Thursday, January 31, 2008

Spinetinglers Announced

Back when I had the Big Noo, I related the sense of wonder, befuddlement and elation I felt at having been nominated for a Spinetingler.

That feeling has never worn off. Sandra Ruttan does many great things for the writing community ... and this is one of them. Thank you, Sandra, for beginning the Spinetinglers -- may they have a long and illustrious history in front of them. :) And thanks to everyone who has read Convivium, and thought it worthy of a nomination.

Yesterday the winners were announced--congratulations, all of you!!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Liar's Diary: Blogging and Buying for Patry

Today, January 29th, a Tuesday, may not look remarkable where you are. It may seem slow, humdrum, quotidian and boring.

It only seems that way.

Today is actually very special. Remember that scene in It's A Wonderful Life when George wants to live, and he comes home to find that friendship, community and human caring are the only things that count?

Well, today, Tuesday, January 29th, that scene is being replayed in real life.

All across the country, folks in the writing and publishing communities -- authors, editors, publishers, agents, you name it -- are blogging about The Liar's Diary and Patry Francis.

Y'see, like many good things in the world, this all started with an individual act of thought and care. Patry's paperback release of The Liar's Diary is today, but a few weeks ago she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. And Laura Benedict, whom I'm proud to call a dear friend, thought: since Patry won't be up to promoting The Liar's Diary, why not get some fellow writers with blogs to help?

Karen Dionne, the amazing founder of Backspace came on board immediately. And soon more people joined, all moved by the courage, grace and determination Patry displays, every day, in the face of what all of us fear. You can read her blog, Simply Wait, and understand why now over 300 people have rallied to this cause.

The writing community is a microcosm of the human community. We all need to take care of one another or we all will perish.

So whether you write, practice medicine, work in an office, bake cakes, sell cars, or repair washing machines, you can help sustain and participate in this "George Bailey" moment. Go to Amazon and buy Patry's book. If you buy it directly from Penguin, they are even offering 15% off:

In support of Patry Francis and this remarkable blog initiative, Penguin Group USA would like to offer 15% off the paperback edition of The Liar’s Diary when purchased online from until 2/15/2008. On the shopping cart page, enter PATRY in the ‘coupon code’ field and click ‘update cart’ to activate it.

Order it from your favorite bookstore; buy from another on-line dealer; request your librarian to stock it. You can participate on any level. Here's the pertinent information: THE LIAR'S DIARY/Plume / February 2008 / ISBN 978-0-452-28915-4 / $14.00.

For a full list of bloggers who are participating, you can check out The Thrill Begins, website of the ITW Debut Authors. I am so proud to be one of them!

But this effort is not the sole reason to buy The Liar's Diary. The fact is, it's a terrific book. Here's a bit more about it:

When new music teacher Ali Mather enters Jeanne Cross’s quiet suburban life, she brings a jolt of energy that Jeanne never expected. Ali has a magnetic personality and looks to match, drawing attention from all quarters. Nonetheless, Jeanne and Ali develop a friendship based on their mutual vulnerabilities THE LIAR’S DIARY is the story of Ali and Jeanne’s friendship, and the secrets they both keep.

Jeanne’s secrets are kept to herself; like her son’s poor report card and husband’s lack of interest in their marriage. Ali’s secrets are kept in her diary, which holds the key to something dark: her fear that someone has been entering her house when she is not at home. While their secrets bring Jeanne and Ali together, it is this secret that will drive them apart. Jeanne finds herself torn between her family and her dear friend in order to protect the people she loves.

A chilling tour of troubled minds, THE LIAR’S DIARY questions just how far you’ll go for your family and what dark truths you’d be willing to admit—even to yourself.

Here's what others have said about it:

“The new questions and revelations just keep coming…Readers will be heartily rewarded.”—Ladies’ Home Journal

“Twists and turns but never lets go.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard, bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean

“A quirky, well-written and well-constructed mystery with an edge.”—Publishers Weekly

“Outright chilling.”—New York Daily News

"Genuinely creepy…The unlikely friendship between a small-town school secretary and a flamboyant teacher proves deadly in this psychological murder mystery.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A twisting ride full of dangerous curves and jaw-dropping surprises. This is one of my favorite reads of the year!”—Tess Gerristen, bestselling author of The Mephisto Club

“Francis draws and tense and moody picture of the perfect home and family being peeled back secret by secret…Four Stars.”—Romantic Times

Not to omit multimedia, here's a book trailer for The Liar's Diary...

