Author Paul D. Marks is an L. A. native, literally born in the heart of Hollywood. You can’t get much more “L.A.” than that.
Paul, what was it like to grow up in L.A.? Have you seen many changes?
Los Angeles is a harsh mistress. She grabs you and doesn’t let go. Just ask Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy. Or any of the countless other authors who’ve been seduced by her charms. I’m not putting myself in the same league as them, but as an L.A. native I got to watch my city grow up in the latter half of the twentieth century.
What happened in the early 90s that inspired your latest thrilling novel?
Being there when the 1992 riots exploded was the inspiration for my noir-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly called it a “taut crime yarn” and Midwest Book Review said it’s a “riveting read of mystery, much recommended”.
Your book begins in 1992. Have things changed much from this tumultuous time?
White Heat begins where the ‘Rodney King’ riots leave off. Though set in 1992, at the time of those riots, it might as well have been written today as the issues it deals with have been in the news recently: Trayvon Martin, the murders of several blacks in Oklahoma, the killing of Kendrec McDade by Pasadena police. Regardless of which side one comes down on, these things are current and relevant. One would have thought that things would have changed more in the last twenty years since the riots. But you know what they say, the more things change…
Do you have a favorite quote about White Heat?
Well, R.J. Parker wrote: “White Heat by author Paul D. Marks is in a word, ‘Intense’. This is a well-written book that’s gripping, captivating and brings back memories of a bad time in L.A.”
Tell me a little about the plot.
In White Heat, P.I. Duke Rogers finds himself in a combustible situation in this racially charged noir thriller. His case might have to wait… The immediate problem: getting out of South Central Los Angeles in one piece during the 1992 ‘Rodney King’ riots and that’s just the beginning of his problems.
I have to add a comment to that. Anyone who was living in or visiting L.A. during that time experienced the surreal feeling of being in a war zone. I remember buildings were burning only a stone’s throw from my mother’s apartment. It was definitely the reality of what we see in movies. Sorry for interrupting. How did Duke find himself in the riot zone?
Well, Duke finds an old “friend” for a client. The client’s “friend,” an up and coming African-American actress, ends up murdered. Duke knows his client did it. Feeling guilty, he wants to find the client/killer. He starts his mission by going to the dead actress’ family in South Central L.A. – and while there the ‘Rodney King’ riots ignite.
So, Duke is a white guy in the midst of all the chaos. How does he react to that?
While he tries to track down the killer he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from the dead woman’s brother, Warren. Not only that, but he also has to confront his own possible latent racism – even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the murder victim’s sister. The novel looks at race and racism from everyone involved, black and white, and no one gets off unscathed.
As reviewer M2 said: “White Heat is a tough, tersely-written book featuring tough, complicated, and not always lovable characters who might push many readers to the very edge of their comfort zone. But it’s honest and it’s real, and it doesn’t pander to its audience by providing pat or phony answers to the many complex issues it raises.”
So, is the mystery and the thriller aspect the entire scope of the storyline, or is there more?
No, there actually is more. Although a mystery-thriller, White Heat is also a hard look at our world, and definitely not for the squeamish or easily intimidated. It deals head on with a lot of issues that we would rather sweep under the rug. And the characters are not always the most likeable, but they are real, and they are tough. A former L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy, who was in the riots, told me: “I thought a number of times to try and write something about the 1992 South Central riot but never got a hook on it. You did, and handled it very well.”
What do you see as the main inspiration for your novels?
A lot of my fiction, whether short stories or novels, uses a real life jumping off point, such as the riots. Broken Windows (coming soon), the sequel to White Heat, deals with the illegal alien/undocumented worker issue (depending which side you’re on) in the form of another noir-thriller.
And your characters?
My characters are often fish out of water, not in the silly sense that you take a country bumpkin and put him in the big city. But in that their world is rapidly changing around them and it’s difficult for them to adapt. In their song Out of Time the Rolling Stones sing “You’re obsolete my baby, My poor old-fashioned baby…you’re out of time.” And though that song is about a relationship the words can easily be applied to many of my characters, particularly Duke and Jack and even Warren. They are all on this whirlpool of a ride where the floor drops out and they have to figure out how to get their bearings, while trying to find the killer as the city burns around them. So they are obsolete and ‘out of time’ in more ways than one.
How do you choose the settings for your stories?
I like writing about L.A., not only because I know it so well, but because it’s a microcosm of the changes in the country. The point of the spear, so to speak, where change accelerates at a rapid rate, so my characters have to deal with all of that while attending to their daily business—in this case solving a murder. My novels and short stories work on more than one level, so I certainly hope and think they work on much more than simply the plot level.
Woody Haut, journalist and author of Neon Noir (Contemporary American Crime Fiction), says “[White Heat] really caught early 90s LA, in all its sordid glory. And had me turning pages late into the night. I think WH is up there with the best of the LA novels, but has an air of authenticity that many lack.”
My goal in White Heat is to give the reader a prism through which to look at all these changes and the turmoil they bring, while going on a rollercoaster ride of a thriller.
One last comment from a reviewer?
Okay, as reviewer Riverguy says, “Even after the who-done-it is solved, the novel leaves you with the question that is still valid today, why can’t we all just get along?”
In view with all of the turmoil recently in the news and the senseless killings, that simple question should be our country’s motto. Thanks for chatting with me.
Author Morgan St. James has written more than 500 articles about the craft of writing and people in the industry for rootshed.com over the past years. As Las Vegas Women Democrat Examiner, she looks at the political arena from both sides and supports women’s rights. Visit her website,www.morganstjames-author.com and her blog for more information.
Her two recently released books are Who’s Got the Money?, a funny crime caper about government embezzlement inspired by real experiences is available at most online booksellers in trade paperback and Kindle editions, select Barnes & Noble locations, or can be ordered from local bookstores. Confessions of a Cougar, a mostly true story, is available at online booksellers, also available in all digital formats including Kindle and Nook, or order at your favorite bookstore.