Book Trailer – The Esmeralda Goodbye

The Esmeralda Goodbye now has a book trailer. It’s big and thrillery and I think it does a pretty good job previewing the book. What do you think?

Trigger warning: This video contains a depiction of a man attempting suicide.

I Cover the Waterfront

I have been here so long that even the seagulls must recognize me.

I Cover the Waterfront by Max Miller

I Cover the Waterfront was one of the most popular and best-selling best selling books of the 1930s. A simple compendium of real-life vignettes about the lives of those who lived and worked along San Diego Bay, the book struck a chord with readers of the day. It’s wistful, low-key and charming and still makes for a good read today.

It’s author, Max Miller, was twenty-eight years old at the time and the success of the book allowed him to buy a house by the ocean in La Jolla, CA, just a block away from where Raymond Chandler and his wife lived. Miller and Chandler knew each other, drank together on occasion and sometimes played tennis together.

Which is why Miller, in addition to Raymond Chandler, became an important character in my historical mystery novel The Esmeralda Goodbye. The two men could not have been more different. Chandler’s personal appearance was more formal in style, favoring coats and bow ties. Miller preferred an informal look, happiest when barefoot in shorts and shirtsleeves. Chandler could be withdrawn and moody while Miller was ebullient and outgoing. Chandler enjoyed dinner parties and literary conversation. Miller played drums at parties and enjoyed boating, beachcombing, fishing and swimming (he made a point of finishing last in La Jolla’s Rough Water Swim every year). Aside from being writers, the only thing Chandler and Miller had in common was a fondness for alcohol. In The Esmeralda Goodbye, they serve as contrasting mentors to the protagonist, a very sober rookie policeman named Jake Stirling.

Max Miller, 1930s publicity photo
Max Miller in the 1950s

Miller wrote twenty-eight books in his lifetime, none of them remotely as successful as I Cover the Waterfront. One of his books that I enjoyed reading while researching mine was The Town with the Funny Name, another series of vignettes full of colorful characters that gave me a glimpse of life in La Jolla in the 1950s. Two of the real-life characters in Miller’s book—Perky Adams and Miss Billings—inspired two of the fictional characters in my book.

Miller continued to live in La Jolla the rest of his life and died in his home there in 1967.

I Cover the Waterfront remains Miller’s best known book and the one still in print today. It’s a charming portrait of an era and a place, the first book to put San Diego on the literary map. In its time it inspired both a movie and a song by the same name (it really is a great title, isn’t it?). Here’s a performance of the song by Peggy Lee.

The movie is available on YouTube. Warning: Aside from the title and its waterfront location, the movie bears almost no resemblance to the original book. It was produced during the pre-Hays code era of sound movies, and hints at the racier side of waterfront life noted in the book.

Christmas Comes at Midnight

It’s time for my annual Christmas/Holiday song (well the last two years at least). Last year’s composition was a lively bit of New Orleans funkiness – Gumbo Ya-Ya Christmas. This year’s song is more contemplative—a little sad, a little hopeful. Maybe something John Prine might have written. Does Christmas come at midnight?

Father Christmas won’t you visit us tonight
Don’t say no
Or be too slow
And bring those smiling faces to the morning light Don’t you know
They love you so
They want to know
Does Christmas come at midnight
Does Christmas come at midnight
Does Christmas come at midnight
This year

Working hard just to make ends meet
But times are slow
And children grow
Sometimes I wonder if we’ll have enough to eat
It’s such a blow
When you don’t show
I need to know
Will Christmas come at midnight
Will Christmas come at midnight
Will Christmas come at midnight
This year

Underneath the Christmas tree
Something there for you and me
Will there be a miracle tonight

I’m staring out the window, children sleeping in their beds
The lights are low
A cold wind blows
I hear the sound of sleighbells ringing overhead
The fire glows
And my love grows
Because I know
That Christmas comes at midnight
Christmas comes at midnight
Christmas comes at midnight
Every year

Cold November

New song (and video). Share it if you want. And let me know what you think. You’re never prepared for the storm, be it personal, political or meteorological.

