The Weather Outside Is Frightful…

winter montage

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…or so the 1945 Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne song Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow says.

Last weekend we had a winter tease ‘round here, with a good bit of snow, but manageable. This weekend we’re getting walloped, and it’s still going on as this is written. Once done, temps will drop, winds pick up and whatever was already cleaned up will just drift back into impassable hills overnight. Not whining, mind you, since it’s been winter-lite so far this season, with only one sorta-snowstorm in early November, and even November-December out of town travel into the frigid zones wasn’t too bad.

But I don’t mind a bit. For me, the most productive time of year is October through May when we’re driven indoors. There are fewer temptations, with no beaches, softball leagues, patio soirees, swimming pools, gardening or whatever warm weather pursuits might lure you away from the work you mean to do. When the shorter days and first snows send the bears into hibernation, a lot of us head to the sofa for Netflix binge watching. But for some, it’s the most opportune time to get things done, whether that’s painting your personal masterpieces in the apartment’s spare bedroom studio, building one of those insanely detailed toy train layouts in the basement, or finally starting that novel that’s been kicking around inside your head. Of course, there’s no better way to weather the – well, the weather – than to curl up in something cozy with a good book and your beverage of choice. Smarter folks may peek out the window to see the blizzards still blowing and simply choose to stay in bed. Which would be a pretty fun idea if there’s a bedmate by their side. After all, there’s no need for winter jammies when there are better ways to keep warm.

alexa mazzarello

Getting around on Saturday errands kinda sucked this morning, the snowplow drivers apparently breakfasting or loading their rigs with salt. But I’ve been in for a while now, with no plans to go back out till Monday morning, and once the week’s blog posts are scheduled, it’ll be time to hunker down over The Stiletto Gumshoe. The manuscripts-in-progress, not the website. A productive winter weekend of uninterrupted writing (or rewriting, as it happens) sounds good, with no plans to pause till evening. I expect the fingertips may be numb come 11:00 PM, at which time Eddie Mueller’s Noir Alley will beckon on Turner Classic Movies. 1944’s Murder, My Sweet is the film this week, with Dick Powell taking his first turn at reinventing himself as a hard-boiled noir favorite, and it was Anne Shirley’s last film. But it’ll be back to the keyboard Sunday, since the weather outside promises to remain frightful. But there are worse things than being warm inside when some productive work gets done. Agreed?

Montage: Roan Lavery, Meghan Elliott, Kate Williams; Still life: Alexa Mazzarello

 

Hard-Boiled Dames.

hard-boiled dames

Hard-Boiled Dames (1986), edited by Bernard Drew says it’s “A brass-knuckled anthology of the toughest women from the classic pulps”. This anthology features women detectives, reporters, adventurers and even a few criminals from 1930’s pulp fiction magazines. Marcia Muller notes in her preface, “Although the courageous independent female sleuth may have, for whatever reasons, gone somewhat out of fashion in the suspense fiction of the 1950’s and 60’s, she was very much in evidence in the pulp magazines of the 30’s and 40’s.”

21st century mystery/crime fiction fans of the more hard-boiled variety could easily think that the genre was populated with no shortage of female sleuths (the bad-ass ones, that is) all along. Not so, of course. Before things exploded in the early 1980’s, thanks to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and some others, there’d been nearly thirty years of ‘blonde bombshells’ like Honey West, Mavis Seidlitz, Marla Trent, and weirder still, Cherry Delight, The Baroness, The Lady From L.U.S.T. and other one-shots and series focused more on the protagonists’ looks and bedroom antics. While the 1940’s through the early 50’s had a decent run of smart, hard-fighting female private eyes, reporters, district attorneys and sundry cloaked/costumed crime fighters, it was relegated to comics much more than pulp fiction or novels. You really have to dial back to the 1930’s pulp era to uncover the female detectives and their associates, and some of the best are featured in this book.

I read my first Carrie Cashin story in Hard-Boiled Dames, and then went hunting for more. Carrie looks “like a demure brown-eyed stenographer in a tailored jacket and tweed skirt”, and in front of clients often defers to her “broad-shouldered assistant Aleck, to allay any clients’ concerns about a woman detecting”. But Miss Cashin is the head of the Cash And Carry Detective Agency, the first to leap into danger, and clearly the brains of the outfit. This anthology includes author Theodore Tinsley’s “The Riddle In Silk”, in which Carrie (with assistant Aleck in tow) investigates a bloody murder in a mansion on the requisite dark and stormy night, which leads them back into the city and ultimately to the waterfront docks on the trail of a stolen pair of silk stockings which “may mean the difference between peace and war in Europe”, the hose containing secret coded messages.

