Friday, January 13, 2017

The Wonder of Me ; )

It’s a New Year – and we Criminal Minds are taking the chance to (re)introduce ourselves. First up – how we’ve arrived where we are in our writing career.

by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a wordaholic. I write ’em. I read ’em. I horde ’em. I find secret hiding places for them. How the hell did I get in this fix?

I started young. At first I didn’t mainline. I just read a few words here and there, cat, dog, see Spot run. Then I began to string more and more words together, until I could read a whole book. Sure, it might have been a little Golden Book, but a book. These were my ‘gateway’ books to other, longer and harder books.

As Bob Dylan said, “I started out on burgundy, But soon hit the harder stuff.”

And since I already did my Adventures in La La Land post both here and at SleuthSayers ( ), which introduced a lot of my influences this will focus more on my writing history. So here’s the wonder of me (not totally in chronological order):

I’m a multi-generation L.A. native. Being from L.A. definitely influenced my writing and probably my career choices as well. It was a good city to grow up in........the city of Raymond Chandler’s “mean streets,” Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer and Cain’s Double Indemnity. In fact, I grew up in a Spanish-style house very much like the one that Barbara Stanwyck lives in in the movie version of Double Indemnity. A film noir town for a film noir kid.

I was born in the heart of Hollywood, literally. And, even though no one in my family was in the film biz, it must have been destiny, providence, fate, kismet that I ended up a script doctor (Hey, mom, I’m a doctor…), even though my initial “goal” was to be a rock star. But as someone who did make it as a rock star said, ““Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

As a kid I loved reading and watching movies. My first venture into “writing” was when I would pretend my army men were on a film set instead of a battlefield and use TinkerToys as Klieg Lights. So I was creating scenarios, making my little men talk, move and go through plots of one sort or another. Eventually I lost the men and started doing pretty much the same thing on a typewriter and now a computer, making characters talk, move and go through the paces of plots of one sort or another.

My long and winding road to becoming a professional writer started with writing songs for that rock superstardom that was sure to come. Yeah, they were classics. (Well, some weren’t so bad.)

My first paid writing gig was for a piece on John Lennon for one of the L.A. papers. What a thrill to see my name in lights, or at least on newsprint and, of course, to get a check. Wow!

While still doing that, I was also trying to break into Hollywood, so I could see just how far Sammy really could run. I would try almost anything to get noticed and have people read my scripts. I’d send letters to everyone. The bigger they were, generally speaking, the nicer they were. Gene Kelly invited me to his house to drop off a script. And when I got there he invited me in for a chat. Cary Grant called me—twice. (And you ought to hear where I was the second time he called, that story can be found on my website.) Burt Reynolds asked to take a look at a script. I got invited to pitch to the biggest producers of the day. And more. And eventually I started getting work as a script doctor, no credit, no glory, but fun, at least for a time. So a fun time was had by all, except for the screaming matches or the producer threatening to send his friends in the Mossad after me after an argument. Y’know, fun, like Day of the Locusts. Fun.

At one point, I shot a film on the last surviving MGM backlot, giving me the distinction, dubious though it might be, of being the last person to have shot a film on any of the fabled MGM backlots before they bit the dust to make way for condos. According to Steven Bingen, one of the authors of the well-received book MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot: “That 40 page chronological list I mentioned of films shot at the studio ends with his [Paul D. Marks’] name on it.”

And after several years, I went back to grad school at USC, where, even though I was a cinema major I took an advanced short story class from T. Coraghessan Boyle. Today, after donations from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and others, the cinema department at SC just about rivals any major studio with top of the line equipment and modern buildings. When I went there the soundstage was an old army cavalry barn and the editing rooms were the former horse stalls. I think we could still hear the ghosts of the horses. Things being what they were, I never did finish my degree. Sometimes I actually think about going back and doing that.

So after years of optioning scripts that paid well but didn’t get produced, doing rewrites, with my dad never being able to figure out what I did for a living, I guess I became one of the disenchanted, plus I wanted more autonomy. Didn’t want everyone and their chef and gardener sticking their two cents in, saying how something should be done, so I started writing short stories and novels (ah, those glorious rejection slips, but they did make nice targets).

