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
light.

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.

Chandler Agonistes

“Officer Jake Stirling parked his patrol car near the sharp curve on Camino de la Costa, glanced at the house across the street and wondered if the man inside had killed himself yet.”

The Esmeralda Goodbye

So goes the sentence that kicks off my next novel, The Esmeralda Goodbye. It’s a historical mystery set in La Jolla, CA, in the 1950s. As the reader, and Officer Jake, will soon learn the man inside the house is none other than the celebrated crime fiction author Raymond Chandler. The chapter is based on a very real suicide attempt Chandler made in February 1955.

Article from the Daily Independent Journal February 24, 1955

Raymond Chandler and his wife Cissy moved from Los Angeles to La Jolla, CA in 1946. They purchased a house Chandler described as “beside the sounding sea” and “A far better home than any out-of-work pulp writer has any right to expect.”

Raymond and Cissy Chandler’s house in La Jolla
View across the street ‘beside the sounding sea”

One of the chief reasons for the Chandlers’ move from Los Angeles was Cissy’s declining health. Eight years after the move she succumbed to fibrosis. Chandler was deeply affected by her death and began drinking more heavily. Three months after her death he sat in his tub with a pistol and called the police. By the time officers arrived Chandler had fired two bullets into the ceiling. He was detained and then committed to the psychopathic ward of Scripps Memorial Hospital for several weeks.

I’d been toying with the idea of writing a historical novel using Chandler as a character. Reading about this incident gave me the idea for where to start my book. In his biography of Chandler, Frank McShane wrote, “A very tender rookie cop entered the house and with considerable trepidation opened the bathroom door.1

And so fictional police Officer Jake Stirling was born. I took a few artistic liberties with the chapter but it’s basically a true story.

Chandler fans and readers will recognize my title, The Esmeralda Goodbye, as an homage to Chandler’s last two novels, both of which were written in La Jolla. The Long Goodbye was published in 1953. Playback was published in 1958, shortly before Chandler’s death. Playback is set in the town of Esmeralda, Chandler’s fictional stand-in for La Jolla.

“In Esmeralda what was old was also clean and sometimes quaint. In other small towns what is old is just shabby.”

Playback by Raymond Chandler

“Esmeralda had one Main Street…but unlike most California towns it had no false fronts or cheesy billboards, no drive-in hamburger joints.”

Playback by Raymond Chandler

The title for The Esmeralda Goodbye came to me rather late in the process, but when it arrived, I knew it was perfect. In the next few months, I’ll be posting further information about the history, people and places that inspired the book (publication date March 1, 2024).

  1. Frank McShane. The Life of Raymond Chandler. 1976. Page 128 ↩︎

Awards for Gillespie Field Groove

It’s always nice to win an award. Gillespie Field Groove has recently picked up a few.

Finalist in the Thriller: Crime category at the American Fiction Awards.

Silver Medal in the Mystery – Detective category from the Global Book Awards

Maincrest Media Award Winner in Mystery/Suspense

“With both creativity and flair, Fayman weaves a tale that is both thrilling and unexpected.”