Monday, June 29, 2009

Palm in Hand ...

My Palm Pre
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
I'm pleased to report I overcame my earlier difficulties getting a hold of a Palm Pre and am now a proud owner of same.

The cover illustration of my forthcoming novel, The Big Wake-Up, looks pretty cool as a wallpaper, don't ya' think?

Bill and Sam

Sad news from a recent Leah Garchik article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Since December 1993, Bill Arney ... has lived at 891 Post, Apartment No. 401. That was the 600-square-foot residence of Dashiell Hammett when he wrote "The Maltese Falcon," and it's where the writer had Sam Spade living. The rent-controlled $680 a month apartment is a national Literary Landmark ...

But Arney has lost his job, and money worries mean he will have to give up the apartment. His wife owns a small house in Marin (sic - they rent, actually); they won't be homeless. But - this is an innovative plea - he wants either a new job so that he can continue as "keeper of the shrine" or to find a new tenant who will take care of it as he has. If he were to move, he says, the landlord would surely modernize, removing all he has tried to protect.

"It's almost a crime to move out of here," says Arney. But if a new tenant emerges, "I'll leave 'em the rug, the padded rocker, the photos on the wall of Hammett and of Hammett's daughter."
Bill has been a good friend to me, recording the first chapter of my novel Candy from Strangers for a KQED production, and more recently, reading the first chapter of my latest, The Big Wake-Up, in the very same apartment.

I hope he finds a new job quickly ... I can't imagine another tenant who would appreciate the place as much as Bill.

Click here to take a tour of the place in better times.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On the Economics of Publishing ...

Here's Charles Ardai, founder of Hard Case Crime and an excellent crime author in his own right, talking about the economics of publishing in today's world from a post on the hard-boiled mailing list Rara Avis:
The up-front costs of putting out a mystery novel, even if you pay a paltry advance, don't pay generously for cover art, etc., are about $10,000. (You can get that down if you don't pay any advance, of course, and use clip art or just text for the cover -- but that's not the way professional publishing works.) Even if you print cheaply, figure on $1 per copy; most books cost more. And if you get distribution into stores (as opposed to selling one copy at a time through your website, or something like that), you have to be prepared to print two or three copies for every one you sell. And figure on only pocketing maybe $4 for each copy you sell (you can keep more if you have a higher cover price, but that'll only be for formats such as trade pb or hardcover that also cost more to print). So, let's imagine you print 10,000 copies and sell 4,000 ... Your costs are in the ballpark of $20,000 up front and your revenue is maybe $16,000. Let's say you double your cover price and your printing costs-- now your costs are $30,000 and your revenues are $32,000. Okay, you've broken even at the "gross profit" level. But you haven't paid your salespeople for getting the book into stores, you haven't paid the rent or phone bill or electricity for your office, you haven't paid for the advance copies you printed and mailed to 100 reviewers across the country, we haven't talked about warehousing or freight...and I haven't mentioned that it takes 60 or 90 or 120 days to get the revenue out of the stores' hands and into your bank account, but you've got to pay your author and artist and typesetter and proofreader and printer well before that.

So: Can you make money selling a moderate number of copies of a lot of books? Well, it depends on what "moderate" means, of course. But having a lot of titles that sell 4,000 copies and none that sell 40,000 (forget about 400,000 or 4 million) is a good way to go out of business. And very, very, VERY few of the books we love to discuss on this list sell anywhere near 40,000 copies. Even 4,000 is a stretch for some of

It's hard to imagine that in a world where even a crappy movie can sell 100,000 tickets, most crime novels struggle to sell 10,000 copies...but it's the truth. And it's usually the innovative, mold-breaking, intriguing, award-nominated books that struggle the hardest, while the formulaic DA VINCI CODE clone racks up its 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 (more) easily. That's why publishers do it. Because it works.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Le Falstaff

Everybody poke your head out of the window of the bus for a glimpse at the next attraction on our tour of Hemingway's 1920s Paris: Le Falstaff.

Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald drank at Le Falstaff, and the sidewalk in front is reputed to be the location where (then) 200-pound Hemingway beat up the 115-pound writer and publisher Robert McAlmon for telling stories about Hemingway, his first wife, Hadley, his son, Bumby, and his second wife, Pauline.

What were the stories? As Hemingway explained to his publisher Max Perkins in a letter, "(1) That Pauline is a lesbian, (2) that I am a homosexual (3) that I used to beat Hadley and as a result of one of those beatings Bumby was born prematurely."

