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Authors: Joseph Hansen

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BOOK: Fadeout
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[ fadeout ]

A Dave Branstetter Mystery 

Joseph Hansen

The University of Wisconsin Press Terrace Books 

Other books by Joseph Hansen

  • Death-Claims
  • Troublemaker
  • One Foot in the Boat
  • The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of
  • The Dog & Other Stories
  • Skinflick
  • A Smile in His Lifetime
  • Gravedigger
  • Backtrack
  • Job’s Year
  • Nightwork
  • Pretty Boy Dead
  • Brandstetter & Others
  • Steps Going Down
  • The Little Dog Laughed
  • Early Graves
  • Bohannon’s Book
  • Obedience
  • The Boy Who Was Buried this Morning
  • A Country of Old Men
  • Bohannon’s Country
  • Living Upstairs
  • Jack of Hearts
  • A Few Doors West of Hope
  • Ghosts & Other Poems
  • The Cutbank Path
  • Bohannon’s Women

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or individualsliving or deadis entirely coincidental.

The University of Wisconsin Press
1930 Monroe Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53711

First edition published by Harper and Row in 1970
Copyright © 1970 by Joseph Hansen
All rights reserved

5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hansen, Joseph, 1923–
Fadeout : a Dave Brandstetter mystery / Joseph Hansen.
p. cm.
ISBN 0-299-20554-1 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Brandstetter, Dave (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Insurance investigators—Fiction. 3. Gay men—Fiction. 4. California—Fiction. I.
PS3558.A513 F3 2004
813'.54 22 2004053552

The lines on page 87 are taken from the poem "Song" by Allen Ginsberg, which appeared in Howl, and Other Poems. © 1956, 1959 by Allen Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books, San Francisco. Terrace Books, a division of the University of Wisconsin Press, takes its name from the Memorial Union Terrace, located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since its inception in 1907, the Wisconsin Union has provided a venue for students, faculty, staff, and alumni to debate art, music, politics, and the issues of the day. It is a place where theater, music, drama, dance, outdoor activities, and major speakers are made available to the campus and the community. To learn more about the Union, visit


When the late Joan Kahn, magisterial mystery editor at Harper and Row, accepted this novel for publication, she wrote my agent, "Where has this writer been hiding?" I had to laugh to keep from crying. Hiding was the last thing I'd wanted to do. The year was 1969. I was forty-six years old, and I'd been writing all my life. 

The New Yorker
and other good magazines had printed a few of my poems, but that was it so far as big-time publishing went. The tattered typescript of a gay novel I called
Valley Boy
, after years of traveling had ended up in 1964 with a dodgy paperback publisher in Fresno, crept into back-street bookshops as
Lost on Twilight Road
and earned me, as I recollect, two hundred dollars. 

After years of struggle, the law courts had by the midsixties decided the First Amendment gave writers the freedom to write, printers to print, booksellers to sell, and readers to read pretty much whatever could be put into words. And as blind chance would have it, this meant my time had come. Not that I wrote or wanted to write pornography. But in the best American tradition, shady operators all over the country saw the chance to make a fast buck, and became publishers. And since these dimwits saw homosexuality as in and of itself pornographic, I was, ironically, in luck. 

In my own bailiwick, the San Fernando Valley and San Diego, once stodgy old printing plants began churning out erotica by the ton. They couldn't find fodder enough to feed the hoppers. I'm not a fast worker, but I did my best, gamely adding the sex scenes the editors insisted on. I had serious things to say about what it meant to be homosexual in our world and time, but if this was the only way I could get them into print, then so be it. 

Before Joan Kahn plucked me out of hiding, the porn peddlers had published six of my novels and a book of short stories. She was a redoubtable lady, but I can't really imagine her marching into trashy Times Square bookstores to comb the shelves for undiscovered writing talent. Anyway, I'd called myself James Colton then. When Don Slater, who edited
, America's first openly sold gay magazine, started printing my stories in the prudish 1950s, he had insisted I use a pen name for my own protection. James Colton stories kept appearing in the magazine, and when it came time for my novels, it seemed good sense to keep the name. 

In time, I became an editor at
, and one bright morning, I tore open an envelope from New York that held a poem "One Sunday," which was far better than the stuff commonly sent to us. The writer was Leo Skir, and after we joyfully accepted his poem, he sent us more wonderful stuff—wistful, funny verses, stories, reports of gay life on Fire Island. Leo and I began writing letters back and forth. He read my work. And changed my life. 

This he did by schlepping my books to the office of Seligman and Collier, his New York agents, dumping them on Oscar Collier's desk, and urging him excitedly to read them. Excitedly was Leo's style. I knew nothing about his visit until Oscar rang my phone from three thousand miles away, introduced himself in a gentle southern drawl, and asked if I had anything he could sell for me. I sent him three typescripts: a period romantic thriller (a genre called gothic at that time, and crowding the supermarket paperback racks); a half-finished story of an unhappy seaside summer affair between a male illustrator of children's books and a teenage neighbor boy; and the book you hold in your hand. 

Oscar sold the gothic,
Tarn House
, to Avon Books the day he got my package, and within a week nailed down a contract for
, the book I was working on. This was dizzying. I'd mailed Tarn House to half a dozen publishers, and they'd all rejected it. As for
, none of the schlock publishers who did my stuff would advance money on an unfinished novel. But when I queried Oscar about
, he counseled patience: that one would take a little longer. I sighed. He didn't know how long it had already taken. 

