Interview with Author, Don O’Melveny on his novel, No City for Dreaming

28 Aug

Dear Readers, I wanted to share with you an exciting series of novel, by the author Don O’Melveny. Don is a screenwriter and former art gallery owner who has turned his lifelong fascination and love of Marilyn Monroe into three exciting novels. Last Year in the Life of Marilyn Monroe Volume One and Two and the most recent hit novel, No City for Dreaming is a historical exploration of what happened the night Marilyn Monroe died and of course, asserts that her death was no suicide, nor a mere accident. Kirkus Reviews, notoriously snarkey raved! RAVED! I’m a little jealous, but wanted to share this little gem with you.

“Hollywood noir mashed up with Cuban missile crisis-conspiracy theories and the shadowy death of Marilyn Monroe…makes for a dark and fascinating read.”

Actually, it is no small effort that landed Don here. He’s climbed to #10 in the Kindle charts recently, got over 3000 likes on his Facebook page, and 17,000 followers on Twitter. I’m a little more than jealous of his following.  Aren’t you?! But of course, I thought my friends who love historical fiction, noir, pop culture and Hollywood history might like to meet Don and hear all about his book.  Enjoy!

When did you first become aware of Marilyn Monroe? When did you know you wanted to write about her and her death?


Back in the early 80’s I was reading through some Marilyn material and stumbled into the mysterious  circumstances of her death.  The more I read up on it, I became convinced it would make a great premise for a story – and then developed the frame of the long-lost missing manuscript  around it to give the feel of a true story finally getting to be told.

What do you find most interesting about writing historical fiction?


What I find most interesting is digging down below the surface of what we’ve come to believe is true – or what we thought we knew.  Only to discover layers of hidden truth, facts, and untold details.  And I am particularly intrigued by the blending of history and fiction and the yield of another realm of truth that neither alone can present.

Are you ever frustrated by fans who are so loyal to Marilyn that they believe any exploration of her death is unfair to her image?

No… because it’s human nature to want to protect Marilyn in this way – not wanting her to be caught up in a messy murder scenario.  But personally, I think there are too many indicators that Marilyn had finally come to some hard-earned realizations in her life about herself and the life she  wanted to lead going forward (especially with Joe DiMaggio) that make her undoing by her own negligence far less appealing – and far less consistent with the inner strength I believe she had finally grasped.

You’ve written three books, two prequels and one novel, surrounding Marilyn’s life and death. What was the biggest challenge of the project? What has given you the most pleasure as an author?

The most challenging aspect was to compose a picture of Marilyn that wasn’t picture-perfect – and that wasn’t just about Marilyn.  An argument could be made that “The Last Year in the Life of Marilyn Monroe”  isn’t so much an examination of Marilyn’s life as it is a chronicle of so many interesting  dramas and personalities with Marilyn as the point of intersection. But to me, one must understand this historical context to ever fully appreciate why people did and behaved and acted as they did.  Character is action, and action is largely a result of cause and effect.  For me, Marilyn is the lens through which to see into a truly dramatically significant period of our country – that eventually culminated in Dallas with the assassination of president Kennedy.

What do you find most compelling evidence that her death was not an accident?

Without question the one compelling aspect pointing to murder – was really a ‘lack of evidence’.  Marilyn’s stomach contained no capsule sludge – as it must have to be consistent with a verdict of ‘accidental overdose’.  Because:  when victims die from overdose as the coroner found – this means the individual swallowed a lot of pills.  Which invariably results in the capsule sludge residing in the stomach.  Marilyn’s stomach had no so such refractile deposit.  This has never been explained.  Marilyn died from overdose – but not by oral ingestion.  It would have had to be administered in another way. And not by Marilyn.

Dear Marilyn Redux

6 Aug

This is an edited redux of a previous blog I wrote about my ephemeral connection to the late, great Marilyn Monroe. Since it is now officially the 50th Anniversary of her death in 1962, I am republishing this small memoir.

So here’s my story…

Before I became a full-time novelist, I served as a researcher on a couple of books, one of which was a best-seller. It was called “Marilyn, the Last Take” by Peter Brown and Patte Barham. The book concerned itself with Marilyn Monroe’s last (unfinished) film, the prophetically titled “Something’s Gotta Give”.

