A Cozy Tribute To Elvis

When I was writing the third book of my cozy mystery series, “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” I didn’t consciously think of modeling the story after the format of an Elvis Presley movie. But why not copy the best?

Elvis made 30 films from 1956 to 1969 (not counting the concert documentaries in 1970 and ’72). While he dreamed of acting in serious dramatic roles (he really showed his chops in “King Creole”), the studios and his agent locked him into romantic/fantasy flicks with thin plots and often weak songs.

But despite what critics may say about the artistic quality of the films, every movie Elvis were highly entertaining, made earned a profit and packed theaters. Small wonder the studios had him churn out three films a year.

So how does my book resemble an Elvis movie?

My series protagonist is Sandy Fairfax, a former teen idol in his 30′s who is charismatic, good looking, funny and smart. He loves women and they adore him. He has rabid fans, plays guitar, and can break your heart with a song.

Sounds like Elvis, doesn’t it?

Elvis sang several songs in his films. Sandy performs seven concerts aboard a cruise ship.

Elvis movies had pretty young women. My cast of secondary characters includes: Celeste, Sandy’s attractive sister; Cinnamon, his beautiful choreographer, and Helen Wheeler, one of Sandy’s former live-in girlfriends.

Elvis films have an antagonist, someone who dislikes the King and is out to defeat him, whether in a car race or to steal his girl. My book has a shipboard murderer. When Sandy starts sniffing around for clues, the killer has Sandy in his sights.

Elvis films had exotic settings. Sandy’s on board a cruise ship headed for the Bahamas.

Elvis always won the girl in his films. Sandy has his eye on a woman but she’s traveling with an old boyfriend. Will Sandy succeed in wooing her away?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Elvis films often had a comic sidekick. Sandy has his biggest fan, Bunny McAllister, for comic relief as well a several oddball characters (who are also suspects!).

Elvis was a scrappy fighter and he generally threw a few punches in his films. Likewise, Sandy fights back when he’s in a sticky situation.

Of course no discussion of The King would be complete without Elvis impersonators. Yes, a couple of them show up in the ship’s Halloween costume gala.

In the best homage of all, each of the 22 chapter headers in my book is the name of a song that Elvis recorded.

So what is your favorite Elvis movie or song?

 

 

The Rise And Demise Of TV Theme Songs

One of the favorite albums in my record (vinyl) collection is a two-disc set from TeeVee Toons called “Television’s Greatest Hits” with no less than 65 theme songs from ’50s and ’60s shows. The themes cover children’s shows, comedies, dramas, detective, sci fi and late night talk shows. Some of the recordings are not the original performances (no doubt due to licensing restrictions) but the album is still a delight for the nostalgic TV junkie.

I love the opening title credits and the theme music of my favorite shows. To me, the credits are as much a part of the program as the story. The credits set the mood and tone of the program and get the viewer ready to laugh or be serious. When the viewer sits down to watch a show after a hard day’s work, the credits eases him into a world of enchantment and entertainment.

In modern shows, the cast/crew credits are almost an afterthought, slapped across the bottom of the screen while the viewer is trying to watch the story. Tacky!

My vote for the best title credits ever is “Mission: Impossible.” Every single episode of the seven-year run of the original series had different visuals comprised of action clips from that particular show set to the jazzy beat of Lalo Schifrin’s unforgettable score. The fan could instantly tell which episode was playing just by the credit sequence.

Another great opening credit was the 1966 “Batman” that used a stylized pop-art animation, a nod to the show’s comic book origins.

Many classic TV themes are what I call “story songs” that introduced the series concept and the characters so the viewer could jump into the story. Let’s see a show of hands of those who can sing from memory the themes for “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Davy Jones made “The Brady Bunch” theme a staple of his live shows.

My favorite “story song” is from “Alias Smith and Jones,” which used a spoken narration over the snappy music (“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone.”). In a dreadful twist of irony, Roger Davis, who spoke the narration for the first season narration, replaced Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes in the second season after Duel’s untimely death.

The most recent example of the “story song” that I know is “Castle,” introducing the ruggedly handsome mystery writer and his muse, a female NYPD detective. Unfortunately, by season four the clever credits had dropped out altogether. Why? Maybe the producers thought that after three years the viewers knew the characters, or maybe the humorous credits no longer fit with the darker storylines, or perhaps the network need the extra few seconds to cram in more ads.

Some theme songs were such great works that the studios released an extended version of the music on a single. In my music collection I have the “Hawaii 5-0″ theme redone lounge-style as “Martini 5-0″ by The Blue Hawaiian surf band.

The beauty of a great theme song is that it stuck in the viewer’s brain all week along, so the hapless victim kept thinking about the program even when she wasn’t watching it.

Alas, the day of the great theme song is over. Nowadays a scripted show is lucky to have a few seconds of a “sting” or sometimes nothing more than a chord! Why? The change occurred during the rise of cable TV when the studios were desperate to keep the viewer from clicking to another channel. The idea was to hook the viewer into the story immediately. Also, with today’s DVD sets and streaming video, “binge” viewers who watch several episodes continuously might find repeated viewing of the same credits tedious and time consuming.

