The Dawn Is For Dying.

(Spotted at that most excellent of reference sites, Notpulpcovers.com)

Back in 1944, ‘Noir Prince’ David Goodis penned a dogfight story titled “Dusk Is For Dying” under his own name for Fighting Aces magazine. For Goodis, any time may have been a good time for dying, dusk or dawn. 

But let’s assume that “The Dawn Is For Dying” (above) by Lance Kermit doesn’t deal with heroic American airmen blasting Zeroes, Messerschmitt’s or whatever else Fighting Aces magazine showcased. 

Actually, “Lance Kermit” was one of several pen names David Goodis used for the pulp magazine market (though he used his own name for many stories too). Not that I’d consider Adventure magazine a prestige venue…or any of the men’s adventure or ‘sweats’ mags, for that matter. But a David Goodis story graced by an Al Rossi two-page B&W illustration is prestigious enough for me, even if Rossi’s art is pure vintage sleaze at its ‘best’…or worst, depending on your point of view. 

Now that I think about it, this April 1959 issue would’ve been on the newsstands during my own The Stiletto Gumshoe project, the hoped-for series’ first novel set in April and May of that same year. As it happens, “Sharon Gardner/Sasha Garodnowicz” (the Stiletto Gumshoe herself) inherited a soft spot for mystery fiction and true crime pulps left behind by her old man, and she’d have been sorely tempted by “The Case Of The Deadly Doll” and “Are You A Slave Of Desire?”. But I know she’d have snickered at “Land Of The Love-Captive Girls” and John Stygna’s cover art with its sword-wielding sheik and harem girls. My bet: A quick thumb-through of the rag would’ve probably found her settling in to Kermit/Goodis’ “The Dawn Is For Dying”. 

A Loura Nua.

Detective - Brazil - 1959

A Brazilian detective magazine (called, simply enough, Detective) from March 1959, the same year my own “Stiletto Gumshoe” projects are set in. In fact, since those commence in April of 1959, someone could be reading this very magazine. Uhm…well, if they were in Brazil, that is.

“A Loura Nua”? Apparently that would be “The Naked Blonde”, though this particular cover model’s prudently kept her black dress on. Well, more or less.

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 many 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/

 

No Hoods Left In The Hood?

Noir Gentrification

Background research on settings? Search engines can only yield so much, and eventually you just have hop on a bus or get in the car, ready to pound the pavement if you really want to get the look and feel of a place for whatever it is you’re writing about. Obviously that’s a problem if you live in Newark and your project’s set in Novgorod. But if it’s just another neighborhood in your home town, you’re good to go. For some (me, for example), the trick is accessing a time machine in order to capture not just a place, but a place-in-time.

Adam Abramowitz, the Boston writer of A Town Called Malice and Bosstown, had a terrific piece in the March 19th CrimeReads (link below), “Noir In The Era Of Gentrification: What Happens To Spenser & Scudder When Their Cities Are Gone?” He opens by recalling childhood trips to neighborhoods that were ripe with danger and which later became settings for his writing. But in the ensuing years, those blocks once lined with strip joints, gin joints and sundry other joints populated by lethal predators were gentrified building-by-building into rehabbed lofts and pricey rebuilds, the strip joint now a Starbucks, the gin joint a trendy bistro, and the only predators still lurking about are snooty sales clerks in fancy boutiques.

“Big city noir is under siege,” he writes. “As a noir reader, I become as attached to a city as to the main character working those pitiless streets…(Gentrification) threatens to render our stories sentimental and nostalgic until we all sound like a lamenting grandparent: Back in the bad old days.” Abramowitz refers mostly to New York and Boston, but acknowledges the same for James Lee Burke’s New Orleans and even Chandler’s and MacDonald’s Los Angeles.

Here beside the coast of the ‘inland sea” (the Great Lakes), it’s no different. Endless blocks south and west of Chicago’s Loop seemed destined for permanent skid row status after WWII. Now the South Loop has exploded with residential hi-rises, and west of downtown where independent food service distributors stretched for a mile beneath the Lake Street El and the Fulton Market strip, McDonald’s erected its new headquarters, just over from Google’s Chicago HQ, and suburban corporations are elbowing each other aside, determined to find suitably sized industrial lofts to gut or tear down so they can erect faux-rehabs. The SRO’s and their hoboes, homeless, hookers, pimps, muggers and wino’s have been pushed a couple miles south and west once again, and if the migration continues, eventually they’re going to cross the border into Indiana or be halted at the Mississippi.

Brighton-Archer

My own work is set in a very particular time and place, and while that place has changed considerably, it definitely hasn’t been gentrified. 1959 landmarks like the sprawling Miami Bowl 24/7 100-lane bowling complex or the once-luxurious Brighton Theater are long gone, along with countless Mom & Pop storefront bakeries, bars, hardware stores, dress shops, jewelers and deli’s (and all of the loan sharks, card games and B-girls that worked their back rooms). Some are no-brand phone stores and vaping shops now, others just vacant. The discreet Mowimy Popolsku signs in their doors have been replaced by a different language, perhaps, but I’m sure there’s no shortage of punks, thugs and crooks around. They’re just busy spray-painting their colors on garage walls before they get down to business these days. Now the word is that retiring Yuppies and monied Millenials from landlocked Chinatown are buying up two flats as investment properties. Not exactly gentrification, but enough change to make it hard to recognize anything from the old B&W photos sourced online.

Still, there’s no substitution for actually walking the main streets, side streets and even the alleys (which were only paved with cinders from the nearby ComEd plant back in the era I’m writing in). The sights, sounds and smells are all a little different from what my characters experienced in 1959, I suppose. But as Adam Abramowitz writes in his CrimeReads essay, “Don’t cry, noir lovers. Change is cyclical and as long as the slums of the heart keep burning, there’s always going to be material to mine.”

https://crimereads.com/noir-in-the-era-of-gentrification/

Listening to…

lush life

Listening to: Might not all be period perfect, but right now at the keyboard, my head’s stuck in 1959, and I’m going with The Very Best Of Etta James, and Lush Life: Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle orchestra.

etta james

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