04 November 2017

Old Friends and Old Castles


In our columns at this blog, we Sayers of Sleuth try to stick to the subject of mystery writing. I'm often guilty, though, of wandering off topic (especially to things like movies and TV), and sure enough, my focus today is on a book of narrative nonfiction. But today's post is also vaguely connected to the mysterious, because if I hadn't become acquainted several years ago with fellow mystery writer Joseph D'Agnese, he probably wouldn't have recently offered me what turned out to be an interesting opportunity.

Here's what I mean. Back in early September Joe emailed me from his home in North Carolina to tell me his wife, Denise Kiernan, was about to do a nationwide tour for her new book, The Last Castle. In fact I had already heard about the book, and had even pre-ordered it from Amazon a month or so earlier, partly because my wife Carolyn and I had so enjoyed Denise's previous book--a New York Times bestseller called The Girls of Atomic City--and partly because The Last Castle is a narrative history of the Biltmore House, an attraction in Asheville, North Carolina, that we've visited several times over the years.

Anyhow, Joe also explained in his email that one of the stops Denise would make on the tour was Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and that Denise usually prefers not to do a solo reading/signing; when possible, she asks someone she knows to come and appear with her at the event, and in effect interview her about the book in the popular "a conversation with the author" format. And since I'd met Joe and Denise a couple of years ago in Raleigh and we've swapped several books and emails since then, he asked if I'd like to appear with Denise at the event in Oxford, which is only about three hours' drive from my home near Jackson.

So that's what we did, on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 25. I drove up there, met with Denise beforehand to strategize and catch up a bit, and then she and I spent an hour or so discussing her book in front of an audience of readers and writers. She was of course a better interviewee than I was an interviewer, but I think we all had a good time, and everyone (except Denise, already an expert) learned a great deal about the famous Biltmore estate, the Vanderbilts who constructed it, and America's Gilded Age. Afterward she signed a bunch of books and we all stood around and chatted until seven or so, at which point I headed home and Denise drove to Memphis to catch a flight the following morning to New York, her next stop. (She'd spent the previous two days in Seattle and L.A. I remember once being told that national book tours are like attending Epcot Center in Florida: Every Person Comes Out Tired.)

I should mention here that Square Books is one of several excellent and widely-known independent bookstores here in Mississippi--others include Lemuria in Jackson and Turnrow in Greenwood--and that the bookstore staff there in Oxford showed both of us an incredibly warm welcome. Many thanks to Richard Howorth, Alissa Lilly, Toby Morrison, and everyone else at Square Books. Denise had been to Oxford twice before, to speak at Ole Miss, and my most recent trip there was as one of the signers of Mississippi Noir a year ago, but we both agreed that this trip was the most fun.


A final note. Like The Girls of Atomic City (subtitled The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II), The Last Castle is a fascinating book about a fascinating place and time in our history. Many of you probably know that the Biltmore House is the largest private residence in America, a sort of giant French Renaissance chateau constructed by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s. What you might not know is that the house is 175,000 square feet (larger than the castle where Downton Abbey was filmed), with 250 rooms, 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, located on an estate of around 125,000 acres. And the people involved in its history are no less interesting than the setting. According to the description/subtitle on the front cover of Denise's book, The Last Castle is "the epic story of love, loss, and American royalty in the nation's largest home." I couldn't have said it better myself. And by the way, this book also made the New York Times bestseller list, as soon as it was released.


If you've read The Last Castle already, you know what a literary achievement it is. If you've not read it, I hope you will. It's a marvelously entertaining and eye-opening look at not only an American landmark but at America itself.

To Joe D'Agnese and Denise Kiernan: Thank you for allowing me a small connection to all this. I had a great time.

03 November 2017

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month!


Bluto cosplayer Thomas Pluck


Thomas Pluck

November is National Novel Writing Month and you're three days behind already!

NaNoWriMo for short, you're about to get flooded with word counts on social media as people try to write 50,000 words in one month. Steve Liskow wrote about this last month, and he gives courses on it, so check out his post for an introduction. I wrote my first novel, a draft called Beat the Jinx, for NaNo 2011. After three more drafts it would become Bad Boy Boogie, my second published novel, and the first in my Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller series. The drafting and rewriting is the important part, here. There's a National Novel Editing Month in March, to give you time to rest and sit on the manuscript so you have perspective, and I highly recommend taking time off and editing whatever you blast through this month, especially if you are a newer novelist.

What's new to me this year is that it's the first time I've had a novel under deadline. The second Jay Desmarteaux novel is due in mid-January, and as of now it's called Born on the Bayou. It's set entirely in Louisiana, drawing on my many visits there, and I've had many of the scenes in my head for a long time. I put together a rough outline: I like mileposts, which I can move or swerve to avoid, rather than a strict structure. Another writer called this "writing to the end of the headlights" and I like that, having just enough road to see where you're going, but not knowing where you might end up. That way the reader will hopefully be as surprised as you are.

So I cheated a bit for this year's NaNoWriMo. I began just before Bouchercon. I wanted to wait until after the convention, when I was full of energy from talking with readers and fellow writers, but I couldn't wait. I sat down and wrote the opening chapter--a prologue, even--and I've read it at two Noirs at the Bar already. The audiences have liked it. I took a big chance there, because if it went over like a fart in church, I might have been discouraged to write further. Or agonized about the direction the novel was going. So I got lucky, there. As of last night when I hammered out 2,000 words, the manuscript is around 16,500 words as November begins. So I'm cheating, kind of. It's easier to write when a novel is in motion. Inertia and all that. So my plan is to hit at least 66,500 by midnight November 30th, and have 75,000 by mid-December, giving me a month to edit (without a rest) before it goes to the publisher. This is the tightest deadline I've ever been on.

Bad Boy Boogie went through four drafts before I queried. My beta readers liked it, but a very generous agent--Elizabeth Kracht--gave me good notes on the beginning, and I amped things up for a final draft. I essentially pulled the infamous "chapter 3 is now chapter 1" switcheroo, putting strong action in the first chapter where there had been a slow burn. And it worked. My editor at the publisher had no developmental edits. Oh, there were plenty of edits to be done, but the bones were good. The novel needed a chemical peel. This is a bit of a tangent, but you should make a list of "problem words" you use and search for them before you write "final" on your draft. Some of problem words are "just," "only," "But," and "So," and you can add "ly " if you overuse adverbs. My characters nod and grin and wince and grimace and squint more than Clint Eastwood in need of Ex-Lax, as well.

This draft feels cleaner than my previous ones, as I am getting better at editing on the fly. I also go back and edit as I go, and sometimes read the last chapter I wrote before I begin the night's writing. I'm a nightowl with the writing, I wish I could do it first thing in the morning. Charles Willeford suggested writing before you use the bathroom in the morning, much less a cup of coffee. I couldn't hack that, I prefer to start between 8 and 9pm and write until 11;30, and read for a half hour before bed. It's good to have a reward set. The few TV shows I still watch? I don't use them as rewards because I like to watch them with my wife. And some of them are news shows, and it's good for me to get riled up before writing.