Incidentally, it also purported to uncover the truth about Marilyn’s so-called murder at the hands of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

The book was an immense best-seller, mainly because of the Kennedy connection. By this time, in the late 1980s, the shocking news that the president’s mistress had been none other than Hollywood’s most famous and tragic blonde was old hat. The truth was that Kennedy treated Monroe as a serviceable doll, and when he was through with her handed her off to his brother. Monroe, however, was not just another easy bimbo and refused to endure such shabby treatment. She pestered the President and his brother with daily calls and letters, insisting that she was going to spill the beans and had, in fact, called a press conference for the following Monday morning. That Sunday, however, she was found dead in her bedroom and the press conference never happened.

These became the ingredients for the perfect mystery cocktail for whatever you wished to dream up. You have the hysterical White House handlers, the unstable star, the pre-emptive murder made to look like a suicide, and the subsequent cover-up. The fact was that sometime during the research phase the authors and I discovered that there was no proof whatsoever that the Kennedy’s had a connection to Monroe’s death. Marilyn had been “sliding toward extinction” for most of her life. She was forever getting plastered on the weekends from booze and pills, subsequently calling up her friends, members of the Rat Pack, and treating them to long, teary farewells. “Say goodbye to the President for me,” she supposedly gurgled that last night to Peter Lawford, “and say goodbye to you, too, ‘cause you’re a pretty nice guy.” Her friends even had a phrase for it – “Marilyn’s dangling the phone again.”

Usually one of them would race off to her house, revive her, call her shrink and have her stomach pumped out – and all would be well until the following weekend. Then it would start all over again, except that last weekend when everybody was tired. No one went to help her, thinking that someone else would step in. At worst, it could only be labeled a negligent homicide – that people knew she was dying but did nothing about it. The truth was that she had been dying every weekend for the last couple of years and her friends were simply tired of it.
Peter and Patte decided to contact their publisher, Random House, to tell them that they could not tie the Kennedy’s to Monroe’s death. Random House was having nothing of it. “You sold us a story in which the Kennedy’s killed Marilyn Monroe, and you’d better deliver it or our lawyers will certainly have a case on their hands.” It was the late Gore Vidal’s cynical prophecy come horribly to life – that the new literature takes real names, real places, and real events and simply makes all the rest up.

After the publisher’s scary dictate, the authors and I had to go back to emphasize every untruth, every veiled accusation, and every raving innuendo made by some nutcase who claimed to know the unvarnished truth. But the publishers got what they wanted – a best seller. It even engendered an episode on “Unsolved Mysteries” – which was a bonanza of publicity for the book and its subsequent release in paperback – in which Robert Stack solemnly urged the public to write the Los Angeles Supervisor’s office to “at last uncover the truth about Marilyn Monroe’s murder!”

When the book was scheculed to come out in paperback, the authors once again contacted me. “Unsolved Mysteries” received only 8,000 letters and my job was to read them all in the hope that they might provide a real clue that could be used in the paperback edition.

Let me say that I found no legitimate clues. But, oh my God – those letters gave me a harrowing insight into the public’s collective mind that I have never forgotten.

I got to the Antonovich office in the morning and was led to a stark, windowless room where boxes and boxes of the letters were piled. The first thing to surprise me was that the letters came from all over the world, from wherever the show was broadcast – mainly from Australia and New Zealand but also from Europe and even Vietnam. Antonovich couldn’t have used these signatures because only American Citizens could have signed his petition to reopen the Monroe murder case.

The sub-category I next became aware of, because they were the most numerous, was what I called the “Marilyn for Sainthood” letters. There was something so evanescent about her cotton-candy screen image that people could pin any hope or belief to her memory. To these writers, she was the Tragic Victim of an unfeeling world, too pure to live in its muck, a secular saint that was too fine for this hard, hard world. “Yes,” they said, “yes! By all means reopen the case so that her true glory can shine again!” My God, I thought after reading them, this is how saints and redeemers are created. Marilyn was becoming Our Lady of the Overdose! She had become a sort of gossamer mannequin that you could clothe in any costume you wanted. What those letter writers seemed to forget was that Billy Wilder had called her the “meanest woman in Hollywood” or that Tony Curtis had said that “kissing her was like kissing Hitler”; they had also forgotten that she was an erotic vagrant of epic proportions and that she had terrorized directors and producers with her sheer and utterly selfish unprofessionalism. Yes, she burnt a hole in celluloid like no one else, but at what a cost – to both herself and the studios that employed her. In truth she was just ordinarily insane, like her mother, and that’s from where our pity should spring. But to these writers, she was a goddess and enshrinement was their only end.

