My Summer in Movies

I’ve been catching up on movies this summer. As I watched the Oscars ceremony on March 4, I made a list of the ones I wanted to see. The list was long but I’ve made a big dent. Read on for some highlights:

Call Me By Your Name is a coming-of-age film based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. Set in northern Italy in 1983, Call Me by Your Name tells the story of a relationship between a teenager and his professor father’s graduate-student assistant.

This film is so beautifully made that it’s inspired a theme tour in Italy. Click here for details.

Darkest Hour Should Winston Churchill give in to Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost, or should he bring his nation together and battle the enemy at staggering odds? And what about his political rivals at home? Churchill faces his Darkest Hour. This is a must-see film.

Disaster Artist The Room was a cult success, probably because it’s regarded as “The Citizen Kane of Bad Movies.” The Disaster Artist is the true story of writer/director Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room. It’s a gem.

Going way back, The Grapes of Wrath won a couple of well-deserved Oscars in 1941. The Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers, face hardship in their Oklahoma home due to drought, economic downturns, bank foreclosures, and changes in agricultural practices brought on by the Great Depression, The Joads pack up and head west, lured by con artists who prey on them and other families, promising work and good fortune in California. The novel is considered John Steinbeck’s masterpiece. The movie is an excellent adaptation.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story of a high-school senior and her turbulent relationship with her mother. I liked it but not as much as I thought I would.

Murder on the Orient Express With thirteen stranded strangers and one murder victim on a luxury train, Hercule Poirot races to solve the murder before the killer strikes again. From the novel by the legendary Agatha Christie. Worth seeing, especially if you don’t know the story. I’ve probably seen too many adaptations.

Phantom Thread is set in London’s couture world in 1954. Daniel Day-Lewis is a couturier. When a young waitress catches his eye and becomes his muse, his life is never again the same. Beautifully made, but there are some very odd relationships.

I hear this is Day-Lewis’s final role before retiring—say it isn’t so!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri When the police in Ebbing, Missouri make no progress solving the murder of a young local woman, her vigilante mother takes a unique approach in seeking justice. This movie is  dark and powerful, with plenty of raw emotion. Acting awards were well-deserved.

Do you have a suggestion for a good book, movie, or show? Let me know.

 

The Unanticipated Joys of Research

By Ellen Byerrum

What if clothes were haunted like houses or locations?

Could a dress be toxic enough to kill?

How would someone dispatch a villain in a dying velvet factory?

These may not be the nicest of questions, but they are among ones I’ve asked myself when writing my Crime of Fashion Mysteries. I wrapped these ideas into the plots of three of the books, but not without looking further into these queries and their answers. While imagination plays the largest part in crafting a story, I also like to get it right, or at least have a realistic place to jump to the realm of make-believe.

That’s where research comes in. It can be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing. The hands-on research, that is, the kind that lifts you out of your chair and away from your desk.

Sure, there are a lot of facts at your fingertips via the Internet and Google. And like everyone else, I use my computer for finding information and checking details. However, the web is no substitute for leaving your comfort zone and meeting people, asking questions, or just walking around in the location about which you want to write. In the shoes of your characters, so to speak. However, in my case, it might also be in their dresses.

Where did my question about haunted clothing come from?

I once had the strangest experience of putting on one of my vintage 1940s suits and feeling very strongly that I was supposed to wear Chanel No. 5 with that suit. Chanel No. 5?! Was that a memory left behind by the original woman who owned the suit? Did she wear Chanel No. 5? I don’t particularly care for that fragrance, it’s a bit too sweet for me. But my husband thoughtfully bought me the perfume anyway. I haven’t tried saying, “Honey, the suit wants a diamond necklace to go with it.” Not yet, anyway. Unfortunately for my jewelry box, the suit only wanted the right perfume.

Nevertheless, the idea of a haunted garment—in my case a haunted shawl—started rumbling around in my brain, and I knew there could be a fascinating story there. There’s not a lot of information on the web about haunted clothes, and haunted clothing doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence, either in experience or literature. That question, however, led to one of the most delightful interviews I have ever had. I made an appointment and interviewed two gracious experts in the Costume Collections at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

They had no tales of ghostly garments, although they had one item they called the “bad luck” bridal gown. (The bride died shortly after the wedding.) However, they offered me wonderful information about the collection, which has over 30,000 American garments which date from as early as the 1600s. I was able to view shoes, hats, dresses that the public will never get to see. I was so lucky and so grateful for their insights and I used some of that information for my ninth book, Veiled Revenge.

