Showing posts with label In a Lonely Place. Show all posts
Showing posts with label In a Lonely Place. Show all posts

12 December 2017

Early Clues That I Might Become a Crime Writer


by Paul D. Marks

Since we’ve been on fire watch this past week when I’d normally be writing my post I’ve been a little scattered, so I hope you don’t mind a not-so-instant replay (hey, the networks do it over the holidays) of something I did somewhere else some time back. I’m sorry for not having a totally fresh post today, but most of you probably haven’t seen it.

One of the fires was fairly close to us and when it crested the mountain to our side, well, it was a little hairy. Amy left work early and stayed home a couple days just in case we had to evacuate. And, besides the big fires, another one did break out in a barn near us. Luckily they got that out before it spread. But it’s always a little nerve-wracking when the Santa Anas are blowing. Raymond Chandler famously said of those devil winds in Red Wind:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

And because I won’t be posting here again until after the New Year, I want to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Terrific New Year. And thanks to Rob and Leigh, and the board, for hosting us here, and to all the SleuthSayers and everyone who’s come by to say hi and check things out.

So, here goes. Early warning signs that I would go down this wayward path:


Well, aside from the seven banks I robbed and my days as a benevolent hitman, sure, there were signs I might become a crime writer. But I was disappointed never to make it onto the FBI’s Top Ten.

And while the romance of being an outlaw is tempting, I think my temperament is better suited to that of “crime fighter” and crime writer. And not just because they rhyme.

I have a bit of a different take on how I came to be a crime writer. I was influenced by film noir and crime movies and later by the great writers from Hammett and Chandler on up. But because of certain things in my checkered past I think I’ve always had a strong sense of justice. And, while not getting involved in marches or crusades, I’ve tried in my own way to bring a little justice to this world on a micro level.

Someone who knew me well told me a long time ago that he thought I was like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but I’ll take it as one. As I tell my wife, who would rather avoid confrontation than fight, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but at least you have to stand up for yourself or others. And I don’t do this as much anymore. I guess I’ve mellowed with age and the sage advice of my wife. And also knowing that I can’t fight every battle.

At some point, I figured out one way that I could make justice prevail was to write about it. I think the below stories illustrate what I mean when I say I think I was born to be a crime fighter-writer.

Everything below has been abbreviated and abridged. Names changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

La Barbera’s/West LA:

clip_image002Many years ago (decades), my mother, grandmother and two brothers and I went to La Barbera’s (sadly no longer there) on Wilshire for dinner. Dad was out of town. We were seated in a booth. My youngest brother and me on one side of the booth. Mother, grandmother and middle brother on the other. The younger one was, well, young, squirming a little in the seat. The man in the next booth could feel him squirm through the seatbacks. He turned around and started yelling at my brother. Yelling and nasty! He finally turned around back to his companion. I didn’t like what he’d done so I started to mimic everything he said so he could hear it. I also started jamming my elbow into the back of the seat, so he could feel it on his side—yeah, I’m a little nuts, or used to be.

So he turned around, started yelling at my brother again. I said “I did it.” He didn’t respond, just turned away. But I couldn’t stop mimicking him. Well, to make a long story short, after some more back and forth, he ended up at our booth—pulling a knife on me. I had long hair and at that time it wasn’t cool with some people. And I thought everyone in the restaurant would de facto be on his side, especially the UCLA jocks sitting nearby on one side and a Marine in dress blues on another. But the jocks were on my side. One stood up and said, “I saw it, the guy pulled a knife on him [me].” And the Marine kept to himself. Eventually, we were moved to another side of the restaurant. Our original waitress came over to us, put her hand on my shoulder and thanked me for putting the guy in his place since he lived near the restaurant and came in every week with his sister causing trouble. But they couldn’t say anything since he was a customer. A couple other waitresses did the same. That made me feel good. But my mom and grandmother almost had heart attacks...

