Showing posts with label Fast Bang Booze. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fast Bang Booze. Show all posts

23 August 2019

The Heart of Hollywood is in....Pasadena?


by Lawrence Maddox
Pasadena Playhouse alumnus Charles Bronson

I've always felt that the stars on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame are the biggest sightseer scam ever. I see the tourists get excited about finding their favorite celebrity's name on the sidewalk and all I can think is: rubes. Perhaps the best thing about the Walk of Fame is the Kinks' song Celluloid Heroes. It's a little maudlin, but Ray Davies gets to the hollowed-out heart of stardom in his infectious way.

The foot and handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater, located near Hollywood and La Brea, make more sense as a tourist draw. They're an actual artifact of the glory days of Hollywood, like those cigarette lighter ports in cars (now used as power sockets) are remnants of the glory days of smoking.   You place your hand in the cement print of Humphrey Bogart or Judy Garland, and with enough imagination and movie magic, you're shaking hands with yesterday.  It's kind of neat, but it's a half hour diversion, tops. A bigger diversion are the "actors" dressed up as action heroes or old time movie stars that hang around the Chinese, offering to pose for photos. If you snap a selfie with one in the vicinity, they will hunt you down until you fork over some cash.

Besides Grauman's, what else does Hollywood have to offer? Paramount is on Melrose, southeast of of Grauman's. If you're a tourist hoping to hang out on a movie set, good luck getting past the gate. Disney, Universal and Warners are all out in the San Fernando Valley, north of Hollywood. Fox and Sony (formerly MGM) are a traffic-jammed trip to the westside. Besides the Universal Tour, the studios are busy places of hustling crews working long hours. Editors are locked in their windowless rooms pouring over hours of dailies. Gawking tourists looking for selfies aren't welcome.

The original Brown Derby ca 1968. RIP. 
The powers that run Hollywood-land  have gleefully torn down its past in favor of strip malls and parking lots. The Hollywood Hotel, built in 1902, stood at Hollywood and Highland. It was demolished fifty years later. It's said the stars on its ballroom ceiling were the inspiration for the Walk of Fame. The Garden of Allah Hotel, party central for writers like Fitzgerald & Hemingway, and actors like Bogart & Bacall, was torn down in '59.  The iconic Brown Derby, south of Hollywood on Wilshire, was a world-famous tinsel town symbol. Lucy met William Holden there in an I Love Lucy episode. It bit the dust in 1980. Schwab's Drugstore, where Lana Turner was supposedly discovered, was leveled in the late '80s. The Cinerama Dome and the Hollywood sign have been on the chopping block, but both we're saved by massive public campaigns.

An original postcard from The Formosa Cafe.
The Maddox Archives.
Greed wins out over history in Hollywood, and it burns those of us who grew up loving not only the movies, but also the historical hang-outs that catered to show biz. I used to frequent  the Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard in the '90s. The Formosa was a cozy asian-themed bar that officially dates back to 1939, but the owner claimed pre-dated prohibition. A bartender named Lindy Brewerton had worked there since the 1950s, and he regaled patrons with tales of the drinking habits of movie stars. He told us of John Wayne's whiskey binges, and how Dean Martin would deliver his alimony checks there. Elvis tipped a Formosa waitress with a Cadillac.  When the original owner died, the place was gutted. A tacky second story was added, along with a techno vibe.  It was a typically short-sighted Hollywood move that failed. After that it pained me just to drive by the place.

Twelve miles east of the hype is Pasadena. When Hollywood Boulevard was a dirt street and America's only movie studio was in New Jersey,  Pasadena was a vacation spot for wealthy east-coasters who wanted to soak up some rays during the winter. With them came vast vainglorious mansions and a deep turn-of-the-century thirst for culture.

The Pasadena Playhouse was built in 1925, two years before the Chinese Theater. It was such a big hit that Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw called the Playhouse the "Athens of the West."  Authors such as Eugene O'Neil and Tennessee Williams had world premieres there. When talkies became the rage in the 1920s, Hollywood needed a place where actors could learn to "speak." Twenty-four students enrolled in the first class in 1928.

The Pasadena Playhouse awaits.
The Pasadena Playhouse really hit its stride when it became a college of theatre arts. Tyrone Power took classes there in 1932.  TV Superman George Reeves was a local kid who interned at the Playhouse before his supporting role on Gone With the Wind.  Dana Andrews hitchhiked from Texas to California to become a star. He was a Playhouse darling before hitting it big in films like Laura. Carolyn Jones, another Texan, dreamed of joining the Playhouse when in high school. She made it in 1947, and went on to become a unique screen presence in films such as The Big Heat and Career. Most remember her as Morticia Addams in TV's The Addams Family.

Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman became fast friends while studying at the Playhouse in 1957. Hackman was voted least likely to succeed, and he moved to New York to prove the Playhouse wrong. Hoffman soon followed, as did Robert Duvall, who moved to New York to study with Randall Meisner after serving in the Army. The trio became the epicenter of a group of actors who were just a few years away from taking Hollywood by storm.

