I’m feeling grumpy about Amazon’s Vella serial fiction failure, so let’s talk about something else for today. Last Friday, as I settled onto the couch for the evening, I noticed that my life partner was reading a paperback book. An old paperback book, purporting to tell the story of Liz Crowley, a woman who sells her love. Although the woman on the cover was dressed fairly modestly, the cover copy promised that this book was, “A Night-By-Night Account of a Prostitute’s Life – By the Girl Who Lived It.”
I cleared my throat. My partner looked up.
“Good book?” I asked, which was a better opening than, hey, that looks sleazy.
“It’s all right,” he replied.
“Looks sleazy.” I had to go there. I was already tired of waiting.
“A study of human behavior,” he replied. He pointed to the upside-down triangle at the bottom of the woman’s photo. (By the way, Google tells me an upside-down triangle is called a nabla. This comes from the Greek word for a Phoenician harp. I do not anticipate ever using this knowledge again.) On the nabla, I read the words, Monarch Human Behavior Books.
Borrowing the book, I opened the cover. On the first page, I read: He grabbed me roughly. “You’re a no-good prostitute,” he snarled. “The lowest thing there is – a disgrace to the human race – not fit to breathe the same air with the rest of the world. Get your clothes off. Fast!”
The speaker wasn’t asking her to remove her clothing because it was on fire. He had an ulterior motive. The reader soon learns that speaker is a cop from the Vice Squad, taking advantage of his position.
I decided I was right the first time. I said, “Sleaze.”
“Classic erotica,” my partner advised me. “Published sixty-one years ago, when such things were usually suggestive, not overt. We’ve written hotter stuff.”
Flipping through the book, this turned out to be true. One sexual encounter was described as “…the world went around and around and exploded on top of us with one hell of a noise.” If this was hot stuff in 1960, be pleased you weren’t reading sleaze sixty-one years ago.
“This was one of Larry’s early novels,” my partner said. “I wanted to see how it read.”
When he said, “Larry”, I knew who he meant. Lawrence Block has made quite a name as an author. He’s seen his novels made into movies, he’s won just about every award a mystery writer can win, and his Matthew Scudder detective series was a big hit. Harrell enjoys Block’s “Burglar” books, so, when a new one hadn’t come out in a while, he wrote him to ask why. This was years ago, when people used to write letters. When Mr. Block replied, he signed his note as, “Larry.”
Since then, he’s been Larry in our house. Decades before he became a Big Deal, Larry wrote a series of spicy books under various pseudonyms. Books like I Sell Love. There were mouths to feed and bills to be paid. The books had titles like Born to Be Bad, Campus Tramp and A Strange Kind of Love. Not only is LB unembarrassed by his past, he has 25 “classic erotica” titles listed on his website for purchase. Good for him, I say.
I want to close by adding that, as a writer, Larry continues to impress. Last year, his dark and disturbing novel, Dead Girl Blues, came out, as did an anthology he edited, The Darkling Halls of Ivy. This year, he put out a new anthology (Collectibles, Harrell recommends it) and a memoir, A Writer Prepares.
The memoir was officially published in June, on the man’s 83rd birthday.
I feel like such a slacker.