By Terri Nolan
The team behind the Renee Patrick pseudonym—Rosemarie and Vince Keenan—grew up in Queens, New York, separated by a few subway stops, but met for the first time in Florida. The married authors are self-described lovers of movies, cocktails, and the New York Jets. Their first novel, Design for Dying—set in 1937 Los Angeles—was published one month before their 25th wedding anniversary. Sounds like a terrific bit for a screenplay, right? It is.
And even more exciting is their third novel.
SCRIPT FOR SCANDAL defies the subgenre box and offers something juicy for every type of mystery lover, be it cozy, noir, suspense, thriller, or the classic whodunit. It takes place in Los Angeles, 1939. World War II is coming. Global political maneuvering is of everyday interest to the populace. Going to the theatre to watch a movie is a favorite entertainment and an escape from reality. The desire of many men and women to make it big in Hollywood is a proverbial dream. Gossip about the rich and famous is an anticipated cocktail party pastime. The Los Angeles Police Department is at its crimefighting best and corrupt worst. Gangsters want a piece of Hollywood glitz and the payday that comes with success. Unions flex their muscle and power. Glamorous movie stars are on parade and we readers get to experience the inner workings of moviemaking. All this and more is wrapped in a neat and thrilling package more commonly known as a novel that should be made into a big screen movie.
Lillian Frost is friends with Paramount costume designer Edith Head. Lillian becomes unsettled when Edith gives her a script that her studio intends to film. It is a story based on a true crime written by an ex-felon. Lillian’s boyfriend, Gene Morrow, a cop with the LAPD, is hardly disguised as a character and worse, is implicated in the death of his partner during a robbery gone bad. Lillian is horrified by the script’s blending of fact and fiction and worries about Gene. He, in return, doesn’t seem at all concerned and tells her not to meddle. To make matters worse, Lillian is anxious about the close relationship forged by Gene and his partner’s widow. Are the script’s presumptions true? Did Gene kill his partner? Lillian and Edith are determined to find the truth.
The authors graciously spent time with us at The Big Thrill to answer a few questions about their third collaboration.
Please tell us about your writing journey.
We never set out to write a novel together. Vince had been working as a writer for years, while Rosemarie was content being a dedicated movie fan and lover of mysteries. Then she came up with the idea of a series of mysteries with the costume designer Edith Head as a sort of Nero Wolfe figure, using her connections and access to solve crimes during the Golden Age of Hollywood. And Vince said, “That’s a brilliant idea. We have to do something with it.” Collaborating was the natural next step.
Edith Head is a real person. How does that work from a legal perspective?
We don’t want to be spoilers, but the main legal consequence is you’re not going to find any famous people or even the relatives of famous people as the killers in our books. We don’t want to get sued. Edith is a public figure, so we’re on safe ground using her as a character. Besides, Edith was savvy about building a public image. We figure anyone who played themselves in an episode of COLUMBO wouldn’t grumble about being fictionalized as an amateur sleuth.
How do your day jobs inform your writing?
Rosemarie: I’m an administrator at one of America’s top cancer research centers. Writing the books is wildly different from what I do every day, so it’s an escape for me. Working in such a serious environment makes me value the importance of the comic sensibility of the Renee Patrick books. Plus, all that administrative experience keeps us (and by us, I mean Vince) organized.
Vince: I’m the editor-in-chief of Noir City, the magazine of the Film Noir Foundation, so I’m constantly steeped in classic Hollywood movies. I never get away from them. I don’t want to.
Every author who writes noir describes it differently. How do you define it?
Although SCRIPT FOR SCANDAL is quite specifically about the birth of film noir, it’s difficult for us to think of the Renee Patrick books under the noir label. There are too many jokes, for one thing, and a lot of talk about clothes. That said, we’ll pinch the answers of our friend, mentor, and Vince’s boss at the Film Noir Foundation, Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller. He says noir is about characters who know what they’re doing is wrong, but they do it anyway. He’s also got a shorter version: “suffering with style.” When you’re writing mysteries about a designer of clothing, that one goes a long way.
Do you have a writing routine?
All our routines are built around being co-authors. We have a weekly Renee Patrick meeting, complete with agenda shared in advance (credit Rosemarie’s day job for that), where we discuss everything: the book we’re currently working on, promotion, research. Without that regular session, the whole enterprise would fall apart. And we also have scheduled date nights where we can’t talk about the book at all.
So you’re not pantsers.
We outline everything. It’s essential when you have two people working on the book. We have flexibility within each chapter and each scene, but we have to be in agreement about what’s going to happen in what order.
Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington. Their books have been featured on Turner Classic Movies and National Public Radio’s Summer Reading List, and have been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards.
To learn more about the authors and their work, please visit their website.