Category Archives: Joan Bennett

On the Road Again – In a Noir Frame of Mind

 

 

In between the raging blizzards of this spring, I was fortunate enough to be able to join some wonderful fellow mystery writers to promote our books and make connections with readers and neophyte writers.  The first such adventure took Yang and I to the far north (of New York, anyway) to Ithaca and Buffalo Street Books.  Here, my friend Lisa Lieberman and I presented “An Evening of Noir,” where we not only talked about our books but about the noir films that inspired us!  Lisa’s husband Tim created this gorgeous poster for our adventure.  Note that it features my favorite femme fatale and/or smart-talking gal, Joan Bennett!  Didn’t he do a superb job?!

 

 

Lisa and I had a fun program.  I had prepared a cd of background music to help create the mood of dark, mean streets; tough detectives; mysterious dames; and haunted pasts.  Our playlist contained  multiple versions of “Laura,” “Harlem Nocturne,” “Penny Blues,” “Drink Dirty Water,” “Peter Gunn,” and even Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” to name a few.  And, of course, we dressed the parts, with Lisa’s swanky mink stole and slinky mystery-lady dress and my Claire Trevor femme fatale black suit with  swag, complimented by  red velvet and black feathered cap.  Watch out Phil Marlow and Sam Spade!

 

We had loads of fun talking with our audience about the trademarks of film noir  and how they influenced our novels, especially in terms of specific films.  Lisa detailed how  her experiences in Hungary and the film The Third Man  inspired the tense and dark atmosphere and tight plot twists of her  Burning Cold.  I shared how the wit, surprising reversals, and slippery characters in films like The Scar; Murder, My Sweet; and Double Indemnity shaped the latest adventures of Jessica Minton in Letter from a Dead Man.  And both us ladies of noir had a great time sharing trivia and background about the filmmakers and writers of our favorite noir films with our audience.  We had such a wonderful time, we’re thinking of adding film clips and “taking  our act on the road”!

 

My other recent appearance was on a delightful panel, with an equally delightful name:  “Stealing from the Dead.”  This Sisters-in-Crime Panel took place at Atria Bay in Barrington, RI.  I was pleased to join Frances MCNamara and Steve Liskow for a fun presentation at the community.  Both writers have fascinating books, with Frances’s latest series set in early 20th century Chicago and Steve’s in Connecticut and New York concerning the brutal reality of human trafficking.  Do click on each of their names to check out their work in greater detail.  You won’t be sorry! You can see from the picture on the left that I had a wonderful time.  If you ever want to book a Sisters-In-Crime panel for your library, school, or other such group, you can contact Leslie Wheeler at the Speakers Bureau.

I also want to extend my thanks to Margaret Shand of Atria Bay for setting up the panel.  the audience had intriguing questions and great comments for us.  My thanks to Margaret for the photo at the top of the paragraph.

 

Yang took what is probably the best shot of me, below.

Tea and Mystery at Mrs. Bridge’s Pantry

Monday, March 26th, I had the delightful pleasure of being the guest of honor at the Tea and Book Club held every last Monday (fall through spring) at Mrs. Bridges Pantry in Woodstock, Ct.  It’s an exciting experience, where I join the book club for an evening of tasty comestibles and tea, then get to talk to them and answer questions about my writing – as well as sell some books! For good luck, I wore a beautiful navy and grey two-tone suit that Yang made for me, based on a pattern he created from a vintage outfit.  Of course, I couldn’t talk about my smart-talking gal, Jessica Minton, without wearing a pin that had once belonged to one of the original smart-talking gals, Joan Bennett!

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Bridges is set in beautiful rural Connecticut, just over the border from Massachusetts.  The tea room is in a rustic wooden building.  Every day of the week but Tuesday, you can journey there for lunch, dessert, and/or afternoon tea.  They have a wide selection of black, green, red, and herbal teas.  In fact, they are a major supplier for me!  I highly recommend you visit, as I and my husband or I and my girlfriends frequently do.  The people there are so friendly and fun, you’ll feel as if you are back with chums in no time.  As you can see in the layout for the evening’s tea, there is a homey, lovely dining room.  Further, you can find on the other side of the building all kinds of teas, china, and tea-related items for sale – including Bait and Switch and Letter from a Dead Man, the perfect accompaniment to a nice cuppa!

