Archive | Noir RSS feed for this section

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.

Another 5-star review for my mystery, “The Stand In”… thanks for making my day!

4 May

I thoroughly enjoyed The Stand In. I have just returned to living in LA after living in the Southeast for 25 plus years. I was in the mood for something “LA-ish” and with the feel of old school like the Noir films I used to love to watch. The Stand In hit the spot- Beagley’s knowledge of LA made the read really fun and the twists and turns as he unfolds the mystery kept me entranced and interested in where the story was going. I highly recommend this book!

“Great Book!” Five-Star Review of The Stand In

25 Apr

How to Write a Mystery Novel…

16 Apr

I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve this week and thought I’d revisit a topic that I posted about early in the life of this blog. I’d love to hear from the aspiring and published writers on this topic. Enjoy! Brad

How to create a mystery novel?  Of course, the answer is to read as many mysteries as possible.  There are no better models than the classics by Raymond Chandler or the modern thrillers written by Martin Cruz Smith – who I unashamedly admit to be my lord of lords, creator of the Moscow-based detective, Arkady Renko, who first appeared in Gorky Park.  (I would sacrifice a very private portion of my anatomy if I could write a fraction as well as Mr. Smith can – the left one, in fact.)  You can even learn something from Janet Evanovich, who is more machine these days than writer.  Though her plots may be thin and repetitious, they still obey certain rules that a new writer can observe, internalize, and replicate.

I never wanted to write mysteries.  I wanted to write historical novels along the lines of those written by Mika Waltari (The Egyptian) or Gary Jennings (Aztec).  But no one wants to read these epics today, and certainly no publishing house wants to publish them either.  (All those pages – such expense!)  But historical mysteries are another matter.  Mysteries, you see, rarely take more than a month to solve in a novel’s timeline.  They are never epics.  I like to tell my students that mysteries are not like symphonies, with hundreds of musicians, but more like chamber pieces with eight musicians at most.

So my first mysteries were set in Ancient Egypt and Babylon respectively, allowing me to write about history, true, but using the format of a mystery and keeping the action fast, hard-hitting, and distinctly non-epic.  My books have been called, as a result, “pharaonic noir” and my detective, Semerket, the clerk of investigations and secrets, an “Egyptian Sam Spade.”

I like it best when a detective is a flawed man, like my poor, alcoholic Semerket, so that in addition to solving the mystery at hand he must also solve part of the mystery within himself. Like the protagonists in Martin Cruz Smith novels, they also become the seat of moral authority.  All around them are crimes, official corruption, and indifference, but they remain committed to the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it is.  No matter how dark or dismal they are, they become heroic in the process – and your readers root for their success.

As to the plot, I like to think of it as a beautiful, decorated plate – intact and gorgeous – that has been viciously smashed to pieces by the crime at its center.  It is your detective’s task to pick up the pieces one by one, to find how they once fit together.  He or she is constantly picking up this piece and that piece in random order, until by the end of the book the plate has been put back together – irretrievably damaged, of course, but whole.  And though the mystery is solved, the denouement (literally, “untying” in French) should always resolve itself in a melancholic mood – for by solving the crime we come to know how unpleasant and corrupt the detective’s (and our) world really is.

In a mystery, the secondary characters are almost as important as your detective protagonist, because they will mostly fall into two groups – the criminal(s) and the “information passers”.  Each of these characters has one of the pieces of the plate in their possession; for reasons of their own, usually because they are implicated in the crime, they are sometimes reluctant to surrender it.  Others may be too willing to give up their piece, their information, but they are suspect, too.  Not only must your detective gather these pieces, the clues, but also perceive why and how these people who surrender them to him are connected to the crime, and how valuable their information really is.

