Monthly Archives: January 2014

Who killed William Desmond Taylor

Tomorrow, February 1st, is the 92nd anniversary of William Desmond Taylor’s murder. It is the most famous onsolved murder case in Hollywood history and arguably the murder of the century. The newspaper coverage was front page news across the country. Taylor was a popular and successful film director, but the sensationalism derived from top actresses seen as suspects, plus the luridness and scandal as details emerged (real and imagined), Hollywood was viewed by conservative America as a modern Babylon.

The murder came during the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and trials for his alleged murder of small time actress Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle was a top silent film comedian who supposedly raped and killed Rappe at a wild party in San Francisco. The allegations were made by a blackmailer, but that did not matter to America. They wanted blood and William Randolph Hearst and yellow journalism were happy to crucify Arbuckle. Rappe was no Snow White, not when you had, some of said, five or six abortions by 16, a child out of wedlock at 17, venereal disease and cystitis. The courts did not convict Arbuckle, but America did. The power of the press inflaming public opinion killed Arbuckle’s career.

So when Taylor was murdered and top screen comedian Mabel Normand, and popular actress were considered murder suspects, along with Taylor’s man servant, Henry Peavy, a former employee who had stolen from Taylor, Edward Sands, were juts handful of suspects. Theories were many and wide ranging, if not wild ranging.

Adding fuel to the fire was it came out that Taylor had abandoned his wife and child years ago, simply walking out the door and disappearing without saying a word. It did not help that Taylor, 50 at the time of his death, seemed to have a penchant for young actresses. Mary Miles Minter was an actress thirty years younger than Taylor who she claimed to love. But Minter, nor any actress in Babylon was a true Snow White; maybe on the screen, but not off the screen.

I was fascinated by the murder, watched a couple of documentaries on the case, read three non-fiction books, each of which had a different killer. The more you dig into the case, the more fascinating it becomes. I wanted to write a fictional story, using two characters from my first book that also revolved around a true life story, though not one about murder. So Chet Koski, a scenario writer for Famous Players-Lansky and his wife Eveleen get caught up, whether they wanted to or not, in solving the mystery. I am of the school  of writing that rejects outlines and just writes seeing where the story goes. I had no idea who my killer would be, and it took me some time to work out the ending, but when I did, I was more than satisfied.

The book is both a homage to hard boiled Chandleresque mysteries while satirizing them at the same time. I like a little looniness in my fiction, thus the title “Loonies in Hollywood.” Eveleen is adventurous, Chet is passive aggressive, but together they are a Nick and Nora Charles in a parallel universe. Celebrate the mystery with my novel while I am writing their next adventure “Silent Murder.”

Loonies in Hollywood:

If you want to read a sample of the book click here:

Loonies in the Dugout:

Cemeteries and other Phantasms:


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J.D. Salinger, Part two

Something that comes through the documentary about J. D. Salinger in the American Masters series on PBS is not his reclusiveness, for he had many friends, so was not so much a recluse, as a loner, but his love of writing. It is not specifically said, but looking at his life it is obvious.

Consider that the publication of “Catcher in the Rye” gave Salinger world wide literary fame. He could have given numerous interviews, taught writing at prestigious universities, gone the cocktail party circuit, been a square on Hollywood Squares, promoted other novels on radio and television and other book promo ventures. But it is clear fame held no interest.

But writing did hold his interest, writing in self imposed quietude far from sycophantic well wishers, false friends, and what he perceived, rightly so, of the phonies that surrounds fame. Instead of celebrating himself, he celebrated writing. He had to be obsessive about writing, for who would write every day for decades and not publish anything. Salinger was in his own world, the characters he wrote were his family. Now you may think him crazy, but writers are a bit loony to begin with, some loonier than others. Not to imply Salinger was more loony. In fact he may have been saner. I say that because his obsession had to evolve from his love of writing, of creating the world of Holden Caulfield, of the Glass family, of his other unpublished works, which as I wrote in the previous blog will be released beginning in 2015, continuing through 2020.