 

 

I had a wonderful time talking to the regulars in the club about my love of mysteries from the golden age, both on the page and on the screen, and the cinematic inspirations for many of the characters in my novels.  It was also fun to talk about how evocative settings don’t just inspire a writer; they can drive you to use that place creatively.  The folks had stimulating questions about how I found time to work, did I write by the seat-of-my-pants or did I have a fully formed plot at the start,  how long it took me to complete work on a novel, or how I researched locations and events. In answer to that last point, I had fun telling them about going to New York City to test out one of Jessica’s hair-raising escapes, myself.   You’ll have to read Letter from a Dead Man to find out how it works out. Here’s a hint – it involves the lions in front of the New York Public Library.  And speaking of Patience and Fortitude (the lions’ names), it turns out that a brother and sister there that night were descended from the man who ran the business charged with moving them to the library.  Small and intriguing world, isn’t it?
It was fun to renew old acquaintances and make new friends amongst the book club folks that evening.  It was also lovely to work with Hope, who runs the Tea/Book Club, and Amber, who was our waitperson for the evening – constantly and patiently supplying me with Irish Breakfast tea!  I have a picture here of Hope and I together, but I forgot to get one of Amber.  Shame on me!  If you live in the area, check out the Tea/Book Club.  For $15.00 you have a  delicious evening  (homemade soup, tea sandwiches, dessert with homemade jam, and unlimited tea), as well as the chance to meet and talk with interesting authors (like me!).  Or just stop by Mrs. Bridges for lunch or an afternoon snack – and pick up a copy of Bait and Switch or Letter from a Dead Man while you’re there!  Dusty would approve!

 

Launching Letter from a Dead Man

Saturday, 11/18/17, Letter from a Dead Man got its official launch at The Booklovers’ Gourmet in Webster.  What a wonderful experience!  There was a nice turnout of friends, colleagues from school, fellow writers, students from WSU, and even new people I didn’t know yet.  As usual, Deb Horan had the room set up beautifully, and we all had the opportunity to partake of some yummy comestibles and beverages.  I smoothed out my vocal cords with a tasty pumpkin latte – ’tis the season!

 

We all started off by chatting about writing, teaching, and the inspirations for my 1940s-style mysteries, especially how I like to cast my characters as  favorite actors from the era: Joan Bennett and Rosalind Russell as the smart-talking Minton sisters, Lloyd Nolan as the tough-guy henchman, and Claire Trevor as the ultimate femme fatale, for example.   Interspersed with these points, I did some readings, which I’m happy to report, people found tense and intriguing.  I gave them a scene where sisters Jessica and Liz have to face off against the threats of the femme fatale’s menacing torpedo – without giving away what mysterious object he held in his hand that would prove a vital pivot for the plot.  I later read from the scene where Jessica had to flee and seek refuge from deadly pursuers behind one of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. This led to a discussion of Dead Man’s cover and the fun story where I went to New York with Yang to “test” out the scene of Jessica’s flight.

 

I was fortunate that two of my Sisters In Crime, Lisa Lieberman and Leslie Wheeler, joined me.  The three of us bounced questions and comments off one another to give the rest of the audience insights into the sources of our ideas, how we write (outliners or seat-of-our-pantsers), how we overcome writer’s block, and how good editors or writers/readers groups challenge  and inspire us to overcome obstacles in the way of getting the right words on the page and those pages into print.

 

 

Speaking of reading/writing groups, one of the posse who keeps me on my toes, my friend Judy Jeon-Chapman, was able to join us. Not only has she given me great feedback, but  there were days when she’d needle me every night to get her more chapters to calm the suspense I’d enkindled with my writing.  So, as a reward, I worked her into the third story (yet to be published)  as I was editing it!  Several of these pictures even came from her.

You can see how enthusiastic I am about talking writing here.   I also love Leslie’s “Crime Scene” scarf!

 

Maybe the best part of the day was getting to spend time with old friends and colleagues whom I hadn’t seen in a while, like Rini Kilcoyne and Jim Foley from Worcester State.  I so much appreciate how these folks support me and the good friends and coworkers they have been over the years.  I’m a lucky gal!

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a picture of my favorite supporter!

Maybe I shouldn’t be charging him for the books?

“We’re Not Making this Up”: Plainfield Library, Sisters in Crime New England

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to participate  with two other mystery writers in a Sisters in Crime New England panel, “We’re Not Making This Up” at Plainfield11the Plainfield Library in New Hampshire. Nancy Norwalk is the wonderful lady at the library who set up our panel,  and advertised and arranged for event. I was the newbie and the two veterans were Kevin Symmons, who does romantic thrillers, sometimes with a gothic twist, and Ellen Perry Berkeley, who does gritty mysteries with a historical basis – as well as some interesting nonfiction, Maverick Cats and At Grandmother’s Table:  Women Write about Food. Kevin’s latest is Chrysalis and Ellen’s is Keith’s People.