Lars Anderson’s Domino Lady is here too, in “The Domino Lady Doubles Back”, along with Katie Blayne, Trixie Meehan – 15 stories in all, each accompanied by 2 page introductions about the authors and their characters, and reproductions of the original pulps’ illustrations. If you see this book around, snatch it. It’s a good read, and a real eye opener about

 

First You Must Believe It.

how to say i'm a writer

An odd topic for “A Writer’s Blog That’s Not”? I’ll confess: Sometimes it’s a writer’s blog that is, though writerly posts might make some visitors flee. But Bethany Marcel’s short essay at Literary Hub (lithub.com) “How To Say ‘I’m A Writer’ And Mean It” was a quick and motivational read, and not just for writers. What she has to say may resonate with anyone who pursues creative endeavors, a vocation or most anything at all outside the day jobs that tend to define us.

Marcel’s piece is subtitled “First You Must Believe You’re A Writer”. That is, first you must believe you’re a writer in order to feel comfortable telling someone that, in fact, you are. Right upfront she declares, “I’m a writer. For years, I couldn’t say it. I wondered when I could. How many publications would it take? What finish line would I have to cross?” She goes on to explain that she agonized over not having a book published by the time she was thirty and still later, not having a book published at all. She avoided acknowledging that she wrote, frustrated by people’s reactions when she tried to explain that she primarily wrote essays.

I could say that I’m a Cardiologist, a cop or a C.P.A. Of course, just saying so doesn’t make it so. Understandably, there are quite specific education, training, qualifications and certifications involved in these and many other undertakings. But ‘creatives’ are self-defined by the simple act of doing. No license or accreditation officially certifies that someone is a writer, any more than they might be an actor, dancer, artist or musician. Mind you, it takes certain accomplishments to be a published writer, just as a SAG/AFTRA card identifies a working actor and so on.

im a writer montage

But if you’re squeezing paint onto a palette up in the spare bedroom studio once the dinner dishes are done, then you’re an artist, even if your work will have no wider exposure than neighborhood outdoor art fairs. Out in the garage after work with your guitar in hand, penciling lyrics into a notebook? I’d say you’re a musician, even if an open mike night was your biggest audience. Performing in a local theater group’s production? Changing after work for ballet class at your community college? Wandering the forest preserves on weekends with your camera (not your phone) in hand? An actor, a dancer, a photographer, in each case.

Because if you paint, then you’re an artist. Maybe not a particularly good one. Maybe not an artist who’ll ever earn a nickel from your work. Maybe not a ‘professional’ artist. But you’re an artist. Whether you’re a paralegal, a plumber or a proctologist in your day job, if you dance, you’re a dancer. If you act, you’re an actor. If you play an instrument you’re a musician. Money may draw a line between a hobby and a career. But I’ve no idea where the demarcation between a passion and a vocation lies.

What doesn’t make someone a writer (or an artist, actor, dancer, musician)? Well, ‘armchair writing’, that is, just reading about writing. Grousing about agents, editors, publishers and booksellers. Holding court in the college cafeteria or local coffeehouse and pontificating about the writing you’ll do someday (when the marketplace catches up with you). Criticizing the work of other writers, with little or no work of your own to compare it with. No, what makes someone a writer – a good one or a bad one – is writing. And so too with the other artistic endeavors.

Bethany Marcel’s proud declaration that she’s a writer (and she clearly is) is a call to fellow scribes — amateur, dilettante and wannabe alike — anyone whose fingers are poised over their keyboard right now. And, even more so to those whose fingers are busy doing something else instead of dancing across the keys. Perhaps this is the creatives’ coming out of the closet. Like Marcel used to do, I suppose I’ll still take the easy route when quizzed about what I do. I’ll use my day job to define me. Pressed further, I dial back to my college major. But inside, I’ll know. Near the end of her piece, Marcel says, “You can’t control how the world responds to you or your work. Here’s what I know now, after over ten years of writing, no book, no MFA and a smattering of publications few people have read: I’m a writer.” Hopefully soon I’ll have the guts to say it with the same conviction she does.