The Mechanic-Bronson at his detached best.
Perhaps my favorite Playhouse alum is Charles Bronson. After serving in the Air Force during World War Two (he earned a Purple Heart), Bronson moved to upstate New York. He picked onions, studied art, and even joined the local bakers union. Nothing seemed to fit, so he moved to NYC to study acting. When Roger Ebert asked Bronson why he chose acting, he said, "It seemed like an easy way to make money...I had nothing to lose."

Bronson left New York for the Pasadena Playhouse, where he took classes and acted in several plays. Steady work soon followed. In 1951 he landed a role in the Gary Cooper film You're in the Navy Now.  Two years later he joined fellow Playhouse alum Carolyn Jones in the Vincent Price horror-hit  House of Wax. Bronson starred in a slew of classic movies, including The Dirty DozenOnce Upon a Time in the West, and Hard Times. My favorite Bronson film might be The Mechanic, where he plays an expert hit man who takes on an apprentice.

Inside the Pasadena Playhouse.
If I mentioned that Eve Arden, Leonard Nimoy and Nick Nolte were also Playhouse players, I'd still be scratching the surface. Okay, William Holden was one too. Still surface scratching. The Pasadena Playhouse went bankrupt in 1975 and was shuttered. You're probably thinking, "What a bummer. I bet they tore it down to build a plush new parking lot." Dig this. The city of Pasadena bought the building and held onto it for seventeen years until in reopened in 1986. Unlike Hollywood, Pasadena takes pains to protect its history. It's not perfect, but it tries. Pasadena is a mecca for lovers of old-time LA, Greene and Greene architecture, and craftsman bungalows. The Pasadena Playhouse is a thriving part of Pasadena today.

If you find yourself standing over John Tesh's star on Hollywood Boulevard and you have that cold clammy feeling that you've been scammed, jump on the 134 East towards Pasadena and its famous Playhouse. There's plenty of street parking. Across the street from the Playhouse is Vroman's Bookstore, where I've had the good fortune to attend readings held by literary heavyweights like Frank McCourt and James Ellroy.  On the way to Pasadena is Eagle Rock, where Dragnet's Frank Gannon fictionally lived, and where some of the action of Fast Bang Booze goes down. Stop at the family-owned Casa Bianca for pizza. Steve McQueen ate there.

My latest novel is Fast Bang Booze, from Down & Out Books. The sequel is coming soon.

02 August 2019

Dark Duet, Eric Beetner's Deadly Double Feature + Interview


by Lawrence Maddox

Eric Beetner's Dark Duet (released last month by All Due Respect) is a two-novelette excursion to Bishop, a small midwestern town where the strong prey on the weak and violence erupts without warning.  It's John Mellencamp's Small Town re-imagined by GG Allin. It's Mayberry with Sam Peckinpah at the helm.

The first novelette, the previously published White Hot Pistol, veers from dark to pitch black. It's a superbly written tale of small town dystopia and family chaos, where the violence careens from gunplay to sexual mayhem.

Prodigal son Nash has come back to Bishop, "a speck on a map, a town full of dead ends," to rescue his teenaged stepsister Jacy from a horribly abusive home. Their stepfather Brian Thorpe is a sociopathic sexual predator who happens to be the town Sheriff.  On their way out of town, Nash and Jacy have a deadly encounter with a meth head that, like nuclear fallout, spreads menacingly fast. Soon the town's psycho drug lord wants them dead.  Brian will stop at nothing to keep his dirty secrets hidden, but his step children prove remarkably resilient. The body count is high, and the action sequences are dynamite. Everything builds to a bullet-riddled showdown where the outcome is always in doubt.

Author Eric Beetner
Photo by Mark Krajnak
We're back in Bishop for the suspenseful Blood on Their HandsThree high school friends, Garret, Trip and Kyle, break into the local Smart Mart to steal beer and junk food. When the owners, brothers Rafael and Troy, show up unexpectedly, juvenile hijinks turn into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Garret's dad Hank Sutherland is the new Sheriff (he was a well-meaning deputy in White Hot Pistol), but he's too preoccupied with spying on his cheating wife to be much help. Garret decides to turn the tables on his attackers, but things spin out of control for the Sutherland family.

Bishop is Beetner country. When Eric's not prowling its dangerous streets he (along with Steve Lauden) is promoting other writers via the Writer Types podcast, as well as the LA chapter of Noir at the Bar. Eric also designs book covers. Did I mention he edits TV shows too?  I felt guilty for drawing Eric away from his many endeavors to answer a few questions, but he happily obliged.

Lawrence Maddox: Your last novel All the Way Down is a tale of big city crime, while Bishop in Dark Duet is "a speck on a map." How does setting dictate what kind of story you write?

Eric Beetner: I tend to write more about fictional places than real ones. I don't like to be bogged down by getting all the specifics right or deal with the readers who will tell you when you got it wrong, even if it was in service of the story. So I make up places or set stories in totally unnamed places, like in All the Way Down.

