At this month’s meeting (on April 25) of Orange County Sisters in Crime, I’ll be talking “The History of Mystery – A Brief Look at Detective Fiction Over the Years.”
Even briefly, that covers a lot of territory — so I guess I’ll have to talk fast!
Edgar Allan Poe. Anna Katharine Green (the first female author of a detective novel). Arthur Conan Doyle (daddy of Sherlock Holmes). The Golden Age crowd, including Agatha Christie. The Black Mask-ers (that is, the hard-boiled guys, who started out writing for the pulp mag, Black Mask). Books for young fans. (Nancy Drew, anyone?) Board games devoted to crime-solving crimes. (Colonel Mustard did it in the Library with the Candlestick!)
I’ve previously spoken to the O.C. Sisters about mystery and crime writing topics including “Getting Cozy with Crime,” “Hot Stuff – Crime in the Desert,” “Bright Lights, Dark Places – Crime Fiction Set in SoCal” and “Capitol Crimes.”
For this latest talk, I look forward to revealing the genre’s historic moments.
At the latest meeting (January 24) of Orange County Sisters in Crime, I gave a presentation on “Capitol Crimes” — highlighting fictional works, largely contemporaneous for their day, that reflect the changing landscape of politically-themed issues.
Hollywood’s had considerable fun mining that terrain, with films like “White House Down” and “Olympus Has Fallen” – both of which were dominated by images of the Capitol building/the White House in flames.
But for authors, it’s often the country’s highest office that’s at stake. This theme goes way back – to 1934 and a book called “The President Vanishes,” a title that sums up the plot.
Of course, real life events – the JFK assassination and the resulting (and endless) conspiracy theories surrounding his death, the Watergate scandal – have provided inspiration for myriad thrillers, many of which became best sellers, thanks to the votes of readers.
Hard to believe that I’m heading into a full year of teaching online for Saddleback College Emeritus Institute, where I’m an adjunct prof. Because of COVID, we went online at the end of March 2020 – a shock to the system of students and teachers across the entire country. With an assist from Canvas (the course management system) and the ubiquitous Zoom, both my courses (film analysis, and writing) have worked out better than I’d expected. Though I look forward to the day when I can just pop a DVD into the player of a classroom – instead of having to “book” movies available to students at home via cable and streaming services!
For the Winter Issue (#166) of Mystery Scene magazine, I examine the relationship tough guy writer James M. Cain had with Hollywood. (You can order a copy online if your local newsstand is currently non-operational due to pandemic shut-downs.) Like many leading scribes of the 1930s, Cain was lured to La-La-Land by the paychecks. As Cain himself once put it, “Don’t get the idea that writing for movies is easy money. It ain’t. But I wanted the money.” Some of his West Coast work was forgettable (including a romantic comedy about opera!), but while he was there he got the idea for his gritty novel that shook up the crime genre: “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” More than a decade later, “Postman” was made into a film, but only after screen versions of Cain’s follow-up books, “Double Indemnity” and “Mildred Pierce.” That’s a 1-2-3 punch few writers can claim.
In the latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine (issue no. 165), I take a look at 10 outlaw couples – compliments of Hollywood. Movies that mix it up with love, bullets and the open road owe an awful lot to a pair of real-life Depression-era hellraisers, Bonnie and Clyde. Ready to take a ride with Keechie and Bowie (1948’s “They Live by Night”), Annie and Bart (1949’s “Gun Crazy”) or, jumping ahead decades, Mickey and Mallory (of Oliver Stone’s amped-up 1994 entry, “Natural Born Killers”)? You’ll also discover some literary references to these film duos. The issue’s now on the newsstands.