Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sisters in Crime discuss Noir Fiction at Burbank's Buena Vista Branch Library

A panel on noir fiction featuring members of the Los Angeles branch of Sisters in Crime was held on October 8, 2014 at Burbank's Buena Vista Branch Library. Topics of discussion included the importance of tiny filler newspaper stories in inspiring fictional plots, whether contemporary writing can truly be noir, and the topics too grim for even the hardest-boiled fiction.  From left to right are moderator Craig Faustus Buck (Psycho Logic)  and mystery scribes Gary Phillips (The Essex Man: 10 Seconds to Death),  Kim Cooper (The Kept Girl) and Christopher J. Lynch (One Eyed Jack).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meet Thomas H. James, a likely model for Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe

When J. Kingston Pierce was writing about The Kept Girl for Kirkus, he conducted a lengthy email interview with author Kim Cooper about the source material and inspirations behind the book.

Once the Kirkus feature was posted, the interview appeared on The Rap Sheet blog.

The section below focuses on Kim's discovery of Thomas H. James as a likely model for the Philip Marlowe character.

With the exception of Thomas H. James' photograph, these images from his pamphlet Chief Steckel Unmasked (1931) have never before been seen online.

JKP: You allude in the Acknowledgements section of your novel to a “scarce self-published pamphlet,” 1931’s Chief Steckel Unmasked, by investigator Thomas H. James, which you suggest “showed him to be a very likely model for Chandler’s white knight detective, Philip Marlowe …” How did James’ pamphlet convince you of that investigator’s influence on Chandler? Did the two men know one other?

KC: When my old ’zine world pal Lynn Peril--that’s her on the cover of RE/Search’s Zines! Vol.1--gifted me with Chief Steckel Unmasked, I immediately turned to ProQuest to see what the L.A. Times had to say about the interesting fellow who had written and self-published it.

It turns out Thomas H. James … was famous for preaching civic reform from his LAPD beat at Seventh and Broadway--the same intersection where, a few years later, the “Cafeteria Kid,” Clifford Clinton, would effect the recall of corrupt L.A. Mayor Frank Shaw.

[James] was perhaps more famous for his flamboyant attention to service while helping people cross the street, being featured in a Los Angeles Times column by Ben S. Lemmon about the lively intersection that ran in April 1929. James would be reassigned to the deep San Fernando Valley, then fired in 1931 for bad-mouthing the mayor and police chief to a couple of undercover investigators. His pamphlet followed this sting operation.

Chandler’s office was two blocks to the west of Seventh and Broadway. Did they know each other? Know of each other? Circumstantial evidence suggests they easily could have. At the time, of course, James was much more famous than Chandler.

Thomas James was the first person who suggested the possibility of a “real-life Philip Marlowe.” My husband, Richard, has since built a list of such characters, including [homicide detective] Aldo Corsini and George Contreras [once an investigator with the L.A. district attorney’s office]. They’re tarnished and conflicted men, but fascinating ones, and in researching their careers we’ve learned a lot about the very odd ways in which the police, vice, and politics intersected in Prohibition-era Los Angeles.

The longer we looked into Chandler, the more winking tributes to real people we found in his writing. I’m particularly proud of sleuthing out the source of the name “Treloar Building” from The Lady in the Lake [1943], a nod to the athletic director at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. He sets murders in real buildings and builds entire plots around real crimes. Why shouldn’t Philip Marlowe be a real person, or a composite of several?

Finally, there’s the little matter of Chandler’s [1935] short story “Spanish Blood,” which is based on David Clark’s notorious shooting of gambling boss Charlie Crawford and Herbert Spencer in May 1931. Spencer published a muckraking political magazine with which Thomas James may have had an affiliation. Clark worked for the D.A.’s office, and had prosecuted Albert Marco in the [1928] Ship CafĂ© shooting. The backlash from the Marco case was what led to Thomas James’ removal from the [L.A.] Police Commission investigator’s roll and his demotion to beat cop. At Clark’s trial, James testified that Clark had asked him to intercede with Spencer on behalf of gambling boss Guy McAfee, who supported Clark’s political ambitions. James later sent a letter to the Los Angeles Times, thanking them for not smearing Spencer posthumously, as other papers had.