Now rural or urban I don't differentiate much between. It does dictate the characters in the story and the characters set the tone. Different people live in a small midwestern town versus a big city. You don't need to look any further than our increasingly divided country to see the stark difference. So I think setting will set the tone for who populates the book you're willing to write and everything else flows from there.

LM: I love Bill Crider's quote about you, saying that if you were writing in the '50s you "could've had a nice career writing for Gold Medal or Dell First Editiion." I remember spotting you buying paperbacks at Glendale's Vintage Paperback Collector's Show a few years back. Are you influenced by the prolific paperback crime and adventure novelists of the '50s through the '80s?

EB: That quote from Bill is my favorite, and man, I miss him. But yes, I try to read a fair amount of classic or vintage books each year. I don't love everything, just as I don't love everything contemporary I read, but I've found some of my absolute favorite books in vintage reads. Some of those writers were so inventive. Look at a writer like Lionel White and you see such a diversity in his plot lines and every one of them works. I've never read a book of his I haven't really loved. Same with Charles Williams. If your a fan of crime fiction I think Hell Hath No Fury (later renamed Hot Spot after the movie) is a must-read. Then he wrote a bunch about his passion for boats and came out with stone classics Dead CalmAground, and Scorpion Reef.

Too many people only know the run-of-the-mill detective novels from the past and series like Perry Mason or The Saint, which aren't that inventive and not that different from contemporary mysteries. But if you think writers in the '40s and the '50s didn't do edgy hardboiled you clearly haven't read something like Fool's Gold by Delores Hutchins, or Do Evil in Return by Margaret Millar.

LM: Chris Rhatigan recently wrote a piece about your ability to create great action sequences. I find your action very cinematic. Do movies influence the way you think about writing?

I was so flattered when Chris chose one of my scenes for that piece. Movies are the basis for my writing DNA. I never set out to write novels. I wrote screenplays for years and went to film school, work in the biz, all that stuff that feeds how my brain is hardwired to a cinematic story sense. It's why I tend to write shorter novels, why I tend to read shorter novels too.

Just a sampling of Eric Beetner's original
screenplays. Are you reading this, Netflix?
We've all seen stories told in two hours or under that are fully realized and resonant stories that stuck with people for years and in many ways change their lives. Movies have shown that a story can be efficient and tight and still have a deep impact. I try to bring that to my novels. And if you're writing action your job as a novelist is to get the reader to see it in their heads. That's a movie! All you're doing is writing it with enough detail and clear, easy to follow action that the reader can play director.

And get out of here with that tired old "the book was better" crap. They're different. And frankly if you love a book I don't know why you'd go see the movie anyway. You already know the story and you know it all can't be in there. So let's let that old trope die out, can we?

Since you and I are both editors we know how important clarity and good geography are. Knowing who is where and who is talking and not interrupting the flow by writing a line or leaving out a detail that trips up the reader even for a second or the spell is broken. It's why what we do is such a valuable skill for writing. We're all about maintaining pace and knowing when to speed up or slow down, when to inject some humor to diffuse tension. We know how to work the difference between shock and suspense.

All those skills I use in my day job I find incredibly useful when I'm writing, and especially in action scenes. And with editing, I think one really valuable lesson is that sometimes the best way to fix a problem with a scene is to eliminate something. A little judicious trimming can work wonders.

LM: As a fellow TV editor I can attest to the long hours and the mental drain that can be a part of the gig. How have you made it compatible with writing?

Eric Beetner at work. Without Eric's expert editing, Fear Factor 
would've been just another show about eating bugs.
EB: People often ask me how I can be so prolific with a full-time job and two kids and the podcast, and, and...

It's true that our job uses so much of the same parts of the brain that it's not like we're on the assembly line all day and waiting to get home and use our right brain when we write.  We're draining those batteries all day long. It does impact the way I write. When I sit down I have about an hour to 90 minutes in me. I usually start around 11 at night. So there's also physical fatigue in there as well.

But you make yourself do it. It's like an athlete at that point. You gotta get in the gym, no excuses. But I've found that even when I have time off and can write during the day and get to pretend what it would be like if I were a full-time writer, I can go about 60-90 minutes and then I'm drained. I can get up, walk away for a few hours and come back and do it again and then again at night and get a ton written in a day, but I marvel at those people who say they sit for 5-6 hours at a stretch. I couldn't do that. Part of me also doubts if they're really writing that whole time.

LM: What's next for Eric Beetner?

EB: I have another novel, Two in The Head, out next January and it's a wild one. Very different. Very Hollywood ready, if anyone is out there taking pitches. I also have a novella in the Grifter's Song series that will be out next year and a novella in the Guns & Tacos also out in 2020. A few short stories in anthologies. Beyond that I might lay low for awhile. I'm on the hunt for a new agent (call me!) and looking to see what I can do to switch thing sup since I've been poised for a breakout for years now and it hasn't happened yet.

