Friday, July 31, 2015

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

What's your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?

by Paul D. Marks

It’s hard to pick just one. Off the top of my head a whole list pops up. And rather than go into specific plot details I’m just going to give my general impressions. Plots can be looked up on the web or, even better, seen when watching the flicks. So, in no particular order:

Double Indemnity Collage D1Double Indemnity: My favorite film noir. If I had to show a Martian an example of film noir this would be it. Sticks close to Cain’s book but deviates where it has to, while staying true to his vision. And I think the ending is better than his. But why not, it was written by Billy Wilder and that novice screenwriter Raymond Chandler who, it’s said, makes a cameo appearance. I’m not sure one can say this movie singlehandedly established the noir genre and look, but it sure did a lot to get it off the ground.

Grifters collage D1The Grifters: Every time I see this adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel I love it more. And that’s saying a lot because I liked it a lot the first time I saw it. Everything just works. And comes together.

LA Confidential: James Ellroy is—or was—one of my favorite mystery writers. Right up there with Raymond Chandler (well, he’s in a class by himself) and Ross MacDonald. But Ellroy fell a notch or two for me when his writing became so stylized and clipped that it was hard to read. He’s sort of moved up a rung again with Perfidia. But now to the point at hand: LA Confidential, the third book in Ellroy’s LA Confidential Collage D2LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Conf., White Jazz). If I recall correctly it’s in LA Confidential that Ellroy begins the more clipped style that he would explore and expand further, but not necessarily to the better in later books. But LA Confidential is a terrific book and, in some ways, maybe even a better movie. I’m sure it was very difficult to condense down all the plots and characters of the novel into a cohesive movie that kept the mood, tone and spirit of the book. But screenwriters Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson, who also directed, did a terrific job. I went back and reread the novel after seeing the movie for about the 90th time (I’m hardly exaggerating) and had (and still do have) a hard time deciding which I like better. But I think at this point the movie has become the story for me for better or for worse.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Another movie based on a James M. Cain novel. Imho, another great adaptation of a terrific crime novel. And no matter how much one loves the novel can it beat Lana Turner’s entrance in the movie?

Out of the Past: Another of my all-time favorite film noirs. Adapted by Geoffrey Homes from a novel by Daniel Mainwaring, who is Geoffrey Homes, so it’s sort of like the song Constantinople and Istanbul (“Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople...”). The novel’s title is Build My Gallows High and in the movie Jane Greer, one of the deadliest femme fatales, says: “Don't you see you've only me to make deals with now?” To which Robert Mitchum replies, “Build my gallows high, baby.” Another great adaptation of a great noir book.

Dark Passage: based on the novel of the same name by David Goodis. I actually think this adaptation is better than the book. I liked this movie so much that many years ago, after having seen it a couple times, I wanted to see who wrote the book it was based on. From there I read the novel and went on to read all of Goodis’ novels. He’s become one of my favorite noir writers, the “poet of the losers,” as Geoffrey O'Brien calls him. But speaking of good and bad adaptations, my favorite Goodis book is Down There, made into the movie Shoot the Piano Player by Francois Truffaut. Love the book, the movie, in which the characters are transposed to France, not so much....

The Maltese Falcon: What can you say? A great book by Hammett. A terrific movie by John Huston. One of the best in both categories.