And here's an audio clip from the brilliant folks at Brilliance Audio ...

Now all that's left is to buy or request Patry's book. Here's your chance to get a great read and unleash your inner George Bailey ... get the LIAR'S DIARY now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Big House ... Noir City at the Castro

Back again, with a tale already legendary ... and I don't mean the ones up on the screen.

Saturday, January 26th, was the biggest night in Noir City history ... the entire 1,400 seat Castro Theater was sold out. Yup, that many people crawled out on a rainy San Francisco night to pay tribute in the Dark, and boy, were they happy to do it.

Last night was not only the most successful evening in seven years of hot femme and homme fatales serving up cold revenge ... it was palpably the most exciting. An embarrassing treasure chest of noir riches awaited the denizens, and it wasn't filled with fools gold, angel face.

First, the noir anthology of the season, A Hell of a Woman--edited by Noir Queen Megan Abbott and filled with some of the finest writers of this or any era--was on sale in the mezzanine courtesy of the fabulous M is for Mystery bookstore--ready to be signed, sealed and delivered by the editor, publisher Dave Thompson and some of the writers in attendance. Ken Bruen, Cornelia Read, Christa Faust, Donna Moore, and the Czar himself, Eddie, are a few of the authors who contributed ... I'm lucky to live in a great writing community in the Bay Area, and even luckier to call some of them friends. They make me proud to be a writer.

Next, The Prowler. This unflinchingly harsh examination of bourgeois materialism and the abuse of authority is one of Dalton Trumbo's finest efforts. Already blacklisted, his name wasn't on the screen, but his thoughts, courage and honesty were in every line.

This movie was nearly lost--I saw the unrestored version a few years ago at the Balboa Theater--and, thanks to the Film Noir Foundation and noir-loving ticket buyers, The Prowler is back, better than ever. The restored print was amazing, and Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes give the performances of their careers. If you ever get a chance to see this one ... don't miss it.

But that's not all! Before the film, James Ellroy (yeah, that James Ellroy) introduced it to the audience. He contributed money to save the movie, and spoke in Ellroyese about many things, mostly sex. Love him or hate him, the truth is you can't ignore him, and he filled the house with an inimitable energy--all 1,400 seats.

After The Prowler was the main reason I think the house was full: The Grand Inquisitor, and that actress of actresses, the amazing, wonderful and generous Marsha Hunt. Here's the scoop, if you haven't heard it. Remember I mentioned Eddie M. wrote a short story for A Hell of a Woman? Well, that was The Grand Inquisitor. And then last year, Eddie filmed it. And it starred Marsha Hunt, who, at 90, returned to the screen after a twenty-five year absence.

It was as if she never left. She is a phenomenal, incredible actress. I mean, we sat through classic Hollywood film noir, but this--this was new. Eddie directed. Marsha and terrific newcomer Leah Dashe starred. And Marsha ... Marsha took down the house.

An Oscar isn't good enough for her.

She was there to see it, to stand up and walk to the stage and feel the standing ovation. There are talented people, beautiful people, morally courageous people and kind, giving generous people. Marsha Hunt is all of the above, and God, how lucky we were to see The Grand Inquisitor with her in attendance.

(On a side note, last year I had the pleasure of thanking her for being a great role model when I purchased her book, The Way We Wore. I had just received my publication news that day, and it was bubbling out of me in every conversation, and I mentioned it to Marsha. She signed the book, "To my fellow author!" ... that's Marsha Hunt.)

Eddie's direction was nothing short of brilliant. If you get a chance to see this film, do it. And hope that our Czar of Noir will add to his repertoire, as gifted a director as he is a writer.

Finally, the night ended with another Dalton Trumbo treat, Gun Crazy. This daring, adrenalin-fueled romp of sexual symbolism is a classic. The film-making captures the essence of speed and makes you feel like you're on it ... and it offers one of the best lines in film noir, one that will resonate with the slacker generation:

"Two people died so we could live without working!"

