Re: RARA-AVIS: Santa Barbara

From: Dennis Lynds (
Date: 02 May 2005

  Dear Richard,

      Thanks for the kind words. I guess a great many readers never knew it was the same person writing under my various pen-names, which I expect might explain why I'm not better known. I've published 53 crime novels and few people really know that. Sigh.

      I think my biggest mistake was not writing the Dan Fortune books as Dennis Lynds. Point Blank is going to try to correct this by publishing all pen-names as by Dennis Lynds. Of course the problem with my books is that most of them, especially the Sadler, Crowe, and Arden novels, were written on a typewriter and have to be scanned into a computer and then carefully checked against the actual book which is terribly time comsuming.

  The Santa Barbara Writers Lunch---actually brought from Sarasota, Florida, by Willard Temple, a slick magazine writer, in the Fifties---was totally unstructured. Held every other Wednesday in the same place---Josie's El Cielito restaurant---you came, you sat in any open chair, and you drank, talked, and eventually had lunch in the midst of the talking. No one introduced you, you just took a seat and got to know those around you. Sometimes it took weeks to meet everybody, but what usually happened is people left as they pleased and the remaining writers sort of collapsed inward and as the group became smaller you met other people. By the time I arrived---1964, directly from the upper westside of Manhattan---it was a large group at one point reaching 60 writers.

      They came in all shapes and sizes: poets, essayists, mainstream novelists, humorists, genre novelists, and some journalists from the SB News-Press. Usually someone brought you, but not always. The average Wednesday would be about 30-35 guys. And I do mean GUYS. Women were not allowed. (This was largely Ken Millar's (Ross Macdonald) doing, but there were many others who felt the same in those days. There were many excuses, largely that men tended to showoff in front of women, or that it held down the drinking and cramped the free-wheeling bawdy style).

  Every other Monday or Tuesday, Ken would call everyone to remind them of the lunch (This was the only structure, and in actuality it was something Ken had taken on himself. If he hadn't, I doubt anyone else would have. He was sort of the mother hen.) This could be grueling for a working writer in that Ken was terribly slow-spoken, and seemed to have no desire to hang up.

  I refer often to drinking, and I mean drinking. Most of the guys drank hard liquor in those days, and they drank plenty. Others, such as me, drank beer. There were no wine drinkers then.

  We had one waiter, so service was relatively slow, but few people came to eat. It was a day off for professional writers most of whom worked every day and on deadline. We did NOT talk shop, in the sense of talking about our own writing, especially what we were working on. The conversation was
"writerly" not about writing. A lot of politics, publishing, writers we liked, etc.

      I did not go that often back then because those were the years I was publishing as many as five, even six, novels a year. In 1973 I had to move the family back to New York for about two years, and when I returned to Santa Barbara, I rejoined the lunch and found a lone woman named Norma had crashed the group all on her own. After that I brought the first invited woman---Jennifer Castro, the coowner of a bookstore---and broke the code.
(The group did eventually split up over that when Josie's place closed and we had to find a new home. One group of old misogynists went one place, the majority went to another. Bill Gault went with the old boys at first, but his heart wasn't in it, and he soon came back to the main group that now included women. I had met my future wife Gayle at the SB Writer's Conference in 1981, and invited her and a friend to the lunch and she became one of the first women writers to be a regular.)

  After the Eighties the group slowly disintegrated. It still exists in two forms, but today's working writers don't seem to need, or want, a twice a month convivial day off to relax, and while there are as many writers in SB as ever, they don't congregate. It seems that today if there isn't something in it to help their personal careers, they don't want to waste their time. It's a different world.

  By the way, you forgot Davis Dresser(Brett Halliday who wrote the Michael Shayne novels) who was the one who actually brought me. Over the years we had the poets Phil Levine and Henri Coulette, the novelists William Eastlake and Eudora Welty (brought, oddly, by Ken Millar. That reinforced the belief of many of us that Ken just didn't want Maggie (Margaret Millar) to come. They had a strange marriage.)

  Those days are gone, and, as I said, I didn't go often from 65-73 because I had to write. But most of us always made the Christmas meeting. As I said, it was a convivial gang of people with the same general interests, we were all writers, and that appears to have vanished today. It's every man
(oops, person) for himself, herself, theirselves, whatever.

  Boy, that's enough.

  Oh, one coda, as far as I know, Sue never came to the lunch even after women joined us. But I have a vague memory that Sara Paretsky may have come once as she was passing through.


  Dennis-Michael-Mark-William-John etc.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: "Richard Moore" <>
  To: <>
  Sent: Sunday, May 01, 2005 9:37 PM
  Subject: RARA-AVIS: Santa Barbara

> Dennis, welcome to the list. I first became a fan of your's with the
> Slot-Machine Kelly stories in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and look
> forward to the Crippen & Landru collection when it appears. In due
> time I also loved the Dan Fortune novels although I didn't know they
> were by the same author as the Kelly stories.
> I know you were a good friend of Bill Gault who I had the great
> pleasure of knowing as well. He often spoke of the writer's luncheons

> in Santa Barbara, which I believe you attended as well. Could you
> describe a typical luncheon? Bill would write about tidbits from the
> luncheons but I never had a sense of whether there was a formal agenda
> or if it was a completely informal gathering. With you, Bill and Ross
> Macdonald attending, it was certainly a group of heavy hitters. Did
> Sue Grafton join the group as she began her series? Santa Barbara was
> certainly home to more than its share of great PI/crime writers.
> Richard Moore



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