16 May 2020

Let's Get Cozy


Welcoming Kate Fellowes…
I'm pleased today to welcome my friend Kate Fellowes as a guest blogger. Kate is the author of six mysteries, most recently A Menacing Brew. Her short stories and essays have appeared in several anthologies, as well as Victoria, Woman's World, Brides, Romantic Homes, and other periodicals. She recently won the San Diego Public Library's Matchbook Short Story contest, meeting the challenge to craft a story only 50 words long. (I mentioned this in my column Super-Short Stories a couple of months ago.) A member of the national organization Sisters in Crime, Kate is a founding member of the Wisconsin Chapter. Her working life has revolved around words--editor of the student newspaper, reporter for the local press, cataloger in her hometown library. A graduate of Alverno College in Milwaukee, she blogs about work and life here and shares her home with a variety of companion animals. Kate, it's great to have you here at SleuthSayers!

— John M. Floyd

Let's Get Cozy

by Kate Fellowes

Working in a public library is the best day job for a writer, if you ask me. Every hour of every day, I'm surrounded by inspiration, in the form of successful authors, past and present. Each writer offers me a lesson on craft, character, and structure, and I'm an eager student.

When our book deliveries arrive and I slit the tape on each box, I wonder what new treasures I'll find to add to my to-be-read list. What have our patrons requested? What's on the bestseller list? Or the Book Club's?

Only one thing is guaranteed.

Every fiction order will contain a host of cozy mysteries.

Time was these were usually paperbacks but more and more authors are being published in hardcover now, a permanent commitment to life on the public library shelves. And almost always the books are part of a series. Indeed, publisher and distributor catalogs sometimes have multiple pages filled with nothing but listings for the newest installments in cozy series. I've dried up more than one yellow highlighter circling selections, especially wanting to try the entries that say "first in a series."

What was it, I wonder, about the manuscript that made an agent take on the author? What made a publisher extend a contract? What brought the book to the marketplace?

And will it be a hit with readers?

From my years at the Reference Desk, I know mystery readers are a loyal bunch when they find a favorite author. Thanks to authors' newsletters, patrons frequently know the next title and release date before I do. Their requests help us determine what to purchase, and their desire to read series books in chronological order helps point out holes in our collection.

A year ago, my library won the Sisters in Crime "We Love Libraries" contest and received $1,000 to put toward the purchase of books. We bought cozy mysteries and plenty of them, including many new-to-us authors and firsts in series. They made a dazzling display with their colorful spines and intriguing covers. It was an interesting exercise to see which authors took off and which languished on the shelf. Some authors who might write multiple series had one series prove popular while another did not. This phenomenon especially interested me.

Cozies have specific hooks related to the story's geographical location, main character's occupation or hobby, presence of cats and/or dogs. Which of these most influence readers? I will always reach for the book with a cat or dog. If it's set on an island or seashore, even better. Add a bookstore or a library to the mix and that title goes to the top of my stack. Every reader has a similar list of requirements, I'm sure.

I can only hope I manage to tick off a few of their boxes when my own first cozy mystery joins the new bookshelf in May. There's a library, but no bookstore, a river but no island, and the cat won't show up until Book #2.

A Menacing Brew (Fire Star Press, May 2020) introduces Barbara York and her daughter Amy, the most amateur of sleuths. If Barbara hadn't found her old friend from college dead when she and Amy arrive at his house upstate for a visit, these two women as different as chalk-and-cheese would never have relied on or trusted one another. But knowing the police think the death is murder and that Barbara, the heir to the estate, is in the picture as prime suspect, they set aside their differences and work together to solve the mystery.

During their investigation, they meet many residents of the small town, Kirkwood. (Small towns are a cozy staple, of course.) Some of the citizens are happy to talk, while others remain tight-lipped.

Does the mysterious death of a student decades ago factor in to this latest crime? Does another death a century ago also play a part? And will Amy's parents, divorced for years, reunite in their grief over their lost friend?

Eventually, all these questions have answers, and finding my way to those answers was a joy.

I have sometimes read irritating articles about authors who have had plots spring to them complete, in a dream. Why does this never happen to me? I always think.

It still hasn't, but with A Menacing Brew, I can honestly say both Barbara and Amy showed up fully formed. They are so different from each other and so different from me that every writing session was an entertaining revelation. Having finally overcome my pantser instincts, I had actually made an outline. Even so, we were soon off track, and I was reduced to watching the action unfold while I took dictation.

Does writing get any better than that? Those magical, aha moments when some incidental little something added on a whim is revealed thousands of words later as a linchpin. The twists in a plot I swear my conscious mind never produced. The spark of life created by characters interacting in genuine ways, like real people I know. This is why I write, and why I always will.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Barbara and Amy as I give them a second puzzle to solve. It will be fun to see who joins them, there on the shores of Pulaski Lake, and how their lives unfold in their new hometown.

When I began my job at the library, newly graduated from college with a degree in English and several failed novels in a box under my bed, I dreamt of the day the library shelves would hold my own work.