In my Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, Sandy starred in a ’70s TV show called “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth.” And he even has his own theme music–a two-minute instrument piece called “Land O’ Pies” (don’t ask me what that means) on Michael Nesmith’s CD “Rays.” The first time I heard this piece I thought, “Yeah! That’s Sandy’s theme song!”

So what are some of your favorite TV theme songs? And if you’re a writer, do your characters have a theme song?

Blog hop: Meet Celeste Farmington

Today I’m bopping along on a character blog hop. I was tagged by Connie Archer, the national bestselling author of the Soup Lovers Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime: A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal and A Roux of Revenge, set in the imaginary village of Snowflake, Vermont. The fourth book in the series, Ladle to the Grave, will be released in April 2015. Connie was born and raised in New England.  She now lives on the other coast. Visit her website and blog at www.ConnieArcherMysteries.com, Facebook.com/ConnieArcherMysteries and Twitter @SnowflakeVT.

In this blog hop, authors are to discuss a main character from a work in progress. In the third book of my Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, set in 1993, we finally meet Sandy’s sister, Celeste Farmington. She’s the “baby” of the family with two older brothers, Warren and Ernest Farmington (Sandy’s real name).

Celeste is 33 years old and lives in a rented bungalow in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. She has long blond hair and is pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way. She was born blind due to a birth defect. Instead of sending her to a school for the blind, her mother home schooled Celeste. As a result of spending so much time alone, Celeste is not comfortable around strangers or in unfamiliar places.

Like her brothers, Celeste was classically trained in piano and is gifted in music. During the 1970s she recorded two critically acclaimed folk rock albums, A Dragon in the Forest and Gently Sings the Dove. However, her work was overshadowed by her brother, Sandy, who shot to teen idol fame with his best-selling bubblegum albums and TV show. She begged Sandy to use his notoriety to advance her career but nothing worked out and her music was soon forgotten. But Celeste didn’t forget and she held a grudge against her brother.

When Sandy’s musical career fizzled he turned to drink and ignored his family. Celeste felt shut out and neglected. She gave up on music and turned to making abstract ceramic sculptures with little success. She stayed at home, reading books-on-tape and Braille, and struggling to make ends meet on government benefits.

Now Sandy’s back in her life. He’s sober and he wants Celeste to join him in performing a week of shows aboard the USS Zodiac on a Caribbean cruise. At first she’s still angry with him but she moves past old hurts and capitulates. Learning the music and adjusting to life outside of her comfort zone prove difficult but she perseveres.

Aboard the Zodiac, the concerts are a hit but the trip turns deadly when Sandy finds a dead body in his dressing room. He does some amateur sleuthing while Celeste tags along. When Sandy escapes a death trap set by the murderer, Celeste becomes the killer’s next target. Will they both stay alive long enough to restart their careers?

Find out more about Celeste and her famous brother in The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper, due for a November 2014 release.

I’ve tagged Joyce Oroz to continue the blog hop. She is a retired mural artist who writes murder mysteries set around mural painting in California. She says, “I have come to realize that writing is a lot like painting but without the mess. I love sending my protagonist, Josephine Stuart, off to dangerous places to flush out a murderer. It’s how I deal with the scary things in life-I write them down and then take away their power. I have written six mystery novels in the last nine years. My latest book, Roller Rubout will be out this fall.”

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=joyce+oroz

 

The Getty Museum, fine art and genre writing

Some people relax by going to a movie, a sporting event, the beach or the woods. But put me in a museum and I’m happy camper. The quiet environment, the colors and the centuries of history not only soothing but also visually stimulating.

Recently I took a chartered bus trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. For tourists and resident alike, this is a must-see. Billionaire J. Paul Getty used his wealth to establish two art centers in the LA area-the Getty Center and its gardens in Brentwood and the Getty Villa, which houses Greek and Roman antiquities, in Pacific Palisades. Admission to either one is free but parking is $15 (there’s no free street parking at either site).

The Getty Center has five buildings, each housing a different time period of art from medieval to contemporary. Since my time was limited I missed the modern era entirely and skimmed through the rest (note to tourists: plan to spend two days).

What fascinated me was how the artists used nothing more than a thin layer of paint on a flat canvas to create realistic scenes. Some of the works were so detailed they seemed like photographs. The nuances of light and shadow, skin tones, clothing folds, leaves on trees, animal fur-the masterpieces were breathtaking. Amazing how the right combination of lines and hues could trick the eye into “seeing” a three-dimensional landscape.

Many of the paintings were scenes from well-known stories from the Bible or classical mythology. Since I’m well versed in both genres, I could look at the piece and understand the story that the artist was telling.

As I studied individual pieces, I felt as if I was drawn into that world. For a moment I forgot I was I standing in a museum. I was part of the story.

