Just in Time for the Book Release

The day before my book release (which is Tuesday, May 14 at Skylight Books in LA), the Los Angeles Review of Books reviewed my new novel, Dead Extra. It’s a very thoughtful, professional review. To answer all the questions that my wife asked me about the review: No, I didn’t write it myself. No, I don’t know the author. We have never met. Again, no, I promise that “Glenn Harper” is a real reviewer for LARB and not my pen name.

Also, I was interviewed for Speaking of Mysteries a few weeks back, and the interview went live today. You can listen to it here. Or you can get it through iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you get podcasts.

And I want to add two serendipitous things about the review and interview.

  1. I’m currently reading Denise Mina’s The Long Drop. I picked it up because I saw it in a bookstore recently, and I remembered reading a great review about it a couple of years ago. The guy who just reviewed Dead Extra wrote that review. So I’m reading a book recommended by the reviewer who is now recommending my book. I know that doesn’t put me in a class with Denise Mina, but maybe someday.
  2. I used a landline for the Speaking of Mysteries interview with Nancie Clare. The only landline I have access to is in my office at the university, which is on the former grounds of the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. So I was sitting on the grounds of the old hospital when Nancy was interviewing me about it. It was so weird to sit there, thinking about the horrors from the old hospital days, talking about them, and looking out over the student union where the flowers were in bloom and students were doing college things.

Book Release Party!

skylight_tree_credit_Kelly_BrownMy new novel, Dead Extra, officially releases next Tuesday. I’ll be at Skylight Books in Los Feliz to celebrate. I’ll do a short reading, then an “in conversation” with Steph Cha, author of the Juniper Song novels.

Everything kicks off around 7:30 PM. It’s next Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., LA, CA. It’s going to be a blast. And if I hear you call out to me, “C U Next Tuesday,” it better mean you’re coming to my event!

The First Review Is In

Publisher’s Weekly reviewed my forthcoming novel, Dead Extra. Here’s a highlight:

“Carswell weaves an intricate tale that keeps interest high as it shifts time frames and points of view. Readers will have no trouble relating to Jack, a regular Joe. Fans of the post-WWII pulp magazines and film noirs will find plenty to like.”

You can read the full review here.

It’s actually not the first review. Library Journal reviewed it last month, but the review is behind a paywall. Here’s the link. If you have access to it, please let me know what it says.

Let’s Talk about My New Book, Part Two

Camarillo State Hospital

One of the women’s dorms in the Camarillo State Hospital. From the CSUCI archives.

The university where I work used to be a psychiatric hospital. In my new novel, Dead Extra, I delved into the history of the hospital a bit. I spent a lot of time digging through the hospital archives at CSUCI, listening to oral histories, studying pictures, and reading memoirs from patients and employees. My favorite of these is They Call Them Camisoles. The memoir was published in 1940 and details the involuntary hold that the author, Wilma Wilson, endured in 1939. Wilson was committed for alcoholism. These alcoholism commitments in the ’30s and ’40s were often questionable. Wilson did drink too much. She admitted as much herself. Sometimes, her antics embarrassed her mother. This is what really landed her at Camarillo State Hospital: embarrassing her mother.

I know there were times in my life when my mom wished she could send me away for getting drunk and embarrassing her. I’m glad she never did.

For Wilson, the hospitalization was not about therapy. It was really about free labor. She went to the hospital, worked as an unpaid maid for the duration of her stay, had her stay extended at one point for dubious reasons, and wrote a book about it when she got out.

Both before and after her release, Wilson worked in movies. Actually, she mostly worked as a waitress, but she occasionally found herself in the background of B movies.

In 1943, an army private visited Wilson’s home wanting something that Wilson wasn’t willing to give him. He turned violent. She fled her house and screamed for help. The neighbors heard her, but didn’t come to her aid. According to the neighbor who was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, this was because Wilson was drunk. The army private murdered her.

While doing some research on Chester Himes years ago, I came across his account of meeting with his editor, Marcel Duhamel. Duhamel asked Himes to write a crime novel. Himes said he didn’t know how. Duhamel told him, essentially, to start with a body and try to figure out what happened to it (I fictionalize this exchange in my short story “The Five-Cornered Square” in The Metaphysical Ukulele). When I read this, I knew I had to take Duhamel’s advice.

I started with the basics of Wilma Wilson’s murder. In honor of Wilson, I named the murder victim in my novel Wilma (her last name in the book is Greene). She’s also a Hollywood extra who mostly waits tables. She also does a stint at the Camarillo State Hospital and writes a book about it. The similarities pretty much end there.

I’m not giving away anything when I tell you that, in Dead Extra, the army private does not kill Wilma. There are no army private’s in the book. And I want to be clear that the character of Wilma Greene is not supposed to be Wilma Wilson. Wilma Greene is entirely fictional with the exception of the few things I point out in the previous paragraph. Still, she wouldn’t exist if Wilson hadn’t inspired her.

Let’s Talk about My New Book, Part One

Dead ExtraWe’re still about three months away from the release date, but I’m already so excited about my new novel that I’m having trouble thinking about anything else. When someone asks me how I’m doing, my first thought is, Great! I have a new novel coming out! I think it’s the best thing I’ve written! I almost always contain myself and say, “Good. How are you?” Almost always.

I want to talk a little about the new one here, though. It’s a crime novel titled Dead Extra. It’s set in Los Angeles in the 1940s. One of the protagonists is Jack Chesley, a veteran who returns from a German POW camp to find his wife dead and his wife’s twin convinced the death was murder. It sounds like a common trope, I know. Hopefully, I changed things up enough to that Jack isn’t common. He’s not your typical Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe tough guy detective, for one thing. For the other thing, he’s inspired by a real man.

