Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Introducing Esotouric's Historic Los Angeles Webinars, with Raymond Chandler & The Black Dahlia

Due to the public health crisis, Esotouric, the tour company I run with my husband Richard Schave, has halted all in-person programming, including the quarterly Raymond Chandler sightseeing tour with its section about the Great Eleven cult and the real life characters who figure in The Kept Girl.

But for the first time, we’re taking the immersive Esotouric experience online, with a new series of Saturday webinars. These illustrated lectures feature rare views of Los Angeles landmarks and unpublished archival discoveries, illuminating the secret histories of the city we love.

This Saturday at noon Los Angeles time, I’ll be co-hosting the webinar Black Dahlia Days: Sleuthing out Beth Short’s Southern California. The unsolved 1947 murder has an unusual Raymond Chandler connection, with the victim’s nickname derived from Chandler’s screenplay for The Blue Dahlia. If you can't watch live, the recording will be available for a week.

And next Saturday, October 17, we’ll be devoting the program to Raymond Chandler himself, and the surprising new discoveries that we’ve made over thirteen years of hosting a tour about the author and digging in archives for fresh ways to tell his uniquely Los Angeles story. 

We hope you’ll join us for a virtual visit to old Los Angeles. Other webinars in the series include Inside the Bradbury Building and Inside the Dutch Chocolate Shop.

And if you’d like to keep up with the latest in Los Angeles historic preservation and culture, as well as upcoming webinars, our free weekly newsletter is available when you click the "none" button here

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Presenting: Cults! Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, A Guide To The Highly Unusual

I'm pleased to announce the release of Cults! Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: A Guide To The Highly Unusual, my third title from Herb Lester, the stylish London-based publishers of travel guides and maps too pretty to make notes on.

The gorgeous black on bronze artwork is by Brian Rau, who in another lifetime definitely produced banners for secret societies and tent revivals.

Included in the packet are two blank postcards and a fold-out map of North America marking the spot of 30 memorable cults, with an inset section highlighting Southern California's incomparably oddball assemblies.

On the flip side, I boil down each organization to its essential spiritual or criminal tenets, because praemonitus, praemunitus (forewarned is forearmed) when it comes to such dangerously attractive characters as The Great Eleven, Manson Family, Buddhafield, Heavens Gate, Synanon, NXIVM, People's Temple, Rajneesh, Process Church and ISKCON New Vrindaban Community.

In 2016, Herb Lester published How To Find Old Los Angeles, my pocket guide to 153 delightful places where the past is present. In 2014, I wrote the words to accompany Paul Rogers' fold-out Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. All three publications, as well as my novel The Kept Girl (also with artwork by Paul Rogers), are available as a souvenir when you join us for an Esotouric sightseeing tour, or from Esotouric by mail. You can also find the new Cults guide wherever fine printed matter is sold, on Amazon or the bookstore supporting Bookshop site, and direct from Herb Lester.

From my Cults guide introduction: We’ve all seen them: those tight-knit groups of fellow travelers, dressed in matching colored robes, shaking the can or passing out literature on street corners, smiling at some shared and secret observation. Cults are fascinating, even as we try not to look at them too closely. But when we do take a look, we find that like Tolstoy’s happy families, cults are almost all alike. Take a big dollop of unresolved daddy (or mommy) issues and shake them up with physical isolation, a leadership hierarchy, mental manipulation, financial exploitation and sexual abuse, and you’ll have the standard Cult Cocktail, ready to be garnished with unique beliefs to taste. Often, the first layers of membership are wonderful, providing the deepest sense of belonging that a lonely seeker has ever felt. It’s only as the onion is peeled that the real community is revealed, and often then it is too late. We’ve collected thirty of the more interesting recent cults to stake a claim in North America, and boiled their complex histories down to bite size. Each one is an extraordinary example of how a whole new world can coalesce around charisma and faith, and how mad, bad and dangerous these worlds can be to know.

