I’m not sure that “meming” is a word — but it’s January, so new words are allowed. How else do little dictionaries grow?
This is the month of Noir City and post-holiday cookie sales … a month of anticipation, back-to-the-gym promises, of hope and resolve and potential. Of dark, rainy streets projected in glorious 35mm on the Castro Theater screen, of sunshine in San Francisco backyards, and a new inauguration for a New Deal and a New Day in Washington.
You can probably tell I like January.
This week, I’m meming … it’s a receding economy, and in the spirit of “make do and mend”, and “reduce, reuse, recycle”, later this week I’ll post a meme originally created on Facebook. Today, though, I’ve got a new one for which I was tagged by that talented dame of hardboiled fiction, Linda L. Richards.
You may possibly be wondering exactly what a “meme” is. In the context of Bloggerville, it’s one of those response-oriented lists that float from tagger to tagger, wherein you list five foods you won’t eat, seventeen most embarrassing moments, seven times you’ve broken the law or three impossible things before breakfast.
You know the kind of thing. Here’s a link to more specific definitions, but their real purpose is to save a busy blogging world a lot of time and let you discover trivia about other people.
So–drum roll, please … What book, movie and television show makes you cry the most?
(And keep in mind that I give good weep. From the “Old Yeller cry” (the horrible cry of loss) to “LaMarseillaise cry” (the choked up cry of sentiment, in this case over the singing of the Marseillaise in Casablanca), I cry at, over and for a lot of things.)
Book: I might cry over my own if I get a particularly nasty review. I first read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The Return of the Native, and Jude the Obscure (all by Thomas Hardy) as a young woman (and re-read them subsequently), and I cried buckets. The sound of my tears used to wake my mother up in the middle of the night. They’re among the most powerful novels in English, and Jude the Obscure, hands-down, is the most gut-wrenchingly devasting book I’ve ever read. Only Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath comes close.
Two more get honorable mentions: Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Ayn Rand’s We, the Living. The latter was one of my favorite books, and I used to harbor dreams of making it into a movie (I’m far from being a political disciple of Rand’s, but she was one hell of a writer.)
A special section might be devoted to children’s literature: I cried over the Harry Potter saga as an adult, and as a kid used to wail over Charlotte’s Web. Movie: The aforementioned Casablanca scene always makes me cry. But It’s A Wonderful Life makes me cry from the opening scene, just in anticipation (voiceovers of various cast members are praying for George Bailey). I avoid sad animal movies entirely. Crying is a catharsis, and if you’ve experienced the loss of a beloved pet, you realize crying doesn’t help. I don’t need an entertainment vehicle to remind me of it.
Television Shows: TV mostly makes me cry in horror–especially the “Queen for a Day” reality programming. Most television–which, when I was growing up, was all network–is presented in bite-size chunks, making it much more difficult to sustain the emotional connection necessary. So I don’t think I’ve cried at TV since the last, farewell episode of The Mary Tyler MooreShow. And for some reason, probably related to why I’m a noir writer, Carol Burnett used to make me teary whenever she dragged out that damn old bucket to play the scrub-woman. I’m sure I would’ve cried at the last episode of MASH, too, but I was rehearsing for a play in college–and the little (#$^@ student director thought that directing meant being a dictator, and forced us to miss the episode. This in the days of no TiVO. I’m still holding a grudge.
One of my autumn resolutions (always a good time for resolutions–forget January) is to blog each and every week. Probably on a Sunday or Monday … and I intend to keep said resolution, even if the road to Washington, D.C. is paved with them …
So what have I been doing? What does that title mean? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?
Just a little over a week ago, I headed north to the great state of Washington (I can say that with sincerity–I was born there, in Tacoma, the “City of Destiny.” And yes, that is what Tacoma is known as, so there.) That’s Mt. Ranier in the photo, by the way.
Had the great good fortune and wonderful time of signing books at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, the premiere place for crime fiction in the state, and one of the top mystery stores in the U.S. J.B, Gretchen and Fran make three hours seem like three minutes — awesomely fun people!! We laughed, talked about theme songs, and listened to J.B.’s terrific “Spy Mix” of movie and television themes. Where else can you rock out to Thunderball or Mission Impossible while you’re signing books? I saw an old friend from comic book store days (Adam Barnes, ultra-cool guy and publisher of Perilous Press) and met a new friend, Christina Arbini, a romance writer who is set to rock the world with her amazing books.