In a Lonely Place collage D1In a Lonely Place: The screen version is written by Andrew Solt and Edmund H. North, directed by Nicholas Ray. I’ve mentioned this here and elsewhere, to me the movie version is hands and fists better than the novel. Why? Because it’s more ambiguous and ambivalent. Spoiler: In the novel, by Dorothy B. Hughes, we know that Dix (the Bogart character in the film) is a stone cold bad guy from the get-go. In the movie, we’re just not sure. That makes all the difference for me, especially in his relationship with Gloria Grahame. This is one of my favorite movies of all time of any genre, actually tied for second place with Ghost World, and just behind my fave, Casablanca. This is a terrific noir and a great movie. And, of course, every time I mention it I have to mention the Smithereens song of the same name, which “borrows” and paraphrases these lines from the film: “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” And, as a sidenote, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, though if I have sorry to repeat, I bought a one sheet poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio (lead singer and songwriter of the Smithereens), so every time I look at the poster I think about him sitting under it, writing that song. Doubt he’d remember me, but for me that’s a cool memory.
Click here to see a YouTube video
Raymond Chandler: Oh, you say, he’s not a movie or a book. But he wrote both and many of his works were adapted to the big screen and he’s just plain in a class by himself. Too many to discuss here, but here’s a sampling. The Big Sleep: Even though nobody, including Chandler, could totally follow the plot, it’s still a great movie, a pretty good adaptation and it has Bogie and Bacall...and Elisha Cook, Jr. Who could ask for more? Murder, My Sweet, based on Farewell, My Lovely. Dick Powell wanted to reinvent himself and his career, from youthful singing idol to tough guy. He did it here and he did it well. To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book, but I love the movie version. Can’t beat Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy and Claire Trevor is always terrific. Lady in the Lake: Interesting experiment by director-star Robert Montgomery, using the subjective camera technique. I’ve grown to like this more over time. And on the flipside, The Long Goodbye, one of my favorite Chandler books, but hey that’s like saying one of my favorite Beatle albums. I love them all! But I hate this movie with a passion. I don’t think Elliot Gould’s portrayal is what Chandler had in mind. I know some people love it. You’re entitled to your opinion...even if you’re wrong . The only thing I like about this movie is the Hightower Apartments in Hollywood, where Gould/Marlowe lives and where I once looked for an apartment. Sorry I didn’t take it.

On the opposite side of the tracks, a couple movies that were horrible adaptations:

Shoot the Piano Player: As mentioned above, adapted by the great Francois Truffaut from a book I love. Unfortunately, I don’t think it really works and I’d love to see another version that sticks closer to the book.

Bonfire of the Vanities: I put this here because it does involve crime. It was a great book that examined a lot of pertinent issues. But the filmmakers didn’t have the courage of their convictions and didn’t make the book at all. They tried to turn it into a silly farce or satire, but all they got was a mosh pit cesspool of crap. Why they bought it in the first place I’ll never know. If they wanted to make another movie they should just have commissioned a screenplay. But let this be a warning to anyone selling to Hollywood: once you do, they can do whatever they want with your property and once it goes through the Hollywood Grinder you might not even recognize it.


And now for some delightful BSP – remember, there’s a P at the end of the BS!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]
Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella coming September 1st.

...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.
—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Akashic Fade Out Annoucement D1a--C w full dateFade Out: flash fiction story – set at the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine – coming on Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder, Monday (big surprise, huh?), August 17th. Here’s the link, but my story won’t be live till 8/17:

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Thursday, July 30, 2015


Warning: I'm going to cheat. A. it's a stretch to categorise three of my top four as "crime novels" and B. I'm uploading clips. But maybe that's not cheating in this context.

4. Adaptation

Adaptation is a fine flowering of the divine Charlie Kaufman's genius and actually - ha! - it is about a crime. It's based on the book The Orchid Thief about . . . an orchid thief. Orchid theft's a crime.
But really it's about writing and contains one of the best snatches of dialogue ever on the subject:

                                              Bad Writer: it's a metaphor.
                                              Good Writer: FOR WHAT?

Anyone who hasn't had the chance to start loving it yet, click here for the trailer.

3. Rebecca

Properly speaking, Rebecca is a melodrama, I suppose. And a love story. But Mrs Danvers is the scariest thing I'd ever seen the first time I ever saw it, and there's a suspicious death and some major arson, so I'm claiming it. It's also got the worst proposal ever:

                                       Maxim: I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool.
                                       The Girl: *melts*

Words you'll never hear at the climax of a Bruno Mars flashmob.