Thus he has, in some sense, no pretensions. Salinger wrote, I suspect, to explore his questions, his demons, to work out things that bothered him, to explore his own experience. I know I write to go into another time, another place, to explore my own questions about people and life. The fact two of my novels begin with the word ‘loonies’ in some sense reveals my world view.

What I like about Salinger is his act of purity, by that, I mean he wrote for himself, in his world, through his characters. It was I think a form of therapy. Because he did not publish anything for decades makes him the pure indy writer. And beginning in 2015 he will once again be sharing his world. I hope his work will add to his reputation, not detract from it. But no matter the critical response in coming years, he is resting in a quietude where he will not be bothered. He has made his final escape and now is truly reclusive.

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The mystery of J.D. Salinger solved, Part one

I recently saw a PBS American Masters documentary on J.D. Salinger, the iconic and reclusive writer, whose book “Catcher in the Rye” still sells 250,000 copies a year sixty some years after publication. Every writer would like the royalties from that book for he would then be free to write and not have to worry about paying bills. Unless, of course, you are an alcoholic, womanizing, gambler, sort of writer, in which case you are never writing to begin with. You are having fun.

Two things that struck we I want to share about writing. Salinger’s readers often sought him out, making the pilgrimage to New Hampshire, parking at the end of his long driveway that went up a hill, or waited for him to come across one of those wooden, covered bridge that charms New England. These readers thought he had the answers because they identified so closely with Holden Caulfield, sometimes too closely. Salinger would try to tell them, often frustratingly so, that writers write fiction not because they have answers, they have none, but because they have questions. I believe that to be so, otherwise fiction would not be written, for  if you had answers you would write self help books which dominate bookstore sections on psychology. Of course there are so many self help books it is apparent there are too many answers, or perhaps wrong ones.

From personal experience I can say my novel “Loonies in the Dugout” is a satire on fame and celebrity with an underlying satire on coming of age novels (which I am not fond of), but interwoven in the story are questions about many things that the characters explore. They don’t have answers, neither do I. Many of those thematic questions are carried over into “Loonies in Hollywood” that is both a true life murder mystery, but also a homage to Chandleresque private eye stories, while at the same time satirizing  the archetypical noir sleuth.

Secondly, Salinger was able to escape the hoopla and just write. He wrote for himself because he loved the art of writing. What he didn’t like was publishing, which is agony I am sure as editors want to drop commas, change sentences, cut this, change that. I am sure editors are helpful, but the process the writer goes through must be maddening. Salinger was a perfectionist and he did not like the process of someone tinkering with his stories.

For Salinger writing was the endgame, not the fame. He rejected fame so he could write. 

It should also be noted that between 2015 and 2020 Salinger has authorized some of his unpublished writings to be published. In addition to a novel and novella, there are more Glass family stories and at least one Holden Caulfield story.

I learned much about Salinger from this superb documentary and I urge you to seek it out. It was made by Shane Salerno, who, along with David Shields, have written a biography on Salinger. Here is a link to the book on Amazon: I have not found the DVD on PBS so I assume it is not yet available, but I am sure it will be some time this year.

Loonies in the Dugout:

Loonies in Hollywood:

Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms:

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Cappadocia’s underground cities and relation to writing

We first hear of Cappadocia around the 6th century B.C. It is in the central area of Turkey and for centuries was the portal linking the east and the west. Because of its strategic location for warring Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Alexander the Great, Muslims, and the peoples who populated the east and west, those living in Cappadocia could make use of their unique terrain to hide.

The area was and still is filled with volcanic rock formations called “fairy chimneys” that rise as high as 300 feet and are shaped like cones. Even before this area became a place of interest the ancients dug caves around and below and through these formations. It continued to the point that the locals had underground cites to hide themselves from wars raging around them.