The next category I noticed were the Kennedy haters. They would write to anyone who asked them to vent their spleen about that terrible family. “She was assinated!” wrote one of them. (Need I mention that grammar and spelling skills were not readily apparent in most of these letters?) “The Kennedy’s were behind it and she was assinated!” (Yes, I thought, and after that she was rectified!) One particular writer went into lengthy discussion about how he could prove that it wasn’t Teddy Kennedy who had driven Mary Jo Kopechne into the drink, but that it was actually John F. Kennedy. John, you see, had actually survived that nasty “assination” attempt in Dallas, and the family had secretly installed him – almost a vegetable – on Chappaquiddick Island. Apparently they trusted him with the car keys, however, and poor Mary Jo paid the price. Teddy had come forward to cover the entire thing up!

They assinated her!

Then there were the letters that went into what I called the Sacred Relics pile. These writers wanted Monroe’s body disinterred for any number of reasons – one saying that we would find a chip on her breast bone, where the aforementioned FBI agent had nicked it when he gave her that embolism. The most plaintive came from a gentleman from a foreign clime. “Please do a DNA test on Miss Monroe’s remains. The test will prove that I am the long-lost child she gave up for adoption in 1949, signed, Quon Duc Pho of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.”

The most bizarre grouping of letters came from what I soon called the Lonely Woman Club, which exists mainly in Australia and New Zealand, but with ancillary chapters in places like Wyoming and Montana. Twenty-page hand-written letters would describe their bleak lives on distant ranches or farms. “People have often compared me to Miss Monroe,” went one of them, “and they often remark that I, too, am sad and tragic and not fit for this life.” Then a tiny slur against Monroe: “Only I am a natural blond!” Invariably these women would send snapshots of themselves posed provocatively against the corral fence, beside their best friend in the world, their horse Fluffy. I thought the first one was odd when I read it, but along about the thirtieth (complete with snapshots), I realized that these women (and they were only women) were so pathetically lonely that they would write to just about anyone who asked them, even a stranger on a television show. Then, almost as an afterthought on the last page they would remember the ostensible reason why they had written and add, “please add my name to reopen the Marilyn Monroe murder case.”

Perhaps the most profound thing I learned from these letters is that people are truly comforted by conspiracy theories. It is far safer to think that there was an important reason behind the death of a politician or a movie star; that cabals and conspirators with their elaborate and improbable plots are behind everything. What terrifies people most seems to be pure, uncaring randomness – because if even the likes of a protected, cocooned star like Marilyn Monroe can be doomed by random chance or chaos, what hope do the rest of us have?

Rest in peace, Marilyn. But I doubt the world will let you.

Remembering Nora

24 Jul

Once again I must apologize for taking so long to get back to blogging. My life has been like a twenty-four hour news show, only mine is called “All Mom, All the Time”. If you’ve read the subject of my last posting, you know that I’m taking care of my 90-year old mother, who is suddenly showing rapid deterioration in her mental and physical capabilities. The past month has been a round of emergency room visits, follow-up doctor visits, new doctor visits, tests, etc., each taking an incredible amount of time, most of it taken up in just waiting around. The good news is that she seems to be regaining a lot of her faculties; the alternate news is that I know we’ve entered the Next Phase, and it’s not going to be pretty. But (long deep breath) we seem to have stabilized for a while. Thanks to all of you who wrote so kindly about their own troubles with caring for their parents, and who so generously offered their wisdom and advice. It’s wonderful knowing that you’re out there, and that I have friends I’ve not even met.

So, that’s my update about The Situation here at home. Now – back to my blog.

During this tension filled time one of things that really hit me hard was the death of Nora Ephron. I was not a great fan of her movies, but I liked them well enough. Her books were better, I thought. In fact, one of my favorite recipes is found in “Heartburn”, and I make it frequently – Linguini all Cecca, a hot pasta dish with a cold, fresh tomato and basil sauce.
Even more than her books, I particularly loved her essays. Nora Ephron was a font of common sense, and her truest gift was in the ability to make her readers (me) believe that she was having an intimate conversation with them. In my own mind she had become one of my best friends, and it was with profound shock that I heard of her death.

I didn’t even know she was sick!

Then my friend Randy sent me an article about her star-studded memorial in New York, which was attended by Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep, among others. I was so charmed by their comments and the obvious depth and warmth of their memories of Nora that I told Randy that I wanted them at my memorial, as well, and to please arrange it. A little while later I received his reply. “I asked. They all refused.”

He’s. So. Funny.

