Coming soon from a guitar shop near me

'56 NOS Strat in fiesta red, special ordered with 9.5" radius and medium-jumbo frets. On order since February. (Hello...?)

I love recent American-made Strats and good, low-wattage tube amps. I don't really get the vintage thing. Why anyone would pay tens of thousands of dollars for a guitar just because it's old is a mystery to me. Maybe it's the notion of exclusivity—the idea that it's somehow better and more meaningful to own a thing that not every chump off the street can afford. But if you pay $25k and up for a vintage guitar ('59 Les Pauls in good shape are apparently auctioning for as much as $500k these days), you're not really buying a guitar—you're buying a complex and demanding relationship with a museum piece. You're also buying insurance, and a climate-controlled storage space. I'd rather just play the damn thing.

Although a climate-controlled guitar room would be nice...

And the pedalboard

Top left to bottom right: Xotic RC Booster, Fulltone OCD (great for lead-playing in a band with other guitars--lots of cut without being shrill), Xotic AC Booster, Voodoo Labs power supply, yer basic tuner, Clark Gainster (simple, cheap, sounds great), Jauernig Gristle King (this thing is pure genius: super fat overdrive plus smooth, rich clean-boost switchable to pre or post OD, so it's usable either as a gain boost or volume boost (or by itself), kind of like an Analogman King of Tone. Once you hear this pedal you will hate your Full-Drive), Keeley-modded TS808 (probably the runt of the litter; very midrangey, not much bass), and the $75 one-knob wonder (made in China, no less)—the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster, which makes your Strat sound humbucker fat, and makes your Deluxe Reverb sound like a Twin or a Vibroverb. Yes, they're all overdrives. Call it a fetish, I don't mind. Now, if I could only get my hands on a Zendrive...

Gear porn

This is most of the electric geargasm currently on hand. Reading guitars left to right: Jerry Jones shorthorn (a great-playing Danelectro homage); Fender American Vintage '62 reissue thin-skin Strat, very unusual in seafoam green (sorry about the brutal lens-flare); Gibson Les Paul Standard (60s neck). The amps: Dr. Z Maz 18 Jr (truly amazing little amp); Fender Deluxe Reverb '65 reissue, bought cheap and in perfect condition on eBay; Mesa Lonestar Special—great amp, but I love the Dr. Z so much I almost never play it.

Good bad books

I've been trying to track down the origin of the "good bad books" construction, which seems to go back to G. K. Chesterton, and was then amplified a bit later by Orwell in his essay Good Bad Books. I wish I could find the exact Chesterton quote—it may be paraphrased from his essay A Defence of Detective Stories, which opens with this very funny paragraph:

In attempting to reach the genuine psychological reason for the popularity of detective stories, it is necessary to rid ourselves of many mere phrases. It is not true, for example, that the populace prefer bad literature to good, and accept detective stories because they are bad literature. The mere absence of artistic subtlety does not make a book popular. Bradshaw's Railway Guide contains few gleams of psychological comedy, yet it is not read aloud uproariously on winter
evenings. If detective stories are read with more exuberance than railway guides, it is certainly because they are more artistic. Many good books have fortunately been popular; many bad books, still more fortunately, have been unpopular. A good detective story would probably be even more popular than a bad one. The trouble in this matter is that many people do not realize that there is such a thing as a good
detective story; it is to them like speaking of a good devil. To write a story about a burglary is, in their eyes, a sort of spiritual manner of committing it. To persons of somewhat weak sensibility this is natural enough; it must be confessed that many detective stories are as full of sensational crime as one of Shakespeare's plays.

No doubt Presto Shang will be able to provide the actual provenance. In any case, the basic idea is that there are four kinds of books: Good good books, bad good books, good bad books, and bad bad books. The only kinds worth writing (and reading) are good good books and good bad books. The distinction falls along the high art/low art faultline that my father used to talk about: "good" books are literary fiction, "bad" books are everything else. Examples of good good books are easy to come by, of course, and bad good books are numerous and quickly forgotten, though not quite as numerous or quickly forgotten as bad bad books. Good bad books are the great guilty pleasure (the best kind, as we all know): Chandler and Wodehouse and other such brilliant "entertainments," as Graham Greene used to call them. I may, at some point, consider writing a literary novel (I've got a few literary short stories under way, God help me), but at the moment I can think of no higher (or guiltier, or more pleasurable) calling than to become a writer of good bad books. Suits me right down to the ground.