In other words, I had an incredible afternoon, and can’t wait to get back. And then, this Friday, The Seattle Times posted the best-selling mystery lists from SMBS, and … I was on it! Five Star is a small press, and not known for its ease in bookstore ordering (euphemistically speaking) … so to be on the list (#5) was a complete surprise and a total highpoint! Topping off the good news, today the monthly list for August was released, and NOX DORMIENDA was #7 for the month, tied with James Lee Burke’s (!) SWAN PEAK. Holy Moley! And my home state, too! Thanks, guys!! Seattle Mystery Bookshop is the best!!
So back to the tour … I took Amtrak from Seattle (“The Emerald City”) to Portland, to sign at the wonderful Murder by the Book. This is one of the nicest bookstores you’ll ever step inside … Jean, Carolyn, Barb, Nick and Ted are so helpful and so knowledgeable, I defy anyone to leave without buying something. I am so thankful to have done a signing, and like Seattle, can’t wait to go back! To make selections easy, the store is organized by type of detective … unique and creative! I had a delightful afternoon, talking to a high school classmate (Hi, Tiffany!), a friend of a friend, and hanging around with the reason why Portland should be your number one destination in the Northwest: Bill Cameron. Bill’s my special buddy, and took us on a LOST DOG tour of the city. So I finally got to see the places that creeped me out in his kick-butt book. And snag a bite in the cool Hawthorne District, where the store is located. And take a train out of the oldest continuously operated station in the country, beautifully restored. Sigh. Portland was wonderful! (As you can see in the photo, LOST DOG and NOX DORMIENDA are blessed with supernatural energy).
I didn’t have too much time to miss the NW, though. Two days after returning, I had a library panel with fellow authors Dana Fredsti, David Fitzgerald, Peter Gessner and Rebecca Dixon. We had a grand old time — pure fun! — and so well-moderated by Dave that some sort of moderator award needs to be established in his honor. One of the best panels, ever.
And that brings me to my current schedule. I’m heading to LA and San Diego for signings this weekend, to Thousand Oaks and Mysteries to Die For, and The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Then the downtown San Diego Borders on Sunday to wrap things up. So what about the picks I referred to in my blog title?
Well, M is for Mystery — where I held my first reading on August 2nd — has selected me as their “Mystorical” pick for August. I’m in august (OK, I like puns) company … Denise Hamilton and Salman Rushdie are earlier choices. The Mystery Bookstore has also chosen NOX DORMIENDA as their “September Discovery Club Selection” — another honor! And Mysteries to Die For describes my book this way: “Kelli Stanley has created an exciting new genre of mystery here, Roman noir. Fast-paced plotting, first person narrative, staccato and hard-boiled prose are utilized to full effect. This series debut is one that will be talked about all year.”
I’ve been feeling much more cozy than noir lately, more like Gidget than Gloria. And I can’t wait to get to LA and San Diego and thank these amazing, supportive and wonderful bookstores in person! OK, so now we come to the Pre-Code Delight: Man’s Castle, a 1933 Frank Borzage film with Spencer Tracy and a 20 year-old Loretta Young. I caught it on TCM the other night, and it was fantastic.
Spencer and Loretta live in a shanty town in Central Park, along with the other discarded people of the Great Depression. Spencer takes odd jobs and keeps them in stew; Loretta plays wife. Though, because this is pre-code, they’re not married. In fact, the first night they meet, they go skinny-dipping, and they sleep in the same bed.
Yeah, people actually had sex before 1934 and the Hays Code tried to make it illegal.
Anyway, Spence is a man who doesn’t want commitments. He doesn’t want to be tied down. Loretta is in love with him, and persuades him to buy a stove for their Love Shack on the installment plan ($2 down, $1 a month!). He dallies with gap-toothed Glenda Farrell (filmland’s Torchy Blaine). But he buys the stove.
And then … she tells him she’s pregnant. Yup, they had unmarried sex. Twenty years later they would die for it. But pre-code, no worries. They are “married” by an ex-preacher, also from Hooverville. She even mentions something about getting rid of the baby if it would make him happy … and doesn’t use the word adopt. But Spence decides to run out on her, first throwing in with a real villain (a rapist type with designs on Loretta) to rob a toy shop safe, so she’ll be provided for.
I won’t tell you what happens, but I will tell you this: the characters have a happy ending (as happy as you could have, if you were impoverished in 1933).
You’ll have fun counting the “sins” in this film, all of which would be punishable by death or imprisonment, film-wise, the following year. The direction is romantic and lush, as is typical with Borzage; Tracy’s acting is breathtakingly natural, and Loretta Young is just breathtaking (and also turns in a great performance). Films like this make you wonder … how did the Code change American culture? How did it affect generations of film-goers? Can we blame the code for reality tv?
