Friday, May 8, 2020

Butcher, Baker, Troublemaker

Most of us - most writers everywhere - do something else first, or do something else alongside. What bits of your other career(s) have you found useful in the business of writing and what bits have you had to ditch?

by Paul D. Marks

Generally, I don’t like to talk about most of my checkered past. Nothing illegal or anything like that, just checkered. Maybe Chancellor of the Exchequer (or should that be Chancellor of the Excheckered?). But if it’s the “ex” chequer wouldn’t that make one the Ex Chancellor of the Chequer? But I digress.

I did a lot of things before my vaunted prose writing career. Juggler. Trapeze artist. Tail gunner in a B-17. Gumshoe. Well, the only one of those that even comes close to true is gumshoe and that’s only because I’ve had gum on my shoe…more than once even.

As you’ll see below (and above, too), I think this Covid-19 House Arrest is getting to me. I think virtually all of our experiences, good or bad, come into play in our writing one way or another. I’ve done a lot of things, written for radio, rewrites for films, made deliveries for a small business, worked in the mail room for a big company, pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it (see the "about" section on my website for an abbreviated version of that story) and other things. But many things that play into my writing aren’t necessarily job-related.

Of some of the things I am willing to talk about:



I kidded the kidder:

I was visiting a friend on the set of “Mork and Mindy” during a rehearsal and I freaked out Robin Williams.  They were blocking.  No audience.  I was the only stranger there, someone he didn't recognize. He was anxious seeing a stranger on the set, having had some recent trouble with the tabloids.

He asked me if I worked for the National Enquirer. Strange question, I thought.  But I can give as well as receive, "Yes," I said, joking.  He freaked, though he didn't get nasty or anything like that, just uptight.  I finally told him I was kidding.  After the rehearsal he apologized.  It was fun kidding the kidder though.


I ran into him at a party for a rock star a couple weeks later. He smiled. We chatted a bit. He remembered “the incident”. He didn’t sic anyone on me. I count that as a victory. I don’t remember if I’ve used it in any writing, but it will make in there some day. But hey, I have to make this article interesting, don’t I? I did, however, use a Mork-Pam Da wber connection, Rebecca Schaeffer, as one of the inspirations for White Heat…


I did use this incident:

I went to a producer’s house in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Boulevard. I drove up. Two Jaguars in the huge driveway. I go inside, nice (read expensive) art, nice (read expensive) furniture, expensive house (read insanely expensive) all the way around. Have my meeting with said producer and his partner and they want to option something…for free. All that ostentatious wealth and they don’t want to pay me for my property. That, in a roundabout way, made it into Broken Windows:

That was an easy one. But I was sick of being famous. I never asked for it. Sick of working for the Hollywood crowd, who thought they owned you just because they paid you, late more often than not, pleading poverty as they lived in the mansions above Sunset and drove Jags and Lamborghinis. Who knows, maybe it was all rented? Most of them were as much fa├žade as the sets they filmed on. Which made me wonder about Susan Karubian? Why pick the Hollywood Sign to jump off? Another disappointed actress who didn’t know the ropes? Who didn’t know what it would take to make it in this town? She should have just gone home and slipped under the covers until the dream passed. Then she could have woken up one day with a smile and faced the world. After all, a new world’s born at dawn.




My friend Linda:

A long time ago, my friend Linda and I used to get in one of our cars, point it in a direction and drive. Go exploring L.A., from Pasadena to downtown to San Pedro and all points in between. It was fun. It was educational. We both love L.A. And we both love swing/big band music. So we’d also go to swing concerts, sometimes by unknown bands and sometimes by the remnants of the big bands from the 30s and 40s. We saw Tex Beneke, Glenn Miller vocalist and saxophonist, lead the Glenn Miller Orchestra. We saw Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell sing their hits Tangerine and Brazil. And more (see my article https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2020/04/it-dont-mean-thing-if-it-aint-got-that.html at SleuthSayers). (And, unfortunately, this was all before digital cameras and the pix aren’t digitized or even easy to find.)

All of this has paid off in my writing. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll kid but I’ve been lucky to be exposed to all kinds of music and see much of it in person, too. And that certainly helped in my writing of various stories/novels, especially my upcoming novel The Blues Don’t Care (June 1st, 2020), a crime story set amidst the jazz scene on L.A.’s Central Avenue during World War II in the 1940s.

And all that driving around L.A. has certainly helped when I write things set in L.A., which I do a lot and sometimes maybe too much.

Linda and I both worked in the film biz. And that, too, has provided a lot of fodder for things in my stories. My 2019 story Fade-Out on Bunker Hill just placed second in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll (see the virtual awards ceremony on YouTube). It’s part of my Howard Hamm series. In that story, which riffs off the classic movie Sunset Boulevard, Howard Hamm gets “lost” on a Hollywood backlot. Whenever I had a meeting or other occasion to be at a studio I would always wander the backlots. I love them and the magic they stand for. So when Howard does his backlot wandering in Fade-Out it’s really me reminiscing about those days, though he finds much more trouble there than I did...


There are various Hollywood types in many of the things I write and you can bet that all of them are based to one degree or another on people I’ve met or worked with, though sometimes several people composited into one.

Much of my early Hollywood experiences made it into a satirical novel that was picked up by a major publisher and then dumped when they kicked out their old editorial staff for a new one and, as a new broom sweeps clean, my book was swept out with the new. The moral of that story is don't write topical humor, because by the time my book was thrown, er, swept out some of the humor was already dated so it was too late to try another publisher without a major rewrite. Though I will probably rewrite it one day sans topical humor cause I still like the story.