It's hard to talk about the set backs in a writing career without seeming like you're complaining, but it has been a rough few years of one step forward, two steps back. There have been incredible artistically satisfying moments for me and I've been proud of all the work I've done, but facts are facts and I just don't sell very many books. So I'm working on what that next step is because if I hear one more time I'm "on the verge" or that this "next one is the breakout" or if I end up on another list of "best writers you've never heard of" I'll drive off a cliff.

All that said, I have about a dozen ideas fleshed out and outlined that I want to write. I've written three TV pilots I'd love to get into some hands. I'll continue to do the podcast, Writer Types. I'm sure my version of slowing down will seem odd to others.

Care to catch the last Greyhound to Bishop? Book your one way ticket at www.EricBeetner.com. 



I'm Lawrence Maddox and my latest novella is Fast Bang Booze. My Name is Earl creator Greg Garcia liked Fast Bang Booze's "incredible attention to detail and humor." Our resident Sleuthsayer Paul Marks called Fast Bang Booze "a noir fever dream that shoots out of the station like a bullet."  Publishers Weekly said "Fans of offbeat noir will have fun." I'm currently working on the sequel. Available from Shogun Honey.

I thought Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was great, maybe Tarantino's best.  Care to discuss? Find me on Twitter, LawrenceMaddox@madxbooks; Facebook.com/lmaddox; or drop me a line at lawrencemddx@yahoo.com.

25 January 2019

The Earl Javorsky Interview / Stop Meddling in My Genre Part 2


by Lawrence Maddox

Let's get clear on my condition. I don't know what it is, but I know what it is not.  I am not a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghost. I'm not a thousand years old, I have no superpowers, and I've never been a hero. What I do have is a broken life, a broken family, and, so far, an inexplicable inoculation against dying.  

Author Earl Javorsky
That's Los Angeles PI Charlie Miner explaining the inexplicable in Earl Javorsky's Down to No Good (2017), the second and latest installment in Earl's multi-faceted genre-bending series about an un-killable sleuth who can't kick his addiction to heroin–or life. It also reads like a Who's Who of cross-over character-types who have been ripped from the fantasy and horror genres and placed in the nuts-and-bolts world of crime fiction. In Part 1 (from Jan 3rd) I preached that mixing genres got its start in Pulp magazines, where brilliant, genre-defining authors like Dashiell Hammett, H.P. Lovecraft and Phillip K. Dick cut their teeth, and culminated with popular Pulp characters like The Shadow and Doc Savage. These Pulp heroes combined elements of crime, horror, sci-fi, romance, and you-name-it in a cross-pollination of Promethean Pulp parentage. The above passage from Down to No Good stakes out  Charlie Miner's rightful place among the best of these hybrids. It's also telling the other cross genre characters to step aside (I'm talking to you, Joe Pitt. You got something to say, Harry Dresden? You looking at me, Batman?), because there's a brand new character on the scene who's kicking it up a notch.

Before Charlie Miner became indestructible, he was a PI who worked mundane fraud cases for insurance companies. He was also a hopelessly addicted junkie. Desperate to kick his heroin habit, Charlie tries out the Second Chance at Life clinic, illegal in the US and located "somewhere south of Juarez." Their cure, a ritualistic use of ibogaine and other psychotropic drugs, gives Charlie an out-of-body experience but unfortunately leaves his addiction intact.  Back home and working a case, Charlie is shot in the head, stone-cold murdered, while riding his bike home.

Charlie wakes up on a gurney in the morgue, disembodied like he was during his Mexican drug cure.  "I roamed around the room," Charlie explains at the start of Down Solo (2014), "light as a whisper, fast as a thought."  Charlie discovers he's not only impervious to death, but he can astral project at will. This comes in handy when he wants to spy on people. Charlie also has a mysterious spirit guide named Daniel who helps Charlie skate the thin edge between life and death.

With a bullet in his brain, Charlie is understandably foggy on the details of his death. In Down Solo, Charlie seeks out his killer. A kidnapped daughter, lethal con men, and a frightening vision of death itself await in a hard boiled detective yarn that effortlessly doubles as a supernatural thriller.  Charlie wakes up dead once more in Down to No Good. This time Charlie, along with Homicide Detective  Dave Putnam, must stop the apocalyptic vision of a murderous psychic from coming true.

The metaphysical is another ingredient in the Charlie Miner stew, and I see visionary fiction as an influence. It's a gutsy amalgam,  clearly the work of an author who has read widely, and Earl Javorsky makes it look easy.  Earl generously agreed to discuss how he did it.

Lawrence Maddox: Can you talk about your reading life?

Some of Earl's favorite comic books.
Courtesy of The Maddox Archives.
Earl Javorsky: I fell in love with kids' classics around seven: Doctor Doolittle, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, then Treasure Island and Kidnapped. After that I discovered my dad's stash of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Fantasy and Science Fiction and I was hooked. I was also addicted to comic books. My friend had a basement full of boxes of old DC and Marvel comics. My favorites were Dr. StrangeHouse of Mystery, ROM Spaceknight, and The Silver Surfer.

