THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The New Vic Valentine Novel "Hard-Boiled Heart": A Murder Mystery About The Death of Dreams


Perhaps prematurely but with a positive attitude I publicly proclaimed 2014 would be "my year" back when it first began. Turned out to be wishful thinking that didn't quite pay off the way I'd hoped, though I did manage to achieve my major proactive goal of relocating from the Bay Area to Seattle, something I've been planning to do for at least a couple of years. That in itself was a Herculean accomplishment.

I succeeded against many logistical and financial odds mainly because my beautiful wife, the brilliant, talented, magical Monica "Tiki Goddess" Cortes Viharo was accepted into the PhD program at the University of Washington School of Drama, awarded one of only two full scholarships out of hundreds of applicants. This gave us a valid purpose for leaving her beloved home state, and my residence for my entire adult life. Besides a change of pace and scenery, I really wanted to move because I dig the cool, cloudy climate up here in the Pacific Northwest, but there had to be more impetus than the weather (and similar progressive/artistic culture) for such an epic transition. Monica's acceptance into this prestigious program made it both possible and practical.

We're both very happy with our new home, though we miss all of our friends and family back by the Bay. I feel very gratified (and vindicated!) that Monica is finally pursuing her life's dream of becoming a professor. But, as much as I love Seattle, my own ultimate goal perpetually eludes me: success as a writer. This has been my lifelong ambition, and at this point, given present circumstances, I may just have to learn to live without it.

The sexiest, most stylish grad student on the UDub campus
Proud members of the University of Washington Club

Sure, I have a cool steady blogging gig again and have had several short stories published this year (see links down at bottom of this column), but the movie version of Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, my single biggest professional break and career-maker-or-breaker, remains in limbo, stuck in "development hell" after finally coming so close to fruition I could literally touch it.

In case you haven't heard by now, Christian Slater has owned the option on this property since 2001, and is very passionate about the project, but despite promising proximity, we've yet to make it finally happen. 

Cruising with Christian off the coast of Miami, 2012 - one of my favorite memories, ever.
Another lifetime highlight: riding the original "African Queen" in Key Largo, Fl.
So close yet still so far from fulfilling this fateful encounter...
It's been a long, unpredictable, seemingly endless journey that may or not finally be over, with a heartbreakingly anti-climactic non-denouement instead of a triumphant finale leading to even greater victories.

Maybe I need to accept that Thrillville Theater was indeed my professional peak, even though that was never my true dream. It did provide me with my public platform, and I made a lot of great friends via the networking, but it was really just a cool gig, nothing more. It may very well be that at this stage of the game, my wave has already crested, career-wise. At least I have Monica, which is everything I could want in terms of familial fulfillment. But if you're feeling physically exhausted and someone suggests you just need to eat something, rather than rest, they're not addressing the real issue. Two totally different needs. One does not fix the other. Still, I'm very lucky I'm not alone on this strange journey, because for a long time, I was, and it was pure hell. In fact, that personal pain provided the genesis of Vic Valentine. And pain remains my main source of creative inspiration, unfortunately.

If this is truly the end of this wildly improbable story, it will be (and already feels like) the most devastating disappointment of my entire life. I am frankly having a very rough time coping with it. My depression is conditional, not chemical in nature, with only one solution I can think of, and I have absolutely no control over that. I've tried psychiatric therapy, medication and moving to a different city and totally changing my surroundings, but this unexpected turn of events has left a void in my heart and a crater in my soul that can never be filled by anything else. It's difficult to adequately explain to anyone who hasn't experienced something similar, like suddenly losing your life's savings in a market crash or Ponzi scheme. I can't think of a better comparison. After dedicating most of my life to the pursuit of this dream, the movie - which would finally give my writing official validation and "street cred," while shedding a bright light on my entire body of work - meant literally everything to me. Now...I just don't know. I really don't.