The connections are there, and they run deep.

JKP: What did James go on to do later in his life, post-1920s?

KC: After fighting for and winning the right to return to police work, James retired early and got back into journalism, publishing a trade magazine for police officers. He married a society woman who shared his prohibitionist interests, and was living in a very nice house in Glendale at the time of his premature death in 1949.

JKP: Wait, what do you mean James “got back into journalism”? Did he work as a journalist before signing on with the L.A. force?

KC: I consider his self-published pamphlet to be journalism, but there is also a strong probability that Tom James clandestinely provided information to the muckraking journal The Critic of Critics before he was drummed out of the force.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Presenting: The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles, a guide to the usual & unusual

What a kick it is to announce the publication of my second collaboration with Paul Rogers, a fold-out map of the city where Raymond Chandler lived and wrote. Paul slyly tells the tale of the project's genesis here. It is published by Herb Lester. If you'd like to purchase the map from me, click here. Also available: my novel featuring the young Chandler, The Kept Girl (Paul Rogers' and my first collaboration), or the vintage 1985 Aaron Blake Chandler map. Amazon and the bookstore supporting Bookshop site also carry the new map, and Herb Lester does, too.

ABOUT THE RAYMOND CHANDLER MAP: The map's graphic style is inspired by the Dell Map Backs -- a series of cheap paperbacks issued between 1943 and 1951, most featuring a crime scene map on the back cover. It mixes locations from the books, the films and Chandler’s personal life. There’s the crummy dive where Moose Malloy went looking for Velma (Murder, My Sweet / Farewell, My Lovely); the actual lounge where Marlowe and Terry Lennox ordered gimlets (The Long Goodbye); the top-floor suite where oil executive Chandler got his priceless education in how a dirty, sun-drenched city really operated. It’s an insider's guide to the city Chandler knew, and can still be visited today.

Paul selected fifty iconic locations and designed the handsome two-sided map with its evocative spot illustrations: neon signs, lonesome cocktails, towering palms, rain-drenched death houses, and alternate covers for each of Chandler's novels. I wrote the accompanying narrative, fifty pocket entries revealing unexpected lore about the real-life inspirations behind Chandler's fictional crimes and how the writer navigated Philip Marlowe's city.

With map in hand, an armchair tourist can follow Philip Marlowe's investigations from Downtown to Hollywood, to the fictional Bay City (Santa Monica) and Idle Valley (Encino). Or they can hop into the car and visit some of the 27 actual locations -- each one handily marked with Raymond Chandler's spectacles -- or one of fifteen places where the writer lived. And four times a year, they can consult the map while joining me on an Esotouric bus adventure through Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, comparing the real places to Paul Rogers' Art Deco illustrations.

The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles is a must for fans of Raymond Chandler, Los Angeles architecture, contemporary illustration and the intersections between fact and fiction that color the best in noir literature. Why not make it part of your library today?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Femme Fatales, Hardboiled Dames and Dragon Tattoos: Examining and Expanding the Female Archetype in Noir panel at West Hollywood Public Library

A panel on hard- and soft-boiled female detectives in contemporary California fiction was held on September 27, 2014 at West Hollywood Public Library, as part of an all day celebration of everything Noir.

From left to right are mystery scribes Kim Cooper (The Kept Girl), Steph Cha (Beware, Beware), Rachel Howzell Hall (Land of Shadows) and moderator Paula L. Woods (Strange Bedfellows). (Not pictured is Raymond Chandler, whose ears must have been burning, if he still has ears.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kept Girl Kept Days book sale

When I plotted The Kept Girl, I chose to set the action over seven sweltering summer days in late August/early September, 1929.

To commemorate the first occurrence of this literary anniversary since the book's publication, the Kindle edition will be deeply discounted on Amazon, starting, just as the book does, on August 29 at 99 cents and running through September 4, when the Great Eleven cult's secrets are revealed and the price reverts back to $4.99 retail around the witching hour.