Dupar’s/Farmer’s Market:

clip_image004

Once again out to eat. With grandmother again and whole immediate family this time, dad included. Man in the next booth was yelling at his kid. Nasty. Deriding him for everything. Humiliating. Young kid, maybe around 5, 6, 7. As I say, because of my background things like this get my back up. “Why don’t you leave him alone?” I said. Uh oh! Paul’s at it again, the family thinks. Tell me to shut up. Nobody pulled a knife this time and the man’s wife finally got him to shut up. But I couldn’t help myself. And when it was over, nobody at my table said anything to me for some time. I guess they thought here goes crazy Paul again.

The Bus/Westwood:

A friend of mine and I were in Westwood which, at the time was a hub of activity. Crowded sidewalks. Lots of street traffic. A bus pulled up to a bus stop. An old man was running for it—“running” as best as he could. The bus driver saw him but didn’t wait. I was pissed. So I ran down to the next bus stop a block or two away, beating the bus by seconds—he was in traffic. When the driver opened the door I said “Why didn’t you wait for that old man?” The driver told me to “&#%*#@$ off” and drove off. I didn’t win that one, but maybe the next time the driver saw an old man running for his bus he would wait for him. Nah, not that guy. —And, of course, I’m abbreviating our conversation, but that’s what it amounted to.

The LAPD/West LA

I can honestly say that I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. After all, here I am.
According to some people, if the LAPD is known for one thing it's for being trigger happy, ready to bust people up. Well, I'm happy to be able to say that I'm one of the few people to have pulled a gun on two cops and lived to tell about.
* * *
I was living in a four unit apartment building in West LA, a good neighborhood. Three downstairs units, one upstairs unit. I lived in the upstairs unit and had a view of the front door to the middle apartment downstairs from the top of the outdoor stairs. The woman who lived there had been attacked by a guy who tried to rape her. Her face was black and blue from the first attack.

The first time it happened, I was in my apartment (the only upstairs unit in a four unit building) and heard yelling and screaming. I went outside. Sally’s (name changed) boyfriend said something about her being attacked and the guy was in the alley. Her boyfriend and I chased him down the alley. The police came out in force, including choppers that lit up the alley like daylight. But they didn’t’ catch the guy.

Every night after the first I would search her apartment for her when she came home from work, if her boyfriend wasn’t there. I'd let her sleep on my couch. And then she started staying at her boyfriend’s place off and on, so I asked her to let me know if the cops were going to stake out her apartment. She said she would.

clip_image006Then, one night I’m watching “In a Lonely Place” on the tube (one of my favorite movies) when I heard helicopter noises. I grabbed my politically incorrect pistol, headed to my front door. I opened the door slowly and headed out to the landing at the top of my stairs. I watched a chopper circle above. Then, two scuzzballs came out of Sally's apartment at the bottom of the stairs. Greasy long hair. Big mustaches. Dirty clothes. The bad guy and a friend?

This was one of those situations where you don't have time to think. You have to act.

"Hold it," I said, aiming near-point blank at them only a few yards below. I could have dropped them both before they had a chance to turn around. "Turn around, slowly."

It was just like in the movies.

They did as ordered. Turned s-l-o-w-l-y.

"We're the police," the scuzzier of the two said. "Put the gun away and go inside."

I asked for ID and he badged me, cautiously. That was good enough for me. I went inside. So much for a trigger happy LAPD, though I wouldn’t try this today. It’s a whole different world.

Back in my apartment, “In a Lonely Place” was still on. And then the reality hit. Jesus, they were cops. And I had pulled a gun on them. The movie droned in the background. It could have been anything as far as I was concerned. I was freaking out. Visions of SWAT teams surrounding my apartment flashed through my mind.

The thoughts grew larger. What should I do? Sally hadn’t told me the police were staking out her place, as she’d promised. Now I’d pulled a gun on two cops. I called her apartment. One of the cops answered.

"Are you the guy from upstairs with the gun?" he said.

"Yes," I said.

"Man, you really made me nervous."

Not as nervous as I was when I found out you were the cops, I thought, but didn't say. He was cool. They weren't going to bust me. I had, indeed, pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it.
Sally moved out not too long after that. And, shortly after that the Westside Rapist was caught a block away. Not sure if it was the same guy who attacked Sally, but I tend to think it was.