A Menacing Brew is my sixth novel, following five romantic suspense titles, so my books have actually been in our stacks for a while now. But to me, every book feels like the first one. In a way, this one really is. My first cozy will be there beside those of my own favorite authors on the new book display!

Then, before we know it, the publishers' catalogs will arrive, full of fall releases, ready for librarians to order and patrons to read. I'll wear out another highlighter circling titles of cozy adventures, wishing I had time to read them all. Could there ever be such a thing?

15 May 2020

Craziness


Craziness

Thanks, John Floyd, for inspiring this posting with your May 2nd SleuthSayers posting Strange but True.

On vacation after my second novel The Big Kiss was published, a friend spotted a pretty woman reading my book as she sat in a beach chair next to the pool. My friend goaded me into going over and talking to her. After all – I wrote the book. I swam over and got close to the woman who continued reading with a smile on her face. I waited until she looked up to ask, "How do you like the book?"

She narrowed her eyes and said, "Preferably without interruption."

I swam away.


Pool without a pretty woman.

On another trip, I stopped at a truck stop for gas, went inside the gas station and spotted a rack of paperbacks which included my book Blue Orleans. As I moved close, a large, burly man picked up my book and read the back cover. I volunteered, "That's a good book."

"You read it?"

"I wrote it."

"The fuck you did."

I walked away.

Oh, my God. The nightmares at book signings. First thing I learned was to not dress up, don't wear a coat and tie because customers think you work there.

"Where are the Ann Rice books?"

"I don't know. I don't work here. I wrote this book."

"All by yourself?"

"No. I have elves. Like Santa."

No sale.

"You're not O'Neil De Noux. I went out with him and you're not him." This from a lady at a signing. Thanks goodness my brother was there because he remembered her. She had the wrong De Noux. Strange because my brother is 6" taller than me and looks like my father's side of the family (French) while I look like my mother's side (Italian).

"Hi, I'm your second murder victim," said the nice lady at a signing for The Big Kiss. She had the same name as the second victim in the novel but she never went for walk without her Doberman pincher. "If your victim had a big dog, she would be alive today, wouldn't she?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Got flashed at a signing. A buxomly blond woman opened her blouse and asked me to autograph her breasts. She worked on Bourbon Street. My brother hired her. A friend's wife became angry, said her 4-year old son saw the breasts and would be scarred for life. He grew up to be an opthalmologist.

At a signing in Eugene, Oregon, for my book Crescent City Kills, a man scooped up a copy and said, "Who the hell's dumb enough to write about Crescent City? Nothing happens there." I didn't realize there's a Crescent City, California.

Yet another signing a big man wearing a cowboy hat waved to the stacks of my different titles on the table and asked if I'd written all those books.

"Yes."

He picked up one, turned it over and said, "Then why haven't I ever heard of you?"

I shugged and asked his name then said I'd never heard of him.

He dropped the book and said, "You should. I'm the sheriff in this county." He snarled and walked off.

Uh, we don't have counties in Louisiana. We have parishes.

The 64 parishes of Louisiana. We had to memorize them in grammar school.

Sometimes, it isn't so crazy. At another signing, a young couple came in and I'm serious when I say they were the best looking couple I've ever seen. Both in their early twenties, both slim, both with long hair and soft tans. Newlyweds, they said, from the Seychelles. They were surprised I knew the Seychelles were in the Indian Ocean near Africa.

"Few Americans know this."

"Few Americans can locate Europe on a world map," I said.

When I autographed the book the woman spelled her name and I put it in my notebook. Never forgot it and she became a main character twenty years later when I wrote my novel USS Relentless – Ljilluana.

The Seychelles

The Seychelles

Finding humor during this pandemic is hard. Lost a friend and a distant relative to it. Both were younger than me.

That's all for now.
www.oneildenoux.com






14 May 2020

The Long & Short of Back Matter: A Primer For Writers


For reasons which I'll make public with my next blog post in a couple of weeks' time, I've been thinking a lot about "back matter." For the uninitiated, "back matter" is the industry term for the paragraph or so on the back of a paperback, intended as a tease, giving the prospective reader a thumbnail sketch as to what the book itself is actually about.

So for this week's blog entry I've brought in an old friend with tons of PR/marketing experience who also happens to be a writer of superb crime fiction. He graciously agreed to be interviewed in order to allow us to leverage his marketing experience and expertise on the subject of "back matter."

See below for my discussion with David B. Schlosser, marketing expert and award-winning author, whose industry bonafides can be found at the end of this interview:

Thanks for doing this, David. Let's jump in. Right off the top of your head, what is the first thing you think most writers need to hear concerning "back matter"?

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Period.

In most cases, Pascal’s advice pertains: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

For me, that means I usually write something long and then revise it until it’s shorter or short enough or fits the space. However, I think back cover copy is so different an animal that you need to start as short as possible and expand until it fits the space – or, more likely, about 10% less space than you think you have.

Everyone reading this like either knows what "back matter" means, or can guess it from context. From a marketing perspective, what do we need to know about the words on the back of the book that we might have considered on our own?

