Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts

07 January 2020

MGM: More Stars Than There Are in Heaven


On New Year’s Turner Classic Movies ran all the That’s Entertainment movies. Amy and I caught a few minutes of them. The host appearances were largely filmed on the MGM backlot, or what was left of it at the time. And that got me thinking about some of my own experiences there and an interview I did with Steve Bingen, one of the authors of the highly acclaimed book: MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. The interview is from a while back but hopefully still of interest. This is part one of two.

Only one studio in the golden days of Hollywood could claim as its motto "more stars than there are in heaven" and actually mean it: MGM – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Not only did MGM have more stars than in heaven it also had more backlots—the place where dreams were made.  In Culver City, CA, besides the main studio lot, were eight backlots, depending on how one counts them.  I have the distinction of being one of the last people to have shot a film on MGM Backlot #2, one of the two main backlots, which is an interesting story in itself, but for another time.

Because of that, I was contacted by Steven Bingen, an archivist at Warner Brothers, who, along with Mike Troyan and Steve Sylvester have authored a book called MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT—with a foreword by Debbie Reynolds.

Unfortunately MGM ain't what it used to be and, in fact, the main lot, the only lot left, is now owned by Sony.  All the backlots met with the wrecker's ball and made way for condos or houses.  "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," as Joanie Mitchell once sang.  Luckily the photos, memories and stories of people who remember the backlots have been collected in this book.

What follows is Part I of my interview with Steve Bingen about the book and the backlots.  Please note that the interview was done before the book was finalized and released so that is reflected in the interview's wording.

Paul: Thank you for dropping by, Steve. What gave you the idea for this book—what was your inspiration?

Steve: There have been books written about MGM before, and I recommend them all.  But there was always a major part of the equation, maybe the major part of that equation missing on each and every one of them. All of these books would inevitably contain one aerial shot of the lot—usually the same one—and a single paragraph, maybe, about soundstages and backlots at the studio. And that would be it!

This struck all three of us as mysterious.  It always seemed to us that if you were writing about a place, and MGM was indeed an actual physical place, then why would an author choose to tell us what amounted to virtually nothing about that place?  People always describe Hollywood's studios as "dream factories." Well that phrase isn't bad for what it is, and anyone who was there will tell you that life in those dream factories was if anything, even more interesting than the product the factory was producing.  Yet no one had ever talked about that factory.  Ever.

What we wanted to do with our book was to zoom in on that single aerial photo in everyone else's book, to climb the fences of one of those dream factories and look around a bit.

More stars than there are in heaven.

Tell us about the book and what makes it unique.

Let me just say that the book is formatted as a "virtual tour" of MGM Studios.  The text mostly consists of a walk around the lot, circa 1960, with every major set and department described and illustrated.  We've included hundreds of unseen photos of the place as well, many of which were saved from catacombs and basements and archives which no living person has accessed in decades.  I'm not sure about the "not living" people.

MGM Backlot #2

What did you learn about MGM and/or the various backlots that was new or really interesting?

I thought it was fascinating and haunting how many famous movies and television shows shot on that lot for which no one ever suspected that what they were watching was a backlot at all.  Even if audiences were watching a set they had already seen in hundreds, thousands of other films, people seemed to accept that a curved European street was Paris one week and Transylvania the next just because a visual cue, a street sign or an establishing shot told them it was. Something like a fifth of all the movies made in the United States, historically were made somewhere on the MGM backlot!  Sadly, and decades after the fact, this only proves how successfully these facades were at doing what they were designed to do.

Even today in an era of wide-spread location shooting and so-called digital backlots, Hollywood's few surviving actual backlots manage to succeed in constantly fooling today's "sophisticated" audiences time after time.  I recall watching the Super Bowl on TV recently, and counting at least 4 commercials during the broadcast which replicated real locations using current LA backlot sets which every single person in that game's vast worldwide audience had seen hundreds of times before. I can't help but wonder how many of those people, besides me, have ever suspected that was the case?

What were some of the movies shot on them?

In the book we came up with a list of every major backlot set with the titles of films shot on that set listed underneath.  I'm not sure how much of that list is going to be published, and in what form, but as  it stands now those lists alone, in reduced print, equal over 40 pages of text, and frankly are not even close to being comprehensive!  It amuses me that people write books about, and make pilgrimages to, locations where their favorite scenes from their favorite films were shot.  You know, Griffith Observatory in the Hollywood hills where a single scene in "Rebel Without a Cause" was recorded for example. Well, that location pales in significance to any single inch of any single movie studio—which has probably hosted hundreds, thousands, of films across the decades.  I sometimes drive though those vast anonymous subdivisions which were built where MGM's Lot Two once stood, and I can't help but wonder if the people in those tract homes on that land, know, or care, how historic their property really is. Movie-wise that real estate is more important than any single block of Hollywood Boulevard ever was!

Anyway, I think it's kind of fun to hopscotch through these lists and realize how versatile these sets were, and how much of our shared movie memories were created on them.


How and why did you hook up with me?

Now that's an interesting story.  I don't know if readers of this blog are aware of this but Paul directed one of the last movies ever made on the MGM backlot.  That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his name on it.

I didn't know any of this.  I had noticed that there were a few very tantalizing stills floating around on the internet of the studio in its very decrepit very last days.  I couldn't figure out what film these stills were from or what movie was seen in production in them.  I started asking around on the sites where these "holy grail" shots had been posted and that finally led Paul and I to a meeting where he was good enough to loan me some of these same stills and describe the strange production history of his picture.  I'm not going to tell that story here because I can't do so as well as he can, but needless to say it is in my book, and hopefully some of those pictures will appear there as well.  (The photo selection is still being assembled [at the time of the interview]). Let me just say that the history of Paul's movie quite a tale.  Ask him to tell it to you…

MGM: HOLLYWOOD'S GREATEST BACKLOT is available in bookstores and at Amazon.  Click here.

In Part II find out about more about MGM. Stay tuned.

***

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.