I also felt bad that I knew no one to whom I could send a sympathy card, so I guess this blog will have to be it. I need to honor her life in some way because of what she meant to me, even from such a great distance. Fortunately, attached with the article about her memorial was a link to “Nora’s Five Favorite Books”. I read her short reviews of them and decided then to read all of them as well. What better way to honor her memory?

After recovering from the shock of NOT finding my own books on her list (what the hell kind of best friend is THAT?), I went to my local library and found all of Nora’s recommendations. One, a cookbook by Ina Garten, I decided to forego since I am foregoing eating for the summer in what will – no doubt – be a futile attempt to regain my svelte silhouette. The rest consisted of three novels and one nonfiction work:

1. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout
3. “White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga, and
4. “Bright-Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich, the non-fiction work and the one that Nora said changed her life forever.

In a future blog I will review these books and let you know what I think of them, and what I think they say about Nora. So far I’ve finished “Gatsby” – embarrassed to acknowledge that somehow this American classic never came into my purview during my 61 years. My overall impression is that it’s exquisitely written, but one of the slightest works to have ever earned such a powerful reputation. More on this later.
Right now I’m in the middle of “Olive Kitteridge”, which I’ve wanted to read since I read its review in the NY Times. All I can say is that I’m falling in love with it and that Elizabeth Strout is perhaps in danger of becoming my new Nora. Again, more on all these books later.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of you, Nora.

Notes from a Caretaker

24 Jun

Last night I made dinner as I usually do, cooking baked macaroni and barbequed pork sandwiches because the menu is one of my mom’s favorites. Then I set the table, calling her into dinner from her bedroom at the back of the house.

“Who’s missing tonight?” she asked cheerily as she came into the dining area on her mobility scooter, surveying the dinner table.

“What?” I asked.

“You’ve set the table for only two. What about Rosie and Daddy and Jackie…?”

It was as though she had thrown freezing water into my face. Because those people – her father and two sisters – had died a couple of decades ago.

If you want to know the reason I haven’t been writing my blog lately, that’s why. My mom recently turned ninety and she seems to be rapidly dropping all her marbles. I’ve taken care of her for ten years now because she suffers from arthritis in most parts of her body, particularly in her knees, and she has become almost immobile. I moved back from New York City to care for her because she had suffered a debilitating fall, and when I thought about it back then I never imagined that I’d be doing it a decade later.

Ten years.

Ten years of being butler, driver, parlor maid and cook. Ten years of being turned into that most woeful of professions, not to mention one of the least paid – the care-giver. Ten years of being estranged from my friends (she doesn’t like visitors), ten years of making beds and cleaning toilets, of eating at five o’clock in the afternoon (because she has always eaten at five o’clock in the afternoon), and going to bed at 7:30 from sheer boredom. Worst of all I’ve been years out of the job market, neglecting my own retirement needs. I used to be able to go into town and stay overnight with friends, or go away for a weekend. Not anymore.

Recently I went to the movies. I was gone for no more than three hours. When I returned home, I found her terrified. “Where were you?” she demanded. “I was alone all afternoon, and no one called me – not even Mother.” Do I need to mention that her mother died in 1971? Does this mean that I can’t even go to the movies now?

The only thing that made the situation remotely tolerable in these last ten years was the fact that she had remained witty, sharp and intellectually stimulating. She read a book a day and devoured the news magazines, all the while railing vigorously against those bastard Republicans. She swore like a sailor – in fact, she was a sailor, having been in the Navy WAVES during World War II.

I convinced myself that the situation was good for my writing career, and indeed produced two modest best sellers during this time, all the while supplementing my income with museum and exhibit design – work I could do from home. But recently, along with the economy, my writing career has lost its traction. It seems like I am being slowly strangled here at home and my concentration suffers because of it. My life used to be a rich tapestry of color and design; now it’s a gray, disheveled bathmat. As a result, I go through bouts of resentful anger and depression that almost kill me, because now that she’s losing her mind, the only pleasure I could take from the situation is disappearing along with it.

As Stevie Smith might say, “…not waving, but drowning.”

And I’m terrified.

Bette Davis, Aging and Apologies

15 Jun

Apologies for the gap in posting. My mother’s been ill, and I’ve been swamped with writing assignments and projects. I thought I’d post an oldie but a goodie on aging and Bette Davis. I’ll be back soon, I promise. 

I Remember Nothing is Nora Ephron’s latest collection of essays.  I like Nora’s writings better than her movies, because she instinctively brings up the very same things I’ve been wondering about and then proceeds to give her riff on the subjects at hand.  In I Remember Nothing, she is mainly wondering about getting old.