More next week, after my LA tour … home sweet home will be the Culver Hotel, next to the old Ince/MGM/RKO studios. Ah, Hollywood! 🙂
So after the events of Friday — and those terrific Cosmos (in honor of the Sex and the City premiere) at the Edison — I slept like a baby, and woke up on Saturday ready for more BEA and my signing.
And despite Culver Studios across the street, I didn’t murmur “Rosebud.”
We drove down Venice Boulevard — I resolutely refuse to travel on gargantuan freeways if I can help it … past the incredible Helms Bakery building, a landmark of LA Deco from 1931, complete with an amazingly beautiful roof-top neon sign … past the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, with its time-worn, individual monuments. Among the notables interred here: Dooley Wilson, Anna May Wong, Hattie McDaniel, Jessie Benton Fremont, horror director Todd Browning, and Everett Sloane, who portrayed Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane.
“Rosebud,” indeed. Yet another reason to slow down and actually experience the history of a city, especially one as richly fabled as Los Angeles. We arrived at BEA, and I put a little time in behind the MWA booth, giving away copies of our short story anthology edited by Michael Connelly, The Blue Religion. Again, the booth was buzzing, due to Margery’s brilliant set-up of the booth environment and a constant stream of great authors like Harry Hunsicker and Patricia Smiley. I happily reunited with friend and LCC panel mate Ken Kuhlken(The Vagabond Virgins), and before I knew it, it was time to go see James Rollins (The Judas Strain), who was signing at the autograph area.
James bestowed me with a fantastic blurb for Nox Dormienda— in fact, he was my first blurb, ever, and let me tell you — it’s a frightening thing to ask authors whom you revere to read your book, just on the possibility that they may like it. It’s a process that can be painful and terrifying.
For the record, I never met nor previously corresponded with any of the generous and wonderful authors who blurbed Nox Dormienda, so this was my first chance to thank Jim in person. By the time I reached the autograph area, they’d already shut off the line, because Jim was to sign for half an hour only. Fortunately, the crowd moved fast enough to add a few more people. I was able to thank him and give him a hug (though not my mother’s apple pie, unfortunately — when she read the blurb, she wanted to bake him one). And I got a signed copy of The Last Oracle, which I can’t wait to read! (Jim also wrote the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull!)
Next, we trekked over to the other hall, wandered around collecting more books and book bags, and visited good friend and author Laura Caldwell (The Good Liar), who was signing in the plush and comfortable Harlequin/Mira booth. After chatting, I found myself surrounded by two half-naked — make that more like 85% naked — angels, characters from a video game/movie/book promo. This sort of thing is what happens at BEA, so I just went with it. After seizing the photo op, I handed the angels my requested business cards … one went into a bejeweled bra, the other into a jockstrap. These, I believe, are the most exotic places any of my business cards have been … so far!
Back to the MWA booth, passing a sign for Kirk Cameron (in one booth) and Alan Thicke (in another) and a long, long line at St. Martin’s, where Alec Baldwin was sitting, signing marketing materials. Seriously — no book, but he seemed to be taking time to really talk to people. Even from a distance, he was intense.
Then I had the good fortune to run into friend and Noir Czar Eddie Muller, which is always a special treat, because he’s one of the busiest people I know.
When I got back “home” to the West Hall, Margery’s husband Steve and Harry were discussing the prospect of getting Hugh Hefner’s book. Steve managed to get a picture with the Hefmeister, despite the size and rabid temperament of Mr. Playboy’s bodyguards. Pal Bill Cameron (Chasing Smoke) came by to check in with me, and soon it was time for my signing. I was thrilled … people actually wanted my book! The brilliant and delightful Penny Warner was sitting next to me, giving away copies of The Nancy Drew Handbook (an indispensable tome if ever there was one!), and we were both busy until we ran out. I only had thirty ARCS with me, so I distributed them very quickly, and was utterly delighted to meet some readers, bookstore owners and librarians.
In the meantime, I had realized that a tall, dark man had taken Ken’s seat to my right. His back was to me, but then I realized that Andrew Peterson — who the day before had signed and distributed over a hundred copies of his first thriller, First to Kill at the Dorchester booth — was mouthing the words, “Lee Child.” And so I turned, and realized that the tall, dark man was also handsome, urbane and witty, and of course was, indeed, best-selling author Lee Child (Nothing to Lose).
Lee is the ITW sponsor of the Debut Author Program, and will be introducing all of this year’s debs (myself included) at the Debut Author Breakfast at Thrillerfest next month. So we chatted, and I had the opportunity of thanking him for his incredible support. As I told Lee, joining the program was the single most valuable thing I did as a first-time author … it’s been an amazing education, a wonderful network, and a treasure-trove of friendships.
