Nov 182014

While I was away having a fantastic time at Bouchercon, a new issue of Eat Drink Films went live featuring November’s installment of my Down the Hatch cocktail column. I review the new book Of All the Gin Joints: Stumbling through Hollywood History, written by Mark Bailey and illustrated by Edward Hemingway, and prepare a trio of forgotten drinks from its pages. Plenty more to see there, so why not swing on by?
 Posted by at 9:03 pm
Nov 032014

All right, kids. Time to release some news that Rosemarie and I have been keeping under wraps for a few months now. Good news. Big news.

Drumroll, please!

Seriously? That’s the best drumroll we can – you know what, forget it. We’re forging ahead.

Rosemarie and I are hugely excited to announce that our mystery novel Design for Dying, which we wrote under the pen name Renee Patrick, will be published by Macmillan’s Tor/Forge Books in April 2016, with a sequel to follow in April 2017.

An early Paramount promotional photo of Edith
Design is set in 1937 Los Angeles and introduces Lillian Frost, an aspiring actress who has traded in her dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl. When her former roommate is murdered, Lillian is drawn into the investigation – and the orbit of Edith Head, the famed costume designer at Paramount Pictures then in the early days of her legendary career. With assists from a host of silver screen luminaries, the two ladies join forces to track down a killer hiding in the shadows around the Klieg lights of Hollywood.

We were thrilled when Design won the 2013 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. (Reminder: you have until November 15 to submit your application for this year.) We are beside ourselves that the book has found a home with the great people at Tor/Forge, and that Renee Patrick will have the opportunity to write another mystery featuring Lillian and Edith. Rosemarie and I have always envisioned this as a series drawing on real Hollywood history and the astonishing legacy of Edith Head, an enormous talent who dressed everyone, knew everyone, and blazed a trail for women in show business.

Word of Design’s sale broke on Halloween in this post we wrote for the Boucheron 2014 blog. We’ll be in Long Beach for this year’s convention and participating in a Tor/Forge author event at Bouchercon on Friday, November 14. If you see us, come say hi. We’ll be the couple standing around looking dumbstruck at our good fortune.
 Posted by at 7:22 pm
Oct 172014

Over at Eat Drink Films, the latest of my Down The Hatch columns is up. Last month I considered three cocktails created to honor the Brooklyn. This go-round I take a look at the often-imitated-never-duplicated original and its return to prominence thanks to the advent of Bigallet’s China-China Amer. Also included is bartending legend Murray Stenson’s take on the Liberal using that same ingredient. This week’s issue of EDF is packed with goodness, like DC Comics veteran Steve Englehart’s inside take on Batman and how it relates to the new film Birdman. Check it out.
 Posted by at 7:38 pm
Oct 132014

Then there is the marvelous story about William Faulkner – which I never bothered to ask him about, because we used to talk of other things whenever I visited his office or we had dinner with my wife at Musso Frank’s on Hollywood Boulevard.

The story had it that once, early in Faulkner’s Hollywood career, he sat in his office for several weeks doing nothing (sometimes he played dominos, sometimes he played chess). And there came a day when the producer, tired of waiting for “pages,” came to his office in person (which was really a breach of Hollywood protocol) and wanted to know how he was getting on.

Faulkner, who had not written a single line, reached for an old screenplay he had found in his desk and said, “Ah’m not satisfied with it.” Then he slowly tore it up, page by page, and dropped it into the wastebasket.

The producer reported back to his own boss, “That fellow Faulkner’s great! Tore up a whole screenplay because it didn’t satisfy him. Conscientious. I wish we had more writers like him. See that he’s not disturbed.”

From Alvah Bessie’s 1965 memoir Inquisition in Eden
 Posted by at 5:54 pm
Oct 022014

I say this every time a new issue of the Film Noir Foundation’s magazine hits in-boxes around the globe. So I’ll quote FNF jefe Eddie Muller: this latest edition of Noir City is “the best written film journal in the world – certainly the most entertaining.”

Want proof? I thought my word was good enough for you. I thought we were friends.

Fine. Here’s proof. Inside the Fall 2014 issue:

- Imogen Sara Smith’s expansive survey of noir westerns

- Your friend and mine Christa Faust sizes up noir vixens of recent vintage

- Michael Connelly names his five favorite noir films

- Wallace Stroby on the real life origins of the neo-noir classic Thief

- Profiles of Mike Mazurki and William Castle

- Muller mulls the question of the definitive heist film: The Asphalt Jungle or Rififi?

I’m particularly proud of the sidebar to that piece which I helped assemble, in which we ask a rogues gallery of crime writers to single out their favorite cinematic caper. Faust and Stroby chime in, along with the likes of Duane Swierczynski, Laura Lippman, Ken Bruen, Roger Hobbs and Ray Banks.

Plus plenty more. I contribute a few film reviews and my usual Cocktails & Crime column … and eagle-eyed readers may spot breaking news about what I’ve been up to lately.

Don’t have a copy? Never fear. Simply make a contribution to the Film Noir Foundation and ninety-four pages of majesty will be winging their way toward you. Don’t miss out.
 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Oct 012014

From Joseph Cotten's 1987 autobiography Vanity Will Get You Somewhere:

The following day Orson and I had a date for lunch with two gentlemen (not from Verona, I fear). They were two tough and exceedingly wealthy businessmen. The reason for our meeting was simple; Orson needed money for his next film and he intended to acquire some of theirs.

