Welcome to Paul D. Marks
April 3, 2016
I’ve been a Facebook friend of Paul’s(1) for a bit now, and I just love his “slices” of “LA Land and life,” and info on Noir films. So it was with great pleasure on my part, when Paul accepted an invitation to talk about LA and his latest book here on my 2016 re-vitalized blog! (Paul graciously gave me a choice of pictures of him, and I chose this one, mainly because I love the hat)
So, here’s Paul… Welcome!
GETTING SUCKED INTO THE L.A. VORTEX
Thank you for having me here, Madeline.
People have said Los Angeles is a whole ’nother character in my writing. And I agree. I think of myself as an L.A. writer—I write about L.A. proper and Southern California by extension. They’re as much characters in my work as any person. Some people think L.A. is overdone, overused, worn out, clichéd. They’ve seen it in everything from Double Indemnity and Chinatown to The Big Sleep and so many TV shows and movies today. And they’re right, it’s been done. But just like people say there are only five (or seven) plots and Shakespeare did them all, it’s what you bring to those plots that make them yours. The same is true for Los Angeles. Sure, it’s been done. You’ve seen it before. But you haven’t seen my L.A.
My latest novella, Vortex, is a magical murder tour through Los Angeles and SoCal. S.W. Lauden, author of Bad Citizen Corporation and Crosswise, says, “Vortex is an action-packed, modern Noir tale that reads like a love letter to Southern California.”
So join me on a journey into the vortex that is L.A. and SoCal.
Vortex is Zach Tanner’s story. An Afghan/Iraq War vet, Zach is on the run. He can run from the war, but he can’t run from himself…or his good pals who think he’s stolen their spoils of war.
The story opens with Zach and his girlfriend, Jess, screeching down Sunset Boulevard toward Pacific Coast Highway, trying to get away from a couple of Zach’s friends:
…We dodged a flashy Beamer, zipping around it, nearly taking the S curve on two wheels. Rounding the curve, I let off the gas, and pedaled down as we came out of it. Sunset Boulevard. Famous road. Treacherous road. Been in more movies and songs than maybe any other street. Everything from Annie Hall and 77 Sunset Strip, to Dead Man’s Curve, by Jan and Dean, the Eagles’ song Sunset Grill and, of course, Billy Wilder’s famous movie simply called Sunset Boulevard.
Sunset Fucking Boulevard.
The windy road ran from the gleaming spires of downtown L.A. to the silvery sparkle of the ocean. From wealth to poverty and back to wealth. It was the real red carpet of the City of Angels—yeah, city of angels. And Jessie and I were tearing down that famous road, trying to get the hell away. Trying to lose that goddamn red Camaro.
I whipped the car into a hard right turn, flying off of Sunset onto Pacific Coast Highway, heading north. The Mustang nimbly took the turn, careening onto PCH. It was the opposite of where I wanted to go, but they’d see us turn north, so let them think we were heading that way, up to Monterey or San Francisco. Figure we were going up there to hide out.
“What’re you doing?” Jessie said, clutching the handhold.
“We have to get out of here.”
“Talk to them, Zach.”
“We can’t go back. Don’t you understand, they’ll kill us.”
“They’re your friends.”
“Yeah.” The first rule of war is know your enemy. And I knew mine, too well—or maybe not well enough.
Zach spends a fair amount of time on the Venice Boardwalk, a strip of concrete that runs along the Pacific ocean. The boardwalk is filled with shops, restaurants, street performers and more. It’s LA’s number one tourist destination:
The roiling waves beat a rhythmic tattoo behind me. Each crash of a wave seemed to bring more people out to the boardwalk.
I waited. You learn to be very patient in the army. You learn to wait, for everything. But especially when you lie in wait for an ambush. And in essence I was lying in wait for an ambush now. I shifted on the bench. I watched kids playing volleyball. I watched the freaks crawl out of the woodwork, jugglers, fire eaters, mimes and even a sword swallower. Venice is the number one tourist destination in Los Angeles. For the life of me, I can’t understand why. Ask the family of the tourist killed here last week how much they like it.
The whole scene looked surreal—a long way from Abbott Kinney’s dream for the place as the Venice of California, an upscale resort, when he founded it back in the early 1900s. There are still a few canals left from that time, though most had been filled in in the late 1920s. Many of the old houses that lined the canals are being torn down to make way for mini-McMansions for mini-McMovie stars. But that’s not where Jess would be. She’d be on the boardwalk with the jugglers, fortune tellers, vendors and street artists.
Trying to recapture their pre-war romance, Zach and Jess go to Zuma Beach, just north of Malibu. Zuma’s a little farther drive from L.A. than some of the beaches, but it’s always been my favorite local beach. Great waves. And it’s where I proposed to my wife one drizzly winter afternoon.