Link to Bethany Marcel’s essay at Literary Hub below:

https://lithub.com/how-to-say-im-a-writer-and-mean-it/

 

 

No Luck For A Lady.

no luck for a lady

My copy of Floyd Mahannah’s No Luck For A Lady is a 1958 second printing of the 1951 paperback (of the 1950 hardcover titled The Golden Hearse) and my scan above doesn’t do the gorgeous Robert Maguire cover art justice. The original edition (don’t know the artist on that one, sorry) is shown below.

Some sites bill the book as a ‘Cassie Gibson’ detective novel, but that’s stretching it a bit. Oh, there’s a character called Cassie Gibson, and she really is a private detective. But the novel’s really Nap Lincoln’s story, a fellow en route to San Francisco to embark on a year-long South American construction job when he loses his shirt in Reno. Broke and hitchhiking at night, he’s picked up by a big yellow Cadillac convertible driven by a beautiful redhead – Miss Cassandra Gibson (strangely, she’s described as both a redhead and a blonde in an example of some very rushed copy editing). But Cassie’s Caddy has a flat, and when Nap looks in the trunk for the spare, he discovers a corpse and a stash of narcotics. Nap learns that Miss Gibson is a licensed P.I. who’s trying to keep the agency her father started afloat, now on a case that has her mixed up with gamblers and gangsters. Soon enough Cassie and Nap are on the run from the local law while duking it out with some mighty scary Reno crooks.

no luck for a lady - original

This ought to be Cassie’s book, but Nap Lincoln is the hero of ths ‘Cassie Gibson Detective Novel’, with the lady P.I. playing second fiddle all the way. It’s too bad, because her character is an interesting one. It’s all the more frustrating then to read the closing scene, with Cassandra and Nap about to go their separate ways, only to ‘fess up about their feelings for one another. Before they have the last paragraph’s climactic kiss, Cassie tells Nap, “I’ve had enough detecting to last the rest of my life. I don’t want to be a detective, Nap. I want…to be a woman.”

The two being mutually exclusive in 1950, apparently.

 

Blue City

blue city

Ross MacDonald’s Blue City: Late in 2018 I re-read MacDonald’s The Way Some People Die, the third Lew Archer novel, and it ignited some kind of a MacDonald frenzy, and not just for McRibs (though I could go for one of those at the moment). Bit by bit I’ve been working my way through Ross MacDonald’s canon since. It seems that bookstore mystery sections don’t give the author (real name: Kenneth Millar) the respect he deserves, but then, there’s a very charming and well stocked bookstore a short hop from my day job that doesn’t have a single copy of anything by Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane on its shelves either, so go figure.

So far, one of my favorites among the MacDonald novels wasn’t a Lew Archer book at all, but this 1947 stand-alone Blue City. The Black Lizard 2011 trade pb edition is shown above, and a handsome Joe Montgomery designed cover it is. This might remind you a little bit of Spillane’s non-Mike Hammer novel The Long Wait from just a few years later, filled with small town corruption, gin mills, roadhouses, bad girlz who mean well and extremely vicious hoods. I was surprised at just how far MacDonald was allowed to go with the material – violence was A-OK in mid-twentieth century crime fiction, but there was always a lot of tip-toeing around the sex. It’s pretty sizzlin’ in this 70+ year old novel.

If you only know this title from the atrocious 1986 Michael Manning film of the same name with 80’s brat-packers Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy, forget that and read the book. It’s raw, gritty crime fiction at its very best.

Lori Lovecraft

mike vosburg lori lovecraft my favoriate redhead 1997

Mike Vosburg’s loveable Lori Lovecraft, the B-movie actress with a knack for getting in trouble (often as not of the darkly supernatural kind) from “My Favorite Redhead”, 1997.

Chicago Crime (Writers)

crime reads chicago

I don’t know if Chicago really produces more or better crime fiction. I’ll bet New York and L.A. writers would scoff at the notion. In fact, most writers working on either coast, or in Cleveland, Spokane, Omaha, Little Rock and everywhere in between would rightly argue that their home range is best.