As a PR/marketing/ad guy, I’m acutely aware of the opinions most people share about the
nature of promotional material. I’ve grown over years of research and observation to respect the extraordinary sensitivity and accuracy of consumers’ BS meters. So what you really need to know is that the more hyperbolic your promotion, the less likely readers are to believe it.

The exception that proves the rule is humorous or satirical books that go completely over the top. Those types of outrageous claims – what courts recognize as “puffery” – succeed because they invite the reader into the essence of the book. In their dishonesty, they’re honest.

They succeed because they authentically tell the reader what they’re going to get. They simmer off the stock of your manuscript to leave an intensified reduction.

So what you need to know is that you’ve got 150-200 words to offer readers a genuine, authentic insight into the book you’re promising them. Tease them with the diamond they’ll get from the coal of your book:

Compressed and condensed to its most essential nature, back-cover copy amplifies the primary character or characters, their most profound hungers and most infuriating obstacles, and the context or setting in which the friction hots up and the conflict explodes.

How important is it to get the back matter of a book "right"?

It’s second only to your cover. If your publisher and you don’t get the cover right, no one will look at the back matter. If your publisher and you don’t get the back matter right, your book won’t separate anyone from their money.

Everyone has picked up a book based reading the on the back matter, only to find that it had little or nothing to do with the actual book itself. The assumption on it goes that the back matter was written by someone other than the author of the work to which it's assigned. And yet that's often not the case. Some people are clearly just really bad at writing back matter. What suggestions can you give to a writer who has lived and breathed with this work for months, perhaps years, when the time comes to either writer their own back matter or sign off on someone else doing so?


In my opinion and experience, one good approach is to start with what movie writers call a logline and marketing people call a tagline. These are very short, one- or two-sentence statements designed for maximum impact. Neck-snapping, unstoppable force-meets-immoveable object impact.

For back matter, the best kinds of loglines or taglines are interrogative, provocative, or both. There are other choices, but the focus – as with all marketing – is the benefit to the customer. That is, What is the reader going to get from this experience?

Ultimately, that answer needs to be a transporting mental moment. The book’s prose so expertly carries away the reader that she forgets who she is, where and when she is, what came before and what’s coming after, and how she got through the sixty or eighty thousand words preceding the climax and denouement.

But how the reader gets there varies by genre. And remember that genre, like back-cover copy, is marketing – it’s no more and no less than just marketing. Build your book’s promise from your logline/tagline, instead of trying to summarize your manuscript. For a thriller, the transportation is adventure and cliff-hanging action. For a romance, ardor and warmth overcome obstacles and competing attentions. Mystery readers are transported by red herrings and investigative intricacies, and literary readers by lyrical and dazzling prose.

The only way to persuade a reader to part with her money is with back-cover copy that demonstrates you care about what you’re doing with your story and its genre. Technical proficiency is insufficient – you must convey your passion for your characters and plot. In the immortal words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy what you make – they buy why you make it.”

So back-cover copy must show the reader what he can expect from the words sandwiched between the covers. In the style of your genre, you have to tell him your hopes, your fears, your dreams through a couple hundred words. Those few words suggest just enough about the protagonist to care and root for her as she struggles through the colossal conflict and excruciating emotions you highlight as the obstacles she cannot fail to overcome because of the life-or-death stakes of her clash with an antagonist.

Anything else you think our readers who are also writers ought to know about back matter and its importance/relevance to what we do and how we do it?

I think too many writers think of back cover copy as a summary of the book. It’s not.

It’s both more and less than a summary, so don’t regurgitate your agent pitch. Start from scratch, because this is a new challenge for a new audience.

Review the back matter from 50 books you’d love to see yours next to on a shelf. Get a feel for the patterns and rhythms. Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal reader and write from your heart – not your head – to that reader’s heart. Humans decide emotionally and justify rationally, so your back-cover copy must appeal to emotions.

A good rule of thumb is the cliché “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” No one really cares what your novel is about because all novels are about the same thing. Seduce readers into caring about your unique spin on the same old thing. That allure, that siren song, is driven by what you care about more than what you write about.

Thanks David. This is all really helpful! And now, as promised, see below for David's bonafides:

David B. Schlosser (dbschlosser.com) is an award-winning fiction and non-fiction author and an award-winning editor. His fiction has appeared in university literary journals and online magazines. His non-fiction and journalism have run in business and trade publications, academic and scientific journals, and print and online news outlets.

His most recent short story, “Pretzel Logic,” originally appeared in 2019’s Die Behind the Wheel: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan. It will be republished in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020.

He also runs PromptInspiration.com, a website that delivers daily, genre-specific prompts to sustain a daily writing habit.

Kansan by birth, he turned Texan while earning degrees at Trinity University and the University of Texas. After living and working in nearly a dozen states as an editor, teacher, political and PR/ad/marketing consultant, and content strategist, he, his lovely wife Anne, and their dogs consider Seattle home.

