After nearly twenty-three years of living in Massachusetts, transplanted Southerner Toni L.P. Kelner may actually be getting used to it. She drives even when there's snow falling, thinks it's warming up when it hits the mid-thirties, and uses the phrase "wicked good" almost daily. More importantly, she no longer sets her books in the South. After eight Laura Fleming novels and a fair number of short stories set in North Carolina, she's now writing the "Where are they now?" series about Tilda Harper, a Boston-based freelance reporter. Tilda specializes in tracking down the formerly famous from TV and film. The second, Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, was released earlier this month.
Toni is also a prolific short story writer, with her first PI story coming out in Delta Blues, edited by Carolyn Haines, and a vampire courtroom drama in the MWA anthology Crimes By Moonlight.
When not working on mysteries, Toni co-edits urban fantasy anthologies with NYT bestseller Charlaine Harris. Death's excellent Vacation, their third, will be out in August and they're working on a fourth.
Toni lives just north of Boston, where there is currently snow on the ground. She and her husband, fellow author Stephen P. Kelner, Jr, have thousands of books but only two daughters.
Toni's Workspace - The stuffed poodle on top of the computer is named Deadline, and is always looming
Trivial Trails by Toni L.P. Kelner
In my "Where are they now?" series, protagonist Tilda Harper is a freelance entertainment reporter who specializes in tracking down the formerly famous. She's also a fan of both old and new TV shows and movies, and could probably name every one of the Cartwright Brides from Bonanza. In other words, she's made a career out of trivia. Come to think of it, now that I'm writing about Tilda, you could say that I'm making a career out of trivia, too.
This may not sound like a worthy goal, but the fact is, I like trivia. Yes, I know the dictionary definition says that trivia is "matters or things that are very unimportant, inconsequential, or nonessential; trifles; trivialities." But I prefer the origin of the word: "derivative of trivium, place where three roads meet." Because for me, the lure of trivia is the places were trivia intersects.
Sure, it's interesting knowing that Mark Leonard, Robert Brown, and David Soul were guest stars on different episodes of Star Trek, but isn't that tidbit more fun when you know that in that same time period, the three of them co-starred in the show Here Come the Brides? It's not just the facts themselves that fascinate me, but the trails that trivia leads me down that can keep me surfing the web for hours at a time.
In Who Killed the Pinup Queen?, my latest release, Tilda is writing simultaneous stories on pinup queens and TV cowboys. On a metaphorical level, this works because both cowboys and pinups are American idealizations. They're larger than life--ultra masculine cowboys versus ultra pinups. And on the trivia level, it's awfully entertaining to follow the trail from pinups to cowboys.
In fact, why don't you ride along and I'll take you down some trivial trails.
1) Start with the Queen of Pinups, Bettie Page. In addition to her photo work, she made a handful of movies, including the films Striporama and Varietease. And no, I am not making up those titles.
2) Varietease was directed by Irving Klaw, the man behind a lot of Bettie's bondage photos. Even though he himself didn't see the point of tying up pretty girls, he knew those photos made money, and he did see the point of that.
3) Klaw also directed the film Buxom Beautease. I didn't make up that title, either.
4) One of the stars of Buxom Beautease was stripper Blaze Starr, who was later the paramour of controversial Louisiana governor Earl Long. I didn't make up the name Blaze Starr, but she did--she was born Fannie Belle Fleming.
5) The romance between Starr and Long was immortalized in the film Blaze. The real Blaze Starr even had a small role in the movie.
6) Blaze starred Paul Newman as Governor Long. Paul Newman is Newman's own name, by the way.
7) Newman starred as two legendary cowboys: Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Buffalo Bill Cody in Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson. And yes, Butch and Buffalo Bill are nicknames.
So there you have an exciting trail from pinup queens to Hollywood cowboys. Of course, Newman played movie cowboys, and I wrote about TV cowboys. So I'll try another trail.
1) Start with Bettie Page again. Bettie never intended to be a model forever. She wanted to act, and in addition to her work oddly titled films, appeared in off-Broadway productions and a few TV shows, including the original version of The Jackie Gleason Show.
2) Next to Gleason himself, the most famous star of The Jackie Gleason Show was undoubtably Art Carney, who played Ed Norton.
3) Carney guest starred in an episode of the TV western The Virginian.
Not a bad trail, though I tend to prefer them long and winding. Now, of course, you're wondering if I can go the other direction, from TV western to pinup queen. Follow along!
1) Let's start with Bonanza. It wasn't the first TV western by any means, but it was one of the longest lasting and next to Gunsmoke, perhaps the most iconic. (The fact that there really was a Ponderosa tourist attraction is what gave me the idea of using an attraction based on the fictional show Cowtown as a plot point in Who Killed the Pinup Queen?) Bonanza is, appropriately enough, a bonanza for trivial trailblazers because of all the guest stars during its twelve-season run. They included three of the castaways from Gilligan's Island; the actresses who played Hot Lips Houlihan in the movie M*A*S*H and the actress who played that role in the TV version; The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E; and Batman, Batgirl, the Penguin, and the Joker from the TV series Batman. But I digress, which is awfully easy to do while I'm tracking trivia. Guest stars aside, Bonanza featured Ben Cartwright and his three boys Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe. Little Joe was played by Michael Landon.
2) Landon is another treasure for trivia trailers. He was in three long-running shows: Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven, and as a bonus, he was in the B-movie classic I Was a Teenage Werewolf. But in a more obscure role, he had a small part in an unsold pilot for a western called Luke and the Tenderfoot. I'm surprised it was never picked up--the cast included Charles Bronson, Edgar Buchanan, Ellen Corby, Richard Jaeckel, and Lee Van Cleef. It also included a relatively unknown character actor named Leonard Nimoy.
3) Nimoy was still fairly unknown when he appeared in an episode of Get Smart as a member of the villainous organization KAOS. Admit it--you thought I was going to bring up Star Trek, didn't you?
4) Get Smart was co-created by Buck Henry, who was famous for--among other things--writing for and appearing on Saturday Night Live. He was particularly funny as John Belushi's cohort in the Samurai sketches.
5) Before Get Smart or SNL, Henry was a member of a camera club in New York, and wrote about his experiences in Playboy in 1992. That's how he met--and photographed--Bettie Page.
I could keep blazing trivia trails all day long, just because it's so much fun. But just to bring it back to books, I'll point out that following bizarre trails and making unexpected connections is what mystery writing is all about. So expect me to be tracking trivia for some time to come, and to misquote famous TV cowboy Roy Rogers and his cowgirl wife Dale Evans Rogers:
Happy trivia trails to you, 'till we meet again.