Friday, August 29, 2014

In the Mood

Do you do anything to get in the mood to write? Do you need anything special beside you?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, if I was Hemingway, I’d drink heavily.

If I was William S. Burroughs, I’d shoot up.

If I was J.K. Rowling, I’d run to the nearest café for a caffeine fix and a dose of writing.

But since I’m me, I don’t do any of those things.

I don’t have any set routines that I go through before writing each day, but I do tend to goof off, uh, procrastinate, on the internet or Facebook. No, make that I do research on the internet.

And research is always fun.  It helps get me in the mood and I can pretend I’m working.

 Sometimes I’ll walk the dog. Or weed, not do weed, but weed the yard. Don’t ask me how that helps get me in the mood.  But it has to be done. Besides, killing weeds gets me in the mood to kill the badguys in my stories.

In the good old days, I might skydive or SCUBA dive.  Anything with ‘dive’ in its name including the Maldives – though I know it’s pronounced Maldeevz. Or take a trip to Paris, Perris, California, or Parris Island, but not that one with the Eiffel Tower. I just can’t swim that far. (Insert SCUBA photo here. Amy wanted me to put a diving pic here.  Unfortunately, those are buried away in one of many boxes somewhere – unlabeled, of course.  And shoved in corners everywhere.  But someday they’ll be gotten out and scanned.  Unless Amy wants to spend four months going through them right now J.  And if you saw our garage and closets you’d know that four months is underestimating.)  So, this is as close as I could come for now:

And depending on what I’m working on, I might listen to music.  That’s probably the most serious answer here and what I really do more than anything. The music often has the same tone and mood as the story. So if I’m working on a dark story I might listen to the Doors or Leonard Cohen. If I’m working on something set around the time of World War II, in the 30s and 40s, I’ll listen to swing music. Sometimes I just listen to baroque, my sort of all-purpose go-to music—which seems to fit any mood, at least for me.  So here’s something to get you in the mood.  I could have gone with the Andrews Sisters, but couldn’t find a live version:

And do I need anything else beside me, besides of course computer, phones, pictures of wife, pictures of Beatles, pictures of Dylan, Stones, Doors and Siouxsie Sioux and lobby cards from various movies? A can of cherry Pepsi. Gat. Cat. Dog. And pic of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird from Easy Rider. No, that about covers it.

Now that I think about it though, who is Hopper flipping the bird to?—I’m the only one here.
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And now for a little BSP: My contributor’s copies of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s November issue just arrived. My story “Howling at the Moon” appears in the Black Mask section. This is my first story in Ellery Queen, so I’m pretty amped about it.  Also happy to be in the Black Mask section, carrying on the tradition of other Black Mask writers such Chandler and Hammett, though I am no way putting myself in the same category as them.  Also glad to be in the same issue as fellow 7 Criminal Minds blogger Art Taylor, and Facebook friend Bill Crider’s column.  Will post again when the issue actually hits newsstands.

Monday, August 25, 2014

One, Two, Three...Go!

Do you do anything to get in the mood to write? Do you need anything special beside you?

(from Susan)

Other than a tall drink? Yes:

1.     Have written the day before.

2.     Have read what I wrote the day before.

3.     Resist the urge to trash what I wrote. Light edits only.

4.     Clear enough junk away from the computer desk so I don’t get distracted or depressed by expired coupon for free pizza, a postcard from Hawaii, the “To Do” list of household chores, and that rave review of someone else’s book.

5.     Place mug of cold coffee or glass of lukewarm fizzy water next to computer and promise myself not to spill it on the keyboard.

6.     Turn off Internet connection and email notification or forget about getting anything done.

7.     Read Richard Diebenkorn’s note to himself about beginning a new painting (which I keep on a board in front of me):

 “Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.”

Friday, August 15, 2014

Let It Bleed

Did you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?

by Paul D. Marks

Every minute of every effing day!

The end.

Well, the end of the first part.

The Other Part:

I think every writer—at least this version of EveryWriter—has doubts about our decision to be a writer. It’s like those Facebook memes that go around: This is what my friends think I do as a writer. But what we really do is toil in the salt mines of our minds. I’m not saying it’s the down and dirty work of toiling in real salt mines. But it’s also not as easy as some people think.

Like Red Smith said, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

That’s all there is to it.

