Archives for category: Mystery authors

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One of my best all-time thrift store finds was a pristine-condition Vintage/Black Lizard edition of Black Money by Ross Macdonald.

Born Kenneth Millar on December 13, 1915 in Los Gatos, California, and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Ross Macdonald has been called the heir to Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep). Most of his novels — starring detective Lew Archer — are set in Los Angeles and the fictional Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara, where he lived most of his life with his wife, and fellow detective novelist, Margaret Millar. Macdonald passed away in 1983 at age 67.

In Ross Macdonald, a Biography, author Tom Nolan writes: “By any standard he was remarkable. His first books, patterned on Hammett and Chandler, were at once vivid chronicles of a postwar California and elaborate retellings of Greek and other classic myths. Gradually he swapped the hard-boiled trappings for more subjective themes: personal identity, the family secret, the family scapegoat, the childhood trauma; how men and women need and battle each other, how the buried past rises like a skeleton to confront the present. He brought the tragic drama of Freud and the psychology of Sophocles to detective stories, and his prose flashed with poetic imagery.”

Here are a few lines from the opening page of Black Money“I walked around the end of the fifty-meter pool, which was enclosed on three sides by cabanas. On the fourth side the sea gleamed through a ten-foot wire fence like a blue fish alive in a net. A few dry bathers were lying around as if the yellow eye of the sun had hypnotized them.”

Find Black Money by Ross Macdonald at Amazon.com.

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The Moving Target — originally published in 1949 — features Lew Archer, an L.A. private investigator, who appears in a series of novels by Ross Macdonald.

While reading the work of this amazing wordsmith/poet, I was struck by its similarity to the best passages in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — and figured somebody somewhere must have written about this. A quick Google search revealed more than I’d hoped.

My research uncovered a fascinating article entitled “Ross Macdonald’s Marked Copy of The Portable F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Study of Influence” by Robert F. Moss. In the article, Moss demonstrates how Macdonald learned from Fitzgerald on a variety of levels, including language, plot, structure, and technique. Macdonald is quoted as calling Fitzgerald “a dream writer,” “our finest novelist,” and “my master.” Read the entire article here.

To give a sense of Macdonald’s command of language, here is the opening paragraph from Chapter 4 of The Moving Target:

We rose into the offshore wind sweeping across the airport and climbed toward the southern break in the mountains. Santa Teresa was a colored air map on the mountains’ knees, the sailboats in the harbor white soap chips in a tub of bluing. The air was very clear. The peaks stood up so sharply that they looked like papier-maché I could poke my finger through. Then we rose past them into chillier air and saw the wilderness of mountains stretching to the fifty-mile horizon.

The Moving Target was made into Harper, a 1966 movie starring Paul Newman. Legendary screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidAll the President’s Men) adapted the novel for the screen — and considered The Moving Target his breakthrough script (it was his second screenwriting credit). Newman also starred as Lew Harper (the screen name for Lew Archer) in the 1975 movie The Drowning Pool, based on Ross Macdonald’s novel of the same name.

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“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.”

RAYMOND CHANDLER

In searching for an image to accompany this quote, I discovered an interesting project from 2010, when Just Beer, a brewery in Westport, Massachusetts, released a 12-part hardboiled detective story — on the labels of the company’s India Pale Ale.

According to an article at beerpulse.com“The Case of the IPA” is a hardboiled detective farce printed chapter by chapter on 12 bottles of a newly released India Pale Ale. Each 22-ounce bottle not only has 22 ounces of brilliantly deduced IPA [India Pale Ale], but also 1 of the 12 chapters of the story. Each case has 12 bottles, which makes for the entire tale told in a case. And so, “The Case of the IPA” is indeed a case of the IPA. Brewer Harry Smith proposed the idea to author Paul Goodchild and they quickly agreed on a format: a noir-ish detective serial. Smith brewed up a batch of hoppy craft brew whilst Goodchild penned the story. It’s a mystery of zany brewers and their intrigues; sure to tickle the ribs and please the belly of any fan of craft beer. As this is a bottle by bottle mystery, Just Beer reminds all to “please read responsibly.”

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Chapter 1 from The Case of the IPA

I do not boast. My credentials are those of an intrepid adventurer. They are both obvious as the scar on my cheek and subtle as the squint in my eye. For several years now, I’ve been a two-bit shamus in a dirty, gritty, bluesy, and cool city of some renown. I stepped when the boil got too hot on The Case of the India Pale Ale. It started with a summons from a wealthy brewer named Cornelius Fuggle(no relation). He lived in a swank starter mansion in the ‘burbs. The casual staff showed me to his office, knocked once then gestured. I opened the door, pushing against a stack of papers and books. ‘Mind your step,’ came a distracted disembodied voice. I weaved through the OCD towers of yellowed tomes into a clearing dominated by a giant repro of an ersatz antique chart. Fuggle was plotting a route from Blackwall to the sub-continent, getting data from a mildewed log, fiddling with dividers and a straight edge, drawing with a quill dipped in a well of his own blood. ‘Authenticity!’ he exclaimed then passed out.

