Like Christmas In January.

Turn To Stone

I may have to vanish for a week, or at least play hooky from the day job, it being like Christmas in late January for me.

Just got my mitts on James W. Ziskin’s new Ellie Stone mystery, Turn To Stone, (a bit beefier than the preceding six books at nearly 350 pages) with the NYC-via-upstate New York small town newspaper reporter jetting off to Italy in 1963. Ziskin’s savvy and engaging Eleanora Stone played a part in nudging me to get to work on my own projects, validating the notion of a female mystery/crime fiction protagonist in a setting other than the much more common Roaring Twenties, Depression era 1930’s, WWII and postwar late 40’s/early 1950’s…or today, for that matter.

The Words I Never Wrote

But the Christmas In January stocking holds more than just Ellie Stone. I now also have Jane Thynne’s new The Words I Never Wrote. How bittersweet to flip to her author bio on the dustjacket’s back flap to read “…the widow of the author Philip Kerr”. I’m still grieving Kerr’s loss and the thought of never reading another new Bernie Gunther novel again. I devoured each of Thynne’s excellent Clara Vine series books, and am eager to see what this non-series novel will be.

More to say about these once done, though I know I’ll be completely humbled both masters’ work.

Not Maguire, McGinnis, Schaare or Lesser, Maybe. But Still…

This Girl For Hire

Honey West? You name it, I have it: Multiple editions of the original Gloria and Forrest Fickling novels from 1957 through 1972. The complete 1965-66 TV series DVD set. Moonstone comics from the early not-too-bad ones through the sillier stuff and used to have a totally beat-up copy of the 1965 Gold Key comic. Okay, I don’t have the Honey West Ideal board game or the Gilbert ‘Private Eye-Ful TV Figure doll or accessories. The novels seem pretty easy to locate and usually affordable, whether the nifty paperback originals, later reissues or various and more recent trade pb editions (all of which may or may not be fully authorized, I don’t know).

A Gun For Honey

Ordering some items from the online behemoth in Seattle this week, I saw several Kindle eBook editions of the Honey West novels from Deerstalker Editions, which seems to be a division of California-based Renaissance E Books Inc. (though I wasn’t able to dig up much on them, only some blogs that have been inactive for quite some time). Eight Honey West titles are listed in the eBooks’ cross-sell copy, though I only see these four mid-2019 releases available at this time. What’s it all about? Who knows, and honestly, I’m not really an eBook person, aside from the occasional how-to title. Still the covers for these – love ‘em or hate ‘em – seem to use original art, though I’ll remain partial to the iconic images of Anne Francis (1930 – 2011) or the original paperback series’ Harry Schaare, Robert McGinnis, Robert Maguire and Ron Lesser renditions.

Girl On The Loose

I have a lot to say about Honey West – the character’s importance in postwar era paperback detective novels, the groundbreaking but still flawed short-lived TV series, the more contemporary comics, both good and bad, etc. The Fickling’s creation was flawed but fun and unquestionably influenced still more important things to come some years later. Whatever the Honey West character’s and novels’ shortcomings may be (and there are some), we’re talking about the most familiar ‘stiletto gumshoe’ from that era. But,  it’s all more than I have time to cobble together right now, so we’ll have to table Honey West talk for now…

Honey In The Flesh

New York: 1959

The Best of Everything Main

There’s a scene in AMC’s Mad Men where we spot ad man Don Draper reading The Best Of Everything, just one of so many period-perfect details that series got right (juxtaposed with a handful of anachronisms they didn’t).

Like Valerie Taylor’s 1959 pulpy novel The Girls In 3B, Rona Jaffe’s The Best Of Everything played a part in helping me to settle on the year 1959 to start my own work. Okay, technically the novel came out in September of 1958, not 1959, but its hit film adaptation was a 1959 release, and notably, the first novel bought by Hollywood before publication and while still in editing. Note: The original hardcover release actually depicted author Jaffe on the cover…that’s her right below on the right.

The Best Of Everything Montage

More polished and ‘big time’ perhaps than Taylor’s comparatively pulpier paperback original The Girls in 3B, Jaffe’s novel is a classic mid-twentieth century soap opera, foreshadowing many more books just like it, including the comparatively sex and drug-filled Valley Of The Dolls just 8 years later. Three young women seeking adventure and romance in New York meet in Fabian Publishing’s typing pool, where they report to icy editor Amanda Farrow played by Joan Crawford, lecherous old editor-in-chief Mr. Shalimar and handsome, honorable-when-he’s-not-drunk (which is nearly always) Mike Rice played by the somewhat wooden leading man Stephen Boyd.