In high school and college I went through my elitist phase and read stuff like Antonin Artaud and Sartre, followed by an about-face with Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. Randomly, Chandler, Graham Greene, Elmore Leonard, Iain Pears, Walter Mosely, and Ursula K. Le Guin come to mind, but that leaves out so many writers whose work I love. Somehow I digested all of this strange brew and came up with Charlie Miner.

LM: What are the beginnings of Charlie Miner?

EJ:  The premise, which just spilled out of my brain on its own, was so foreign to me that I didn't know how to proceed after the first paragraph, which went like this:

They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven't been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix. It doesn't make sense; my blood isn't even circulating, but it's the process I crave–copping, cooking, tying off, finding a vein, the slow, steady pressure of thumb on plunger, and now it's my first order of business. 

Okay, clearly a throwaway idea. Who cares about dead junkies? And if he's dead, how do we account for him narrating? At best, I had a sketch for a story that would appeal to a very narrow slice of the general readership. But then the character's predicament stuck with me. How did he get that way? Maybe he had been murdered. Hmmm...Maybe he was a private eye. On a case. A case that got him killed. A detective story! A noir gumshoe tale, where the gumshoe has to solve his own murder. Noir, as in dark, and what could be darker than death?

LM:  Did you have reservations about mixing genres?

EJ: Genre bending can be risky and exciting–for the reader as well as the writer. The questions for both, I suppose, are: Does it work? Does it pay off? When my first book came out, I wrote to my editor, saying "I'm aware that my combination of hard-boiled plus supernatural is a possible turnoff to both camps, thus a potential marketing problem. I'm thinking that 'drug noir with a metaphysical twist' might be a way to spin it–unless you have thoughts to the contrary."

Lou wrote back succinctly with "I'm not convinced that 'drug noir' is a way to sell anything, at least to a mainstream audience. I actually think the hard-boiled/supernatural angle makes Down Solo distinctive. We're not planning to shirk from it."

LM: Are you reading any genre-mixing fiction right now?

EJ: One of my favorite books in the last few years is Michael Gruber's Tropic of Night.  This detective thriller involves Siberian shamanism. Yoruba sorcery, powerful psychotropic agents, and ritual murder. It takes us from Miami to Africa and back, delving anthropology, ethnography and madness as we try to unravel, along with Detective Jimmy Paz, the mystery of a serial killer of pregnant women.  There are passages that test the limits of the psychological and take us into the spooky realm of darker possibilities than we admit to in normal life. Is this a transgression, a violation of a genre boundary? If so, it is done so compellingly that I welcome it at every juncture.

Alternatively, all the strangeness might simply be a matter of altered perception: smoke and mirrors and a few hallucinogenic powders sprinkled into the atmosphere, skewing reality for our protagonist.  Tropic of Night teases the edge between the world as we know it and the supernatural and keeps a tight grip  on the reader's attention without requiring a leap of faith or even suspension of disbelief.


Here are some other great genre mash-ups: Gabino Iglesias' Zero Saints; T.E. Grau's I Am the River; and, of course, Lawrence Maddox's Fast Bang Booze.





Earl Javorsky is also the author of the suspense novel Trust Me.  To learn more about Earl Javorsky,  stop by EarlJavorsky.Com.





Come enjoy libations and watch the Superbowl! The Superbowl of Crime Fiction, that is. Join me this February 3rd as I, along with Gray Basnight, Eric Beetner, Samuel Gailey, Nadine Nettman, Tom Pitts, and Wendall Thomas read from our works at the Los Angeles Noir at the Bar. No refs, no replays, no over/under regrets.
7 PM Mandrake 2692 South La Cienega

14 December 2018

Fleshing Out The Past


Ladies and gents, we are delighted to introduce our newest SleuthSayer. Lawrence Maddox will be appearing every third Friday, and we are delighted.

I met Lawrence at Bouchercon in Long Beach years ago and we hit it off. His gripping and eccentric stories have appeared in 44 Caliber FunkandOrange County Noir. He scripted the Hong Kong kickboxing flick RAW TARGET andthe indie musical OPEN HOUSE (and how often have you read about those two genres in the same sentence?). PUBLISHERS WEEKLY called his FAST BANG BOOZE (published earlier this year by Shotgun Honey),"offbeat noir." I called it "a wild ride."Please give Larry a warm SleuthSayers welcome! - Robert Lopresti

FLESHING OUT THE PAST

by Lawrence Maddox


Ian Fleming once surprised a Polynesian dancer by reaching out and touching her while she was performing. It’s not noted where, exactly, he touched her. As for why: he was doing research. Through travel, research, and first-hand knowledge, Fleming loaded his Bond novels with sumptuous detail. He was one of the first authors to use actual product names in his fiction. Fleming was a master at describing the world he lived in, but what are the tools an author uses to flesh out the past when, unlike Fleming’s dancer, it’s no longer there for one to touch? I asked crime fiction authors Christa Faust, Robert Lopresti and Paul D. Marks how they brought the once-was into the right-now.