Photo: Just Beer’s India Pale Ale with labels that feature “The Case of the  IPA”

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WRITING ADVICE FROM RAYMOND CHANDLER:

  • A writer who is afraid to overreach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.
  • Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder… The moment a man begins to talk about technique that’s proof that he is fresh out of ideas.
  • The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the single most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It [style] is a projection of personality and you have to have a personality before you can project it. It is the product of emotion and perception.
  • The challenge is to write about real things magically.
  • The more you reason the less you create.
  • Don’t ever write anything you don’t like yourself and if you do like it, don’t take anyone’s advice about changing it.
  • I am a writer, and there comes a time when that which I write has to belong to me, has to be written alone and in silence, with no one looking over my shoulder, no one telling me a better way to write it. It doesn’t have to be great writing, it doesn’t even have to be terribly good. It just has to be mine.

Photo: Raymond Chandler’s novels

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In 1947, Humphrey Bogartand wife Lauren Bacall starred in the film adaptation of David Goodis‘s noir novel DARK PASSAGE (1946). The book also served as inspiration for the television series THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967) starring David Janssen.

David Goodis — who never achieved the status of fellow noir writers Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett — has been called “The Poet Laureate of the Bleak.” He died in 1967 at age 49.

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With his work often out of print, the prestigious Library of America decided to solidify Goodis’s place as a top noir stylist by in 2012 issuing GOODIS: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s. The Library of America states as its mission “to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing.”

Here’s an example of Goodis‘s prose — the opening passage to his 1947 novel NIGHTFALL:

It was one of those hot, sticky nights that makes Manhattan show its age. There was something dreary and stagnant in the way all this syrupy heat refused to budge. It was anything but a night for labor, and Vanning stood up and walked away from the tilted drawing board. He brushed past a large metal box of water colors, heard the crash as the box hit the floor. That seemed to do it. That ended any inclination he might have had for finishing the job tonight.

Heat came into the room and settled itself on Vanning. He lit a cigarette. He told himself it was time for another drink. Walking to the window, he told himself to get away from the idea of liquor. The heat was stronger than the liquor.”

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“I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.” RAYMOND CHANDLER, The High Window

Photo: “West Hollywood in the Early Morning Fog” by nightsinweho.com.

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There are still a few more days until the Sept. 15, 2013 deadline for the Silver Birch Press NOIR Erasure Poetry Anthology, a collection of passages from hardboiled detective novels — by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell HammettRoss MacDonald, and others — with sections marked out to create poems. If you’re unfamiliar with erasure poetry, check out our posts that feature erasure poems by james (w) moore and  Cathy Dee. For more about hardboiled fiction, visit Wikipedia.

TO SUBMIT: Photocopy a page from a noir/hardboiled novel, mark out passages with magic marker or whiteout (or another form of your choosing) to create a noir poem. On a separate sheet, list your name, address, phone, and email, along with the title of the novel, author, edition, publisher, page number, and any other identifying information. Include your one-paragraph bio along with a typed version of the poem(s).

SEND TO: Silver Birch Press, P.O. Box 29458, Los Angeles, CA 90029 (DO NOT FOLD, AS WE WILL FEATURE THE ORIGINAL SUBMISSIONS IN THE BOOK) or email as an attachment to silver@silverbirchpress.com.

DEADLINE: September 15, 2013

PAYMENT: All contributors featured in the book will receive a paperback copy of the Silver Birch Press NOIR Erasure Poetry Anthology

We look forward to reading your inspired NOIR erasure poems! 

And thank you to everyone who has already submitted. We plan to review all submissions by the end of September and release the book in late fall.

Cover art: Guy Budziak, filmnoirwoodcuts.com.

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Congratulations to Marcia Meara, whose poetry has appeared in all three Silver Birch Press anthologies (Silver, Green, and Summer), on the August 26, 2013 ebook publication of her first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge. Marcia has dreamed of writing a book since she turned five and now she’s done it — 64 years later. (Marcia is candid about her age — check out her blog, where she offers book reviews and other cultural posts). Wake-Robin Ridge is the first book in Marcia’s Darcy’s Corner series.

Find the Kindle version of Wake-Robin Ridge by Marcia Meara at Amazon.com. A print edition will be available soon.

Kudos to Marcia on her book’s professional cover — excellent design by Nicki Forde at nickifordedesign.com.

