Los Angeles Times, October 1929
I first encountered the Great Eleven cult while researching a true crime bus tour called Wild Wild West Side for Esotouric. The cult's mixture of esoteric absurdity, brutality and sex appeal was fascinating, and I accumulated a large file of press clippings and legal documents in an attempt to understand their motivations. Passengers on the tour were similarly captivated by the cult's bizarre antics, and quite moved when we paid a graveyard visit to their youngest victim, Willa Rhoads.
Raymond Chandler, circa 1920s
My other task on this tour was introducing Thomas H. James, a crusading Los Angeles policeman and likely model for Chandler's white knight detective Philip Marlowe.
The two narratives blended together as I shared my research—which grew to include James' scarce self-published pamphlet Chief Steckel Unmasked (a gift from the writer Lynn Peril) and writings and historic documents from the collection of Rick Baudé, whose mother is the last surviving member of the cult.
With each successive telling, I felt I understood the characters and their city better. I yearned to do something more with them, but what? How could I tell these concurrent, but not necessarily connected, stories outside of the specialized format of a bus tour?
Lonely old people—financial fraudsters—Raymond Chandler and his women—crooked politicians— idealistic cops—missing husbands—golden idols—the great bubble of boomtown Los Angeles about to burst—oil—alcohol—milk—blood. It all simmered together in my brain until, one day, I saw the pieces of the puzzle start to click into place, and the form they took was fiction.
It wasn't what had actually happened, but it absolutely could have been.
I set down mental pins representing the facts of the fraud against Clifford Dabney. Then I put Raymond Chandler and Thomas H. James on the set, and moved them among the other figures. I could feel the story meshing like the wheels inside a clock.
Chandler with Dorothy Fisher.
But there was something missing—or rather someone. If you know your Raymond Chandler, you know he was worthless without a smart secretary at his side. And so I created the character of Muriel Fischer, her name and aspects of her personality a nod to Chandler's Paramount Studios secretary Dorothy Fisher, who I was privileged to know at the end of her life.
Once Muriel was in the picture, everything came alive.
The result is The Kept Girl, my first novel. You can read the first few pages here.