Now, that's noir.

Since I'm a working girl, I can't use my Noir City passport every day this week ... and in fact, I had to skip the Sunday shows. On Tuesday, I'll be blogging about The Liar's Club, and why you need to buy it. And I'll end my dark sojourn next week, with the finale to a sensational year ... from the Noir Capital of the World, rainy, cold and foggy San Francisco.

Noir City, baby ... are those foghorns or my heart beating?

Friday, January 25, 2008

An Opening Night in Noir City ...

Noir City ... where the damned not only don't cry, but have a damned good time.

This weekend, I've not only been writing in the dark, but living in it ... 'cause it's that time of year, folks, when the Czar of Noir pulls out all the stops for the rip-roarin' hell town at San Francisco's famed Castro Theater ... when fatales rub elbows (and other parts) with suckers and fall guys, and the whole audience looks like it could use a good frisking.

Yup, Noir City. This is my fourth detour into the cinematic mainline of darkness, and January wouldn't be the same without it. It's been inspiration, escape, master class and a trip back home. Noir City ... I was born there, baby. ;)

So what happened? Two great films, Repeat Performance and The Hard Way, Joan Leslie starring in both (and in the second with Ida Lupino, noir stalwart and hell of a broad). Ms. Leslie was in the audience -- I was three rows down-- and what a thrill it was to see her speaking with Marsha Hunt, who was sitting behind her. Two grande dames of the real Hollywood, still beautiful, still energetic, still incredible.

I had a chance to thank the still effervescent and gentle Ms. Leslie and say hello again to one of my idols, Ms. Hunt -- a more gracious, gorgeous, talented, courageous and intelligent woman you'll never meet, and at ninety she can out dress and out class women half her age.

You've heard it before, but it's the sad truth: they don't make 'em like that anymore ... the movies or the ladies.

Joan spoke to Eddie "the Czar" Muller about working with Coop and Bogie (Gary Cooper and you'd better know who Bogie is), Ida Lupino, Jimmy Cagney (in Yankee Doodle Dandy) and growing up as a child entertainer in the Depression. It was a conversation to savor. And in a wonderful moment, Eddie led the entire audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to Joan, who was 83 on January 26th. It's dark in Noir City, but that's because underneath the burnt-out street lights shines a big, vulnerable heart.

The movies were terrific. Repeat Performance also starred one of Ida's husbands, Louis Hayward, and featured an incredible, brilliant debut by Richard Basehart, who played, as only he could, a gentle soul just a few seconds off from the rest of the world. A madman and a poet ... but that's a redundancy.

The plot was about a woman who got a chance to live a year of her life over again, one fatal New Year's Eve. Yeah, it's holiday noir, all right, but Destiny wasn't wearing a Santa suit.
A favorite line? Here's Richard Basehart: "Paula shouldn't be allowed to drink. Paula shouldn't be allowed. Paula shouldn't be."


Second film: Ida is the Stage-Sister who does whatever is necessary to get kid sibling Joan into the show business big time. She does, in fact, do it the Hard Way, and 'cause it's Noir City and this was the '40s (and all about warning those ambitious women who might not want to give back all the jobs to the menfolk), well, Ida pays the price ... and it was more than the admission, brother.

Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson round out the cast. Morgan is attractive as a cynical, skirt-chasing cad, playing against his wholesome Irish good looks, and Jack's dramatic acting prefigures what he does in Mildred Pierce.

How hard is show biz in The Hard Way? Here's an exchange between a twin sister act and a theatrical agent:
The Morgan Twins: [in unison] Mr. Wade? We're playing in Jersey City. Can you catch our act? We're the Morgan Twins.
Max Wade: When you're triplets, come back and see me.

Ida shows why she was nobody's second string Barbara Stanwyck, in a role with similarities to the Stanwyck pre-code classic Baby Face.

That's it from your intrepid reporter at the only film festival that really matters ... NOIR CITY. I'll be back with a report on the second evening, which promises to be the most exciting Saturday in Noir City history.

Who needs Cannes?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lights Out!

Remember Vicki Lawrence? No, that's not her on the left, that's Edison holding a light bulb. Stay with me, it'll make sense later.