********
See you in two weeks!

*****

13 May 2020

The Tingler



Bringing in the wet dog, my pal Carole made a joke about Odorama - the provenance here being that she's a Baltimore girl, and Baltimore native son John Waters used a gimmick in his more-or-less mainstream debut, Polyester, that was a scratch'n'sniff card, smells keyed to scenes in the movie.


Lest you think this utterly without precedent, think again. John Waters, like Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, is very much a movie nut, and knows his history. Tarantino might champion Sergio Corbucci and a picture like The Great Silence, Scorsese is of course hugely influential in the preservation of significant landmark pictures, many of them marginalized or forgotten. It's no less serious of John Waters to find inspiration in the movies of a Russ Meyer or William Castle.


Russ Meyer was, famously, a schlockmeister. You could argue that Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is at least on some level a masterwork, but it's still trash. Terrific trash, maybe. On the other hand, Shock Corridor or The Naked Kiss it ain't. Meyer doesn't even come close. Sam Fuller made his share of exploitive B's, but he always had thorough discipline. Russ Meyer, let's be honest, was only in thrall to the great state of mammary.


William Castle is a different story. His career begins in the late 1930's, and lasts into the 1970's. A lot of it is pretty lame; some of it is eye-popping. He was on Welles' Lady from Shanghai. Twenty years later, he bought the rights to Rosemary's Baby, but Paramount wouldn't let him direct - they thought his track record with quick-and-dirty horror would hurt the word of mouth on an A-picture.


So, those horror movies. This is where Castle hit his stride. (He's actually contemporaneous with the glory days of Hammer gothic, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.) The first was Macabre, in 1958, and it was the first where Castle used medicine-show marketing. Along with your ticket, you got an insurance policy from Lloyd's of London: IF IT FRIGHTENS YOU TO DEATH - YOU'LL BE BURIED FREE OF CHARGE. The House on Haunted Hill, Vincent Price, where the theater went completely dark and the spooky soundtrack started before the picture did. And a plastic skeleton dangled over the audience (Castle pitched this as Emerge-O).  Then his second picture with Price, The Tingler. The Tingler had an even better device: a few of the seats in the theater were wired for a slight tingling effect, which signaled that the parasitic creature was creeping up your spine - and at which point the ushers were supposed to scream. You see the pattern, here. Even as late as Strait-Jacket, his Joan Crawford ax-murderer picture, he passed out party favor tie-ins, cardboard axes smeared with stage blood.


My personal favorite of Castle's movies is Let's Kill Uncle, which came out in 1966, and is apparently not really considered part of the canon. Maybe because Castle often used name Hollywood actors whose fires were no longer burning bright, like Crawford and Vincent Price, those pictures have a certain camp acidity, and they're not to be taken entirely seriously. Let's Kill Uncle, however, has the great Nigel Green, deliriously over-the-top, as the retired SAS commando major out to  murder his nephew for the kid's inheritance. And the shark in the swimming pool.


Castle himself never tried Smell-O-Vision (used but once, Scent of Mystery, 1959) or AromaRama (Behind the Great Wall, same year), so the mischievous sniff test of Odorama John Waters releases in Polyester is more of an homage, Castle-esque rather than a direct application of the Castle merchandising touch. It's satisfyingly retrograde.


Clearly, there are advances which work. Sound, and color. Widescreen, or Dolby digital. 3D is back, not a novelty this time, but here to stay. Smell is of course evocative. They say the most of all our senses. It's probably genetically hard-wired. Who argues? Maybe there's a way to do this. Easy enough to make a theater seat vibrate, after all, to rumble underneath you, or even tip left and right with the G-forces, so you're in the cockpit with Maverick. On the other hand, we'd probably need warning labels, like a product containing peanuts. You get to choose, 3D or flat, subtitles or dubbed, earthbound or zero gravity, scented or fragrance-free.

[In a cute piece of stunt casting John Waters actually got to play Castle in the miniseries Feud, about the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford surrounding Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In an Oklahoma publicity appearance for Strait-Jacket, Crawford "decapitates" Castle.]

12 May 2020

Location Location Location – In “The Blues Don’t Care”


by Paul D. Marks

In front of Club Alabam
Every time I have a novel come out I do a post about some of the locations in it. I try to set most scenes in the real world and give that world a sense of verisimilitude (remember, don’t use a small word when you can use a six syllable one). Much, though not all, of what I write is set in Los Angeles. As is The Blues Don’t Care (dropping on 6/1/20, and available now for pre-order)…but with a twist this time. Instead of being set in the modern L.A. of White Heat, Broken Windows and Vortex this one is set in 1940s L.A., with World War II raging in the background.

Bobby Saxon is a young white piano player whose ambition is to get a spot with the all-black Booker ‘Boom Boom’ Taylor Orchestra (big band) at L.A.’s famous Club Alabam. He gets his wish but at the price of having to help investigate a murder that one of the band members is accused of.

Like Randy Newman said, I love L.A. (well, more like love-hate, but overall love) and I really loved researching the locations and history of 1940s L.A. Bobby’s adventures take him on a wild ride through mid-century Los Angeles, from the swanky Sunset Tower apartments in West Hollywood to seedy pool rooms near downtown and the vibrant jazz scene of Central Avenue.