 

IMG_1936The Library is a beautiful little brick buidling that, like the Tardis, is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.  Just to make sure we knew where we were going, Nancy’s signs pointed out our way into the charming, old New England building. IMG_1940Once there, I shared a table for displaying my books with Kevin Symmons, and the three of us got started talking about our writing and answering questions from a nice turn out of about 15 people. Kevin was our adept moderator.

 

We had some interesting discussion of the merits of small, independent publishers over the big-ticket conglomerates.IMG_1942  You may not get huge advances or get as much promotion (though the latter advantage is not always available), but you also aren’t under pressure to sell 10 to 100s of thousands of books – and you don’t have to pay back an advance that low sales don’t erase. Just as good, your books tend to stay in print longer – and you tend to have more control over content.  We also had some fun and funny discussions over sex vs. romance (in the novels), how do we carve out the time to write, and do the characters spring direct from Plainfield7the unconscious or do we base them on people we know.  I ended up talking about how I like to cast my novels like a movie full of classic actors, with a few more modern folk sprinkled in.  But we all agreed that characters have a way of taking the reins and telling us what they intend to do, no matter what our original intention was – and we love it!

It was also fun to discover how we all did our research through talking to people in different fields, drawing on our own personal andPlainfield8 professional experiences, reading and immersing ourselves in the environments that would become our characters’ worlds:  whether it was WWII New York, show- horse farms, or post Viet Nam America.

I did “shock” my two panel members by admitting that I have to write my first draft with pen (no pencil- too soft!) and paper.  Otherwise, the muse just won’t flow.  She needs to travel from my mind to the paper via that sharp pen point.  Computers are for editing as far as she is concerned.  What can I say!

We writers made some nice connections with one another and with our audience – Plainfield9and I hope that we inspired some of them to keep on with their own writing and perhaps be published, themselves! And, of course, it’s always nice to sell some books!  We writers even ended up getting some reading material from each other.

Plainfield4Next, it’s on to Lowell tomorrow (5/28/16) from 2:00-4:00, where I go solo with Bait and Switch.  Maybe I’ll see some of you folk there!

Bait and Switch: My First Reading at Annie’s Bookstop

Well, after all my announcements and commotion, here, at last, is the report on my reading and signing at Annie’s Bookstop in Worcester.  I HAD A BALL! What a wonderful experience.  So, I will commemorate it in words and pictures for you.

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Ah, a long shot of Annie’s as viewed by the author and her entourage – aka her husband.  Hey, he’s one guy but he’s worth a battalion.  We all know that about Yang!
Wait, here’s the heart-stopping moment where I see myself and my work celebrated in an honest-to-goodness advertisement!  I’m a star!  For the day.  Sort of.  That’s good enough for me!

Annie's2

 

One of my loyal fans, Barbara Werblin greets me with gifts celebrating my great victory in actuallyAnnies3 getting the darned thing published!    We’re buddies from the “Y,” so she’s seen me in my sweats and really knows me!  Barb’s a great friend who has given me tons of encouragement – and she loves the book, too!  As the Mom of a wonderful poet, she understands the writer’s burden.  Sigh!
You can see my pal and colleague MaryLynn just behind me in the shot above. In these two pictures, you can see my friend and former student, Erin Bassler, having a good time while she reports on the event for The New Worcester Spy. (Read the article here!) Annies4Ultimately, we had about 12 or 13 people attend, all told.  I had loads of support from my friends:  students, colleagues, folks I know who enjoyed Bait and Switch and like seeing me be a wise guy.  So take a gander at some of the shots from the reading, question answering, and signing. annies5 Also, note how I got myself all gussied up in my smart-talking, forties gal, film noir look:  white blouse, black skirt, black and white spectator pumps, technicolor red lipstick.  Agent Carter, eat out your heart!

 

Someone said something shocking!  annies7How about those gorgeous flowers that Barbara got me for the occasion?  And chocolate.  She got me chocolate, too.  A brilliant woman!

 

 

 

Here are some nice shots of other folks coming up with questions, pondering the noir-style mysteries engendered by Annies8James Crawford leaving Jessica Minton that mysterious package in Bait and Switch.
Erin Fragola follows along intently while I ham up my reading in the background.
Everyone gets intense  with Pam McKay concentrating to Annies9express her thoughts on one of the many exciting and intriguing questions people posed to me on the characters, plot, historical background, cinematic style of the novel, and the true identity of Dusty. Both Erin Bassler and I look perplexed.  Must have been a humdinger of a query!  Something to do with Nazis?