Then Elizabeth Evans and Amy Burkhardt, two of the stellar agents with my stellar agency, Reece Halsey North, came by. Kimberley Cameron, my wonderful, wonderful agent, was at the Paris branch, so Elizabeth and Amy were down at BEA. I am so thankful to be represented by Reece Halsey North … it really is “writer’s heaven.” 🙂
We discovered he was scheduled the day before … and fortunately, my significant other waited in line — actually started the line — at the St. Martin’s booth, while I was signing. BEA Tip #274: bring family members with you.
Why was meeting Shatner so important to me? Am I a closet Trekkie? Do I own more than one Star Trek toy? OK, I’m a semi-trekkie, but only for the original show. And that wasn’t the reason why William Shatner was on my must see list. I had to skip Leonard Nimoy because of the timing, and as much as I adore Nimoy, Shatner would always be my first choice. Why?
Public figures can become icons for a variety of reasons. But only a few become true symbols. I realized this after Princess Diana was killed. Her death felt like losing a family member, and I struggled to make sense of this to myself. I came to the conclusion that, to me and millions of women my age, just a bit younger than Diana, she was a symbol, a sort of ideal self, the ultimate woman of my generation.
We were mourning ourselves, as much as Diana.
With Shatner, I was facing the ultimate paternal figure. The strong, always positive, uber-leader James Tiberius Kirk. I greatly admire Shatner’s work with animals, as well as his personal tenacity and humor and strength in adversity. In fact, those characteristics are what enables him to so easily reach that symbolic status. He’s been kicked, he’s been ridiculed, he’s been adored and worshiped. Still, he perseveres, under his own terms. To paraphrase one of the quotes on his new autobiography, Up Till Now:“It’s Bill Shatner’s world. He just lets us live in it.”
So when I say it was like meeting God, maybe you’ll get what I mean.
The St. Martin’s people passed out the books early, and gave away free audio books, too. Publishing professionals came by, murmuring about how they’ve always wanted to meet Shatner, can I get in, can so-and-so introduce me. And we stood and waited, while the line grew.
At least I had a chance to chat with Ivory Madison, CEO and Founder of the amazing writer’s site Red Room, while we were waiting. Ivory has authored the definitive relaunch of DC’s The Huntress, is supremely multi-talented and an absolutely wonderful person. Red Room is a joy to be a part of, a true community. And of course, she immediately understood why I was standing in line!
My feet were killing me, but before I quite realized it, there he was. A literal hush fell over the crowd, and all you could hear were the clicks and whirs of cell phones taking snapshots of Captain Kirk. Steve was standing in front of me, and shook Shatner’s hand. We backed up, with me in front. I’d decided that I had to give him something. I feel like he’s given me a great deal. Courage. Tenacity. Entertainment. Positivism. Determination. Strength. So the only thing that seemed appropriate was to give him a copy of my book … after all, that’s why I was at BEA.
Shatner set the rules for the signing, since the St. Martin’s people weren’t exactly on top of things. One of the booth handlers brought over someone from the booth across the way, a rock musician I hadn’t heard of, to have Shatner sign a book for him. You could feel the frenzy of the crowd behind us, eerily still and quiet.
The man himself exudes charisma and an ultimate alpha quality. Truly. It’s quite intimidating, and almost frightening. Almost Old Testament, if you know what I mean.
Shatner asked me how long we’d been waiting. He was jovial and chatty, but wanted to have the signing proceed like a well-oiled machine … like the Enterprise.
So then it was me. I could feel the weight of the 250+ crowd behind me, the swarm of people around us, not waiting in line, but trying to get pictures. When he saw I had two books in my hand, a St. Martin’s marketing rep tried to tell me that Shatner was only signing copies of the autobiography, which I knew. I replied that what I was holding was my first book, a gift for Mr. Shatner. In all honesty, I don’t remember what else I said. It was hard to get words out, rather like the first time I was in Europe and staring at St. Peter’s Square. Shatner said “Put it there,” interrupting any objections from the booth man. So I put my book where he said to put it — next to him, on his left — and I thanked him, and he said, quite kindly, “You’re welcome,” and I tried to say something about how I felt and hoped I didn’t sound like an idiot. I couldn’t say much. I remember he asked my name, and at the end, when I left, he turned toward me and gave me that particular Shatner wink — you’ve seen it a million times, he crinkles one side of his face.