To get your copy: click here, or join us on a tour.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Noir News: The Kept Girl rubs shoulders with Hammett and Cain

The Workman & Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry is hosting a Birth of Noir book club series early next year, and I'm very honored that The Kept Girl is sandwiched between two giants in the genre: Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and James M. Cain's Double Indemnity. Here's a link to the Facebook event page.

Hammett and Cain are regrettably indisposed, but I'm always keen to visit the Homestead Museum, home of two historic houses and a marvelous walled Victorian private cemetery where Pio Pico spends eternity (above). So my husband Richard Schave and I will be attending the March 20, 2019 Homestead Museum Book Club meeting on The Kept Girl, to answer questions about the book and the Raymond Chandler bus tour that inspired it. Perhaps you'll join the club and soak up some new and classic noir fiction, and we'll see you there.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Celebrating "The Annotated Big Sleep" at Skylight Books

Crackle, crackle!

It sounds like old time radio, but it's actually a recent recording from The Annotated Big Sleep book launch event at Skylight, featuring the editors and Judith Freeman, David Ulin, Steph Cha, Gary Phillips and our own Kim Cooper (starting around 0:36:25).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Touring The NoMad Hotel, or... The Bank of Italy is alive, alive!

Three years ago, on the occasion of the announcement of its sale, I wrote a post entitled "A Conjurer's Guide to Lost Los Angeles" about the derelict Bank of Italy building (above), and how I'd had to rely on vintage photographs, stray glances through dirty windows and my imagination to use it as a setting in The Kept Girl.

Since that time, the Downtown landmark where Raymond Chandler worked as an oil executive has been lovingly restored and creatively reimagined for its new life, not as a bank and office building, but as a high-end NoMad hotel, with several restaurants and bars within.

Last week, I had the opportunity to finally set foot inside the building that holds such a particular place in my heart, as Carolyn Schneider, NoMad's Director of Guest Experience, graciously gave a tour of the public and private spaces.

My first reaction on stepping into the ornate lobby was to stop dead and make a joke about experiencing Stendhal Syndrome. But I wasn't entirely joking: it was startling to see in full, glorious color the elaborate ceiling that I know so well from the black and white images from opening day 1923. Time travel should be disorienting.

But there was more to see and no time for swooning. Come with me on a walk through a landmark brought back from the dead, through the subtle restoration work of Killefer Flammang Architects and the stylistic flair of interior designer Jacques Garcia.

As I explored, the burning question on my mind was: does Raymond Chandler's spirit still linger within? Answer: could be! Read on to see for yourself.
The historic basement vault is repurposed as public restrooms.
Locking wheels on the back of the vault door.
Emerald curtains hang in the mezzanine (originally the ladies banking department).

Looking down from the mezzanine to the 7th Street doors.
Jewel tones and fine finishes show great respect to the building's elegant bones.
While writing The Kept Girl, I agonized over the location and appearance of these elevators. 
A ship detail on the elevator door evokes the golden age of Italian exploration .
The view of 7th & Olive Streets from a corner room.
Looking north from the rooftop at James Oviatt's Art Deco penthouse and elevator tower. 
The once utilitarian roof now has a pool with a weird
fireplace inspired by the Italian Mannerist Gardens of Bomarzo.
Windows gaping, for years the building was home only to pigeons.
It seems they still think of it as home.
Spotted on the mezzanine: a framed copy of a 1970s motion picture tie-in edition of
Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. (Bob Mitchum is Philip Marlowe.) 
The author, mid-swoon, looks forward to returning.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Kept Girl Kept Days book sale - ebook and Paperback editions (8/29 - 9/4)

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 fourth occurrence of this literary anniversary since publication, the ebook edition is on sale for .99 cents direct from Esotouric.   

Not an ebook reader? Save $5 off the paperback in the Esotouric Shop with the discount code "asmartgirl".  

