Friday, July 22, 2016

Sic transit gloria mundi

Which would you choose? Fame or fortune?

by Paul D. Marks

How 'bout we go 50-50 on this one.

Seems a lot of people want to be famous these days…but not for doing much worthy of fame: Paris Hilton, a whole family tree of Kardashians, the bling ring. I address this issue to some degree in my novella Vortex and Broken Windows, the upcoming sequel to White Heat. But before I get to them:

Sure I want to be famous. And I want to be rich. But I’d like to be those things for doing something worthwhile…and that can be entertaining people. Because as John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) learned in Preston Sturges’s “Sullivan’s Travels” that’s what people really want.

I keep telling my wife that I’m semi-semi famous, though my goal is to be semi-famous. The truth is I’m probably more like semi-semi-semi to the 10th degree famous. But the goal is still to be semi-famous. I don’t think I could ever be as famous as the Real Housewives of Here, There and Everywhere for doing nothing or even less than zero to paraphrase a great novel, or Snooki for tanning and Mike the Situation for adoring his own body. But if I can take people away from their world and their worries for a few hours, I’m good. Even if it’s into a much darker world of noir and mystery, at least it’s away from their day to day problems.

As for being rich, I’d settle for a house on each coast (that includes the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and the Amalfi Coast), a private plane, a yacht, a decommissioned missile silo for a very private writer’s retreat. And an endless supply of pizza and M&Ms – peanut only and no blue ones – they’re unnatural looking, how much blue food is there? – and hey, if Van Halen can do it, so can I.

Other than that I don’t really have much to say on whether I’d rather be rich or famous. It would be nice to be both. But I do have some thoughts on our fame-obsessed culture and address these issues in my writing.

In Vortex, a noir thriller, Zach Tanner is an Afghan war vet. Before and during the war he and his buddies have big plans to get rich and famous quick. Maybe by not quite doing the right thing. Being wounded in the war has given Zach time to think about it and he has a change of heart. Here’s a couple excerpts from Vortex:

It sounds corny, but I did want to be somebody. Didn’t really care how I got there either and maybe that was my problem. Maybe I should have cared. Back then I didn’t really care about much, fucked around and just wanted to be famous—rich and famous. And I thought if I could get my hands on some money that could help me on the road to fame.

Fuck, everybody I knew wanted to be famous. Everybody but those wanna-bes like George who were actually studying and heading somewhere. Some people have a road paved with gold. Others have a dirt-road, lined with ruts and potholes and IEDs, and they’re lucky if they can reach the next milestone before getting waxed. I had every advantage a person could hope for, but I couldn’t have gotten into UCLA or USC if my life depended on it. I was just lazy, especially when it came to studying. Nah, I wanted a faster road and a furious rod.

And from another part of Vortex:

Jess was still where I was before I deployed, still wanting the bling, but I’d moved on. Being a soldier, being in a war and being wounded changed me. She was just where I’d left her. Still wanting the brass ring but not wanting to do much to get it. The problem is, no matter how much you have, it’s never enough.

In Broken Windows, Duke, the P.I. from White Heat, who solved a case and got his “fifteen” minutes
of fame doing so, says:

Ever since my seven minutes of fame with Teddie Matson’s case, I had every two bit producer who needed the goods on his wife or girlfriend or boyfriend, or all three, or had to know what the competition at the other studios were up to, wanting me to work for them. I had no end of cases to work. A lot of Hollywood riff-raff; the fact that they might be worth a hundred million dollars didn’t make them any less riff or raff. I was making good money for a change. And I hated every minute of it.

So many people in our society want to be famous these days. They don’t realize they’re making a bargain with the Devil when they ask for that. When they do realize it it’s too late. But most famous people aren’t famous for doing anything important. I didn’t want to be one of them. And fame is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it opens doors, but you also can’t be anonymous. Some people ask for it—movie stars, then resent the price that goes with it. I hadn’t asked for it. But maybe it was part of my penance.

I think there’s a recurring theme going on here, so that hits on how I feel about fame and fortune.

I’ve met many famous people in one capacity or another. Some were nice, some not so nice. Fame doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good person or happy or even prosperous. And when I think of fame I’m reminded of this line, paraphrased from the Jose Ferrer version of “Moulin Rouge”:

One should never meet a person whose work one admires. What they do is always so much better than what they are.

I hope if I ever do get beyond semi-semi-semi to the 10th degree famous that I will still be humble and share my M&Ms with the little people who helped me get where I am. (It’s a joke – okay, you people who take things too seriously.)

To me, fame without purpose is pointless and fortune without respect for others is meaningless.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Secret option C.

by Catriona.

"Would you rather have fame or fortune?"

I'm assuming that "as a writer" is understood, and that changes everything.