And while the paperback isn't on sale, if you buy a copy directly from Esotouric Ink during these dates, we'll be happy to send you an ebook edition for free, and we'll throw in a pretty packet of The Kept Girl cast of characters cards in Art Deco wraps, so you can see the real faces behind the fiction. I hope you'll take advantage of the Kept Days Sale--and please, tell a book-loving friend.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Noir California: The Masters of 20th Century Crime Fiction panel at Pasadena Central Library

A lively noir-themed conversation before an engaged audience of book lovers was held on Thursday, July 31, 2014. 

From left to right, apparently having spotted a clue, are Julie M. Rivett (granddaughter and keeper of the literary flame of Dashiell Hammett), Kim Cooper (author of The Kept Girl, representing Raymond Chandler studies), moderator and mystery novelist Denise Hamilton and Tom Nolan (mystery critic for The Wall Street Journal and biographer of Ross MacDonald). 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Kept Girl is Featured Review in LAPL Reads

Dome and globe lamp, LAPL Central Rotunda. 

When I was growing up in Hollywood, the library was my lifeline to a world of visionary ideas and weird lore--a world far more exciting than my daily reality. 

I understood intellectually that kids in other places would think it was thrilling to be an intern at Francis Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, or take afternoon tea with Elizabeth Montgomery's hair stylist (my downstairs neighbor), to shop for punk badges at Vinyl Fetish or to walk down Hollywood Boulevard at dawn and almost step on a pile of what sure looked like human brains. 

And don't get me wrong, those were all interesting experiences, some of them even pleasurable. But they were small change compared to the vast worlds of possibility revealed in the pages of books, and the hundreds of years of recorded history in suspended animation within them. 

It only took me a couple of years to exhaust the holdings of the little Will and Ariel Durant Branch around the corner from my apartment on Gardner--it would have been quicker if they didn't hold occasional sales, where they sold off offbeat stuff, like Pat Loud's autobiography, for a quarter. 

And this created a problem, because my mother had expressly forbidden me to go Downtown, which was where the main branch of the L.A. Public Library was. When I asked her why, she just shook her head and said it was too dangerous. 

My mother had grown up in Los Angeles, and had seen Downtown decline from a thriving commercial center to a pretty scary and desolate place, where a horror movie like The Omega Man could be filmed without much set dressing. The topic wasn't open for discussion. Downtown was off the table, and so was the notion of getting my book fix at LAPL Central.

Which is how I found myself slipping off after school, boarding a Sunset Boulevard bus, and finding my way to corner of Fifth and Flower. Central Library was huge and beautiful and the shelves were packed with more books than I had ever seen in my life, all for the browsing. History, Literature, Poetry, Science, Art, Music. I ran among the stacks like a starving dog, mindful only of the need to get home before my mother did.

I guess there must have been people in the library, maybe even some scary ones, but I didn't see them and I certainly didn't talk to them. I checked out the maximum number of titles allowed and toddled back to the bus with the first of many ziggurats of precious printed paper. I hid the books with their tell-tale branch stamps under the bed, read them all and went back for more.

Today, I wish I could grab my own little bookworm's head and say "Get your nose out of those pages--look around at this beautiful Downtown, ungentrified, almost untouched! Go out the back door of the library and see BIOLA's gorgeous auditorium beneath the JESUS SAVES neon. Walk over to Broadway and into the cafeterias--woodsy Clifton's and Finney's, inside the Dutch Chocolate Shop. See a kung-fu movie in one of the vast film palaces. Or venture as far as Main Street, where the adult book shops will sell you exploitation paperbacks and pin-ups of women with massive beehive hairdos for a dime. Look around, you little dope! This won't be here forever!" 

But no, all I cared about then was books. And LAPL Central was the center of my world. And that's why I am so honored today that The Kept Girl, my novel about this lost Downtown Los Angeles that I've grown up to love and make my living talking about, is the Featured Review in LAPL Reads, the editorial arm of LAPL Central. And as of this morning, there is one copy of The Kept Girl available for check out from that beautiful branch. I hope a bookish little kid checks it out and hides it from her parents!