I waited for my group, and none of us were exactly sure what had just happened. Our feet were killing us, we were hungry — it was after 3:30, and we hadn’t eaten lunch. So we walked back to the West Hall, managed to find a table in one of the dining areas, and ate and talked until we felt something resembling normalcy.
Back to the MWA table, to collect my books, say so long. By this time, I was wobbly. Really, really tired, not used to the heat in LA, not used to signing books, not used to meeting symbols. So I had to unfortunately miss out on a helicopter tour of LA I was going to take with Julie Compton (Tell No Lies), another friend from the ITW debut authors, courtesy of pilot and writer Andrew Peterson. But alas — the spirit was willing, the post Shatner-signing flesh was weak.
After a small dinner at the excellent Italian bistro Novecento in Culver City, I watched a Val Lewton documentary on TCM … and of course the films it discussed had mostly been made in the studio across the street.
The next day, we thought about going back. But you really can’t, not after a Saturday like that. So we didn’t rush, enjoyed a Sunday morning in Culver City and flew home to San Francisco later in the afternoon. Did I really give a copy of Nox Dormienda to William Shatner? Yeah. I guess I did!
I’m back from BEA (BookExpo America), and — while not yet fully recovered — am at least ready to post about it.
I’m not sure that it’s something from which one can recover. An event that large (even though the numbers were low this year), that chaotic, that carnival-like in its showmanship and chutzpah — yet demonstrating a strange serendipity — is actually quite an individualized experience. My BEA will be different from all other BEAs, if only because of the sheer number of choices available. Nimoy or Shatner was probably the toughest, but that was day two … tomorrow’s post. So where to begin? Culver City, I suppose. I stayed at the Culver Hotel, once owned by John Wayne, who, legend has it, won it in a poker game from Charlie Chaplin. This pairing strikes me as highly unlikely … rather like Michael Moore playing poker with Bill O’Reilly, but you know what they say — that’s Hollywood, or rather Culver City, the “Heart of Studio Land.”
Three studios once populated the landscape, and Sony is still located in Culver. More significantly for me, the Hotel is immediately across the street from the old Ince/Selznick/RKO/Desilu studios, where films like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Rebecca, and Citizen Kane were filmed. They are now the Culver Studios, and are still busy. If you’ve ever seen a Selznick movie, you’ll remember the opening shot of a colonial mansion, sometimes confused with Tara, that prefaced all of his productions. I woke up to that mansion every day, looking down and to the west from my sixth floor room. That’s a magic kind of film history, and the Culver Hotel is a gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful and wondrous place to stay, with an exceptional staff of welcoming and helpful people.
Plus, I really loved the old elevator … an original from 1924, when the hotel opened.
Across the street is a newly-built Pacific Theater complex, designed to look Art Deco, and done so well that it fooled me from a distance. So at least somewhere there are architects and developers with souls, who remember what beautiful building design looks like. Friday dawned early and orange in LA, and fellow debut author Andrew Peterson and I entered the huge complex together, first paying our respects outside to the enormous sign for James Patterson. Mr. Patterson was helping bring in the crowds, and I’m looking forward to seeing him in a slightly more cozy environment at Thrillerfest next month.
The Expo feels like a world’s fair, an amusement park, a circus, a conference and a business meeting. And depending on what you were there for, it could be all of the above.
People in elephant costumes, people in pirate costumes, people in practically no costume or clothes at all. People with signs, people with free cookies, people with free lip gloss, all wanting your attention, all wanting to call your attention to something, usually a book. And then there were the free books. Books in every subject, hardbacks, paperbacks, magazines. People passing them out, people piling them on garbage cans because they couldn’t stuff them into one of the gazillion free book bags that were handed out along with the — yes, I said it — FREE BOOKS.
It was insanity. A woman walked around in zealot robes, carrying a sign that read “The Rapture is Coming … and it’s only 12.99.” The flip side said, “It is Written … but you can also get the audio rights.”
That’s BEA, Los Angeles-style.
I checked in at the MWA (Mystery Writers of America) booth, where I was volunteering and where I’d be signing on Saturday. The MWA relies on an organizational goddess based in New York named Margery Flax … Margery had planned everything to the proverbial t and the booth was hopping with excitement. Brad Meltzer (a wonderful writer and guy) was dishing out books like hotcakes, and the joint was jumping!
I hung around for a bit, greeting colleagues, and then wandered off to meet Dionne Warwick, who was signing free copies of her new children’s book Say a Little Prayer (complete with bonus CD). I grew up with Dionne, and have always appreciated the fact that she made San Jose a glamorous place when I lived there in elementary school.
