“Our Last Hours Before He Killed Himself”

olga sherer by elisabeth toll bon magazine 2009 our last hours before he killed himself

I often say that many ‘artsier’ and edgier fashion editorials tell a story, or mean to at any rate. But even if creative directors, art directors and photographers have lofty narrative goals, the purpose of the shoots is to sell clothes. Or shoes, makeup, accessories or whatever.

But when a shoot is titled “Our Last Hours Before He Killed Himself”, as is this one by Elisabeth Toll with model Olga Sherer for a 2009 issue of Bon magazine…well, clearly the creative team had something narrative in mind. And that’s one hell of  title.

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At The Rap Sheet

The Rap Sheet

Thanks to J. Kingston Pierce’s always excellent The Rap Sheet blog (link below) for a mention and link to The Stiletto Gumshoe site and my recent post on James Ellroy’s This Storm. If you already follow The Rap Sheet, you know what a treasure it is. If you don’t, then why the hell not? The emailed updates are always welcome in my inbox and likely to send me foraging online through endlessly intriguing articles and sites. So be warned: A quick peek at The Rap Sheet will inevitably lure you into some well-spent time delving deeper into that site and many others.

Sweet Cheat, 1959 - ernest chiriacka cover

Seemed fitting that on the day The Rap Sheet included a mention of The Stiletto Gumshoe, it led off with a pic of Peter Duncan’s Sweet Cheat (“She Was The Nicest Bad Girl In Town”) with its gorgeous Ernest Chiriaka cover, that paperback from 1959, the very same year The Stiletto Gumshoe’s hoped-for noirish crime fiction series is set in. Serendipitous indeed! The Duncan novel’s a link to a 2010 page from the great Bill Crider’s (1941- 2018) own blog — Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine (link below), which ran for sixteen years, is yet another incredibly informative and entertaining site you can get lost in, and is sorely missed by many.

https://therapsheet.blogspot.com

http://billcrider.crider.blogspot.com/

And Some More Suarez…

fernanda suarez 2

Some more work from Santiago, Chile concept artist and illustrator Fernanda Suarez, who may be familiar to many for her intriguing artistic rethinks of famous Disney characters. Suarez’ gorgeous work is easily located at Art Station, Tumblr, DeviantArt and elsewhere (a couple links are below to get you started). Now, much of the work is quite witchy, mystic and fantasy oriented, along with some very fetching vampiric looking ladies of the night, but all quite stunning, even if that’s not your thing.  You have to dig deep to locate the slightly more ‘noir-ish’ among the pieces, but its’ well worth the search.

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fernanda suarez 5Fernanda suarez 3

fernandasuarezartstation.com

fdasuarez.tumblr.com

 

Fernanda’s Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew Fernanda Suarez 2

Everyone’s favorite ‘girl detective’ (well, maybe until Veronica Mars stole her thunder): Nancy Drew, as seen here by Santiago, Chile concept artist and illustrator Fernanda Suarez for a Simon & Shuster Nancy Drew update series.

Nancy Drew Fernanda Suarez 1

No Going Back.

Tumblr-Wordpress

Not ‘going back’ to Tumblr, but I am expanding to Tumblr. If you’re visiting here and unable to follow this site because you’re not signed up at WordPress or a blog aggregator,  but happen to reside at Tumblr, then you can follow along from there. New posts (starting with August 2019) will automatically appear at thestilettogumshoe.tumblr.com, the short ones appearing intact, longer ones with a feature image, opening text and handy link to the post at this source blog.

The Stiletto Gumshoe blog actually started at Tumblr in Autumn 2018, but I closed that down in December after barely two months of activity and started over on the WordPress platform. Tumblr was going through some changes at the time. I didn’t leave Tumblr in protest (though I know many did) but because some of Tumblr’s more out-there content was troubling, and whether they’ll admit it or not, the platform’s plagued by pornbots, spammers and hackers (and still is, I suspect). For more on that, refer to “A Tumblr Refugee” from late December (link below).

Still Tumblr’s super-simple social media aspect remains a lure. The Stiletto Gumshoe’s been up at WordPress for eight months with 400 posts, just under 4,000 visitors, over 7,500 views and over a thousand Likes. Which is nice, but experienced bloggers would snicker at those numbers, and the site hasn’t even topped a hundred followers yet. While this isn’t the sort of destination that’ll ever draft thousands of followers, there’s not much point to crafting content that goes unseen. Cross posting to Tumblr can only increase exposure.

The Stieltto Gumshoe Dot Com

So, visit however you like: thestilettogumshoe.com. thestilettogumshoe.wordpress.com. thestilettogumshoe.tumblr.com. All routes will lead back here, and given some time, I’ll make a point of retrieving older content to get it posted a bit at a time at Tumblr.

P.S. You can also ogle lots of random visuals (with frequent links back to here) at Pinterest if you like: https://www.pinterest.com/stilettogumshoes/

“A Tumblr Refugee” 12.2018 Post: https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2018/12/27/a-tumblr-refugee/

Not Sucking Up, I Swear.