OK, I'm proving that I'm over 30, but you're reading and no one's around, so you can admit it if you remember. Carol Burnett? Saturday night on CBS? The whole dang '70s?

If you still think of the late, great Suzanne Pleshette as Bob Newhart's wife, then you'll know what I'm talking about. And I won't even go into MTM, who turned the world on with a smile and a hat toss in the middle of Minneapolis. No, I'm talking Vicki here, who played Mama with such vaudevillian glee, and who, in the earlier part of that bizarre decade, sang a song called The Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia.

Why, you ask -- and rightly so -- why are you blogging about TNTTLWOIG? (as we aficionados like to call it). Well, the title of my blog is Writing in the Dark, and -- though I mean it mostly figuratively -- sometimes it happens literally.

Like last night. We had a sudden power outage, while I was on the computer -- a whole grid of houses on the western edge of San Francisco went pffft -- dark.

My laptop went to battery so I kept writing for a few minutes, then shut it down, found the flashlight, and lit candles. I happen to love candles, especially real beeswax. Took the dog for a walk in the moonlight. Listened to the roar of the ocean. Listened, mostly, to the eerie, waiting silence of the darkened neighborhood.

See, I grew up "off the grid" -- no PGE, no phone, no light, no motorcar -- well, a car and gas lighting, but still ...

So power outages don't bother me. I like them. They force me into relaxation (which is about the only way I do relax these days -- I've got a bloomin' book coming out!!), they make me pay attention to my environment, and they slow me down. As long as the food doesn't spoil, I roll with it, Henry.

We came back home, played some cards -- remember those? Dug out the poker chips. Had fun. (I won.) (And no, no ambition for the World Series of Poker, though I wouldn't mind a cameo on Ocean's 14. Hello, George?) By the time I owned the table, the power was back on. (For the record, I had an amazing full house on the final hand ...)

The funny thing is ... a lot of our neighbors were sitting in cars outside, rattled and nervous. It was as though they didn't know how to function, how to live, how to amuse themselves or survive without electricity ... without being plugged in, twenty four seven. And that's a little scary.

For the record, I love classic radio shows, and there was a terrific horror show called Lights Out by a brilliant writer/director named Arch Oboler. The quintessential "fear of the dark" audio experience ... I'll have to blog about it sometime.

But during the black out and after watching the neighbors, concerned about our cultural dependency on constant entertainment, stimulus and electronic gadgetry, my thoughts meandered to Vicki Lawrence and her own "Lights Went Out." Hey, I grew up in the '70s, dude -- and there's nothing scarier than that. ;)

Speaking of the comforts of darkness, Next week is Noir City, and I will be blogging about that amazing festival of duplicitous deeds and dangerous dames den. For now, a recommendation ...

Last week I wrote about food for the body, this week, food for the aspiring (and working) writer ... Jordan Rosenfeld and Rebecca Lawton have just launched a book called Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life, and it's a doozy-- a terrific and helpful book. If you write, have ever wanted to write, ever think about wanting to write -- check it out. They also offer a free newsletter with the same name ... you can find it here.

See you next week ... when we'll be out of the '70s and back to the '40s where I belong! ;)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Sunday Blahg

I really don't like posting on a Sunday, but life has been so hectic lately that it's been the only time I can wrestle away. And a Sunday in mid-January--even with a sunny day, blue skies and the hint of spring outside--can only be described as blah. That's the actual, little-known secret of the Mona Lisa smile. Even in Renaissance Italy they got the blahs.

Don't know why--inevitable post holiday thing, I guess. Everywhere I go, the energy is just that: blah. I'm feeling great inside, full of cheer ... but blahs are contagious, 'cause all of a sudden I just don't have any energy.

Of course, it could be that I've charged into January (and no, I don't mean charged with a card)--and I haven't left myself much room for sleep or relaxation. Those are starting to sound like foreign words.

So after I write today, I'm going to (gasp) relax. Grab some entertainment. Do nothing. Vegetate! And sleep, I hope, not like a baby, but like a very tired writer with a relatively clear conscious. Maybe then I'll cure the blahs.

I challenge you to do the same, whether you read this on a Sunday or a Friday. Take some time out for REST. Rest can actually be an activity! And one we don't get enough of these days.