Before New York’s Times Square was cleaned up in the 1990s, it was a sleazy and dangerous place. Travis Bickle’s “All the animals come out at night” monologue from Taxi Driver sums it up. Christa Faust, Gary Phillips (and artist Andrea Camerini) faithfully recreate Times Square, circa 1986, in their thrilling graphic crime comic Peepland (Titan Comics, collected as a paperback, 2017). Roxy Bell is a Times Square peepshow worker, performing one-woman sex shows behind a glass window. Powerful forces will stop at nothing to retrieve a criminally incriminating VHS tape that has fallen into her hands.


“Peepland is based on my own lived experience as a kid growing up in Hell's Kitchen and as a young woman working in the Times Square peep booths,” Christa says. I consider the rich and authentic rendering of Times Square, and ask Christa if she needed to do any research for Peepland. “No research was necessary, just memories.” In an interview with Crime Fiction Lover, Christa explained that “all of the characters are based on real people I met while working in the peep booths. The central main character Roxy Bell is definitely semi-autobiographical.” In the same interview, Christa succinctly said why memories of Times Square were all she needed to create Peepland: “It’s in my blood.”

Roughly two miles away and two decades earlier, Greenwich Village was the epicenter of American folk music, a movement in sound that put political dissent on the airwaves. In Robert Lopresti’s evocative murder mystery Such a Killing Crime (Kearney Street Books, 2005), coffeehouse manager and war vet Joe Talley sifts through the many characters circling the folk revival scene in search of the murderer of his friend, an up-and-coming folk singer. Robert gives a sightseeing tour down MacDougal Street, detailing the people and points of interest along the way. Folksinger Tom Paxton, who makes a cameo, said of Robert’s writing, “If I'd known he was watching us all so carefully, I'd have behaved much better.”


I ask Robert how he brought 1963 Greenwich Village back to life. “Since I’m a librarian the obvious answer was research. That was more challenging than I expected because all the New York City newspapers were on strike that spring. The Village Voice was the main source of information.” Robert says he also spent hours at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library scouring the main folk rags of ‘63, Sing Out! and Broadside. Robert was after more than just facts in his research. “I got to interview several people I knew who lived in that time and place. That was partly to get facts but mostly to get feelings. What was it like? What did they remember the most vividly about that time? Then there was the matter of trying to think like an early sixties person. Women were ‘girls,’ whatever their age. Smoking in a hospital was perfectly normal.” I ask Robert if his research forced him to rethink past assumptions. “I was well into editing before an article in a recent newspaper pointed out that back in 1963 women were not allowed to drink in most bars in the city! After confirming that with a woman I know who went to school there I had to rewrite a whole lot of scenes. But part of the fun of the book is showing you this strange and distant culture.”


Paul D. Marks explores early 1990s Los Angeles in his two Duke Rogers private eye novels White Heat (Down & Out Books, re-issued 2018) and Broken Windows (Down & Out Books, 2018). In White Heat, Duke finds himself in the heart of the 1992 LA riots while investigating the death of an actress. Broken Windows, occurring two years later, has the Prop 187 battle over illegal immigration as the backdrop. Marks grew up in Los Angeles, and his Duke Rogers books explore how myth and memory are at odds with the often violent, seedy and corrupt LA that Duke encounters while plying his trade.

“The Internet, as well as memory, comes into play to try to get the reality of that time, but even with a good memory it’s wise to verify with multiple sources.” I ask him if there were any challenges recreating the not-so distant past. "In some ways it’s
almost harder to write that than something set in the more distant past.” Earlier in the 20th century “there were no cell phones, personal computers, answering machines or televisions at home. But all of that stuff existed in the ’90s, but in very different form than we have today. So, while someone might have had a cell phone it looked different and worked differently – some of the early ones were as big as walkie-talkies. Same with computers. So you have to be careful if you lived through that era not to transpose modern versions of the technology onto the tech of that day.”

I had similar issues with my novel Fast Bang Booze (Shotgun Honey, 2018), which takes place in the early 1990s as well. I had to rethink a lot of what I thought I remembered about cell phones from that period. A fun cell phone fact: the first commercially available handheld cell phone (made by Motorola) was nicknamed “The Brick,” and cell phones pretty much kept that design until smaller flip phones came along in the mid-nineties.


Paul D. Marks and I are both native multigenerational Angelenos, and we’ve had that “Do you remember” conversation a few times. LA, as well as being a sprawl, is also the kind of city that lets a legendary place like Schwab’s get torn down and be replaced by a Crunch Gym, so sometimes the landscape of our memories doesn’t overlap. When I’ve met fellow Angelenos and we realize that we’ve both been to the same forgotten dive bar or long-gone taco truck, there’s a bond. We belong to a dwindling club, and when the last of us shuffles off, it will be like a point in time and place has been wiped off the map.