So here are some of the stops on Bobby’s journey:

The Club Alabam and The Dunbar Hotel: In the days when African-Americans couldn’t stay at most hotels and couldn’t go to just any “white” nightclubs—or other establishments—they formed their own businesses. In L.A. the heart of the black community during the mid-twentieth century was Central Avenue. Clothing stores, barbershops, restaurants, doctors, dentists and pretty much anything one could want could be found there. And the heart of Central was the Dunbar Hotel (formerly Hotel Sumerville), which featured an elegant lobby with arched windows and entry ways and Art Deco chandeliers. The Dunbar was where the cream of black society, entertainers, politicians, et al., stayed when they were in town. Duke Ellington kept a suite there. Right next door to the Dunbar was the most famous of the nightclubs (of which there were many) on Central, the Club Alabam. Bobby spends a lot of time at both the Alabam and the Dunbar. And it’s said that one night when W.C. Fields got drunk at the Alabam he stayed overnight at the Dunbar, accidentally integrating it.

Two shots of the Dunbar Hotel, interior & exterior.
It was formerly the Hotel Somerville.

Famous couple at Musso & Frank.

Musso & Frank: Has been a Hollywood watering hole for decades, since the 1920s. There was a back room bar where famous writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Fante, Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner hung out. Movies stars like Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Betty Davis, Ginger Rogers, Greta Garbo and Edward G. Robinson all dined there. It’s known for its red-coated waiters, many of whom have worked there for decades, probably since the time of the story (maybe?). In Blues, Bobby plays piano in exchange for a free meal, but pays dearly for that meal when he’s ambushed outside of the restaurant. Here’s a recent pic of Amy and me there. We didn’t get ambushed that night, but anything’s possible on Hollywood Boulevard.

Another famous couple at Musso & Frank ;-)

The La Brea Tar Pits: Located on Rancho La Brea lands, the tar pits were a major excavation site in the 1910s for paleontologists from all over the world. In the 1920s ranch owner, Hancock, donated the land to Los Angeles County with the stipulation that the tar pits be designated as a protected park and that the fossils found there be retained and exhibited. When I was a kid we’d go on picnics at the park surrounding the tar pits and I have fond memories of them, including the acrid smell of the tar. Since those days the George C. Page Museum was built and fossil excavation continues to this day. Bobby visits the tar pits in a scene in the book, and let’s just say not all the bones in the tar pits are that old….but you’ll have to read the book to find out what really happens there.

La Brea Tar Pits (photo by Kimon Berlin)

The Long Beach Pike: In the novel, Bobby and his “partner” Sam Wilde head down to the Pike in Long Beach, while looking for clues. For decades the Pike was an amusement park by the sea. It featured a wooden roller coast, The Cyclone, with two tracks so cars could “race” each other. Bobby and Sam ride the coaster in one of the scenes at the Pike.

Long Beach Pike

There was also a midway with arcade games, shooting galleries, fortune tellers and assorted shops. And because it was situated near Naval shipyards, it earned a reputation for being a hangout for rowdy sailors looking for girls. That’s the atmosphere that appealed to me as a setting for some of the scenes in Blues.

In the 1970s it fell on hard times, got seedy and eventually closed.

One of the challenges writing Blues was figuring out how Bobby and Sam got down to Long Beach in the 1940s, before freeways. I turned to the usual sources for help, the internet, books, etc. But the best source was buying old Los Angeles area street maps from eBay. They really helped in this regard and were just plain fascinating in general. My mom also helped with her memories of how to get from “here” to “there.”

Here’s a short excerpt of Bobby and Sam heading to the Pike. When Bobby first meets Sam it’s not exactly under pleasant circumstances and Bobby isn’t sure if Sam is on his side or not, so the long ride to Long Beach is a little tense to say the least:

Long Beach was a navy town south of Los Angeles, the Pike its oceanside amusement quarter. Bobby knew there’d be lots of sailors around, if they ever actually made it to the Pike. They’d have to pass through the Wilmington oil fields on the way and that was as good a place as any to dispose of a body. The oil fields were a well-known dumping ground. Bodies were always bobbing up through the greasy black muck that leached to the surface.

Bobby white-knuckled the steering wheel, gripping as hard as he could, mostly so Wilde wouldn’t notice his shaking hands. They passed through the oil field, with its forests of towering derricks—supplicants reaching for the sky. Safely past the dumping grounds, he loosened his grip on the wheel.