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

17 December 2019

Merry Movie Mayhem


by Paul D. Marks

Well, with Christmas and Hanukkah only a few days away, here’s some last minute Merry Mayhem stocking stuffers. As of the time of this writing, a few days before its posting, most were still available and some are available streaming. The movies aren’t necessarily Christmas-related, just good stocking stuffers for those who like to read, write and watch crime fiction. And I’ve tossed in a bunch of non-crime-related movies at the end. All in no particular order. So, roll film:


The Godfather and its two sequels: Godfather I is one of the greatest movies ever made. And Godfather II is even better. Three isn’t as bad as I first thought it was and if one can get around Sofia Coppola’s Valley Girl Mafia chic it’s pretty good actually. You can get them individually, in a set or as the Godfather Saga where they’ve been cut together chronologically. I’ll take my Godfather any way I can get it.

Chinatown and Two Jakes: At the risk of being repetitive, Chinatown is one of the greatest movies ever made. And one of the best and most perfect screenplays I’ve ever read. When task master Amy was trying to get me to pare down on things, she “made” me get rid of a ton of screenplays I had – lots of good ones, too. But one of the few that I kept was Chinatown, which still sits on a shelf in my office for inspiration. Some people don’t like the subject matter, they find it repulsive. But it’s still a terrific movie. And the sequel, Two Jakes, also isn’t as bad as I first thought it was. But it’s best to watch it right after you view Chinatown so everything that it refers to is fresh in your mind. That will enhance your enjoyment of it.

In a Lonely Place: Tied for my second favorite movie of all time (see towards the end for the other second fave). And yes, I like the movie better than the book it’s based on. It resonates with me on so many levels. Back in the day, the Smithereens did a song called In a Lonely Place, inspired by the movie. It even has some lines from the movie. I really like this song. I got a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter of the Smithereens. And when I look at the poster I like to think that DiNizio was also looking at that very poster when he wrote that song.

Film Noir 10-Movie Spotlight Collection: Okay, even if you don’t have anyone to get this for, get it for yourself. It’s one of the best collections of noir I’ve seen. It includes: This Gun For Hire, The Glass Key, Double Indemnity, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, Black Angel, The Killers (1946 version), The Big Clock, Criss Cross, Touch of Evil. There’s not a bad movie in the bunch. And it includes the ultimate film noir imo, Double Indemnity. Plus Blue Dahlia, which Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for. But they’re all good to great. Some have commentaries and other features. I’ve given this as gifts to a few people and I’m always envious when I do. I have all the movies, but in other versions, but somehow I still want this set for me. One great set.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection: If you like Hitchcock and you don’t already have these or know someone who might enjoy them it’s a great Hitch starter set. I say ‘starter’ because there’s so many more. But this includes one of my two fave Hitchcock movies, Vertigo (the other being The Lady Vanishes). And most of the movies here are terrific, though there’s some I’m not all that fond of. Plus there’s lots of extra features. Movies in the set are: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot.

Pulp Fiction: Everybody knows this one. It’s a terrific movie. And would make a great stocking stuffer, along with Reservoir Dogs.

Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile: Two movies based on Stephen King stories. Not horror tales, like he’s generally known for. And I tend to like his non-horror stories – like these and Stand by Me – much more than the horror ones. You can get these two in a set, both directed by Frank Darabont. A terrific two-fer.

Thin Man Boxed Set: Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about this one still being available. Well, it is still available but it’s over 200 bucks. So maybe another time when it’s reissued. We all know the Thin Man movies. The playful banter and plentiful drink. One of my film school teachers wrote one of them – I always thought that was so cool. There’s other good William Powell Myrna Loy movies as well, especially Libeled Lady and Love Crazy.

LA Confidential: I’m a James Ellroy fan, though not as much as I used to be. This is one hell of a good movie based on his book. And, though I loved the book, after watching the movie about 500 times, I reread it and think I actually like the movie better.

Here’s some non-crime movies that might work, too:

Reuben Reuben: A minor gem and a great satire. Here’s a couple quotes from the movie:

“There's nothing I cherish more than the truth. I don't practice it, but I cherish it.”

And later:

“That’s where they live. (Points to sign that says “Birch Hills”.) And in other subdivisions with names like Orchard View and Vineyard Haven. All of them named, God help us, for the woods and the vineyards and the apple trees they bulldozed out of existence to make way for the new culture.”

After Hours: Something a little different from Martin Scorsese.  The Grateful Dead sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” They might have been writing about Griffin Dunne’s very long, odd night in this movie.

Casablanca: Number 1 fave movie, bar none. Do I really need to say anything about this?

Beatles on Ed Sullivan: What can I say about this? They changed the world – at least they changed my world.

Uncle Buck: One of two John Candy/John Hughes movies on this list. Uncle Buck doesn’t always get great reviews, but I like it. I think it’s funny and warm.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The other John Candy/John Hughes film on this list. Also funny with a warm heart.

My Cousin Vinny: I’ve seen this in whole or in part about 1,000,000 times. And I always laugh. It never gets old.

Can’t Buy Me Love: Patrick Dempsey as a high school student who finds out the real price of being popular. And the title is from a Beatle song that’s played in the movie. How can you go wrong?

It’s Alive: Ramones concert footage. Great stuff from a terrific, punchy band. Gabba Gabba Hey! Johnny Ramone came in #28 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 guitar players. See why on this 2 DVD set. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-greatest-guitarists-153675/johnny-ramone-154110/

They Might Be Giants: A man (George C. Scott) thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes. His psychiatrist, Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward), might think so, too…sooner or later.

Soldier in the Rain: A special movie, starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen. If it doesn’t touch your heart you don’t have one.

Fred and Ginger movies, individually or boxed: always good for the holiday spirit

Ghost World: My other second favorite movie, along with In a Lonely Place. I’m not a teenage girl, but I totally relate to the alienation these characters, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, feel. And for those who haven’t seen it it’s not a horror movie despite the title. (Also w/ Steve Buscemi.)

Sideways: a wonderful movie for writers, even more than for people who hate Merlot.

