Showing posts with label Paul D Marks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul D Marks. Show all posts

14 July 2020

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer —Solitude vs. Loneliness—


There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to,
In my room, in my room,
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears,
In my room, in my room.
         “In My Room”—Brian Wilson, Gary Usher


Writers tend to work in isolation (unless you’re a TV writer, but that’s another story). We work in our homes, some maybe at a library or coffee shop or on the beach. But ours is a solitary profession. For most of us, when we’re writing we don’t want to be interrupted. We don’t want to be part of the real world, we want to be part of the world we’re creating. We seek solitude. As such it can be a lonely profession at times.

But solitude and loneliness are two different things. Being lonely can be depressing. Having solitude can be invigorating and restorative. Solitude gives us a chance to get in touch with the world, the real world, as well as the world of our characters. It helps us get in touch with ourselves and our creativity.

Nicola Tesla said: “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”



Some people thrive on noise and activity. They can write anywhere: airplanes, libraries, beaches, coffee shops. Others of us need more quiet to get down into ourselves and hit that creative nerve. The older I get the less social I get. When I started writing I had romantic visions of Hemingway et al on the left bank in Paris. Writing and sipping absinthe.  So when I started out I tried drinking while writing. Yeah, that was a good idea. Or I’d go to Joe Allen’s (the L.A. one) and hang with other writers. That was also a great idea. Not much writing got done in either situation. One day, somewhere, somehow I learned that Hemingway didn’t drink while actually writing. Good idea. And these days we live off the beaten path, so alone-time is easy to find. And if I feel the need for human “contact” I can go on Facebook or even, God forbid, call someone on the phone. Or even more rarely actually venture out to meet them. But when I’m writing, I want quiet and alone time. But I’m never lonely in those moments.

Even aside from writing time, these days I like quiet moments. Moments of peace. Solitude. I lived a “wild and crazy” life when I was younger. Sometimes it’s hard to believe what I did and all that I did. But these days I’m happy for peace and quiet.



Some people can’t stand to be alone (England even has a Minister of Loneliness). But we can even feel lonely in a group of people because loneliness is a mindset, not a physical state. Some people hide behind distractions so they won’t have to think about things on a deeper level. Some people have never learned how to be alone and not be lonely at the same time. To keep their own counsel. But it’s good to learn to be alone, to enjoy your own company and your own counsel (whether or not you’re a writer). That doesn’t mean you can’t be social at other times. When I go out with my wife to meet with other people or just on my own to have lunch with a friend or something along those lines, I enjoy it. And I’m into the moment. But when it’s late at night and I’m writing, I’m glad to be alone again. Glad for the quiet of the night and the, dare I say it, solitude.

Pepper at the creek.

When I walk our dog/s (depending on how many we have at any given moment) I like walking them along the creek near our house. That’s often a time of solitude. Mostly we don’t come across other people, but on occasion we do. Often it’s the same people I’ve seen before. We say hi and chat for a few minutes and it’s a nice interlude. But if I don’t run across anyone I simply enjoy the solitude of the walk, stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak, watching the sun glitter on the creek, listening to it flowing, seeing the way the light hits a certain tree or outcropping and how on one day it’s a whole different look than the next. Seeing how much the dog/s enjoy the walk. Looking all around and seeing the world around me. Sometimes it’s not so nice, as when we saw a dead coyote once. It wasn’t pretty and we’ve seen other, smaller dead animals. We also saw a couple of live coyotes only a few feet from me and my dog Pepper. They didn’t bother us. But another time Pepper and I were semi-surrounded by a pack of (about 8) wild dogs. That was scary. They were aggressive, much more so than the coyotes. But Pepper knew how to behave and stayed calm, but not submissive, and we made it home without a physical encounter. We’ve also come across riderless horses (as well as those with riders) and people on ATVs tearing up the landscape, but mostly we’re alone. I feel like I’m digressing but my point here is that we’re never totally alone, unless we’re truly in the middle of nowhere. So it’s nice to have (some of) these encounters, little adventures, but then it’s nice to get back to the solitude of the canyon or return home to the quiet and solitude of the house.

One of the riderless horses we came across
Eventually we found the rider and reunited them.


There’s a place,
Where I can go,
When I feel low,
When I feel blue,
And it's my mind,
And there's no time when I'm alone.
        “There’s a Place”—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

I once decided to take a driving trip up to Canada by myself (unfortunately those pix are not scanned and buried in a box somewhere so I can’t put them up here). I got in my car and started heading north. No itinerary. No particular place to go, as Chuck Berry might say. No motel reservations. I did stop and see some friends here and there along the way but most of the time I was by myself. Listening to music. Watching the scenery. I went rafting in Oregon and drove lonely trucking roads along the way. Stopped at the Log Cabin Motel in Morro Bay. And sometimes it was weird being alone, but mostly it was good.

The Log Cabin Motel, Morro Bay


I've never seen a night so long,
When time goes crawling by,
The moon just went behind the clouds,
To hide its face and cry.
          “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”—Hank Williams

People complain of getting bored when they’re alone, but there’s so much to do. Obviously if one is a writer one can write. But if one isn’t you can read a book, listen to music, learn a language, play games, go on the internet—maybe learn something. Maybe just sit and contemplate the universe. I think it would be good if more people spent some quiet time doing that.

About the only time I’m ever really bored is when I’m trying to find something to watch on TV and nothing catches my interest, which is often. There’s always something to do, something to learn or I can play with the animals. You can also just be alone with your thoughts. Get to know yourself. See what you really think about things. Or maybe just try to quieten your thoughts and enjoy the silence.
And now that Amy’s been working from home since the quarantine, I have more time with her as well. But to be honest, sometimes I’m glad when she goes to bed and it’s quiet and still like it is as I write this. And I’m alone in my world, with my thoughts. It’s not a bad place to be, it just takes perspective.
Buster at the crik.

Solitude helps us unwind and escape from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. It can be like meditation in that sense. It helps us discover who we really are and what we really want. It can help us reduce stress unless, of course, being alone causes you stress, but then you can try to learn to love it.

As they say, everything in balance. We are social creatures, so you don’t want to be alone all the time and you don’t want that aloneness forced on you. But it’s not bad to be alone some of the time and to learn to enjoy that time. We don’t have to be doing something every minute of every day. Time to reflect is a good thing as long as we don’t get too deep into ourselves to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. You might even meet someone you like there—you.

And just like we need sleep to rejuvenate our bodies, we need solitude to rejuvenate our souls.

~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care is getting some great reviews:

"It’s the first entry in what promises to be an entertaining and thoughtful series --- mysteries that not only have the requisite twists, turns, surprises and reveals, but also offer a penetrating look into our ubiquitous all-too-human flaws: greed, corruption, fear of the “other” and, especially, racism."
—Jack Kramer, BookReporter.com

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
—DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com



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

02 June 2020

Outside the Three-Mile Limit


by Paul D. Marks

As many regular readers here know, I’m fascinated with Los Angeles history. I post about various aspects of it from time to time. I use it as background in much of my fiction. And one of the most fascinating aspects of L.A. history are the gambling boats that used to anchor off the shore, just outside the three mile legal limit.

The Rex
Bobby in the just-released (yesterday) The Blues Don’t Care has more than his share of adventure on one of those gambling ships. In the novel, Bobby and the band he’s in get a gig on the Apollo, one of the gambling ships off the Los Angeles coast. They find more than a little trouble there that really sets the plot in motion.

Cops dumping slot machines off the Rex
The Apollo is based on the real gambling ships that used to lay off the SoCal shore, just outside the three-mile limit. I’ve taken a few liberties with the Apollo. It’s much nicer than the real gambling ships, which, while they had their amenities, weren’t always as glamorous as you might think. But when gambling was illegal I guess they were good places to go and get your fix.

                  The interior of the Lux
The most famous of the real gambling ships was the Rex, run by Tony Cornero, A.K.A. The Admiral. Cornero had a checkered career, to say the least. During Prohibition in the 1920s he was a rum-runner (I wonder if he knew Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.?). He moved much of his illegal booze on ships, so had a background on the bounding seas for when he decided to open up the gambling ships later on.



When Prohibition was repealed, Cornero made the easy slide over to gambling. In 1931 when gambling was legalized in Las Vegas, he and his brothers set up there, opening up The Meadows Casino and Hotel, beating out Bugsy Siegel’s Vegas venture by over a decade. Unfortunately, Lucky Luciano got wind of it and, since Cornero wouldn’t pay extortion money, the Meadows was torched. Hmm, no connection to old Lucky there, right?

Tony Cornero aboard the Lux
So back to L.A. Cornero went. And in 1938 he bought two ships, the SS Rex and the SS Tango and converted them into gambling boats. By running them outside the legal limit he could skirt US law. The ships included gourmet chefs, gunmen to keep the peace, waiters, waitresses and—wait for it—orchestras. And that’s where Bobby and the Booker ‘Boom-Boom’ Taylor Orchestra come in.


Cornero was a constant thorn in the side of authorities, but things went along swimmingly until The Battle of Santa Monica Bay—yeah, that’s a real thing. The authorities tried raiding the ships. The Rex held them off for nine days, but eventually lost and Cornero, to make a long story short, hightailed it back to Vegas, where he built the Stardust Casino and Hotel, which I stayed at many times. At the time, way back when, I knew it was mob-connected, but I didn’t know then about the Cornero connection, which I find intriguing.

The Battle of Santa Monica Bay
And, of course, some pivotal scenes in The Blues Don’t Care are set on the Apollo, just a water taxi ride from the Santa Monica Pier:

“A fine briny mist bit Bobby’s skin as he waited in the throng of people on the Santa Monica Pier for the water taxi that would take him to the gambling ship Apollo. The little cartoon-like ‘Kilroy Was Here’ drawing glared at him from the water taxi shack. Kilroy was everywhere these days. He had to shield his eyes from the fiery late afternoon sun, wished he had a pair of sunglasses. Only movie stars and musicians wore sunglasses. Maybe he’d get a pair of shades.”

Below, Bobby describes seeing the Apollo’s ballroom for the first time:

“Bobby peered over the sea of faces in the ballroom—white faces in expensive suits and chic dresses. The Apollo wasn’t the biggest or fanciest or the most seaworthy ship in the world. But if she went down, half of Hollywood, the Los Angeles political establishment, and business movers and shakers in the Southland would disappear into Davy Jones’ Locker. That didn’t stop the people who ran her—gangsters everyone knew—from decking out the main ballroom as if it were Versailles. The ceiling was tall and sparkled with lights under a false ceiling with a gauzy, azure-painted sky. Below it, the dance floor in the center of the room, surrounded by gambling tables—craps, roulette, blackjack, and the like. And in rows behind the gambling tables, dining tables.”

The La La Land gambling ships also make appearances in one of my favorite books and a movie from one of my favorite series.

Raymond Chandler talks about them in Farewell, My Lovely. In the novel, Philip Marlowe is told that Moose Malloy might be hiding out on one of the gambling ships outside the three mile limit. Marlowe sneaks aboard and persuades Brunette, the gangster who runs the ship, to get a message to Malloy. Farewell, My Lovely was made into the movie Murder, My Sweet (1944). The 1942 B movie The Falcon Takes Over is also based on the plot. And in 1975 Robert Mitchum starred in a remake.

And much of Song of the Thin Man, the last Thin Man movie (co-written by my friend Nat Perrin) is partially set on one of the ships. A benefit is happening on the gambling ship Fortune. The bandleader is murdered. Guess who has to figure it out. Song of the Thin Man should be called Farewell, My Thin Man as it’s the last in the series and unfortunately not the best by far, but it has its moments.

Mr. Lucky
Another movie that takes place on a gambling ship is the Cary Grant-Larraine Day flick Mr. Lucky. Not his best, but I like it. And you can check out my close encounter of the first kind with Cary Grant at my website.
The book was released yesterday. Hope you’ll want to check it out. Here’s what some people are saying about it:

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
    —DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com

“Award-winning author Paul D. Marks hits it out of the park with this finely-written novel bringing WWII-era L.A. alive with memorable characters, scents, descriptions, and most of all, jazz. Highly recommended.”
     —Brendan DuBois, New York Times bestselling author

“Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40's L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. There's sex, drugs, and jazz and an always surprising hero who navigates the worlds of gambling, music, war profiteers, Jewish mobsters, and a lonely few trying to do the right thing. Marks has an eye for the telling detail, and an ear that captures the music in the dialogue of the times. He is one helluva writer.”
      —Michael Sears, award-winning author of Tower of Babel, and the Jason Stafford series


"While The Blues Don't Care is a complex, sometimes brutal, story, it also has its glimmers of beauty and joy. Those glimpses come from Bobby's passion for music, and his awe when he sees celebrities such as Clark Gable and Billie Holiday. Wander into Bobby Saxon's world in Paul D. Marks' latest book. It's a world you won't easily forget."
      —Lesa's Book Critiques, lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com



~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

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

21 April 2020

It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing


Can music be noir? I think so. And Nat King Cole’s song The Blues Don't Care (written by Vic Abrams and Murry Berlin) is a good example, judging by the lyrics:


The blues don’t care who’s got ’em,
The blues don’t care who cries,
And the nights don’t care who’s lonely,
Or whose tears are in whose eyes.

When someone’s heart is broken,
The blues are not to blame,
’Cause the blues don’t care who’s got ’em,
So they just added my name.

(final verse is at the end of this piece)


The blues might not care whose got ’em, but I do: Bobby Saxon, the lead character in my upcoming novel The Blues Don’t Care.

The story takes place in the 1940s on the Los Angeles home front during World War II. It’s about a young piano player named Bobby Saxon who wants to play with the house band at the famous Club Alabam on Central Avenue, the heart of black life in L.A. If Bobby gets the gig he would be the only white player in the otherwise all-black band. And if that isn’t enough, in order to get the gig the leader asks Bobby to play detective and help clear one of the band members of a murder he is falsely accused of.
Duke Ellington and his orchestra
And while the book deals with some controversial issues in the context of a historical mystery-thriller it also explores the zeitgeist of the times. And part of that zeitgeist is the music. Both the music Bobby listens to and plays in the story and the music in general, big band, swing, torch songs. Music that I’ve grown to love over the years.

Herb Jeffries
When I was a kid, my dad would play swing music on the radio. I hated it. I wanted to listen to rock ‘n’ roll. I also got to see Benny Goodman, though maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much as if I’d seen him later on. But maybe having been exposed to it it came back to me later on, especially after watching old movies from the 30s and 40s that sometimes included that music. Then, as adults, my friend Linda and I got into swing music and would go to swing dances and concerts at various venues and even went to see many bands or singers from that era that were still around. We got to see Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell sing Tangerine and Brazil. We saw Tex Beneke lead the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I got to see Johnny Otis, who took over as band leader of the house band at the Club Alabam, though I would have loved to see him there.

Benny Goodman and his orchestra
Doing the “research” for the book, especially listening to the music and watching the movies from the era, wasn’t exactly torture for me. One problem though was that I wanted the title to be The Blues Don’t Care. And I wanted that to figure at least a little bit into the story. But, as far as I could tell the song was released much later than the time frame of the story, which led me to believe it might have been written later, too. So how to get around that problem? Artistic License: we see the songwriter working on an early version of the song in the Club Alabam in the course of the story. Problem solved…I hope.

Duke Ellington and his orchestra
So, here’s some songs from the 30s and 40s that Bobby might be listening to. Also good for background music, mood music if you’re writing something set during that time or just for your enjoyment. Or maybe even to read The Blues Don’t Care by.

Duke Ellington – Almost anything by him is worth a listen. But you might want to start with the terrific Take the A Train.



Jimmy Dorsey – Half of the famous battling Dorsey brothers. I particularly like his sound. And it’s with him that Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell sang their classics Brazil and Tangerine and other songs.
Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell

Cab Calloway – A character over many decades. He even has a cameo in a Janet Jackson video: Alright, a great song and video, too. Also featuring the Nicholas Brothers and Cyd Charisse.

Billie Holiday – Take your pick. Too many great ones to choose from.

Herb Jeffries – AKA the Bronze Buckaroo, since he starred western “race movies”. His song Flamingo, recorded with Duke Ellington, is a classic and he even makes a cameo singing it in the novel.



Freddy Martin – Band leader, who for a time employed future talk show host and Jeopardy creator Merv Griffin as a singer with his band. And who maybe is an odd choice here. But I saw a clip of his band doing a two-piano piece called La Tempesta that is pretty amazing. And, since Bobby is a piano player this becomes his signature piece. I wish I could find a clip now.

Artie Shaw – Frenesi and Begin the Beguine: Two classics from the era.

The Andrews Sisters – Check out Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, but don’t stop there.



Tommy Dorsey – Opus One, I’ll Never Smile Again (vocals by Sinatra).



Lena Horne – Stormy Weather: What can you say—a classic.


Vera Lynn – The Forces Sweetheart in England. She sang a lot of popular songs during the war: I’ll Be Seeing You, We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover (written by Glenn Miller and Ray Eberle, which surprised me).

Kay Kyser and his Orchestra – Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.

Spike Jones and Donald Duck – Der Fuehrer’s Face. Satirical, funny song, that was born in a Donald Duck cartoon and made even more famous by Spike. You get a two-fer here, both versions: Mr. Spike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWF8iRCan7I

Mr. Duck:




Louis Jordan – G.I. Jive, written by Johnny Mercer. Recorded by many. Louis Jordan had a #1 hit with it.

Harry James – Sleepy Lagoon, from which the infamous Sleepy Lagoon incident took its name.

Benny Goodman – Sing Sing Sing, just an amazing and rousing piece of music. To me it’s sexier than some modern music with risqué lyrics. If this doesn’t get you at least tapping your toes you’re dead. And with Gene Krupa on drums, Harry James on trumpet and a band that can’t be beat. It was the Goodman band’s appearance at the Palomar Ballroom (in L.A. I might add) that really jump started the swing craze.



Count Basie – One O’Clock Jump, Basie’s theme song.

Glenn Miller – One of the most popular band leaders of the time, if not the most popular. Definitely the latter to listen to my mother. In the Mood was one of his biggest hits.

There’s so many more. It was really hard narrowing it down.

And here’s the last verse of Nat King Cole’s song:

And the nights don’t care who’s lonely,
Or whose tears are in whose eyes,
When someone’s heart is broken,
The blues are not to blame,
’Cause the blues don’t care who’s got ’em,
So they just added my name. 




If that isn’t noir I don’t know what is.

This is an album I got in the days of vinyl that I think is a pretty good starter collection and I think you can get it streaming:



So, like I said. It was pure torture listening to all this great music. Research, you know.


~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Frank Zafiro grilled me for the Wrong Place, Write Crime podcast. I survived...and so did he. Hope you'll want to check it out. (And thanks for having me, Frank!)

https://soundcloud.com/frank-zafiro-953165087/episode-75-open-shut-w-paul-d-marks


Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books – The Blues Don't Care:

 “Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40s’ L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. He is one helluva writer.”
                                                               —Michael Sears, author of the Jason Stafford series



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

10 March 2020

Paperback Writer


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear,
And I need a job,
So I wanna be a paperback writer…
            — John Lennon / Paul McCartney


I always wanted to send a query to an editor and start it off with those words. Probably would have worked better a while back when more people would have recognized it than today. It still seems like a fun thing to do.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I am, however, writing about the Beatles.

Most people who know me for more than five minutes or more than just on the surface know how much I love the Beatles. I could run on and on here about just how much. But the main point is that, even though they’re music and I’m a writer, they had (have) a great influence on me.


The main thing they gave me (along with many other things) is a desire to be the best. I do play some music and if I had my druthers, if I could ever figure out what the hell a druther is, I would have wanted to be a rock star. Who wouldn’t? But as much of an ego as I might have—or had cause it’s shrinking all the time…—I knew I didn’t have the chops to make it in music. I had some fun. I played in some bands. See the home made, or should I say artisanal, card here from our first band. It might be artisanal, but I’m almost embarrassed to show it—very DIY. Anyway, I knew enough to know I couldn’t be a professional musician.


So I had to figure out something else to do with my life. Hmm? Astrophysicist. Architect. Archeologist. Anthropologist. Astronomer. Astrologer. You see whatever it was it had to start with an “A”.  Well, actually one of those might be something I considered. It might have had something to do with designing buildings. But I never really pursued it.

My parents, of course, always wanted me to have a “real job” and something to fall back on. But being the rebellious sort I went my own way. And that way took a left turn at Hollywood and Vine, especially since I was born the proverbial hop, skip and jump from there. So maybe it was fate that I wanted to try my hand at writing.

It wasn’t an easy row to hoe. And without going into specifics, it took lots of persistence, many rejections, some chutzpah (and if that isn’t a Hollywood word I don’t know what is). But eventually I carved a niche for myself doing rewriting. And the day I got into the (screen) Writers Guild was one of the best days of my life. However, my father never really understood what I did because I got no screen credit and without something tangible like that he didn’t quite get it.

From there I branched out to writing short stories and novels. And again started with many rejections and lots of persistence. Each rejection made me angry. After all, wasn’t I the greatest writer since Charles Dickens, or in our field, Hammett and Chandler? These people who kept rejecting me clearly had no taste. But after my little tantrums I would go back to the drawing board and either rework the rejected story or work on something new. I wanted them to be good. I wanted them to be good enough to sell.

And the Beatles, because I love them so much, and because they were so good and always pushing the envelope and trying new things, made me want to be better every time out…like them. I’m not putting myself in the same rarified air as them, just saying that they inspired me. Of course, they weren’t the only thing that lit the fire in the belly, but they were certainly part of it.

The time I made a producer cry after leaving him a treatment because it touched him so much was a highpoint for me—to get that kind of reaction meant I was doing something right.

There’s a bit in the movie As Good As It Gets, where Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt:

Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson): I've got a really great compliment for you, and it's true.

Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt): I'm so afraid you're about to say something awful.


Melvin: Don't be pessimistic, it's not your style. Okay. Here I go. Clearly a mistake.


(shifts in his seat uncomfortably)


Melvin: I've got this, what, ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills. Very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I'm using the word "hate" here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never... all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.

Carol: I don't quite get how that's a compliment for me.


Melvin: You make me want to be a better man.


(pause)

Carol: (stunned) That's maybe the best compliment of my life.

And just as she made the Nicholson character want to be a better man, the Beatles (and others) made/make me want to be a better writer. A better paperback writer.

I’m not saying I’m the greatest writer in the world, far from it. But listening to the Beatles, and reading great mystery and fiction writers made me strive to be the best that I could be. And when I’d get rejections I’d be upset, but it would also make me try harder with an “I’ll show you” attitude. I’m still not where I want to be, but I keep working on it. And what I am saying is shoot for the stars and maybe get the moon or even just a mountain top. Shoot for nothing and you get nothing. But while you’re shooting for the stars, hone your craft.


And I’m writing this not to talk about myself per se but to share my experiences for others who may be on the same path and might need a little encouragement. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

“There are all the essential elements for an engrossing read: good guys, bad guys, gangsters and crooked policemen, and through it all, an extremely well written sense of believable realism.”
            —Discovering Diamonds Reviews, Independent Reviews of the Best in Historical Fiction (https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/)



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

18 February 2020

All Dogs BETTER Go to Heaven


When I started writing this I thought I’d make it funny. But for the most part that didn’t happen. I guess I’m just not feeling too funny right now.
Pepper and me

We recently had to put our dog Pepper to sleep. It was hard and, unfortunately, not the first time we’ve lost an animal and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Many writers have dog or cat companions. Ours is a lonely life sometimes and it’s good to have other beating hearts around. I’m pretty good being alone and very disciplined about getting work done. But when my wife is gone it’s nice to have animal companions around. Over the years we’ve had various combinations of dogs and cats. Most recently Pepper and Buster, who is still with us.

Pepper was great company, got along with all our other animals. And, of course, loved to walk. And if I wasn’t on the ball she’d nudge my elbow saying, “Hey, bud, it’s time to go for our walk.” And we would.

She was old for a big dog, 14½, and she had a good life. When she came into our house at around 8 weeks old we had another dog, Audie, who immediately fell for her. We also had two cats, Curley and Moe (I wonder who they were named after). The cats had grown up with dogs. They were feral when we brought them home as tiny little black balls of fur. We had a dog at the time, Bogey, a Rottweiler. And my wife, Amy, was afraid to let the cats and Bogey be together. But on that first day, I insisted that we put them on the bed and let Bogey sniff them out. Not only did she do that, she cleaned them up and they became fast friends. Then, when we brought Audie into the house as a puppy, the cats took to him like ducks to water. And Moe, the female, especially loved him and loved playing with his tail. Which he tolerated…barely.
Pepper at the creek
When Bogey died, we waited a while and then got Pepper as a pound puppy only a few weeks old. We brought her home in a cat carrier—that’s how small she was. Audie sniffed around but decided she was okay and they became the best of friends. She even brought out a maturity in him that we hadn’t known was there as Bogey was always the alpha dog with him. It reminded me of the scene in Bambi, if I remember correctly, where Bambi’s father tells him he has to grow up after his mom is killed. Bambi did—and Audie did to take care of Pepper.

Audie (left), Pepper (right)
But the cats, Curley and Moe, were scared of this new Pepper creature in the house. Pepper was having none of that. She insisted that they be friends. She drove them nuts, in a friendly-playing way, until they decided if you can’t beat her and can’t hide from her you might as well join her. And she and Curley, the male cat, became great friends. I think they bonded over tearing our family room couch apart. We’d come out of the bedroom in the morning, before Pepper had the run of the house, and it would be like it snowed in there there’d be so much couch stuffing all over the place.

Pepper and Curley

When we lost Audie, Pepper was pretty depressed. But shortly afterwards we got Buster. He was three years old or so when we got him from the German Shepherd Rescue and we—and they—think he was abused before they got him. Pepper accepted him into her house no problem. And they became friends, if not as good friends as she and Audie had been. Curley and Moe were curious, but both died before they could really bond with him. And now he’s all we have left, though we’ll probably get another dog and maybe more cats in the future.

Pepper (left), Buster (right)
She was a particularly wonderful dog in every way. Of all our dogs I explored more with her than with any other dog. We walked up into the forest and down by the creek. She was curious and fun and playful. And when we got surrounded by a pack of feral dogs, which was a pretty scary situation, she was cool and calm. She didn’t seem scared and she didn’t act aggressively. We just stood there until the dogs started peeling off one by one. Then we began to head home. Some of the dogs followed, but they also peeled off until the only one left was the alpha. He followed us almost to our house, but he, too, eventually peeled off. I’m glad to say no blood was shed on either side that day, and I think a good part of the reason for that was Pepper’s demeanor, calm and steady. On other occasions we came across coyotes, and let me tell you the feral dogs were much scarier than the coyotes, who never bothered us at all.
On the road again...
Pepper, whose full name is Sgt. Pepper (I’ll let you figure out what that’s an homage to), was a warm and wonderful and welcoming dog. She just wanted to be friends with everyone. She was good for inspiration and a terrific writing buddy.

Pepper (front - after an operation), Buster (behind) and me
When Pepper or some of our previous animals have gotten sick or injured some people would say to put them down and just get another. But we don’t see it that way. We don’t see our dogs and cats as interchangeable cogs. They’re very much individuals with distinct personalities, and very much part of the family. And you can’t just replace one when the parts start to wear out.

And some people say that the only reason they like us is because we feed them. I read an article once where a woman argued that and it made me crazy. Yes, they like to be fed—don’t we all. But they, just like us, want more than that. They want companionship and security. And, imo, what they really want is what most of us what: to love and be loved.

But the point I’m leading up to here is the title of this piece: Pepper, and all our other critters, better be up there in heaven waiting for us—this of course assumes there is a heaven, but I think that’s a question for another time. Because if all dogs and cats don’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go there either.
My girl
And my idea of heaven, not that I’m in a hurry to check it out, is a comfortable place, with Jacopo’s pizza on their best day flowing freely, abalone and other goodies—cause I think in the other place all you get are C rats. And, of course, Amy and I and all our critters would be there. But then I start to wonder: what the hell (oops, maybe not the best word to use in this context…) do you do up there for all of eternity? Would you get bored? Would you have TV? And if you do would you get Turner Classics on a big screen? And would the History Channel or whatever it’s called these days still be running endless reruns of Forged in Fire (or maybe that only plays down below—hope so as it seems appropriate). Or the other “history” channel running endless reruns of black and white Nazis. Hmm… And would the Beatles be creating any new songs? Now that would be heaven!

Or is it gonna be like Meat Loaf’s* Paradise by the Dashboard Light, where I’m prayin’ for the end of time… Let’s hope not.



~.~.~


And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.


I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


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06 February 2020

Favorite Places


I have written before about atmosphere and setting. No surprise: there are not all that many topics in writing. That mystery writers have favorite venues is one of the obvious and most enjoyable facets of the genre. Many fans have had their views of California shaped by Golden State mystery mavens from Margaret Millar to Raymond Chandler and our own Paul Marks, while Carl Hiaasen has put his stamp on South Florida, as Anne Cleeves’ has put hers on Shetland and the multitude of northern noir writers on Scandinavia and Scotland. Frenchwoman Fred Vargas, currently making Paris dangerous, also includes the Pyrenees, which take up a good deal of psychic space within the capacious mind of her Commissaire Adamsberg.

I have my favorite places, too, but thinking about the topic, I realized that I have only rarely set mystery novels in them. My first detective, Anna Peters, hung out in Washington, D.C., a consequence of her remote inspiration in the Watergate hearings. At the time of the scandal, I was convinced on that some underpaid secretary knew a whole lot she wasn’t saying. I devised such a secretary and moved her to an oil company.
Anna Peters' early environment

When Anna proved modestly popular, her speciality, white collar crime, kept her in big cities with only the occasional side trip to the sort of rural setting I really prefer. She had a visit to St. Andrews, Scotland, one of the world’s great good places, and got to Patagonia, Arizona, a favorite birding location, as well as to Trier, a shabby and historic burg whose Roman ruins caught my eye. But, basically, Anna was stuck in urban life – or well-heeled suburbs.

My second series character, Francis Bacon, the Anglo-Irish painter and bon vivant, was the urban man par excellence, and his city was London, whose light and ambiance encouraged good work. A serious asthmatic, he loathed the country and all its works. Animals made him sick and he thoroughly disliked them – despite the fact that two of his finest paintings depict a screaming baboon and a mastiff. He also did a fine African landscape, complete with elephant, but that did not reconcile him to any place without sidewalks.
Soho, Francis' favorite venue

This inexplicable distaste for the natural world and its more attractive inhabitants was, along with his tin ear for music, the hardest thing  about turning the real Bacon into my character. His rather gaudy sex life, his alcoholism, his genius were the merest bumps in the road compared to constructing a man who hated and feared dogs and found the rural landscape boring.

Perhaps in retaliation, my version of Bacon was frequently in difficulty in rural areas – no doubt confirming all his prejudices. He wound up on camel back in the wilds of Morocco, drove in terror down vertiginous French roads, and effected a rescue on horseback in Germany. His trials and tribulations culminated at a real English country house, his absolute least favorite venue, in his last (and final) outing, Mornings in London.

My own favorite landscape – the rolling woods and farmland of New York state and New England – have been reserved for stand alone, mostly contemporary, novels. Night Bus was set in a fictional town that drew from our village and the one next to it, while Voices went right back to my hometown in Dutchess County, where I am happy to say, the landscape of roughly fifty years earlier was waiting for me.
nearby rail to trail conversion

And that brings me to one of the great pleasures of favorite and familiar landscapes and, indeed, of memory, which I can best illustrate with reference to the climax of Night Bus, which required a lonely cabin in the Adirondacks. I was in such a cabin only once, when I was 18, but unbeknownst to me, the neurons, which had forgotten so much else, remembered exactly what I needed, right down to how the water supply turned on. It was one of the weirdly satisfying moments in my writing life.

It is not often that the pulp fiction writer channels Proust, but the French master of memory was absolutely right about recapturing the past. He wrote that memory, in awakening the past, frees it and the remembering mind for a moment from time. Proust mentions sounds and, that most evocative and primitive of senses, smell, as triggering memory. It is the sound and smell and sight of our favorite places that so often bring us what we need as writers, not only the momentary setting but the weight and flavor of the past.

Do you have favorite literary places as either writer or reader?
Not all favorite places wind up in print