Pickwick Books (in case the sign didn't give it away :-) )
Pickwick Bookshop: I loved this place, which is, unfortunately, gone now. It was an institution on Hollywood Boulevard for decades. Three stories of books, books and more books. There was a time when there were a ton of bookstores on Hollywood Boulevard, most of them used or antiquarian. I think most are gone today, replaced by electronic stores and gimcrack souvenir shops in large part. And people running around dressed up like super heroes who, if you take their picture without paying some ridiculous fee will chase you down and… Bobby has occasion to go there in the story, but my favorite part of the scene there was cut. Supposedly this is a true story that actually happened there, but fictionalized to include Bobby. So here it is:

Bobby looked away.
“There are no second acts in American life,” the salesman said, as Bobby handed him a five dollar bill.
“No, I guess not.”
“Know who said that?”
“Can’t say I do.”
“F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous writer.”
“I like his books,” Bobby said. “But I don’t know the quote.”
“A man came in here one day looking for Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. You know our store here’s on three floors, the first is current titles, the second level is for rare and unusual books. The third floor is for used books, bargains and the like.”
Why was the salesman telling him all this?
“So anyway, this man comes in and asks for Gatsby. The salesman tells him, ‘We don’t stock the work of dead authors on this floor. You’ll have to try upstairs.’”
“So did he find the book upstairs?”
“He did. And do you know what his name was?”
“No.”
Pickwick Books (interior)
“F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn’t even recognize him and it’s been making me sick ever since. Especially since he died shortly after that. Another customer who knew him told me my not recognizing him and thinking he was dead had a catastrophic effect on him.” The clerk looked at the book Bobby had set on the counter. “Thomas Wolfe. No, you certainly can’t go home again.”
“Neither you nor me.”

The clerk finished wrapping Bobby’s book in brown paper, tied it with string. He handed it to Bobby with a wink. “Here’s your change.”

Max Factor Building: Bobby has occasion to go to the Max Factor building in Hollywood on Highland near Hollywood Boulevard. Max Factor is the famous Hollywood makeup artist, who branched out into a line of cosmetics that I think you can still buy today. He also had a salon where anyone could make an appointment and you might run into someone rich or famous while there. Bobby goes there on business, but feels a little funny, and maybe not for the obvious reasons. Today it’s the Hollywood Museum, so luckily here’s one building the Powers That Be didn’t tear down as happens so often in the City of Angels.
Max Factor building (the pic doesn't do it justice)

Cocoanut Grove: The Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire was one of the premier, if not the premier nightclub in L.A. for ages. On a darker note, the Ambassador is also where RFK was shot by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. Bobby takes Margaret, a woman he’s interested in and someone who might know more than she’s saying about the murder, on a date there. It might not have worked out so well for him…

Cocoanut Grove

Clover Field (A.K.A. The Santa Monica Airport): Douglas Aircraft worked out of Clover Field in the heart of Santa Monica. As such, during the war Warner Brothers technicians and artists came out from Burbank to camouflage the airfield so it couldn’t be seen from the air. Movie magic applied to real life. Bobby, his pal Sam Wilde, and Margaret wind up there when they’re chased by a mysterious car and end up almost breaching the base’s security, not something that is taken lightly by the MPs on duty. But what happens after that makes Bobby wish they’d been arrested by the MPs.


Clover Field: the center/bottom half of the pic is the concealed Douglas Aircraft
Cars parked under the camouflage tarp

Bradbury Building (photo by Jay Walsh)
The Bradbury Building: With its atrium, caged wrought iron elevator and marble and brick is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. I’m sure you’ve seen it ’cause it’s been in many movies, especially the interior. Generally, one can’t go above the mezzanine as it’s still a functioning office building. I had a meeting there one time and felt special to be able to go up the elevator and walk the upper hall. Someone Bobby has an interest in has an office here, too. I don’t think his visit was as pleasant as mine… I did a whole SleuthSayers post on it some time back so if you want to check that out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2016/05/the-bradbury-building-screen-star.html .

These are a few of the places Bobby visits. I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of 1940s Los Angeles. Stay tuned for more when the book comes out on June 1st. It’s available for pre-order now at Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and iTunes.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

My short story "Fade-Out On Bunker Hill" came in 2nd place in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Poll. In lieu of the pre-Edgars cocktail party, we had a virtual awards ceremony. You can see the whole thing (including my bookshelves) on YouTube. I want to thank Janet Hutchings and Jackie Sherbow of Ellery Queen and, of course, everyone who voted for it!



Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books – The Blues Don't Care:

 “Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40s’ L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. He is one helluva writer.”
                                                               —Michael Sears, author of the Jason Stafford series



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

11 May 2020

The Sidekick Dilemma


The D Case by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini presents an intriguing bibliophile premise. They bring the great fictional detectives together at a consortium in Rome to re-read, analyze, and eventually solve the unfinished Charles Dickens novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

During the course of the action, we see Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Arsene Lupin, Father Brown, Inspector Maigret, Pirfory Petrovich from Crime & Punishment, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Nero Wolfe, and a few others. The only major sleuths I don't remember seeing are Ellery Queen and the cops of the 87th Precinct.

I remembered my introduction to many of these characters from my parents' bookshelves and coffee table. My mother loved Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Rex Stout. I read all the existing Hardy Boys books between my tenth and eleventh birthday and receieved The Complete Sherlock Holmes for my twelfth birthday. I still have that book. As you can see, the binding is held together by duct tape.