I don’t think he’s really talking about wine here:

Miles (Paul Giamatti): “Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”

Here’s a link to another SleuthSayers piece I did on Christmas movies with both a Christmas and crime element. Some movies you might think are missing from today’s list might be found here: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/have-holly-jolly-crime-season.html

I could keep going, but all good things must come to an end and maybe crime doesn’t pay but it pays to watch these movies.

So have yourself a Merry Little Mayhem Murderous Christmas. Happy Holidays Everyone!

~.~.~

BSP: Oh, and maybe a couple stocking stuffer books:



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

26 November 2019

P.I. Nocturne


by Paul D. Marks

Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa
In a couple of recent SleuthSayers posts O’Neil and Leigh talked about pre-rock music. I’d like to take my cue from them and offer my nine cents’ worth (inflation) on the topic. Music infuses my life and because of that it also infuses much of my writing.

As I mentioned in my comment on O’Neil’s post, I think there’s a lot of good music before rock. I love baroque music and well, that’s a hell of a long time before rock. But mostly I’m talking here about the swing/big band music of the 1930s and 40s. I love a lot of that music.

I’m a rock n roller, love to sing it, play it, not saying I’m any good, just like to do it. I grew up on it. And when I was a kid and teen it was all I wanted to listen to. My dad liked classical music and swing and if we were in the car and he put those on I would gag. But somehow, as I got older I began to appreciate other genres of music besides rock. I think partially because I was exposed to it as a kid—very much against my will—and also because I like/d old movies from the 1930s and 40s and was exposed to that music in them as well.

Duke Ellington - Take the A Train

When I was a kid, I got to see Benny Goodman play. And I hated it. I didn’t appreciate it. I feel like an idiot saying that today, but it is what it is. That said, I can still say I saw him. These days, I love his music, especially Sing Sing Sing, and wish I could have seen him again as an adult.

Benny Goodman - Sing Sing Sing

A very long time ago, my friend Linda (who’s also into old movies, old music and old L.A., like me), and I would cruise around L.A. and see various swing bands and singers. It was long enough ago that we actually got to see some of the performers from the 30s and 40s, who were still around. We saw Tex Beneke leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra. We saw Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell, who, when they were with the Jimmy Dorsey band (one of my favorite big bands), sing their hits Brazil and Tangerine. You might recall an instrumental version of the latter wafting in from down the street in Double Indemnity.

Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell - Tangerine

So, even though I loved—and still love—rock ‘n’ roll, my musical horizons expanded quite a bit as I got older. I found there was a lot of great and sinuous music pre-rock. Just listen to Sing Sing Sing, or Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train or Artie Shaw’s Frenesi and so much more.

There’s also been some great musical moments in film noirs:

Elisha Cook in Phantom Lady


Louis Armstrong in The Strip, and Mickey Rooney drumming his heart out in that.

And the jazz scene in the original D.O.A.

But the point I’m leading up to is that, as a writer, my story/novel titles are often inspired by music and songs. Mostly rock, because they’re mostly set in the rock era, but sometimes swing. The title of my upcoming novel, The Blues Don’t Care, is inspired by a Nat King Cole song. And a story I did many years ago, Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne, takes its title both from the infamous Sleepy Lagoon incident in L.A. during World War II and the song of that name, which inspired the name of the lagoon in that incident. My story title Born Under a Bad Sign is inspired by the blues song of the same name that was originally recorded by Albert King and covered by Cream, so it hits two genres of music.

Nat King Cole - The Blues Don't Care

Some of my story titles inspired by music are: Endless Vacation (Ramones), Poison Heart (Ramones), Deserted Cities of the Heart (Cream), and more. In fact, I just finished a story called Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith) and another, Nowhere Man (the Beatles). Music is everywhere in my writing.

I sometimes write things set in the past. The Blues Don’t Care (coming out in 2020) is also set on the L.A. homefront during World War II. It’s largely set on Central Avenue, L.A.’s swing and big band center. And the music of that era wafts sensuously around and through the plot. Doing the research for that was so much fun that getting any writing done was difficult. (I’ll be talking more about this book closer to its release. But right now I’m just talking about the music.)


Many of my characters also listen to music, and sometimes play it, like Ray Hood, the lead character in Dead Man’s Curve, named after the Jan and Dean song. P.I. Duke Rogers (from my novel White Heat and its sequel Broken Windows, both set in the 1990’s), listens to a variety of new wave and alternative music, everything from k.d. lang to Portishead and even some Eric Clapton. His less open and less tolerant partner, Jack, only listens to classical and cowboy (not country) music, which he thinks are the only pure/legitimate forms of music (and I like those genres too). He calls Duke’s music “space case” music in Broken Windows. But the music isn’t there only to help define their characters. I use their musical tastes to highlight the difference between the two characters and their contrasting personalities.

Music is a big part of my writing, helping express character and mood, though sometimes music can be difficult to express in a “two-dimensional” medium. It’s a bummer we can’t have a soundtrack to our stories/novels, but I’m sure that’s coming with e-books, if it isn’t already here.

I often listen to music while I write and most often it’s the kind of music that can get me in the mood for what I’m writing. So if I’m writing something set during WWII I listen to big band, if I’m writing something more contemporary, I listen to one kind of rock or another. You get the idea.

Today I’m listening to Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington and who knows what stories they might inspire or how it will affect what I’m working on right now. That’s one of the great things about music, it can inspire you in so many ways and bring out emotions, thoughts and feelings that we sometimes stifle in our everyday lives—and it can do the same for our characters. And remember, it don’t mean a thing if ain’t got that swing.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:


Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."



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

05 November 2019

Once Upon a Time in…Los Angeles


by Paul D. Marks

Me with gangster car at Melody Ranch backlot
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is getting a lot of notice for a lot of reasons, one of which is his recreation of a certain era of L.A. (1969) and various L.A. landmarks. And that’s our topic for today boys and girls. So if I might indulge in some personal memories of some of the locations in his movie. Unfortunately, in the really good old days, emphasis on old, we didn’t carry cameras with us all the time, so I don’t have a lot of pictures of those locations from then and what I do have are mostly in boxes and mostly not scanned.


