but cheeseburgers next year, so my opinions WILL change. If you have recommendations… please leave a comment. I will travel for a good burger, and I save places I’ve visited or want to visit in a Google Map: Tommy Salami’s Hidden Treasures.
After reading at Noir at the Bar NYC, Firecracker and I went out for burgers with friends Paula Pahnke (a writer whose work appears in the Lost Children anthology) and her man Dennis. Paula led us through the freezing cold to Cozy Soup ‘n Burger on Broadway, a diner institution offering much more than burgers and soup. We all had burgers. But first things first… here is the greatest shirt in creation. Photo by Glenn Gray. I reviewed Giovanni’s a while back. They make-a nice sangweech, paisans.
They make a good burger but they overcook it a bit. Not competition for Krug’s, but this is a top tier diner burger. I had the Santorini Burger- spinach and feta on an English Muffin- with purloined avocado and onion ring added.
Noir at the Bar was a blast again. Thanks to Glenn Gray and “Big Daddy Thug” Todd Robinson for having me again. This time the lineup had Hilary Davidson, Al Tucher, Matthew McBride, Kathleen Gernert Ryan, Reed Farrel Coleman, Justin Porter, Terence McCauley, SJ Rozan, and Seamus Scanlon. Glenn, Todd, and Laurie- bartender extraordinaire- plus all the crew at Shade NYC– thanks again for a great evening.
Also in attendance was Josh Bazell, author of BEAT THE REAPER, one of my favorites of the last decade. I reviewed it ages ago. It’s one of the books that showed me you could write a crazy story if you were good enough, and Josh sure is. Here’s my reading of “Tiger Mother,” a short story that appears in Noir Nation #2.