So are you joining NaNoWriMo this year? It's about 1350 words a day. You don't have to write every day to be a writer, but I like Larry Block's admonition, "you can't write four lousy pages?" It can seem insurmountable, but having a pro diminish it so casually makes it feel less so. To do this you need to trust your voice and silence the inner critic. As Joyce Carol Oates says, write fearlessly.

This doesn't mean you should be able to bang out a book a month or even in a year. Everyone is different, and I feel that the "book a year train" has hurt a lot of writers whose best work had more time to simmer, but this is a challenge you don't have to accept. If you've been hemming and hawing about writing a book, there are worse ways to tackle it than NaNoWriMo. You'll have a bunch of us cheering you on.

Ready?
Set?
...
Go!



02 November 2017

Ten Years Gone


by Brian Thornton

I'm 52. I'm happily married, with a challenging day job, and an even more challenging five year-old son. Don't get me wrong: when I say, "challenging," I guess what I really mean is "tiring." My kid is great, and he's a ton of exhausting fun.

When I was 42 I was single, with the same day job, and no kids. I had published my first book two years previously, at the age of 40. I had time to write every day. And when it came to generating content, I was a machine.

Ten years ago this week I accomplished the unlikely (I hesitate to call it "impossible," for reasons I hope will become obvious as you read on.).

I wrote 80,000 words in eight weeks, while working a full-time day job.

And when I say, "I wrote 80,000 words in eight weeks," I don't mean that I sat down and wrote 1,000 words per day, and then went back and fixed things later.

No.

I started from scratch the first day of September, and turned in two completed 40,000 word manuscripts to my publisher on November 1st, exactly eight weeks later.



Without going too deeply into the circumstances which led to my landing in this situation, let's suffice to say that I double-booked my time, got in the middle of a tug-of-war between two editors (one fantastic, the other, well... NOT fantastic) who worked at the same publisher, and voila: I was up against a short, short deadline.

Now, bear in mind, my day gig is teaching. Can you guess which part of the year is highest impact for me as a teacher: which part of the year demands the greatest portion of my headspace and energy, which part requires the greatest investment of extra time outside of the regular workday?

Here's a hint: it ain't summer!

Looking back, I can hardly believe I managed to pull it off. Then I stop to think: I didn't have a mortgage, a marriage, or a child to take care of. I had my work and my friends and my writing.

So, I didn't have a lot of claims on my time.

Fast-forward ten years, and I have completed eleven books, sold ten of them and had nine actually see publication (the book I wrote and sold, but which was never published was a nonfiction piece about teaching that the publisher paid for but ultimately decided it couldn't sell in the current marketplace. I had been approached to write the book, so it was work for hire, and as a result, I wasn't all that attached to it. So I supposed you could say of my emotional reaction to the news that my publisher was honoring the contract but had decided to shelve the content they'd  commissioned, that my feelings were hurt right up until the check cleared.).

And not of one of them published since 2011.

I got married in 2010, and my son was born in 2012. The money from that last book helped pay for my honeymoon.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

My priorities at 52

I've written plenty in the intervening years, and published a bit of short form stuff, kept my hand in, if you will. I've done my best to improve across the board.

I have few illusions about my strengths and shortcomings. I have a finite amount of both energy and headspace, and so my late 40s became all about priorities.

I love being married. And I am proud of my marriage, and the work my wife and I have put in to make it work. I have a lot of friends whose marriages seem to be cratering these days, people growing apart, priorities shifting. I feel for my friends going through this experience.

And because I met me wife later in life (I turned 44 the day after our first date), I don't think I have as much to worry about with regard to growing apart (*knock wood*) as those of my friends who married and had kids in their 20s.

But that's not something I'm prepared to leave to chance, and so I work hard at my marriage. The same goes for raising my son.

So he gets a lot of my time and attention. He didn't ask to be born, and by virtue of our relationship, he's more than entitled to everything I can muster on his behalf.

I'll admit there were times over the past five years when I despaired ever again finishing a writing project, let alone publishing it. Everyone has been there at one time or another, and this was my turn at this particular wheel.

And then a funny thing happened.

My son started preschool.

In the fourteen months since that blessed event occurred, I have written a few things of which I am particularly proud. I've also finished some things started long ago, and left to sit half-finished for a good long while. And I've started a few things about which I am incredibly excited.

I am not at liberty to go into detail about what's on the horizon, except to say this: I just wrapped up negotiations with a new publisher to get two of my long-form fiction projects into print in 2019.

TWO!

And there's so much more on the horizon. I have a couple of partially completed novel--length collaboration with other authors on track to wrap in late 2018/early 2019. And then there are the short stories and novellas.

The irony?

I have less unspoken-for blocks of time available to me than I did a decade ago, and yet I stand to be far more productive over the next couple of years than I was a decade ago when I averaged two books every eighteen months.

How?

Simple.

One: I'm more efficient at managing my time (a product of getting married/having a child).

Two: I'm a much better writer now.

Stay tuned to this space. More to come!


01 November 2017

Gutter Dwellers and Chair Thieves



“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde

A few months ago I read a story called "Crow Mountain"  by John Floyd in the latest issue of The Strand.  A good story it was, but what amused me was that it included a plot twist that I had used a decade before.


I am not suggesting anything nefarious.  First of all, John needs to steal ideas from me like  Bryan Bowers needs me to give him autoharp lessons.  (Slow down, Bryan!  Make some mistakes!)  But most important - if he had read my story and instantly said I can use that it would have still been all right.  It would be what Lawrence Block calls "creative plagiarism."  You take the original idea in use it in some new and original way.

Here's what I mean by the shared plot twist: If you read John's story and then started mine when you got to a certain point you might say: "Huh.  I bet I know how it ends."  And you'd be right  Same if you read mine first, then John's.

I told John I liked the story and mentioned the coincidence.  I said it reminded me of one of my father's favorite sayings: "Great minds run in the same gutter."

John graciously replied: "I’ll share a gutter with you anytime."

I mention this because I have a story in the new November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  (My 27th appearance there, he said modestly.)   And "The Chair Thief" definitely involved creative plagiarism.

I wish I could tell you who I stole from, but I don't know.  A few decades ago I went through all the mystery shorts I could find in the public library.  I fell in love with a tale by Lawrence Block and when his collected stories came out I looked forward to repeating my acquaintance with that one.  But it wasn't there.  

I emailed him, describing the story.  Larry politely replied that it sounded like a great idea, but it wasn't his.  So I'm stuck.

Here is the plot of that original story; A true paranoiac gets ready for his day, putting fresh tin foil in his hat to keep out the mind controllers, and wrapping his torso in plastic wrap to foil the death rays.  Then he goes out for a stroll.  Things happen.

My story, on the other hand, is about two office-mates who get mad at a co-worker.  