Deadly dyes and deadly dresses

Though not haunted, a deadly dress is something I explore in Lethal Black Dress, the tenth book in the series. I first heard about a dye known as “poison apple green” in a college class on the History of Costume (Liberal arts rock!) The toxic dye could be absorbed through the skin.

Years later, I worked my way through the literature on the phenomena and found that there were beautiful and brilliant blue and green colors that came from “Paris Green” dye. The dye was toxic, made from copper acetoarsenite, and was used in fabrics and paper, wallpaper and even candy wrappers. Unfortunately, when wet it released an arsenic gas, which could be absorbed through the pores. Some people believe that Napoleon died from arsenic poison emitted from his Paris Green wallpaper on the very humid island of St. Helena.

I consulted a doctor and asked whether such a dye really could kill someone. We tried out various scenarios while she pondered it and concluded, “Sure, why not?” That’s the beauty of fiction. Once you decide something is possible, you can wind yourself down a twisted trail of diabolical suspects and deadly plots, along with Paris Green dye.

And what about that velvet factory?

When I was a working journalist in Washington, D.C., a coworker told me the last velvet factory in Virginia (and the last dress-grade velvet factory in America) was going to close down, and that she knew the manager—I knew I had to see it for myself. I immediately called the manager and asked if I could tour the facility. I explained I was a reporter and a mystery writer, and he remarked, “Well, there are a lot of ways to kill people here.” Words that warm the cockles of a writer’s heart.

I took a day off work and traveled to the small economically depressed Virginia town.

Bolts and bolts of shimmering fabric contrasted dramatically with the dangerous steel equipment required to manufacture it. Velvet is woven with two backing sheets at once, so that a razor-sharp blade must slice through the weave to release the soft velvet in the middle, creating two pieces of fabric. The circular blades used to cut it were at least six feet high.

Making velvet was not automated. Workers had to carefully pull and attach the material on racks with sharp steel teeth to stretch it and dry it. The velvet was then wound onto the teeth of giant spools to be dyed in massive tanks. Each step carried its own hazards.

Not only did I get a glimpse of what it would be like to work in such a factory (and how someone might meet their fictional fate there), I saw what closing the factory, the economic impact, meant to that small town. The factory once had a hundred weavers, but that function had been sent to England and the weaving room was now silent. Other departments were likewise decimated. When I visited there were just a handful of workers left.

It was a lot for me and my character Lacey Smithsonian to consider. That research was crucial in writing Shot Through Velvet, the seventh book in my series.

Ellen’s tour of the velvet factory

I am currently working on and researching a prequel to my series, which is set during World War II in Washington, D.C. It features Lacey’s great-aunt, Mimi Smith, when she was a young woman working for the wartime Office of Price Administration. In researching it, I have spent time visiting various D.C area locations, including Chinquapin Village, a housing development for Torpedo Factory workers. It was located in Alexandria, VA, but dismantled sometime after the war.

Research has a way of bringing things to life that otherwise might just be a heading on an outline. One question can lead you to people who have amazing insights, or to locations that can open up a whole world. It can make a story bigger and more involved. I recommend it.

Ellen Byerrum is a novelist, a playwright, a former Washington, D.C. journalist, and a graduate of private investigation school in Virginia. Her Screwball Noir Crime of Fashion mysteries feature Lacey Smithsonian, a reluctant fashion reporter in Washington, D.C., “The City That Fashion Forgot.” Lacey solves crimes with fashion clues while stylishly decked out in vintage togs.

Her most recent Crime of Fashion mystery, and the 11th in the series, is The Masque of the Red Dress. What do Russian espionage, Washington DC, and the theatre have in common? Spies, lies and a dangerous red dress.

Two of the COF novels, Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover, were filmed for the Lifetime Movie Network.

The Woman in the Dollhouse is Byerrum’s first suspense thriller. She has also penned a middle-grade mystery, The Children Didn’t See Anything, the first of stories starring the precocious 12-year-old Bresette twins, Evangeline and Raphael.

Under her playwright pen name, Eliot Byerrum, she has published two plays with Samuel French, A Christmas Cactus and Gumshoe Rendezvous.

You can find Ellen Byerrum on her website at www.ellenbyerrum.com.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EllenByerrumBooks/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EllenByerrum

Ellen Byerrum’s Fashion Bites on YouTube: https://bit.ly/2OeYMPF

Buy The Masque of the Red Dress on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2LJUrCm

 

 

 

Melodie Johnson Howe: Images of a Writer

Let’s give a big welcome to Melodie Johnson Howe. Her journey from childhood to career as a Hollywood actress to career as a mystery author is fascinating. As is her series featuring Hollywood actress/sleuth Diana Poole.

My mother dropped my brother and me off at the movies. Before she drove away she said, “Enjoy yourselves, your father and I are getting divorced.”