Montage 1

Fashion’s reigning supermodel of the time, Suzy Parker, plays aspiring actress Gregg Adams, Diane Baker is naïve small-town rube April Morrison and Hope Lange is the lead, Radcliffe-educated and happily engaged Caroline Bender. Parker’s glamorous veneer crumbles when she falls hard for a director, then falls harder and right out of a window to her death. Diane Baker winds up with an oily playboy, gets pregnant and tricked into an abortion, but miscarries in a car crash en route to the operation (at least in the movie…not sure that’s how it went down in the novel). Fear not: She winds up with the handsome doctor caring for her after the accident. And ‘smart girl’ Caroline Bender played by Hope Lange moves up Fabian Publishing’s ranks, gets dumped by her hometown fiancé, is later propositioned by the newly married rat, ultimately takes over retiring Joan Crawford’s editorial position, but may or may not trade that for marriage with Stephen Boyd in the end.

Montage 2

It’s all melodramatic and sometimes groan-worthy stuff, but both the book and the film are like reference manuals for the period, from the clothes to the dialog, the workplace settings and the make-you-cringe office interplay, all wrapped up in the restrictive 1958/59 social dynamics. The novel’s still a terrific read, overdue for a re-read and it’s going onto my to-be-read stack right as soon as I get a chance over the next week or so. The movie’s a genuine guilty pleasure, and for someone writing in a 1959 setting, almost demands note-taking while watching.

Chicago: 1959

The Girls In 3-B

If you’re the blog-reading sort who takes notes, then you’d have caught more than once that my “The Stiletto Gumshoe” work-in-progress is set in Chicago’s ethnic blue-collar bungalow belt in 1959. Why that particular year? It intrigues me because it’s right on the cusp of major social changes that are about to explode in the early 1960’s…but not quite there yet. There’s enough of the old to easily link with the look and feel of so many familiar noir tropes, but so other things intrude into that comfortable but shadowy black & white movie world and hard-boiled novel milieu to continually hint at the disruptions soon to occur.

Like any writer, I accumulated scads of references from sites, blogs, magazines and books, loaded up on photos, catalogs and ads, all of which I scroll through periodically to keep my head firmly in the right mindset when approaching the keyboard. It’s too easy to picture episodes of I Love Lucy or Father Knows Best and simplify everything into Elvis, poodle skirts and sock hops if imagining the 1950’s, when in fact 1959 probably looked and felt much more like the pre-British Invasion Camelot era.

Crine Reads - Write About The Past

Raymond Fleishchmann, author of How Quickly She Disappears, writes in his 1.24.20 Crimes Reads piece “What We Write About When We Write About The Past” (link below) that “…a successful novel set in the past should certainly include many textural details: that is, depictions of seemingly insignificant ways in which yesteryear differs from today”. But just the same, Fleishchmann points out, “…a successful novel set in the past will intentionally reject many of the stereotypes we have about the past, and as a result that novel’s distant time period might feel surprisingly modern. Certain readers may even mistake this quality for inaccuracy”. He reminds us that in many ways the past isn’t as long-ago as we might suppose and people do, think and feel many of the same things today as they did then. “The human condition defies time,” Fleishchmann says, and I consider that a memorable line.

After browsing photos and ads, there’s nothing better to rely on than books from that era. Note: Not books about that era. From that era.

I read Valerie Taylor’s 1959 The Girls In 3B a few years back and I suppose it even played a part in settling on 1959 for my own work, along with Rona Jaffe’s The Best Of Everything from the previous year (along with its 1959 film adaptation…more about that one later). Valerie Taylor’s (pen name of Velma Young) third novel tells the story of three rural small-town friends – Annice, Pat and Barby – who move to Chicago in search of independence, romance and adventure. Sharing a grungy Hyde Park third floor flat, one signs up for college classes, hoping to be a poet. One gets a clerical job at a publisher and one a stock clerk’s position in a large State Street department store. Though the novel ends with more or less happy (or happy enough) resolutions for each of the three young women, they’ll first endure sexual assaults, unplanned pregnancy/abandonment and the thoroughly ingrained economic, cultural and societal sexism of the time…including predatorial Beatnik boys’ unexpected misogyny. The novel may have been marketed as being racy, though it really isn’t. And it’s been embraced as one of the 1950’s/1960’s era lesbian pulp novels (Taylor’s other books certainly key titles from that era) though only one of the three women ultimately discovers some real happiness with another woman. Still, that’s notable nonetheless, Valerie Taylor recognized for bucking the prevailing vintage lesbian pulp novel trends demanding that gay and lesbian characters always come to bad ends…even if that was only going straight.