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No, this isn’t a literary agent suck-up…

An old Huffington Post article referred to writer Anais Nin (seen above, top right) as ‘the original blogger’. Not really of course, there being no internet for her, but her release of portions of her diaries and journals was akin to blogging, or so the article explained. Makes you wonder what writers from the recent past would think of social media and writer’s blogs.  I follow my share, though often unfollowing quick enough if I conclude that the blogs are only self-promotion sites cluttering my inbox with redundant “Buy My Book!” posts. Publishing professionals’ blogs are much more rare, many literary agents and acquisition editors understandably too busy with their jobs to feel like posting about the biz in their down time.

But when I come across a good one, I really pay attention.

I’d already queried Janet Reid at New Leaf Literary & Media (though New Leaf queries are directed to a generic inbox) and promptly received my polite form rejection about a week later, signed by Ms. Reid (but could’ve been from her assistant, an intern, or who knows). As any actively querying writer realizes, a rejection isn’t necessarily an agent or editor saying that “You suck” or “Your work sucks, too”, (though, of course, it could be) and can just as easily be no more than “Not right for me”, “I already have something just like it”, or the agent’s overloaded and is more or less shooting out form rejections to damn near everything that comes in. Whatever Ms. Reid’s rejection meant, a tip of the hat to her for adhering to traditional biz communication protocol and bothering to send the form rejection. Not unlike employers with resumes/job applications, the number of agencies that forego any reply at all is disappointing.

Still – Query sent. Reply received. Case closed. So…no suck up here. Clear?

Janet Reid Blog

Because this is actually a shout-out to writers and writer wannabes: Make a point of following Janet Reid’s excellent blog (link below). Reid used to run the Query Shark blog, where brave, thick-skinned writers submitted real queries for her critique. Which could be pretty merciless. With a shared sense of humor, but still…pretty merciless. Which is good. However, Query Shark appears to have been dormant since March, so perhaps it’s on hiatus, or Reid’s devoting her time to her regular blog instead, or Query Shark simply was folded into that blog, or moved, or…

No matter, Reid’s blog is a treasure trove of pull-no-punches advice and practical guidance on countless topics of interest to writers, whether beginners, pro’s or anything in between. And, it’s often quite funny. Reid has a wicked, whimsical sense of humor and a real way with words, enough to turn many un-fun topics into chuckle-worthy chats. The blog’s been going since 2004, and the archives have hundreds (thousands?) of posts, so be warned: Stop by for a peek and you could get lost for days. I follow her daily posts via BlogLovin’ and am diligently working backwards through the archives a few-per-day. It’s so informative (and entertaining), I almost feel like I should be paying Reid tuition.  You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

So, an agent’s rejection? Oh well, that’s to be expected. But I’m glad to have discovered Janet Reid’s blog, and encourage you to take a look too.

Jetreidliterary.blogspot.com

(Author photos: Ernest Hemingway, Anais Nin, Carson McCullers, Phillip Roth)

The Los Angeles Epic.

this storm

Epic? Horror fans (or at least the vampire enthusiasts among them) might point to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles books. Heroic fantasy readers would naturally hold up J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Lord Of The Rings trilogy and all of its many, many prefaces and repackaged source materials. I don’t know if mystery/crime fiction readers and critics expect the genre to spawn anything that ought to be called ‘epic’, but I’ll nominate James Ellroy’s original L.A. Quartet and now the new L.A. Quartet, including 2019’s This Storm.

This book’s been sitting on my to-be-read end table since its release, the huge red swastika emblazoned on its cover doubly eerie in light of current events. I wanted to clear the deck of other reading and projects to devote a few days to This Storm. For me, no skimming’s allowed with Ellroy. I won’t speed-read through a passage to jump to the next ‘good part’. Every single word is a ‘good part’. I couldn’t imagine trimming random notes from a Beethoven symphony and I can’t conceive of skipping a single sentence, phrase or word in an Ellroy novel. At just under 600 pages, This Storm is not a quick read. The plot’s incredibly complex, the cast of characters enormous (there’s actually a six page Dramatis Personae appendix to guide you…and you’ll need it), and when you crack the book open, you just assume that you’ll be living with it for a few days.

If you love James Ellroy, you loved (or will love) This Storm. But I recognize that not everyone is quite so enamored with the writer as I am. The rhythmic syncopated jazz score that is an Ellroy manuscript is off-putting to some. The dense, complex plotting, the sheer bleakness of his milieus and the relentless greed, duplicity and violence his characters exhibit can almost be too much to bear. In James Ellroy’s world, no one’s ‘good’ and everyone has an agenda, which often as not is an evil one. Sometimes it’s on a grand scale. Just as often, it’s a vapid, banal evil that’s somehow even more disturbing.