My father is the youngest of seven kids. The oldest, born 21 years before my dad, was my Uncle Jack. Jack’s middle name was Chesley. I was close with my Uncle Jack for the final fifteen or so years of his life. This started when I was about 13. He’d come down to Florida. I’d take him fishing. He’d take me on drives around town. We’d talk a lot.

As I got older, Uncle Jack opened up to me more and more. He told me stories about his father, my grandfather, who’d died when my dad was a little kid. The old man, as Jack called him, was brutal. A hired thug. A gunman. A killer. And, though Jack didn’t put it in these terms, the old man was horribly abusive to Jack. Jack got away from the old man first by joining the NYPD, then by going off to fight in World War II. His plane was shot down in western Germany. He parachuted out, survived behind enemy lines for a bit, and ended up in a German POW camp. While he was there, his father and his wife both died. When he returned, he got mixed up with his wife’s twin sister.

I took a bunch of these things from my uncle’s life and used them for my novel: his name, some of his war stories, the broad strokes of his relationships with his father, his wife, and his wife’s twin sister. Mostly what I tried to borrow from him was his complexity.

When I got to know him, Jack was in his sixties. He was a recovering alcoholic, a retired cop, a father and grandfather, and just about the sweetest guy I’ve ever known. What also came out in our conversations was that he’d killed people. A few during the war. Maybe a few while he was on the force. I could never reconcile this in my mind. How could you be all these things? How can you be a killer and a kind, generous, thoughtful uncle? How can a young man go through all that Jack went through and emerge whole on the other side?

I don’t know that anyone buy Uncle Jack can answer those questions. I developed the character of Jack Chesley to explore some of these questions and find ways to reconcile some of these things in my mind.

 

The Original Rednecks

King Carswell Road

Unincorporated Carswell, West Virginia.

Originally, the term “redneck” referred to striking coal miners. In 1920, coal operators raised a private army to attack the miners. The miners fought back. They raised an army ten thousand strong and wore red bandannas around their necks so they could identify each other. Out-of-state journalists started calling them “rednecks.” About a third of the original rednecks were immigrants. Another third of the original rednecks were African American.

The original rednecks were part of the largest armed conflict in the US since the Civil War, an incident known as the Battle of Blair Mountain. I’m fascinated with this part of American history. I went to West Virginia this past summer to research the Battle of Blair Mountain and the general labor tensions. Hopefully, this research will develop into a book project.

Another writer who was fascinated by this stuff is James M. Cain. Before Cain became one of the greatest crime writers of all time, he was a journalist for the Baltimore Sun. He covered the West Virginia Mine Wars.

If you want to learn more about all this, skip Wikipedia and check out my article  “James M. Cain and the West Virginia Mine Wars” on Los Angeles Review of Books.

Publishing News

This showed up on the Publisher’s Marketplace newsletter today. You gotta love the author who got top billing!

 

Publishers Marketplace
New deals for May 22, 2018
FICTION
Mystery/Crime
Author of MADHOUSE FOG and OCCUPY PYNCHON Sean Carswell’s DEAD EXTRA, a classic 1940s L.A. noir novel involving dirty cops, B-movie script girls, alcoholic screenwriters, a women’s mental hospital, blackmailing dirty-movie-makers, and a lousy former cop who was presumed dead in WWII but is very much alive, to Colleen Dunn Bates at Prospect Park Books, in a nice deal, for publication in Spring 2019 (world).

Author of HEAVEN’S CROOKED FINGER Hank Early’s next PI Earl Marcus mystery, to Faith Black Ross at Crooked Lane, by Alec Shane at Writers House (world).

General/Other
Author of the forthcoming Bogota 39 Juan Cardenas’s ORNAMENT, about the delusions of art, science, and love, and a drug trial gone wrong, to Lizzie Davis at Coffee House Press, in a nice deal, by Andrea Montejo at Indent Literary Agency on behalf of Editorial Periferica (NA).

Author of ME, MYSELF AND THEM Dan Mooney’s THE GREAT UNEXPECTED, in which two men in a nursing home strike up an unlikely friendship and plan an epic escape, pitched in the spirit of A MAN CALLED OVE, exploring themes of friendship, aging, finding oneself later in life, and experiencing newfound joy, again to Park Row Books, by David Forrer at Inkwell Management on behalf of Legend Press (NA).

Author of The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano’s DEVOURING THE SKY, an epic story of male friendship, the enduring love between men and women, and the all-too-human search for meaning as it follows four Italian friends from youth to adulthood, to Pamela Dorman at Pamela Dorman Books, for publication in early 2020, by Andrew Wylie at The Wylie Agency (NA). The original Italian edition is published by Einaudi. Rights sold to Shanghai Translation in China, Le Seuil in France, Rowohlt in Germany, Slovart in Slovakia, Keter in Israel, and De Bezige Bij in the Netherlands.

UK
Author of THE HERBALIST Niamh Boyce’s HER KIND, based on the true 14th-century story of Alice Kytler and her maid, the only person to be burnt as a witch in Ireland, to Patricia Deevy at Penguin Ireland, for publication in spring 2019, by Nicola Barr at The Bent Agency.

Winner of The Guardian’s travel writing prize Matt Stanley’s A COLLAR FOR CERBERUS, telling the story of a callow young graduate who chauffeurs an irascible old writer on an epic trip around Greece, to David Haviland at Thistle.

Amy Patricia Meade’s COOKIN’ THE BOOKS and a sequel, featuring a literary cafe and catering company in a quaint southern town, to Kate Lyall-Grant at Severn House, in a two-book deal, by Jessica Faust at BookEnds.