Wednesday, October 7, 2020

California Dreamin'

 HANK PHILLIPI RYAN:  California. Our hearts got out to those in the horrible fires—seeing that video, and hearing the horrifying tales from friends is absolutely devastating. But California is always dramatic, even in calmer times. Hollywood, and the redwood forests, the gorgeous surf. The Pacific Surfliner train, with its breathtaking views. The vineyards, and the migrant workers, the gold rush, and artichokes and Rodeo Drive and Haight/Ashbury and almonds and the water shortage. The incredible chefs and the amazing food. The Beach Boys. On and on.  And all the authors you’ll read about below.  

 

Art Taylor—short-story writer extraordinaire—delved deep into the state for the essence of the new Bouchercon short story anthology he was asked to edit. Brave man! He took it on, and now, well, like getting to test each chocolate before you decided to consume it, here’s a little taste of what’s inside the anthology. 

 

 


 

Putting the California in California Schemin’  

 

By Art Taylor, with contributors to the 2020 Bouchercon Anthology 

 

When I was first asked to edit the anthology for this year’s Bouchercon in Sacramento (and now online everywhere!), my only hesitation was geographical. I previously edited Murder Under the Oaks for the 2015 Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina—my home state and a city I’d lived in for more than a decade—but what did I know about California?  

 

Well, as I said in my introduction to the new collection—available now from Wildside Press—I knew quite a bit, as do most of us who love crime fiction, since California has dominated so much of the genre from Hammett, Chandler, and Cain through Sue Grafton, James Ellroy, Walter Mosley, Michael Connolly, and Laurie R. King, and to today’s writers charting still more of the state’s terrain, like Steph Cha and Rachel Howzell Hall and Joe Ide and so many others.  

 

I was also fortunate to rely on the expertise of contributors who knew California too. Walter Mosley himself was one of the guests of honor who offered a story to the collection—“Fearless,” a terrific tale set in post-WWII Los Angeles—and the writers chosen from our blind submission process were required to keep a California angle in their stories.  

 

To celebrate the new anthology—and Bouchercon itself next week—I invited several of those contributors to answer this question: “How did California (or some aspect of the state and its history) inform or influence your story?” 

 

And I’m thrilled to pass the microphone to them now for their answers! 

 

 

Joyce Krieg on “Last Call at the Zanzibar” 

 

The instant I heard about the 2020 Bouchercon anthology, I knew exactly what I wanted to write.  

 

In the 1950s and 60s, Sacramento’s West End underwent one of the biggest urban renewal projects in the nation—and it all happened just a few blocks from our convention venue. This so-called slum clearance project wiped out Japantown and displaced hundreds of Black residents and businesses like the Zanzibar jazz club. This, I thought, could work as a crime story, as well as a tale that simply deserved to be told.  

 

I worked in Sacramento print and broadcast news for around 20 years but arrived well after redevelopment. Two History Press books by William Burg proved to be invaluable resources in the writing of “Last Call at the Zanzibar,” as was a post by Chris Longo on the Urban History Association’s blog.  

 

For the longest time, I figured I was the only person on the planet who was fascinated—and dismayed—by the urban renewal mania that swept the nation in the middle decades of the 20th century. It’s gratifying to find out I was wrong. 

 

 

Ellen Clair Lamb on “The Assistant” 

 

I moved to California from Washington, DC, for the same reasons everybody does. I had just turned 34, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d gone as far as I could at my job unless I wanted to be CEO, which I definitely did not (even if that was an option, which it wasn’t). I was in a relationship that absolutely, positively, once-and-for-all needed to end. Dear friends and family members had already made the leap to LA, and I thought: Maybe all I need is a change of scenery.  

 

Credentials are the biggest difference between DC and LA. Washington cares where you went to college and where you’ve worked, but Los Angeles isn’t interested. LA wants to know what you want and what you think you can do. That difference is so dramatic that it’s easy to miss the truth at the core of both cities: they run on the energy and ingenuity of extremely underpaid low-level staff, most of them women. In a society that measures success in dollars, these women know that invisibility is its own superpower.  

 

That’s the germ of “The Assistant.”  

 

 

Christopher Ryan on “Hellhounds: Hollywood Demons” 

California has such a history as a place where some dreamers fly to dizzying heights while others crash and burn. This state encapsulates both the promise and the peril of America. I hoped to juxtapose those extremes in “Hellhounds: Hollywood Demons.” The celebrity element plays with the ludicrous heights that stardom can reach, while the military aspect represents the depths to which we as a nation can plunge when we forget to care for each other. Our tarnished heroes (like ourselves) exist somewhere in the middle and have to navigate the rollercoaster that is America in all its beauty and heartbreak.  