Cinerama Dome

Entering the Cinerama Dome theatre when it was a new and exciting thing was like entering a giant geodesic egg (okay dome). It was a big deal when it first opened in the early 60s on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, a little east of the Strip. It was built specifically to play movies that were shot in the three camera Cinerama process. A process that didn’t last very long for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here.

I remember going there to see these exciting movies, only two of which were filmed in the real three camera Cinerama. After that movies called Cinerama were filmed in SuperPanavision 70 and released in some kind of Cinerama format, but they weren’t the real thing.

I think the first movie in full three camera Cinerama that played at the Dome, and one of the two in three camera Cinerama, was The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, an expansive movie about both the brothers Grimm (Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm) and their fairytales. I remember being awed by the huge, curved screen. It was like you were enveloped in the fairytales.

The next was How The West Was Won, a thrilling epic western. I saw that when it opened there, too, and still have the book I got then. That was a time when big movies and things like companion books that went with the movie could be bought in the theatre. My book is just like the one in the picture here, though since mine is hiding away in a box this is a reasonable facsimile. I still watch the movie every once in a while, but listen to the music soundtrack often. The movie is definitely another Hollywood era and likely one we won’t see again. It was thrilling to see on the huge screen, especially that POV shot from inside the barrel rolling down the hill. If I recall, some people could have used airsickness bags.

In Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood Tarantino has Krakatoa: East of Java playing at the Dome in the background, and it did, and I saw it there. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, Krakatoa is west of Java. But no one figured that out till after the movie was done.

I saw a lot of movies at the Dome and it was always a thrill, but nothing like those first two in real Cinerama that made you believe you were in the middle of it, especially the action shots in How the West Was Won.


Casa Vega

Casa Vega is where Brad Pitt’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s characters, Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton, tie one on in Once Upon a Time. And, if you love Mexican food, as I do, you end up trying a lot of Mexican restaurants. And one of them was Casa Vega. I used to go there a lot when I lived in the (San Fernando) Valley. The food was good, though I haven’t been there in a long time. It was a nice place to take a date or just hook up with friends for some margaritas, hot sauce and food.

And at least I never got asked to leave as I did in another Mexican restaurant where we were drinking margaritas by the pitcher and being obnoxious as young people, men and women, tend to be. And I started breaking the margarita glasses in my hand, on purpose. Just snapping them into pieces. After breaking a few of those the management politely asked if we could get the hell out. But Casa Vega was a little higher class place and nothing like that ever happened there.

Since I live so far away now I haven’t been there in a while, but writing this is making me hungry for Mexican food and it might just be worth the drive. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into Rick and Cliff.


Playboy Mansion

A party scene was filmed at the mansion…which was/is famous for its parties. Unfortunately, I never made it there, but I went to plenty of fun Hollywoodsy parties, with a lot of the same people who partied with Hef and his bunnies. The less said about most of those the better. Still, it would have been nice to go to the Playboy Mansion once or twice.


El Coyote


El Coyote, one of my favorite places
I’ve been to all the places on this list (except one) many times and have enjoyed them all over the years, well, maybe enjoy isn’t the right word for the last one on the list. But the one place (besides
Corriganville) that is very special to me is El Coyote. Now, this is a place I’ve been to at least a million times. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but hardly. I lived pretty near as a kid and we’d go often, probably since I was about 3. In fact, my mom went when she was a kid and it was at a different location. And when I lived in West L.A. as an adult, it was my home away from home. I’d often meet my friend Buddy (name changed) since his photography studio and my apartment were equidistant from EC from different directions. But I’d go there with everyone and often. When I met Amy, the future and now current wife, she had to pass 3 tests:

1. Like the Beatles – she passed with flying colors.

2. Not smoke – again, she passed with flying colors.

3. Like El Coyote – now this one was more iffy as she’d never been there. Would she like it or would she not? Will she or won’t she? This was a make or break issue. I could never marry someone who didn’t like El Coyote. I could be friends with them, lots of people I know don’t like it. It’s the kind of place you either love or hate. So I’m tolerant, I can be friends with EC Haters, but I couldn’t marry one. My heart raced as we made our way into the tackiest restaurant on the planet. We ordered our food. I awaited the verdict – she liked it. We got married that day. Well, not really, but we did get married. And it seems to have taken. And we both still like it but we live pretty far now so we don’t get there as often as we used to. But every now and then we need a fix.

I even had my bachelor party at El Coyote in a back room. It was a co-ed bachelor party, but Amy didn’t come, though in retrospect I don’t see why she couldn’t have. Well, maybe there was just that one… And I set a lot of scenes there in things that I write. Well, they say write what you know and I know El Coyote pretty well.


When Buddy and I used to go there, about once a week, I’d get in fights with people for smoking before the anti-smoking in restaurant laws were passed. One of them was a doozy, but I’d probably get in trouble all over again if I went into the details.

And I’m not the only person who loved El Coyote. It was Sharon Tate’s favorite restaurant. And on August 8, 1969 she and Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger had dinner there – what turned out to be their ‘last supper’. Roman Polanski was out of town. And Tarantino recreates that last supper in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood. Supposedly, he shot at the same booth they actually ate at. It’s a poignant moment when you know what is to follow in real life.


Musso & Frank

Musso & Frank is a Hollywood Time Machine back to the past. To the glory days of Hollywood. What can you say, an L.A. institution. Been around since 1919 and recently celebrated its 100th birthday. On Hollywood Boulevard, though Hollywood Boulevard ain’t what it used to be…if it ever was.
Amy and me at Musso a couple of months ago with
one of the famous red-coated waiters in the b.g.

It hasn’t changed much since it was founded, and I’d bet real money that some of the waiters are the original ones from 1919. Musso’s is the kind of place that the phrase “if these walls could talk” was invented for. And if they could you might hear Chaplin or Bogart or Marilyn Monroe saying things they’d never say in public. And speaking of Bogart, it’s like that line in Casablanca, “everyone comes to Rick’s,” well, in real life sooner or later everyone comes to Musso’s.