In the darkness of the theater my brother nervously gnawed at his thumb as if it were a chicken leg.  He couldn’t forget her words.  Somethings she said were  true. Somethings were not.  Reality was no excuse in our family.

I was enveloped in the drama of the movie.  It’s a drama that couldn’t hurt me. I loved being lost in make-believe.

Summer. Massillon, Ohio. I stood in my uncle’s home library. Ten years old. Short blonde hair. Long gawky legs. My family and I and were visiting from Los Angeles. My parents didn’t get divorced. The sun streamed in through a big paned window.  I’ve never been in a house that had a room just for books. I pulled one from the shelf titled, For Whom the Bell Tolls. A man named Hemingway wrote it. I opened it and begin to read.

My mother, who had the ability to appear from nowhere, swept in and grabbed the book from my hands.  “You’re too young to read this.”

The quiet room is suddenly full of adults. Talking.

My father, a sly grin on his face, said, “Oh, let her read it. She’s not going to understand it.” He had the ability to stand up for me and let me down at the same time.

“She understands enough,” my mother snapped. Face knotted.

My aunt asked if anybody would like iced tea.

My uncle, the lawyer, so pale he looked like he needs to be colored-in with crayons, said, “I have an appointment downtown. I’ll take her to the library and she’ll pick out a book that’s appropriate for her.”

Appropriate. My heart sank. Mother pulled me from the room. I looked back at the book now lost among the others on the shelf.

In the public library I ran my finger along the spines of the books. Most were about boys doing daring deeds. Nancy Drew!  But I’d read her. I wanted something else … something … adult.  And there it is!  A bright red book titled, My Dear Wife. That sounds adult.

I opened it. No pictures. Only chapters.  The print was bigger than Hemingway’s book and not so jammed together. I began to read. A young pretty woman and a handsome young man have just wedded. But before they can consummate their marriage the American Revolutionary War breaks out and he must go fight.  Consummate. I whispered this new word. I had no trouble figuring out its meaning.  My heart raced.

The young woman decides she must do her duty for the war, too. She becomes a spy. Hiding messages in the hem of her skirt she crosses enemy lines to give them to George Washington. And all the time searching for her husband.

Alone in bed that night, I finished the book.  And felt the abandonment of having to leave this brave strong woman and the Revolutionary War. It was the same feeling of abandonment when I walked from the darkness of the movie theater into the daylight. My mother waiting for me.  Years later when I became a writer I knew that I’d learned how to create suspense and strong women characters from reading My Dear Wife. The power of a book.

Melodie in the movies

Ten years later, a motion picture agent “discovered” me at a cocktail party. I was put under contract at Universal studio I spent my days learning to act on the job. At night I drove to UCLA extension to learn the craft of writing. With the setting sun in my eyes, I sped along Sunset Blvd. The sky streaked with lurid cheap colors. The palm trees darkened into lurking shadows and the mansions turned sinister. I was in the land of Raymond Chandler. A land that felt right to me. California noir.

My two loves had come together in my life: movies and books. But they didn’t mingle well. I quit acting.  People called me crazy to walk away. And it was crazy. Any giant leap you take is. I wanted to create my own world of make-believe.  And so I did. I wrote about angry mothers, strong women such as Clare Conrad, the female version of Nero Wolfe, and Diana Poole, an actress.

I found myself in make-believe.

 

Melodie with City of Mirrors

Melodie Johnson Howe always wanted to be a writer. But born in Los Angeles, she was “discovered” at a cocktail party, and put under contract to Universal Studios as an actress.  In her first acting job she was shot dead in the titles of a TV movie. They covered her with a sheet and carted her off to an ambulance, with only her blonde hair showing. Over the next few years she acted in such movies as The Ride To Hangman’s Tree co-starring with James Farentino; Coogan’s Bluff with Clint Eastwood; Gaily, Gaily directed by Norman Jewison; Rabbit Run with James Caan; and The Moonshine War, co-starring with Alan Alda.  During this period she also went to UCLA Extension at night to learn the craft of writing.  After quitting acting she wrote her first mystery novel, The Mother Shadow, which was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award. The second mystery novel, Beauty Dies soon followed.  Turning to the short story form she created a new character Diana Poole, an actress verging on middle age. The stories were published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  Two have been nominated for the Barry Award. They are now collected into one book, Shooting Hollywood: The Diana Poole Stories.

Melodie at Malice Domestic

City of Mirrors, Howe’s first novel to feature Diana Poole brings her acting life and writing life together.  As The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, “City of Mirrors is slick and smart with a “Chinatown” vibe, only funnier and with an insider’s view of Hollywood, a place that “has the attention span of a coked-up executive producer,’ a place where people live in ‘Technicolor’ and then ‘fade to black.’”