Walking into the restaurant I saw Winston Churchill seated quite close to our table. As we passed the great man, Orson said to my horror, “Winston, how nice to see you again.” Churchill made no response at all. Our lunch was a fiasco. Orson made some lame excuse about, “Winston’s not feeling well.” He mentioned other big names, big money, which almost caused me to say, “Big deal.” Actually it was no deal, for our money men asked if we could postpone our discussion until dinnertime, as they were expecting several overseas telephone calls.

Late that afternoon, we spotted Churchill swimming in the Lido. In a flash, Orson had his swimming trunks on and was in the water beside him. He was talking, but thank heavens I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Apparently neither could Churchill, for he just turned and swam in the other direction.

Later I asked Orson, “What did you dare say to him this time?”

“I apologized for being fresh,” he said, “but I told him I just wanted to impress two gentlemen whose money I needed for a film.”

Rather unnecessarily I asked, “Did he reply?”

“No,” said Orson.

That evening, we walked into the dining room, our two prospective backers following gloomily. As we reached Churchill’s table, he stood up, looked directly at Orson, and bowed slowly and deeply.

We got the money.
 Posted by at 6:53 pm
Sep 262014

Exactly one year ago Sunday my book Down The Hatch: One Man’s One Year Odyssey Through Classic Cocktail Recipes and Lore came kicking and screaming into the world. Such an occasion must be marked, and in that most American of fashions: savings!

Amazon is running a Kindle Countdown Sale on Down The Hatch from noon PST today to noon PST on Monday. For 72 glorious hours, pick up the book for a mere 99 cents! More than fifty cocktail recipes for less than a buck! Endorsed by experts like New York Times Magazine columnist Rosie Schaap, who called it “a terrific guide through the classic cocktail repertoire.” The Joy of Mixology author gaz regan dubbed it “a great compilation of fine drinks.”

What are you waiting for? Operators are standing by. Metaphorically, of course.
 Posted by at 7:17 pm
Sep 162014

I’ve had my reasons for not updating the blog lately. (On the bright side, they’re good reasons. Very good.) Time to surface and recommend several recent books that span the decades. Two decades, anyway.

Joseph Koenig’s Really The Blues plays out in Paris, 1941. The Nazis have claimed the city, not that ex-pat jazzman Eddie Piron cares. His combo Eddie et Ses Anges performs every night at La Caverne Negre, and “as long as he had a steady gig, the world could keep going straight to hell.” He doesn’t even mind that the SS officers who are supposed to be stamping out the devil music he plays are now his steadiest customers. But when Eddie’s regular drummer turns up dead, the crime draws the attention of a particularly cunning Nazi officer new to the City of Light, one willing to squeeze Eddie to ferret out the truth. It’s Eddie’s bad luck that a fellow American abroad who knows the reason why the musician is in no hurry to return Stateside puts the screws to him at the same time. Eddie’s either going to have to stick his neck out for somebody, or stick it in a noose. The third act may lean on Inglourious Basterds-style heroics too much, but the book crackles with mood and energy throughout. Eddie Piron is a compelling protagonist, an aptly fractured guide to a fractured place.

Blacklist by Jerry Ludwig unspools in 1959 on the other side of the world, where shadows from the war still fall. David Weaver returns to Los Angeles after growing up in exile to bury his father, a screenwriter destroyed by the Communist witch hunt. David doesn’t expect a hero’s welcome, but he would appreciate work in the only business he knows. Opportunity comes courtesy of an unlikely source – Leo Vardian, his late father’s partner, who named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee and is now a successful director. A suspicious David takes the job mainly to return to the good graces of Leo’s daughter Jana, the only woman he’s ever loved. Hounding David’s chance at happiness is Brian McKenna, an FBI agent chafing at his Tinseltown tenure now that the Reds have been rounded up and agitating to serve at the right hand of J. Edgar Hoover. His potential ticket out comes in the form of a series of murders, every victim somehow tied to the blacklist – with David Weaver as likely avenging angel. Veteran TV writer Ludwig paints a vivid portrait of Los Angeles as a company town and smartly conveys the costs of the Red scare on an intimate level. He also creates some fascinating false history, like a choice cameo by Sterling Hayden and a description of “the only full-scale comedy John Garfield ever did” that sounds completely believable.

Linking both the 1940s and ‘50s is The 101 Best Film Noir Posters by Mark Fertig. Mark is a colleague at Noir City, the magazine of the Film Noir Foundation, and I had the pleasure of meeting him and his wife Josie at a signing and reception this past weekend at Fantagraphics Books here in Seattle. For years Mark has curated the finest examples of the noir poster form at his blog Where Danger Lives, and he and Fantagraphics have turned that work into a stunning book. The posters are reproduced in all their lurid, breathtaking glory. My personal favorite may be Force of Evil, which abandons the fool’s errand of attempting to capture Marie Windsor’s sensuality in painted form and just shoehorns a photograph of her into the corner. Mark’s shrewd assessments of every film don’t shy away from controversy; he expresses his doubts about including Leave Her To Heaven, and (correctly, I think) calls D.O.A. “more noteworthy than good.” Clear shelf space, noir fans, because this book is an essential.

 Posted by at 6:35 pm
Sep 122014

Another issue of Eat Drink Films, another of my Down The Hatch cocktail columns. In this one, I take you on a spiritual tour of Brooklyn, touching on three variations of the borough’s classic namesake drink that you can make when you don’t have one essential ingredient on hand. Whip one up – I suggest the Red Hook – then peruse the rest of this week’s magazine, which includes an overview of this year’s Telluride Film Festival and part one of a look at one of the best movies of the year, Pawel Pawlikowski’s astonishing Ida. But seriously, start with my column.
 Posted by at 12:29 am