I'm linking to the trailer here, but click at your peril: at the end of this two minutes YouTube carries on and plays the entire film. If you've got a couple of hours to spare, though . . .

2. Sense and Sensibility

What? Breach of promise, of course. A dastardly crime perpetrated by cads and bounders on defenceless maidens. It's a wonderful, joyous book. I love it. But it's flawed. Emma Thompson fixes the flaws and yet hangs on to whole scenes worth of Austen's words. For me, though, Hugh Laurie has the best dialogue of all, as the eternally grumpy husband of the irritating Mrs Palmer.

                        Mrs Palmer: ... we live but half a mile away.
                        Mr Palmer: Five and a half miles.
                        Mrs Palmer: No, I cannot believe it is that far, for you can see the place from the
                        top of our hill. Is it really five and a half? No. I cannot believe it.
                        Mr Palmer: Try.

Watch the trailer by clicking here; Thompson's spark is clearly in evidence. But the voice-over? Now, there's a crime.

1. And finally, an actual crime novel that was made into an actual crime movie. Both of them leave me helpless with laughter after God knows how many readings and viewings . . .

The trailer is a minor miracle: they managed to find two and a half minutes with no F-bombs. See for yourself by clicking here. Note too that it's the same voice-over as Sense and Sensibility, only quite a bit more at home.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Books to Movies

- from Susan

"What's your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?"

This question stumped me for a bit. I realize I’ve seen lots of crime movies that were made from books, but haven’t read the books that they’re based on. If you broaden it to include TV, I have more options.

The John Grisham thrillers were straightforward and easy to adapt. They build logically toward a climax, always feature an interesting if slightly reluctant hero, and have satisfyingly righteous endings.

Elmore Leonard’s ability to create juicy characters and beautiful dialogue translated nicely into L.A. Confidential and, on TV, my favorite, Justified.

Ten years ago, I would have led off with Agatha Christie, in film and on television. But I’ve gotten tired of the arch character interpretations of her protagonists and the ways directors and writers have let her other characters exist as cardboard cutout stereotypes. My taste for Christie’s clever puzzles is intact, just not the way they’re being presented in the 21st century. I’d love to see one updated to 2015. After all, they do it all the time with opera now, so why is her work preserved in amber?

I saw Diva before I read Delacorta’s novel. It was a spellbinder and has become an all-time favorite film of mine. If you can find it, watch it – maybe twice to figure out what is actually happening. Subtle, wispy like fog, mysterious and exotic…so, you know I liked it, right? I read the novel much later and found out what a fine writer he is. Turns out he began his studies as a painter, and later worked as a music critic, all of which makes sense when you see Diva.

There are more, but I want to read what my fellow Minds say. I’m betting they have some great candidates to share!

Friday, July 17, 2015

So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star

If you weren't a writer, what would you be professionally?

by Paul D. Marks

What would I be doing or what would I want to be doing? Probably two different things.

Children's Books -- Paul D. Marks
What I’d probably be doing is teaching or being a lawyer or working in the film biz in one capacity or another, which I did do for many years as a script doctor. But at least it was writing.

What I’d want to be doing, well more on that in a minute.

When I was a young kid, I had a little book called: “The How and Why Wonder Book of: Atomic Energy.”  So I wanted to be a physicist, an atomic scientist.

Then I read a book of my mom’s called “Little People Who Became Great,” (her edition published in 1935, though there are earlier ones—and I did say it was my mom’s book, right?), which tells the story of Helen Keller, Jenny Lind, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie and more. And I wanted to be like Andrew Carnegie. Though today I’d prefer being Edison, even with all his flaws.

Then I read a book called “They Met Danger,” stories about real life Medal of Honor winners, and I wanted to be like Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated hero.

Somewhere in the mix I wanted to be an architect, but that actually came later. But at some point, after the three books mentioned above and before wanting to be an architect, everything changed.

