Friday, October 9, 2020

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Tell us about the first story/stories you ever wrote. First book, published or no.

by Paul D. Marks

I don’t really remember what the first story I wrote was. But when I started writing I was trying to write more mainstream or literary fiction. And just in the last few weeks I resurrected one of those ancient stories, rewrote it as crime fiction and sent it out into the world to hopefully be picked up somewhere. The theme is the same as the original story, as well as some of the elements, but I like it better as a murder mystery than as “serious” fiction. Especially because, as one of my first stories I was horrified at how badly written it was. But I liked the idea enough to keep it in the back of mind all these years and try again with the basic elements from it. I think it works better this time. Hope so anyway.

Breaking News: Speaking of stories, and before I get back to the current question, Coast to Coast: Noir from Sea to Shining Sea, volume 3 in the Coast to Coast series of crime fiction anthologies that Andy McAleer and I co-edit dropped last week. Twelve noir stories from twelve terrific authors, with stories set throughout the US from…coast to coast. The “chronology” of the book (if that’s the right word) goes from the West Coast to the East Coast, noir all the way. The authors are: Colleen Collins, Brendan DuBois, Alison Gaylin, Tom MacDonald, Andrew McAleer, Michael Mallory, Paul D. Marks, Dennis Palumbo, Stephen D. Rogers, John Shepphird, Jaden Terrell, Dave Zeltserman. See the post I did earlier this week at SleuthSayers for more on this collection: Hope you’ll want to check it out: 

Available at Amazon and Down & Out Books

And now we return you to our regular programming already in progress: Another thing I remember is that I began by writing poems and song lyrics. I wanted to be a rock star—who didn’t? But I was always writing something.

One of my early novels—maybe my first completed novel, that’s also hard to remember—a satire about a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood, was almost published way back in the 80s. Almost. It was accepted for publication (if that's the right terminology) by a major publisher.  But then there was a "housecleaning" at that publisher: the old team of editors and assistant editors got swept out. And the new team didn't want most of the old team's slate of projects, so I got swept out with the "new broom". So that one almost got published. But by the time it was put into “turnaround” it was too late for it as a lot of the humor was dated. Remember Fawn Hall, Jessica Hahn, Donna Rice and Gary Hart—see what I mean, dated. ’Cause even though it was about a guy trying to make it in Hollywood, it had a lot of topical and satirical humor of the day. I work on it every once in a while to remove the dated satirical elements and make it more neutral in terms of topicality. So one of these days it might see the light.

The first writing that I got paid for was a piece in one of the L.A. papers about John Lennon on, I believe, the one year anniversary of his murder. It wasn't fiction, but it felt awfully good to actually get paid for writing something. But even though it felt good to be paid, I had mixed emotions because of the subject matter. Appropriate that this should appear today as today is John Lennon's birthday.

Available on Amazon
My first published fiction, but certainly not the first story I wrote, was a short story called Angels Flight (before Michael Connelly borrowed the title from me 😉). It was published in the Murder by Thirteen anthology and republished in L.A. Late @ Night, a collection of five of my stories. A review of L.A. Late @ Night in All Due Respect calls Angels Flight the reviewer's favorite story in the collection and says this about the two main characters, "They're a dynamic pair, and I'd like to see them together in more stories," so I might just have to oblige him.

The title for Angels Flight was inspired by the famous funicular railway in downtown L.A. and my love for old Los Angeles. I think the story was inspired when they drained one of the lakes in L.A. and found all kinds of junk there. So in my story they drain Echo Park Lake, find a dead body and the story takes off from there. And even though it was originally published a looooooooong time ago, it's still one of my favorites. I think it's (hopefully) surprise ending brings to mind Shakespeare's quote, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 

Angels Flight

After Angels Flight, I had more stories published and eventually my novel White Heat, and others. And then I happily reached one of my major short stories goals, getting published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and its sister publication Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Another thrill was to be listed on the cover of EQMM, as well as winning their Readers Award. So there’s always hope, don’t give up.

All I can do to end is quote another rock band, the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it's been." 


And now for the usual BSP:

The Blues Don't Care got a nice review from It was a Dark and Stormy Book Club.

“On one level it’s a mystery where Bobby Saxon, with secrets he wants no one to find out, works to solve a murder and clear his name under extraordinary racially tinged circumstances. With a lot of twists and turns, this is an excellent mystery.  It takes place in World War II-era Los Angeles, and the author does a brilliant job that brings the long-gone era alive with memorable characters, scents, descriptions, and most of all, jazz. Highly recommended."