My ship seemingly sailed into port then backed out without me, for the second time, following the Judith Regan debacle in the early '90s. It was like I was lifted out of my midlife doldrums to deliriously dizzying heights, then abruptly dropped and shattered into pieces. If nothing else breaks soon, besides my spirit, I may never fully recover. That's the hard truth of the situation as it now stands. Only Monica and my cats sustain me these days. As well as the beauty of my new surroundings in The Emerald City. We had a great summer, including a trip to Portland and my own journey to Santa Fe to rendezvous with my father Robert Viharo.

But still, I am haunted day and night by this serious setback.

So how am I dealing with this deep, dark depression? Why, exactly the way I did back in the day, before Thrillville, before Monica: I wrote another book, creatively chronicling and sublimating all of my angst into a fictional format.

The result? My first new Vic Valentine novel in nearly two decades: the aptly titled HARD-BOILED HEART! I've been planning on writing a sixth book in the series for a long time, though the story has been slow to develop. Excerpts have been published as vignettes in the "Nightcap" editions of Bachelor Pad Magazine, as well as the detective story anthology The Shamus Sampler 2.

Illustration by the late Sergio Avenia for "Private Dick, Public Enemy",
Bachelor Pad Magazine Nightcap Edition #1, Summer 2012

Illustration by Scooter Harris for "Space Needle Fix,"
Bachelor Pad Magazine Nightcap Edition #2, summer 2013
I've been toying around with the idea of incorporating the movie deal into Vic's world for some time, but wasn't sure how to do it, given the constantly twisting true life saga. Finally it all came into sharp focus after a few months of harsh reflection and self-imposed exile in Seattle. I threw all my recent experiences into this steamy, pulpy stew, as you can ascertain from the eerily reality-resonant storyline:

PLOT SYNOPSIS: "Older but hardly wiser, Vic Valentine is in hot water again as he becomes embroiled with a movie star named 'Charlie' planning to make a film about the anachronistic private eye's tumultuous life. Trouble is, the alcoholic actor is also a serial murder suspect, complicating both Charlie's career and Vic's dreams of redemption and success. Meantime, Vic becomes erotically entangled with Raven, a voluptuous but vicious burlesque dancer, and is driven to despair by a seemingly supernatural stalker in the form of a mysterious sailor statue named 'Ivar.' Follow Vic through the mean, green streets of Seattle as he copes with middle-aged melancholia while confronting demons from his past that threaten the guardian angels of his future."

Sound familiar? Maybe, but fiction is stranger than truth. Above all, my aim with my pulp fiction is entertaining the reader, and I promise I won't ever let you down in that department. Still, I do confront some sticky, universally relatable issues head on with this new, "mature" work of art, which is not simply a cynical piece of exploitative commerce.

I sum up Hard-boiled Heart as "a murder mystery about the death of dreams." Two decades after his 1990s exploits as depicted in the five novels so far, a fifty-something Vic is confronting the fact he is not merely a hard-drinking ladies' man, per his self-proclaimed "job description" and the traditional macho traits of the noir anti-hero. He's actually an anachronistic, alcoholic sex addict. This may be the root of all his many problems. Not mine, mind you. I've long been happily ensconced in a very happy (and monogamous) marriage with a stable home life. There are often deliberate, definite distinctions between author and creation, and this is one of many, despite the obvious parallels. 

For one thing, "Ivar" is based on an actual sailor statue that was mysteriously left on my doorstep back in Alameda about a year ago. I finally found out the identity of the culprits once they confessed (old pals Mel Waldorf and Jessica Lindsey), following much publicly expressed paranoia, fearing it was some sort of voodoo curse or the obsessive act of a deranged stalker (turned out to be a little of both?), but this ingenious if devious prank did provide an interesting subplot, which Mel and Jessica claim was their plan all along. Glad I could play along with the gag...

I renamed this spooky stalker statue "Ivar" after this Seattle icon.
Anyway, I'm very proud of this book and hopefully it will be published sometime in 2015. Right now it's under consideration by my friend and editor Joe Clifford, superstar author in his own right (I highly recommend his latest, Lamentation) and acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, which reissued Love Stories in the summer of 2013. This rejuvenated interest in that out-of-print work and I was able to milk a lot of fresh publicity out of it, for which I am eternally grateful. But the fact remains, without a green light on the movie version, interest is waning again. Even with its "cult" status, it's still an "old" novel, initially published 20 years ago, so I figured it was time for some fresh blood. Vic's blood, that is, which I spilled liberally in these new pages. If I have to suffer, Vic gets it ten times worse. That's just how it works.