Le Falstaff


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Berlin Game

Berlin Wall Watchtower
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
I'm in Berlin for work-work, as opposed to "wish I could make my living writing fiction" work.

Since I'm a writer in the PI tradition, I should blog about Philip Kerr and his detective Bernie Gunther as I have in previous posts, but so much of the city was destroyed during WWII that almost none of the reference points mentioned in Kerr's novels are still around.

Instead, I'll give a nod to one of my favorite spy novelists, Len Deighton, and his protagonist from three excellent trilogies (Berlin Game/Mexico Set/London Match, Spy Hook/Spy Line/Spy Sinker and Faith/Hope/Charity), Bernard Samson. I've always felt Deighton was influenced by Raymond Chandler, and in turn, that the character of my protagonist, August Riordan, has been influenced by Deighton's portrayal of Samson.

As a toast to Deighton and Samson, here is a picture I took of one of the last remaining watchtowers from the Berlin Wall. I've converted it to black and white and fuzzed it up a bit with grain to emulate one of those haunting Berlin photos from the 60s.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Show Time!

I chronicled the evolution of Owen Smith's cover illustration for my forthcoming novel, The Big Wake-Up in prior posts, but I'm very pleased to present the final oil on board image here:

(I threw on placeholder text for the title and author credit for now--that will get updated when a professional book designer incorporates the illustration into the final jacket design.)

If you are wondering why my protagonist PI, August Riordan, is opening a coffin in a crypt while his sidekick, Chris Duckworth, looks on, you can get some hints from these resources if you're interested:
The book is due to be released in November, but I'm informed by reliable sources that there will be copies available at Bouchercon 2009 in October.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Lady in a Fix

To get to our next destination on our tour of Hemingway's 1920s Paris, all you need to do is turn from Le Dingo and look behind you.

There you will find the Studio Apartments Hotel, from which Lady Duff Twysden wrote Hemingway in 1925 on hotel stationery asking for 3,000 francs to get her out of "a stinking fix."

Twysden was the model for Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, and apparently was, as Shakespeare would say, quite a "piece of work." Here is newspaperman George Seldes' take on her from the Hemingway history The Sun Also Burns by Denis Brain. (The Harold Loeb mentioned is the model for another character in The Sun Also Rises, Robert Cohn):
I can certainly understand Harold Loeb and Hemingway being fascinated by Duff Twysden. I met her in Paris when I was working for the Chicago Tribune, and living in a two-dollar-a-day room at the Hotel Liberia. No telephone. The concierge yelled up there's a call for me. There were two women there. One was the Countess Modici, who had been a friend of Vincent Sheean, a newspaperman, in Rome. She said, "This is Duff Twysden." And Duff said, "How would you like to join us and Captain Paterson at a nightclub?" ... Duff was fascinating, and I thought I was honored to be invited to her party. As the evening drew on and the third expensive bottle of champagne was drunk, the two women had to go to the ladies' room. That didn't surprise me. Then Captain Paterson said he had to go to the men's room. And I sat there. This is an old holdup game. I always thought I was a tough newspaperman, but this had never happened to me before. A half hour went by and the waiter handed me a bill for something like fifty dollars for all the champagne, most of which had been drunk before I arrived. I never saw any of them again. And that's how I got stuck by Duff Twysden. That's my Lady Brett story. She was the kind of gal almost everybody falls for, like a Ziegfeld girl. They're picked for their universal attraction to men.
Studio Apartments Hotel


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hemingway / Fitzgerald Epicenter

Le Dingo is the Mecca for Ernest Hemingway / F. Scott Fitzgerald fans. In late April of 1925, Hemingway, 25 years old and not yet a published novelist, met Fitzgerald, 29 and on top of the literary world, in this Paris bar and restaurant.

To add to the magic, Hemingway was drinking with two regulars--one Duff Twysden and one Pat Guthrie--when Fitzgerald approached to praise Hemingway's Nick Adams stories. Twysden was later to serve as the model for the character of Lady Brett Ashley and Guthrie as Mike Campbell in what I regard as Hemingway's best, first novel, The Sun Also Rises.

According to Hemingway's account in A Moveable Feast, the two men drank champagne, and just before passing out, Fitzgerald inquired of Hem, "Tell me, did you and your wife sleep together before you were married?"

To complete the next step along our tour of Hemingway's 1920s Paris, here is a picture of L'Auberge du Venise, the restaurant that now occupies the address of the old Le Dingo.

Le Dingo


Monday, June 08, 2009

Le Dome

Further to our tour of Hemingway's Paris, our next stop is Le Dome, now a fish restaurant, but in Hemingway's time a more pedestrian cafe.