Somewhere around February 1964. It was a Sunday night. My dad called me into the den. Wanted me to watch something on TV. What could that be?
The-Beatles-with-Ed-Sullivan-1964 D2a
Click here to go to a YouTube video of Sullivan/The Beatles.

Ed Sullivan came on. He introduced a rock band from England: Yeah, you know who—or should I say “yeah, yeah, yeah,” The Beatles.

My life changed. The lives of almost everyone I knew changed. Eventually everything changed.

They were fresh and effervescent, and their music was boisterous and happy. They were witty and clever. And those harmonies. It was only about three months after JFK’s assassination. The country needed a shot in the arm—a shot of rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll to help it out of the doldrums after Kennedy’s death.

I hated my first name, Paul, until February 9th, 1964 (and I didn’t have to look the date up!), the date of the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan. I had wanted it to be Jeff, named after the Tommy Rettig character on the original Lassie TV series (before the Timmy/Jon Provost-June Lockhart version). After that day, uh, something changed. I liked the name Paul. Wonder why?

Byrds Rock n Roll Star D2a
Click here to go to a YouTube link of the Byrds doing this song.
And I wanted to play guitar and bass guitar. Who didn’t after that day? So I wanted to be a rock ‘n’ star. Who didn’t? Who didn’t grow their hair long and buy a guitar and an amp and shoot for the moon?

Paul D Marks bassI was even in a few bands, playing guitar and mostly bass. Singing a little, but something happened to my voice over the years and it’s a nightmare now. Kinda like what Keith Richards talks about with losing his voice.

I had fun, but I knew I didn’t have the talent to really make it. And since I was born in Hollywood and grew up in L.A. I had always wanted to be in the film biz. After driving around the city with my parents, past the Fox backlot in what is now Century City or by all the other studios, it was a natural thing to want to do. And I was lucky enough to have a career as a script doctor. No screen credit, little glory, but still fun and even fulfilling sometimes, even if my dad could never quite figure out what I did since he never saw my name on the silver screen.

But ultimately I’m glad things worked out the way they did. I got out of the film biz because I wanted less chefs over my shoulder. I like writing novels and short stories and I’m having a hell of a good time doing it.


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

All glamour, all the time

What would I do if I wasn't writing?

by Catriona

Well, I wouldn't be teaching in a university, which is what I did before I was writing. I might be working in a library, which is what I did in between bouts of education, but library work has got awfully technical since I did it, with a wooden carousel of cardboard tickets and an inky stamp, so perhaps not that either (Although I get a twinge of envy when I read about Mira James in Jess Lourey's murder-by-the-month series, running her one-woman library, organising story-time and hanging out with the good people of Battle Lake, MN. Mira's life strikes me as just about perfect, except for all the corpses and for being, you know, fictional.

But speaking of fictional jobs, it's true that I've given the protagonists of three out of four stand-alone novels jobs I'd happily do and enjoyed researching. The fourth I made do a PhD but I let her live above a butcher's shop so she can't complain.

Opal Jones in AS SHE LEFT IT is a picker in Tesco. She's the supermarket employee who takes the shopping lists of online customers and fills their trolleys ready for the van driver to deliver. (US: Safeway, cart, truck - sorry.) I like big supermarkets and, being a nosey-parker, I'd love to get the legitimate peek into people's lives that comes with doing their shopping week in and week out. I had assumed it was anonymous. It's not. That was a useful discovery for a suspense novel.

I was tickled to find out about the weekly competition for funniest mistake too. when I was doing research interviews someone had just won for giving a customer, instead of lemon and lime conditioner for oily hair . . . a baguette!