They could flee down stone stairs and roll large stones across the entrances. In their underground cities they had clay ovens, ventilated air shafts, meeting rooms, wine cellars (thank God), grain storage, weapons, churches, Turkish baths, and even toilets. And they brought animals. There were secret passages, escape routes, perhaps even country hoedowns.

These underground cities were kept secret by the locals. In fact they were used for over 2,500 years when the people decided to spend more time above ground when the area became part of the Ottoman Empire around the 14th century. But they still kept their secret for centuries just in case the world once again got nasty.

These people were the original survivalists.

interesting as all this is, you may be asking yourself what this has to do with writing. Any time you read something that captures your imagination, make note of it, research it, for you never know where it will lead you and how you can use it in a story.  For example in my novel “Loonies in Hollywood” I have an older character, an uncle to a secondary character. In one scene he talks of Anne Green who was hanged centuries ago in England. She was hanged, though did not die. But she did get to keep her coffin as a keepsake. Since she didn’t die, she was pardoned, married and had children. While it had nothing to do with my true life murder mystery set in 1922, I could use the story, partly for effect, but mostly so the character could make a point about something.

So if you are a writer, collect these offbeat stories and events in history. You can always find ways to include them in your story. You just need imagination and creativity. You do have that don’t you?

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Loonies in Hollywood:

Loonies in the Dugout:

cemetery Tales and other Phantasms:

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Why writers need an ear for the music of words

I don’t know if the characters in Charles Dickens novels talked like actual people in Dickens’s London, but people don’t talk like his characters today, and that  is a primary reason not to imitate a period writer. Unless you are writing in that period of course. I have written two novels, one based in 1911 New York, the other in 1922 Los Angeles. One should not assume the English language has not changed. It has. Every era has slang, as well as phrases and words that, for whatever reason, have taken on new meanings decades later. For example the word ‘gay’ in the eras I wrote in had no homosexual connotation. There are also phrases used in the past everyone understood, but today makes no sense to us.

For the 1911 novel I used Irving Lewis Allen’s book “The City in Slang: New York Life and Popular Speech.” For the novel set in 1922 I researched flapper slang and also read and listened to the dialogue of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and watched 1930 and 1940 films, as I wanted that noir sound.

That is where the ear becomes important. If you are writing a contemporary story, characters should talk befitting their profession, class, education, and their social circles. Listen not with your brain to what people around you are saying, but listen with your ear. The tone of the voice, how sentences are strung together-especially if the person is strung out. You never know when you might need a drugged out character.

To oversimplify, if you have seen the TV show, “The Big Bang Theory” you know Penny is a waitress, and as such, has no clue what Sheldon and Leonard talk about when they get into a physics conversation. Consequently you do not write lines for Penny that make her smarter than she actually is. A character must speak to her level of understanding.

Go to coffee shops, lunch counters, bars, airports, malls, sporting events; go anywhere there are people from different walks of life. Listen to their rhythms, their sounds, their words. Some people have an ear for music; as a writer you need an ear for the music of words. (Even when there is no dialogue, a writer still needs to know the music of words for the rhythms of the sentence and the flow from one to the other).

People don’t talk like people write, so don’t write dialogue like it is a sentence in a text book. Dialogue can also, and should, reveal character. If a character is pompous, then put on your pompous face and talk with pomposity. No jokes please, I’m trying to be helpful.

Clancy, my flapper character in “Loonies in Hollywood” was a young, spoiled girl, who lived the flapper life. She had a carpe diem personality and her actions, and certainly her dialogue, reflected who she was. It was odd, but when writing her, I often heard her talk, as if she was whispering in my ear. I listened to her. It also helps to be loony. If you’re not loony, then follow my advice. If you are loony like me, you’ve got problems. But you know dialogue.