Next was Diahann Carroll. OK, by now I was in pure fan mode … I grew up with Julia, and absolutely adore this woman. She is as sweet, generous and open as she is gorgeous, and signed ARCS of her forthcoming autobiography, The Legs are the Last to Go. We even got a chance to chat about new author syndrome, and she wished me a heartfelt good luck on my book. Wow! I checked back with MWA to remind myself that I was still an industry professional, and ran into the wonderful David Morrell (founder of ITW (International Thriller Writers), author of First Blood and countless other best-sellers) and his talented, terrific daughter Sarie. As an ITW member (and participant in the ITW Debut Authors Program), I had to thank David for the amazing friendships, opportunities, and education I’ve received. Soon, a group of us were talking in the giant lobby, and I had a chance to meet uber-talented writer Denise Hamilton (Los Angeles Noir) and walk back to MWA with her.
By this time I was getting kind of woozy, and it was still morning. I headed back to the autograph area [and I need to interrupt myself to explain that authors signed one of two ways: in a specific autograph area, where lines were roped off, and in exhibitor booths, where people could could a little closer]. Now, it so happens that my mother is from Harvey, Illinois. And she grew up in a working-class neighborhood with a little boy named Tommy Dreesen, who grew up to become the wonderful, talented and very funny comedian (and great golfer!) Tom Dreesen. Tom is one of the last links to the Rat Pack, having worked as Sinatra’s opening act for the last fourteen years of The Voice’s life. Before that, Tom worked for Sammy Davis, Jr. And before that, he and Tim Reid (Venus Fly Trap on WKRP in Cincinnati and acclaimed director) had toured as Americans first (and only) biracial comedy team.
Tom, Tim and Ron Rapoport (the Chicago Sports columnist) have co-authored a book about this experience, called Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White. The book debuts from the University of Chicago press in September, and is as much a thoughtful, poignant look at racism in America as it is autobiographical reminiscence.
Naturally, when my mom found out Tom was going to be at BEA, she asked me to go see him (they’ve stayed in touch periodically). So when I said, “I’m Patsy Geniusz’ daughter!” Tom actually knew who I was, told Tim and Ron that he used to borrow Mom’s papers occasionally, and was just an absolute sweetheart — he’s such a kind, generous man. I gave him a copy of my book, and he signed mine, “For Kelli, who is as beautiful as her mom.” Something I’ll treasure forever!!
By now, my head was spinning, so we tried to scare up some food, but the food court lines were gigantic. Fortunately, we met up with pal and amazing thriller writer Robert Gregory Browne (Kiss Her Goodbye), who helped us fight for chairs (chairs were in shorter supply than tables, and harder to come by than parking at a Toys R Us during Christmas). We managed to score some low-fat muffins and frappucino for our efforts, and were joined by another BFF, Bill Cameron (Lost Dog and the forthcoming Chasing Smoke). These are two of my favorite guys on the planet, and their company was much more refreshing than the Starbucks food. We all wandered into the main exhibit area, where we split up, Rob and Bill to another publisher area, I to wait in line for Billie Jean King. Yeah, the lady I watched demolish Bobby Riggs in straight sets, who gave courage to every little girl I knew, was there signing copies of her ARC, Pressure is a Privilege. I got a chance to thank her and tell her she’s a real Wonder Woman. Plus, she’s got a great laugh!
After this, we squeezed into the end of the line for Barbara Walters who was a late addition, and signing free copies of her best-seller Audition. Got a chance to thank Barbara for her inspiration, too. She’s quite beautiful in person, with amazing skin and bone structure, and a very gracious benevolence. Can’t believe she’s 78!
Once outside, I thought I heard a voice call my name, figured it was the angels, and it turned out I was right … it was Cara Black, the supremely talented author of the Aime Leduc series, good friend, wonderful, wonderful person and fellow San Francisco resident. We caught up on some of the BEA craziness.
After this, I headed back to the hotel and collapsed, finally locating real food at the Culver, and then headed back to downtown LA and into the trendy and fun bar, The Edison. The place looks like a Buffy set … I half-expected Angel to walk down the stairs. This was an MWA hosted bar, and I had a blast drinking Cosmos and chatting with Margery and husband Steve, friend and Lambda nominee Neil Plakcy (Mahu Surfer) and another great friend, Laura Caldwell (The Good Liar).
Back to the hotel, through the strange, apocalyptic streets of downtown Los Angeles. Back to the Culver, to the Selznick mansion, to the kindly and generous ghosts of the Culver Hotel.
Thus endeth Day I. Childhood icons, my mom’s childhood chum. What a day! More tomorrow.