A recent article in Business Week mentioned the average amount of sleep we get now is 6.9. Before electric lighting was standard, at the turn of the century, it was over 10.

This is why no one can make your double latte the way you like it. We're drinking coffee, listening to music, and yammering on the phone (all while driving) in order to stay awake, because we're not sleeping enough.

So I say this: if hit with the Sunday Blahs (on any given day of the week), fight 'em with rest. It is winter in the northern hemisphere, and on top of our societal sleep deprivation, we're feeling the need to hibernate. Of course, if you're in the southern hemisphere ... party on!

And of course if you're thinking of settling in to a serious hibernation, you'll need food ... so, as I mentioned last week, let me tell you about the Millbrae Pancake House.

Sourdough pancakes, with or without blueberries? Sure. With bananas instead? Sure. How about home-made waffles? Biscuits and gravy with just the right amount of sausage? Hickory smoked bacon? Perfectly done hash browns without grease? You betcha. And, so that you don't consume yesteryear's calories along with yesteryear's comfort foods, egg-white omelets and veggie scrambles? Yeah, baby!

Now, I haven't personally sampled all of these delectables, but what I have sampled--including the egg-white omelets--has been heavenly. But for me, the real treat is ... Swedish pancakes.

Flat yet fluffy. Supple and spongy. And served with a whipped butter mixed with delicious, whole lingonberries, and dusted with powdered sugar. These delicacies are worth sacrificing another meal for.

Add great service and the incredible ambiance of a huge, sprawling ranch-house style lodge where the wood paneling and comfy booths tell you it's always 1959, and ... well, it's a treat of a place. Especially before hibernation! Now, where's my pillow ...

Next week: it's almost time for the annual pilgrimage to Noir City!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What You Will

Today is Twelfth Night or Epiphany, the close of the traditional Christmastide festival in many countries ... in Italy, La Bufana (a laundress whom the three wise men encounter en route) delivers the goodies to the bambini on January 6th. At least, that's what I was told when I lived in Florence. Every Italian city, town or village is a stew pot for stories, each one filled with bragging rights about the locale. In my version, of course, Bufana was a Florentine.

Twelfth Night is also a play by William Shakespeare (and before we go any further, I should announce that I hold to the boringly traditional view that yes, Virginia, there was a Shakespeare. A glover's son, middle-class, with "small Latin and less Greek" as dissed by Ben Johnson--who himself was a right royal pendant--all Greek and Latin and less talent. No Queen Elizabeth, God love her, no Edward de Vere, no Francis Bacon, no Kit Marlowe faking his own death and writing the plays ... hmm, there's a book in there.)

Twelfth Night (the subtitle is "What You Will") has given us four centuries of sublime entertainment and that quote about greatness--you know, how some are born with it, others achieve it, and still others have it thrust upon them. And it got me thinking about greatness, how we define it, what we mean by it.

I'll discuss it more in depth at the end of the month, because I'll be talking about someone whose courage and spirit, to me, express it perfectly: Patry Francis. You may've heard about the blogging day many writers, publishers, editors and agents are all planning to help Patry promote the paperback of her book, The Liar's Diary.

Patry was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and this is one way we can help her promote the release--something all writers need to do. Gone are the days when you can sit in a garret and be artistic. In today's brave new world of publishing, marketing and PR need to keep rolling, regardless of whether you can keep up.

You can read about the group effort at Publishers Marketplace and about Patry's experience at her blog, Simply Wait. Laura Benedict, herself a great one in so many ways, came up with the idea, aided and abetted by Karen Dionne of Backspace. The blogging/buying extravaganza begins January 29th ... I hope you'll participate. Another quote from Twelfth Night seems appropriate: "Is this a world to hide virtues in?" The answer is a resounding no.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a dining recommendation, and post more about it next week. If you're in the Bay Area, looking for good, old-fashioned and incredibly delicious comfort food (two words: Swedish Pancakes), there's a sprawling, wood-paneled huge dude ranch-style eaterie called The Millbrae Pancake House (located on the old El Camino Real). It's a time machine of good food and great service. More next time, when descriptions of lingonberry butter will make your mouth water!