james meese the girls in 3-b preliminary

It’d be nice to have the original paperback. The cover’s preliminary art is shown here as well, a frequent post at many vintage pulp/paperback/illustration sites (I’ve seen it credited James Meese but am unsure about that). But I read The Girls In 3B – and just finished re-reading it – in The Feminist Press’ Femmes Fatales series handsome 2012 edition, complete with Lisa Walker’s detailed 20+ page afterword.

With some recent input from a skilled Beta reader in hand (an excellent 4+ page single spaced write-up, no less!) after an over-the-holidays read of my continually re-revising work, The Girls In 3B seemed like an ideal read before attacking my manuscript. And I’m going to squeeze in Rona Jaffe’s The Best Of Everything as well as the movie over the next week, merrily overdosing on 1959 for a while.

https://crimereads.com/what-we-write-about-when-we-write-about-the-past/

 

Here’s To Another Hundred.

The First Hundred Words

The January-February 2020 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine is a meaty 100 pager (if you count the covers) which is fitting, since this is the first issue of the magazine’s 100th anniversary year. After a tumultuous 2019 that saw the venerable publication’s parent company dissolved and its magazine/website and publishing divisions split up, Writer’s Digest is still at it and raring to go for the next hundred years.

Writers Digest Jan Feb 2020

There was a lot to digest in this issue, from features and columns both familiar and new, including Dima Ghawi’s IndieLab on self and hybrid publishing timetables, Kara Gebhart Uhl’s Meet The Agent profiling John Talbot of the Talbot Fortune Agency and more. Articles included a good one from Steven James: “Now Where Was I?”, addressing how writers can reactivate stalled projects and return to the keyboard after an extended absence…and Jane Friedman’s “Turn The Beat Around”, listing some all-too-common newbie writer mistakes, like rushing to submission or relying on family and friends’ for input instead of industry pro’s and writing associates.

But my favorite by far was Arthur Leeds’ “The First Hundred Words Are The Hardest”, in part because this was a reprint of an article that appeared in the October 1921 issue. The more things change the more they stay the same? You bet. With some minor tweaks for dated book and publication references, Leeds’ article could’ve been drafted today. My takeaway? Whatever the artistic medium, the tools or the venues may evolve but the fundamental challenges remain largely unchanged. In a way, I found that kind of reassuring.

Ingrid Boot: Noir Via New Zealand

Ingrid Boot 6

I first spotted one Ingrid Boot painting at Noirsville (www.noirsville.blogspot.com), which promptly sent me hunting for more info about this artist.

Background info is sparse, but the intriguing artwork speaks for itself.

Ingrid Boot 3

Making her home in New Zealand since 2000, Ingrid Boot studied art at Westminster University in London and completed a degree in Illustration at De Monfort. The artist’s work ranges from glamorous retro nostalgia lifted right from a vintage Vogue magazine editorial (go to the artist’s own site at http://www.ingrid.co.nz to view more of those), to ominous yet alluring film noir-inspired pieces, those comprising a 2018 solo show, aptly titled “Film Noir”, at the Bread & Butter Gallery. More from this incredible painter follows in the next post…

Ingrid Boot 4Ingrid Boot 14 Crime Of PassionIngrid Boot 15 - Fallen AngelIngrid Boot Exhibit Poster

Straight Talk From Courtney Maum.

Montage Half

It’s all very romantic to imagine ourselves trading witticisms with fellow creatives in a fin de siècle Paris café, Weimar Berlin cabaret, postwar Greenwich Village coffeehouse or any burg’s Boho meeting spot. I can count numerous artists, photographers, writers, musicians, actors and dancers among my coworkers, friends and even family members, past and present, and as much as we might like to picture ourselves pontificating on frightfully weighty cultural and aesthetic topics, my own real-world experiences and observations are quite different.