We managed to find ourselves on Zuma Beach, several miles up the coast from the pier and the Venice walk, just as magic hour was beginning to paint the shore in brilliant gilt-edged hues, and wing-like clouds rocked the perfect forget-me-not sky. Somehow the fog had missed Zuma today, but the surf was blown out. The ocean mist kissed our cheeks, as our lips brushed and I pulled her to me. My head was spinning, I was so happy to be home. Happy to see a familiar and friendly face in Jessie. I didn’t even remember driving here. I knew her car had to be in the parking lot. But really, it was all a blur of lust and love and homesickness. Gratitude that my wounds weren’t worse than they were and that I was here in one piece, pretty much one piece anyway.
When Jess goes missing, Zach seeks out one of her friends who is trying to up his cool factor by renting an apartment in the infamous Highland Gardens Hotel in Hollywood:
George lived or at least had rooms in the Highland Gardens Hotel on Franklin next to the Magic Castle, only a few blocks from Sara’s on Vista near Franklin. That made me wonder, seemed like a lot of things were going down in that area. The hotel didn’t look like anything special on the outside. Non-descript stucco and post and beam L.A. crap architecture. But it was famous, or infamous. It had been built for entertainers and under its original name, the Hollywood Landmark, everyone from the Rat Pack to Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, and many other celebs had stayed there. Joplin did the hotel a solid by keeling over in her room from an H overdose and making it more infamous than ever. So, of course, it was always hard to get a room there.
Zach and Jess hide out at the Salton Sea, a boomtown turned near-ghost town in the desert near Palm Springs:
“And there’s nothing to do here,” Jess said.
She was right about that. No clubs, no movie theatres. But you could drive into Palm Desert or Palm Springs. These days the Salton Sea is a patchwork of decay. The air hangs heavy over a haunted, surreal landscape that, for the most part, would look at home on the moon. In the early 1960s it was a place for fun and sun, boating and fishing. But now the only folks left are here for the cheap living or to get away in the isolation and desolation of a place that’s two hundred twenty eight feet below sea level. The salinity of the water is killing everything in sight, maybe even the souls of the folks who live there.
We walked back to the house. House? More like a mobile home on stilts. Bombay Beach marks the southern end of the San Andreas Fault, one of the most notorious quake faults in Southern California and C-A is known for its faults…of all kinds. Half the town is submerged behind a berm. The other half is not exactly Beverly Hills and not exactly what its planners had intended. No, they envisioned the Salton Sea and all of its little communities as resort towns and you can still see the windblown and tattered billboards touting “good fishin’ and healthy livin’”. You can still see the laid out streets and pads for homes. Streets and homes that were dreams that never came true. The water’s too saline and there’s no drainage. Fish died. Fish still die and wash up on shore. And stink the place up. It didn’t exactly work out the way anyone hoped. And now it was a place you’d have to be crazy or crazy poor to live in year round. It was filled with eccentrics and meth heads—anyone who wanted to get away from normal society. And some just plain folk who actually like it here. Like I said, crazy.
The Shakespeare Bridge is a very cool bridge in the Los Feliz area of L.A. The description here is short because it’s an action scene and I didn’t want to slow it down with a lot of description. But it’s a very cool place. See the picture—it should be worth a thousand words.
Traffic was light as we silently cruised Franklin from Hollywood to Los Feliz, heading for East L.A. We drove through Franklin Hills at a steady speed until the Shakespeare Bridge came into view. The bridge arches over an old creek bed, now a street. The Gothic turrets and towers on either end of the bridge make it a work of medieval beauty in the heart of L.A., though at the moment nothing was looking beautiful to me.
“Should we shoot him?” The trembling tone of Sean’s voice almost made me wish they would just shoot me. That and the fact that I felt like I was in that vortex again, getting sucked deeper and deeper into something I had no clue about and no clue how to escape from. Kayla’s warning to leave Jess alone came back on me.
And this is only a sampling of locations on the magical murder tour of Los Angeles/SoCal in Vortex. In his journeys, Zach also visits Musso and Frank, the famous Hollywood eatery that’s been around for a million years, maybe more. The cursed Cecil Hotel in downtown. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (or whoever owns and names it today, but for me it will always be Grauman’s), with its contingent of celebrity impersonators, and more. But in the name of brevity, I think I better quit.
Thank you again, Madeline.
Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning noir mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Howling at the Moon (EQMM) was short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story, and came in #7 in Ellery Queen’s Reader’s Poll Award. Midwest Review calls Vortex, Paul’s new noir novella, “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” He also co-edited the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea and the upcoming Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. His short story Nature of the Beast has recently come out in Beat to a Pulp and Deserted Cities of the Heart will appear in Akashic Books’ St. Louis Noir anthology, due out in summer, 2016. Ghosts of Bunker Hill will be in an upcoming issue of Ellery Queen. Though Paul writes about other places, he considers himself an LA writer and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, dogs and cats. He has served on the board of the LA chapter of Sisters in Crime and currently serves on the board of the SoCal chapter of MWA. www.PaulDMarks.com
Los Angeles and Southern California- What a Place – And even more exciting seen through Paul’s eyes!