I had finished writing it at the end of 1967 and felt it was the best work I'd ever done. Of course, it had no sex scenes in it. But oddly, my usual editors didn't cite this as their excuse for turning it down. One of them, Earl Kemp of Greenleaf Classics, told me it was "too good" for his list. Yvonne McManus at Brandon House, who had published my first venture into crime fiction,
Known Homosexual
, said
  "deserved better." Every place I took it to shied away. It was a book many praised but none would publish. 

West Coast literary agents are a rag-tag lot, not good for much. A friend of mine acting in a Broadway show found me an East Coast agent with a famous name but who turned out to be old and ailing, stowing manuscripts under her bed at Martha's Vineyard, and sending them nowhere. So I took a deep breath and settled down to the dreary routine of mailing the manuscript out to publishers, waiting weeks for a rejection, bundling it up and toting it back to the post office for another futile round-trip. 

This ate up eighteen months, during which with John Harris I ran a walk-in poetry workshop in Venice Beach, put together with Don Slater a new gay magazine,
, demonstrated against the Vietnam war, taught myself guitar, painted pictures, and kept on writing novels because I didn't know how to stop, and because though the pulp peddlers paid badly, they did pay. Whenever one of us sold a book, a Falstaffian friend John Kimbro and I would celebrate with martinis, lobster, brandy, and cigars at a rambling old seacliff restaurant called The Point. Kimbro picked up the check more often than I. It was his own fault. He wrote faster. 

I don't remember now how long I waited to hear from Oscar Collier about
, no more than a few weeks, I think. But I'm sure it seemed longer. Agents hate for writers to pester them. And I tried to act grownup and reasonable. It wasn't easy. Then one Monday morning when I was the only one at home, the phone rang in the sunny kitchen. It was Oscar with the good news. I had hit the big time at last. I wasn't just a porno hack with delusions, after all. This book, Oscar said strictly, I must publish under my own name. Grinning like an idiot, hands shaking with excitement, one after another I dialed the numbers of everyone I knew. No one answered. They were all someplace else. 

The whole world seemed to be someplace else when the book came out.
The New Yorker
gave it a good review, and I suppose there were others. Though a butterfly was part of the cover art, the book did not wing its way out of the shops. When I had sat down to write it, an old awareness was nagging me, that gay men already knew what I had to tell them. How could I reach straight readers, introduce them to those strangers they'd crossed the street to avoid meeting all their lives? By putting them into the kind of story that keeps readers turning pages. And nothing does that better than a detective novel. And that's what I wrote. 

But mystery readers don't take to change. They crave the mixture as before. They trust that. Anything new they have to mull over for a long time. When Bantam issued its mass market paperback edition, it sold no better than had the hardcover. I thought my experiment had failed, and hunkered down at my typewriter to rattle out books for the market I knew and that knew me. High hopes were for dreamers, kids. To avoid grief and penury, in future I would stick to what I could count on. This was only buck fever. Panic. After I'd written three more James Colton books, I worked up my nerve to take another grab at the brass ring.
Death Claims
sold better than
, in its turn, attracted a British publisher for all three Dave Brandstetter books. French, Dutch, German, Italian, even Japanese translations followed. 

What was wrong with this picture was that while my income was now inching above the poverty line, and my unapologetic look at homosexuals was out there, the booming U.S. paperback industry had taken against mystery novels. Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner were at your corner drugstore, but almost no one else. It's a different story today, when mysteries climb the bestseller lists like kudzu vines. Thirty years ago, hardcover sales were modest and the sums they earned meager. Without paperback reprints and, for a lucky few, sales to movies and television, the writer of detective fiction had to find a day job or live on peanut butter sandwiches. I'd had enough of both, thanks. I'd also had enough of reaching so few readers. I needed a miracle. It was a long time coming. 

Then, among the endless gaudy aisles of the 1979 American Booksellers Association pow-wow in the sprawling Los Angeles Convention Center, when I finally stumbled upon the booth of my then publisher, Holt, a bright and eager youngster called Steve Dorsky shook my hand and said he'd just come on board as marketing director, and would I please get the rights to all the Brandstetter books back, now, yesterday if possible. Holt wanted to publish them in paperback. Right away. 

For the next twelve years,
and the rest of the Dave Brandstetter mysteries sold steadily in paperback, new ones added as I wrote them, and no title slipping out of print. Not only did this mean new readers every day were turning my pages to find out whodunit, but that along the way they were getting my message that homosexuals were pretty much like everyone else in this world, living as best they could, with their share of joy and sorrow, success and failure, love and loss. It doesn't sound like a startling message, does it? Yet no other mystery writer had passed it along before me. Gradually times changed. At my back, a line began to form of new writers with gay detectives, male and female. 

However, perhaps typically for a man of eighty, I'm doubtful about the future. Have books got one? Because (and this began some years back) when fans at public gatherings ask me if any of my work has been made into movies, and I tell them no, their smiles fade, and they wander off in search of a real writer to talk to. Americans don't take you seriously if your work hasn't made it to the Cineplex and then on to TV. I have had my brushes with showbiz. Option money from time to time. Promises. Like the camel in the adage, CBS television once put its head into my tent, then came into the tent, so I had to get out. A French film producer in the 1980s optioned
three times for bigger and bigger sums: alas, her business manager then embezzled all her money and ran off with her secretary. No movie. 

BOOK: Fadeout
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