Clive Rosengren contemplated the number of people he’s killed over the past half-dozen years or so — counting on his hands until he runs out of fingers.
“It’s over 10 now,” he says.
And the body count is rising.
Rosengren, an Ashland resident and self-proclaimed “recovering actor’ with a slew of recognizable film and television roles on his resume, has written a new role for himself as the author of a series of detective mysteries featuring private eye Eddie Collins — not-so-coincidentally an actor with a hit-and-miss career and a dangerous side gig.
“Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon,” the third Collins tale, is set to be released by Rosengren’s new publisher, Seattle-based Coffeetown Press, which simultaneously will re-release the first two novels in the series, both of which were finalists for Shamus Awards presented by the Private Eye Writers of America.
“Crime fiction always appealed to me,” says Rosengren, who’ll give a reading during Saturday’s Ashland Literary Arts Festival, “because there’s not a lot of ‘navel-gazing’ involved. It’s plot-driven. It’s fun.”
But while Eddie Collins (named for a 1920s-era ballplayer as a tip of the cap to Rosengren’s passion for baseball) isn’t one for a lot of introspection, that doesn’t mean the P.I. hasn’t grown since the series began in 2012.
“I’m still finding out things about him,” Rosengren says. “His voice is continuing to evolve.”
That evolution has its roots in the days when Rosengren was working in Ohio at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, where one of his castmates was another aspiring actor and baseball fan, Tom Hanks, who has said of Eddie Collins, “I wouldn’t want to mess with him, but you’d want his number in your wallet.”
When not on stage or at an Indians game, Rosengren would find himself in the watering holes around Cleveland — wearing a pork-pie hat (now Eddie Collins’ chapeau of choice) and wanting to be Mickey Spillane, the iconic pulp-fiction creator of Mike Hammer.
“I’ve always had an interest in the private eye stuff,” he says. “Spillane, (Raymond) Chandler, (Dashiell) Hammett. I was drawn to that world.”
Before he’d get there, though, the road would lead to Hollywood and a string of acting credits dating to 1983.
Rosengren fits seamlessly into a category film buffs refer to as “the quintessential That Guy” — a character actor who can take on any type of role and whose presence assures viewers that the casting director (at least) knows what she's doing.
Along the way, Rosengren portrayed judges, waiters (in “Seinfeld”), doormen (the cult screwball comedy “Soapdish”), detectives, plumbers, cab drivers, district attorneys (in “Bugsy,” the Oscar-nominated film about the Las Vegas gambling legend Bugsy Siegel), policemen, public officials, military officers, Santa Claus — and a workman named “Mr. Zipper” in the original “Twin Peaks.”
In the movie “Ed Wood,” he played the landlord of the title character (portrayed by Johnny Depp), who winds up producing the famed talent-deprived director’s classic “Plan IX from Outer Space.”
In the classic TV sitcom “Cheers,” he plays a former baseball umpire who gets into a memorable argument with Ted Danson’s bar owner Sam Malone — and winds up throwing Malone out of the bar.
But even the steadily working That Guy has slow periods, and during some of those Rosengren says he and an actor friend started kicking around the idea of a character actor who hung a shingle out as a private eye.
“Most actors in Hollywood,” he says, “unless you’re on the A-List, you have to have a side gig.”
In “Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon,” for instance, Eddie Collins’ former co-star (and eventual romantic interest) is working as an exotic dancer, while another former actor buddy makes money juggling chainsaws on the Venice Beach boardwalk.
It’s the former co-star — Carla Rizzoli, who dances under the stage name Velvet — who shows up at Collins’ office wanting him to track down her wayward brother, and off we go into a mix of secrets, people who don’t want to talk, dead bodies and the occasional acting gig.
It’s a plot that Rosengren has enjoyed stirring.
“What I really wanted to do is straddle both worlds,” he says, of having Collins continue his acting career while solving mysteries. “As the books go along, the word gets out in Hollywood that Eddie’s a private investigator, and he can get more of those jobs.”
Readers and critics have started to take notice. The first entry in the series, “Murder Unscripted,” came out of those days spent between acting jobs and received favorable reviews.
It also got a push from A-List mystery author Michael Connelly, who read Rosengren’s novel before publication, made notes and offered up a jacket blurb.
“I like this character Eddie Collins. … I hope to see more of him,” wrote Connelly, author of the "Harry Bosch" series, which is now a series on Amazon.
After “Murder Unscripted” and the follow-up, “Red Desert,” received Shamus Award nominations, Rosengren began looking for a new publisher and made connections with Coffeetown Press, which had published a novel by one of his fellow members of Monday Mayhem — the bi-monthly Ashland writing group Rosengren has worked with for about 10 years.
Catherine Treadgold, publisher of Coffeetown Press, says the combination of Rosengren’s background and the character of Eddie Collins made it an easy decision for her brand.
"We were especially drawn to Clive's lively wit and his resourceful detective,” she said in an email. “We also felt that his colorful background as an actor made him the perfect author to breathe life into the archetypal Hollywood gumshoe so beloved by hardboiled mystery fans."
Rosengren returns the compliment, saying he’s pleased with the attention Coffeetown has given the books, and that he’s impressed with the marketing plan the publisher has for getting his name out to crime-novel fans.
Rosengren is set for a reading at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Ashland Literary Arts Festival, at the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University, and has a book-signing scheduled with fellow Monday Mayhem writer Carole T. Beers (author of “Over the Edge”) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Medford.
In the meantime, Rosengren is near completion of the fourth Eddie Collins mystery, “Martini Shots,” named for the final shot of the day during a film production (after which, elbows are bent and drinks are served.) The fifth book also will have an acting-insider’s title, “Frog in a Bucket,” a phrase used by background extras so not to disturb the primary actors in a scene.
But while he says Eddie Collins could make “a good linchpin for a cable TV series,” and he’s trying to turn the books into teleplays, Clive Rosengren says his own Hollywood dreams are a thing of the past.
“The idea of going back there, schlepping around to auditions, doesn’t appeal,” he says. “The fun part of doing this is creating characters and seeing what happens to them. I still have those creative juices.”
And Eddie Collins will be there to track down the bodies he leaves behind.
— Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.