The Presidio is not a collecting museum, but it mounts remarkable temporary exhibits. Its current exhibit, "Exclusion," has had a higher attendance than any in its history.
The title refers to the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the Second World War. On July 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, which authorized the creation of military exclusion zones "from which any and all persons can be excluded "for protection against espionage . . . and sabotage."
On the strength of this, and without due process of law, Lt. Gen. John DeWitt issued orders forcibly removing and incarcerating 108,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U. S. citizens.
In the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, the federal government reviewed this history and unequivocally stated that, "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" had motivated the incarceration, not "military necessity."
The Presidio in San Francisco was the army base where DeWitt was stationed. The desk on display (behind the red sign in the photo) is the one on which he signed these orders.
In the biography by Patrick Deese I quoted in my last post, I found not only a good illustration of how Jim Thompson learned to write crime stories but also an indication of how different things are today for writers starting out.
Deese says, "Thompson made ends meet for a few years by writing pieces for true crime magazines . . . ." Today, I doubt anyone is making ends meet by writing for any kind of magazine. I haven't tried it, but from what I hear the best one can do is pick up a little side money.
To prove his point, Deese says, "At the height of their popularity, in the 1930's, these magazines (with titles like True Detective, Master Detective, and Intimate Detective) paid very, very well, $250 for a 6000 word article, the exact rate they now offer in the 1990's."
Without doing the arithmetic, I think it's obvious that $250 was a good week's income in the 1930's, and was still worth something in the 1990s. Yet I doubt there are many magazines paying $250 for any kind of short story in 2018.
It seems as if this entry-level income is no longer available to writers getting their start. These days, the writer's apprenticeship, like so many others, is unpaid.
Reading through the references on Jim Thompson's Wikipedia page, I enjoyed this biography by Patrick Deese. In particular, Deese offers this insight into how Thompson learned to write crime stories:
"Thompson made ends meet for a few years [in the early 1930s] by writing pieces for true crime magazines . . . His wife and sister would comb the newspaper archives, looking for murders, which Thompson would then rewrite into a popular set of first-person view point articles. It was here that Thompson cut his teeth and honed his sinister style. "
When Deese says "first person view point" he refers to the way these magazines presented crimes stories "as told to" a writer by the detective who solved them. If Thompson and other writers worked from news stories, the detective may have done no more than endorse the story as written.
Re-writing news stories from the point of view of someone involved sounds like a great writing exercise. Thompson would have developed an ability to make a story sound like it was being told by a big-city homicide detective, a small-town chief of police, or other law officer.
This facility for writing in the first person served Thompson well. Many critics think his best novels are those written in the first person---The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280, Savage Night, and others. Arguably no one has done first person better than Thompson.
A lot of folks think Dashiell Hammett had the Hunter-Dulin Building in mind as the location of Sam Spade's office. The owners of the building lay claim to this distinction with a display by one of the entrances that says, "Traced to historic 111 Sutter Street by following directions and clues woven through his novel . . . Sam Spade remains in residence at his 'office at Sutter and Montgomery.'"
It's possible. Construction on the building began in 1925 and was completed in 1927. Hammett's novel, The Maltese Falcon, was published in 1930.
To be sure, I would want to look for the "directions and clues" in the novel, and I would like to find out what buildings occupied the other three corners at Sutter and Montgomery in the late-1920s. I'm not sure when I'll get around to those tasks.
Meanwhile, I keep in mind an observation by my friend, Gloria Lenhardt. The lobby of the building is luxuriously appointed with several kinds of marble and brass elevator doors. Did Spade and Archer attract high-end clients whose fees would pay rent in a posh new building? That seems doubtful, but maybe Hammett was trying to reflect some glamor on his private eye.
As I prepare to publish the first of my murder mysteries in the fall, I have to wonder: will readers be attracted to a book about a woman who solves crimes if it's written by a man?
Lots of writers use initials for lots of reasons, one of them being to de-emphasize the sex of the author. For instance, G. M. Malliett, a woman, writes a series about Max Tudor, a man. E. J. Copperman, a man, writes three series in which the sleuth is a woman.
To get a sense of what's going on in the marketplace for the kind of book I write, I went to the website for Malice Domestic, a conference for fans and writers, devoted to the "traditional mystery," a form typified by the novels of Agatha Christie. By making a list I found that about equal numbers of women and men use initials instead of a first name. Some of their sleuths are the opposite sex, some are the same. So there does not appear to be a standard practice for this.
My sleuth is an art historian named Nicole Tang Noonan. Will potential readers be less attracted to a series of books about her if they are written by "Rick Homan?" Would a reader be more likely to give them a try if they are by "R. L. Homan?"
When a body is found in the library in the home of Colonel and Mrs Bantry, the investigation is initially conducted by Colonel Melchett, chief constable of the county and a personal friend of Colonel Bantry. The impression of the gentry investigating itself is confirmed when Melchett says things like, "Dash it all, I'm not suggesting you strangled the girl---not the sort of thing you'd do. I know that."
Melchett is accompanied by Inspector Slack, "an energetic man who belied his name and who accompanied his bustling manner with a good deal of disregard for the feelings of anyone he did not consider important." Throughout the novel Slack takes the investigation very seriously.
This combination---investigator chummy with the upper classes accompanied by an underling focused only on finding the truth---also occurs in "Gosford Park," Robert Altman's multi-award-winning film from 2001. And, since the name of Colonel Bantry's house in The Body in the Library is "Gossington Hall," this book would seem to be a source for the film.
There are other similarities. People from the film industry turn up as suspects in both, much to the disapproval of the gentry. And in the film, as in the book, the body is found in the library.
There are differences as well, chiefly in the treatment of English social classes. Altman's film startled viewers in 2001 by taking the servants as seriously as the aristocrats. Agatha Christie keeps the servants in their places.
Strictly speaking, Altman was not the first to give servants their due. "Upstairs, Downstairs" a British television series of the 1970s divided its time between upper and lower classes.
And Altman was not the last. More recently, "Downton Abbey" was a transatlantic hit. Watching "Gosford Park," it's hard to miss Maggie Smith in the role of a disapproving dowager if you were a fan of that series. And, if you look carefully in the credits of the film, you'll see a screenwriting credit for Julian Fellowes, creator of "Downton Abbey."
When Agatha Christie published The Body in the Library in 1942, she was already a household name. Perhaps that's why she was confident enough to engage in a little self-parody.
When Mrs. Bantry wakes Colonel Bantry one morning by telling him the maid has found a body in the library, the Colonel replies, "You've been dreaming, Dolly. It's that detective story you were reading---The Clue of the Broken Match. You know, Lord Edgbaston finds a beautiful blonde dead on the library hearthrug. Bodies are always being found in libraries in books. I've never known a case in real life." Christie seems to be warning the reader that the premise of the book is typical for her mysteries set in English country houses.
Christie throws in quips about her profession throughout the book. When Miss Marple wonders who is calling her so early in the morning, the narrator recalls, "It was true that Miss Marple's nephew, a writer, and therefore erratic, had been known to ring up at the most peculiar times." No doubt she was replying to popular misconceptions about writers being oddballs.
And when one of the prime suspects meets Miss Marple and hears she "knows all about crime," he asks, "'Do you---er---write detective stories?' The most unlikely people, he know, wrote detective stories. And Miss Marple, in her old-fashioned spinster's clothes, looked a singularly unlikely person." Miss Marple, who will prove to be a genius at solving the crime, replies, "Oh, no, I'm not clever enough for that." Here she reminds me of Flannery O'Connor, who said, "Everyone knows what a story is, until they try to write one."