Even at an early age, my reading ear was well-developed and I had definite likes and dislikes. I never liked Agatha Christie much, and I know now that it was because her dialogue sounded wooden and her characters felt like cardboard. The women were all either 12-year-old virgins or latent doms. I liked the early Holmes stories, but felt they went downhill after he went over the Reichenbach Falls, probably because Conan Doyle himself lost his enthusiasm. I discovered Nero Wolfe when I was 12 or 13, and always liked those books more. Now I know that Rex Stout was also from the Midwest, so our rhythms were similar.

Reading The D Case showed me something else that I'd never thought about. Another reason I never cared much for Poirot or Holmes is that Hastings and Watson always came across as so profoundly dull. They were the stereotypical stolid Englishmen with no imagination or creativity, and they bored the hell out of me. They spent page after page in arias extolling the brilliance of their companions, but did little else for the stories. Well, Watson had his service revolver. But they were so dull they weakened their heroes.

It's pretty much axiomatic that a hero gains his stature from the strength of his antagonist. A great villain demands a great hero. But if the people trying to solve the case can barely dress themselves, the guy solving that crime only needs to be able to tie his shoes.

All the cops in the 87th precinct were good detectives who spoke human dialogue and had real-life problems. Ditto Mrlowe and Archer. Nero Wolfe was an insufferable egomaniac like Poirot, but Archie Goodwin, Saul Panzer, and the other operatives were sharp investigators in their own right, and Archie only  put up with so much of Wolfe's attitude before calling him out on it. I always liked Wolfe more because he really did have to be better than Archie and the Cops. Those cops were a little narrow-minded, but they weren't cretins like Lestrade.

Look at the detectives who had to carry the load themselves without a shuffling minion to look up to them. My current favorites include Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro (now retired), Don Winslow's Boone Daniels, and Karin Slaughter's Will Trent, who has to cope with his dyslexia. All these characters are solid investigators with capable help and no fanboys in sight.

Call me elitist, but I like them a lot better.

10 May 2020

COVID19 in America versus Canada


Anger is the biggest difference between America and Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many people have been discussing the difference between the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the United States and Canada. “When you look at per capita cases and deaths across the course of the entire outbreak, the comparison looks even worse: the United States has over two times as many confirmed coronavirus cases as Canada and roughly twice as many deaths.”

The factors impacting coronavirus infections and deaths in the two countries are complicated and will, I’m certain, be analyzed for years.

What I find impossibly sad is the level of anger in the United States that is not directed at this virus - because we should all be furious at this virus - but at each other.

While both countries are grappling with how to open up the country and help the economy recover, the stories in the two countries couldn’t be more different. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. 



In America: 



In Canada:



One obvious difference is that in Canada, we are not allowed to openly carry guns. However, aside from the guns, the differences are crucial and it is in the level of anger and intimidation in the United States.

In Ontario, my home province, the Premier responded to the protests by saying: “Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’s furious at the “bunch of yahoos” who decided to flout physical distancing measures and emergency laws to protest outside Queen’s Park Saturday afternoon, calling them “irresponsible, reckless and selfish.”

For those who don’t speak Canadian, this is a very, very angry statement by a Canadian Premier. Also - he suggested consequences: “He said he hoped Toronto police would ticket them.
Not keeping at least two metres apart from someone not in your own household currently carries a fine of $880 in Toronto.”

In the end however: “A spokesperson for the Toronto police said no arrests were made and no tickets were issued following the protest, saying the crowd was compliant and exercised good social distancing.”

In other words, fairly polite and compliant protesters. 

It is more than not carrying guns. 

The politeness of Canadians has long been a joke among Americans. Although generalizations are never universally true, there may be something to this. However, there is one picture that explains a great deal:



In the United States, people are out of work and losing their healthcare and the financial assistance given appears to be piecemeal -both federal and state assistance- and many appear to be falling through the cracks.

In Canada, our universal healthcare system means that everyone remains covered for healthcare regardless of their employment status.

The federal government has delivered a strong set of financial protections for employees, self-employed, seniors and students. For example, if you are self-employed and have lost your job, you receive $2,000 per month for 4 months. These financial safety nets during COVID19, allow people to put food on the table. The provinces have all stepped up with other financial supports for citizens. 

In short: it is far easier to be less angry about the financial impacts of COVID in Canada than in the United States. 


There is more though. In Canada, there has been coordination between all levels of government in another area: information.

Our press conferences have been focused on Medical Officers of Health (federal and provincial) giving updates on infections, looking at models and doing the crucial work of informing the public about the new knowledge of this virus. This serves to increase scientific literacy in general. For example, prior to this pandemic, some Canadians did not understand that a virus cannot live outside of a cell for long and that is the reason for physical distancing.

The news in the United States has covered the politics of this pandemic and the disagreements between levels of government and within government. This type of coverage in Canada would be rather short - because there is general agreement about the need for physical distancing and to stay at home to defeat this virus.