My writing life has been all over the map. From op-ed pieces to radio scripts and script doctoring to short stories and novels. And though it’s always been a roller coaster, I was always glad to have the opportunity to express myself and be creative. Despite the idiots one sometimes has to deal with.

I like the writing—not so much the biz side of it.

So let’s talk about the...

...Doubts and Reasons to Quit:

1) No one really understands what you do. I made my living rewriting other people’s scripts and optioning my own spec scripts to various people. One of the hardest parts of my film work was that, as a rewriter, there was no screen credit, so my dad could never figure out what I did for a living—and certainly didn’t understand how it all worked. Couldn’t take his friends to Westwood and show them my name on the silver screen. That was frustrating, but not as frustrating as dealing with some of the personalities. But did that (no screen credit) make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell, no. I just started writing short stories and novels. You get credit there...most of the time.

clip_image0042) No one respects what you do: I once had a producer threaten to send his friends in the Mossad to get me when we argued about a script I was working on for him. I was warned about him before I started, but I thought I’m a brave soul, I’ll give it a shot. He’d hired me to write a script based on his idea—then hated everything I came up with, even though it was exactly what we’d talked about, but it wasn’t him, his writing, in every nuance. Hell, he should have written the damn thing himself... But he couldn’t and wouldn’t. No he’d rather just threaten me. So, of course, I sat up every night with night vision goggles, a CAR-15 (it was a while ago), flame thrower, a couple-a cruise missiles (Tom Cruise Missiles ‘cause he could protect the hell out of me) and an AWACs circling overhead, and lay in wait for them to swarm the hill behind my house. A .50 cal would have been better than the CAR-15, but since they never came I guess it didn’t matter. Maybe they’re still on their way and I seem to have misplaced the CAR-15. But did the Mossad threat make me doubt my decision to be a writer, hell no. I just bought myself a new Kevlar vest.  : )

3) Everyone thinks they can do it better: And then there was the Golden Turkey Leg. I had a spec script that dealt peripherally with Voodoo, but it wasn’t “supernatural”. Another producer wanted to make it more mystical, scary, more Voodoo-ey, sci-fi, sleazy, seedy, make-Ed-Wood-look-like-a-genius-bad, and to that end he wanted me to add something about some golden object that was magical and mystical and for want of a better word I called it “the golden turkey leg”—well, not to his face. He also wanted me to bring a character back from the dead—now that’s Voodoo...ey—turning a pretty good thriller into a grade Z schlockfest horror story that would even make Roger Corman at his cheapest cringe. Then, as if it couldn’t get any weirder, he knew the “perfect” guy to do the theme song: Michael Bolton. And when I say he “knew” Michael Bolton I mean he really did; they were buds or something. And no offense to anyone who likes him, but he’s just not my taste. Give me Ian Gillan and Joey Ramone. So maybe I’m glad that that one never got out of development hell. And he wanted Armand Assante (whose name he kept mispronouncing as “Assant,” leaving off the “ay” at the end) to play the lead. He would have been great for the part when he was younger, but I had nightmares about the producer approaching him, mispronouncing his name, and the actor being so offended he would refuse the part. Then to top it all off, my wife and I were at a toy show in Pasadena (one of my hobbies is collecting old toys) and we ran into said producer, who’s there with his wife and kid, maybe around six or seven years old, selling old dolls. So, he asks me to look after said kid, who at least was a sweet said kid, so he and his wife can walk around the toy show, unfettered. The worst part is he wasn’t even selling the kind of toys I was looking for. So in addition to working on screenplays, I’m also a great babysitter, I just don’t cook or do windows, except Microsoft Windows. And another one bites the dust, another one that never made it to the silver screen, but at least I got paid. But I plan to turn them all into novels someday. They’re already “outlined,” as the screenplays are sort of like outlines. Were this producer’s ideas better? Well, if you like Golden Turkey Legs, I suppose so. But did that make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell no, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Reasons to Stay:

Because you can’t do anything else, literally, despite the BS. So you just open that vein and let it bleed.

Or as the Clash said, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—“If I go there will be trouble, And if I stay it will be double.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

They call her the switherer.

Nope. Not once, not ever, have I doubted or regretted my decision to become a writer.

And that's from someone who makes Hamlet look impulsive, someone who could second-guess for her planet; someone who could squarely be called the Anti-Piaf (theme song goes like this: "Ouiiiii, le tout de le touuuuut! Ouiiiii, je regret-uh le touuuuut . . .)