I’ve been wondering about that a lot lately, too.

For those of you who read my blogs, you’ve learned that I just turned 61.  This is a fact that gives me considerable pause.  How did I ever get this old?  What happened to my forties – hell, what happened to my fifties?   They seem to have dropped effortlessly into the great oozy haze of my past, from which I can extract individual memories but to which I can no longer assign an exact time frame.  Everything seems to have happened yesterday, or the day before.  Or maybe earlier this morning.  Sometimes when I’m writing a check I will fill in the day and month correctly, but in the space for the year I’ll write 1987.

Really?  Is that the year where I’ve been marooned for the last two-and-a-half decades?  It seems about right.  I think that’s just about the time when I hit that oil slick and have been sliding giddily toward death ever since.

But here’s the funny thing – I don’t feel old at all.  In fact, I’ve never been more in touch with my younger self than I am now.  It’s weird.

Let me try to explain.  Yes, I certainly feel the effects of aging on my physical self.  I have attacks of psoriatic arthritis mainly in my feet, and sometimes my left knee, that are true miseries in their own right.  When they occur, I hobble about like Walter Brennan playing Grandpappy Amos in “The Real McCoys” (other 61-year olds will understand that reference; anyone younger – forget it).

Everyone has told you all along how miserable aging can be, that your body and mind become frailer and that the old coot looking back at you from the mirror is actually – gasp! – you.   Or that the youngest person in your life has just turned 44, and you begin to mentally calculate that if s/he is that old, then that makes you – Oh, my God!  I do remember one thing from my fifties – I was able to tell people my true age and everybody would rush in to compliment me on how young and fresh I seemed, and how no one would ever guess – !  Now when I tell someone my true age all you can hear is the crickets. (In tepid response, I have banned flash photography from my life – the cruelest reminder of your age that has ever been invented.)

“Old age isn’t for sissies!” Bette Davis used to proclaim in interviews, and that’s certainly true.

But no one tells you how fun it can be.  Things that bothered you for years don’t bother you anymore.  You are finally out of that dog-eat-dog competition that passes for youth; and it’s not that you can’t compete anymore, it’s that you don’t care to.  The only thing with whom you’re competing is yourself and your own expectations.  The great job, the great house, the great car, the great restaurants are nice to have but not if it means that you’re working only to pay for them.  Who owns who at that point?  Somehow, by 60, you internalize all this.

I used to always accept invitations to parties because I actively feared that if I turned it down I’d never be asked back.  Now I’ve learned that wherever I am is where the party is.  I don’t have to be surrounded by merriment to be merry.  And people ask me back because they genuinely like to have me around.  (Of course, there are some people that have, regrettably, banned me irreversibly from their lives because something in my character genuinely irritates or intimidates them; well, my response to that is – tough titties.  I’m not going to put on a disguise anymore just so you’ll like me better.)

Simply, I don’t have the energy anymore to be something I’m not.  And that’s the most fun thing about aging that no one ever tells you about.  You don’t go around like a whirling dervish anymore, trying on this mood, playing with that attitude, taking up this belief, or assuming that pose.   You think instead – and truly believe it – that this is who I am. This is what 61 looks like.

Note to the rest of the world:  Deal with it.

All of this, of course, is manna for a writer.  Being 61 actually means that I have real human truths and emotions to write about, things that happened to me personally, incidents and observations that I can exploit in a myriad of ways.  I don’t have to experience things second hand in books or films anymore.  I have sinned, I have raged, I have triumphed, I have shone, I have succeeded, and I have failed – and it’s all grist for my personal mill.  I’ve become my own emotional and experiential Wikipedia and my writing only grows better because of it.

Pearl Buck believed that a writer had to be at least 30 before they had anything serious to say.  For me, I was in my 50s, but I’m a slow learner.  Maybe you’re 30 and have learned all you need to learn to become a great writer; and I say unto you – mazel tov!  But for those of you, like me, who clung to every belief that was forced on you until you had to shed it almost by force, here’s the good news:  By 60, nature does it all for you.

And the best thing of all…?  I can write what I want to write.  When I worked at That Entertainment Company for many years, I was forced to write for their characters, all the while making sure that nothing new (or interesting) was ever done to them.  It was exhausting.  Writing is hard enough to do when you actually like what you’re doing, but not when you despise it.  At 61, I’ve earned the right to tell my own stories and every day is like a gift given.  I can make what I want to out of it.  (Believe me, that was certainly not true when I was young.  Youth may be wasted on the young, as George Bernard Shaw said, but I’m damned well not going to waste my old age, too.)