Buy on Amazon or Down & Out Books


And Tom Bergin at The Name is Archer Facebook page had this to say about Coast to Coast Noir:

"This is the new book out that contains stories by Archer group members Paul D. Marks and Dennis Palumbo. There are 12 stories in all in this collection and so far I've read the stories by Paul and Dennis. They are both really good stories. Paul's story is called Nowhere Man. The story is set in Southern California and the year is 1965. The story does conjure up the Beatles song but is also a very clever nod to the 1944 movie Laura. The story by Dennis is titled Steel City Blues and is set in Pittsburgh in the year 1970. Here's the opening line of the story - I'm sitting at my usual spot on the roof, back against one of the brick smokestacks, the revolver across my upraised knees. Dennis never wastes any time getting the reader involved in his stories and Steel City Blues is no exception. Interestingly both of these stories deal with obsession. Both stories show what can happen when a man becomes obsessed with a woman. It's noir. Things don't go well. Check the book out. I have a feeling the remaining ten stories will be as good as these two."

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Frank Zafiro said...

This was a good question - I'm learning some cool background facts on everyone!

Congrats on repurposing that story as crime fiction, Paul. That was a great idea!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Frank. It is interesting to see everyone's backgrounds. And I think that story works much better as a crime story while still retaining some of the elements that I liked about it in the first place. Now we'll see if anyone else, liked editors, feel the same...

Bruce W. Most said...

After writing unsalable short stories in high school and college, and two unsold novels, I finally sold my first mystery to Bantam with a decent advance. They asked for a second book, also with an advance—then abruptly dropped them before they ever saw print when they dropped a bunch of their existing authors, similar to your experience. Devastating. My agent never sold them anywhere else. I rewrote both books a few years back (after publishing others in the interim), published one with a small press and self-published the sequel this past fall. What a life we’ve chosen for ourselves.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Nice to read how you experimented and finally found your way, Paul. I, for one, am glad you did.

Susan C Shea said...

The L.A. funicular has inspired a lot of writers and, having ridden on it once when Michael Connelly was also on it, I get it. Angels Flight sounds intriguing.

Paul D. Marks said...

Like you say, Bruce, what a life we’ve chosen, huh? But when I ask myself what else I might have done there’s really nothing that sparks me. Sorry about your Bantam experience. I guess it happens – maybe more than we like to think.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dietrich. Appreciate you kind words.

Paul D. Marks said...

Susan, you got to ride Angels Flight with Michael Connelly, pretty cool.

jake devlin said...

I had a "housecleaning" experience much like yours, Paul. Back in the '70s, I served on a grand jury in Boston, Mass, wrote a story (my first ever) about it, mixing fiction and nonfiction, and sold it to Boston Magazine. Then the editor was fired and the story was never published. But they did pay me a $105 "kill fee," a third (I think) of what I'd have gotten if it had been published. Ah, well.

I also wrote, produced and directed a play, "Reborn Again," a vampire comedy, and then left writing alone until I wrote and self-published my first novel, "The Devlin Deception," in 2012, which (BSP) went to number one in its category, political humor, on Amazon. Oh, whee!

Four more novels and lots of off-the-wall short stories since then, and the ideas keep coming. (I'm glad I'm retired and have time to write ... oh, and edit the BOULD Awards anthologies.)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jake. I’m beginning to think that these “housecleaning” experiences are more common than I’d thought. Did you ever do something with that story that got killed?

And congratulations on your book going to number in the political humor category. That’s very cool. And so are BOULD awards/anthologies. Sounds like you’re working harder in retirement than before ;-) .

jake devlin said...

No, Paul, I never did anything more with that story. But I remember much of it and could probably rewrite it ... sometime, maybe after I get the 2020 BOULD anthology out (in late November).

I DID self-publish the vampire comedy in 2015, changing the title to "The Dracula Deception," after I found the original script in my cluttered house. I doubt the grand jury story survived my move from Massachusetts to Florida. Or maybe I'll find it when I'm digging around looking for something else. Having and finding are two totally separate issues for me.

Maybe I am working harder in retirement, but it doesn't feel like it. My blood pressure is still on the low side. And it is lots of fun.

Paul D. Marks said...

Jake, Better to be working hard in retirement at something you love than to be bored. And I definitely relate to what you say about having and finding things are two separate issues. I have file cabinets and banker boxes full of old projects. Let alone things in computer programs like XyWrite that can’t be read very well anymore.