***
clip_image008

So there you have it. My crazy adventures seeking truth, justice and the American Way...and there’s more. But I guess that’s for another time. So when I started writing I naturally gravitated towards telling stories where the bad guys would get punished. What better genre to do that than crime writing. Of course, sometimes, especially in the noir genre, the bad guys don’t get caught, but then there is always the great hand of fate that I can bring down on them as I sit at my computer screen in my captain’s chair and steer my boat to exact revenge and justice in the world. …Okay, so I’m a little over the top but you get the idea.

I don’t do this much anymore – after all, someone might pull a gun on me. And I don’t think the bullets would bounce off my chest.

*** *** ***


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com



27 June 2017

A Day in the Life of a Writer – The Writing Life


by Paul D. Marks

Today I’m going to talk about A Day in the Life of a Writer. This Writer in particular, but to one degree or another I think much of what I have to say here will apply to most writers. And specifically I’m going to talk about the difference between what others think I do in a day and what I really do and the odd hours I keep.

(Note: Because of the limitations of Blogger, the screenplay format is not totally correct. Also, as this isn’t really a screenplay I’ve cheated and adapted the content for this post.)

Take 1 – The Life of the Writer – What Others Think I Do

FADE IN:


INT. LUXURIOUS BEDROOM – WRITER’S COUNTRY HOUSE – MOS – DAY

Sun streams in through whiter-than-white plantation shutters. A figure stirs under satin sheets. The WRITER sits up in bed, stretches. Rings a little bell and a breakfast of French toast and fresh-squeezed orange juice is brought to him by his ROBOT in a pristine white room with no clutter, little furniture and definitely no clothes strewn anywhere. It’s 1pm on the bedside clock.

Because his life is so perfect, he doesn’t need to go to the bathroom or brush his teeth. It all just magically happens.

He eats leisurely, under an original Edward Hopper painting. He peruses the papers on his tablet, the stock ticker scrolling by on the 75” TV. He smiles big. All is right with the world.


EXT. POOL/BACKYARD – WRITER’S HOUSE – DAY

Bright sun, reminiscent of the original Hockney hanging in the Writer’s office, beats down. The Writer swims laps in his Olympic-sized pool. Towels off, sipping a cool Harvey Wallbanger that his Robot made to perfection. He looks fit, relaxed. Tan. And has a full head of hair:

The Writer with a full head of hair.


INT. HOME OFFICE – A FEW MINUTES LATER

The Writer, dressed cool-casual, enters, his loyal and extremely well-behaved pooch Chandler trailing. He gives a quick nod to that original Hockney. Stands at his high tech Varidesk. Except for the ambient hum of computers and the Baroque music coming from his Echo, all is silent – the perfect atmosphere for writing.

He checks his e-mail. The phone remains silent. The sun spills in on him and Chandler. All is right with the world as he opens his novel’s file and hits the first key of the day.

The start of a perfect day.
                                                                                                                                         FADE OUT.
***

Take 2 – The Life of the Writer – What I Really Do

FADE IN:


INT. MIDDLE CLASS BEDROOM – WRITER’S HOUSE – DAY

Sun streams in through the formerly whiter-than-white blinds. A figure stirs under an old threadbare comforter. The WRITER sits up in bed. He wipes sleep from his eyes. It’s 1pm on the bedside clock.

WRITER
                                                           Oh shit!

He jumps out of bed, jams on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. Says good morning to his dog, Pepper, sleeping in the corner of the room. Pepper barely stirs. Walks into the


BATHROOM

where he cleans up quickly. Heads back into the


BEDROOM

Tries to get Pepper up. She’s having no part of it. He grabs her collar off the dresser.

WRITER
C’mon, Pepper. Let’s hit the road.

She finally gets up. He puts her collar on. Opens the bedroom door.


BUSTER,

his other dog, charges in like a herd of wild elephants.

