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.
In late April, the Mystery Writers of America announced the 2019 winners of its prestigious Edgar Awards. (You can find the press release at http://theedgars.com.) And I am now able to reveal that I played a part in the process this year: Yours Truly was a judge for the Best Fact Crime category.
There were five of us on the panel. Starting in March, 2019, we read dozens of wildly disparate titles sent to us by hopeful publishers. By my count, 60 or so contenders arrived on my doorstep. (Several were 600-plus pages!)
When you’re tapped to be an Edgars judge, you sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement that prevents you from telling anyone about your involvement until after winners have been made public. (Previously, this has always happened at the MWA’s annual formal gala, but because of the health crisis, this year’s Big Reveal took place via Twitter.) Also, you can never, ever discuss the deliberations. By the by, there’s no compensation – unless you consider the free books that piled up everywhere!
12 months of non-stop true crime sometimes felt a bit overwhelming. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my dreams became very vivid, unsettling, and blood-spattered. Or that, as a result of spending so much time reading the works of others, my own writings languished! But I like to think I picked up a few ideas re: technique and delivery. And I’m honored to have played a part in the mystery-crime writing world’s equivalent of the Oscars! Congrats to the nominees and the winners.
The annual mystery convention Left Coast Crime 2020: Murder’s a Beach will get underway later this week in San Diego. Yours Truly will be among the attendees – and will be a panelist. I’ll join authors Rosemary Lord (who’ll moderate), Kellye Garrett, Lee Goldberg and Sherri Leigh James in discussing Hollywood as a setting for crime fiction.
I always look forward to Left Coast Crime, which brings together readers and writers (along with critics, librarians and publishers). But this year’s event, like so many others from coast to coast, has been overshadowed by the COVID-19 situation (understandably, some folks who were scheduled to attend have opted to cancel). My participation doesn’t require any airline travel, just a couple hours on the freeway. Hey, if there’s any group that can come up with an antidote to a mysterious virus, it’s a myriad of mystery writers.