 

 

 

While I’m signing books for my loyal fans, Annies11Pam and her friend Gaylene are perusing Bait and Switch to throw more thought-provoking questions my way.

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Ah, the end of an exhilarating day!  Here the author poses with her masterpiece.  I could use a nice cuppa about now.Annies12Bait and Switch is the first in the series of Jessica Minton’s adventures in the 1940s.  I’m not telling who else will be along for the ride in subsequent novels.  You’ll have to buy the books to find out!
I’m lucky to have so many friends to support me and to enjoy what I write.  My only regret is that I didn’t get to  include pictures of two people who made this wonderful day possible, but I do extend my heartfelt thanks.  Patty at Annie’s and my husband, who always believes in me – and is lots of fun to be with – yes, I know I dangled a preposition.  So there!

 

Dusty reduced1Dusty says, “Buy Bait and Switch!  Don’t miss my catly charm!”

 

 

 

 

Smart Talking Gals, Part One

Blog #7 Smart-Talking Gals27-claire_trevor

One of my friends was asking me about my inspiration for Jessica Minton and Elizabeth Hennessey in my novel Bait and Switch, and I explained that I love creating characters in the vein of those smart-talking gals from films of the 1940s (sometimes ‘50s and 30s, too)––especially film noir. Lots of ink has been devoted to the femme fatale/innocent girl split-personae of women in noir, but not enough has been devoted to the women whom writers and actresses created who could not be easily relegated to either the “whore” or the “Madonna” category. Sheri Chinen Biesen moves us in that direction, though, with her article “Manufacturing Heroines: Gothic Victims and Working Women in Classic Noir Fiction,” where she discusses “multi-faceted, working career women” as part of the film noir cast of characters. I can see definite overlapping between her working girls and my smart-talking gals. What I’d like to do is focus on several actresses who made careers out of playing the smart talking gal––and you can feel free to suggest and write about such actresses, yourself, in this page’s comments.

JoanCFirst, though, what is a smart-talking gal? She’s too sharp witted, independent, and experienced to be the virginal, innocent. Still, she has too much wit and class to be anyone’s moll. Further, she’s definitely not a femme fatale. She doesn’t so much use wiles as wit; and her strength, smarts, and experience serve to get at the truth, solve conflicts, and protect herself and those she just might let herself care about––if they prove they’re worth it. She has a heart, but hard knocks have taught her to armor it. She may be sexually RainesBexperienced, she may not be; she’s definitely not an innocent. This type redefines what it means to be a “good girl.” Some actresses who best personify the smart-talking gal include Joan Bennett, Claire Trevor, Ella Raines, Ida Lupino, Veronica Lake, Lucille Ball, Lauren Bacall, Rosalind Russell, and Lizabeth Scott. How about we look at a few of them at a time?

Joan Bennett: Joan has to be my favorite, and in many ways, she inspired the wit and JoanAindependence of Jessica Minton in Bait and Switch. Now, Joan could play the evil femme fatale with the best of them. Think of Kitty March in Scarlet Street. Still, even some of her “hydrochloric dames” (as a NY Times critic put it) revealed genuine humanity behind caustic smart talk and ostensible manipulativeness. In The Woman in the Window, The Macomber Affair, and The Woman on the Beach, her characters act in defense against the bullying of men, and their seeming femme fatale status is a projection of a man’s fears and darker nature. However, in other films she’s a lot more fun––or at least clearly not the villainess. This is definitely more like Bait and Switch’s Jessica. In House Across the Bay, Joan’s a show girl not about to let anyone reduce her to a kept woman “dressed up in furs” who “takes a Pekinese for a walk around the block.” She’s also no pushover for a tough broad, either. When a jealous dame calls her, “Cheap, cheap, cheap,” she laughs back, “Where’s the bird seed?” And when that same dame pushes her luck further, Joan’s Brenda Bentley nails her with the rejoinder that she has a voice like “four panes of cracked glass.” The Man I Married finds Joan getting away JoanDwith kicking Nazis in the shins and telling a German-born husband who has let German imperialism go to his head, “Heil, Heel!” In Confirm or Deny, she forestalls Don Ameche’s passes with dry humor and upholds national security with determination as the London blitz rages on. While in The Secret Beyond the Door, when faced with almost the same problems as the second Mrs. deWinter, rather than turning to whimpering mush, she uses common sense, humor, honesty, self-confidence, and a healthy dose of Jungian analysis to set everyone, including herself, straight. The Scar shows Bennett at her most incisive and tart, deflating Paul Henreid’sJoanF attempt to charmingly snow her with, “First comes you, second comes you, third comes you . . . . and then comes you.” When he later calls her “a bitter little lady,” she shoots back a cool, “It’s a bitter little world.” And yet Joan’s Evelyn Hahn has the heart to trust him when he finally does try to be on the square with her, only to have that heart smashed when fate, not his duplicity, makes it seem he has deserted her. In my film noir class, all the students, upon seeing her shadowed expression of resignation at the end of the movie, call for a rewrite.