When I wrote Fast Bang Booze, I wanted to impart what it felt like to be young, barhopping, and maybe a little out of control in the early ‘90s in LA. I just couldn’t do it all from memory, because my protagonist (a grungy twenty-something with a fantastically souped-up nervous system) is a fictional construct, and my tale is pure pulp. I had to do my research, which included buying old issues of LA Weekly and re-reading old diaries. Like Robert Lopresti, I even interviewed people. I wanted the facts and the feel.

I drove to Salt Lake City some years ago for a job. When I unlocked the door to my hotel room and stepped in, I was hit with the odor of cigarettes and Glade air freshener. It struck me in a way I still marvel at today. I would walk to my Grandmother’s house everyday from elementary school, and that was exactly how her place smelled. I swear for a moment I could picture all the objects in her living room, down to the glass fish statuette with the green tint. However briefly, I could feel the past. A piece of writing that can accomplish what Glade and cigarettes did for me, bringing the past alive, is powerful indeed.

17 April 2018

Editing, TV Style


by Lawrence Maddox

Paul here: 

Please make sure to scroll to the end (but I know you will ’cause you’ll have read the whole piece by Larry 😊), to see my announcement about SleuthSayers, the Derringers and other awards.

My pal Lawrence Maddox's background is in editing for various television shows, including Santa Clarita Diet, Raising Hope, and many more. His crime fiction has appeared in the anthologies 44 Caliber Funk and Orange County Noir. Larry scripted the Hong Kong kickboxing flick Raw Target and the indie musical Open House. His debut novella Fast Bang Booze (Shotgun Honey) debuted last month. 

I thought it might be interesting to see how Larry applied his visual editing background to his prose writing. So take it away, Larry:

***

“They want to publish Fast Bang Booze, but you’ll have to turn it into a novella. That’s twenty-five thousand words,” Gary Phillips said. “And they want it in the next couple weeks,” he added dubiously.

This was a great opportunity for me, but I wondered if I could cut my novel nearly in half without turning it into something I wouldn’t be proud of. At the time I was also working substantial hours editing a TV show, not to mention raising a family. Time would be tight. If I had any chance at coming out on top of this, I knew I ‘d have to fall back on a set of skills I’d been honing for years—maybe I could apply my skills as a television editor to the editing of my novel..

As a network TV editor, I’m tasked with building an episode scene-by-scene, following the script as I pick the angles and performances that best tell the story. I’ve worked in just about every genre, but my bread-and-butter are half hour single-camera comedies. They’re the hardest. They don’t just tell a story, they also tickle the funny bone (or try to). My shows (single-camera comedies) don’t have laugh tracks that tell you when the show is funny. I’m happy about that, too. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on multi-camera shows (I’m currently introducing my eight-year old to The Munsters—she loves it), and many of them still shine, decades later. But as I got older, I found that laugh tracks seemed 1984-ish, especially when the writing was clearly mediocre. It’s like Big Brother is telling you, “Everyone else thinks this crap is funny, why aren’t you laughing too?” Single camera comedies don’t have the crutch of the laugh track.

The shows I edit are like carefully constructed mini-movies with three acts and multiple jokes per page. There are no pauses for live audience laughter. You know it’s funny because you’re not searching for your remote control in that pesky crevice in the couch. And humor moves. Pace is king and that’s something I definitely applied to my novella: pace—keep it moving.

While the show is being shot, usually over the course of five days, I’m putting it together. It’s like assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle where every piece talks and reacts and forgets what their lines are. I’m not supposed to cut any dialogue when I’m doing the initial edit of the show, called the Editor’s Cut. I’m often dying to, but I get why I can’t. Those words represent big bucks, as well as hard fought battles in the writer’s room. Showrunners (writers usually) who are the main creative forces behind TV shows—don’t even like director’s taking dialogue out when it’s their turn to take a whack at their episode. When directors do their pass through the show after I turn over my cut, they inevitably turn to me in the edit room and ask, “Is the showrunner okay if I chop out dialogue to help get my episode to time?” I will usually respond, “Sure, if you don’t mind not getting hired back.” Then we carry on as if the conversation never happened, all dialogue left untouched, the auteur theory a burning, distant ember.  In TV, the writer is king and queen. Directors are hired guns who need to tread carefully where all things script-related are concerned or they could end up being “one-and-done.”

When the director leaves after their DGA-enforced two days with the editor are over, the showrunner finishes up with their own notes, as well as with notes from the studio and the network. If they don’t like what the director did in the editing room, they’ll often use the Editor’s Cut as their basis.  Now is the time when the elephant in the room takes a seat on the couch behind the Avid (the prevalent non-linear editing system used in TV and film), and begins to tap his Rolex. It’s get-the-show-to-time time. I should mention that many cable and streaming shows are a lot more loosey goosey with running times. While cutting Santa Clarita Diet, getting episodes to time is rarely an issue. I get to concentrate on the fun stuff, like the lovely and talented Drew Barrymore eating people.