When there, in the wood and red leather booths, eating your Welsh rarebit, if you squint just a little you can still see the ghosts of Fitzgerald and John Fante (one of my favorite LA writers), Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. If you cup your ear just right you might hear Dorothy Park quip off an ironic bon mot. If you close your eyes for a few seconds you can see a whole array of Hollywood royalty, actors and screenwriters and if you open them you might see them in the flesh, even today.
There was even a semi-secret back room, where writers of all kinds would hang. Well hang out.
The food is mostly trad, things like Welsh rarebit, steaks, chicken pot pie, Lobster Thermidor and the like. And there’s a full bar, which reminds me: I’m pissed off about the last time I went there a couple months ago. I’ve been wanting a Harvey Wallbanger in the worst way, which you used to be able to get just about anywhere but is almost impossible these days. But for some reason I forgot to see if they still made them there and ordered something else. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back. Research, you know.

Musso is where DiCaprio and Brad Pitt meet Al Pacino in the movie.


The Bruin Theatre

The Bruin Theater is in Westwood. UCLA is in Westwood, just a couple blocks north. Westwood used to be one of the places to go on dates and for fun. Westwood used to have about a dozen bookstores and it was great fun walking from one to another, each a little different, and coming home with an armload of books. All fun and terrific. Then there was a gang shooting and people largely stopped going. I went on the second half of my first date with Amy there. First we went to a screening, then we went to a restaurant called Yesterdays that I liked to go to in those days. There was a live band playing a lot of Beatles music, so it was a perfect first date 😊.

I used to see a lot of movies at the Bruin and the Village theater across the street. There’d even be premiers and sneak previews. They were big, old-fashioned theatres, with big screens, not divided into tiny little theatres that make you wish you would have just watched something on your big screen TV.

And I guess, according to Tarantino’s fable Sharon Tate went there and watched a Matt Helm movie that she was in. But if I were to have put my feet on the seat in front me like she does in the movie I probably would have been kicked out.


Corriganville

As I mentioned in my SleuthSayers post of September 24, 2019, Corriganville is one of my favorite places on Earth. Of course, it’s not the same today as it was then. Then it was a working movie ranch and tourist attraction, today it’s a park. But I have my memories.

Recently, Tarantino recreated the Spahn Ranch of Manson Family infamy at Corriganville Park for Once Upon a Time. I’m not sure why he didn’t do it at Spahn, which is just down the road. And down a piece from that is the former Iverson Ranch, the greatest movie ranch of all, imo. If you’ve seen The Lone Ranger TV series you’ve seen the Iverson Ranch. The famous Lone Ranger Rock, where he rears Silver in the opening, was on the Iverson. The rock is still there and parts of the former ranch are park today, but most of it is developed.

If you missed my Corriganville piece, check out it out at https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2019/09/once-upon-time-in-corriganville.html.


Melody Ranch

“Do not forsake me, oh, my darlin’…” is how the theme song to High Noon opens. I love cowboy music, as distinct from country-western, and that is one of my favorite songs, from a truly classic western movie. And some of that movie was shot at Melody Ranch.

I’ve done some “time” there, and Melody Ranch is another fun and fave place. And it’s still going strong as a movie location ranch. I doubt if you could count high enough to reach the number of things filmed there which, besides High Noon, include Combat (TV series), Deadwood (TV series), Django Unchained, The Gene Autry Show, The (of course) Gunsmoke (TV series), Westworld (TV series) and tons of others. Tons.

On the western street at Melody Ranch
It got the name “Melody Ranch” from Gene Autry when he owned it, naming it after his radio show. But in terms of the movie biz, it started out as Monogram Ranch. Monogram was one of the low-low-low budget film companies that were around in the 1930s. They merged with Republic Pictures, the King of B film studios, and the ranch became theirs. Autry bought it in 1953 and stabled his horse Champion there until he died in 1990. Today it’s about 22 acres and owned independently. At its height, I believe it used to be about 110 acres.

Tarantino used the ranch as the location for the Lancer set in Once Upon a Time.

I love backlots, soundstages, exterior sets, whether I’m there for business or pleasure. And Melody Ranch, with all its history, is a fun place to be.








Aquarius Theatre

The more things change, well, you know the rest.

The Aquarius theatre in Once Upon a Time is a Hollywood landmark on Sunset Boulevard. It went through many incarnations since its opening as the Earl Carrol Theatre (Earl Carrol was known for the Vanities, and the theatre was a supper club with stage shows). If you remember the old TV show Queen for Day, it broadcast from there for a time. In the 60s, it became a rock venue called the Hullabaloo, which eventually morphed into the Kaleidoscope club. Between the two, lots of big acts played there. Canned Heat, Jefferson Airplane, Love, the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, the Yardbirds, the Doors, many more, and, of course, the Seeds. I saw many of these bands, though not all at the Hullabaloo/Aquarius, whatever it was called at the time. I have a friend who saw the Seeds there (remember them, “Pushin’ Too Hard) about 600 times. I exaggerate, but not by much and maybe he didn’t see all their shows there. And then it became the home of Hair for what seemed like forever.
In 1968, the exterior was repainted and it became the Aquarius and home of the play Hair for I think about 130 years, give or take a decade or two. And, of course, it changed a lot over the decades, but not too long ago it was repainted back to its psychedelic glory to look as it did in 1968/69. I don’t recall in the movie that anything was set there, just that Pitt and DiCaprio drive by and it lends background atmosphere to the time frame. Definitely a blast from the past.

And, while I have some memories there, I thought I’d turn the rest of this section over to my friend Terry Tally, who practically lived there:

“Walking into the Hullabaloo Theater in 1967 was like stepping back in time. Originally a posh supper club called the Earl Carroll Theater, it was built in 1938, and renamed the Moulin Rouge by Ciro's owner Frank Sennes before becoming the Hullabaloo in 1966. Its interior was a throwback to a bygone era with its classic bar, sweeping staircase to the lounges, the larger than life art deco statue of Beryl Wallace, and elegant tuck and roll seating. I saw The Seeds many times in those days whose signature song Pushing Too Hard opened the door for me to other garage bands of the time. Music was really happening in L.A. and many bands like Love, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, and The Byrds played there on the unique revolving stage where one band would exit while still playing and another would come on playing their first song in a cool rotation.