Jessie Constable, in THE DAY SHE DIED has another job I'd love to do. It combines the nosey-parker's-charter aspect with a good dose of bargain hunting/dumpster-diving. She's the manager of a free-clothing project for a charity: sorts the donations into eBay auction fodder, useable items and dross; washes and irons (I love washing and ironing (yes, really)); spends the eBay money on new underclothes in Primark (shopping again); keeps the stock tidy and helps the customers, some of whom are having a pretty rough old time and need a bit of pampering.

Okay, Jessie's other job - because four days a week at St Vince's doesn't keep her in diamonds - is cleaning caravans at a holiday site by a Scottish beach. I wouldn't fight her for it. But it's a lovely beach.

But Gloria Harkness, the heroine of the forthcoming THE CHILD GARDEN really does have my dream job. She's the registrar in the village in Galloway where I used to live. A registrar, US friends, is someone who registers births and deaths and conducts civil weddings. Come on! Registrars get a wee cuddle at the babies while they do the paperwork and they get to find out the wackadoodle names before anyone else (don't tell me there's not a secret registrars' competition there). They get to go to weddings and judge everyone's outfits. And, while registering deaths must be harrowing at times, it's important work and if you did it well, with sensitivity and compassion, you could be making a big difference to someone when they really needed it.

Truly, one of the things I love about writing fiction is getting to inhabit these other lives and fantasise about these jobs. Except maybe cleaning the caravans.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coffee, Tea, or Me, Sir?

If you weren't a writer, what would you be professionally?

- from Susan

Thank the fates and my step-father's library for turning me into a writer at an early age.  I honestly can't think of anything else I could do but write. Even when I was wrapped up in fundraising and running a non-profit, writing was always the key to any successes I had. I've already been a reporter, a freelance writer, a PR person, a marketing director, a VP, an ED, and a fundraiser. What's left?

In college, I worked in the library (big surprise there, I know). In high school, I was a model and salesgirl (and girl, I was) in a local department store. My eyes were opened to many things when I was drafted into being a store detective one year in early adulthood, fending off the racist biases of the head of security who gave me strict instructions to follow any black person who came into the Bridgeport, Connecticut department store. I've never been great at following orders and I shocked the guy by regularly bringing in weepy white housewives with blouses tucked into their handbags.

I was a waitress at a casual breakfast place on Cape Cod for several weeks one summer. There, I was great at taking orders. I was not so great at remembering who ordered what, or even that their eggs and pancakes might be sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be brought out to the increasingly edgy diners. One man left me a $50 tip and invited me to come to his house after work, but my grandmother, hearing about the invitation, made me give the money to the restaurant owner, who was her friend, and between the two of them they decided I wasn't cut out for waitressing.

I am so lucky to be looking at a February publication date for my third Dani O'Rourke Mystery, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, and to have just finished another manuscript and gotten started on a new one. What a life, with all its ups and downs.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Writer Rooter – Clearing Writer’s Block

We all hit writers’ block at some point in time. What do you do to get out of it and move the story forward?

by Paul D. Marks
writersblock a
Here’s what I do when I get writer’s block:
I Write.

And when I have no more to say, here’s what I do then:

I Write.

And when I hit that wall again, this is what I do:

I Write.

This question is similar to one we had awhile back, but I’ll try to be fresh with my response. But not fresh in the way my mom would call me when I was a kid mouthing off.

I don’t really get writer’s block. Only the one time that I mentioned a few weeks ago, where I wound up down in Palm Desert, playing with index cards—what else is there to play with?—while working on a script that wouldn’t come together.

What I do get is time block. That is, I find that while what I want to be doing is writing, everything else seems to get in the way. Taking the dogs out, which I love. Doing edits on an anthology, which I love. Trying to get this or that working around the house, which I—okay, I don’t love that so much. I love when they’re working though. Goofing off on YouTube, watching old bands like the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Dylan (okay, he’s not a band unless he’s with the Band and he’s not always with the Band so it depends what year or era the clip is from as to whether he’s a band or not), which I love. Or watching newer bands on You Tube, like Of Monsters and Men and The Dark Shadows, which I love. Or in between bands, like the Ramones and the Clash, which I love. Hey, it’s better, well easier than writing anyway.