We interrupt this blog to disclose six random factoids about the author. Said author was tagged by noir writer and pal Bill (LOST DOG) Cameron … we repeat, this is tag, and only a tag … if it were a real blog post, you’d hear the sound of Bogart bitterly muttering “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of” …
So here are the six random facts, and following Bill’s example, I will attempt to list them with a solemn air. Or a sober air. Come to think of it, solemn might be easier …
Random Fact #6: I had two ponies (at different times) when I was a little girl. One was a pinto, one was a Shetland. These were not “my little ponies,” either. In fact, the Shetland hadn’t been gelded yet, and one time when my mother was feeding him, she found two hooves on her shoulders.
Random Fact #5: I first sang in public at the age of five at a concert of a Mexican guitarist whose name, alas, escapes me. I warbled “Que Sera, Sera.” How I got on stage, I don’t remember, but it took me a good many years to get off of it. My favorite role in college was as the Courtesan in The Comedy of Errors … it was an awesome costume, and I won the role with a Mae West impression (and yes, I can still sound like Mae if plied with enough bourbon).
Random Fact #4: I love pigeons. In fact, I love all animals, though I have an aversion to earwigs. Pigeons (the common Rock Dove) have actually contributed a great deal to civilization (other than pigeon poop). Would that the same could be said of a few people I’ve known …
Random Fact #3: I co-exist in the DC Universe. Back when we had a comic book store — Robin Williams and Anton LaVey were both customers–our business was illustrated in an issue of Batman (my absolute favorite superhero and one of my favorite fictional characters) in which the Darknight Detective visits San Francisco. I was an Overstreet Adviser, on the DC Retailers Board, and Denny O’Neil called us “his favorite store in his favorite city.” I still collect (old) comics, though my habit has been severely curtailed by my career. Other geek-type factoids: I own a copy of every Detective Comic from 1958-1985 (pre-Crisis); my oldest issue is Detective #40, from 1940 (first Joker cover; first appearance of Clayface), and I can remember not only all the pre-Crisis Earths and who inhabited them, but the members of the Legion of Super-Pets.
Random Fact #2: I drove Greer Garson home from a Dallas production of “Sweeney Todd”; I walked through the San Francisco Wax Museum with Jason Robards; I’ve talked politics with Justine Bateman and Robert Downey, Jr (and Leif Garrett). I’ve been a foot away from Billy Joel’s socks (OK, that was the Stormfront tour).
And finally … Random Fact #1: In order to help pay my way through college, one summer I sold phone advertising for massage and escort services. Talk about student debt.
So now the madness (and fun) continues … I get to tag six more people.
The vict-I mean, winners, are:
CJ Laura Jennie JD Sophie Lee
As for the rules–
The rules are as follows:
Link to the person that tagged you – i.e. me. Post the rules on your blog. Write six random things about yourself in a blog post. Tag six people. Let each person know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their post. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.
It’s hard to believe that this time last week was the final day for that most winsome and winning of conferences, Left Coast Crime. What a whirlwind!
Luckily, Writing in the Dark (this blog, doncha know) had special guest and fabulous historical noir writer, Becky Cantrell, to keep the fires burning. We could’ve used a hearth or two in Denver, where the snow flurries drifted and spun down the eerily quiet 16th Street pedestrian mall, settling into small snow drifts, as powdery as your grandmother’s compact.
I had a lot of fun at LCC, and over the next few days, I’m going to post some pictures to prove it. There were too many highlights to unwrap them all in one blog, even though I tried to hit a few high notes when I guested over at the ever cool Crime Always Pays blog of friend and top writer Declan Burke (also known as the Irish Elmore Leonard–his books are amazing!).
I met a lot of new friends, people I’d only met virtually … like Robert Gregory Browne, an amazing writer from the Killer Year class who is an utterly wonderful guy to hang around with. J.T. Ellison, another KY alum, whom I felt like I’d known forever. Jeri Westerson (the creator of Medieval Noir with her Crispin Guest series, coming this fall) and I met in the signing room and talked about hard-boiled history and teaming up for a panel.
I met the wonderful Jeanne Stein over dinner, Margie Lawson, the amazing editor and writing coach. The delightful Toni McGee Causey. Tireless volunteer and the Birdwatcher’s Mystery Series creator Christine Goff. And the list goes on, because the writing community really is a special one, filled with generous, fascinating and talented people, and even though I tried, I didn’t get to share a drink with them all.
I hung around with panel mates and author friends from Northern California, like Cornelia Read (don’t miss out on Crazy School!). I got to see out of state friends like Lost Dog author, Rocky nominee and KY member Bill Cameron (he who christened The Big Noo The Big Noo) … Laura Benedict, the author of the fantastic Isabella Moon, and ITW Debut Program leader CJ Lyons, who launched her first novel Lifelines at LCC, a gripping medical thriller that is just one hell of a good book.