From that perspective, California seemed a safe setting for this story. The real risk for me was utilizing as protagonists three characters from my first novel—formerly City of Woe, now extensively rewritten under the guidance of a pro editor, renamed Everyone Pays, and looking for representation. (How’s that for California Schemin’?) I had so much fun writing them in this context I may spin off a “Hellhounds” series.   

 

Gabriel Valjan on “Elysian Fields” 

 

I attended USC and when you walked down the university’s main boulevard, you couldn’t see the San Gabriel Mountains until noon because it took that long for the sun to burn the smog off. It’s the perfect metaphor to understanding California, because it takes time to see things, and not all that you see is pretty and glamorous. Time is essential to revelation and wisdom. 

 

California is unique, a young state; the oldest building dates to only 1818. My story “Elysian Fields,” set after the Japanese internment but before the Zoot Suit Riots, is about privilege and intolerance, about how wealth and power are above the law. There is doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and learning that knowledge or discovery are forms of justice, if you choose to remember and not forget, or forgive. 

 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I am enthralled. This sounds amazing. And how about you, Reds and readers? If you had to create a story based on something California, what would you write about? And hooray, you don’t have to write all about it—just tell us a snippet of your favorite California thing! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bios: 

 

Joyce Krieg spent 20-plus years in print and broadcast journalism in Sacramento, giving her the background to write “Last Call at the Zanzibar.” Most of the people and places are real and the events recounted really did happen (well, almost ¼). Joyce is the author of three mysteries published by St. Martin’s Press and is a past president of California Writers Club. She lives in Pacific Grove, California. www.joycek.com

 

Ellen Clair Lamb (Clair, to friends) is a writer, editor, and researcher who worked for the much-missed Mystery Bookstore during her years in Los Angeles. She has been a lobbyist for bank regulators, an association executive, a community theater director, stage manager for a show in the New York Musical Festival, and winner of Ben Stein’s money. She lives in Arlington, Virginia and roots for the world champion Washington Nationals.  

 

Christopher Ryan is currently transitioning from independent to traditionally published work, with six stories up for publication in 2020/2021. “Hellhounds: Hollywood Demons,” appearing here, features three characters from his first novel, City of Woe. He has been a reporter, teacher, co-founder of a comedy troupe, actor, independent film producer, and podcaster. He has written action tales featuring Alex Simmons’ Blackjack and has four independently published novels. www.chrisryanwrites.com

 

Art Taylor is the author of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and multiple Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He edited Murder Under the Oaks, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. www.arttaylorwriter.com.  

 

Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma and Company Files series with Winter Goose Publishing. His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Gabriel has been shortlisted for an Agatha and Anthony for The Naming Game, the Bridport and Fish prizes, and received an honorable mention for the Black Orchid Novella Award. Level Best Books publishes his Shane Cleary series. Gabriel lives in Boston’s South End and he’s an ailurophile. www.gabrielvaljan.com.

68 comments:

  1. Being a California native, I was already interested in this anthology. But a new story by Joyce Krieg. I'm there! (If you haven't read her novels, you must go buy them now. They are so much fun.)

    What would I write about? I'd set something in Sonoma County. It's where I grew up, but we are always overshadowed by our neighbor, Napa County. We've got Luthor Burbank and Ripley of Ripley's believe it or not both coming from Sonoma County. But maybe a story set during the filming of Hitchcock's Shadow of Doubt (set and filmed in Santa Rosa). Or Pollyanna. Or Peggy Sue Got Married (filmed at my high school). But, for the mystery connection, I should still with Shadow of Doubt.

    It's been a long week and a half as my family was once again evacuated due to the fires up there. They are once again safe, but it the fires are still threatening so many people up there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wishing your family safety and their lungs not to be damaged by so much smoke. Mark.

      Delete
    2. Mark, that is so terrifying—I am so sorry, and I know it must be so horrible for you and them. But I do love your short story ideas! That is such a scary movie. And so hilarious that Peggy Sue was filmed in your high school!

      Delete
    3. Mark, we are all thinking about you and the terrible fires that are threatening so many of our loved ones on the left coast! Sending good vibes for a quick end to fire season.

      Delete
    4. Mark, I hope you family stays safe. The fires are just horrible.

      Delete
    5. Joyce's story is terrific, Mark! And your ideas are great here for California stories—love the film angles you're suggesting!

      Delete
    6. Mark, thanks so much for the shout-out -- much appreciate hearing from someone who remembers my novels from the early 2000s.