The transition from screenwriting to prose was a difficult one. Screenplays are great for structure, not so hot for description. And people said my first stories and novels read like screenplays. It took a while for me to be able to do description and interior character thoughts. (See the piece I did for Ellery Queen Magazine’s Something is Going to Happen site for more on the differences between novels, stories and screenplays: )
So I honed my craft and one of those early novels, maybe my first, hard to remember now, was even accepted for publication at a major publisher. Of all things, it was about a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood and as absurd as much of it was, little of it was made up. But then the sky fell in. The whole editorial department at that publisher was swept out and new brooms sweeping clean and all of that, the new editors dumped me and my novel. So the experience was like something out of a Hollywood movie…minus the happy ending. And by the time all this happened the humor in the novel was dated as it had a lot of topical satire, so it couldn’t go to another publisher right away and, in fact, went on my shelf. But you know what they say about satire anyway, it closes Saturday night. Still, some day I’ll resurrect this tale.

Eventually, I started placing short stories here and there and slowly started reaching some of my prose writing goals and winning writing awards along the way, which is a great honor and thrill.
One of my goals was finally reached when my story Howling at the Moon was published in Ellery Queen and it was short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards, as well as coming in # 7 in the Ellery Queen Reader’s Award Poll, I also reached another writing milestone when my story Deserted Cities of the Heart was published in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir last year.

And sappy as it sounds, I hope this is just the beginning of the journey. So there you have it, the wonder of me.


And now for the usual BSP:

Coming on January 30th from Down & Out Books:
Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea 
A collection of 15 Private Eye stories from some of the best mystery and noir writers from across the country. Available for pre-order now on Amazon:

And I have a couple of appearances in January.

Santa Clarita: The Old Town Newhall Library
Saturday, January 14, 2017, from 10:00 AM-3:00 PM.
24500 Main St, Santa Clarita, CA  91321

Cerritos Library, where I’ll be moderating a panel:
Saturday, January 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
18025 Bloomfield Avenue, Cerritos, CA  90703



RJ Harlick said...

We just can't stop playing with those words despite the ups and downs, can we? Great backstory, Paul. In fact I've enjoyed reading all the 'how we got there' stories of my fellow minds these past two weeks. I feel I know you all that much better. Now onto the next two weeks, when we learn more about each other's writing.

Art Taylor said...

Great post, Paul--and while I know some of these stories, it's good to see the fuller trajectory here! One thing, though: You talk about being the last person to have shot a film on any of those MGM backlots--but what was the film? I'm curious! Love the picture of you there. Looking good!

Cathy Ace said...

Great story :-)

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed hearing about your writing/Hollywood journey. I knew some of your b/g but I feel like I know a bit more about you now. I also did the Hollywood thing and worked at an old school literary agency where our clients ranged from Eva Marie Saint, Evan Hunter, Donald Westlake, and Billy Wilder (who I got to meet!), then script reader for various studios. I wrote a script but not until grad school did I realize I liked writing short stories when I took a creative writing course (not from T.C. Boyle though, I wish!). So kind of a similar path - although yours is much more colorful.

Unknown said...

I love that backlot picture too, and getting a look at your trip to where you are. It brings home how our surroundings, big city, small town, etc shape the backdrop of our fiction.

GBPool said...

You know what's so good about your story? You never gave up. Too many didn't have anything to light that fire under them. You had the love of old movies and of books that kept that fire alive. And it paid off. Personally, I'm happy about that. I love your work. It inspires.

Susan C Shea said...

Now that's one interesting backstory! You make it sound like so much not fun, but come on, Paul, it had to have high moments. Cary Grant....

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I tried responding individually the other day but couldn't get the answers to upload. So I'm just doing this general thank you here.........and hoping it will upload this time. But I do appreciate all your comments and would have liked to respond to each one. Don't know what went wrong this time around.