For one thing, the most famous writer in the world isn't all that famous anyway. J.K. Rowling can still sit typing in the cafĂ© in Edinburgh undisturbed. Really. I've seen her there. Of course, she does it with some kind of magical facial expression. If she could bottle and sell that "don't even think about it" look she'd be a rich wo- Oh.

And even if a famous writer gets recognised and mobbed by fans, they're book fans. They're readers. They're not natural mobbers. I'm trying to imagine a crowd of readers screaming and fainting and snatching the clothes off the back of . . . Stephen King. But I'm failing.

I got a bit flummoxed when I first met Mary Higgins Clark, but all that happened was I stepped back in case she thought I was standing too close and I tripped over the tripod stand that the "Mary Higgins Clark" poster was propped up on. It made a clatter but no security was involved.

So, all in all, I think extreme fame for a writer isn't enough actual fame to spawn a monster. I'm going to Harrogate today and I'll be seeing Simon Brett, who has just been awarded an OBE and a diamond dagger and is having a special reception thrown for him. If he expects me to curtsy and/or is now travelling with a personal grape-peeler, I'll edit this blog to reflect it.

How about fortune?

We hear a lot about people whose lives are ruined by lottery wins but, again, I think it's different for writers. I don't know anyone who does it for the money and I don't know anyone who would stop doing it if they suddenly had a wet ton of money. And money wouldn't really help with any bit of the core of what being a writer is. It wouldn't bring ideas, or a publishing deal, or a sympathetic editor, or readers, or good reviews, or an extension on the next hand-in date.

Of course, a huge steaming heap of filthy lucre would bring some incidentals: a hired publicist, a PA, freedom from a day-job, research trips with leg-room on the plane and a posh hotel room . . . but those things don't bring ideas or readers either.

So I'm going for secret option C. I'd rather have writing. If that's guaranteed I'll take the lie-flat plane seat and PA, please. (But I want to keep going to the Post Office myself because I like the people who work there and I'd miss them.) And then if I had to accept being so famous that klutzy fellow authors backed into tripods, I'd cope with that too,

"Show me the money...." by Cathy Ace

Fame or fortune – which would you choose?

I agree with Susan and Rachel that this conditional question allows me to choose only one of the two options on offer, and, assuming “fortune” means pots and pots of dosh (money, lolly, lucre, cash, spondoola, bread, dough, bucks), I would unequivocally choose fortune over fame.

Fame is capricious and depends on others; fortune can be managed, overseen, curated.

Fame means nothing except maybe annoyance to those who share your life; fortune can be shared with those about whom you care.

Fame becomes a burden; fortune can offer freedom.

Fame feeds the ego; fortune can feed the soul.

Fame cannot be kept from those you meet; fortune can be private, so you’ll be more likely to be able to have “real” human relationships based upon “real” responses to you as a person, rather than as some sort of icon.

For those who gain fame, for whatever reason, often the opportunity to amass a fortune follows, so you might think I’d prefer fame so that I'd, ultimately, have more of a chance of access to a fortune. But that’s not a choice on offer here.  In any case, honestly, I’d rather be a completely unknown millionaire, able to live the life I choose without a worry about money for myself or those I love, than have to constantly pander to the fame-granters whose criteria for allowing me to be “famous” would shift in any case. I should add, in case you're wondering, that I'm not afraid to work hard to amass my fortune in any field where fame doesn't have to be a part of the achievement system involved - for example, so long as there's no photo on the jacket, a book that garners millions of dollars doesn't have to make one famous, as let's go with that as an option, eh?

Or, yes, let me win the lottery, anonymously, and I’ll be as happy as Larry (assuming Larry had anonymously won the lottery).  

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER will be available in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and in November in the US/Canada, and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at   

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Gemini Tackles the Big Issues

Q: Which would you choose? Fame or fortune?

-from Susan, who is a Gemini and therefore unable or unwilling to choose

A:                    Artificial dichotomy.

A#2:                Why do I have to choose?

A#3:                Define ‘fame’ for this mid-list author.

        Fame = Someone - one person - told me I looked a little like Princess Diana

A#4:                Can fortune be defined as enough money to live on until I die?

A fortune is in the eyes of the beholder....

A#5:                I notice the conditional in the question, which suggests the questioner doesn’t think I’m likely to have to make this decision.