      Delete
  2. This sounds fascinating . . . I’m looking forward to reading all the California stories.
    Having lived in California, I have lots of favorite things . . . and one scary thing: the freeways. You know I’m the person who can get lost walking out the front door; freeway driving was absolute torture for me. I’d definitely write a scary story about traveling on the freeway . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joan, I grew up driving the freeways. After that, I can drive anywhere!

      Delete
    2. Oh that is a brilliant idea, Joan!

      Delete
  3. Art, what a brilliant way to introduce and promote this anthology. Reading what some of the authors say what lead to their stories has me hooked. I need to order this right away.

    Part of California’s history that has always fascinated and saddened me is the tragic appropriation of Japanese Americans’ businesses and personal property as they were being sent to the internment camps/prisons. Two books that especially made an impression on me that deal with the loss of these Americans are Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and Daughter of Molokai by James Brennert. The first one features a family from the city, and the second one features a family from the country. So, I’d like to write a story set during this time that maybe shows some small victory for one of the persecuted families.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes all the stories sound amazing!!

      Delete
    2. In Santa Clara County many white neighbor farmers took title to Japanese owned farms. At the end of the war many families dud manage to regain ownership of their farms here in the Bay Area.

      Delete
    3. Thanks much, Kathy—and hope you enjoy!
      And yes, that part of California's history is fascinating--and so sad. Your approach here sounds great.

      Delete
  4. I'm excited for this anthology. I carefully crafted a story set in 1920 Pasadena - my birthplace - with two new sleuths when the anthology call went out, but it was rejected (don't worry, it's out on submission elsewhere). I'm halfway through writing the first book using all the same.

    Like Hallie, I grew up in California but moved in the opposite direction. While researching my book, I am learning so much about where I grew up, including the darker sides of land steals, treatment of Asians and blacks, and certain towns like the one my grandparents lived in, which was designed to be a whites-only community.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Art, that link for the book takes me to a Kickstarter site for the anthology. Correct? Should it go to the press instead?

      Delete
    2. Edith, I can't wait to read your book-in-progress. It sounds fascinating!

      Delete
    3. I am a native Californian too. I really like Pasadena and your new series is one that I will anticipate with great interest until their release.

      Delete
    4. Hi, Edith! So sorry your story didn't make it into the anthology! It was all blind, of course—but look forward to reading your story when it finds a home elsewhere!

      Delete
    5. And Edith, good question.... That Kickstarter site is the only place to order now. Wildside had some reasons why they set it up this way, but that's basically the pre-order site for now! (Sorry for confusion.)

      Delete
    6. True, Hank! Thanks, Debs and Susan. Art, no worries.

      Delete
    7. It wasn't rejected. !! It was simply not chosen for this particular anthology.

      Delete
  5. I am only California dreamin', as I have never been to that state. The anthology teasers sell the anthology. Congrats to all involved!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Like Amanda, I've never been to California. Looking forward to learn different aspects of it through the anthology's stories.

    ReplyDelete
  7. What a delightful snippet of stories. Great hook.

    I've never been to California, so I'm not sure I could write a story and do the state justice - unless I did a lot of research!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I set a couple of stories in California for ON THE ROAD WITH DEL & LOUISE.... I'd been to Napa but not to Victorville. The research was both a challenge and a lot of fun!

      Delete
  8. I grew up in Los Angeles and what I remember are the Santa Ana winds. I'd go out in our backyard just to feel that wind blow me about. Sometimes it felt as if it could actually lift me off my feet, so I'd get scared and run back into the house. And then, of course, there were fires even back then, that we could see smoke rising from them at the horizon. My parents had a screenwriter friend who owned a house up a steep driveway in Bel-Air. That house burned to the ground numerous times and they'd rebuild.

    Returning "home" to the Los Angeles area is like visiting an alien planet. NOTHING is where it used to be. When I was growing up, building codes prohibited buildings of over 3 or 4 stories, as I recall - higher than that they weren't earthquake-proof. Then building methods improved and now the sky's the limit. Also car traffic increased exponentially so places where you could easily park on the street are gone gone gone and it's all valet and underground. Like I said, alien planet.

    My heart goes out to friends and family still there and getting repeatedly evacuated for yet another fire.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember the Santa Anas too, Hallie - and they also blew the smog out of the San Gabriel Valley, where I lived.

      Delete
    2. Yeah..so agree. ANd your memories are treasures, in every way.

      Delete
  9. Our daughter and her family live near Santa Monica. We are not happy about them being so far away, but she adores California. I despise the freeways too Joan, but agree that parts of the state are beautiful. I've gotten very fond of quirky Venice, and I could see a mystery series set there...