Now, having said this, I have to confess that my latest mystery, The Stand In, violates most of these rules.  There is no real central detective; instead, the readers themselves take on this role.  This is because the story is actually a “smoke and mirrors” mirage – a special effect, if you will, something that Hollywood does so well – and Hollywood is the location of the novel, after all.  What is the truth?  What is really happening?  It’s all there in front of your eyes, yet it seems like something else is happening altogether….  Some will figure it out right away, others must wait until the very last sentence in the book…which is last piece of that plate.

Dear Marilyn, Part Two

13 Mar

First, I want to apologize for the delay. My goal is to write two posts a week, but between the start of my new semester (I teach screenplay writing at Mt. San Antonio College) and finishing a screenplay, the time just got away from me.

Please keep reading, but … Have you read my latest book, The Stand In? 1957 Hollywood, intrigue and mystery for less than a latte. Now available on KindleNookeBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

At any rate, where were we? Ah, yes, saying goodbye to the late, great Marilyn Monroe…

To recap, I was once the principle researcher on a best-selling book called, “Marilyn, the Last Take”, which dealt with Marilyn Monroe’s last film and final days. The real point of the book was to prove that the Kennedy’s had secretly killed her, making her death look like a suicide, because she supposedly was going to go public with her affairs with both John and Bobby.

How did they kill her? Well, there were two ways that were contemplated: one of the ambulance attendants, an FBI operative, purportedly gave her a hypodermic straight into her heart to cause an embolism. The other theory was that someone had given her an enema filled with seconal. When you think of it, both suppositions are equally nutty. Was the FBI supposed to plant someone on one of the many EMT services available, in the hope that they would be called in case Marilyn was in crisis mode? And the thought of someone taking the time to stick thirty seconal tablets up her ass is…well, a grotesquerie. What was Marilyn supposed to be doing all the time they were fiddling “down there”? The most logical explanation was that everyone around her knew that Marilyn staged suicide attempts for sympathy, during which she called all her friends to say goodbye, knowing that one of them would rescue her. On that last night, however, no one came. One conspiracy theory is that the Kennedy’s forbade their in-law and Monroe’s best friend, Peter Lawford, to intervene that night – and that’s the closest it ever came to murder. At best, it was a negligent homicide.

Well, as I’ve said, the book was an immense best-seller and it was fun to be associated with it. I so enjoyed working with its authors, Peter Brown and Patte Barham (true LA royalty, whose father gave his name to the famed boulevard located next to Universal Studios), and never expected to again become connected to the book. But when it was scheduled to come out in paperback, the authors once again contacted me.

It seems that after the hardbound book was published, the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” had done an episode about “the unsolved murder” of Marilyn Monroe, and Robert Stack had asked the public to write to L.A. Supervisor Antonovich to reopen the case. The Supervisor needed something like 30,000 signatures for legality purposes, if I remember correctly, but received only 8,000 letters and the matter was dropped.

In the meantime, however, after reading the first issue of the book, other people had come from the shadows to tell the authors what they knew, and their “confessions” were to comprise the addendum that was to be included in the paperback. My job was to go to the Antonovich office to read those 8,000 letters; to see “if there were any legitimate clues” that could be found in them.

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. I began to read them and became increasingly appalled at what they contained – and then, after the first two-thousand had been digested, I began to realize that they were repeating themselves. I saw patterns begin to emerge, and I was soon able to catalog them into a few sub-categories.
First, I’d like to say that only the very old, the very young, the truly profane, and the certifiably crazy took the trouble to write. Why? It’s because the sane, ordinary people don’t write at all. We’re too busy leading our lives, working our jobs, raising our kids, balancing our checkbooks – we just don’t have the time.
The next 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 at all, because only American Citizens could have signed the petition to reopen the Monroe murder case. The foreign letters could not be counted, which cut the number of interested parties to about half.