You might say "those two plots have nothing in common."  Well, maybe not.  But it comes down to what I said before: If you read them one after another you would probably guess how the second one ends.

But since the first one is lost, we don't have to worry about that.  

I hope you enjoy "The Chair Thief." And if anyone remembers the author and title of the other story, I wish you would let me know.

31 October 2017

Ghostbusters in La La Land


Do you believe in ghosts?

It’s Halloween, so I was trying to think of an appropriate post for such an auspicious day. And I think I finally hit on something. But first, I thought about doing Halloween movies, you know like Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween 3, Halloween 2077. Or The Exorcist. Or _________, well you fill in the blank. But it just didn’t hit me. What did hit me was a brief Magical Mystery Tour of a few of LA’s haunted places. As writers, we might sometimes use the supernatural in our stories, but do we really believe? Maybe, maybe not. So let’s check out some “real life” ghost sightings.

But before we really get started on the tour, how ’bout a little mood music, Sleeping With a Vampyre, from Brigitte Handley and the Dark Shadows:


So now, as Jackie Gleason (I’m sure he’s haunting someone, somewhere) used to say, “And away we go”:


~The Biltmore Hotel (506 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles) is the epitome of elegance. On the
outside it’s a mash of styles, but inside it looks like some minor principality’s grand palace, filled with marble fountains, frescos and other lavish appointments. Oh, and maybe a ghost or two.

The 1960 Democratic National Convention that nominated the alphabet team of JFK and LBJ was held there. Many of the early Oscar ceremonies were also held there. And there’s been sightings of various ghosts. The most famous is probably Elizabeth Short, though you might know her better as the Black Dahlia. Some people claim that the last place she was seen alive was at the Biltmore and that her ghost returns often to the lobby. Boo!

Millennium Biltmore Hotel-10371203123
The Biltmore Hotel lobby
photo by Prayitno via Wikimedia Commons
In my story, Ghosts of Bunker Hill (Ellery Queen, Dec., 2016), I talk a little about the Biltmore:

I felt Bandini at my side as I stared across at the Biltmore Hotel. No, I’m not crazy. I’m not saying I saw a ghost. Just a feeling. Then, something flitted by on the edge of my peripheral vision. Across the street in the Biltmore: JFK sipping champagne cocktails at his inauguration party. Swells drinking bathtub gin in the Gold Room, a sort of speakeasy for the upper crust during Prohibition, hidden in the depths of the Biltmore. Oscar ceremonies and celebs. Mae West and Carmen Miranda partying. Ghosts of the past. Now I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t.


~The Comedy Store (8433 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA) on the Sunset Strip used to be Ciro’s nightclub. The famous, or infamous, Strip is in an unincorporated area of LA County. Because of that it’s patrolled by the Sheriffs, not the LAPD. And because of that enforcement of certain laws there, like gambling and prostitution, wasn’t quite what should have been, shall we say, at least in the past. That, of course, brought in a “certain element,” the head honcho of which was Mickey Cohen, LA’s mob boss, along with his pal Bugsy Siegel.
Ciro's Nightclub

Ciro’s was a hip place in the 40s and 50s, affiliated with the mob and even more pointedly a mob hang. There were peepholes in the walls of the main rooms so mobsters could watch the comings and goings. And the basement was more like a medieval dungeon—like they say in LA Confidential of the Victory Motel, lots of bad things happened in the basement at Ciro’s. Killings. A torture room. So you better have paid your gambling debts and not bothered the show girls.

Today, the basement is said to have a very oppressive atmosphere—I guess it’s all those tortured souls trying to escape and find some peace. Some employees refuse to go there, especially after one saw an evil being. Some people think it was a malevolent ghost, but it might just have been Harvey Weinstein.

Comedy Club employees also claim to hear voices and cries of anguish coming from the basement. Some claim to have seen Mickey’s enforcer, Gus, watching the crowds during performances, so you better damn well be funny.


~Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, CA), the cemetery to the stars. If you ever wanted to attend an A List party, check this place out. Everyone’s here, from Valentino (he who needs no first name) to Tyrone Power, Hattie McDaniel and Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone (well, one of them in spirit only, there’s a statue of Johnny but his wife kept his ashes). And let’s not forget that Bugsy guy—he’s here. As is Ann Savage, star of the great B noir Detour. I’m not sure who’s more savage him or her, at least her character in that flick.
Dee Dee Ramone's grave

People have reportedly seen Valentino’s ghost strolling along the paths. But there was definitely a ghostly woman who dressed all in black—the Lady in Black—who brought flowers to his resting place for years and years on the anniversary of his death because he had told her at one time that he didn’t want to be alone.

And Clifton Webb, who when I think about it would indeed make a good ghost, is also said to haunt the place. He played Mr. Belvedere. Also Waldo Lydecker in Laura and Hardy Cathcart in The Dark Corner, so his noir bona fides are in place (Belvedere notwithstanding). It’s said that his spirit haunts the Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum with drafts of cold air, scents of his cologne and whispered voices from people who aren’t there. It’s especially spooky if you can’t stand the scent of his cologne.

Virginia Rappe, the young woman that Fatty Arbuckle is supposed to have raped at a wild party, and who died shortly after, is also resting here. Well, maybe not quite resting. An icy coldness is said to surround her grave, even on hot days. The sound of crying can also be heard.

With all the well-known people here, I’m sure these aren’t the only folks haunting this place.
And it just so happens I wrote about Hollywood Forever in my story Continental Tilt (Murder in La La Land anthology):

In the heart of Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, a vampire movie played on a humongous silver screen. This wasn’t your usual movie venue, but the crowd of seven hundred loved it. Spread out on beach chairs and blankets, with bottles of wine and beer, Boba tea, doing wheatgrass shooters and eating catered Mexasian sushi, fusion food for the Millennial-iPod generation.


Did I forget to mention that the movie theatre was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the heart of Hollyweird? That over the summer they show movies on the mausoleum wall, while people sit on their beach chairs and blankets—Beach Blanket Bloodshed—and munch their munchies amongst the graves of movie stars, rock stars and even mere mortals? The back wall of the cemetery, clearly visible from the field of graves the watchers watched the movies from, was appropriately the back wall of Paramount Studios.

Ghosts of a million stars haunted this place, from Tyrone Power and Rudolph Valentino to Fay Wray and Bugsy Siegel—a star in his own right. From Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone to Hattie McDaniel and Iron Eyes Cody to Mel Blanc, the Man of a Thousand Voices—Bugs and Porky, Daffy and Tweety and 996 more—whose tombstone simply read “That’s all folks!”





~The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA) is a famous haunt, excuse the expression, of the rich and famous. The Roosevelt debuted in 1927, right on Hollywood Boulevard, sometime after the No Dogs, No Actors people moved out of the area, no doubt. The Roosevelt held the very first Oscars, well before the TV era, so they were actually about a nod to movies and the people who made them, instead of one gigantic commercial. And, as such, the hotel was home to many stars.
The Roosevelt Hotel
by Bohao Zhao via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the most famous ghosts are Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe, you might have heard of her. Maybe him too.