I have trouble making decisions.

But since I resigned from my job, sharpened my pencil, and wrote "book 1, chapter 1, page 1" in January 2001, I've never wanted to do anything else.

In all my wildest daydreams, I'm still a writer - in a tropical paradise, or with a castle that a long-lost relative bequeathed to me, or of an Oscar-winning movie script that I got to co-adapt, along with Emma Thompson, from my own novel - but always a writer.

Every other decision is hard to make and harder to stick with.  I find it impossible to decide where to eat out, which film to see or what holiday cottage or hotel room to book.

The household of which I'm a member has put in place some rules for deciding.

1. How two people decide where to eat.
Person A* suggests five places.
Person B narrows it down to three.
Person A says the name of one out of the three.
Persons A and B eat there.
*A and B are alternating roles.
(Or they live in a Scottish town where "five places to eat" is just crazy talk)

2. How two people decide what film to see.
Persons A and B meet for coffee in walking distance of all three cinemas in town.
When the coffee is drunk, Person A or B looks to see which film at least one of them wants to see starts next.
Persons A and B go to see that film. And if they've just missed one, they meet a wee bit earlier the next day.
(Or they live in a Scottish town where "three cinemas in walking distance" . . .)

3. How two people choose a holiday cottage/hotel.
Person A picks three desirable features. e.g. quiet, walk to beach, warm sea.
Person B picks three desirable features. e.g. pretty, good seafood, within budget.
Person A looks on internet until a cottage/hotel with all six features is located.
Person A books that cottage/hotel.
Person A* stops looking on internet.
*Person A is me.

Monday, August 11, 2014

To Write or Not to Write

Question: Did you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?”

“So, did you ever have any doubts about the wisdom of turning your back on a regular, automatic deposit into your bank account that represented your seniority and expertise in your career in favor of no income, no experience, and absolutely no recognition in a field made up of mostly striving, ill paid, and under-valued creative types?”

What a silly question – of course not!

Did I ever have doubts about the timing of my leap into the unknown? Sure. Did I worry that I might run out of savings? You bet – did and do. Did I fear that, as someone who had never published a word of fiction, I might fail to break into the market? Every time I let myself go down that road. But I started with one comforting fact: I was a writer already.

Writers may not be born, but I do think they’re shaped by childhoods spent reading, fantasizing, listening, playing a lot of “what if?” games and practicing every chance they get. By the time I started looking for a real job, I was already a writer, a shameless hunter for opportunities to see my work in print. Grade school was easy – there wasn’t much competition for someone as determined as I was to be highlighted on the blackboard, in mimeographed sheets, in writing assignments, where I was always singled out for praise suitable for a 10-year old: “Excellent imagination!”

High school may have ramped up the stakes, but I was editor of the yearbook, feature editor of the newspaper, an occasional Voice of the Teenager columnist for the local newspaper. I was like a vampire looking for fresh blood.

When I began to work for money, I wrote for throw-away newspapers, then for real newspapers, then for national magazines. Then, I became an editor. I wrote op-eds and celebrity interviews, covered city council meetings, and did features on alternative medicine and the craze for home brewed beer, and the local horse racing industry. I could – and can – write 600-1,200 words about ANYTHING.

Today, the questions I hear from writers aren’t so much about whether or not they have the talent and drive to become published – after all, they are my tribe, have the same backgrounds as I do – it’s whether or not they can make a decent living from it, can feed kids and put them through college, can pay the PG&E bill. That’s a serious question in today’s rapidly changing marketplace for books, and the answer for most of us is not encouraging. Like the music industry, this corner of the creative world is being fragmented into slices of “product,” with a large proportion of shoppers who demand ever-increasing bargains and are prepared to sacrifice quality for price, deeper satisfaction for the momentary sensory hit.

I’m still a newcomer with two books out, plus one purchased and in production, and a brand new one out to beta readers before going to my agent. Others on Criminal Minds are major successes and have found large and appreciative audiences for their terrific work. Some teach, some work in related writing industries. A few excellent writers I know have supporting spouses so the financial question isn’t a biggie, but lots of other deal with logistical anxieties on a daily basis.

The real question, from where I sit, isn’t about doubting one’s ambition, drive, or ability to “be a writer.” The real question is “Can I structure a life that allows me to use my talents as a writer?” And the real answer is, yes, you can. Never doubt that you can build your hunger to write into your life. Then, see where it takes you.