Shoehorn a group of artists into a barroom booth and the talk will most likely be about which art supply store has a Grumbacher promotion running or a BOGO on brushes. Writers will be trading info on paying market submission opportunities, cents-per-word rates and grousing about delayed payments…even if it’s only in contributor copies. The conversations run more or less the same among the garage band and barre-and-ballet shoe crowds.

For all the stereotypes, creatives are more pragmatic than you’d assume, even if only out of necessity – that is, the usual struggles to pay the rent, buy groceries and set aside some beer money like everyone else, but compounded by the need to fund their artistic pursuits, whether they’re buying pre-stretched canvases, stocking up on toner and 20 lb. bond, saving up for Danskins without holes, or worse, replacing a blown-out amp.

Before And After The Book Deal

I thought about all of this as I read Amy Brady’s interview with Courtney Maum, author of Before And After The Book Deal – A Writer’s Guide To Finishing, Publishing, Promoting And Surviving Your First Book at the Chicago Review of Books (link below). Intrigued, I headed to the bookstore right after work, presuming I’d be ordering Maum’s new book, but thrilled to spot a copy already on shelf. One extra-large coffee to-go later, I’d already plunged in, continued through dinner later this evening, but still have a long way to go. But I’m liking this book so much I wanted to share, so I paused to bang out this post.

Browse the writing section in a good-sized library or bookstore and you’ll likely see no shortage of inspirational titles interspersed with a few annual directories and some very elementary how-to books for total newbies and writer-hobbyists. Flip through some writing magazines and you’ll likely see your share of motivational stuff about digging deeper to find your voice, creating three-dimensional characters or crafting dialog that ‘sparkles’. But I suspect many if not most writers are desperate for more straightforward nuts & bolts info about the submission/sale/publication process and are eager for frank discussion about dollars and cents issues. Because that’s precisely what they talk about in person. As do the artists, musicians, dancers and actors.

Courtney Maum’s Before And After The Book Deal is precisely that. And for all its info-packed no-nonsense explanations, it’s incredibly readable, extremely entertaining, and downright funny in a lot of spots. Example: Early on she addresses how writers have to be ready to endure rejection. A lot. She writes, “…you must make friends with rejection in order to survive a professional writing life. Rejection is going to be your zany roommate who never does her dishes, has really loud obnoxious sex, gets drunk and eats your leftovers, and uses strong perfume. Except for that one delightful year that she studied abroad in Cartagana, she’s always going to be living with you in one way or another, so make peace with that chick, now.”

Of course, any scribe whining about the indignities of the query and submission process ought to chat up some musicians, dancers and actors about auditioning.

Though Maum has three novels to her credit, many might rightly ask her “So who appointed you to tell us all about writing and publishing?” But while the author relates her personal experience and provides valuable insights, she’s certainly not adopting a professorial stance and also relies on the wisdom of over 150 contributors who are quoted throughout, from authors and agents to editors and more, all of them “sharing intimate anecdotes about even the most taboo topics in the industry”, as the book touts.

Unless her book takes an unexpected turn in the second half, I’ll wager this one can stand proudly beside Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel: From Plot To Print To Pixel,  the standard for a truly practical writer’s book, IMHO. Pro, newbie, or somewhere in between like most, still an ‘armchair novelist’ or midway through a writer’s MFA program, you ought to get this book. Just sayin’…

https://chireviewofbooks.com/2020/01/20/finding-clarity-and-a-sense-of-humor-in-the-publishing-process/

 

A Broken Heart To Go…

Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go

Mid-January: Snowflakes started falling mid-afternoon Friday, and by Saturday morning (not especially cold) a thick coating of snow turned streets and sidewalks treacherous. But by mid-afternoon today, the temps plummeted into the 20’s, headed for the frigid teens by tonight, with gusty winds whipping people right down icy driveways.

The writing lounge sounds like the place to be tonight, maybe tomorrow as well. Maybe there’s no reason to poke my nose out the door till I head back to work on Monday. The keyboard beckons, and there’s work to be done. There’s a freshly refilled thermal carafe of coffee on my desk, the ashtray’s in reach, and though they’re only CD’s (vinyl would be better) the Jazz Noir compilation and 1997’s Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go (complete with Richie Fahey case art) ought to do the trick to keep things warm while I pound the keys.

There are worse ways to spend a weekend…

Jazz Noir

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