I have to end this with an absolutely true story.  When I attended my first mystery writers conference in Toronto, I knew I had found the right place for me to be at that time in my life.  Know why?  Because the author who won “Best First Novel” at the conference used a walker to go claim his trophy.

Isn’t that great?

MY CUP RUNNETH OVER – WITH BLOOD

26 May

I’ll admit right up front that I love Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. Somehow her combination of the undead and fried pickles works. I like to think that the Sookie books lie somewhere to the opposite of Anne Rice’s elegant, gorgeous creations. If Rice’s works are symphonies of operatic lyricism, Charlaine Harris’s books are a country jamboree.

“Deadlocked” is Harris’s twelfth book in her “True Blood” series and it is one of the better ones. (This is surely not to say that there were ever any duds, for Harris is a continually inventive writer whose talents shine even while utilizing the same characters and locations almost ad nauseum. Unlike Janet Evanovich, whose Stephanie Plum ran aground in the series’ sixth book, Harris still has some steam left.) “Deadlocked” is described as the “penultimate book in the Sookie Stackhouse series”, with the magically numbered thirteenth volume (released next year) to be the final one.
Here’s my next confession: I’ll be glad to see the series come to an end.

Because good as Harris is, as imaginative and readable, she’s been holding this same note for so long she’s turning blue. Magic and the supernatural imbue her every page, just as surely as in any Harry Potter book; and, like JK Rowling, Harris has created a rich and heady universe where almost every magical creature meets in the town of Bontemps, Louisiana – vampires, werewolves, witches, Wiccan, shape-shifters and the Fae, who are the most deadly of all. Somehow Sookie has become the prism through which they all manifest, and we are meant to believe that Sookie’s own fairy blood is somehow responsible. She in fact seems so essential to the existence of the supernatural forces that one begins to suspect that without Sookie they never could have come to Bontemps in the first place (or “out of the coffin”, as Harris said about her vampires).

A couple of books ago I wondered how Charlaine Harris could possibly balance so many characters, so many supernatural worlds and lore, so many plot lines without Bontemps simply tipping over and sliding into a bayou from the sheer weight of them all. When she closed the “fairy portal” that connected the Fae to this world, I relaxed a bit and thought – thank God for Charlaine! One less adversary to worry about! But in “Deadlocked” the fairies are back again, as mean and conniving as ever.
And Sookie is getting mighty tired of it all. She’s tired of the viciousness and cunning of her supernatural friends, who always manage to embroil her into their power-hungry schemes.

And frankly, I’m tired too.

I want the books to end. I want to know how Sookie deals with it all. This tantric exertion of delaying gratification is getting on my nerves, just as it is Sookie’s (and, I suspect, Charlaine’s as well.)

A few books ago Harris hinted that Sookie was losing her humanity, for she was becoming almost too quick to resort to a “Let’s kill them all!” strategy. Perhaps it was because of all the vampire blood that she ingested during her relationships with vampires Bill Compton and Eric Northman. One drop too much, Sookie realizes, and she could spontaneously “turn” into a member of the undead clan, something she definitely does not want to do. But perhaps that blood limit has been reached and Sookie is indeed losing her humanity (and humanness) in the process.

Will Sookie become a vampire at the end of it all, as Bella did in the loathsome “Twilight” series? I don’t think so. Charlaine Harris is too good a writer for that. I like to think that like Dorothy in Oz, Sookie will simply find the equivalent of clicking her heels together and the world will become magically denuded of magical creatures. It might be the only way she and the world can survive.
I can then go on from there, happy and sated. Then it will be my turn to finish my own vampire series, “The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous.” (You can buy the first volume on Amazon for only 99 cents! And relax – I’ve outlined a mere seven books, and have a definite end in mind.)
Yet, after everything is said and done, and though I wish Harris had streamlined her own story, I have to admit that I have enjoyed every one of her books. I have been charmed and titillated by them. I have stayed up into the wee hours reading them. I have eagerly discussed them with friends. In short, the books are everything good books are supposed to be. And I will be among the first to order my copy of the last in the series.

You’ve earned a well-deserved rest, Charlaine. Go with the Angels.

(Which, when you think of it, is one of the few supernatural species she left alone.)

Starting Out– My First Time Being Published

22 May

Fair warning – when other writers hear my story they sometimes scream and throw themselves out their windows.  It’s the tale of how I got my first writing contract, and I don’t think anyone had ever had so easy a time of it.

