Author of the Week: Renee Patrick
Vince and Rosemarie Keenan are award-winning mystery series of novelists that write under a pen name.
In truth, Vince and Rosemarie Keenan are the Nick and Nora Charles of Society. I mean that in terms of both literary and personal style (though Vince also strikes me as an overgrown Dead End Kid sometimes, but hey, he’s from New York).
Their ongoing, popular, and award-winning mystery series of novels features as as protagonists the legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head and fictional (though seemingly a composite) aspiring actress Lillian Frost. This unlikely detective team traverses the sin-soaked backstages of Tinsel Town during it’s glorious Golden Age of Glitz ’n’ Glamour, abundant in witty repartee, rife with celebrity cameos, and rich with ambient period recreation, all stitched together with ingeniously constructed plot threads that twist and weave in unexpected patterns.
A dynamic duo on and off the page, Vince and Rosemarie write under the pen name of Renee Patrick, and together they make up one of the brightest rising stars in the crime fiction field.
I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with the Keenans on many occasions since I relocated to the Emerald City, and we have a mutual pal in the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, now the host of TCM’s Noir Alley. In fact, Vince is the editor-in-chief of the Film Noir Foundation’s seasonal digital magazine. Rosemarie often joins him to pinch-hit as hosts for Noir City Seattle when Eddie is “stuck in traffic” (at the local bar).
As usual, for this interview, they speak as one voice, even though their personalities are quite distinct, if organically complementary. But that’s the secret of any beautiful friendship…
In this crass culture, do you think the glamorous allure of vintage Hollywood provides a nostalgic cushion for readers seeking escape from present day reality, even when dealing with touchy topics like murder?
Absolutely. Hollywood has always provided an avenue of escape, both in terms of the products it produces and the opportunities it presents to the people who venture there hoping to make a name for themselves. Tinseltown has long been the capital of reinvention. What's important is not to view Golden Age Hollywood solely through that nostalgic haze. There was plenty of unseemly behavior behind the scenes back then, even if the Hays Office wouldn't allow any of it onscreen. That's where the fun comes in for us. We want to balance our love of the rose-colored illusion of classic Hollywood with a respect for the truth, and acknowledge all the hard work put in at the dream factory.
Do “Renee” and “Patrick” always see eye to eye, or do they encounter creative differences, and if so - who resolves them and how?
Any worthwhile collaboration will have creative differences. Ours are mostly about jokes. They're settled by Renee Patrick. A strange alchemy took place when we wrote the first book, Design for Dying. Our sensibilities fused and created Renee's, which is stronger than ours put together. She's now the final arbiter. Whenever we have a disagreement, one of us will ask, "What does Renee want to do?" Somehow, we both have the same answer.
You’ve claimed your work is not straight up “noir.” Please explain the aesthetic and marketing distinctions between Noir, Mystery, Hardboiled, and other subcategories of the Crime genre from your uniquely informed historical perspective.
To begin with, they're primarily marketing distinctions. There are plenty of great books within every subset of crime fiction--and plenty of bad ones, too. We always say Renee's books aren't noir because no matter which of the myriad definitions of the term you pick, they won't fit it. Justice prevails, and Lillian is too nice a person. We tend to say we write traditional mysteries, in which there's a detective -- amateur or professional; police, private, or otherwise -- following clues the reader also sees. Cozy is a subcategory of mystery, where sex and violence happen off the page and the setting is fairly intimate. Hardboiled fiction is tough and terse, where the good guys win. In noir, though, everybody's doomed. And they usually know it.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
Rye, mostly. Lots of classic Hollywood films, screwball comedies from the 1930s and noir from the 1940s. We're a sucker for bad musicals, the slangier the better. Our literary influences are a mixed bag. It starts with Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and P.G. Wodehouse, then includes anyone who knew how to combine mystery and comedy: Craig Rice, Donald E. Westlake, Ross Thomas, Lawrence Block.
What’s next for you?
The second Lillian and Edith book, Dangerous to Know, is out now and has just been nominated for a Macavity, the Sue Feder Memorial Award for Best Historical Novel. What's next is more from both ladies; after all, Edith's costume designing career lasted for decades. We're currently writing the third book, Script for Scandal. About the birth of film noir, gangsters, Hollywood labor unrest, and glamour, glamour, glamour. Plus whatever jokes we're able to agree on.
It’s post time, cheers!
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 novel DESIGN FOR DYING was featured on NPR's 2017 Summer Reading List. It's been nominated for the Agatha, Anthony, Left Coast Crime, and Macavity Awards for best first novel. Delve deeper into their swank, shadowy world at the official Renee Patrick website.
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