Crew member and me on the Warner Bros backlot
And people often ask how much of you is in your characters. There's a little of me in all my characters.  Some corner or part of them is based on me—and those parts are, of course, based on my experiences.  Other parts are based on people I've known or have come across.  Of course, I write a lot about crime and murderers and I've never murdered anyone…except on paper.  But still, you can reach into the dark side of yourself and draw on that for inspiration.  At some point we all want revenge of varying degrees on people who dun us wrong and in a novel or story you can get that revenge without worrying about going to jail.  So you reach into that dark corner of your mind and write as if you had a get out of jail free card.

So everything we do or experience turns up in our stories, if not directly then indirectly.

And then there’s the other things I did that I can’t tell you about ….or as they say “I’d have to kill you”.

~.~.~

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

19 comments:

GBPool said...

I definitely use my past jobs in stories. My first job was a reporter on a small weekly paper. Then I worked as a private detective. Since I write mainly detective stories, I have lots to draw from. I got an agent when I moved to LA. While learning a little about Hollywood, I worked as a housekeeper for him, his wife, and four children. He got me in an acting class where I learned a lot about writing dialogue. After nine months of that I found other jobs in retail at the Glendale Mall and then at a bank working with stocks and bonds. That long experience led to a book and a wonderful husband. My dad's Air Force career led to a spy trilogy. Yes, I use what I have learned in life.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Gayle. Sounds like you have a checkered past too. I'm sure working as a private detective really comes in handy for writing mysteries and detective stories. And I'm sure working for the agent also gives lots of fodder, as well as your dad's Air Force career. I also think acting is a good way to learn about dialogue.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Paul,

What a fascinating article! You have such an interesting background. Much to write about and be inspired by. I'm kind of a dull duck in comparison. I taught high school English and worked as a school librarian/educational media specialist. That ended up inspiring The Truth Sleuth mystery. But my first book that got noticed and well-reviewed by the majors was The Inferno Collection inspired by my time working as a reference librarian at Rutgers. My two grad degrees in English and then library science gave me a good background for writing. But Hollywood is so exciting! Best wishes for the success of your latest novel.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. It (H'wood) has its moments, but also a lot of frustration. And I would think teaching high school would give you plenty to write about, lots of conflict there. Also working at Rutgers. I think just going through day to day life we find things to write about. There's always drama if we look for it.

DanceHula said...

Paul, a varied background can be critical for some of us. I use my former lives in my writing because I learned to "write what you know." Many people who know the TODAY me don't know I am a physical anthropologist. Before that I was a civilian in law enforcement, and attended the FBI Academy where I trained as a composite artist. Some don't know I lived in Hawaii for almost 15 years, and worked on the bombed-out island of Kaho`olawe for a year. I was also a single mom to two daughters (one now a war veteran) and I'm grandmother to six, nearly all grown. That all plays into my writing; archaeological mysteries set in Hawaii, the characters all bearing the names of my family and friends.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Love your stories, Paul! You had some fascinating experiences. My own background is with running a family restaurant and being a geriatric social worker. (I tend to have older characters pop up in my stories!)

Susan C Shea said...

I can see where a lot of her perspective comes from, and how jaded one can be working in Hollywood. The daughters of two friends work in films off camera) and are quite successful. If they're jaded, they don't share it with their mothers! But your stories just make me more eager to read the new one (pre-orderd) coming next month.

Susan C Shea said...

...a lot of YOUR perspective...

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, DanceHula – Pamela. As you say, a varied background is helpful. Gives us plenty of fodder and also perspective. I didn’t realize you were a composite artist, though I do remember you’re going to the FBI Academy, which is pretty cool. Did you run into Clarice Starling there? And living in Hawaii certainly gives you the background for setting your stories there.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you, Jennifer. Glad you enjoy the stories. My family is in the food business and my dad owned a couple restaurants as sort of side businesses and I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchens of them. We should compare stories some time. And working with older people is something I admire.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan. It can definitely jade one. Glad you’re looking forward to the new book and thank you for ordering it.

Jeff Baker said...

I worked as a delivery driver for 30 years, and I have used the landscapes and little towns of Kansas in a lot of my writing. Nice you got to talk to Robin Williams; we have been enjoying the reruns of the first season!

Lisa Ciarfella said...

Still transitioning, but a lot of "not for prime time" stuff thrown in with teaching high school stuff, none of which is remotely for the faint of heart!
Dig the old pics of you on set! And your new book sounds tantalizing!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jeff. One of the ways I got to know the L.A. area was doing deliveries all over the place. It’s a good source for that, as you found. Yeah, that was a fun time with Robin W. A little weird, but fun.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I’m sure teaching high school these days definitely isn’t for the faint of heart… The old pics are kind of fun…when I can find them and scan them. And if you get the book, I hope you’ll like it…as opposed to hating it, y’know :-) .

Ellen Byron said...

I interviewed Rebecca Shaeffer for a magazine article. We totally hit it off. Her murder was so upsetting. I still think about her.

Madeliine Gornell said...

What a great post, Paul, sooo interesting. I loved reading all those backstories. What an interesting life you're living!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Ellen. It was a horrible thing that happened to her. The only good thing is they caught the guy.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Madeline. It doesn't seem all that interesting when you're doing it, but maybe in retrospect it does seem to have had its moments. And then there's the stuff I won't even talk about...