You didn't need to be 21 to get in, and it was the hangout place for young Hollywood hipsters and babes in mini-skirts. Kids would be jammed under the porte cochere waiting to get in, and there were always familiar faces in the crowd. My wife and I share memories of seeing the same shows, though we didn’t know each other at the time, where many of the 60s greatest musicians launched their careers alongside house band The Yellow Payges, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Sopwith Camel, The Troggs, Hamilton Streetcar, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Standells, and The Music Machine whose members all wore black leather gloves.”


Vogue Theatre

My friends Andy, Richard and I used to go up to Hollywood Boulevard to see movies, sometimes all three, sometimes just two of us. We saw tons of movies there. I know we went to the Vogue, but to be honest I don’t remember what we saw there. There were a bunch of theatres on the Boulevard and we’d hit them all. At that time, Hollywood Boulevard was no place to write home about. Maybe not as bad as Times Square was before it got Disneyfied, but bad enough in most parts of it. But at least there were no dorks dressed up in costumes charging you to take a picture with them like there is today with Spiderman, Batman and the others haunting Hollywood Boulevard from one end to the other. And God forbid if you try to take one of their pictures without paying. Hopefully your insurance is paid up.

One of our favorite genres, and believe me, it was a genre, were (outlaw) biker movies and there were a ton of them in the late 60s.

The Wild Angels, Hells Angels on Wheels, Glory Stompers, Born Losers (which introduced the character of Billy Jack. And while a lot of these movies don’t hold up for me today, I still love Born Losers.). And, of course, Hells Angels ’69 (in which many Hells Angels played, uh, Hells Angels – how cool was that), which is appropriate because that’s the year Tarantino’s movie takes place. And many, many more. In fact, Jack Nicholson became famous in Easy Rider. But I knew him well already from these low budget biker movies and Roger Corman movies. He was no overnight sensation to me 😉.

So, one time Andy and I are heading to one of the theatres on the Boulevard. We walk up outside and there’s a ton of choppers backed into the curb. I don’t remember how many, but I’m thinking realistically maybe thirty. That’s a lot. And the theatre they’re parked out front is playing one of the biker movies we’re heading to see. We were young, and maybe stupid, but we bought our tickets and went inside. And about ten rows back from the screen is a row of Hells Angels and their girls. Now, they’re not sitting staggered throughout the near-empty theatre, they’re sitting from one side of the theatre in one very long row.

We sat a few rows behind them. And we knew if they talked or howled or did whatever they might do we weren’t going to ask them to shut up. So the movie started. And they sat in rapt attention. They might have talked a little or laughed, but mostly they were just glued to the screen. And for all we knew they were on the screen.

We didn’t bother them. And they didn’t bother us. But it gave a little more verisimilitude to the movie to have them there.

I don’t remember which movie it was or really which theatre, but it could very well have been the Vogue. And, as I recall, from Once Upon a Time, there isn’t really a scene set there, but Tarantino dressed up the marquee the way it would have been in 1969 for the background, since it looks a bit different today.


Cielo Drive

Back in the day, the good old days in some ways, the bad old days in others, and for years after the Sharon Tate murders in a house on Cielo Drive, almost everyone who came from outside of L.A. wanted me to take them up there for a drive-by (so to speak). So I would dutifully do so. We’d drive by the house. They’d gawk at whatever they could see of it. Say how horrible it was, all the usual stuff. I was never really sure what the fascination was. Some kind of morbid fascination with Manson, with L.A., whatever.

The people who eventually bought the house had it torn down, I think partially because they were tired of the gawkers and partly because when Sharon Tate and her friends were murdered it was such a shocking crime. Today, the property is still there, with a new house on it. But nobody’s asked me to take them there in a long, long time. I assume that’s because it’s not the house and also because these days we have shocking crimes every other day and the property on Cielo is old hat. Plenty of new murder scenes to check out. If you’re lucky maybe even a fresh one, with the cops still there.

***

There’s more places in Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood that I could talk about, but this is a partial trip into my town. I loved growing up in L.A., there were so many pop cultural touchstones and I got to see or participate in many of them. I still love L.A., though today I’d say it’s more of a love-hate relationship. But regardless of anything else, my heart will always be here in one way or another.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:


Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."



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

03 September 2019

Negotiating Writing Contracts


by Paul D. Marks and Jacqueline Seewald

A couple of months ago I read a blog post by Jacqueline Seewald that I really liked and thought contained a lot of good advice. So I asked Jacqueline if I could re-post it here at SleuthSayers as I thought our readers would also find it interesting and useful. She updated it a bit and gave me permission to share it.

A little about Jacqueline:


picture of author, Jacqueline Seewald
Jacqueline Seewald
Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Nineteen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. Her most recent novels are Death Promise and Witch Wish. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: The Writer, L.A. Times, Reader’s Digest, Pedestal, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body!, Gumshoe Review, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com

Take it away, Jacqueline:


How to Negotiate Writing Contracts

Recently I signed contracts with two different publishers for two separate novels, one a mystery novel in the continuing Kim Reynolds series, the other a stand-alone historical romance set during the American Revolution. Each contract involved negotiations resulting in compromises from both myself and the publishers. I was reminded that I might have some ideas that could be helpful to other authors who also don’t work with agent representation. I hope what I share with you will prove helpful.

Let us say you have written and rewritten until you’ve finally completed the best work of which you are capable. At last, you find a publisher who appears to recognize your accomplishment and achievement. And now you are offered a contract. There are perhaps a few things that you should understand about contracts.

First of all, publishers use contracts to protect their own interests. Writers need to be savvy enough to do the same. Even if you have the benefit of being represented by a literary agent, you should not be ignorant in this regard. Let's say you've been offered a contract for a work of writing you've created. What should you expect to be included?

If you can afford it, I would recommend that you have an attorney look over your contract. But let's assume that the publication is a small one and the amount of money offered is less than impressive. Obviously, it will cost you more than you would earn to have an attorney examine your contract. Also, it’s not likely that an agent will want to bother with it either.