Read Chapter One to get a taste, and see some reviews here. I hope you'll take advantage of the Kept Days Sale (August 29 - September 4, 2017)--and please, tell a book-loving friend.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The clews from Raymond Chandler’s war

Decades after his death, and with a shelf full of biographies, Raymond Chandler still hasn’t given up the last of his secrets. 

I know, because my own Chandler research sent me down the rabbit hole that ended in discovery of The Princess and the Pedlar, a comic operetta in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan that Chandler wrote in collaboration with Julian Pascal, the husband of Cissy, the woman who would become Chandler’s wife and lifelong muse.

The operetta was finished, or close to it, in summer 1917, when Chandler resigned his bookkeeping job at the Los Angeles Creamery and travelled to Vancouver. 

There he volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which offered him a starting weekly benefit of $15, which he assigned to his mother, Florence. The money was sent to her new Los Angeles address, at 127 South Vendome Street, the residence of Julian and Cissy Pascal.

There was room for a boarder at 127 Vendome, because Gordon Pascal, Julian’s 20-year-old son by a previous marriage, also joined the CEF. He stood as his best friend Ray’s witness, and Ray his, as each took the oath of faith and allegiance to King George V, His Heirs and Successors. Gordon, British born, likely meant it, but I wonder if Ray was just going through the motions. But  in signing up, he ensured his mother’s support, and his own absence from a personal situation that had apparently become untenable.  

It’s startling to think of Raymond Chandler, whose brain would give us Philip Marlowe and so many deathless observations about Los Angeles, crossing the Atlantic to serve as cannon fodder in the war to end all wars. But there it is in elegant ink on Manila paper: Chandler, Raymond Thornton, Private in the 50th Regiment Reinforcements. 

And also, the declaration that he did not know if his father, the drunken Quaker railroad man who had abandoned the family and set Chandler on his own weird, stateless path, was alive or dead. (Maurice Chandler was in fact, still living.)

Private Raymond Chandler might so easily have died himself. Not just in battle, although the war was terrible for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but of illness.

And indeed, his recently digitized military records reveal two bouts with influenza during the peak of the deadly pandemic. 

Chandler was sent to the infirmary twice in England, in July and October 1918. Each time, he recovered after six days. Millions of young people were not as hardy. Among the artists who succumbed in Europe, the painter Egon Schiele died October 31, 1918, poet Guillaume Apollinaire nine days later. 

Chandler was not previously known to be a survivor of the Spanish Flu, and I have added his name to Wikipedia’s list of notables who fought off their infection.

It’s interesting to note that his medical records show no affection of the Genito Urinary system, that is no infectious hangovers from the erotic adventures typical of soldiers facing death. His apparent chastity supports the theory that Chandler went to war because he was in love with Cissy and didn’t want to break up the Pascal marriage. 

There is another surprise to be found in Chandler’s wartime records. With my discovery of The Princess and the Pedlar, it wouldn’t be too unexpected if this full-time bookkeeper and amateur librettist chose to give his peacetime occupation as “writer” or “playwright.” 

But at the induction center in Vancouver, Raymond Chandler proudly declared himself to be a Journalist. 

It was in this analytic mindset that he set off on the great and terrible adventure that shaped his life in ways we will never know. But it is only from war that could come understanding of the deep masculine friendships that make The Long Goodbye his greatest book. The self-destructive drinking, the inability to handle stress and creative deadlines, may have had their roots here, too. 

And most profoundly, the decision to return to Los Angeles—to break up the Pascal marriage and to take gallant responsibility for the older, infirm Cissy until death did they part—must have been made in Europe. 

Perhaps he decided in the enlisted men’s infirmary in late October, returning to consciousness after days of delirium, and realizing that no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t going to die young and heroic on a foreign shore. 

There was something bigger waiting for him among the palm trees and the oil seeps. So Raymond Chandler went home.

Written on the occasion of the writer’s 129th birthday, at El Sereno, Los Angeles