Showing posts with label private eye. Show all posts
Showing posts with label private eye. Show all posts

20 March 2020

Geezer, PI


We have a special treat today.  Richard Helms is a retired forensic psychologist and college professor. He has been a finalist for the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award six times, winning it twice; and has had five nominations for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award; two for the ITW Thriller Award, with one win; and one  nomination for the Mystery Readers International Macavity Award. He is also a frequent contributor to periodicals and anthologies, and he recently sold his third screenplay. His 20th novel, Brittle Karma, comes out this summer. An avid woodworker, Helms enjoys travel, gourmet cooking, playing with his grandchildren, and rooting for his beloved Carolina Tar Heels and Panthers.
— Robert Lopresti

Geezer, P.I.
by Richard Helms


Last July 4th, my wife and I were relaxing at home, reveling in the lullaby of pyrotechnic explosions echoing across the neighborhood, when our daughter called to report she’d just experienced an earthquake. Rachel moved to Los Angeles six years ago for an internship with the Conan O’Brien Show, and stayed to make a go of comedy writing. On July 4th, however, she rocked and rolled with the swarm of 6.0 and higher tremors radiating from Ridgecrest, about 125 miles away. She was safe, when all was said and done, but thinking about the potential for earthquakes reminded me that I inadvertently wrote my San Francisco PI Eamon Gold (Grass Sandal, 2003; Cordite Wine, 2005) into a Spenser-style age conundrum because of another earthquake.

When Robert B. Parker originated the Spenser PI series in 1972, he depicted Spenser as a Korean War veteran who also boxed professionally against Jersey Joe Walcott. Walcott retired from the ring in 1953. Presuming Spenser was at least 20 when the Korean War ended, he was born no later than 1933. That means today's Ace Atkins version of Spenser is 87 years old!

When I started writing Eamon Gold stories in 1999, he was in his early forties. Part of his backstory was that the house he inherited from his parents, in the Marina District of San Francisco, was destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. No problem, since it was only 10 years earlier, right?

Wrong. It's a problem. The third Eamon Gold novel, Brittle Karma, will be released by Black Arch Books this summer. It’s now twenty-one years after I first wrote Grass Sandal. By my best estimate, Gold and I are now both in our middle 60s. He was always at least a decade older than his girlfriend, Heidi Fluhr, who is in her thirties. Now he's at least thirty years older. In my head, he's still in his middle forties. History, however, says otherwise.

I dodged this problem with Pat Gallegher, my New Orleans-based marquee protagonist, by writing myself a rule that all his novels take place before Hurricane Katrina, and all his short stories take place between 1999's Joker Poker and 2001's Voodoo That You Do. So, despite the fact that the fifth Gallegher novel—Paid In Spades—came out in 2019, twenty years after Joker Poker, Gallegher is permanently between 48 and 52.

Parker and Atkins solved the problem of a geriatric Spenser by invoking magic, declaring that Spenser, Hawk, and Susan simply don't age, even though all the ancillary characters like Vinnie Morris, Martin Quirk, Lieutenant Healy, and Henry Cimoli grow decrepit and move into retirement.

I happily admit that my Eamon Gold series is a Spenser clone. George Pelecanos would refer to Gold as one of ‘Spenser’s Sons.’ I simply decided, in tribute to Robert B. Parker, to also allow my protagonist and his squeeze to defy the laws of nature and—like Peter Pan—simply never age. Details, right?

Eamon Gold might not age, but his creator certainly does. I recently attended my first Medicare physical exam. The hair that falls to the floor during my monthly visits to Great Clips gets grayer by the year. Things ache that didn’t ache before, and the aches aren’t going away. However, I am remarkably impressed—despite the inevitable pull of gravity and the countdown timer clicking away in my genes—that, at sixty-five, I’m still active and vibrant. My shock at my lack of total dilapidation at a point in life when most of my ancestors were already dead has inspired me.

In Brittle Karma, I include a character who is a porn star in his fifties. Gold is curious as to how he keeps working in a business that seemingly dotes on youth and vitality. The character says, “Easy. There’s a market for middle-aged actors. Boomers, man. They dug in and aren’t letting go. The Sixties kids are retiring, with lots of disposable income and a burning desire not to relinquish their youth and sexuality. If anything, they become even more sexually adventurous as they age. Half the swing clubs in San Francisco cater to people over fifty. It’s like a sea of gray. Granny porn is a real thing these days. People want to watch other people who look like them.”