When you need to act as your own attorney and agent, the best thing to do is read up on contracts for writers before you sign. Here's where books like Writer's Market can be helpful. Writer's magazines often carry helpful articles. Writer's organizations like: The Author's Guild (www.authorsguild.org), National Writer's Union (www.nwu.org), American Society of Journalists and Authors (www.asja.org), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (http://www.sfwa.org/contracts/) all carry valuable information.

In regard to newspapers and magazines, there are a wide variety of agreements. Some editors work by verbal agreement (the proverbial handshake) while others insist on detailed written contracts. I’ve had both types of contracts work out well--but sometimes not so well. It all depends on the integrity of the publisher.

Writers are usually asked to sell first serial rights or one time rights. This is preferred by authors. If you sell "all rights" to a specific work then you will be unable to sell reprint rights later. And many smaller publications are quite happy to purchase reprints. At times I’ve sold reprint rights to short fiction and novels for more money than I received for selling first rights. So avoid selling “all rights” if at all possible. Of course, you can request that reprint rights are returned to you at a later date, but be aware that the publisher is not obligated to return them. My suggestion: always negotiate. I have turned down several well-paying publications for both nonfiction and fiction because I refused to sell all rights. I don’t regret it.

Payment should be specified and agreed upon. It shouldn’t be left vague. Request payment on acceptance. You might not get it, but it's best to ask. Getting paid upon publication can lead to all sorts of problems. Not every publisher is honest or has integrity. Remember that contracts are negotiable. There's nothing wrong with asking for changes that benefit you.

Ideally, a kill fee should be specified. This means that if the publication does not use your work, it still has to pay you a percentage of the original fee.

If you do have a written contract—and that’s always best—request that a specific date for publication be included. Some publishers will hold your work indefinitely otherwise. And yes, this has happened to me as well.

Book contracts are much more complicated to negotiate. If possible, once you are offered a book contract, obtain the services of an agent or attorney. True you will be giving away a percentage of your earnings on a contract you have gotten for yourself. However, if a good agent will now agree to represent your future work, then you are doing quite well. An agent can often get concessions from a publisher that you cannot. Here are a few examples: a higher advance, higher percentage of royalties, more free advance review copies and/or final copies of your book. Also, a good agent can deal with the publicity department of the publishing house on your behalf. Well-connected agents can get your work seen by top editors at the major publishing houses. They network and know what particular editors are buying at a given time.

 Assuming you are offered too little of a payment to make this practical and interest a first-rate agent, then you should read up on contracts for authors before you make a decision to sign on the dotted line.

What should you insist be included in your book contract? You ought to insist on an advance. The advance is based on a formula that projects the book's first year profits. Many small or independent publishers claim they do not and cannot offer authors advances against royalties. However, the publisher hopefully can be made to see that an advance, even a small one, is viewed as "good faith" money by the author. If no advance whatever is offered, this is a sign that the publisher does not expect the book to sell well or doesn't plan to put much or any money in marketing and publicizing your work once the book is published. A nonrefundable advance is what the author should be requesting. As to royalties, request that they be based on the retail price or gross and not the net proceeds which often turn out to be quite small. Publishers generally want only to give you a net percentage which ends up as very little, especially when they claim that there are “returns” of your book. Creative accounting by publishers is quite a common practice and hard to prove. Hiring a forensic accountant simply isn’t practical for a majority of writers.

Publishers generally ask for every kind of rights possible. You may want, for instance, to insist that movie and theatrical rights be removed. Publishers often include option clauses in their contracts insisting that they be offered first rights to your next book. This can be a problem if your work is successful but you are still offered the payment terms of the previous contract. Worse still is the publisher's right to last refusal.

A time range for publication should also be included in the contract. Two years is acceptable; past that, all rights should revert to the author.

Another matter of importance: find out in advance if the publisher will be sending your book out for reviews. If possible, have this specified in the contract. Without reviews from major publications the majority of readers will not know your book exists. Your sales will be highly limited.

Above all else, accept no contract in which you are expected to pay for anything. I cannot emphasize this enough! Any request for fees is a clear indication of a disreputable publisher. Alarm bells should go off. Run, don't walk away! Be suspicious, because there are plenty of scam artists around. Check out writing scams via the internet. There are lists of so-called agents and publishers to avoid on many of the legitimate writer's sites. Check out, for instance, SFWA's Writer Beware: http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware. This website offers valuable information.

My advice is to be patient. Take your time and consider your options carefully. Respect yourself and the integrity of your hard work. And don’t settle for less from a publisher.

If you disagree on some of what I’ve written or can offer your own helpful advice and information, please do so. Your comments most welcome to be shared!

***

Thanks for joining us at SleuthSayers and for the great advice, Jacqueline.


~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."


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

13 August 2019

Strange Impersonation


by Paul D. Marks

I was looking for a movie to watch and Strange Impersonation, directed by Anthony Mann, sounded interesting, so I put it on.

And since I’m going to use this movie to make a larger point I’m going to give away various plot elements. I could use other, better-known movies, but as this is less-known and will work just as well illustrating the point, I figure it’s better to give the store away here. I’m using this movie to make a point about most, if not all, movies that do this.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

Here’s the basic plot as told by Bruce Eder on All Movie: “Nora Goodrich (Brenda Marshall) is a dedicated research scientist who is very close to a breakthrough in her field of anesthetics. She allows herself to be used as the subject of an experiment, and becomes the victim of sabotage by her jealous assistant (Hillary Brooke), who is her rival for the affections of the same man (William Gargan). Nora is scarred by the accident, but fate takes a hand when a vicious blackmailer (Ruth Ford), part of an extortion scam that was being worked on her, breaks in to her apartment. In the ensuing struggle, the lady grifter is killed and then mistaken for Nora, while the real Nora goes into hiding. Taking the identity of the dead woman, she realizes how she has been betrayed and maimed and plots an elaborate revenge, undergoing reconstructive surgery that changes her whole appearance. She then reintroduces herself into the lives of her former associates, in her new guise, and begins her revenge. Before her plans can be concluded, however, her masquerade backfires on her, when she finds herself accused by the police -- of the murder of Nora Goodrich” (https://www.allmovie.com/movie/strange-impersonation-v111934#ASyuCJD6Q4IVUJxw.99)


Okay, it sounds pretty convoluted, but just go with it, ’cause that’s not the point of this post.