    I love these stories about inspiration--such fun reading and it makes the book of stories sound irresistible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Venice would be a great setting! Always love movies with scenes set there!

      Delete
  10. Art, welcome to JRW and congratulations to you and all of the contributors to this remarkable sounding anthology.

    Now I am really California Dreaming!

    My first trip to California was my senior year in high school with my mom and dad. We visited my aunt (dad's sister) and her family in their gorgeous home in Beverly Hills. We went to the Farmer's Market and saw many sights. We went to Disneyland. It was just amazing. 10 months later my mother suddenly passed away and my aunt invited me to come visit when school got out along with my very close cousin, Ellen who was finishing her sophomore year at University of New Mexico. My uncle (dad's brother) had left his white Impala convertible at my aunt's while he was stationed in Asia and Ellen and I cruised all over in that car. One evening we saw Troy Donohue with a date at the Whiskey a Go-Go, beaches galore, the surfers at Malibu and of course our own trip to Disneyland. My aunt and uncle and family took us up to see the redwoods, the sequoias and my first visit to Yosemite, where we lay out at night watching shooting stars and took a mule ride up into the mountains.

    I guess that all of the dozens of other trips to California are colored by the joys of those first ones. I have loads of family there as does Irwin and we have been there many times together over the years. My fondness for the state has not waivered.

    If I were to write a story about California, it would almost definitely be a coming of age story. I remember my first time in San Francisco, my first trip down the coast, my first trip to see those giant trees, visiting Universal Studios, and yes, driving the freeways, too. I'm still in awe, still in love with that smell of flowers in winter when you arrive at LAX.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Omigosh, Troy Donahue and Whiskey a Go-Go! There's a trip back down Memory Lane!

      Delete
    2. Such memories here, Judy—the foundation for a great coming-of-age story.

      Delete
    3. I just burst out laughing, and then in tears.Troy Donahue. There's a story, right there. Awww...

      Delete
  11. San Francisco at the turn of the century--late 1800s, early 1900s. It's amazing the freedom a woman could have there during that time period and the city was compared to Paris. Pretty sure Rhys has already set a story about then with Molly Murphy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I love that book. Rhys did such a great job of recreating the experience of the Great Fire--you almost feel you are living it as you read.

      Delete
    2. The Time of ..what was it? Fire and Fog?

      Delete
  12. Waving at Art and Clair. Many intriguing story teases here!

    I've spent a lot of time in California, but not doing touristy things, in the way most people think of touristy things. Being married to a wildlife photographer we have crawled around beach dunes and cliffs, and explored the grassy hills around Paso Robles, including the largest grassland in the US, Carrizo Plains. There's a lot in the state that intrigues me. For instance, Jade Beach, clothing optional, which actually has a massive shelf of jade that chunks off onto the beach. And the tiny town of Parkfield, a little northeast of Cholame (where James Dean died in a car crash), where a bridge over the San Andreas Fault Line has a visible kink in it. There's an ostrich farm there, and when we were there last the library was in a teeny Airstream trailer.

    And San Simeon Beach, just below Hearst Castle, where, if you're lucky, you can spot bull elephant seals as big as a Volkswagen bug, with enormous tusks they aren't shy about using on their fellows in one of them bugs their lazy rest. The area east of Point Reyes where Roosevelt elk roam the grassy hills. At least I hope they still do, after all the fires.

    Don't forget the violently Pepto Bismol-pink Madonna Inn. All kinds of hijinks could happen in a place that quirky.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Madonna Inn! Drove by it many a time. The restrooms in the adjacent Union gas station are decorated in the same motif - wild!

      Delete
    2. Karen, the elephant seals are so Amazing! We stayed in a near-by B&B that was incredible. We took a walk to town and passed a small bush where dozens of hummingbirds were busy in the blossoms. More great memories! Judy

      Delete
    3. Hi, Karen -- waving back! And such intriguing story teases in your own post!!!

      Delete
  13. Oh, sounds like a great book!

    I've not been to California - to be honest, the state scares me - but someday, maybe... Growing up in the 1960s everyone wanted to be a California girl - I was even accepted at the Pasadena Playhouse but I chickened out at the last minute.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, no! Curious how it scares you. I've been a couple of times, various parts of the state, and very much enjoyed!

      Delete
    2. Now I am singing. You should..go. It's gorgeous, complex and unique. And people are so weirdly nice.

      Delete
  14. Finally got up early enough to comment here. I have been waking up too late to comment in the last few days.

    Art Taylor, welcome to Jungle Reds! I met you at Malice Domestic in 2016.

    Hank, great post! I signed up for the Virtual Bouchercon after the in person conference was cancelled. I grew up in California. I am a first generation Californian. I had a college boyfriend who was a ? 4th generation Californian. His great grandmother or 2x great grandmother graduated from the University of California in 1900!