Friday, August 1, 2014


What’s in a name? Do you give careful thought to the names of your characters or do you draw them out of a hat?

By Paul D. Marks

As Art can attest, it’s hard to come on Fridays since people have sometimes stolen your thunder earlier in the week. My post was called The Name Game, but now it’s redux – great minds and all of that.

I do give careful thought to my characters' names. Neither the first nor last name is chosen at random. Sometimes characters are named after friends or enemies or in homage to someone or something. Sometimes I want a “plain Jane” type of name and sometimes I want something more symbolic or allegorical. Sometimes the name just comes to me. Other times I’ll look in baby naming books or other research sources to help me figure out an appropriate name.

Even when the characters have simple names like “Johnny Jones” from one of my current works-in-progress, the name was still given a fair amount of thought. On the one hand, it’s a common, clichéd name. But that’s how it’s meant, as we don’t know the character’s real name and this is simply how the narrator refers to him. It could just as easily have been John Doe, Joe Smith, Bill Johnson or any of a hundred other common names.

Naming characters is sort of like naming children or pets. You visualize the kid’s first day of school and how the teacher will call role and mispronounce the name or what cruel nicknames the other kids will twist it into. And then pick a name you hope the kid will live up to and won’t get teased about too much. Actually this is how I ended up naming my character Duke in White Heat. Duke’s relationship with his dad is not the greatest father-son relationship. His father cruelly named him “Marion,” after John Wayne’s real first name. Not a nice thing to do to a boy and maybe that’s one of the reasons they don’t get along and certainly why Duke chose that as a nickname.

Also, when naming pets, I like to pick names that are unique and mean something to me and my wife. Something that captures their personality, but that also won’t be too hard or too embarrassing to yell out when calling them to come. You don’t want to be yelling “Here Mr. Snuggles” when your neighbor walks by. So our Rottweiler was called Bogie. And our black cats Curley and Moe. Our mostly Rottweiler, but who looked nothing like one, was Audie, after Audie Murphy. and our German Shepherd is Pepper, full name Sgt. Pepper, after the Beatles album.

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There are several “rules” I try to follow when naming characters:

They shouldn’t be too hard to pronounce – you don’t want readers stumbling over them.
Don’t try too hard to be unique – like soap opera characters that always have names like Raven Snow or Chastity Chamberfield, unless going for humor or irony.

clip_image006Names can be symbolic, foreshadow or can be ironic. In my story 51-50, the cop character, Cleaver, is purposely named after Ward Cleaver, the all-American father on Leave it to Beaver. I wanted to play against the all-American image of Ward Cleaver with a tough cop about to lose his sanity.

Names can be revenge for someone you don’t like – but be careful when doing this and disguise it well.

Names can be an homage. In my short story Free Fall, the femme fatale is named Gloria, after film noir icon and femme fatale Gloria Grahame. In Broken Windows, the sequel to White Heat and not yet published, there is a character named Chandler – a woman cop – but we all know who that name pays homage to. And in my story L.A. Late @ Night and my noir story Born Under a Bad Sign, there is a cop named Larry Darrell – which pays homage to Somerset Maugham’s character in The Razor’s Edge. Not that he’s much like Maugham’s Larry Darrell, but still.

Names can give insight into the character – who they are and where they’re from – sometimes the story behind the name can give you a little extra info about the character – for example Michael Connelly’s Harry “Hieronymus” Bosch – a unique name and an interesting story behind it.

Sometimes names should break stereo types: In White Heat there is an African-American character named Warren. Someone who read the book said Warren wasn’t a black name. But I named the character after a black Marine friend I’d had. Just because a character is black or Hispanic, or any other ethnicity, doesn’t mean they have to have an ethnic-sounding name.

And character names often change in later drafts. Sometimes I just use “placeholder” names until after I get to know the characters better. Then, if I think of the perfect name later on, I can use search and replace to change it later.

Names are important and can be fun. Like the old song, The Name Game (written by Shirley Ellis – and ):

The name game!
Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley
Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln
Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

Come on everybody!
I say now let's play a game
I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name
The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn't there
But a B or an F or an M will appear
And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo
And then I say the name again with an F very plain and a fee fy and a mo
And then I say the name again with an M this time
And there isn't any name that I can't rhyme.