Getting a show to time is the Jason Voorhees of network postproduction, the looming obstacle that faces every editor, over and over again. For a half-hour single camera comedy, “getting to time” means making sure an episode comes in at twenty-one and a half minutes. This timing differs from network to network, but not by much. The pilot I’m currently editing can’t come in over twenty-one minutes and twenty-two seconds. Episodes can come in a little shorter, but not a frame over. Remember at the beginning I told you that I start this process by building an episode scene by scene, closely following the script? What if that script is, say, thirty-two pages? At the minute-per-page standard calculation, we’re talking a thirty-two minute first cut. That’s ten whopping minutes—one third of the show—that needs to come out. That’s not editing, that’s liposuction.  And I don’t have all day. At this stage, they’ve already started filming my next episode. That means I’m back in dailies (shot footage), starting the process all over again. I’m finishing one episode and starting another. I have to act quickly.

My showrunner will come up with many of the trims, but they’re even busier than I am. They have to monitor what’s happening on set and in the writer’s room. Egos have to be massaged. Often, showrunners depend on the editor to come up with ways to take the time out of the episode without hurting it. So, when I’m in this position with my own fiction I ask myself the exact same questions I do when taking the excess baggage out of the shows I’m editing. Is this redundant? Do I have to keep this character beat or is this ground covered elsewhere? Have I over-stayed my welcome in this scene? TV editing has taught me the joys of being callous and bloodthirsty. Ruthlessness is called for. Babies are going to be killed. The editing room floor will be awash in punch lines and exposition, as will the outtakes in my novel, hopefully more of the latter than the former.

The through-line of the episode’s A-story should remain unscathed, which is also how I approach my prose. In TV editing I’ve had to be adept at juggling all the story lines as the episode shrinks. Many a B-story has been the victim of a subplot-ectomy in the service of getting an episode to time. When I did my Novella pass through Fast Bang Booze, I lost an entire B story (actually, it was more like a D-story) and no one was the wiser. It made the main story even stronger.

A pilot is the first episode in a proposed TV series. If the pilot doesn’t go well, the series is scrapped and the pilot never sees the light of day. The scripts for pilots inevitably come in over thirty pages, and cutting them down to time are high-pressure situations. The big fear is losing elements about the main character(s) that everyone loves. I’ve learned that this stage is an opportunity to refine the characters and make sure they are consistent. The pilot for Suburgatory had a lot of first person narration. As we whittled it down, the narration was re-written and improved until it was sharp as a one frame splice. Less really was more.

I have to see the big picture and also travel through an episode line by line. Every word is scrutinized in dialogue, and much of it is boiled down editorially to the bare bones. Excess verbiage is jettisoned, word-by-word, until the dialogue flies. I do this when I’m editing my own work. And when I’m done, the leanest, meanest version of the episode is infinitely better than its former self.

So when Gary threw down the novel-to-novella gauntlet, I didn’t freak out. I put on my edit room goggles and did what I do. Except this time, I was ruthless and mean for me, not for a network.  And it worked. I was amazed with how well it worked.

I should add that the original publisher I was writing for went belly up, but Eric Campbell and Ron Phillips of Down and Out Books and Shotgun Honey snatched up Fast Bang Booze, and it debuted March 23rd. If you’d like to see my criminal take on my under-the-gun profession, check out my story “Smotherage,” an extra bonus found at the back of my novella that details the pressure cooker world of editing TV pilots, and “Hot Moviola,” in the anthology 44 Caliber Funk (Moonstone), is about an editor caught in a world of intrigue in 1974 LA.

Keep on cutting!

***

Thanks for stopping by, Larry. Good luck with the book! And you can find Larry’s book here: Down & Out Books and Amazon.

***

And now for the usual BSP:

SleuthSayers Cleans Up:

Derringer Nominations have come out: (https://shortmystery.blogspot.com/2018/04/2018-derringer-award-finalists.html ). I want to congratulate all the finalists, including SleuthSayers’ own Elizabeth Zelvin "Flash Point,” from A Twist of Noir (March 20, 2017) and Robert Lopresti, “The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan," from Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #23, editor: Marvin Kaye, Wildside Press (October 2017).

My story “Windward” is also nominated in the novelette category, from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks, Down & Out Books (January 2017).

But the truly mind-blowing thing is that 4 stories from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea have been nominated: Mine, Andy McAleer’s, Matt Coyle’s and Robert Randisi’s. I’m truly amazed and honored for such a great showing from a terrific book. And many thanks to the Short Mystery Fiction Society:

Available at Amazon and Down & Out Books

And another SleuthSayers’ story, Art Taylor’s “A Necessary Ingredient” is nominated for an Agatha. SleuthSayer John Floyd’s “Gun Work” and my story “Windward” have been chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mysteries of 2018 by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler. – And I want to thank all of the authors who contributed stories to Coast to Coast. – So, like I said, mind blowing. And I’m thrilled to be part of it on various levels.

***

My Shamus-winning novel, White Heat, is being reissued in May by Down & Out Books. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is May 21, 2018:


Check out my website: www.PaulDMarks.com