People say Marilyn haunts room 1200, her old room. They see her in the mirror. They see her in the halls and the lobby. People claimed to see her in the room’s mirror long after her passing. So the mirror was moved to the lobby—but people persisted in claiming to see her. Eventually it was moved to storage, but her ghost still haunts the hotel.

And Clift is said to haunt room 928, patting guests on the shoulders (hmm, I wonder if Harvey Weinstein stayed in this room too. Sorry.) Carole Lombard, one of my faves, floats around the upper floors. I wonder what she’s looking for. Maybe I should head over there and ask her.

There’s also been some non-famous ghosts seen hanging around, but who wants to hang with them?


~The Cecil Hotel (640 S. Main Street, Los Angeles). Saving the best for last, or maybe the worst. This one’s so bad there’s a whole TV series devoted to it now.
The Cecil Hotel
By ZhengZhou (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The Cecil—I’ve always wondered who exactly Cecil was—was born in 1927, clearly a good year to start a hotel. With its opulent art deco lobby it was a place for business people to stop when in L.A. But the Depression did the hotel in and it never fully recovered. After that its 700 rooms became more of a place for transients and worse. And I do mean worse.

The Cecil’s best known resident is a chap named Richard Ramirez. You might know him better as the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized the LA/SoCal area in the 1980s. His weapons of choice included everything from guns and knives, to hammers, a tire iron and a machete. A Satanist, he never showed any remorse for his crimes.

Richie made room 1402 his home, where he slept by day, so he could do his thing at night. People said they’d see him coming through the lobby of the Cecil in bloody clothes, which he’d dispose of in their dumpsters. But nobody thought much of it at the time… That’s the kind of laid-back place the Cecil was.

But don’t fret for Richie. Once caught and incarcerated, he had plenty of fans writing him letters, even love letters. Seventy-five letters from Doreen Lioy must have made his heart warm ’cause he proposed and they were married in San Quentin Prison in 1996. (I hope he’s haunting her now.)
A few years after Ramirez was disposed of (he died of cancer in jail), another young man checked into room 1402. Jack Unterweger was an Austrian journalist, who did ride-alongs with the LAPD. That was as good a way as any to scope out his potential targets—he, too, was a serial killer. He wanted to emulate his hero, Richie, which is why he specifically asked for room 1402. Jackie was eventually caught and imprisoned. He hanged himself while in prison. I hope he’s enjoying being united with Ramirez. And I hope both are a little hot these days. John Malkovich portrayed him in stage show called Seduction and Despair. I haven’t seen it, but I’m not despairing about that.

More recently a young tourist from Canada, Elisa Lam, came to LA for a jaunt. She decided to stay at the Cecil, though I can’t fathom why. And soon went missing. Nobody knew what happened to her until one day some other tourists found brown, foul tasting water coming from their sink. To make a long story short, Elisa’s body was found in water tanks on the hotel’s roof and, though her death was ruled an accidental death due to drowning, there’s plenty of people who dispute that. And I’m sure the walls running with blood in The Shining have nothing on the black, foul-smelling bloody water in the infamous Cecil. And that’s for real, not a movie.

These are probably the most well-known people and things that went on there, but the hotel’s history is filled with grisly incidents and stories of ghosts haunting every floor and every room. Today the hotel has been remodeled and rebranded as Stay on Main, a sort of boutique-y hotel, so go ahead and stay there. Ask for room 1402 and enjoy your visit. If you’re lucky you’ll get to go home.
Amazingly enough, I happened to write about the Cecil in my novella, Vortex:

In the bright light of the full moon, the Cecil Hotel cast a sharp shadow across Main Street in downtown L.A., slicing the sidewalk like a double-edged knife. I don’t believe in omens, but if I did, this was not a good one. Some people say the Cecil is haunted, prowled by ghosts. It started life as a way station for business travelers in 1927. Since then it’s been through many changes, from budget hotel to SRO and the residence of serial killer Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker. A paramedic was stabbed inside the hotel a couple of years ago and a young Canadian woman staying there went missing. When the water started tasting bad and dribbling, instead of flowing, out of the faucets, someone decided to see what was wrong. They found her body in a water tank on the roof of the building. Yeah, the Cecil was a class act.

The Cecil was the end-of-the-line hotel—suicide central, with people jumping off its upper floors every other day, or so it seemed at one time. Since it was the end-of-the-line hotel of last resort somehow it seemed to be the perfect place for what I was sure was coming.



~I was also going to talk about the Sharon Tate/Roman Polański house on Cielo (10050 Cielo Drive), where members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered several people, but Fran Rizer (http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/10/not-named.html) beat me to it a week or two ago. So briefly, I used to take people there to see it before it was torn down. For some reason everybody wanted to see that place. I went there many times and never saw a ghost, but who knows…


Marilyn Monroe
Published by Corpus Christi Caller-Times-
photo from Associated Press via Wikimedia Commons
~And last but not least, places haunted by Marilyn Monroe. From what I can tell, she’s just about
everywhere in L.A. Her best-known haunt is probably the Roosevelt (see above), but she’s also known to haunt several other places. There’s been tons of sightings of Norma Jeane at the Roosevelt, everywhere from her former room, to the lobby and even in the Cinegrill restaurant. But the Roosevelt isn’t the only hotel that Marilyn’s ghost hangs out. The Knickerbocker Hotel (1714 Ivar Ave., Hollywood) is another place Marilyn used to hang. She and husband Joltin’ Joe liked to hang at the hotel bar. Her spirit is often seen staring at herself in the vanity of the powder room. And magician Harry Houdini’s widow held séances there for several years, hoping to hear from her departed husband.  William Frawley of I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, and many, many movies, fame lived there for many years. Might be a good place to go for a swell scare.

Marilyn Monroe's crypt
photo by Arthur Dark (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons



~Marilyn’s home (12305 5th Helena Drive, Brentwood, CA) is where her body was discovered after she took an overdose of pills. The house is still there and her ghost has been spotted many times over the years. And her grave, not too far from there, at Westwood Memorial Park (1218 Glendon Ave., Los Angeles, CA) is also where many sightings of her spirit have “materialized.” The Beverly Hilton Hotel (9876 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA) just east of Westwood (I like saying that: ‘east of Westwood’) is supposedly where Marilyn and Bobby Kennedy were thought to have been seen the very night of her suicide. And her ghost is supposedly haunting the suites there to this day. Boy, that’s one ghost that gets around.