After arriving in Paris in December 1921, Ernst Hemingway wrote his early mentor, Sherwood Anderson:
Well here we are. And we sit outside the Dome Cafe, opposite the Rotunde that's being redecorated, warmed up against one of those charcoal braziers and it's so damned cold outside and the brazier makes it so warm and we drink rum punch, hot, and the rhum enters into us like the Holy Spirit.

Le Dome


Saturday, June 06, 2009

No Palm Pre for Me

On today, this launch day for the Palm Pre, I tried to get one--I really did. I went to four places: a Radio Shack, a Best Buy and two Sprint stores. I even waited in line at the Best Buy before it opened (photo courtesy of my wife and my decrepit old Treo) :

The Radio Shack told me they wouldn't have stock until mid-week and all the others told me they were sold out but offered to put me on their waiting lists.

The only conclusion I can reach is that Palm is trying to get even with me for featuring their products in my novel, Vulture Capital. In the book, the protagonist, venture capitalist Ted Valmont, carries a Palm PDA, gets a threatening note written in Palm Graffiti:


and the bad guys program a Palm for nefarious purposes that I can't describe without giving the plot away.

Palm People: come on, don't hold a grudge. My money is as green as the next guy's.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Stranger's Gift ...

Which is the literal translation of the title of the (newly published) Chinese edition of my novel, Candy from Strangers. Get yourself a copy of the Chinese edition here ... or just ogle the cover below:

The Post Heard 'Round the World

Double Indemnity House
Originally uploaded by Chris28mm
Actually, that's laying it on a little thick ... however, my bit in January on Raymond Chandler's cameo appearance in Double Indemnity was picked up by Adrian Wootton for an article he wrote on the topic in the UK's Guardian.

It was also the topic of a blog post for the New York Post.

If you read my original commentary, you'll see my main contribution to the "research" about Chandler's appearance was getting some screen captures of the few seconds he appears on film.

You have to wonder what Chandler would say if he knew we were making such a fuss out of his appearance 65 years after the fact!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Le Select

Another cafe on the tour of Ernest Hemingway's 1920s Paris is Le Select. Hemingway seemed to hold it in a bit higher regard than La Rotonde. As Jake Barnes says in The Sun Also Rises:
I walked past the sad tables of the Rotonde to the Select. There were a few people inside at the bar, and outside, alone, sat Harvey Stone. He had a pile of saucers in front of him, and he needed a shave.

"Sit down, said Harvey, I've been looking for you...."
Le Select Cafe


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

La Rotonde

The next stop on our tour of Ernest Hemingway's 1920s Paris: the cafe La Rotonde. From his column in the Toronto Star Weekly, we know that Hemingway did not hold the cafe in the highest regard when he first arrived in Paris, suggesting that it was home to the "scum of Greenwich Village:"
It is a strange-acting and strange-looking breed that crowd the tables of the Cafe Rotonde. They have all striven so hard for a careless individuality of clothing that they have have achieved a sort of uniformity of eccentricity. A first look into the smoky, high-ceilinged, table-crammed interior of the Rotonde gives the same feeling that hits you as you step into the bird house at the zoo.
Later, perhaps, he blended in rather well with the eccentrics he described. But he still harbored some resentment for the cafe by the time he wrote The Sun Also Rises, having Jake Barnes, his protagonist, complain:
No matter what cafe in the Montparnasse you ask a taxi driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde.

La Rotonde


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

M. Lavigne's Negre de Toulouse

Continuing our tour of Ernest Hemingway's Paris, I'll quote from the great writer himself to set up our next destination:
I walked in the early dusk up the street and stopped outside the terrace of the Negre de Toulouse restaurant where our red and white napkins were in wooden rings in the napkin rack waiting for us to come to dinner. I read the menu mimeographed in purple ink and saw that the plat du jour was cassoulet. It made me hungry to read the name.
So wrote Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, his description of his life in Paris in the 1920s. Hemingway also mentioned the restaurant in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, having Jake Barnes take the French prostitute Georgette Hobin to "Llavigne's," after which she comments, "It isn't chic, but the food is all right."

M. Lavigne's Le Negre de Toulouse Restaurant

Finally, at the end of WWII, Hemingway wrote in a letter, "We liberated Lipps (old man gave me a bottle of Martell) and then liberated the Negre de Toulouse."

Nowadays Hemingway would have to forgo the cassoulet and make due with pizza, since Llavigne's has morphed into an Italian spot called Restaurant Padova.