Likewise, I believe Boomers—still the largest consumer group for genre fiction—want to read mystery protagonists who look like them and share their cultural history. Recently, I penned a screenplay for an independent filmmaker who insisted I use my New Orleans protagonist Pat Gallegher as the lead character. However, I wrote it in modern day, fifteen years after Gallegher’s novel adventures. He’s older by a great margin, and feels it, but in the end, he is still the knight errant of his youth. Our bodies may change, but our character still shines through.

One of my short stories, “See Humble and Die” (The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2019) was recently selected for inclusion in Houghton-Mifflin’s The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, edited by Otto Penzler and C.J. Box.  This story features a retired Texas Ranger in his early seventies who fends off the boredom of retirement by hanging out a P.I. shingle and serving legal papers. As I wrote it, I saw seventy-five year old Sam Elliott as my protagonist, Huck Spence. And, you know what? It worked. I can still imagine Elliott kicking ass and taking names, and I bet you can too. When it comes to heroics and good old-fashioned knuckles-and-know-how detective action, there’s a market for tough old birds like Huck Spence.

As my character in Brittle Karma noted, the Boomers are dug in and not letting go.  We’re the generation who said, “We’re never growing old!”, and we’re keeping that promise. We deserve literary characters who look and think the way we do, even if we might need to suspend our disbelief, just a tad, to make them plausible.

08 November 2019

Bad TV in the Early 1950s



OK, TV was in its infancy and people at home watched any free entertainment they could watch. But some of the stuff was bad.

Researching for my 1950s private eye series, I needed information about early TV and it's a hoot. Thank God for YouTube where you can see snippets and full episodes of TV shows on air between 1950-1953 such as simpleton private eye shows like pipe-smoking Martin Kane, Private Eye who always paused in the middle of a case to visit his tobacconist to secure more pipe tobacco. The show was sponsored by the United States Tobacco Company.

William Gargan as Martin Kane, Private Eye

Other clunkers included Rocky King: Inside Detective, The Plainclothesman and Saber of London, where a British police inspector comes to New York City to show the colonials how to solve homicide cases. There were a few detective shows not completely terrible like Boston Black, Sky King and Dragnet.

Mr. and Mrs. North starred Richard Denning and Barbara Britton as husband and wife sleuths was a real sleeper (not the good kind, he kind that put the viewer to sleep). This prim couple slept in separate beds. Common with early TV.

Barbara Britton and Richard Denning as Mr. and Mrs. North

TV was filled with insipid variety shows and a glut of westerns like Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys Wild Bill Hickok, The Lone Ranger, The Gene Autry Show, Death Valley Days and others.

I Love Lucy was a big hit, although I never liked it, just as I disliked The Red Skelton Show. I thought Skelton was a nincompoop. I was a strange child. And there was the awful Amos N' Andy.

Lot of game shows like What's My Line?, You Bet Your Life and I've Got a Secret. There were some good dramas on Four Star Playhouse and Masterpiece Playhouse and others.

Some good TV crept through like Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners, Candid Camera and George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman and my favorite – Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows with writers Carl Reiner (later The Dick Van Dyke Show), Neil Simon (The Odd Couple), Broadway's Lucille Kallen, Danny Simon (The Carol Burnette Show), Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), Michael Stewart (Bye Bye Birdie) and the great Mel Brooks.

Early TV science fiction shows bordered on comedy like Captain Video and His Video Rangers and semi-serious pieces with unsophticated special effects like Tales of Tomorrow.



Captain Video and his Video Ranger. Love the helmets and goggles.

The series reportedly improved after 1952 with scripts by SF writers James Blish, Arthur C. Clarke, Damon Knight, Jack Vance with occasional input by Isaac Asimov, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and others.

Another hit science fiction show was Tom Corbett – Space Cadet.

The picture says it all.

Links to episodes on YouTube:

SPECIAL UNCONNECTED NOTE:
Ever notice when they appear, flotsam and jetsam are always together on beaches in novels and short stories? Flotsam never shows up alone. Neither does jetsam. According to four dictionaries – flotsam and jetsam are marine debris associated with vessels. Flotsam is debris not deliberately thrown overboard, debris from shipwrecks or accidents. Jetsam is debris thrown overboard by humans, trash or item tossed overboard to lighten a ship's load.

So, if a beach has flotsam and jetsam, the beach is multitasking. Pretty cool.

Dead trees, driftwood, coconuts, leaves, sticks and other natural things are not flotsam or jetsam. They are debris.

OK, there were many GREAT movies in the early 1950s, which will be the subject of a subsquent posting.

That's all for now.
http://www.oneildenoux.com




27 September 2019

A little about Private Eyes


by O'Neil De Noux

We all know there is no one-way to write, no one type of private eye, no rules – except to write clearly.