So there you are—some of LA’s most famous haunted places. And this is just the tip of the haunted LA iceberg. C’mon to our fair town and get your haunt on. Maybe you’ll see Marilyn’s and JFK’s ghosts cavorting at the Biltmore or hear the howls of pain coming from the Comedy Store’s basement.
~~~~~

And for a little extra credit check out Janet Rudolph’s list of Halloween mysteries at:
http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2017/10/halloween-crime-fiction-halloween.html More Halloween mysteries than you can imagine.

And another bonus, the witch’s house in Beverly Hills:

The Spadena House aka "The Witch's House"
photo by Lori Branham



So, do you believe in ghosts now? And what ghosts haunt your fair city?

Mel Blanc's tombstone
Photo by Robert A. Estremo via Wikimedia Commons

That's All Folks!

***

And now for the usual BSP:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-52-paul-d-marks/


30 October 2017

Odds and Ends


Jan Grape As usual on Sunday morning, afternoon and evening, I'm wracking (or is it racking or wrecking?) my brain for something cogent to write for my blog article. All you other Sleuthsayers, who have two or three articles already scheduled and two or three emergency articles online, are just too good for me. I envy you all. 

As I reject one thought after another it occurred to me that maybe I've just written all that my brain file cabinet holds. If it's true that each of us only have so many cells in our bodies before we die then perhaps my brain only has so many words, I've just used them all up already.

So I decided I'd share the odds and ends of thoughts that came to me today. None of which could possibly be a full length article. 

First I thought about cats and dogs. You can kill off any number of people in a book but heaven help you if you kill a dog or a cat. We are all a bit crazy about our pets. Some folks are total dog people. Others are total cat people. And a huge percent are equally in love with both canines and felines. Personally, I love both dogs and cats although I haven't had a dog is over twenty years. It's just easier for me to have  cats that I don't have to walk. I know it's good exercise but I don't live in a neighborhood with level ground or sidewalks. 

Another thought was reading about how several years ago when the color pink - especially the sickly pink of Pepto-Bismol made men feel weakened. Could this calm prisoners down? A couple of commanding Naval officers at a correctional facility in Seattle painted the holding cells a pink color. The name became Baker/Miller Pink, named after the commanding officers. For five months it did seem to work. 

Soon prisons, visiting teams locker rooms and even housing projects all over the country turned up pink. Did it really work?  Probably not. Maybe people just got ill from the color or decided they didn't like it but it soon disappeared. Have any of you ever used color as a calming effect on your bad guy in your book?

Another idea.  Marriages; is having an affair better than getting a divorce? There are divided thoughts on this from psychologist and psychiatrists. We mystery writers think murder is the quickest solution except the perpetrator must be caught. We all know you just can't GET AWAY with MURDER. 

Of course, you  get away with murder if you come up with a perfect murder plot in your book. I think a few writers have but then along comes, Agatha Christie, or Jack Reacher or Sam Spade who solves the crime.

Please let me know if y'all have any thoughts on these odd subjects. And my apologies to Time magazine for any ideas from their pages.

Happy Spooky Day






29 October 2017

Plastic Fantastic Family Noir, Halloween edition


taxidermied Trigger
Taxidermied Trigger © Horse Nation
When I was a wee girl, my Grandfather Albert sat me on his knee and told me about singing cowboys. The famed Roy Rogers appeared in movies and television and restaurant chains. He owned a Jeep named Nelly Belle, a palomino named Trigger, a German shepherd named Bullet, and a wife named Dale. When his dog died, he had it stuffed by a taxidermist. When his horse Trigger died, he had it stuffed. When his wife died, I’m not sure if Roy had his woman taxidermied, but Grandfather would gaze fondly at Granny Crystal and say it made a beautifully sentimental story.

Then Granny Crystal died. She was a fine-looking woman with a trim figure and surprisingly perky C-cups. Grandfather started thinking about preserving his beloved. By then, technology had advanced. He considered Cryovac like the butcher uses for chickens in the market, but it was only a step up from Saran Wrap and subject to freezer burn even when double-wrapped.

About that time, Fox News ran a segment about Körperwelten, a German company that plasticizes human bodies for museums and exhibitions. Grandpa Albert got so excited, he took time out from Fox’s 134th definitive investigation into Vince Foster and asked me to google human plastination. He was disappointed to learn the cost to preserve Granny in plastic was €122 000 plus shipping and tax, even after saving $52 in freight costs by labeling her ‘non-GMO export product’.

Körperwelten Body Worlds
© Körperwelten Body Worlds

Then we found a Chinese company, Hoison Sun, which could fulfill his dream of keeping Granny forever for only $87. I expressed some skepticism about the low price, but he pointed out the vast difference between German engineering and Chinese sweatshop production.

“It’s guaranteed,” he said. “No cost of burial. No cost of cremation. Waste not, want not, I say. How could we go wrong?”

Revell Visible Woman
Visible Woman © Revell
He studied the photos and videos. About that time he remembered those Revell plastic models of ‘Visible Man’ and ‘Visible Woman’ and decided that was the way to go, a clear body– after all, her name was Crystal– where you could see the muscles and organs.

At a yard sale, we bought a huge styrofoam chest with a 7-Eleven logo on the side. We packed it with Granny and lots of dry ice. The UPS man grunted at the weight and asked with a wink if we were shipping dead bodies to China, ha-ha. I kind of tee-heed and said that would be crazy.

The German competitor required a year to plasticize bodies, so it came as a surprise a month later when our doorbell rang and the FedEx man struggled up the steps with a wooden crate from Guangzhou in the Guangdong province.

Grandfather pried off the sides with a claw hammer and then stared in awe. There stood granny in all her shimmering glory, naked right down to her muscles and bones.

Right away, we noticed one of the Chinese shortcuts. I never knew breast implants accounted for Granny’s perky boobies.

“I didn’t think they’d preserve those,” said Grandfather.

Her right rib was imprinted with the LG logo and the words “中国制造 ©李 隆丁, Tech Support call 800-867-5309.”

“Do you want to request a return RMA from tech support? She must be under warranty.”

He decided to think about it. The other problem was a sort of Tupperware-food-in-the-microwave smell, which grew more noticeable as the day warmed up. We learned the answer when Fox News reported a class action suit against the Chinese company for cutting preservation corners and a shortcoming in the curing process. Fox recommended turning the thermostat down to 58°. Grandfather decided he could live with that.

My next concern was my 12-year-old son, Bobby Jr. He invited his friends over and they stood around inspecting her perfect breasts and saying, “Wow, your great-grandmother is hot. Well, cool but hot, too.” That probably ruined the boys for life, thinking women grow implants like that.

I worry Bobby Jr may never have a love life at all. The lifelike glass eyeballs in Granny’s skull tend to rattle him.

He worked up a little bravery.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Uh… gall bladder, I guess. Come to think of it, your grandfather has a whole lot of gall.”

“And that?”

“That’s an ovary.”

“You mean where eggs come from?”

“Right.”

“And that?”

“That would be the womb and below that is where the cervix should be.”

Bridgitte and Ginger in Ginger Snaps
Brigitte and Ginger
Bobby turned pale. I never knew he had a queasy stomach. His goth sister Louise chain-watches Ginger Snaps and Scream, and drenches her ice cream in cherry-chocolate syrup to look like blood.