Claire Trevor: Here’s another actress who can also hand you a dangerous femme fatale, but with NO redeeming traits. Her sexy villainesses in Johnny Angel; Murder, My Sweet; and Born to Kill all epitomize the characterization made by Anne Shirley’s character in Murder, My Sweet as “‘big league blondes.’ Beautiful, expensive babes who know what they’ve got . . . all ClaireTrevorBbubble bath, and dewy morning, and moonlight. And inside: blue steel, cold––cold like that . . . only not that clean.” Nevertheless, Claire could deftly play the smart-talking gal with wit and warmth, as evidenced by her art critic in Crack-Up, Brian Donlevy’s seen-it-all secretary in The Lucky Stiff, the girlfriend who helps Dennis O’Keefe escape prison in Raw Deal (and gets one, herself when he dumps her for Marsha Hunt), and her government agent in Borderline. She’s particularly fun to watch in Crack-Up and Borderline. In the first, she helps a former “Monuments Man,” played by Pat O’Brien, evade the police when he’s framed for art theft and murder, while juggling Herbert Marshall’s British Intelligence agent and the police. Driving up and rescuing O’Brian’s fugitive art expert from being picked up by the police, she responds to his suspicion and lack of gratitude by pulling the car over and TrevorAremarking with a neat blend of sharpness and warmth: “You can wait here. They’re going to put in a streetcar soon. Unless . . . unless you have some dim idea of what you’re doing and want me to help you.” Borderline finds Trevor as an undercover police woman trying to crack a narcotics ring by pretending to be part of a couple whom a drug trafficker will use to smuggle drugs. What she doesn’t realize is that her “husband” is also an undercover agent with a different agency, who is just as ignorant about her. The two have some wonderful exchanges, and their attempting to get each other to “cooperate” and go straight with each other’s agencies at the border is worth a chuckle or two.

Ella Raines: Ella Raines of the pert page-boy bob; the mischievous, knowing half-smile; and the clear green eyes that hint of something devilish up her sleeve is always a joy to watch. In RainesAThe Phantom Lady, she’s Kansas, the faithful secretary who’ll move heaven and earth to clear the boss she unrequitedly loves of a murder frame-up. She’s tough enough to stalk a bartender to break his lying testimony (only to overplay her hand when she frightens him into running in front of bus rather than into telling the truth). She’s intrepid enough to doll herself up like a tart to try and pump a hyped up (or is it hopped up?) drummer for exculpatory info. Yet she’s compassionate enough to tread gently when she finally finds the fragile woman who holds her boss’s (and beloved’s) alibi in her broken mind. The Runaround finds Raines outsmarting two P.I.s hunting her down to bring her back to a father who doesn’t want his daughter marrying the man he believes a bounder, all with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. In The Web, she playsRainesC Noel Faraday, efficient and almost all-knowing secretary to shady Vincent Price––she doesn’t realize quite how shady Vincent is. All this while, initially parrying the come-ons of a brash lawyer played by Edmond O’Brien, replying to his claim that when he has “forty million” he’ll have a secretary that looks like her with: “Oh, my tastes are fairly simple. Twenty million would be quite enough.” Also check her out The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, Impact, and White Tie and Tails.  A neat web site on Raines can be found at: http://ellarainesfilms.blogspot.com/2013/01/ella-raines-in-web.html

Quotations from Claire Trevor’s movies can be found at “Claire Trevor,” on the IMDB, under quotations for the film.  Quotation from Ella Raines’s film can be found at “Ella Raines,” on the IMDB, under quotations for the film. Quotations from the Joan Bennett films can be found in the films noted. I remember them. What can I say; I’m a movie geek––but I don’t live in my parents’ basement.  So there!  Photos of Joan Bennett from the author’s collection (mostly bought from Jay Perino’s The Mint); photos of Claire Trevor from unknown sources; and photos of Ella Raines from the ellarainesfilms.blogspot (second image) and unknown sources.