My own current projects are set in Chicago, among some of the very same bus routes and neighborhoods Julie Hyzy — author of the White House Chef and the Manor Of Murder mystery series and the just-released thriller Virtual Sabotage — mentions in her Crime Reads piece “For Crime Writers, Chicago Is The Place To Be”. She isn’t cheerleading for the Windy City so much as pointing out what a surprisingly nurturing mystery/crime fiction community she’s discovered there. And if she did indeed wait at a CTA stop near Cook County Jail or ride the California Avenue bus south to the Marquette Park neighborhood commuting to high school, then she sliced right through a hunk of real Chicago: the southwest side’s ethnic blue collar bungalow belt. My in-progress ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ series is set primarily in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, just across the river and past the as-yet unbuilt expressway south of Cook County Jail, and immediately to the north of Ms. Hyzy’s high school destination. California Avenue – two lanes choked with cars and buses most of the way, sometimes residential, sometimes commercial, and unrelentingly brown bricked – is basically my novels’ eastern border.

Who am I to argue with her when she asks, “Why does the Windy City produce so much good crime fiction?” in her article’s subtitle. It’s an interesting read for Windy City dwellers, writers or any mystery/crime fiction enthusiasts. Check it out at https://crimereads.com/for-crime-writers-chicago-is-the-place-to-be/

Noir City

Noir City Summer 2013

The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City E-mag simply has to be one of the genre’s greatest bargains. Supporting contributors can be eligible to receive this sumptuously illustrated and expertly written journal. No little e-zine or digital pamphlet, the last issue was 94 pages of compelling reading, all masterfully designed by art director Michael Kronenberg (horror genre fans may know his excellent work from Monsters From The Vault magazine). The Summer 2013 issue’s cover is shown above, enough to rival any collectible golden age pulp magazine cover. I guess mystery/crime fiction fans should support the Film Noir Foundation just-cuz. At any rate, getting your mitts on this gem of publication is reason enough.

Winter Reading Plans

three readers

Five days into the new year, and I just finished Meghan Scott Molin’s The Frame-Up (more about that one later), am deep into The Annotated Big Sleep for at-home reading and just picked up Sara Gran’s The Infinite Blacktop – A Claire DeWitt Novel to keep in the car for daytime-downtime reading. (I usually have more than one book going at a time, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.)

I normally have a folder handy on my desktop to screen-cap or download any interesting books I spot so I won’t forget to look for them, particularly since it may take a while to get around to it. Sometimes I feel foolish for letting so many books collect there, as if I could ever hope to read them all (not that it’d stop me from buying them). And at this time of year, when every blog and e-newsletter touts yet another ‘Best Of 2018’ or ‘Must-Read In 2019’ list, I feel doomed. When I skimmed J. Kingston Pierce’s Rap Sheet (therapsheet.blogspot.com) 1.3.19 post “Early Rivals For Our Reading Attention”, I was overwhelmed at first, then I didn’t feel quite so bad. It lists 325 US and UK new releases, and just for the first quarter of the year. If anyone can actually get through all those, they’re a speed-reader, unemployed…or nuts. And likely to be out about six grand.

the rap sheet screen cap

My own ‘watch-for’ list is much smaller right now. Forgive me for further cluttering feeds and inboxes with yet another book list. It’s a mixed bag of noir-ish fiction, mystery, hard-boiled crime, non-fiction, YA/comics-related titles and at least one genuinely goofy item: Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s. I mean, seriously…how can you not want to see what that’ll be about?

Raymond Chandler and The Annotated Big Sleep will keep me occupied for a few more nights. January is peculiarly balmy at the moment here, but it won’t be long before that changes, which means ideal at-home evening reading conditions. Indoors. Where it’s warm. And Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt will go down nicely with the dashboard heater blowing and a large coffee in the cup holder while waiting for an appointment or before work. Hopefully these other titles will show up at my local bookstore promptly.

2019 books 1

  • A Bloody Business by Dylan Struzan, with illustrations by Drew Struzan
  • American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner Love
  • Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix
  • Metropolis by Philip Kerr, the last Bernie Gunther novel before the author’s sad demise

2019 books 2

  • Murder, My Love by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (A Mike Hammer novel)
  • The Lost Girls Of Paris by Pam Jenoff
  • The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict
  • The Jean Harlow Bombshell by Mollie Cox Bryan

2019 book 3

  • Bad by Chloe Esposito
  • The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
  • Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s edited by Holly West
  • Under The Moon – A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle

http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2019/01/early-rivals-for-our-reading-attention.html

Reader Photos by Jessica Castro, Daria Shevtsova and Kate Williams

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