“So a baby’s supposed to… You mean a baby fits… How’s that possible?”

“It’s not. That’s why God makes spinal epidural blocks, anesthesia, and 1.5-litres of Southern Comfort.”

“You’re not planning to, uh, preserve Great-Grandfather Albert, are you?”

Grandpa's adage of waste-not, want-not, crossed my mind. By now, Bobby had turned greenish-grey.

“I’m not sure. He’s got ulcers, a softball-size prostate and his liver drips like a Toyota oil pan. Bobby… Bobby, are you okay?”

Thinking it would help illustrate, I dragged out the Revell Visible Man to present a male rôle model perspective, so to speak.

“See, there’s the liver, the kidneys, the pancreas and the prostate. Your great-grandfather’s is about fourteen times that size. Bobby? Bobby?”

He cracked his head against the table as he fainted. “Prostrate from the prostate,” said Grandfather unhelpfully. Fortunately surrounded by medical models, I was able to palpate his skull plates back in place and saved the expense of an ambulance to the emergency room.

Grandfather warmed Granny’s side of the bed with a hot pad and gently laid her on it. That struck me as a bit Norman Bates, but snuggling gives him comfort at night, especially under his blanket fort when he lights up her insides with a flashlight. He smells a little plasticky in the morning, so I turn the thermostat down to 58° and insist he tub soaks before coming down to breakfast.

I’m okay with Granny now. Tech support removed the silicone breast prostheses and applied extra body sealant. You can see straight through her perky boobs and from the side, they make an amazing magnifying glass. Grandfather uses them all the time when reading Sport Fisherman.

Bobby finds it extremely disturbing his friends play hacky-sack with the retired implants. Waste not, want not, I say.

28 October 2017

Uses for a Kindle (from a book addict) (Okay, Bad Girl)


by Melodie Campbell

Kath: Have you got a Kindle?

Me: Of course I have a Kindle!

Kath: Do you like it?

Me: It’s very pretty. It has a pink cover. And it makes a great paperweight.

Kath: But do you actually use it?

Me: I used it once as a flashlight during a power outage. Everyone should have one.

Kath: Why not get a flashlight for that?

Me: Flashlights make lousy paperweights. They roll off the table.

I am a Dinosaurette. In spite of that, I have a Kindle. It wasn’t my idea. People keep foisting them on me at Christmas. It’s the 21st century version of fruitcake.

Not only that, they multiply. The first died within months, probably from neglect (I didn’t kill it – honest.) The second was a prize from my publisher for top sales. I also have a Kobo. It was a Christmas present. It’s around here somewhere.

As you can see, I am not addicted to my Kindle. In fact, it is my opinion you have to be barking to be emotionally attached to a slab of machinery that displays words. That would be like being addicted to a printing press.

But Lord Thunderin’ Jesus, how I am addicted to books! Real books, that is. I see a pile of books on my bedside table, and I get excited. (Men, take note.)

Oh, the delight of holding a real book in your hand. The tactile feel of the paper, the visual lure of the cover… And the smell of the glue that binds each little paper together…(minty is best)

Bliss.

The trouble with an eReader is that every story you are reading on it looks and feels exactly the same. And that changes the experience for me.

I realize that a lot of people love to read on Kindles. I might even like some of them (people. Not Kindles.) But I highly suspect they are the same sort of people who actually like salad.

Thankfully, there are alternate uses for eReaders. (If you like salad, stop reading NOW.)

BAD GIRL’S USES FOR A KINDLE:
  1. Kindling. (okay, not really, despite the similar sounding name. Probably not the best way to start a fire. A Samsung phone is much better.)
  2. Murder weapon. (Whack the cheating bastard over the head with it. Continue whacking and alternately reading from 50 Shades. That should do it.)
  3. Frisbee. (see Murder weapon above.)
  4. Hockey puck (I live in Canada, eh.)
  5. Dog Toy (leatherette covers works best for this.)
  6. Fly-swatter (editor’s note: works great on spiders)
  7. Plus all the obvious uses: flashlight, paperweight, hot pad, furniture shim, bookmark, ruler, rolling pin, cutting board, door stop.
Finally, I would like to point out that you can’t decorate with Kindles. “Oh look at that beautiful bookcase of Kindles, Gladys!” said no one, ever.

Melodie Campbell got her start writing standup. People usually sit down to read her funny books. Sometimes they fall down. The latest:

27 October 2017

In The Zone


by
O'Neil De Noux

Writing while working full time was difficult, involving fitful nights for years and spurts of binge writing. Did it for so long I didn't realize when I was in the zone until I wrote an epic (320,000 word historical novel). For two years I lived in 1814 and 1815, wrote every evening after supper into the night, 8 to 10 hours a day through weekends and holidays. I did manage to spend a little time with my family.

Driving to and from my day job gave me time to think about the book and it was while doing this I realized I had been doing this since my first book. Zoning in and out of the story but letting it stay up front in my mind. Playing out scenes, watching and listening to the characters.

Retired now, I write every day and every night, even in the middle of the night when a character wakes me and starts doing things I have to write down or forget in the morning. Booting up the computer at 3 a.m. is no problem when you don't have to get up at 6 a.m. and head to a 10-hour work day. I recommend retirement.

Home Office

Home Office with helper

The Zone. It's sort of a Twilight Zone, sort of a separate existence, sort of daydreaming while doing other things. Weird. My wife will ask, "Where are you?" and sometimes, "When are you?" Sometimes she likes it when I'm there but not there.

Sometimes it's almost a trance. But always, ALWAYS, I have to get it down right away. I started with a tape recorder, moved to a digital recorder, moved to a smart phone and the wonderful Voice Memo application. Pen and paper still works when you're with company.

"Are you taking notes of what I say?"
This in a restaurant over dinner.
"Nope. I'm in 1951 at the moment and Lucien and Alizée won't stop talking."
Better when I smile and say, "Naw. Just figured out how I'm gonna kill a guy."

Gotta love the zone. Gotta love creating my own worlds and living in them through a book, sometimes a short story. How anyone writes without a vigorous imagination is beyond me.

That's all for now. I'm in the middle of a novel and Lucifer's hanging to a balcony by his fingertips.

www.oneildenoux.com

26 October 2017

The North Forty


With any luck, my husband and I just got back from a much-needed vacation, so here's an update from my friend Linda Thompson. She wrote this letter to a mutual friend of ours who lives in New York City, who likes to keep informed about life in Laskin, South Dakota... 
...Every summer as you know, a friend of mine goes on a dig with a group of archaeologists.  I've suggested that he could find really interesting things by staying in town and excavating my garden, but he just laughs.  He has no idea what can get buried in a small town.  Remember when Mary Olson killed her husband?  That asparagus bed's still pretty lush...  (I know, I know, it was never proven he was ever buried there, but you can re-read all about that here in "The Asparagus Bed".)

But the truth of the matter is, my friend only interested in dinosaurs.

Image result for wall drug dinosaur

Of course, America's been dinosaur-happy for a long time.  I was, too, once, but I got over it when I learned that birds were direct descendants of dinosaurs, which sounds sillier in a book than it does watching a flock of pelicans.  Pelicans are 30 million years old.  Pelicans are sharks with wings.  In flight they look like large albino pterodactyls, and I'll bet they'd whip the pants off of any leather-winged pterosaur stupid enough to not be extinct.  On the water, they patrol the lake with the same carefree approach of prison search-lights on a moonless night with bloodhounds baying in the background.  If I were a fish, they'd give me a heart attack.  As it is, they just give me the willies.



