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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.

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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.)

How to Write for Television and Film (Revisiting an Earlier Post on Writing)

7 May

I wrote this when I first began blogging months ago and wanted to share with new readers. Let me know what you think of the advice, or if you have any specific questions. I’ll be happy to elaborate!

While I wait for my newest novel, The Stand In to be available via BookBaby on Amazon and iBooks and eBooks… (It’s available now, you can buy it here…) I thought I’d give you a taste of what it is like to be in my classroom. I teach writing at Mount San Antonio College and have been astounded at the degree of talent in my students. This was the last lecture I delivered about Professionalism in the Entertainment Industry…

As a writer you will have two tasks of equal importance – writing something, and then selling it. Both are difficult.  Each are equally important.  Because if you don’t have an audience, you may as well be whispering in the dark.  Both take different skills.  Both are creative. BUT, of the two skills WRITING IS THE MORE IMPORTANT.  Because there are so few truly great writers, if you become one agents will fight to represent you, and producers will pay you gobs of money to produce you work.  If you are a magnificent sales person, but only a so-so writer, you’ll maybe sell one or two screenplays at best.

What are the characteristics of a PROFESSIONAL WRITER?

First of all, no one asks to see your diploma.  No one cares if you went to college.  Your diploma is actually the screenplay they are reading.  They will quickly find out if you know your field, are intelligent, well-read, unique.

How do you become a GREAT WRITER?  Not in classrooms.  I’m only here to teach you the fundamentals, format, structure, character and dialogue.  The rest is up to you.  YOU LEARN WRITING – BY WRITING!

Writing is like a muscle.  The more you write, the stronger the writing muscle becomes. And discipline is key.  You set aside time, preferably the same time every day, and you just write – even if it’s only staring a blank page, get into the habit of discipline.  Remember, good writing is probably the hardest work you will ever do.  Bad writing is really easy.

Rules of the game:  Watch films, old and new, learn what works and what doesn’t.  There’s a real reason I force you watch these films in class – they are inspirational.  Never be afraid to copy another film’s technique or style.  YOU WILL LEARN YOUR OWN UNIQUE STYLE SOON ENOUGH.

And, most importantly, READ, READ, READ – Magazines, newspapers – tomorrow’s headlines or features are the basis of excellent stories.  But most of all READ BOOKS.  When you read, you read sentences, and when you read a lot you will begin to think in sentences, and then you will be able to write both by example and by mimicry.  Soon you will find your own style.  And chances are that if you run into a problem with your writing, Homer probably solved it for you three thousand years ago.  Be curious.  Find out about people.  Ask them questions.  Remember, a writer is a spy, a psychologist, and most of all – a thief.  Everything is available to you to use.

And go to IMSDB and read other screenplays.  Study how the writers constructed them.  See what works – and what does not.

But take heart from one piece of advice – good writers are so rare that they will almost always prosper.  So for those of you so inclined, keep writing every day, including Sundays.

FINDING AN AGENT –What does an agent do?  He or She is your go-between in your relations between a studio, a producer, and all the rest who will read and consider your scripts.  They are the ones with the contacts, they know who is the best producer or team to send your work to, and they will protect you when the shit starts coming your way.  They really earn their ten percent. Unfortunately it’s hard to get an agent.  They usually want experienced writers.  How do you get experience?  Sell a script.  But to sell a script usually requires an agent.  And to get an agent you need to have sold a script.  You can see the conundrum.

WGA signatories – look up those who will take unsolicited inquiries.  Write them a glowing letter describing your background and an even more glowing synopsis of your work.  Remember how I said that the first ten pages of your screenplay were the most important?  Forget what I said – your inquiry letter is the most important.

WRITING FOR A TV SERIES

Don’t do it.  TV series have writing staffs.  They have years’ worth of scripts already written, and they know how the series will arc years from now.  You do not.  But if you must…

Write a sample script.  Rarely will it get bought.  But it might impress the staff enough to hand you an assignment, or to buy your concept.

NEW SERIES – DON’T.  First year is hell.

MOVIES OF THE WEEK:  Your best market.  Market size unlimited.

THEATRICAL MOTION PICTURES:  Your second-best market.  Lots of prestige, but market size is limited.

ADAPTING A NOVEL:  The scared producer.  William Goldman says that nobody in the industry knows anything.  Thus, if a novel has been a success, they at least know one thing – that it sold in another medium.  They like that.  But legalities are involved.

Successful writers are goal oriented.  They know how to take constructive criticism well, learn from it, and they also know how to ignore rejection or unconstructive criticism.  REMEMBER, No one Knows Anything.  If someone didn’t like your work, someone else might.  In spite of everything, you must persevere.  And remember, it’s a numbers game.

Be Sure to Read the Blog of the Clever Writer, Fay Moore

29 Apr

She’s right here… I love this blogging community of writers. Feel to lucky to be read and referred to…

Thank you. 

 

Part Two is Coming, but I Must Share This Wonderful Review

5 Apr

Part Two of my Vampire post is coming, but I received this review of The Stand In that was such a close and thoughtful read, the kind that author’s dream of– I just had to share. Check out Yawatta Hosby’s blog, her reviews are great fun.

I loved this 9 chapter novel. The very first scene reminded me of “Summer of Sam”, which is one of my favorite movies. My favorite moments were when Lola first meets Eddie, Eddie thinking he won’t be nice to his landlord once he gets hired for a gig, and when Danny plays detective.

I like how every angle of Hollywood was mentioned. Brad Geagley has a gift of being amazing with characterization and describing enough details of a character’s background to make readers care for everyone. Everyone was interesting. Nadine and Danny always made me laugh-they worked for a gossip radio station (reminded me of E!). Then, there was the PR guy, director, and producer. Understanding their motives helped me realize their desperation of keeping the film rolling. Even though I didn’t always agree with their choices, I respected their decisions. Then, there’s the cop that’s being bribed to cover-up. I so wanted him to tell Louis Solomon to kiss his ass LOL. Last but not least, the actors and crew. I enjoyed their sections the most. I loved getting to see Eddie and Lola’s friendship blossom while Rick and Lola’s came to a screeching halt. It blew my mind when it was revealed that she hadn’t really been in a car accident, but Rick had hit her. No wonder she hated him.

This novel was very entertaining from beginning to end. You have no idea how much I love mysteries, and this definitely kept me guessing to the last second. I always kept suspecting Rick, Eddie, or the photo double to be the killer. The author was great in giving little clues here and there to keep the suspense going. Danny was so close to finding out the truth!

I was VERY IMPRESSED with the twist at the end. If anyone has ever seen the movie “Tangled”, then you’ve heard of the story about the good son and bad son. That will give you an idea of how awesome the twist was. Was Rick the killer? Or someone else? I would love to tell you, but I can’t give it away. You’ll have to read the book to find out. Let’s just say, I was spooked.

Doesn’t it make you want to buy a copy and support this indie author? Here’s the link. Thank you for reading, thank you for buying the books, thank you for caring about writers and literature and the best things in life.

Hej og Velkommen to our Danish Readers!

1 Apr

For the first time since I began the blog, I’ve had more Danish readers than American or Canadian! I’m thrilled to know that readers and writers across the world are finding my site and reading my blog. Thank you for reading, thank you for considering my books and thank you for leaving the impression of such a small world. 

My First Interview for, The Stand In

11 Jan

Head on over to Curling Up By the Fire, one of the best book sites around in this author’s opinion for my author interview with Stephanie.

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