John Lennon Busy Making Other Plans
But there are real things that come up that take time away from writing, but what the hell. Life happens and you gotta deal with that too. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”— even plans to write.

On the rare occasions that I might get mild writer’s block there’s a couple things I do. I’d mentioned taking drives before, hanging out, all that stuff. But I also might take a day or a week off from that particular project and work on something else. Or play. And even though I might not be thinking about it in the forefront of my mind, my brain is working in the background so that when I do sit down later I will probably be able to get on with it. Sometimes I’ll take a shower—I get a lot of good ideas in the shower. But taking a shower these days is illegal, or close to it, at least if you live in California. So if you’re planning on visiting bring a rebreather.

And if I’m still stuck, one thing I do is just write. Write anything. Let it flow. Let my characters talk and walk, stream of consciousness, and it doesn’t matter if I use any of this stuff because I’m seeing who they are, what they want, where they’re going, etc. And from that the floodgates open to the point where I’m back on track, having just the swellest of times at the keyboard.

C&HThe bottom line is that writing is a job. And just like any other job or a job where you punch a time clock I just have to be there. I have to sit myself down in a chair, stare at the screen and let my fingers do the walking. Eventually something worthwhile (well, hopefully worthwhile) will come out. Try it. I promise you it works. And if it doesn’t work, your money back. Ten times your money back.


Happy Fourth of July everyone from the folks here at Criminal Minds:

jpg (1)


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Thursday, July 2, 2015

What Clare Said

I especially liked the way she talked about writing being more than just typing words one after the other.

Writing for me is immersive. I need to set off into the story and spend time there without getting hooked back into the real world. I can do that twice a day if I start from somewhere calm. And if I keep the bottomless vat of monkeys that is the internet far far away from my writing times. Like this:

Email, breakfast, walk, journey to story, write, come back, email, lunch, walk, journey to story, write, come back, email, dinner, the rest of life, sleep. Repeat.

But I couldn't do it if  "the rest of life" - family, friends, hobbies, exercise, entertainment, social media - was mixed up in my day getting in the way of the excursions into the story. I don't understand how anyone can write with a Google alert on the same computer. I don't have any internet in my writing room. To waste time looking at kittens (and God knows I'm not judging; I love a kitten) I have to get up, walk into a different room and fire up a different machine. That's a lot of malice to forethink, when I know I should be writing.

And it gets harder if life isn't calm. I'm lucky enough not to have a day job and I share a house with just one other person who is out from eight until six. I don't have children or caring responsibilities and I live in the middle of nowhere with no near neighbours. This is why I don't go on writing retreats. They've always got too much hurly-burly and hoopla.

But occasionally life drops an anvil on you. Grief, illness, and injury have all managed to stop me writing when they come along. That's okay. They stop people doing other jobs too.

Even pleasant distractions like conventions, houseguests and monumental real-world news can knock me out of a story pretty efficiently. . . until I'm about forty thousand words in. After that a book is bullet-proof. It's as though the world of the book is more real and more powerful than the world outside and nothing in the world outside can compete.

(Victorious Golden State Warriors, in SF Pride march, after historic SCOTUS ruling,
during ALA, all of which couldn't break-ah my stride last weekend)
So . . . what's my advice for dealing with writer's block? Get off the internet except for a few check-ins a day separated from your writing time by something that clears your head of junk. Do all the other stuff (like writing this blog) in the evenings (separated from your writing time by sleep) and try to carve out a few really dead weeks to get your story bullet-proof before you combine it with travel and other distractions.

Some friends in the writing community are famous for writing all the time, wherever they are. Tim Hallinan and William Kent Krueger can both be seen at major conventions, sitting amongst hordes of revelers typing away in worlds of their own. I've never asked but if they can do that while they're writing early chapters then a deep curtsy to both of them.