Monday, August 18, 2008

Unsuspected Noir

So here it is, Monday night. My book just came out (if I repeat it enough it may sink in) ... I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon at the Hayward Public Library on a Sisters in Crime panel with the lovely and talented Camille Minichino, Michelle Gagnon and Peggy Lucke ... great company, great audience, great library, and terrific hospitality. I'm getting ready for a signing trip to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Portland's Murder by the Book. And now, as I type this, I'm waiting for the repairman to tell me what is wrong with our nearly-new dryer.

Yup. It's appliance noir.

Noir strikes you unexpectedly, from the failure of computerized mechanisms we rely on, as well as the rain-streaked and shadowed streets of Los Angeles. Yeah, we've got a graphite colored (you expected white?) top-of-the-line eco-dryer, but appliance noir hits you between the eyes, baby, and kiss your evening (and laundry) goodbye.

At least I've got my blog.

Though situations like this beg for depressing poetry and a bottle of Scotch, I'll refrain. And instead, tell you about The Unsuspected (1947), a deliciously nasty little Warner noir TCM aired the other day.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and starring the most sympathetic and urbane villain to grace the screen -- Claude Rains -- along with noir stalwarts Audrey Totter (how do you define noir? Audrey Totter) and Jack (The Killers) Lambert, it's a highly charged and extremely suspenseful tale about a radio host of crime dramas who is implicated in some shenanigans of his own.

The opening scene--the first murder--is powerful and chilling film-making, even on a small screen. A bit later, Curtiz makes full use of the power of voice-over, shadows and light, in a tour-de-force sequence showing the effect of Rain's broadcast on a number of characters we've yet to be introduced to. The director does shamelessly purloin Hitchcock's famous teacup shot from Notorious toward the climax of the film, but since Claude Rains is in both movies, I guess he's entitled.

Joan Caulfield is the good girl here (Audrey, of course, plays the slut) and Constance Bennett takes on an Eve Arden-type role, and does it with panache. Ted North's stiffness as a mysterious young man who claims to have married heiress Caulfield is well-suited to the part ... is he Dudley-Do Right or Bar Sinister? Hurd Hatfield (Dorian Gray) ably rounds out the cast as Audrey's debauched and drunken husband.

The script, from a novel by Charlotte Amstrong, snaps and sparkles with lines like these:

Someone comments on the painting of Joan Caulfield above the mantle piece, asking whether it was a particular artist's Blue Period (not Picasso).

Audrey replies: "My husband. His drunk period. Began right after our marriage."

Or Ted North as Steven Howard: "I like matches. You never have to refill them. And when you're through with them, you simply throw them away... like people."

The Unsuspected is another gem thus far unavailable on DVD or video. Look for it on TCM, and don't forget to set your Tivo.

And my own unexpected unsuspected appliance noir? The part won't be in for ten days. Yup, you got it. *Bleeped* on page one.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two Weeks?!

Ever notice how time is relative? I don't mean Einstein relativity, or Stephen Hawking's musings on the universe. I mean how it is subjective and personal and relative to you and what you're doing.

I took a look at the date of my last posting, and had one of those animated eyes-bulging, double-take moments. It's been two weeks ... TWO WEEKS!

On one hand, it seems longer than two weeks, because so much has happened. On the other hand, tempus fugit, and flew fast. See ... that's what I mean. Relative and subjective.

Now, before describing why and how I've been Time's fool (to quote Willie S.), I am hereby undertaking an official pledge to keep up with my own blog every week. Here's hoping the old man with the sickle won't be chasing after me, horror-movie style. :)

So what has caused my chronological conundrum? Well, on August 1st, we celebrated a launch party. And quite a fete it was ... Bourbon and Branch, the famed and fabulous speakeasy in San Francisco, provided the setting and the most delicious cocktails this side of Harry's Bar in Venice, circa 1932. And yes, even absinthe was served!

On the menu were two delicious drinks, invented for the event: the Roman Noir (an amarna/mint/honey confection, dark, slightly bitter and delicious), and the Nox Dormienda (dreamy, white, frothy, with citrus and elderflower and an orchid on top). The setting was the library, complete with secret door and amazing ambiance. And I'm proud to say that Bourbon and Branch just won the Best of the Bay award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Diane Kudisch of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore was my indefatigable and wonderful bookseller ... another Best of the Bay award-winner! So we all had reason to celebrate, and celebrate we did.

But the most important ingredient of all -- that which makes a party a wonderful, memorable time -- the people. I really can't tell you how good it felt to be surrounded by so many friends and colleagues from all the strands of my life ... the writing community to comic store buddies to SF State. And I had the chance to meet new friends, because guests brought other guests!

Local writer-friends from MWA and SinC and ITW and out-of-town friends participating in the RWA conference ... my agent, friends from Red Room (the best space for writers!) ... I could fill up this blog with a list of my wonderful, generous and beautiful guests. Which included, by the way, a contingent of talented Romans dressed in costume, from the Legio X Fretensis.

My beautiful, funny, smart and unique mother was there, of course, and she brought her friends, one of whom drove 250 miles from Fortuna to come. The joint was jumping. I'm posting a few pictures here ... these and many more will soon be up on a new page of my website, a kind of photo scrap book of past events. Hey, with my small house, I need to electronically store my memories! :)

I really felt like George Bailey (at the end, not the beginning). :) I just wish I'd had more time to talk to everyone for longer. And I'm immeasurably grateful to everyone for coming to the party!
I'm writing an article about it ... it was such a special event for me -- a career launch as as well as a book launch -- that I need to give it some more thought and time. More details when done.

The next day was my first book store signing/reading at the terrific M is for Mystery, which was absolutely wonderful. People actually came! I've heard all the stories from the road, and I'm fully expecting to encounter an audience of none for some upcoming event, but I was elated to meet some interesting and terrific readers my first time around. And I picked up a Certificate of Honor from the City and County of San Francisco, signed by our mayor, in recognition of Roman Noir. So my new genre has been officially recognized by my beloved, shimmering jewel of a city. :)

Sunday, a week ago today, I spent the morning with dear friend Jordan Dane, who'd flown out for RWA (and had come to the party). Then I came home and collapsed, exhausted but happy.

The last week has been a return to normalcy, of a kind. Day job. Box dinners. Trying to catch up with all the myriad book stuff I'm behind in, now that Nox is officially and truly out in the world. I'm still behind, but am diligently trying. And writing my WIP.

Thursday night I also had the great fun of guesting on a library panel in Morgan Hill with Terri Thayer and Penny Warner, and getting to see Becky LeVine and Beth Proudfoot again (we'd met at my first-ever conference -- No Crime Unpublished -- last June).

Yesterday was a MWA NorCal meeting at John's Grill, where we were able to hear scintillating stories from legendary female private investigator Sandra Sutherland.

And that brings me to today. Still with too much to do and not enough time to do it in, but I'm adjusting to the new normal, and hoping that Time will be kind. And not in such a damn hurry!

Next week: A small and long overdue post on Nora Prentiss. I'll be in Seattle for a signing at the fabulous Seattle Mystery Bookshop on the August 22nd, too.

Party photos: Bourbon and Branch library, around the bar, Romans!, the uber-talented and wonderful Jordan Dane and sensational Simon Wood, two of the most talented and beautiful and nicest women in the biz, Michelle Gagnon and Heather Graham, and the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, looking like a million bucks in white (not black). :)