Of course, once you start observing things like that, you can't stop.  At least, I can't.  I started watching the crows and flickers stalking my yard, head cocked, one eye staring cold and unblinking down at the ground until they spot their prey.  Maybe I saw "The Birds" too young, along with "Psycho" and "Marlin Perkins' Wild America", but I believe birds spook more people than me:  why else would carry-out fried chicken be available in every convenience store in America?  It's our way of reassuring ourselves of our place on the food chain.



The reason I'm able to make all these observations is that my yard is the neighborhood wildlife sanctuary.  Besides the birds, a tribe of rabbits comes and frolics on my lawn every night.  This isn't because I leave out little nubbins of carrots and pretend that I'm Beatrix Potter.  It's because I have the only chemical-free lawn on my block, full of dandelions, clover, and creeping charlie.  (You can imagine how popular I am with my neighbors.)  The rabbits love it.  They eat and gambol and do all the things that rabbits do.  They must stay up all night doing it, too, because morning always finds a couple of them sprawled out on the grass like limp cats.  Sometimes a cat is sprawled out like a limp rabbit, not five feet away.  Who's imitating whom, I don't know.  All I know is that they're all too tuckered to move.

Now I don't mind the rabbits eating all the clover they can hold.  I'm certainly not going to eat it.  Nor do I mind them fraternizing with cats, although I think it proves the truth of the phrase "hare-brained".  What I mind is this Roman-orgy atmosphere they give the place.  The way some of them look, I expect to see little togas and vine-wreaths lying under the marigolds and zucchini.

Solanum melongena 24 08 2012 (1).JPGAnd there's the problem.  You see, my garden is in my front yard because it's the only place that gets enough sun to grow anything but moss.  In any major urban center - say 12,000 and up - I would have been run out of town on a rail for plowing up perfectly good sod to grow vegetables.

But here in Laskin, it's a tourist attraction. Every walker in town stops at my chicken-wire fence and comments freely about the condition of my soil.  My neighbors bring their out-of-town visitors over for the afternoon, which tells you something about the entertainment options of Laskin.  I stepped outside one day and found a dozen people, none of whom I knew from Adam's off-ox, standing around wondering why I put the beans there, why my peppers weren't blooming, and what in the world was THAT?  (Eggplant.)

No my North Forty is good clean family fun.  It's also a lot of hard work.  Note to Martha Stewart:  the real key to a perfect garden is to put it in the front yard, where every weed becomes public knowledge.  God knows that after years of this, my character has been thoroughly shredded, and what I should do is just quit, but that would start even more rumors...

I need an excuse, a reason, like an excavation.  I believe there's something under the potato patch.  We just haven't looked properly.  I need professional archaeologists.  After all there are dinosaurs on the property already, and it's not my fault if they've evolved to the point where they have feathers...

25 October 2017

Collaborators


French actress Danielle Darrieux died this past week. She was 100, her career beginning in 1931 and lasting until 2016. Her death notices all remark the fact that she stayed on in Paris after WWII broke out, and kept making pictures during the German occupation. Some of the obits go so far as to call her a Nazi collaborator. I'm guessing the story admits of rather a few more complications.



Let's begin with the fiction that French resistance to the Germans was fierce and widespread. Don't kid yourself. This was a wartime convenience, for Allied propaganda, and for French domestic political purposes after the war. De Gaulle insisted on it. It lifts us on angels' wings above the black market of hypocrisy, corruption, and grievance that characterized the Occupation. The pre-war climate in France echoed the America First movement in the States, a strong dose of appeasement and anti-Semitism, and there were more than a few French admirers of Hitler's scorched earth Jewish policies. And as for the Resistance, the Maquis itself was never organized into any unified chain of command, it was bitterly factionalized and fragmented, the Communists, the Free French, fugitives and draft dodgers and deserters. Lines of authority were disputed, one partisan group was as likely to rat out rival operations to the Vichy milice or the Wehrmacht military police as not.


How do you accommodate your occupier? Good question. We can look at Alan Furst's novels about wartime Paris and get a flavor of what it might be like, daily life in a captive capital. The World at Night, as it happens, is about the French movie biz, even, during the war, and how it was subject to German censorship. More accurately, pictures that didn't fit the bill simply weren't approved - were never greenlighted - so censorship, in that sense, before the fact. What do we make of the real-life example of Danielle Darrieux? When the Germans took Paris, in June of 1940, she'd just turned twenty-three, and her 30th film had been released, Battement de Coeur. I'm not making excuses for her, but twenty-three? In the movies since she was thirteen? Maybe she was a sheltered princess. We suspect, though, that she was a pretty savvy gal. She'd gone to Hollywood the year before, and made The Rage of Paris with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She was a bankable star, and the German movie industry understood both market value and how useful pictures were in the climate of opinion. Alfred Greven, the Nazi film czar in France, supposedly offered Darrieux a deal. She'd stay and make movies, they wouldn't send her brother to Germany as slave labor.

Blackmail puts a sifgnificantly different complexion on things. You give in the once, you're on the hook for more. The hole only gets deeper. Danielle divorces her husband Henri Decoin, who directed her in half a dozen pictures, and falls for the Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. (Army officer, diplomat, bag man, race car driver, and polo player, a favorite of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, he's usually characterized as the 'notorious' Porfirio Rubirosa - and the model for Dax Xenos, in Harold Robbins' novel The Adventurers. A whole other story, there.) Rubirosa fell foul of the Occupation authorities because he made no secret of his anti-Nazi sympathies, and they put him under house arrest in Germany. Danielle gets him sprung by agreeing to a publicity tour in Berlin. When next heard of, the two of them have managed to get to Switzerland, and they spend the rest of the war there.



In other words, we've definitely got some missing pieces along the way. Maybe it was all very ordinary, or maybe it was one hair's-breadth escape after another. Again, a nod to Alan Furst. I'm thinking Mission to Paris. But the story reminds me even more strongly of the Andre Cayyate movie Passage du Rhin - released in the U.S. in 1960 as Tomorrow Is My Turn, a truly cheesy title. (Cayatte directed Darrieux in 1942's La Fausse Maitresse, made under the German film industry's wartime sponsorship.)

Cayatte's picture is about two French soldiers, taken prisoner by the Wehrmacht at the beginning of the war and sent to work on a German farm. One of them (Georges Riviere) seduces the farmer's daughter and escapes to France. The other one (Charles Aznavour) stays at the farm. Back home, Georges takes up sabotage work with the Resistance, but he's eventually sold out to the Germans. A last-minute reprieve saves him from the firing squad, and then Paris is liberated. Charles is repatriated, and takes up where he left off, working as a baker, bullied by his wife. Charles goes to Georges and confesses he's miserable, Georges agrees to take Charles back to the German border. Charles crosses the bridge over the Rhine, stepping into an uncertain future, and meanwhile, the clouded past catches up with Georges. His girlfriend was sleeping with a high-ranking German officer during the Occupation, and he kept Georges from being shot. When the truth comes out, Georges' record as a war hero will be ridiculed, his girlfriend a German whore. She has to leave him. Fade-out on the two men at the Rhine bridge.