Though it's not published yet, I'm already cranking up the promo machine. 

First things first: the crucial cover. I was lucky enough to secure the services of the great artist Scooter Harris, my colleague at Bachelor Pad Magazine, for this stunningly stimulating artwork:

Scooter had already been creating some pieces just for fun, putting Vic (and Monica Tiki Goddess!) in the colorful realm of my favorite TV series Batman (which is finally available on Blu Ray, proving that sometimes impossible dreams do come true, I even created a Facebook page devoted to this effort). So I knew he was the man for the job, based on these fanciful pop art pieces:

Here are some early promo pieces for Hard-boiled Heart by Scooter, leading up to his initial drafts for the final cover:

Scooter's first piece inspired my conception of the book's main femme fatale, Raven Rydell
The image most obviously influenced by Raven de la Croix, my friend and
star of Russ Meyer's UP! (1976), who helped inform the character's, um, "development"

This piece was inspired by the photo below, taken at Noir City at the Castro in San Francisco, this past January - right after I found out the movie project was being put on indefinite hiatus...
my expression says it all.
I loved the image so asked Scooter to use it for the back cover, leaving out
the tall stranger photo-bombing the background, since I didn't have permission to copy his visage.
The final pre-pub back cover.
Fantastic "full frontal" cover art sans text.

So...we'll see what the future holds for Vic Valentine, Private Eye, a character that has been left for dead several times, but continues to get resurrected, one way or another.

Meantime, I've left behind my liquid legacy in the form of a cocktail - the "Vic Valentine" continues to be a top selling house drink down at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, CA. So if you don't like to read, you can always just drink one of my Vic Valentine books...

The long, winding history of Vic Valentine in print:

Original edition of Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me,
published by Wild Card Press; 1995, cover by Tim Racer
Fate Is My Pimp/Romance Takes a Rain Check (1994, self-published 2011)
Cover by Rich Black
I Lost My Heart in Hollywood/Diary of a Dick (1995, self-published 2011)
Cover by Rick Lucey

Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me,
Gutter Books reissue, 2013, cover by storyboard artist Matt Brown
Hard-boiled Heart, the sixth and possibly final entry in the series,
coming in 2015; cover art by Scooter Harris.

Mock poster art by Matt Brown, later used for the cover of the novel's reissue
Keeping the "Christian" faith...

I still have faith, even though I've lost hope, or vice versa. I just can't tell anymore. Happy Holidays, and all that jazz. Onward 2015! Whatever it may hold for all of us. Cheers.

Fantagraphics storie in Georgetown, Seattle 
Pike Place Market
Seattle Center Monorail
My 22nd annual Elvis holiday card

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Radio play based on my unpublished novella SHADOW MUSIC (1996)

VOLUME ONE: A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge and
Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room

VOLUME TWO: Lavender Blonde and Down a Dark Alley

VOLUME THREE: Chumpy Walnut and Other Stories

Fate Is My Pimp, Romance Takes a Rain Check, I Lost My Heart in Hollywood, Diary of a Dick

The new Vic Valentine novel HARD-BOILED HEART now available from Gutter Books



BACHELOR PAD MAGAZINE #29 featuring my regular movie column,
this one on Classic Kaiju Cinema (Japanese Monster Movies) 
featuring my regular movie column, this time "Retro Robot Cinema"!

My short story ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE as well as my Tribute To Ingrid Bergman

My Vic Valentine vignette BRAIN MISTRUST is included in this anthology:

My short story BEHIND THE BAR is included in this anthology:

Filmmaker Jeff M. Giordano is presenting the "Director's Cut" of his documentary about my Bay Area career as a film programmer/impresario/pulp author
"THE THRILL IS GONE" in our mutual childhood state of New Jersey on December 29, 2014

Me in one of the South Jersey towns where I grew up in the 1970s, Glassboro, during a 1998 visit.

Rough cut now online!