by Paul D. Marks
Since we pretty much had this same question last August (you can see my responses here: Writing Tics: The ‘Comfort Food’ of Writing http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com/2016/08/writing-tics-comfort-food-of-writing.html), and I don’t think I have much new to add, I’ll let that answer stand. Instead I thought I’d talk about a couple of things close to me: John Lennon and Bunker Hill. Both in the context of writing or at least my writing. I usually try to stick to pretty close to the week’s question, so I hope nobody minds.
Before I wanted to be a prose writer, The Beatles inspired me to want to be a song writer and rock star. (I don’t think I was alone in this…) When my brothers and I were kids we cut out cardboard “electric” guitars and sang along to records. When I got a little older I wanted a real guitar and eventually got one and then focused on the bass. (Hey, it was good enough for Paul McCartney.) And I was in some bands in high school. (See the very professional card we had made up for one of those bands.)
Then, one day I was talking to a counselor and he asked me something like what I wanted to be. I said “I want to be the Beatles.” I didn’t mean it literally, but I did mean that I wanted to be the best in my field. Hey, dream big, shoot for the stars, right? But I knew that I didn’t have the talent to really make it in rock. Of course, you say, neither do a lot of the people who have made it…but that’s another story. So where to then?
Besides rock ‘n’ roll, I’ve always loved movies. And that was something I thought I might actually be able to succeed at in the writing arena. So I gave it a shot. And did have some success as a rewriter/script doctor, though frustrated by the lack of screen credits. And worked at that for many years. But there’s something exasperating about Hollywood and that is, among other things, too many chefs spoiling the stew. Too many people at too many different levels giving input on screenplays and not necessarily making them better – ask me about it some time. So at some point I decided to try my hand at prose writing. I’d always done it to some extent but not as a primary form of writing. Though, even when I went to USC grad school in cinema I took an advanced story writing class from T. Coraghessan Boyle. So my interests always lay there too.
I learned a lot from him and his class, but I also learned a lot about writing and structure from screenwriting. So I started writing short stories and even a novel. And I placed that novel with a major publisher. Boy, was I excited! And guess what it was about – a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. And aside from a little murder thrown in for fun pretty much everything in it was true. All the absurdities and farce. It was a satire. So everything’s humming along fine and then the whole editorial staff at the publisher gets let go…and my novel gets swept out the door with them. And because a lot of the humor in it was topical it would have needed a rewrite before sending it out again. Something I didn’t have the time or maybe the desire to do then. So back to the drawing board, though one day I might bring it out of retirement and polish it up and give it another shot.
But eventually I did start placing short stories here and there and returned to novels. And though I’m still striving to get where I want to be, I’m having fun and getting some recognition and getting to do what I want. Sometimes I bitch that things aren’t always what I’d like them to be, but overall I know I have it pretty good.
So the Beatles inspired me to want to do something creative and not have a 9-5 job, something that would have strangled me and did on the rare occasions when I had to do it. And whenever I hear a Beatles song it brings back memories of my early days as a writer and writing that John Lennon article where I found I had a voice and things I wanted to share. And I feel like I owe the Beatles for that creative inspiration that got me started on this path. Would life have been easier if I didn’t have this need to write? Probably. But it would also be a hell of a lot less interesting.
How about you? What has your journey been like?
Bunker Hill – Los Angeles
(not that ‘other’ one on the East Coast near where the shot heard round the world happened)
That said, Bunker Hill was L.A.’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. It was filled with glorious Victorian mansions and other cool buildings. If you’re into film noir you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. Many times. Lots of film noirs – as well as movies in other genres – were shot there (Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Kiss Me Deadly, The Brasher Doubloon, Backfire, the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, and many others).
But in the late 60s it was all torn down and redeveloped. They even flattened the hills and demolished or moved many of the gorgeous Victorian houses (as you’ll see in the story). If you’ve been to the Music Center you’ve “been” to Bunker Hill. It’s where John Fante lived when he wrote Ask the Dust (and other books like Dreams from Bunker Hill), which is largely set there. But it got run down after WWI and became housing for poor people and the Powers That Be wanted to build up downtown, so off with its head, so to speak.
I love the old Bunker Hill and was lucky enough to explore it with a friend before it was totally razed. We did our own little archaeological expedition of several of the houses and I even “borrowed” the top of a newel post from the long and winding interior stairway in one of those houses (see pic). A true relic of L.A.’s past. It’s a prized possession.
So Bunker Hill and its ghosts were the inspiration for the story. It’s a fascinating place and I’m hooked on it. I’ll be writing more about it at SleuthSayers (www.SleuthSayers.org), the other blog I write for, on Tuesday, December 20th, if you’re into it too.
And now for the usual BSP:
Also, I’ll be interviewed on Writer’s Block Radio on December 15th at 7pm PST. Hope you can check it out. Find it here: www.latalkradio.com/content/writers-block
And I have a couple of appearances in January.
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
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