The sub-category I next became aware of, because they were the most numerous, was the Marilyn for Sainthood letters. There was something so evanescent about her cotton-candy screen image that people could pin any hope and 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 eopen 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 is becoming Our Lady of the Overdose! (I just bet that this was how Jesus came to be regarded in those first years after his crucifixion – a gossamer mannequin that you could clothe in any costume you wanted. He could be Everything and Everyman. Now the same beatification process was happening to Marilyn.) 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, just like her mother, and that’s from where our pity should spring. But to these writers, she was a goddess; enshrinement was their only end.

The next category I noticed was that of 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” – which had been a long standing rumor, by the way – “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. Long, rambling 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 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 wrote and add, “please add my name to reopen the Marilyn Monroe murder case.”

I know there were other genres of letter, but I can’t quite remember them all. Suffice to say I had a whole new respect for our poor members of congress, city councils, and even Presidents – because if these were the kinds of people who wrote to them, just imagine what they must be thinking! We’re a nation of imbeciles, that’s what.

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 chance or chaos, what hope do the rest of us have?

Dear Marilyn (Part One)

7 Mar

Dear Marilyn (Part One).

Dear Marilyn (Part One)

6 Mar

I just completed a screenplay yesterday for a proposed mystery series, in which the events revolve around the disappearance of a long-dead star’s body from her crypt.  She has been “collected”, you see, by a rabid fan.  Her corpse becomes, in effect, the ultimate piece of film memorabilia.  In the screenplay I call the star “Maxine Morrow”, but, as everyone will realize, it’s really Marilyn Monroe.  There’s been a long-standing rumor that Monroe’s body is not in the Westwood cemetery where she was laid to rest.  A corner of the marble door to her crypt sported a big chip for quite a while, allowing the faithful to touch her coffin if they so desired.  But some darker sources hint that the chip happened when her body had been whisked away by her acolytes, to become the centerpiece of some bizarre cult – and this is the nugget from which I drew my plot.  Who knows whether or not it’s true – it’s still a good story.  For me, the interesting thing in the writing of this screenplay was that I was forced to replay some incidents from my own past – for you see; I too have a tenuous connection to Marilyn.

The events I’m about to relate are true.  At first I thought I would turn them into a one-person play, in which a single actor plays all the parts; but with my last year’s first and only foray into the theater, I thought, “Why not just write about it for your blog?”  (The only thing that the theater did was convince me that I was much more temperamentally suited to being a novelist than a playwright.  I will always be grateful for the experience, if only because it was a clarifying one, but the theater really isn’t for me; more about that later.)

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 (each of whom was an amazing character in their own right, and worthy of a book of their own).  The book concerned itself with Marilyn Monroe’s last (unfinished) film, the prophetically titled “Something’s Gotta Give”.  Incidentally, it also purported to at last uncover the truth about Marilyn’s so-called murder at the hands of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

I was hired mainly for my knowledge concerning the botched production of “Cleopatra”, which was the shadow story in the book; “Cleo”, if you remember, was being shot at the same time as “Something’s Gotta Give”.  It was the authors’ contention that one of the reasons 20th Century Fox pulled the plug on Marilyn’s picture, leading to her emotional meltdown and eventual death, was because of the studio’s horrendous travails with Elizabeth Taylor’s shenanigans in Rome – they simply could not afford two divas at the same moment, each with a reputation for tardiness, illness, and emotional volatility.  Clearly, with millions and millions of dollars sunk into its gargantuan production, “Cleopatra” was the more important picture.  The supposition taken by the authors was that the brunette won her battle with the studio while the blonde lost hers.

The book was an immense best-seller, mainly because of the Kennedy connection.  By this time, 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 just another serviceable doll, and when he was through with her he handed her off to his brother.  (This same territory had been covered as early as 1965 in Jacqueline Susann’s roman a clef, “Valley of the Dolls.”)  Monroe, however, was not just another easy bimbo and refused to endure such shabby treatment.  She was no $100 a night girl – she was a star!  Monroe pestered the President and his brother with daily calls and letters, insisting that she was going to spill the beans both to their wives and the public, 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.