So the difference in the two countries could not be more striking. In the United States the coronavirus has been a magnet for political anger. In Canada there is some of that certainly, as evidenced by the protests, but they have been small because, largely, our politicians are not fuelling them.

A virus has no politics, knows no party affiliation. It simply infects and kills. The wartime analogy has been used to describe the fight against this virus but this appears to be a strange war in the US, where there is little agreement if the enemy is dangerous, how to fight it or whether to bother fighting at all.

So, while Americans are dying, they appear to be very angry with each other. I wish they would get angrier at the virus.

09 May 2020

You Know More Than You Think You Do


Beach, Relax, Chair, Umbrella, Ocean
Pixabay
I’m taking a break from the Coronavirus news and trying to write more than I usually do every day. I live in Corpus Christi, Texas, where there are lots and lots of sandy beaches. There’s more than one bay beach between the city and Port Aransas and North Padre Island. We’re near Oso Bay. We often drive on a causeway over the Laguna Madre to North Padre Island to get to Port Aransas and drive on the thirteen-mile beach and maybe stop for a meal.
Obviously we like to go to the beach. They were all open for Spring Break. Breakers come from San Antonio, Austin, and as far away as the Dallas/Fort Worth area and even from Minnesota and other states way up north. We don’t go to the beach when the kids are here. Traffic is horrific.

Then they closed all the beaches for a few weeks, and now they’re open again with restrictions. We’ve stayed home, and so I have more time and inclination to write.

We used to own an RV lot in Port Aransas and usually parked there for a good part of the winter. We loved to walk over a boardwalk to the beach.

Then we sold the lot and our motorhome and moved into a “stick” house again. I’m writing more than I did when we traveled everywhere, but not as much as I am now.

So, I came up with this, and hope you find it helpful:

There’s an old adage about writing that is often given as a rule to new writers. The quote states, “Write what you know.”

I’m not here to argue that that’s bad or incorrect advice. I’m here to argue that you know a lot more than you think you do.

It’s implied by that statement that you should only write about what you know firsthand. For example, if you’re going to write about New York City, you should have lived there, or at least visited it. If you’re going to write about sailing a ship, you should have done so many times. And if you’re going to write about a crabby old man, you’d better be one.

Wait. That can’t be right. No, it means that you know enough about NYC by hearsay and researching to do a credible job writing about it. That you know a veteran sailor and can ask him to review what you’ve written for accuracy. And your uncle on your mother’s side (not saying which uncle) was a walking, talking human crab, and you can mimic him extraordinarily well  in your written opus.

If the advice were taken literally, no one could write a story. Writing about a woman, but you’re a man—can’t do it. Writing about a murderer—can’t do it unless you’ve murdered someone. Writing about the War of 1812—not unless you lived there and have come back from the dead or are a time traveler. This also, of course, rules out writing about zombies. Right?

Writers really do write about what they know. They start with certain knowledge, and then they let their imagination take off and carry them to different places, to meet different people, and to make up different situations to create a story. That’s what stories are, after all. They’re made up.

I personally know several men who write brilliantly in women’s points of view. I know other writers who can describe places they’ve never been better than I can, and I’ve been there. Others can spin a yarn that takes your breath away, made out of nothing, it seems. But all these writers are expert at one thing. Observation. The ones who write terrific characters have a great empathy and understanding of human nature. Those who do so well with descriptions have an artist’s eye and can translate what they see, either in real life, in a photo or canvas, or in their own imagination, onto the page. And those who can plot have observed life as a story unfolding before then, have probably read extensively, and learned the mechanics of plotting.

This means if you are determined enough, you can write anything your imagination comes up with and do an excellent job of making it come alive on the page and so believable that your readers can’t put the story down until they’re finished.

This means you can write anything at all, from children’s stories, to young adult stories, to romances, to fantasy, to science fiction, to mysteries, to horror, to suspense, to thrillers, to literary, or any of their subgenres, or make up a genre all your own.

This means you can write for audiences who are younger than six to over one hundred and six years of age. It wouldn’t hurt to read a few books in the genre you want to write in, and to read books in the age range you’re interested in.

So, don’t let the phrase, “write what you know” stop you. Write about what interests you. If you’re unsure about anything you’re written, after some good research, ask someone who knows all about it to read that part of the story, or the whole thing. Read the children’s book to a six-year old. Ask your grandmother to read the one about the “old lady bridge club murders.” Ask a police officer to take a look at the murder scene you’ve written for accuracy. But first, you have to get it written down. Then you can get it vetted by those who know more than you do.

And sure, gloss over what you’re not positive about if it won’t hurt the story. The story is everything. The “known” details give it veracity. Start with something you know. Then let your imagination fly.

Just as I’d love to fly my kite again on the beach. Instead, for a while, it will be my fingers flying over the keyboard to keep me amused and out of trouble.

Stay safe everyone.

Green Coconut Trees Near Body of Water
Pixabay



Writer of short stories (over 70 published), mystery novels (11 published) and non-fiction. Passionate about time management, personal organization, and writing of any kind. Check out my website for more info: www.JanChristensen.com and sign up for my newsletter there.