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DETECTIVE STORY
after Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness”
by David Tucker

Happiness is a stubborn old detective who won’t give up on us
though we have been missing a long, long time,
who stops in towns where we once lived and asks about us
in a grocery where we shopped ten years ago, who visits
the drugstore in the city where it always rained and walks
the hallways of that house by the river, leafing through
the newspaper left on the table, noting the date.
When the search party has called it off, when the dogs
have been put up and our names stuffed in cabinets
at the back of the station house, happiness is still out there,
staring up at a road sign in a distant town,
studying a map by cigarette, weeks away, then days.
A breeze smelling of the river enters the room though
no river is near; the house is quiet and calm for no reason;
the search does end, the detective does finally sleep, far away
from anything he imagined, his dusty shoes still on. 

“Detective Story” appears in David Tucker‘s wondrous collection Late for Work, winner of the Bread Load Writers’ Conference 2005 Bakeless Prize (and published by Houghton Mifflin, 2006), available at Amazon. com, where copies are available for just one (1) cent, plus shipping. If you love poetry or aspire to write it, Late for Work by David Tucker is a must-have, must-read book! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Journalist and poet David Tucker grew up in Tennessee. He earned a BA at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he studied with poet Donald Hall. Booklist critic Donna Seamanhas described his poems as “deceptive in their sturdy plainness . . . inlaid with patterns as elegant as the swoop of swallows, and images as startling and right as a cat’s bowl of milk shimmering as its ‘moon god.’” His debut collection, Late for Work (2006), was awarded the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize by judge Philip LevineDonald Hall, a former US poet laureate, appointed Tucker a Witter Bynner Foundation Fellow in 2007. A newspaper editor for more than 25 years, Tucker is an editor for the Metro section of the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper, where he was part of the team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting. (Source: poetryfoundation.org)

Illustration: “Film Noir Detective” by igrayne01 (via deviantart.com)

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THE LADY IN THE LAKE 
(Chapter 18, Opening Paragraph)
by Raymond Chandler

The Athletic Club was on a corner across the street and half a block down from the Treloar Building. I crossed and walked north to the entrance. They had finished laying rose-colored concrete where the rubber sidewalk had been. It was fenced around, leaving a narrow gangway in and out of the building. The space was clotted with office help going in from lunch.

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At Raymond Chandler’s 125th birthday celebration in downtown Los Angeles on July 23, 2013, the revelers visited the Oviatt Building at 617 S. Olive — the inspiration for the Treloar Building in Chandler’s 1943 novel The Lady in the Lake. Outside the building, Marc Chevalier offered stories from his upcoming book about the location, including how owner James Oviatt put the edifice in his nephew’s name for tax purposes and the overworked, put-upon underling made his slave-driving uncle buy back the building.

The festivities outside the Oviatt Building also included David Kipen — former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts — reading the opening page from The Lady in the Lake. (Kipen currently heads Libros Schmibros, a lending library and used bookstore in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.)

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The main floor of the Oviatt Building is now home to the Cicada Club —  — and the owner allowed the Chandler birthday party to move inside and tour the club in all its Art Deco splendor.

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After walking around the mezzanine — a balcony that frames the space — we congregated in the bar (closed during our visit), where host Richard Schave and Oviatt historian Marc Chevalier shared wild tales about James Oviatt — the teenager from humble beginnings in Utah who became a linchpin and millionaire in Los Angeles. Oviatt also served as inspiration for Derace Kingsley,  the heavy in The Lady of the Lake.

While touring the club, I chatted with Sybil Davis, daughter of Raymond Chandler’s last secretary, who earlier in the evening had given a talk and held up one of her prized possessions — Chandler’s monogrammed silver cigarette case. Realizing it was a lot to ask, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without trying — so in a barely audible voice I asked if I could hold the cigarette case, if only for a few seconds.

Looking around, so as not to cause a stampede of people who wished to follow my example, Sybil slipped the cigarette case (wrapped in a white gauze bag with a satin tie) from her purse. She removed the case from its covering and placed it on my outstretched hand. I enclosed the case between my palms and felt a profound sense of gratitude — to Sybil and to Chandler for his masterful, iconic, poetic works of art.

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This was the Noir Holy Grail — Raymond Chandler’s silver cigarette case — and, as a devotee of both Chandler and noir, I found myself speechless and humbled by this unexpected blessing.

Thanks to the organizers and participants for a wonderful celebration of Raymond Chandler‘s birth! And a special thank you to the gifted husband and wife team of Kim Cooper — who read from her amazing, beautifully written, Chandler-inspired novel during the evening — and Richard Schave, the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Visionaries Association, for hosting this inspired event.