The spirit of the season was falling all around.
I heard the word come down the line, three more bodies found.
I stayed up late to watch TV, I stayed up all that night.
I was hoping things would change if I saw them in a different

Cold November, Cold November
Cold November, Cold November night

I tried to start a fire, but the fire would not take.
My eyes were getting tired and my hands began to ache.
And as the wind kept howling, I looked outside to see.
As one by one the lights went out and there was only me.

Cold November, Cold November
Cold November, Cold November night

I don’t know how much longer this old house can stand.
Still the snow keeps falling down and covers up the land.
It may be that there’s still time, but I don’t understand.
Why we didn’t see it coming, why we didn’t make better plans.

Cold November, Cold November
Cold November, Cold November night

Want a copy? You can download the song file below with a right-click or control-click.

La Jolla’s Fancy Cowboy Hotel

Last month I talked about how writer Raymond Chandler’s time in La Jolla in the 1950s inspired my upcoming novel, The Esmeralda Goodbye. Another inspiration for the book was the Hotel Del Charro, which was located in the La Jolla Shores neighborhood. Chandler stayed at the hotel on several occasions and created a fictional version of it—Rancho Descansado—for his final novel Playback.

Main building of the Hotel Del Charro
Main building of the hotel, with pool in front.

The hotel was owned by Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson, two Texas oil barons who were among the wealthiest men in the United States. They purchased the property in 1951 from Evelyn Marechal and her husband James, professional horse trainers who built the original hotel on land previously used for their horse stables (Mrs. Marechal makes a brief appearance in my book). Charros are the Mexican cowboys you’ll see at parades and rodeos, dressed in fancy outfits with silver decorations, ruffled shirts, short jackets, and sombreros. So a literal translation of Hotel Del Charro could be “the fancy cowboy’s hotel.” Guests who wanted to actually ride horses could rent them from Mrs. Marechal’s stable next door.

The kidney shaped swimming pool
No cowboys here. Living it up 1950s style at the hotel pool.

In the 1950s the La Jolla Shores area was rural and mostly uninhabited. Which made it a great hideaway for Hollywood actors on vacation. Regular guests included John Wayne, Joan Crawford, William Powell, Ward Bond, Mel Ferrer, Dorothy Maguire and Gregory Peck (the last three founded the summer stock La Jolla Playhouse in 1947). The Del Charro provided a high level of service and comfort as well an escape from the madding crowds. 1950s prices could be as much as $100 per day, over $1,000 per day in 2023 money.

Bird's eye view of Shore beach in the 1950s
Flat area to the right is Shores Beach in the 1950s. The Hotel del Charro was located just off screen to the right.

With the arrival of Murchison and Richardson, politicians and power brokers became a fixture at the hotel as well. John Connally, Joe McCarthy, and Richard Nixon were among those who came to consult with the two men. The most interesting guests, for the purposes of my story, were FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and his partner Clyde Tolson. Both men appear as characters in The Esmeralda Goodbye.

Richard Nixon, Clint Murchison and J. Edgar Hoover at the hotel
Left to Right—Richard Nixon, Clint Murchison and J. Edgar Hoover on the hotel’s patio.

Hoover and Tolson were regular visitors at the hotel, spending two weeks there every summer. Bungalow A, set discreetly on the backside of the property, was always reserved for them. In the 1970s reporter Jack Anderson broke the story that Hoover and Tolson never paid a dime for their stays at the hotel.

The two men were also guests of Murchison at the Del Mar Racetrack’s Turf Club. It’s rumored that Hoover may have won more than his share of race bets. It’s also rumored that Hoover had a hand in convincing the previous owner to sell the racetrack to the Texas oilman.

Del Charro hotel diagram

Sid Richardson died in 1959 and Murchison sold the hotel in the 1970s. Developers tore it down and built a condominium complex, the Del Charro Woods, which still stands today.

Del Charro Woods condominium signe
Condominiums replaced the horse stables and the Hotel Del Charro in the 1970s.

So did Raymond Chandler and J. Edgar Hoover ever cross paths at the Hotel Del Charro? I’ve heard a couple of a stories that involve the two men, but I’ll save those for another post.