    With the fires in California and the droughts, I had to stop and think about what I love about California. I would say the Farmer's Market with abundance of local produce. Often there are fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Regarding oldest buildings, I think the oldest buildings in California are the Spanish Missions, built in California BEFORE California became part of the United States. California used to be part of Mexico.

    True that many buildings from my childhood are no longer there. Some buildings are still there though the venues have changed over the years. A clothing shop from my childhood is Now a Mexican restaurant. A pizza restaurant from my childhood is now a CVS. The CO-OP from my childhood is still a grocery shop, though it changed to Andronico's then to Safeway and now back to Andronico's/Safeway ?

    Look forward to getting the California scheming anthology book.

    Will Virtual Bouchercon registrants receive an email about ordering the anthology?

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Diana! And always love Malice! Wishing it had happened this year, keeping fingers crossed for next. And looking forward to "seeing" you at virtual Bouchercon next week!

      As for the anthology being promoted by Bouchercon, I know they included it in the most recent newsletter, but saw there wasn't a link in that newsletter. The kickstarter link in the post here is the pre-order link the press is using right now--and hopefully they'll be getting the books out very soon!

      Delete
    2. thank you. I will look for the kickstarter link so I can buy the anthology book.

      Delete
  15. What a terrific intro, Hank! And Art, all the stories sound fabulous. I love California. Although I've spent more time in the Bay Area, as I have family there, it's LA that makes my heart lift. I love the energy and the smell of the air and the bougainvillea everywhere. I always find it fascinating that we can feel unexplained connections to certain places. So if I were to write a story, I think it would be set in LA, maybe centered around Union Station.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I live in the Bay Area though I was born in San Diego.
      San Diego and the LA area call time me as well. Our only other California relative lived near Disneyland, so I enjoyed those visits a lot as a kid. I explored southern California a great deal when my daughter attended college at UCLA. I discovered many great areas and had some unique adventures with her during her college years in LA.

      Delete
    2. Hi, Deborah — thanks for the reply here and the enthusiasm! California is such a big state, with so many distinct parts, and it's interesting how people are drawn to some areas more than others. I love San Francisco most, I think! But love the way you're conjuring up LA here. :-)

      Delete
    3. Union Station is stunning, Debs.

      Delete
  16. Dad was sent to Long Beach in 1961 when his employer bought a company out there. His job was to help with the transition. So we all jumped in the station wagon and drove from Houston to Anaheim where we moved into a rental house for seven months. Every weekend we were in the car, exploring. We also met many of Mom's relatives who were scattered from Texas to California. I was finishing up sixth grade, and man, it was different! Some of the lessons were presented on closed circuit TV. I remember the arithmetic lessons were practical: how to read utility meters, how to write a check. We hit Disneyland 3 times; Knott's Berry Farm even more since it was free admission. We saw Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite, the tidal pools of Laguna Beach, skiied on straw at Mt Baldy, went to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. We visited San Francisco briefly on a road trip. We were on a budget with 4 kids and one on the way. Did a lot of picnicking with white bread and bologna sandwiches! I thought the state was crowded with too many people. No matter where we went there were always people there. That was my main take in 1961.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Art! This has been so much fun to read everyone's comments, thoughts, and memories of California. I have lived here since 1985 but have to explain to friends and family that it is not the California most people automatically think of. I live in a relatively small town between Sacramento and Napa Valley. We are surrounded by Almond Orchards (pronounced A-mons by locals), tomato fields, rice, sunflowers, and of course, grapes. We are the center for several international seed companies and we hold the California Honey Festival that increases our town's population by half for that one day each year, except 2020. We have an abundance of beautiful Victorians, scattered with California bungalows. The diversity and history of this area is amazing.
    I sound a bit Chamber-of-Commerce-ish, don't I? But, surprisingly, my story "Old Soles", which will appear in California 'Schemin, doesn't have anything to do with this little town. It is set in mid-town Sacramento where we all would be next week, if we were having an Actual instead of a Virtual Bouchercon. Ah well. This anthology represents the vastness and wildly contrasting California. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I enjoyed writing for it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YAY! Amons, huh? SO interesting! I had an old boyfriend who had a summer job, years ago , picking them. I was so baffled when he called them amons. I had no idea what he was talking about.

      Delete
    2. I was corrected by an old farmer once when I included the "L". He said, "Ya don't call the fish SAL-mon, do ya?"

      Delete
  18. oh, you ALL! Our internet was out..I am so unhappy! Reading these all now..

    ReplyDelete