Ellroy’s original L.A. Quartet comprised four books: The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1900) and White Jazz (1992), all of which dealt with an intricately intertwined group of post-WWII LAPD detectives, criminals, bureaucrats, wives, girlfriends, crime victims and not-so-innocent bystanders spanning 1947 through 1958. Over twenty years later, Ellroy launched his second L.A. Quartet with Perfidia (2014), revisiting some of the very same characters a few years earlier at the very outset of the U.S. involvement in WWII.

This Storm opens on New Year’s Eve 1941 and continues through early May 1942, just before the tide began to turn in the Pacific War with the Battle Of The Coral Sea and the more decisive Battle Of Midway. But in the early months of 1942, news from the front was not good. War hysteria has the entire west coast on edge. This is the time of the Japanese internment and rampant fear of saboteurs, Nazi spies and Russian fifth columnists. But crime can still flourish during war time, and the line between simple crooks, the merely corrupt and the downright traitorous is a blurry one.

La Confidential 1LA Confidential 2

Two of Ellroy’s original L.A. Quartet novels have been made into films, one a double-Oscar winning masterpiece, L.A. Confidential in 1997, and the other a dismal failure: The Black Dahlia, 2006. Familiar characters from those films populate This Storm, including Dudley Smith (James Cromwell in L.A. Confidential), Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) and relegated to bit parts here, Lee Blanchard, ‘Buzz’ Meeks and others. L.A. Confidential is a magnificent film which does an impressive job of condensing a sprawling, complex novel into a taut feature film. Why The Black Dahlia didn’t work, considering the talent assembled with visual stylist Brian DePalma directing Hillary Swank, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhardt and Mia Kishner, is more of a mystery. I hope Johansson and Kishner consider another period noir role some day, the critical and box office failure of The Black Dahlia notwithstanding. Kirshner in particular garnered her share of rave reviews, even if the film didn’t.

Black Dahila 2Black Dahlia 1

A plot summary of This Storm is impossible. Paring down the labyrinthian story to its fundamentals finds cops and crooks alike conspiring to pit the right against the left, the schemers unaware that the two sides are already working hand in hand, their political ideologies only empty rhetoric, their quests driven by short term greed and for more far reaching postwar power. In This Storm, run of the mill blackmailers, pimps, pornographers, perverts, thieves and murderers mix it up with closet fascists, the German Bund, Mexican paramilitary police, Imperial Japanese spies and NKVD agents, some orchestrated by and some manipulated by corrupt LAPD detectives and bureaucrats. Here, life is cheap. Sex is currency, fists and bullets fly with impunity, the thugs with badges often more violent than the worst of the criminals. Aside from a particularly horrid lead character getting a bit of a comeuppance (though only a bit, and only a temporary one at that), there’s little to console you at This Storm’s conclusion, and that includes the fact that it’ll be a long wait for the third novel in James Ellroy’s second L.A. Quartet.

Elmore Leonard wrote that “reading (James Ellroy’s) The Black Dahlia aloud would shatter wine glasses”. I don’t doubt it. In fact, I truly wish I could read all of Ellroy’s novels out loud in order to fully appreciate the staccato rhythm and musicality of the rapid-fire prose. Books like This Storm leave me humbled, and almost feeling presumptuously arrogant for having the impudence to aim my own fingers at a keyboard to try my hand at crime fiction. So…epic? I don’t think that’s hyperbole. This Storm and James Ellroy’s original and second L.A. Quartets really are, to me at least, crime fiction’s epics.

Nightlife, 1976.

patti hansen dior chris von wangenheim

Mid-seventies decadence, reminiscent of the provocative Helmut Newton photos shot for the 1978 film The Eyes Of Laura Mars about Faye Dunaway’s edgy fashion photographer stalked by a psycho killer. Here Chris von Wangenheim shot Patti Hansen for Christina Dior’s 1976 “Nightlife Is Your Dior” campaign, juxtaposing elegant couture cocktail gowns with flaming car wrecks, and doing it, well…just ‘cuz.

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Dave Lebow

dave lebow 4

Yes, they breed artists in Oklahoma too, where painter Dave Lebow was born, though his arts education occurred on the coasts, first in painting at Boston University and then earning his MFA in Experimental Animation at Cal Arts. For most of the first decade of the 2000’s, Lebow worked in animation, but returned to painting full time in 2009. Various sites refer to his style as ‘retro contemporary’, which doesn’t make sense at first, but in a way, is precisely what it is. On one hand, the work pays homage to the fantasy and adventure pulps of the 1930’s, but is reimagined through a contemporary 21stcentury vision. Similarly, his technique is fully traditional, often doing monotone greyscale grisaille underpaintings with oil glazes over those. A visit to the artist’s blog (link below) not only showcases more work, but preparatory sketches, model photos and much more. A lot of the work is epic fantasy oriented (with a wry contemporary twist, mind you), but I’ve collected several here that focus on more noir-ish settings and situations.

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http://davespaintingblog.blogspot.com

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