In the latest Reflections in a Private Eye newsletter of the Private Eye Writers of America, PWA President J. L. Abramo presents some wisdom from Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder.

A few snippets struck me. The world of the PI – "It is not a very fragrant world." True. Like police officers, private eyes often see humanity at its worst and "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid." Chandler explains, the private eye "must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man."

Interesting. A lot to think about there.

Of dialogue, Chandler tells us, "He talks as a man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

I like that explanation.

To Chandler – "The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure."

Man or woman, I say. Not many female private eyes when Chandler was writing.

Chandler also says, "I do not care about his private life."

Here is where I differ from the master. I have two private eye series characters and their private lives are too important to be ignored.  In one, a lone wolf private eye who was a womanizer in the early short stories and first two novels in the series, changes overnight when an eight-year old girl with a small suitcase is left in front of his office. She is his daughter from a short liason he had before he went to war (WWII, of course). This lightning bolt transforms him. He has a little girl and this hard man is a single father now with a most precious mission. Raising his daughter.

In the subsequent books, his life with his little girl takes up many pages in the books as both characters lead me through the book. I follow behind recording what they do as the PI works his cases.

Private Eye, Barracks Street, New Orleans

In my other PI series, the private eye is married to a wealthy woman and their personal life, along with their two rescued greyhounds, take an ever increasing role in the books. One of my previous agents suggested I kill off the wife to make the detective's life harder and sadder. I fired the agent instead. Most of the emails I get about this series talk about the wife's interactions with the PI.

Do I care how I've deviated from the formula? Not one bit. Ray Bradbury quotes Spanish poet and Nobel laureate Juan Ramon Jimenez at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451 and I agree – "If they give you ruled paper write the other way."

There is a lot more to the private eye than we have seen from any of us. I say go for it.

That's all for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com





06 October 2017

More About Inspirations



by O'Neil De Noux

I started writing in high school and in college, nothing publishable. When I became a road deputy (patrol officer), I took note of what I observed and felt. Notes I'd use to inspire stories. When I became a homicide detective, I knew - this is what I should write about. While my first two novels were not inspired by real cases, the anecdotes in the books were. The small stories and the way the characters talked and thought.

My third novel BLUE ORLEANS is based on a real case we worked. Not only a whodunit, it was a whoisit as it started with a dumped body. Didn't take long to identify the victim as a New Orleans drug dealer, which led to his family and friends, which led to the solution of the case. I jazzed it up in the novel, put in a little sex and violence, created a femme fatale.

   LaStanza Novels 3, 4, 5

My fourth novel CRESCENT CITY KILLS is a telling of another dumped body case, the case of two young New Orleans women executed on the river batture (land between the levee and the water's edge, in this case the Mississippi River). In real life, the murders occurred in Jefferson Parish. In my book, I moved them back to New Orleans were my recurring character NOPD Homicide Detective Dino LaStanza could work it. Condensing the 13-month investigation wasn't hard but pacing the novel was difficult.

Those books also had strong ancillary plots - LaStanza's personal life. But I was fortunate to have a framework. Real cases.

The inspiration of my fifth novel, THE BIG SHOW, came from a phone call from Harlan Ellison who said he had an idea for LaStanza. He gave me flashes of an opening scene and suggested I run with it. I did. All he asked was for me to put an acknowledgement: Thanks Uncle Harlan. Which I did. I made up the rest of the story. Inspiration from a phone call.


The third novel in my Lucien Caye Private Eye series - HOLD ME, BABE (which was a finalist for this year's SHAMUS Award for BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PRIVATE EYE NOVEL) - was inspired by a conversation with my literary agent Joe Hartlaub (who is also an agent for musicians). He relayed an emotional story about a lost song. I got caught up in the emotion and was inspired.



Hurricanes are inspiring. Look at the flood of Hurricane Katrina-inspired books. I waited eight years before penning CITY OF SECRETS, a story triggered by the haunting poem "Eternal Return" by James Sallis. Sometimes you just have to let an idea ferment.

We writers get inspiration from a lot of sources. The night my wife walked into my home office with a catalog (either a Victoria's Secret or Frederick's of Hollywood catalog) and showed me a new product - the kissable cleavage bra. I made note of what she said, then wrote a story "Kissable Cleavage" that's been published three times. Sorry, don't have a picture of the brassiere to share.

Sometimes it's the little things, sometimes the big ones. Whatever causes emotion in a writer can cause emotion in a reader if well written.

That's all for now.

www.oneildenoux.com