Okay, the summary makes it sound stupid, but it's not. It's about loyalties, and betrayals, and compromise, honor and shame, love and deceit, the whole nine yards, and the kind of thing French pictures are really good at. For our purposes, it's a late-breaking discussion (fifteen years after the fact) of questions the French preferred to turn a blind eye to, wartime derelictions. There's no denying some people showed incredible bravery, and some people were utterly contemptible, but a fair number were probably just trying to get by. It's a variation, or the obverse, of the Good German. 



I don't know what the moral is, or even if there is one. I suspect people play the hand they're dealt, and some of us rise to the occasion better than others. Darrieux didn't embarrass herself. Maurice Chevalier, Jean Cocteau, Sacha Guitry? A little less honorable. Arletty, whose acting career flourished during the Occupation, most famously Les Enfants du Paradis, got jail time for sleeping with the enemy. ("My heart is French, but my ass is international," she later remarked.) Sartre, who wrote for the underground paper Combat, says, "Everything we did was equivocal." Not to put too fine a point on it, pretty much everything they did was self-serving.

David Bell, reviewing Alan Riding's book about Paris during the Occupation, And the Show Went On, reminds us that the French basically lucked out, compared to what was going on in, say, Poland. French artists and intellectuals suffered chaos, and scarcities, and many dangers. But more than a few prospered. And most of them survived to argue about it another day. [The New Republic, 03-03-2011]

It's instructive, I guess, that I'm still raking over the coals myself. We simply don't know how we'd react in a claustrophobic climate of fear, which makes it harder to judge what they did. When you hear the tumbrels passing in the street, you don't want them stopping at your door.

24 October 2017

Not Named


by Fran Rizer                                                                


"To Kill or Not to Kill" was the intended title of this column. The topic was how to end a series since I'd just launched the eighth Callie Parrish mystery. thinking it might be Callie's final adventure.


Ring Around the Rosie, A SKULL FULL
OF POSIES
is the eighth Callie Parrish
mystery, and I planned it to be the last.
Guests each received a new bookmark,
modeled on the right by a reader at the
the book signing.


















I took the long way home from the launch and something happened that changed my mind about what to write.  I passed a familiar house.

This house was flipped back in 2010, but it's changed hands frequently since then. How much do the current residents know about the place?  Property values are based on more than location and physical condition. Real estate can be stigmatized by such things as phenomena stigma, public stigma, and murder/suicide stigma. This house would be classified as stigmatized.

Phenomena stigma refers to property "known to be haunted."  One famous case about this is Stambovsky v. Ackley.  Stambovsky sued Ackley because he bought property without knowing it had been featured in magazines as haunted.  He claimed this decreased the value and made the sale fraudulent.  The final decision in that case didn't determine the validity of the haunting, but the court did void the contract and refund Stambovsky's down payment.

749 15th Street, Boulder, Colorado, was 755 until 2001 when
owners requested a change of address from how it was known
when Jon Bonet Ramsey died there in 1996. The house has
changed hands frequently since the six-year-old's murder.
Murder/suicide stigma refers to property with decreased value because a murder or suicide has occurred there.  Milliken v. Jacono dealt with Milliken paying full value to Jacono for a house Jacono had bought far below market value because it had been the scene of a gruesome murder/suicide.  Randall Bell, a consultant on this case, had been involved in marketing the condo where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed as well as the Ramsey home where Jon Bonet died.

Jacono claimed Milliken should have researched the property before he bought it.  Milliken claimed he'd been cheated.  The court determined it would be impossible to determine the degree of loss of value from a murder or suicide in a home. Would it be greater based on the degree of violence of the murder? Would an ax killing decrease value more than a poisoning? They ruled in favor of Jacono. essentially "buyer beware." Perhaps prospective buyers should have structures inspected for termites and call Ghost Busters. Since then, many states now have laws requiring sellers to reveal murder/suicide property stigmas.

Known as the "Amityville Horror" house, the street number of
this house was also changed by new owners, but the place is
too well known for a different address to matter. It also goes
up for sale frequently.
To me, the house on Long Island where a man killed his parents and four siblings claiming "voices in the house" told him to do it, would be a case of both phenomena stigma and murder stigma, but when the situation is so well-known, there's a special name for it: public stigma.  Made famous as the Amityville Horror, this house is the perfect example of public stigmatized property in which the stigma is widely known. Another example is the home of the Menendez brothers.

In The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders says, "Crime, especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract . . . to know that murder is possible, just not here." Flanders spends 555 pages telling how people in the 1800s satisfied their fascination with murder through serialized handbills, tours of murder sites (both real and simulated), and stage plays. That fascination remains.  It's evidenced in books, movies, and television shows from Murder She Wrote through How it Really Happened to Forensic Files (where insomniacs can watch murder after murder all night long.)

I've been reading murder mysteries since childhood, but in 2009 my lifelong best friend was brutally beaten to death during an in-home invasion.  Her death brought the harsh, painful realization that murder in reality is far different from fiction or even true crime books. I was asked after her death if I would write about her homicide. The answer was and remains an emphatic "NO!" When I discussed this SleuthSayers column with a friend, he asked, "Would you live in a stigmatized home?"

10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon near Beverly Hills,California, was so
stigmatized by the murders of Sharon Tate and four others by the Manson Family
in 1969 that it was completely demolished in 1994. Years later, David Oman
bought adjacent land and built a new house 150 feet from where this one had
been. He claimed the Manson victims haunted his new house and made a
movie about it in 2011.   
After my friend's death, I helped her daughter with the house.  That's when I learned that law enforcement officers don't tidy up after themselves.  I cleaned the black fingerprint powder off my friend's headboard and other furniture. Could I live in her house?  I wouldn't want to because it would be a constant reminder of the sadness of her loss.  Would I live in another stigmatized home?  I don't really know.

Thoughts of stigmatized property rose from passing my friend's house on the way home from my most recent launch.  Suddenly Callie popped into my mind with an idea for a ninth Callie Parrish mystery. It will involve stigmatized property but will not be about my friend or her home. I'll probably be back in a year or so to tell you about it.

How about you?  Would you live in a stigmatized house?

Until we meet again, please take care of … YOU!