WRITER
Calm down, Buster. G’morning.

Buster, a very large German Shepherd, leans into the Writer, nearly knocking him over with love, while Pepper leans into Buster. The Writer tries to keep his balance. He heads down the


HALL

followed by, uh, following the dogs. They head

OUTSIDE

so the dogs can do their business.


INT. HOME OFFICE – A WHILE LATER

The Writer enters, followed by Buster and Pepper. He nods to the framed Beatle albums and lobby cards of In a Lonely Place, The Big Sleep and others. He tries to sit at his computer desk, but it’s almost impossible as the dogs are laying so close he can hardly pull his chair out. He finally “rearranges” them, sits at the computer, opens his file and hits the first key.

Buster hangin' in the office, taking up as
much space as he damn well pleases ;-) .




THE TELEPHONE RINGS

He looks at the Caller ID – “OUT OF AREA”

WRITER
Telemarketer.

He turns back to the computer. From the look on his face we see a great idea has hit him. He starts to type. THE TELEPHONE RINGS AGAIN – ANOTHER TELEMARKETER. 

From the rage on his face it’s clear he’s forgotten his great idea. He picks up the phone. No one’s there. SLAMS it down.

WRITER
Damn telemarketers.

He starts to type again. The phone rings. It’s his friend, who always expects him to be home and available and assumes he’s avoiding calls…which he is. He ignores the call. He starts to type again. We HEAR A CHIME – a new e-mail has just come in. A DIFFERENT CHIME – someone’s commented on Facebook. And the Writer, doing his best imitation of one of Pavlov’s dogs, must answer the chime. It cannot be ignored.

WRITER
Better check that out.
      (pause)
Oh, a cute cat video.

He hits play on the video.

WRITER
And a gorilla dancing to Maniac from Flashdance.

He’s about to hit play when THE DOORBELL RINGS (O.S.).

Buster and Pepper BARK up a storm. The Writer puts his hands to his ears.


INT. ENTRY HALL

The dogs charge in, ready to smash the door down. The Writer follows. He opens the front door to see the UPS truck drive off and a package at his feet. He brings it in. What could it be? Maybe it’s a gift from an anonymous fan? Opens it. It’s for the neighbor.


INT. HOME OFFICE – LATER

The Writer busily writes – for all of two minutes – as we see via the wall clock. He searches the net – sees a link.

WRITER
That’s interesting.

He starts hopping from link to link – doing RESEACH. For two hours – as we see on the wall clock. He returns to his manuscript, types one sentence. Stands. Stretches. Exits.

The Writer's Office -- complete with former assistant. Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. But he was a great assistant.


INT. KITCHEN

He opens the fridge. Looks around. Slams the door. Goes into he


GARAGE,

grabs some Cokes and returns to the


KITCHEN

Puts them in the fridge. Opens one. Notices mounds of dog fur everywhere. Grabs a broom. Sweeps the fur into a huge pile. Plops it into the waste basket. The dogs are at the back door. He goes



OUTSIDE

with them. They do their business. He cleans it. They frolic. He weeds, then waters the outside plants.

Pepper (left) & Buster


INT. HOME OFFICE

The Writer enters, with dogs. He sits at his computer with his warm Coke. He’s just about to start writing – more telemarketer calls. He doesn’t answer but they interrupt his flow.

The phone quiets. He’s about to write. The computer stops responding. There’s 1001 updates.

WRITER
Damn updates.

He downloads said updates. Waits forty-five minutes for them to download and install – we can tell by the clock on the wall.

Time to check the mail.


EXT. HOUSE

The Writer opens the mailbox.

WRITER
I’m sure there’ll be twenty royalty
 checks and a film contract to sign.

He grabs the mail. Bills. And junk mail.

WRITER
I must’ve been dreaming.


INT. KITCHEN

Writer returns. Plops the bills on the counter. Sees the drooping plants. Waters the inside plants.


INT. OFFICE

The Writer enters. Sits at his desk – it’s an hour after he left the office. Where did the time go? He’s just about to start writing – when HE HEARS HIS WIFE, AMY, ENTER (O.S.). DOGS GO NUTS.