A#6:                Let me go back to daydreaming I could make a fortune by becoming an author famous for my French village mysteries, debuting in 2017. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Friday, July 8, 2016

I've Been Everywhere, Man

Where is the best place you’ve ever vacationed? Has that setting made its way into any of your books?

by Paul D. Marks

Like the Johnny Cash song says, I’ve been everywhere, man. Well, okay, not everywhere but a lot of wheres. Some places I like better than others, some I’d rather forget, some I wish I could move back to, and some, well, y’know, if I told you I’d have to kill ya.
Click here (not picture) for YouTube Video

In my prose writing, novels and short stories, it doesn’t appear that I’ve used much of my travels as locations, though I have in some cases. That’s probably because I consider myself a Los Angeles writer. So, even though “I’ve been everywhere, man,” much of what I write is set in L.A. (I have, however set some screenplays in more exotic locales but that’s for another time.) My novels White Heat and Vortex, and the five previously published stories in my collection LA Late @ Night are all L.A. stories, as are others. However, I do have some things that are set in other places: I’m currently working on a novel set in New York and another that starts in L.A., moves to DC and even England. And Deserted Cities of the Heart is coming out in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir on August 2nd and that’s set in, well, you guessed it, St. Louis. My story Poison Heart, in one of the Deadly Ink collections, is set at Morey’s Piers and Wildwood, New Jersey. A story that’s currently out for consideration is set in Atlanta, all places I’ve been. But it seems that the more exotic places I’ve been to haven’t made it into anything, probably because I write mystery-thrillers, but not international thrillers, at least not yet. And because, as I say, I largely consider myself an L.A. Writer.

L.A. City Hall

Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald did pretty good hangin’ around the L.A. area. As have James Ellroy and Walter Mosley. I’m not putting myself in their ranks, just saying that L.A. ain’t a bad place to hang your gat, I mean hat.

Famous Hollywood Landmark -- can be seen in LA Confidential

Some other places I’ve set stories are, Terminal Island, a former Japanese fishing village off the coast of San Pedro, so still sort of L.A., but when the story is set, during WWII, it was a very different place than L.A.  Howling at the Moon is set in Death Valley, and though that’s still in California and not all that far from L.A., it might as well be on the moon. Graceland is set in Memphis, at Elvis Presley’s home. Out of Time is set in Miami’s hip South Beach. Unfinished Business in Lynchburg, Virginia. I have several stories or parts of them set in Venice Beach, which again is part of L.A., but with a vibe of its own. And, as I say above, I’m currently working on novels set in DC, a place I love in many ways and can’t stand in others, and New York.

Dee Dee Ramone's grave
But I’d have to say the most exotic place I’ve set something is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery for the story Continental Tilt,  largely set in the heart of Hollywood, in the heart of L.A. Lots of famous people buried there, everyone from Dee Dee Ramone, of the Ramones, to Tyrone Power and Darla Hood (Our Gang/Little Rascals). Also Rudolph Valentino and Bugsy Siegel. Lotta ghosts there.

MGM’s motto, besides ars gratia artis, was “More stars than there are in heaven,” but Hollywood Forever has even more stars than MGM in its heyday, unfortunately they’re either six feet under or encased in marble above the ground. And I’m not sure they’re all in heaven…

The thing about Hollywood Forever is that during the summer months you, well, here’s a couple graphs from Continental Tilt to give you an idea. They’re separated from each other a bit in the story:

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

In the heart of Los Angeles, in the heart of Hollywood, a vampire movie played on a humongous silver screen. This wasn’t your usual movie venue, but the crowd of seven hundred loved it. Spread out on beach chairs and blankets, with bottles of wine and beer, Boba tea, doing wheatgrass shooters and eating catered Mexasian sushi, fusion food for the Millennial-iPod generation.

And a short time later:

Did I forget to mention that the movie theatre was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in the heart of Hollyweird? That over the summer they show movies on the mausoleum wall, while people sit on their beach chairs and blankets—Beach Blanket Bloodshed—and munch their munchies amongst the graves of movie stars, rock stars and even mere mortals? The back wall of the cemetery, clearly visible from the field of graves the watchers watched the movies from, was appropriately the back wall of Paramount Studios.

Actually, I set two stories there, Continental Tilt and Endless Vacation. The latter is very different in tone (more downer) than the former.

In writing this, I was surprised to see how many places I’ve written about that aren’t set in L.A., and this isn’t even a complete list.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fantastic Tales from Fabulous Places.

By Catriona.

I think I'm one of those people Cathy talked about yesterday who doesn't hold travel high on the list of life's pleasures. (There's no one more surprised than me to find myself living so very far from my Scottish home.)
The tough life of a California resident
When I go on holiday, all I want is a cottage with no neighbours (or a hotel where no one bugs you), a quiet beach with no radios playing, a huge stack of books and somewhere to eat seafood.

Dream holiday cottage, with book stack.
It used to be Cornwall. Now it's a toss-up between Rhode Island (quiet) and the Monterey peninsula (handier).