It started going along pretty well. Nothing great, but I didn’t turn it off either.

So, after the ‘accident,’ and after the blackmailer dies and is mistaken for the scientist, the scientist leaves her fiancé and her life behind. She heads out west. Has plastic surgery to look like the woman who was blackmailing her. She then returns to the city as that person and begins on a course of revenge against her former assistant. She insinuates herself back into her former fiancé’s life, trying to steal him back from his new lover, her former assistant. Before she can pull it all together, everything backfires on her and she finds herself accused of murder—the murder of herself (though really, as we know, the blackmailer).


Okay, still convoluted, but interesting.

EXCEPT…

…that all of the revenge part of the plot turns out to be a dream. Everything after the explosion/‘accident’ didn’t really happen. It was all a dream in the scientist’s head after the accident. So all the emotion and excitement and concern that we invested in the character/s was for nothing. Because none of it was real. There were no real consequences. The assistant didn’t really make an explosive compound that disfigured the scientist. The scientist didn’t really get plastic surgery, return to exact her revenge, which was thwarted before should could finish it and she wasn’t really arrested for the murder of…………herself.

None of it happened. Because it was a dream.

And because it was a dream it’s a cheat. And it makes me angry and it makes me feel like I wasted 68 minutes of my life. I don’t like movies where major plot elements turn out to be dreams. I’ve invested myself, I’ve given over my suspension of disbelief. And then none of it matters.

I won’t name other movies or TV shows where things have turned out to be dreams, because I don’t want to give them away for those who haven’t seen them (with a couple exceptions below). But I can’t think of one that I like once I learn the events that took place were just a dream and didn’t really happen. There are, however, a couple of exceptions: one film noir that I like fairly well where much of it turns out to be a dream, but even that one which, if there is an exception to the rule is it, disappoints me in the end because again, there was no real jeopardy. There were no real consequences. So what did it all amount to? Nothing. The other exception is The Wizard of Oz, but that whole story is a fantasy. We’re not supposed to buy it as a real story as we are with other movies.

(Just as a side note here: I’m not talking about movies like Spellbound, where dreams are used to analyze a character and figure them out. That’s fine. I’m talking about movies where we learn that much of the action was a dream and thus didn’t really take place within the context of the story.)

Freud might have loved dreams and found them useful in psychoanalyzing people. But in my opinion, in a movie they’re nothing but a cheap cheat.

What do you think? Do you find movies based on dreams a cheat? Do you feel deceived after you’ve seen them? Let us know.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

My story Past is Prologue is out in the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Available now at bookstores and newstands as well as online at: https://www.alfredhitchcockmysterymagazine.com/. Hope you'll check it out.



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

27 July 2019

Themes in Novels (in which Bad Girl discovers she’s not so flaky after all…)


One of the great discussions in the author world is whether your book should have a theme or not. Of course it’s going to have a plot. (Protagonist with a problem or goal and obstacles to that goal – real obstacles that matter - which are resolved by the end.) But does a book always have a theme?
Usually when we’re talking ‘theme’, we’re putting the story into a more serious category. Margaret Atwood (another Canadian – smile) tells a ripping good story in The Handmaid’s Tale. But readers would agree there is a serious theme underlying it, a warning, in effect.

Now, I write comedies. Crime heists and romantic comedies, most recently. They are meant to be fun and entertaining. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that all of my books have rather serious themes behind them.

Last Friday, I was interviewed for a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) mini-documentary featuring female Canadian crime writers. During this, the producer got me talking about the background to my most awarded series, The Goddaughter. This crime caper series is about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one, but keeps getting dragged back to bail out her inept mob family.

I know what it’s like to be a part of an Italian family that may have had ties to the mob. (In the past. My generation is squeaky clean.) The producer asked me If that informed my writing. Of course it did. But in our discussion, she stopped me when I said: “You are supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is *this* one?”

Voila. There it was: a theme. All throughout the Goddaughter series, Gina Gallo grapples with this internal struggle.
So then I decided to look at my other books. The B-team is a spin-off from The Goddaughter series. It’s a funny take on The A-team television series. A group of well-meaning vigilantes set out to do good, but as this is comedy, things go awry. In fact, the tag-line is: “They do wrong for all the right reasons…and sometimes it even works.”

Was there a theme behind this premise? Was there a *question asked*? And yes, to me, it was clear.

In The B-Team, I play with the concept: Is it ever all right to do illegal things to right a wrong?

Back up to the beginning. My first series was fantasy. Humorous fantasy, of course. Rowena Through the Wall basically is a spoof of Outlander type books. Rowena falls through a portal into a dark ages world, and has wild and funny adventures. I wrote it strictly to entertain…didn’t I? And yet, the plot revolves around the fact that women are scarce in this time. They’ve been killed off by war. I got the idea from countries where women were scarce due to one-child policies. So what would happen…I mused…if women were scarce? Would they have more power in their communities? Or would the opposite happen. Would they have even less control of their destinies, as I posited?

A very strong, serious theme underlying a noted “hilarious” book. Most readers would never notice it. But some do, and have commented. That gets this old gal very excited.
I’ve come to the conclusion that writers – even comedy writers – strive to say something about our world. Yes, I write to entertain. But the life questions I grapple with find their way into my novels, by way of underlying themes. I’m not into preaching. That’s for non-fiction. But If I work them in well, a reader may not notice there is an author viewpoint behind the work.

Yes, I write to entertain. But I’ve come to the conclusion that behind every novel is an author with something to say. Apparently, I’m not as flaky as I thought.

What about you? Do you look for a theme in novels? Or if a writer, do you find your work conforms to specific themes?



Got teen readers in your family? Here's the latest crime comedy, out this month:

On AMAZON