MONTAGE: The Writer, Amy, the dogs. Everyone eats. Watch TV. Amy goes to bed.


INT. OFFICE – LATER THAT NIGHT

The Writer enters. It’s quiet. He sits at his desk. Shakes out his hands. Limbers his fingers. Starts writing the Great American Novel from 11pm till 3am – we can tell from the clock on the wall. The Writer does other things till about 6 or 7am, then finally goes to sleep.

And now you know why the Writer keeps such strange hours.

FADE OUT.
***
Take 3

Take 1 is sort of my idealized day. Take 2 is more like my real day, though fictionalized just a little. My comforter really isn’t threadbare. In reality, I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t have to have a day job and when I did it was writing. But the reality also is that my romanticized writer’s life isn’t exactly what we might see in the movies. I do live in a semi-rural area so it’s relatively quiet here, though we live in a canyon so huge double dump trucks go by as there’s a mine up the road. But there’s also a farm and we go there to buy peaches or whatever happens to be in season. Unfortunately, it’s for sale and I hope they don’t turn it into a housing development – Ahhhhhhhh! We also have our own peach tree. And it makes peaches too, lots of them. But the birds always seem to get them before we do.

I do get up around 1pm. Now that sounds pretty “luxurious” except that I go to bed around 7am, give or take. So I don’t really sleep any more than anyone else I just do it at a different time. I do get up and take the dogs outside. Then I usually come back in and have lunch (or breakfast). Do some Facebooking and try to get some work done. The phone does interrupt, mostly telemarketers. It’s gotten so that I almost never answer the phone anymore, even with Caller ID. And even when we had Privacy Manager that was supposed to block telemarketers, most of them got through. I used to love yelling at them or toying with them, but that’s sort of lost its sparkle, so now I just don’t answer the phone.

And since I work at home people expect that I have all the time in the world to talk to them. I have certain friends and family who think I’m available – or should be – any time of the day and night. And some get insulted because they assume I’m here but not picking up. They’re often right. They also assume that I’m watching TV and drinking beer, just having swell time. They’re wrong. It’s not like that. But just like you might be working a job in an office, I’m working a job here and don’t want to be interrupted.

I don’t give out my cell number. The only people who have it are Amy and my mom, and since my mom died a while back I don’t think she’ll be calling, but if she does I’ll let the answering machine pick up... If it’s important she’ll call back. And Amy knows my sleep schedule. So if she calls it has to be an emergency – like wildfire that she’s calling to tell me about. We’ve had to evacuate three times and came close another two. That’s a call I’ll take, but I’d rather it didn’t happen.

So there you have it. My day is a work day, like anyone who goes to an office. My office is just a shorter distance down the hall. And I’m disciplined if I don’t get too many interruptions… What about you? What’s your Writer’s Reality vs. what others think it is?

                                                                                                                           FADE TO BLACK.
###

And now for the usual BSP:

28 June 2016

Sometimes The Movie Is Better Than The Book – Case Study: In A Lonely Place


by Paul D. Marks


A classic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, based on a book by Dorothy B. Hughes. In a Lonely Place is one of my favorite film noirs. Hell, it’s one of my favorite movies of any genre. But there are two In a Lonely Places. The book and the movie. Some people are fans of both. Others fans of one or the other. I’m the other. I’m a much bigger fan of the movie than the book. That said, I like the book, but I don’t love it. I know a lot of Hughes fans will take what I say here as sacrilege, so get the bricks and bats ready. Uh, for those literalists out there I’m talkin’ figurative bricks and bats.

And that said, the focus of this piece is pretty narrow, dealing mostly with just one aspect of the movie vs. the book. But a major one.


***SPOILERS AHEAD – DO NOT TREAD BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE OR READ THE BOOK***

There are several differences between the novel and the movie. But the main thing is that the book is a pretty straight-forward story about a psychopath who murders for fun, if not profit. In the book, he’s a novelist who sponges off his uncle…and worse. The movie (written by Andrew Solt and Edmund H. North, and directed by Nicholas Ray) is about a screenwriter with a temper and poor impulse control, to say the least. He’s a war hero. A previously successful screenwriter trying to get his mojo back, though I doubt that’s a term he would recognize.