When I was living in New York City, where I was VP of Production for a special effects house, I purchased a loft near Washington Square.  Instead of Escrow, as they have in California, a buyer and seller must instead use real estate lawyers to draw up the contracts.  My realtor recommended an attorney he usually worked with, a woman by the name of Judy Levin.  When I went to her offices to sign the papers I noticed that her walls were hung with posters from the New York Stage.  Some of the productions I had even heard of.  “Wow,” I said, “you must really love the theater!”

 Judy, who was both the most laconic person I’d ever met and, perversely, the most loquacious, merely said, “Oh, those?  I produced them.”  It turned out that she had started her career as an entertainment lawyer, and handled the legal affairs for a variety of theatricals.  When you do that in New York you also get a producing credit.  But, as happens to many who work in entertainment, she got burnt out and retired from the fray to become a real estate lawyer.

Well, it just so happens that I was looking to option a book to turn it into a stage play.  Judy got me the book in very short order and for a very reasonable price.  Having tasted the thrill of the theater again, however remote, she then asked me, “Do you have anything else I could look at?”

  Did I?!

 It just so happened that I had the first hundred pages of a novel to show her, a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, which I had called generically “Ancient Egyptian Murder Mystery”.  She took it and a couple of weeks later told me, “I really like it.  Do you mind if I show it around?”

 What do you think I answered?

Judy had brittle bones – this is not a segue, by the way – and had broken her foot.  She would hobble down to the courtyard of her building in Chelsea and – as I might have mentioned – Judy could talk to anyone in that same even monotone she used with me; a stranger, a dog, the clothes dryer.  A gentleman was also in the courtyard that morning, someone from her building who she had never before met.  He too was ill and was staying home from work.  In the course of their conversation he happened to mention his wife, Carol, who happened to work at Simon & Schuster, where she happened to be secretary to the legendary Michael Korda.  Korda, for those of you who don’t know, ran the editing staff of S&S since the 1950s.  “Do you mind if I give you a manuscript?” Judy asked Carol when she met her for the first time a few days.

Carol accepted the manuscript in their laundry room.  “It takes a brave woman to take a manuscript in a laundry room,” Judy said to me.  I could only agree.

But the good news was that two weeks later I had a contract not only to finish my novel, but also to write its sequel.  The first novel, Year of the Hyenas, went on to be named one of the five best mysteries of the year by Library Journal, while the second, Day of the False King, debuted on the LA Times Best Seller List.

And all because I bought a place in New York City.

Luck like that can happen only once in a person’s life, but it is also a story that could only have happened in New York.  It’s a city where you run into people you know all the time, thrust together as you are on sidewalks, in buses and subways, or by frequenting the same restaurants.

The luck began to change when Michael Korda retired, but I always knew that I had gotten to know him at the end of his extraordinary career.  When I was assigned to a new editor, she frankly told me she was not “into” historical fiction and was I interested instead in the chick-lit field…?

We severed our relationship on the spot.

I’ve gone on to write another mystery, but not set in ancient times – instead it takes place in 1957 Hollywood.  What would you do, it asks, if you were a studio mogul and your leading man happens to be a serial killer?  How would save your studio, your film – and your leading lady?

I’ve decided to go explore the self-publishing route this time; the new publishing industry is as unchartered as the wild west, but I’m game for anything.  I guess this is where the REAL work begins.

Interview on Curling Up by the Fire’s Blog

17 May

We just passed 6000 unique views and with nearly 1000 followers between WordPress and Twitter– I thought I’d reintroduce myself. Head on over to Curling Up by the Fire‘s blog for an author interview we did last January.

Book Review–“Restless Souls”, by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate

14 May

“Your girlfriend’s dead.”

That’s what Randy’s Mom announced to us on August 10, 1969 –with an odd smile, yet.  It was about 11:00 a.m., a Saturday morning, and I was hanging out in Randy’s bedroom listening to his latest LPs (probably something by Joan Baez or Diana Ross).  I had just graduated from High School and Randy was already in college.  We had been best friends since 1967, and it was the kind of friendship where we completed each other’s sentences and never had a disagreement of any kind because our interests and souls were so in tune.  Mainly, we were interested in movies, not only in the current releases but in the stars and the industry that made them.            A new exciting crop of stars was rising, too, celebrities who seemed much more hip and in tune with the sixties – stars like Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – and we were fascinated by them.  Directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were just beginning their careers and even then were remaking “the movies” as we knew them.  It was all so incredibly exciting.  In particular there were Roman Polanski and his amazingly beautiful wife, Sharon Tate.