I try to make myself care that I'll probably die without ever seeing the Great Wall of China or The Winter Palace. Boring? Guilty. Annoying to more intrepid friends? You bet. Bothered? Guess.

And when it comes to books I seem to be the same panacheless ninny. I write about the places I've lived for years and years and even then I have to go back to them while writing and commune with . . . I'm not sure exactly.

So my books are full off Edinburgh and Galloway and sometimes feature other corners of what is a truly tiny country. I worked in Leeds (about an hour's drive from the Scottish border) for five years and ten years later I managed to use it as a setting.

Leeds (or Dystopia, as one US librarian assumed!)

When I moved to California and was asked if I'd ever set a book here, I pish-poshed and pooh-poohed pretty vehemently.  Of course, I was wrong. A mere five years later, I have indeed written a story that takes place in a northern California town. Then straight back to Lanarkshire (a half hour's drive from the house where I was born) for the next one.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A traveler's tale or Cathy Ace

Where is the best place you’ve ever vacationed? Has that setting made its way into any of your books?

Anyone who’s read a Cait Morgan Mystery knows how difficult it is for me to answer this question: all those books are set in places where I’ve lived or have visited frequently. The south of France, BC wine country, Pacific coastal Mexico, Vegas, Hawai’i, Amsterdam…I have spent years or months in all of them, and have often sneaked there for a short vacation too! And they are all in my books (Budapest is up next, by the way, folks!). My WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries are set in Wales where I grew up, so there's that, too.

Yes, that's me floating in the Dead Sea
I’ve been fortunate to travel a great deal during my life. At least, I see it as fortunate – I know that, for many, travel isn’t something high on their personal agenda. So I’m going to talk about places I have visited and loved, which have not made their way into my work (yet!!).

Jordan: I adored Agatha Christie’s beloved Nabatean and Roman city of Petra where she lived for more than a year with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan; floating in the Dead Sea made me giggle (yes, the water tastes absolutely disgusting but being told that just isn’t the same as tasting it for oneself!); Amman’s amphitheatre is stunning; Jerash is about as perfect a Roman city as I have seen anywhere; Mount Nebo makes one feel utterly spiritual and the Crusader citadel of Kerak Castle took my breath away.  It was great fun to ride a camel through Wadi Rum, where the Seven Pillars of Wisdom frame the landscape.
Yep - it's me! At Petra, New Year's Eve

Tunisia: I decided I wanted to be at Carthage for my birthday one year. Having grown up studying Latin, it was a place that had filled my teen years with wonder. I managed it, and was bitterly disappointed! Yes, I know a city famous for being sacked will probably look a bit sorry for itself, but I’d hoped for more than remained, which boiled down to a few columns and the subterranean parts of the Roman baths. Fortunately the joy of visiting Tunis itself, with its wonderful Bardo Museum, made up for this underwhelming experience, as did a totally joyous trip to the village of Sid Bou Said, which is known for its blue and white architectural themes. I made the stupid mistake of buying a star-shaped lamp made of brass and glass there – given that it was about two-feet in diameter it made for a very interesting flight home!

Outside the museum in Cairo
Egypt: if I have to pick a favourite, this is it. I’ve spent a lot of time in Egypt (months), and there hasn’t been a moment I didn’t enjoy. No, hang on, I take that back….about fifteen minutes after sunset each night, a wall of hot air would roll across the Nile and hit you like a giant hairdryer, followed about ten minutes later by swarms of the most nibbly mosquitoes I’ve ever experienced – those moments…running to find the respite of the hotel’s air-conditioning…weren’t much fun at all! I’ve cruised the Nile, visited Agatha Christie’s suite at the Old Cataract Hotel at Aswan, clambered up inside the pyramid of Cheops in Cairo and have stood in the Temple of Karnak at dawn on Midsummer’s Day. I had the magnificently-painted tomb of Queen Nefertari all to myself for half an hour on the morning of my 35th birthday and I’ve ridden through the
Tip: don't wear black when you're on a motorbike in Egypt in August
Valleys of the Kings and Queens on a motorbike in August (not recommended unless you fill a back-pack with water to pour over yourself!). Sailing in a felucca on the Nile to its tiny islands is a delight, as is taking a horse-drawn kalesh (a small, open carriage) to dine at the Winter Palace in Luxor where they have some of the the most magnificently unnecessary fireplaces I’ve ever seen. To balance that luxurious experience I also drank tea made from Nile-water and ate goat stew in a traditional mud house, sharing a hookah pipe with my hosts afterwards…an interesting breakfast!
Apple shisha - my favourite!
I’m not sure if any of these places will find their way into my future books, but I’ve loved them all, and hope to return one day. Where have you been that you'd like to revisit? 

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in hardback in February, and will be available in trade paperback on August 31st, and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at