He’s up to do a screenplay based on a book that he doesn’t want to read. So, he brings a woman home to his apartment to read the book to him. He gives her cab money when she’s done. She splits…and is murdered that night. Naturally, he’s a suspect. His alibi witness, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), just moved into his building. He’s charismatic in his own special way and after they meet at the police station, a romance buds between them. But, as the story progresses, she sees the negative sides of his personality, his rage, his jealousy, the way he treats his agent, and she begins to doubt his innocence.

In the book it’s pretty straight-forward. He’s guilty—he’s a psychopath who gets off on killing. In the
movie, we’re not sure because we haven’t actually seen him kill anyone, though we have seen him lose his temper, get into fights, and nearly kill an innocent kid. So, like Laurel, we, too, begin to doubt his innocence.

The novel is, to me, a much more straight-forward story about a serial killer and a more overt bad guy. He’s a psychopathic killer, no doubt about it. In the movie, we’re just not sure. That makes all the difference, especially in his relationship with Grahame. The movie is more ambiguous and with a more ironic ending. Because of this, in my opinion, the movie works much better and seems to strike a fuller chord. However, maybe when the book came out dealing with this psychopath it was more shocking and in turn seemed to have more depth than I see in it today.

Also, in the movie, Dix Steele is much more complex with many more layers to his personality. We like him or at least want to like him. But it’s hard, just as Laurel finds it harder and harder to like him, and especially trust him as time goes on and she sees the dark sides of his personality. We relate to Laurel’s dilemma and find ourselves going along with her and doubting Dix’s truthfulness. We start to believe he really is the killer. We judge him and convict him in our heads just like Laurel does. And we eventually realize how wrong we were as we and Laurel discover the truth.

In the end, Dix and Laurel’s relationship is destroyed by doubt, fear and distrust, even though he’s innocent, because she’s seen that other side of him. And even though Dix Steele doesn’t turn out to be the killer, this is far from a Hollywood happy ending. Very far from it.

The movie takes the basics of the book and adds an ambiguity that leads to a much more bittersweet and poignant story and ending than in the book. So this is a case where the filmmakers did change a certain essence of the story, but it works out for the better.

The movie is noir in the sense that Bogart is tripped up by his own Achilles Heel, his fatal flaw. To me, the thing that most makes something noir is not rain, not shadows, not femme fatales, not slumming with lowlifes. It’s a character who trips over their own faults: somebody who has some kind of defect, some kind of shortcoming, greed, want or desire…temper or insecurity, that leads them down a dark path, and then his or her life spins out of control because of their own weaknesses or failings. Here, Dix is innocent, but a loser, at least in a sense, and will always be a loser. His personality has driven away the one woman who really loved him. Love loses here too, as does Grahame’s character. Her inability to completely trust and believe in Dix leads to her losing what would have been the love of her life. It’s this ambivalence that make it a better movie than book, at least for me. There is, of course, much more to say about this movie, but my point in this piece is just to point out why I like the movie better than the book.

Dix and Laurel love each other, but they can’t be with each other—summed up in some famous lines from the film:

          I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a
          few weeks while she loved me.

Ultimately both versions need to stand on their own and they do. But for me, the bottom line is: I’d say: Good book, great movie.



***

As a side note, a long time ago I bought a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio (lead singer and songwriter of the Smithereens), who did a great song based on the movie called—of all things—In a Lonely Place. The lyrics paraphrase the famous lines from the movie above. So, every time I look at the poster I think about him sitting under it, writing that song. Doubt he’d remember me, but for me that’s a cool memory. Click here to watch the YouTube music video.





***

Also, here are some pictures from my book signing last week with Pam Ripling at The Open Book in Valencia:



And my radio interview at KHTS AM 1220. Click here for the podcast.