Randy and I followed their lives intensely.  He was such a film genius, and, for me, she was the only woman who could equal Elizabeth Taylor in beauty.  We became so immersed in their glamor and bits of gossip that this was why, on August 10, 1969, Randy’s mother came to announce her terrible message.

We were in total shock, and instantly turned on the television.  News reports only said that something had happened in the Benedict Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills, and that five people were dead.  We immediately thought that it could only have occurred because of a gas leak or a landslide…maybe a fire.

But then the details of the Manson Family’s butchery came out.  There were three horrible events that had occurred in rapid succession that turned me into an adult, i.e. they had stripped away the myths I was currently telling myself – how a second brother in the Kennedy family could be assassinated; that a school mate from my high school could be killed in Viet Nam just weeks after we had graduated, and that a pregnant woman, a movie star, could be stabbed to death in her own living room.  Somehow, I truly believed that pregnant women had special guardian angels, that no one could ever be so perverted as to kill a woman who was within two weeks of giving birth.

I grew up fast that summer.  So did Randy.

All of these scenes have been going through my head, replayed over and over, as I read Restless Souls”, a compendium of unfinished biographies written by Doris Tate, Sharon’s lioness of a mother, Paul Tate, the steely army intelligence colonel (who was just a trifle bit weird), and Pattie Tate, the little sister who was only twelve when Sharon was murdered.  Apparently the Tates were compelled to write their own stories so that other victim’s families might take heart from their courage, or to simply correct the record.  For it turns out that there was another phantom victim in all the tragedy, and that was Sharon’s own reputation.  She had participated in Black Masses and orgies, and downed immense quantities of drugs, or so screamed the headlines.  The Polanski’s were little better than wealthy hippies, it was said, who let anyone into their home at any hour, just so they could partake in sex games devised by the diminutive Polanski, the maker of weird horror films, and his depraved wife.  Somehow Sharon Tate had to be blamed for her own murder.  As always, there was something very comforting in conspiracy theories; that somehow the victims had brought their own demise on themselves.

Until now, none of the Tate family’s stories ever saw the light of day; they had been laid aside, probably too painful to finish.  Instead they have been compiled – not too cleanly – into one volume, juxtaposed and heavily edited, by writer Alysa Statman and Patti Tate’s daughter, Brie.  The result is mesmerizing, if not literary.

Like a rock thrown into a pond, making waves that keep on going and going, washing over distant parts of the pond far removed from the initial turbulence, the crime at Cielo Drive had horrible consequences for everyone concerned.  For three years Doris told herself that Sharon was merely away making a movie in Europe.  Paul Tate went underground in an ineffective search for Sharon’s killers, then became a recluse that haunted his own family.  Patti Tate grew into a scared and shivering adult, convinced that the remnants of the Manson family were out to kill her, too.  (Breast cancer killed her instead – another tragedy for that unfortunate family.)

From August 10th until their deaths many years later, Sharon’s murder continued to haunt, bedevil and ruin her family’s peace.  Doris ultimately fought back by founding several Victims Family Rights groups, becoming the fierce advocate of her dead daughter, and ensuring that the beasts who had murdered her stayed in prison.  “That old bitch” is what the Manson followers called her, and the sobriquet became the greatest joy of her life.  But for all of that you can’t forget her anguished cry at Sharon’s coffin – “This can’t be the end!”

There is not much comfort in this book.  You do get glimpses, however, that in her mere 26 years of life Sharon had packed a lot of living into it.  She was destined for major stardom, yet seemed coolly detached from the entertainment business, far more interested in being a wife and mother.  Polanski, whose own mother had been murdered in a concentration camp, had just come around to believing enough in the goodness of life to finally have the courage to welcome a child into the world.  And then August 9th happened.  He would go on to continuously voice the belief that had he been there that night (he was in London) he could have somehow averted the cataclysm.

The book leaves you with the question about who is luckier – the slain victim or the loved ones who lived on with such gruesome images playing in their head?  Instead of “Restless Souls” the book could just as easily have been called “Blighted Lives.”

Do I recommend this book?  Yes.  Did I like it?  Find it well-written?  Not particularly.  But it was indeed fascinating, even though I found myself unable to read it for long stretches of time.

Field Trip!

9 May

Head on over to Precious Monsters, the blog and check out my new post. Precious Monsters was created by Jolie du Pre, the author, editor, blogger and monster lover. Her first novella, Litria, Book 1 of The M Series, will be published in July of 2012 by Logical-Lust.

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