Sunday, April 19, 2009


The American Library Association just nominated my novel The Barfighter, released this month by The Permanent Press, as a 2009 Notable Book. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 12. Beneath that is a comment on the marketing of fiction in the 21st century corporate world.

The hardest part about being tutored by Philyaw was not staring at him. That’s because he looked like Humphrey Bogart.

Philyaw looked so much like Bogey that no one would believe it without actually seeing it, and even then they had a hard time believing it. It was said he’d caused fender-benders just walking down a sidewalk. Cheskis marveled that Philyaw, rather than trying to alter his looks, embraced them, smoking old-fashioned, no-filter cigarettes and dressing like Bogey --- in a forties hat and rumpled trench coat. In 1985 this apparel would be rare anywhere, but in Southern California it was rarer than bar mitzvah bacon.

“What could he possibly do to look less like Humphrey Bogart?” Lorraine said to Cheskis after she’d consented once and only once to accompany Cheskis to the fights.
“He could wear an iron mask,” Cheskis responded. “Then he’d look like the Man in the Iron Mask instead of Humphrey Bogart. But I guess that wouldn’t improve things much, would it?”
Philyaw had once managed the most promising middleweight on the West Coast. But the kid’s bright future was irreparably harmed the night he carelessly stopped a hail of police bullets with most of his vital organs while running out of a liquor store he’d just held up in the Crenshaw District. It was rumored around the neighborhood that a secret room of a doughnut shop on Pico had photographs on the wall that showed the cops taking turns posing with their ski-masked middleweight corpse as though he were a prize elk. Some even claimed the head was mounted in the basement of the 77th Street Station.

They said Philyaw took the death harder than the kid’s mother. Maybe because she didn’t have to pick up the funeral tab. He’d been shelling out cash for years to build the kid’s career. The liquor store misadventure landed on Philyaw just as he was poised to pull the lever on a middleweight jackpot. Philyaw, who’d heretofore denied any resemblance to Bogart, disappeared after the funeral and eventually came back in his Sam Spade get-up with a Camel dangling from the corner of his lips. No one understood the meaning of this turnaround and no one confronted Philyaw about it directly. It was too easy to envision him grabbing the gat in his trench coat and casually plugging his inquisitor like Bogey did to Major Strasser at the end of Casablanca.

The Barfighter received strong reviews in Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, but you’re unlikely to find it on the shelves of either Borders or Barnes & Noble, the two giants that have crowded out most other bookstores. The chains charge publishers for display space, and small publishers that either can’t afford or justly refuse to pony up these kickbacks are crowded out. Chains follow this questionable business practice because they have little to no interest in the content of their wares, which might just as well be cabbages or socket wrenches.

The Barfighter can be ordered from the publisher at or at a discount from Amazon at
Should you pass this blog around to those who might be interested or ask a store or two to stock the book, you’ll get no grief from me. Thanks.

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