Denise Frisino, whose family were longtime Leschi residents, has never forgotten this bit of wisdom given to her many years ago when she did improv at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles.
“Joey Bishop once said to me, ‘Kid, I just want you to remember one thing: You meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. And everybody goes up, and everybody goes down in this industry,’” she said.
It’s that type of unique experience and determined attitude that has led Frisino to self-publish her first novel at the tender age of 60.
Before now, she said, she managed to be an actor for several years, write a screenplay so good that Katherine Hepburn couldn’t put it down and teach English for more than 13 years in Seattle.
She also taught in L.A., where she was known to keep a certain Brandon Roy late after school since, as she put it, “You’ve got to put down the ball and pick up a book.”
Frisino’s latest accomplishment, the novel “Whiskey Cove, Running Wild - Running Whiskey,” chronicles the experiences of a young rum runner named Alexandria during the Prohibition era in the Pacific Northwest. Now an elderly woman, Alex hires a young college student from Western Washington University to work in her garden and takes the girl through her exciting adventures.
Frisino said that Prohibition ushered in a time of lawless behavior in the Pacific Northwest, but nothing like that of the East Coast. She said that her research uncovered some shootings and very few killings in this area.
“The minute you tell someone they can’t do something, they want to do it. During that time, skirts got hiked up higher, [and] women drank more than ever before. It was a turning point in history for women,” she said.
What Frisino found most interesting were the arguments for and against Prohibition.
“At the beginning of Prohibition, it was, ‘Save our children. Get rid of alcohol,’” she said. “And at the end, they were saying, ‘Save our children. Put our husbands back to work. Stop our children from dying in the crossfire. Legalize alcohol again.’
“So they were using the same premise of the child at the beginning and at the end,” she continued. “It was such an interesting experiment of our time.”
A long time coming
Frisino first got the idea for “Whiskey Cove” in the early 1970s, when she was working as a cocktail server at Roche Harbor Resort in Friday Harbor.
“This friend of mine said that his grandmother had been a rum runner,” she said. “I don’t know how the conversation began, but that stuck in my mind. Just the vision of a woman out on the water with her husband or all alone, running this rum and being that brave at that time — it really stuck.”
Frisino went home to Leschi and told the story to her father, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer Joe Frisino. He agreed that it was interesting and asked her what she planned on doing about it.
“I ran an ad in the Senior World paper, and my dad and I went out together andinterviewed people who had lived through Prohibition in the Pacific Northwest,” she said.
From there, Frisino took their vivid stories, drew on personal images of strong women she had known in her life and blended them together to create the characters of “Whiskey Cove.”
She did extensive research, reading many books on the subject that she called her “dry, fact” books. She also toured former speakeasies and read articles on Prohibition in the Pacific Northwest.
“And the story just started evolving. As you’re reading this, you’re going to notice that a lot of who the older character is, I saw Kate playing that part,” Frisino said, referring to Hepburn.
After finishing the book in 1993, Frisino adapted a screenplay version. Both sat on her shelf.
“A year later, Katherine Hepburn was filming a movie in Canada. My longtime friend John Dayton was the producer on the movie, so I went up there. We would sit at night and drink the scotch that Katherine liked.”
Eventually, Frisino mentioned to Hepburn that she had written a screenplay, to which Hepburn replied, “I’m too damn rich and too damn old to be doing any more movies.”
Fortunately for Frisino, Hepburn’s makeup artist took the script and gave it to her. The next morning, Hepburn tracked down Frisino.
“She comes in, she gets a few inches from my nose and says, ‘I’m so mad at you,’” Frisino recalled. “She’s yelling at me on set, and John is looking at me wondering what I had done. And she says, ‘Most people just say they are writers, but you really are one. I was up all night reading this.’ She couldn’t put it down.”
Frisino said that after several years of her book sitting, she had multiple incidences occur that all seemed to be telling her to get it published. She met a former writer from The Seattle Times, Blaine Schulz, who had been working on a book about Prohibition. Their research and development had been so similar that it inspired Frisino to begin getting the book ready.
“My book was on Kaypro (an old home computer), which is in the Smithsonian now,” she said. “I had to retype the whole thing — all 300-and-whatever pages it was. So I did that last January. This let me change some of the characters and strengthen them.”
In June, historian and Seattle Times writer Paul Dorpat e-mailed Frisino about doing a Ken Burns Channel 9 special as an expert on Prohibition. “They were looking for an expert and Paul sent them to me. They never used me, but I knew they were working on a project. So I got this out and published on Oct. 1 — I beat Burns by one day. His project was out Oct. 2,” Frisino said.
Time to ‘jump in’
Frisino said said she chose to self-publish rather than submit to publishing houses because she felt the book was ready to be released immediately.
“It didn’t want it to sit on my shelf any longer,” she explained. “There was no time to solicit book publishers, and I felt confident enough about the history weaved through the story of ‘Whiskey Cove’ to jump in. If you’re going to swim or float, you have to get wet first.”
“Whiskey Cove” is already becoming a local favorite. At a recent reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, “Whiskey Cove” was already a staff pick. Employee Joyce Behncke said that the novel moves easily through different time periods, while remaining suspenseful, interesting, fast-moving and touching.
Frisino has another book reading scheduled for Jan. 21 at The Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., on Capitol Hill.
For more information, visit www.whiskeycovebook.com.[[In-content Ad]]