One note of caution: if you're ever in a gathering of crime writers, actual or virtual, don't talk about mysteries as "bad books." The whole G. K. Chesterton thing won't cut a whole lot of ice in that company, most likely.

Slight update: it's worth noting that Orwell thought Uncle Tom's Cabin would "outlive" the work of both Virginia Woolf and George Moore. He was half right, anyway. His interest in the notion of the good bad book may also tell us something about his view of himself as a writer, and the place he imagined his own work held in the literary hierarchy.

Further update: And the fact that I'm thinking about this ought to tell you something about where I see myself in the pantheon. Which is to say, several blocks away, in a good bar with Elmore James on the jukebox.


What we've learned about home renovation

in the five weeks since we closed on the crack house:

1.Unless you're a skilled contractor, don't do it yourself. Don't even think about it. It's extremely likely that you'll have to pay someone to undo everything you just DIYed, which will be costly and embarrassing.

2.Don't live in the house while the work is being done. It will cost you more in the long run than paying two mortgages or renting. Contractors don't want to have to work around you and your stuff. You don't want to pay them to clean up the same mess day after day. Plus, the noise and dirt and dust and bad 70s rock will drive you insane. Stay the hell out until they're done.

3.This ought to be obvious, but apparently it isn't (at least not to everyone): don't do anything that doesn't add value to the house. That's really the cardinal rule: everything you do should make the house worth more to a potential future buyer, even if you plan to live there for the next thirty years. We actually figured this out some months ago, while observing a home renovation disaster being perpetrated by friends of ours who shall remain nameless. They're $80k+ into a mostly unfinished project, they've run out of money, the house is barely habitable and it's worth considerably less than it was when they started. A nightmare.

4.Beware that which is trendy. Remember all those knotty-pine basement dens from the 50s? That's your kitchen island.

5.Round up your contractors early (otherwise, if they're any good, they'll all be booked). We had our lead guy signed up weeks before we closed. If you're on a tight schedule, it's the only way.

6.Figure out how much you can spend, and add 30%. We actually caught a few breaks (touch wood)—the initial 2nd floor renovation cost less than our contractor originally estimated, we didn't need a new roof, and nobody thinks we need to completely re-drywall the third floor rooms; total savings of $16-20k. We also "saved" about $10k up-front by deciding not to go with geothermal heat (I'm a bit sad about that one). So, are we banking our savings on the project and figuring we got away cheap? Um, no. We're putting in a fancy kitchen instead, which will end up costing us more by about half than the $30k we "saved." The psychology is, once you've set aside a chunk of money to spend on fixing up your funky-ass old house, no matter how the project unfolds, you will never spend less than that initial amount. For all intents and purposes, it's spent (and then some) the moment you name a figure: you'll never see that money again except in the form of range hoods and window treatments. But again, what the hell—where else are you going to put your money these days?

7.When minor disagreements crop up, defer to your wife. She's smarter than you, and has better taste.

Little crack house on the prairie

Okay, so it's not REALLY a crack house, it's huge, and we don't live on the prairie. But still. Are we crazy, or what?

Kirkus McGurkus

Kirkus is notoriously snarky, so I was braced for a mixed review, at best. I was pleased and surprised when the fabulous K (my editor at St. Martin's/Minotaur) emailed me with the actual review, which came out in the 6/21 issue. As you can see, it's relatively (entirely!) snark free:

Loomis, Jon

Multiple murders rock peaceful Provincetown.
Sheriff Frank Coffin lands a sensitive missing person’s case when Melinda Merkin asks him to investigate the apparent disappearance of her husband, the Reverend Ron Merkin. A charismatic leader in the fight against gay rights, strapping Ron is a hardcore cross-dresser, a fact Melinda would like to keep under wraps. Before long, his body is found, clad in a floral muumuu and strangled by his raspberry-colored scarf. Facing Provincetown’s first murder in six years, Coffin questions his decision to relocate from the Baltimore Police Department to this gay mecca and tourist magnet. Much of this series kickoff is devoted to fleshing out Coffin’s supporting cast: longtime girlfriend Jamie, who issues a sudden ultimatum for a baby; reliable deputy Lola, a lovelorn lesbian who’s Coffin’s closest confidante; Coffin’s mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s in a nursing home; and a volatile old painter named Kotowski. Undercover efforts by Coffin’s deputies in drag yield humor but few leads. The identity of a second victim, a local high roller named Sonny Duarte up to his neck in shady deals, shifts suspicion away from the grieving widow but onto Kotowski, whose house has been seized by local developers. The death toll grows before Coffin deduces the identity of the ruthless killer. Loomis (The Pleasure Principle, 2001, etc.) writes with warmth and wisdom, auguring well for further Coffin adventures.


Now, there are a couple of small inaccuracies here (Coffin is a police detective, not a sheriff), but in all I'm very pleased—kind of in the way that one is pleased when one has walked through a bad neighborhood at 3:00 a.m. without getting mugged. Okay, it's better than that. I love the last sentence—that bit about me being warm and wise. Heh.

The blurbs

One of the weirdest things about publishing is the little ritual of the blurb. Other, more senior writers—often complete strangers—consent to read your book pre-publication and write a snappy sentence or two in praise of it, which is then printed on the back cover. It's a little marketing oddity surrounded by incredibly complex layers of protocol (we can ask X, but we can't ask Y; you could ask Z, but it wouldn't do much good, etc.). All anthropological musings aside, I'm very grateful to have gotten these two extraordinarily kind blurbs, the first from Chris Grabenstein: "Witty, gritty and full of unforgettably colorful characters, HIGH SEASON is a highly impressive debut!" And this one from William Tapply: "In HIGH SEASON Jon Loomis absolutely nails Provincetown, arguably the funkiest and most interesting town in the United States, and stakes it out for what I hope will be many more Frank Coffin yarns to come. Loomis is a terrific writer. He's funny and wise, and he knows how to build tension. I really liked this book." Huge thanks to Chris and Bill; very generous of them.

The cover

The original was essentially the same, but with a clear, blue sky. The lovely A_______ and I both thought it needed a little something. So did M, my agent. I downloaded a few pictures of dramatic clouds from the internet, photoshopped one into the background, and emailed it back to the folks at SM/M. "Hm," they said. "Clouds." A few days later, they came back with this. Which seems fine.


Why a mystery?

This is the question my poetry and lit-fic friends generally ask me when I tell them what I've been doing with my brain the past couple of years. They seem a bit nonplussed, as though they'd heard I'd taken up bungee-jumping or crack smoking or become a Buddhist monk. The best explanation I can offer has two parts: first, I've been a fan of mysteries and noir fiction forever—almost as long as I've been able to read. Give me a good bad book and I'm a happy guy. Second, I think the poetry world had started to feel a bit cramped to me—so many of us scrambling after the same pitiful crumbs. There was something ultimately mean-spirited and unseemly about the degree of competition, and the bitterness with which a great many of us approached it. I needed a break, I guess. I think I'll write another book or two of poems, once I've finished MATING SEASON (the sequel to HIGH SEASON) and had a chance to really sit down with the memoir (KING OF HEARTS) and see if there's any there there. At the moment, though, I'm having too much fun with my characters and my setting and working the kinks out of the plot over cocktails with the lovely A_____ to worry much about whether I'm making art.


This is the only blogger template that doesn't suck audibly. I know it's hard to read. Sorry.

The author photo St Martin's rejected

What this blog is about

Writing and publishing mystery novels, poetry and memoirs, guitars and guitar gear, having a young family well into middle-age, crazy old houses, atrial fibrillation, maybe some politics, and any other shiny object that happens to catch my interest. Starting with the basics: I published a lot of poetry between 1990 and 2001 in lots of journals--places like The New Republic, FIELD, Tikkun, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, and The Iowa Review. I also have a couple of books out from Oberlin College Press (my first book, Vanitas Motel, won the FIELD prize in 1997), and have lucked into a few nice fellowships and prizes--the big ones being two winter writing fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Halls Fellowship in Poetry from UW-Madison, plus a couple of state arts council grants and several residencies at Yaddo. In fact, I started writing HIGH SEASON my first summer at Yaddo as a kind of mental getaway from the second book of poems; I was suffering from long-form prose envy, not to mention a degree of infatuation with several of the leggy girl fiction writers in attendance. I wrote about twenty pages in two days, and went around saying "this fiction thing is easy!" It took me almost six years to finish the mystery, which I dropped until 2001, picking it up again when the poetry project of the moment seemed to be foundering. I just couldn't write the book I was working on--a grim and self-consciously academic epistolary thing based on the lives of Abelard and Heloise--in the shadow of 9/11. I needed to work on something fun--and the mystery was definitely that. More about the other stuff soon.