Well, there you have the ingredients for the perfect conspiracy theory.  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 real story 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 with 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, “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.  All would be well – for about another week.  Then it would start all over again, except that the last time everybody was tired.  No one went to help her, thinking that someone else would get it.  At worst, Marilyn’s death 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.  Her friends were sick of the endless drama.  (We’ve all had friends like this, haven’t we; people we’ve dropped from our lives because the emotional wear and tear is just so fierce.  Self-centered neurotics are fun theater for a short while, until you realize it’s all about them, and that you can never be more than a supporting player in their lives.)

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, but that they had a pretty interesting story to replace it nonetheless.  Do you know what the publisher’s reply was?  “You contracted with us to tell the story that the  Kennedy’s killed Marilyn Monroe, and by God you’d better deliver it or perhaps our lawyers will speak a tongue you comprehend.”  It was Gore Vidal’s cynical prophecy come horribly to life – that the new literature of the modern age takes real names, real places, and real events and simply makes all the rest up.

So here’s the lesson I wish to impart unto you today:  think of this story every time you read the purported “truth” in books or in magazines or in newspapers.  Remember that writing is slanted.  All writing has an agenda.  All publishing is about money.  If you want the truth, you must locate and read articles from many sources and then come to your own conclusions.  Somewhere in one of them there might be the kernel that engendered all the commentary – just don’t expect to find it in the book store, on the television or in the newsstand.  We have been so managed and maneuvered by our news sources that we don’t know what end is up anymore.

In other words:  DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING!

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 nut case who claimed to know the real story.  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 “uncover the truth about Marilyn Monroe’s murder!”

That’s when it really got interesting.

Next:  “Dear Marilyn – Part Two”:  in which I read through 8,000 letters from “all those little people out there in the dark,” as Norma Desmond was fond of saying.  You might think that Hollywood people are crazy, but let me assure you – they got nothing on the public.  You might even think that the events depicted in my latest novel, “The Stand In,” (also set in Hollywood and also based on a true story) are lurid escapism –

But just wait!

Have you read The Stand In? Available on KindleNookeBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

Have You Read, The Stand In?

27 Feb
Couldn’t resist sharing my latest review on Amazon! Have you read it? You can download it on Kindle, Nook and iTunes for iPad.
New! B. Maxwell reviewed The Stand In
 Grabs You From Page One February 24, 2012
Given to me by a friend, I couldn’t put this book down! On its surface it’s about a 50’s Hollywood movie idol who uses his celebrity to seduce and kill young women until his studio mogul boss begins to suspect him. Instead of going to the police and risking his #1 asset, the mogul decides to secretly replace him with an innocent young actor with an uncanny resemblance. But will his true role be replacement or fall-guy? Along the way the plot twists and turns, drawing you in with characters that, true to life, are both seduced by their dreams of success and love, and battered by the reality of what this town does to you. So what author Geagley ends up unspooling is a seductive thriller with wry insider’s view of Hollywood. Oh, and you’ll never guess the ending.

A Little Crowing for My Latest Novel

26 Jan

A review posted tonight for The Stand In on Amazon… “Nothing like reading a book & enjoying the excitement of not wanting to put it down so as to keep lusting for what is going to happen next! Mr. Geagley has a knack for setting you right in the midst of this Hollywood era when the words “who done it?” was a bitter reality for those caught up in the outrageous lifestyles of the rich & famous. Notoriety, money, greed…. What a combo! I was able to visualize his characters so vividly which adds that edginess of prejudicial suspicion! Didn’t think I would enjoy a “modern day” read from this Author since his expertise seemed to be prominently in Egyptian History. Surprise, surprise!”

Thank you for indulging me. 

Read a Chapter from My Newest Mystery, The Stand In

10 Jan

I’ve posted a chapter from my newest mystery, The Stand In here. I’d be thrilled if you would read it. And unlike other authors, I love feedback and it doesn’t all have to be five star.

Although, that’s wonderful.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 281 other followers

%d bloggers like this: