Showing posts with label St. Louis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label St. Louis. Show all posts

20 September 2016

Breaking Up is Hard To Do


by Paul D. Marks

I have been divorced. It was a messy divorce. Dividing-the-baby-in-half kind of divorce. Calling-the-lawyers-in kind of divorce.

Oh, you think I’m talking about getting divorced from Amy or one of my nine previous wives. Nope. I’m talking about breaking up with my writing partner, at least one of them.





Backstory:

In Hollywood, I had two or three writing partners, maybe even four, at various times, as well as going solo. And with all but one we pretty much just came to a parting of the ways. But with one it truly was like a very messy divorce.


Conflict:

So, as Spandau Ballet said, to cut a long story short, I lost my mind—well that too. X and I had been friends for a long time and then decided to write together. We worked up a bunch of projects and eventually got an agent at one of the major agencies and even had some things optioned (sort of like someone takes a lease out on your property). But we weren’t getting rich and X’s wife wanted him to have a more steady income. So we decided to break it up, but it was a messy break up. Since we had no written contract or collaboration agreement, we ended up in “divorce court,” or at least in a lawyer’s office, dividing our babies (our work product) up, based on who came up with which idea. The lawyer acting like Solomon, split the babies—and everything else.

And like many divorcing couples we were barely speaking to one another and it wasn’t pleasant when we did. So X went his way, I went mine. I went on to find another agent and I did a lot of rewrite work/script doctoring (no credit-no glory) and optioned a lot of things that never got produced. And after a time, X and I began to be civil and even friendly again. Though not close like we once were.


Act II

So how about some tips on how to work with a partner even though it seems like there’s more solo flyers in the prose world than in Hollywood. Nonetheless, there are writing teams out there and in case you might ever consider working with a partner here goes:

First out of the gate, have a prenup: a written contract that spells everything out ahead of time. Every little detail. You can work it up yourself if you’re good at that kind of thing but before signing I’d run it by an entertainment lawyer to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed. At the very least the prenup should lay out splits, who will do what and maybe what the writing process might be, how often you’ll write. Credits: whose name comes first? Do you do it alphabetically or like my partner and I did so that whoever came up with the idea and did the first draft got the top billing?


The WGA (Writers Guild of America, which is for screenwriters) has a collaboration agreement which you might be able to adapt to prose writing partnerships: http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/collaboration.pdf , though I’m really not sure about that. There might be more suitable templates online.

Also include:

Decide who will do what. Will you each do 50% of everything? Or is one better at dialogue and another better at plot? How will you work? Sitting across the table from one another or long distance (even if you’re in the same town) via the internet? Will one write a full first draft and then pass it to the other? Will you work it scene by scene, chapter by chapter, etc.?

How will you decide what project/s to work on?

Since you want to write with a consistent voice, one should be the polisher-in-chief to make sure that happens. Who will that be and how will you decide?

How will you handle your partner’s critique of your work? You need to have a thick skin, but you also need to critique constructively.

How will you pay for expenses?

Who will contact editors, agents, etc.? Will one person be on point? Is one better at this?

Splitting income. Will it be 50-50? If not why and how will you do it.

Bad things happen to good people and even the best of friends. Don’t let things fester. Deal with them as they come up. Sometimes it won’t be pleasant, but hit the nail on the head, diplomatically hopefully. When you disagree about things how will you resolve them—you might even want to include this in the contract? Everyone has an ego and we all want our little babies included.

I’m sure there’s many other things that can and should be considered. And this is not a complete list by any means, but at least something to think about and get started with. My partner and I learned the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.

***

Climax:

The moral of this tale is sort of like the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be prepared. Have that prenup. Spell everything out ahead of time. Have a lawyer check it over if you’ve written it yourself. Then, if things go bad—or even if they don’t—go out and buy a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and get blotto.

***

Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.




###



09 August 2016

Meet Me in St. Louis


by Paul D. Marks

Meet me in St. Louie Louie, meet me at the fair…

No, not the St. Louis of the title song, Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and the cakewalk, but of the darker, more cynical St. Louis of Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.

Fellow SleuthSayer John Floyd and I think alike, or at least we both have stories in one of the new Akashic Noir books that were released on August 2nd and wanted to write about them here on SleuthSayers. And I want to congratulate John on his story Pit Stop in Mississippi Noir, which I’ve ordered and am very much looking forward to reading.

I’d also like to congratulate fellow SleuthSayers Art Taylor (Best First Mystery), Barb Goffman (Best Short Story) and BK Stevens (Best Short Story) on their Macavity noms! Good luck to all of you! — And I hope I haven’t missed anyone.


Now to my noir tale:


Lights. Camera. Action.
Apparently there were lights over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis a few days ago. Everybody’s trying to figure out what they were. Kansas City TV station KMBC says “Mysterious light over Gateway Arch stumps St. Louis.” (http://www.kmbc.com/news/mysterious-light-over-gateway-arch-stumps-st-louis/41052670 ) I have an idea about what it might have been, which I’ll get to later. In the meantime, how’s this for a segue, from mysterious lights over the Arch to Akashic’s new St. Louis Noir anthology, which was just released last Tuesday.

The book is edited by Scott Phillips. Among several other great books, Scott is the author of the terrific The Ice Harvest, which was also made into a movie starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. I’m honored that my story Deserted Cities of the Heart is included among the many impressive stories in this collection, along with such talented writers as: John Lutz, Scott Phillips, Calvin Wilson, Lavelle Wilkins-Chinn, Colleen J. McElroy, Jason Makansi, S.L. Coney, Michael Castro, Laura Benedict, Jedidiah Ayres, Umar Lee, Chris Barsanti, and L.J. Smith.

In the intro, Scott says, “Amid all this is a rich, multicultural history of art and literature both high and low, stemming from conflict and passions running hot...This collection strives for some of that same energy that the collision of high and low can produce...All these writers come at their work with different perspectives and styles but all with a connection to and a passion for our troubled city and its surroundings.”

The Akashic Noir Series
The Akashic Noir series, begun in 2004, takes one to dark corners all around the world, literally. From Baltimore to Barcelona and Mumbai to Memphis. Even Prison Noir and Wall Street Noir—hmm…is there a connection there?

Like other Akashic noir books set in a certain locale the stories in St. Louis Noir take you on a Magical Mystery—or should I say Noir—Tour of the city and its surrounds, from Dogtown to downtown, from Gaslight Square to Glendale. And everything in between.


Gateway Arch 2001 by Rick Dickeman
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Deserted Cities of the Heart
My story, Deserted Cities of the Heart, is set at the Gateway Arch, or at least begins there. The reason I chose the Arch as my setting is because I see it as aspirational, thrusting into the heavens. The promise of a bright future and bigger and better things. So, when my protagonist, Daniel, meets a hipster girl who shares his love for all things high-tech and geeky, including computer gaming, we think things are looking up for him. Then we start to wonder who’s ‘gaming’ who?

One of the things I like to do in my writing is to capture the mood or feel of a place. And I tried to do that with this story, which moves from the Arch to the Washington Avenue Historic District, the hipster-joint Atomic Cowboy and even Meramec Caverns, said to be one of Jesse James’ hideouts and deep into the core of cyberspace.

Here’s an excerpt:

Daniel looked up, thought he saw a mourning dove flying through the Gateway Arch, heading out in the direction of Route 66. It was gone now. He wasn’t sure if it was even there in the first place. Like Route 66, there but not there at the same time. What was left of that legendary highway passed right through St. Louis. Once America’s Mother Road, much of it now decommissioned, it existed more like a ghost or a shadow on the land. Daniel had always looked on it as an escape route. But escape to where? Besides, escape was nothing more than illusion. Wherever he went he’d take his baggage with him.

He wanted to forget the last three months had ever happened. Yeah, he wanted to shut those memories out. He didn’t want to think about yesterday. Didn’t want to think about today. And he definitely didn’t want to think about tomorrow. He never thought it would turn out like this.

Do you have to be from St. Louis to write about noir there or be in this volume? No, though I have been there. And I like absorbing the local color and history of a place. I hope I’ve expressed that with St. Louis. The fact is, I consider myself an LA writer, but I’ve been here and there, if not everywhere, and enjoy writing about many locales.

We probably all have goals that we’ve set for our writing careers. They might not be the same from one person to another, but we all have things we want to achieve. One of my goals has been to have a story in one of the Akashic Noir anthologies. I think that’s my major point here: that we all have goals and that with hard work and perseverance we will eventually achieve many of them, if not all.
And I’m happy to say that the book has been getting good reviews, and my story as well:

“…[I]t’s no surprise that the most notable tales are the work of three genre veterans…” including “…‘Deserted Cities of the Heart,’ by Paul D. Marks (‘White Heat’), [which] charts the fall of loner Daniel Hayden after he meets femme fatale Amber Loy at the Gateway Arch.” 
—Publishers Weekly

“Joining Seattle, Memphis, Phoenix, and other noir outposts, St. Louis gets a turn to show its dark side in Phillips' collection of 13 dark tales and a poetic interlude...[A] spirited, black-hearted collection.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Among my favorite stories in St. Louis Noir is one called ‘Deserted Cities of the Heart’ (by Paul D. Marks) in which a loner of an IT nerd with a security clearance is convinced to hack into a witness protection data base with disastrous results by the attractive young out-of-towner who suddenly comes into his life. …The bottom line: St. Louis Noir is another worthy addition to what is perhaps already the best series of short story collections to be published in decades.”
—Sam Sattler, Book Chase


Lights over the Arch 
So what were those mysterious lights over the Arch? I think I know: they were the lights for the premier launch of Akashic’s St. Louis Noir!



***

www.PaulDMarks.com

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06 March 2015

Life to Art and Almost Back


by R.T. Lawton

Life and art, sometimes one imitates the other.

St. Louis 1895

It was Christmas night. Two friends, Lee Shelton and William "Billy" Lyons were drinking in Bill Curtis's saloon down at 11th and Morgan Streets. Shelton, known by his nickname of Stag Lee or Stagger Lee, was a flashy pimp, part of a group of pimps called The Macks. He also worked as a carriage driver, was the Captain of the disreputable 400 Club and a political organizer for the Democrats. Billy Lyons worked as a levee hand, was part of the St. Louis criminal underworld and was a political organizer for the Republican Party. After several drinks, the two men began to argue. Some say it was over a gambling situation, some say it was politics and others say it had to do with the Stetson hat Stagger Lee was wearing.

Stagger Lee (#1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959)
   ~first written lyrics appeared in 1912

     The night was clear and the moon was yellow
     And the leaves came tumbling down

     I was standing on the corner when I heard my bulldog bark
     He was barkin' at two men who were gamblin' in the dark
     It was Stagger Lee and Billy, two men who gambled late
     Stagger Lee threw seven, Billy swore that he threw eight
     .........

Kansas City 1973

Twin was standing on the corner with a small group of street gangsters in a bad part of Kansas City on the Missouri side. They were throwing dice for money when an old friend, Thomas, decided to join the group. Thomas was one of our informants against the heroin trade. He had already testified in federal grand jury for a second wave of indictments and was now working on his third wave of smack dealers. We'd arrested the first two groups of dealers and some of them had gotten out on bond. By now, everyone knew Thomas was our snitch, but he was slick enough to make them believe that was "then," in order for him to stay out of jail, and this was now. Supposedly, he was finished with working for the man and had returned to his old ways of dealing smack. Could have sold sand to an Arab.

Meanwhile, being involved in prostitution, gambling, dope dealing and bank robbery, Twin was a hard-core member of the old Black Mafia, as was his recently incarcerated brother with the nickname of Twin Brother. They'd both been involved in a bank robbery, but Twin Brother volunteered to take the fall, leaving Twin out on the streets to make some money for their future. However on this night, the dice were running against Twin and he was in a bad mood. Some say a killing mood.

                                                                          #

St. Louis  1895

The story on Stagger Lee and Billy was first covered by The St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Allegedly, when Stagger Lee and Billy got into their argument, Billy grabbed Lee's Stetson hat and refused to give it back. It's also possible there was some mutual hat bashing between the two. In any case, Stagger Lee became enraged, pulled his .44 and shot Billy in the gut. He then calmly picked up his hat and left. Billy was taken to the Dispensary where his wounds were pronounced as serious and he expired shortly afterward.

Stagger Lee

     Stagger Lee told Billy, "I can't let you go with that"
     "You done won all my money and my brand new Stetson hat"
     Stagger Lee went home and he got his forty-four
     Said, "I'm goin' to the barroom just to pay the debt I owe"
     Stagger Lee went to the barroom and he stood across the barroom door
     He said, "Nobody move" and he pulled his forty-four

           *                     *                     *                    *

     Stagger Lee shot Billy, oh he shot that poor boy so bad
     'Til the bullet went through Billy and it broke the bartender's glass

Kansas City 1973

Back on the street corner, Twin's mood was dark and getting darker. With the dice running Thomas's way, he kept on taking what little money Twin had left. The other gangsters, glad to have someone else as the object of Twin's wrath, slowly backed away until it was only Twin and Thomas in the game. Both men were wearing their pimp Stetsons. Twin angrily accused Thomas of cheating. Thomas loudly denied it as he reached for the money lying on the sidewalk. Twin drew his pistol and aimed at Thomas's face. Still bent over to get the money, Thomas reacted with exaggerated street cool and did the one thing that saved his life. He thrust his index fingers into his ears and screwed up his face as if the loudness of the gun going off would hurt his eardrums. Twin broke up laughing and the crisis passed.

                                                                  #

St. Louis  1895 - 1912 The Aftermath

Stagger Lee was arrested, bond set at $4,000 and a grand jury subsequently indicted him for first degree murder. Six months later, pawnbroker Morris H. Smit paid a $3,000 bond and Lee was released. At a July 18th trial, the jury came back with a split decision. Seven voted for second degree murder, two for manslaughter and three for acquittal. In August of 1897, Lee's successful attorney, a morphine addict, died after a drinking binge. Six weeks later during a retrial with a different defense attorney, Lee was quickly found guilty of murder and sentenced to 25 years in the notorious Jefferson Prison in Jeff City, Missouri. The governor saw fit to pardon Lee in 1909, but the die was cast. After two years of freedom, Stag Lee committed a fatal home invasion and got sent back to Jeff City. The governor pardoned him again, but it was too late. This time, Lee left his prison cell in a casket.

Kansas City  1973 Aftermath

Twin went off to federal prison for delivering a quantity of cocaine to a house where my partner and I met him at the door. Happened that a different informant had made a phone call and ordered up the coke. Twin's luck ran bad again.

Thomas went on to be shot a couple of times by his cousin while they were standing on opposite sides of the cousin's screen door. Seems Thomas was upset that his cousin was poaching on Thomas's woman. Thomas, decked out in his best pimp Stetson, showed up on the cement porch and banged on the door. His cousin, whose repose was rudely interrupted that early morning by the loud banging, was clad only in his black, silk boxer shorts during the time that the two men blew holes at each other through the screen. Both combatants came up ventilated, but went on to survive the experience.

Life and Art

Shortly after the latter incident, I left KC for another post of duty. Never did hear what finally happened to Twin and Thomas, though I expect with their life style, sooner or later they were going to come up short.

However, I did wonder about one set of circumstances. If Twin had shot and killed Thomas that night on the street corner, would Twin have ended up with his own folk song? He was already a legend in the criminal world. So, would some blues writer have felt the urge to compose a parallel to the popular Stagger Lee ballad?

Guess we'll never know.

20 February 2015

He done her wrong


by R.T. Lawton

Well, Valentine's Day has come and gone. I hope you remembered your significant other with at least a card on this special day which is designated for love and lovers. This particular day was also my… uh, let me do some quick math here… oh yeah, my 34th wedding anniversary. I was smart enough to deliberately pick Valentine's Day, a nationally advertised event to assist me in not forgetting when I had to come up with something for my wife in order to show that yes, I did recognize a very important date in our ongoing union.

Relationships between two people are important. And while it is difficult enough to maintain a loving and stable relationship between two people, once you add in a third or a suspected third person, the situation is apt to become deadly serious. No, don't look at me, I'm referring to that old-time, St. Louis couple, Frankie and Johnny. You've all heard the song.

     Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts
     They had a quarrel one day
     Johnny he vowed that he would leave her
     Said he was going away
     He's never coming home,
     etc.

Okay, that's probably not the version you heard; there're several versions out there. Which leads us to the point that the only things to be agreed on by historians is that a man died and he was killed by his significant other. I reiterate my statement about remembering your significant other.

Anyway, if you believe the St. Louis Ledger, Frankie was Frankie Baker, a 22 year-old single female, and Johnny was actually Albert Britt, a 17 year-old youth who sometimes resided with Frankie in her second floor apartment in a boarding house. Well, I could see right off the bat that something was wrong with the situation if Albert was using an alias. I don't know if Albert felt the need to carry a second name because of his secret life on the side, or if it was a ruse to mislead Frankie's landlord that she was keeping house with a juvenile. Love will get you into situations.

The song goes on to say that Johnny was going to leave Frankie after an argument, or that Frankie went out for a beer and caught him with another woman, or that she looked over a transom and saw him loving up the other woman. Pick your version. Other accounts say young Albert was returning from a "cakewalk" where he and a young lady had just won a slow-dancing contest. The other woman in all these scenarios could have been Alice Pryor, or she could have been Nellie Bly. So much for the reliability of witnesses in these matters. However, I do remember the excitement of slow-dancing in my hey-day and I'm sure this would have upset Frankie. Not my slow-dancing, you understand, but rather that done by her man Johnny, or Albert, or whatever his name was, when he was doing it with that other woman whoever she was.

Moving on, the song says Frankie pulled her .44 and shot him five times...or it could have been three times. One sometimes get confused with all the noise and adrenalin. Which brings us back to them reliable witnesses. In the newspaper article, Frankie goes on record as a case of domestic violence, saying that Johnny cut her with his folding knife during their little dust up, so she slid her hand under her pillow, drew out her gun and shot him ONCE with her shiny, silver-plated .32. Okay, while I was admittedly not at the scene on October 15, 1899 at 3:30 AM, I'm gonna jump in here anyway. I've seen a photo of Frankie and she is not a muscle-bound female, so if she's pulling the trigger on a .44 revolver, then the recoil is going to knock her hand back and up after every shot, requiring a certain amount of time to reacquire the target before her next shot. There would not be any of that alleged "root-e-toot-toot" shooting going on. Not three times, and surely not five times. Besides, there was an alleged eye-witness, Pansy Marvin, who claimed to have seen the whole thing, thus backing up Frankie's version of the situation.

Johnny said to roll him over, and then died on the spot, whereas Albert took one round to the abdomen, said, "You have me," whatever the hell that meant, went to the hospital and expired four days later. Frankie beat the rap at trial, spent the rest of her life being pointed out in public as "that woman," even though she changed cities several times. She filed a defamation suit against Republic Pictures for their 1938 movie Frankie and Johnny, was unsuccessful in the lawsuit, and later died in a state hospital for the insane on January 19, 1950, in Pendleton, Oregon.

So what did we learn from all this?

First, don't be caught out with any hot young thing going by the name of Alice Pryor or Nellie Bly. Second, you may have a sweet tooth for cake, but slow-dancing with another woman at a cakewalk could be hazardous to your health. But mainly, I would say that you should be sure to remember your significant other at all times. Especially if that significant other keeps a shiny pistol under her pillow.

I remembered. How about you?