In other words, I was surrounded by amazing talent. And friends. And wonderful, wonderful readers, librarians, booksellers, publishers. In short, it was nirvana. In short, a hell of a conference.
Sunshine in the day; snow flurries at night; and a whirlwind of excitement, conversation, clinking glasses, scintillating panels, costume contests, and nonstop, crazy fun. Left Coast Crime. I can’t wait til I can do it all over again in 2009 (albeit with no snow flurries).
Next up: more photos from LCC and news about a newly discovered Noel Coward play and Czar of Noir Eddie Muller! And hey–if you were there, or have ever been to a conference or ever thought about going to a conference–leave a comment! 🙂
Whew! It’s been quite a week. I’d intended to post a Valentine wish … but I was stuck without a computer in Seattle. Computerless in Seattle … where’s Nora Ephron when you need her?!
I’ve been swamped since my return, getting ready for Operation Read My Book. Y’see, my ARCS (that’s short for Advanced Reading Copies) will be here by Friday, and I’ve got to get them out to reviewers, bookstores, media and libraries. And readers — I’ll be giving some away on Dorothy-L and a few other lists, so look for the notice.
All this sudden injection of reality hit me like a wet fish upside my head. And speaking of fish, I felt a bit like a salmon when in Seattle, since I was born in Tacoma, and hadn’t been back in mrruhs (hand over the mouth) years, since I was seven. So I returned to the Pacific Northwest, and saw Mt. Ranier again, and it felt like home.
The Space Needle was always my favorite building as a kid. I mean, Astro lived there! (I never cared much for the Jetsons–I preferred the Flintstones, go figure–but I did love Astro). That soaring architecture of hope, circa 1962, complete with working monorail … well, there’s nothing like it anywhere. It’s from an era when people still remembered what it was like to have beauty in their environment–architectural beauty.
Not just glass boxes. Not just fake Santa Fe shopping malls. Not a Starbucks on every corner. Not the ubiquitous “mixed use retail” environment that is slowly destroying the individuality of every American city.
OK, I’m bitter in my nostalgia, but really … cities need to preserve their architectural history. Thank God Seattle has its Space Needle … and the Valentine’s Day menu at the Sky City Restaurant was jaw-droppingly terrific. I’d write about it, but I don’t want to make you too hungry.
On 310 Union Street in downtown Seattle (between 4th and 3rd Avenue), not too far from theSpace Needle, is another tribute to beauty … the beauty of hats and how to sell them. Byrnie Utz Hats was established in 1934, and not much has changed about the store since then except the stock. No website, alas, but they do mail order. Pay ’em a visit.
Glass and wood cases line the walls, a hat steamer and applicator for marking your hat band with gold-leaf initials rest on large wooden counters that have seen their share of coffee and cigars. And the hats … well, you can tell from my photo that I’m a hat person. I collect fedoras, and rejoice in wearing them. And at Byrnie’s, I found two exquisite wide brim Dodds with low crowns. Glorious, luxurious hats that felt like they, too, stepped out of a 1937 time machine.
I’ll be wearing them to Left Coast Crime and other conferences and signings this year … they are my debut fedoras. Thank you, Byrnie Utz!
(By the way, the fedora in my author photo is a vintage Paramount from the 1940s, complete with thin satin ribbon on the brim. I don’t travel with it, or my other vintage hats — they’re too delicate).
After partaking of a delicious latte at the Tully’s flagship store around the corner from Byrnie’s (I don’t do the other place), I visited another wonderful business in the city … one near and dear to my heart as reader and writer. The Seattle Mystery Bookshop, on 117 Cherry Street near Pioneer Square, is one of the best specialty shops I’ve seen — a must-visit if you like mystery, thrillers and crime … and who doesn’t?
With a staff of the nicest people in Seattle, including JB, the owner, and Fran, Book Keeper extraordinaire, you’ll find yourself whiling away the hours and discovering new gems. My timing was great on Saturday, because I got a chance to visit with my Killer Year pal Bill Cameron, author of the Rocky-nominated gem Lost Dog, and meet the wonderful Gregg Olsen. If you’re going to Seattle, this store is as much of a necessity as looking up at the Space Needle!
Next time: more noir (film and literary), a review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age and why Helen Mirren needn’t worry, and more observation on the road to Left Coast Crime in March, when Writing in the Dark will be featuring its first ever guest blogger!
Until then, may your coffee be hot and your noir be ice cold …