Loonies in the Dugout:

Loonies in Hollywood:

Cemetery Tales and other Phantasms:


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Writers block, a barefoot Aristotle, and virtuous cynics

I don’t believe in writers block. I have mentioned this before.

I wrote the above sentence 5 hours, 37 minutes, and 29 seconds ago, when I sat down at the keyboard-for only the ancients sit down at a typewriter-and despite having attended Ford’s theatre on the night President Lincoln was assassinated-I do not consider myself an ancient.

But it is difficult to stare at a blank word doc. page wondering what to say, which is why I make notes of topics to write about, culled from experience, my memoirs (real and imagined), books, the web, and things I make up, which in fact, might be true.

My first tidbit of the day is about Aristotle. If you don’t know who he is, Aristotle was a thinker in ancient Greece, an age in which I would flourish, because I think more than I work (a loathsome task to be sure). In the 4th century before Christ walked in Judea, Aristotle wrote a thin little volume entitled “Poetics.” It is still used today for playwrights, theatre students, and theatre lovers to study. It is the bible on the art of drama. He wrote about a plays action, its passion, plot, characters, and everything anyone needs to know.

He was considered a great philosopher, studied and contributed to all types of sciences, and perhaps was a genius. On the other hand-or I should say foot- he believed going barefoot diminished the libido. I have no idea how he came to that conclusion unless it was from personal experience. I don’t go barefoot because of slithering snakes who like to attack male feet. Aristotle has his believes, I have mine.

I shall close with another Greek philosopher, one Antisthenes, an ancient older than Aristotle. Antisthenes was a student of Socrates another thinker who liked to argue about everything.  It was Antisthenes we have to thank for a common word we all use today. He founded a school Cynosarges (white dog) and his students were called kynikos (doglike). He and his students ignored the customs of the day, despised wealth and fame, living instead, a virtuous life of aesthetics. They were not a fun group, rarely hosting or going to parties. It was from his school that we have the word ‘cynic.’ I think cynics, as we use the word today, see the world accurately. I am neither virtuous, not an aesthetic. I am a fun cynic.

So you see there is no such thing as writers block. You just start somewhere and end up who knows where.

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How writers can have fun with common phrases

All rules are meant to be broken, especially in writing, because there are no rules. As I said in an earlier blog, for every so-called rule for writers you can find a great writer who broke the rule. I will show how you can use phrases, even clichés in your writing.

Take the phrase, “I got the sack” meaning “I got fired.” Suppose you have a character who comes home to his wife and says, “I got sacked today.”  Your first instinct might be   to write a serious discussion between the two as to what they next will do. What if you take a different tack. What if the wife says, “Did you know ‘getting the sack’ originated from 17th century France when itinerant workers carried their bag of tools around the country looking for jobs, and when they were done, or discharged, they got their sack of tools back?”

“Who cares. What are you saying? That we should move?”

“No, what I am saying is that you still have your bag of tools and you will find another job, probably one better.”

This shows his wife is intelligent-part of character development-and shows she is strong, not worried, thus supporting her husband, and her confidence should lift his spirits. She also has a sense of humor.

How about another conversation revolving around ‘cut to the chase.’ Perhaps the same husband and wife, in which the wife is explaining something that happened.

“Will you cut to the chase dear,” he said.”

“Cut to the chase? Oh, so now I am boring you am I?”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“Of course it is. That was the phrase producers used in the early days of movies, as in cut out the boring parts and get to the exciting parts. So I must be boring you. But I am giving you the details so you will understand what happened. Sorry you find this boring.”

“Look hon, lets be frank and talk turkey.”

“I am being frank and I wont talk turkey. I like chicken. And by the way, if I put a two minute egg timer on our bedside table, you would be done, before the timer went off. Some rooster you are.”

Well, no marriage is perfect. I think we should leave them now as their conversation is heading south. But I hope you see the point, how you can use phrases or clichés in your writing.  You might come up with your own phrases and experiment, using it is a tool to spur creativity.

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