Hold A Scorpion is the latest Diana Poole novel.

 


Visit Melodie Johnson Howe on her web site (includes her buy links)

Melodie Johnson Howe’s Facebook Author Page

MysteriousPress.com publisher of the Clare Conrad/Maggie Hill books and Shooting Hollywood: the Diana Poole Stories

 

 

The Birth of a Private Eye

A big welcome to author R. Weir. He tells how he created his Denver series featuring Jarvis Mann, a rough and tough modern-day PI with the proverbial heart of gold.

When it came to cool fictional literary detectives, there were few that matched Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer.

I’ve always been fascinated with the detective genre. Detectives and Dames, I would call it. The classic PI from the black and white days of movies, with shadowy dark scenes and smoke-filled rooms creating a tense atmosphere. Those remarkable stories by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald gave birth to the Noir Hard-Boiled genre that fiction writers have continued to create. Many modern writers have taken those characters and created their own, evolving them, while keeping much of the same spirit. Which is what I set out to do with my own protagonist.

I had written three books many years ago, with a broken character caught up in the spy world, with issues of alcohol and betrayal in his love life. They were dark in nature, full of little hope as he struggled to keep his sanity, in his battle to bring down a terrorist organization. Those stories were never published. From that character I wanted to go in a different direction and thought long and hard, deciding to create my own detective with Denver as the backdrop. It wasn’t long before I came up with a name, and private detective Jarvis Mann was born.

From there I knew he would be tough, struggling to find work, with a biting sense of humor, and issues in his personal relationships. He would not always get things right, with dire consequences coming to bear. Rarely were his cases as it seemed, with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. I wanted to take all those classic elements of the Noir Private Eye genre and bring them into our world today, with modern storylines and cases. A stolen baseball card, a shadowy stalker after his sexy female client, a football player struggling with concussions leading to bad decisions, a brother who is neck deep in trouble with a mobster, computer hacking and theft, helping homeless veterans on the street, and the latest book, dealing with a gruesome serial killer. And yes, there are gangsters, thugs, femme fatales, and broken-hearted girlfriends who struggle to connect to the man who walls himself off from those who care about him. All of this viewed through Jarvis’ eyes in a first-person descriptive narrative, pulling the reader into each scene, page by page.

I aimed to create a character who was fun to write. I’d find myself smiling as I typed away his latest quip. I wanted him to have rich characteristics on full display, with as many faults as virtues. A smart mouthed, snarky man, using humor to get him through the tough times, masking the true pain underneath that from time to time still bubbles up to the surface, as he faces elements in a seedy world of grisly crime his profession wades knee deep into. With each book—there are now seven of them—he has evolved, though not always in a good way. But he has a good heart, full of confidence and swagger, never backing down from a fight for what he believes is right, even when facing impossible odds against powerful people and organizations. Jarvis is the guy you wished was next door, there when you need him, fighting for you and what is right, until the last bullet in his revolver is fired and last swing of his fists are thrown. Stories hard to put down until you reach—THE END.

About Me
I live in the Mile High city with my wife, daughter and dog, where the Rocky Mountain High isn’t always achieved with an herbal substance. When not glued to the computer for work and writing, I relax by enjoying the outdoors; playing tennis, traveling in our motor home and riding a motorcycle wherever the wind takes me. My writing beckons back to the days of detectives and dames, but with modern plots and twists. PI Jarvis Mann is tough, resourceful and a man with as many faults as virtues. His oddball sense of humor is much like mine, though I’m not nearly as tough and fearless as he is. Though no evil stands a chance against my written word!

Buy Links
My Amazon Author Page

The Case of the Missing Bubble Gum Card

Tracking a Shadow

Twice as Fatal

Connect with me
Website https://rweir.net

Facebook page for R. Weir https://www.facebook.com/randy.weir.524

Facebook page for Jarvis Mann https://www.facebook.com/JarvisMannPI

Twitter https://twitter.com/RWeir720

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/rweir720/

 

May is Mystery Month!

May is Mystery Month!

To celebrate, Koehler Books is slashing prices. Digital copies of Murder at the Moonshine Inn are on sale for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes and Noble Nook, and Kobobooks.

Also 99 cents are the following anthologies:
Virginia is for Mysteries: My story is “A Not So Genteel Murder”
Virginia is for Mysteries II: My story is “Reunion in Shockoe Slip”
50 Shades of Cabernet: my story is “Wine, Women, and Wrong”

See a list of participating Koehler authors here. And remember … books make great gifts for Mom!