What writers do is pretty much the same. We also create stories with nothing more than print and flat paper-or pixels and screens. Through letters and spaces we create 3-D worlds with lifelike humans and animals. We build buildings, establish cities and even, in the case of sci-fi, create new worlds. We help the reader escape into a different reality.

I’m not as adept with a brush or a chisel as the great artists of the Getty, but perhaps what I do as author is not so different. Using words instead of paint or stone I create pictures in the reader’s mind. I tell stories and construct a world in which the reader can escape. I give birth to characters that, I hope, will continue living through the ages.

What are some of your favorite museums or works of art?

 

Submitted for your approval: A tribute to Rod Serling

In blog interviews I’m often asked to name my favorite authors and the ones that have influenced me. Instead of naming the usual suspects, I rely: Rod Serling. He wasn’t a mystery writer and he didn’t write novels but he was a grand storyteller.

Most people remember Serling for the groundbreaking TV series The Twilight Zone that proved that science fiction was more than little green Martians with ray guns. Serling was an accomplished screenwriter years before TZ (which is why he had the clout to create the series in the first place).

By the time TZ aired Serling had already earned three Emmys for teleplays on various TV anthology shows: “Patterns,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “The Comedian.” Each was a taunt, dramatic tale filled with memorable characters.

Serling went on to earn two more Emmys for his writing on TZ. His sixth and final award was for an adaptation of “It’s Mental Work” for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”

He wonder many other awards including one not for his writing-a Golden Globe for Best TV Star Male (and he wasn’t even an actor)!

He began his career writing scripts on a typewriter in a trailer where he lived with his wife, Carole, in the married student housing at Antioch College in Ohio. After college he wrote for a radio station in Cincinnati while freelancing TV scripts to New York production companies. He relocated to NYC until most TV production moved west to Los Angeles.

Serling was highly prolific, churning out hundreds of TV and movie scripts. In L.A. he worked from home, turning a poolside cabana into an office. He ditched the typewriter and recited his scripts into Dictaphones for secretaries to type up. He often acted out the characters as he dictated (interestingly, one TZ episode was about a work-at-home writer who created real people by describing them into a tape recorder). Serling worked so hard he wore out several Dictaphones.

Why do I admire Serling? Besides his vast body of work that I couldn’t possibly duplicate, I love his writing style, the crackling sharp dialogue, and his large-than-life characters. At times his plays were overly talky (Serling was influenced by radio drama), bombastic and sometimes too on-the-nose. But he chose his words well and was a master at using dialogue instead of narration to define his characters.

I like his ethical stance. Many of his stories taught a hard-hitting moral lesson about the dangers of success at any cost, the corporate world, war, a beauty-obsessed culture, ageism, racism, the poor and vulnerable, and injustice.

Serling fought many battles with the TV networks to maintain a high quality in his shows. He raged against advertisers for meddling in his scripts. He felt that TV should do more than simply entertain and sell products. He saw television as a medium that could enlighten, educate and inspire.

In my writing, I try to impart life lessons as well. I write humorous cozy mysteries but beneath the jokes and clues I also address the human condition. My amateur sleuth, former teen idol Sandy Fairfax, is trying to restore broken relationships and become a better person. He helps the people around him and cares enough to look into suspicious deaths.

In my stories, good always triumph; the bad guy is caught and brought to justice. I want to leave the reader with a sense of hope, not despair.

So thank you, Rod Serling, for leaving the world with such a rich legacy of words and wisdom.

What are your favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes? Comments are welcome!

 

 

Blog hop: My Writing Process

Like the Easter Bunny, I’m hopping along on a blog hop at the invitation of author Marie Lavender (http://marielavender.blogspot.com/). Authors who are “tagged” are asked to answer four questions about their writing process and then “tag” other authors to continue the chain. When you’ve finished reading my post, please “hop” on over to the other blogs that follow.

What am I writing?
My work in progress is “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” the third book of the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series. Cozy Cat Press will publish the book in early 2015. I can’t believe I’m on my third book! After finishing two books, this one seems both easier-I think I know what I’m doing-and harder-how do I top the last one?

Sandy’s a former ’70s teen idol; he starred in the TV hit series, “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth.” Now he’s a 38-year-old recovering alcoholic trying to make a comeback.

In this caper, he’s giving concerts aboard the USS Zodiac, a cruise ship with decor themed to the various astrological signs. Sandy’s performing with his estranged sister, Celeste, whose folk singing career went nowhere.

Also aboard the ship are Helen Wheeler, Sandy’s ex-girlfriend who still loves him; Cinnamon, whom Sandy wants as a girlfriend if he can get rid of her current boyfriend; along with Bunny and other members of Sandy’s fan club.

As if this isn’t enough, on the first night at sea Sandy finds a dead body in his backstage dressing room. To solve the crime he must work with another passenger, a female cop who can’t stand teen idol music. With so many women around him, Sandy remarks, “my life resembled an Elvis movie.”

If Sandy can stay out of the murderer’s crosshairs, he hopes to unmask the killer at the ship’s grand Halloween costume party.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

My book is a humorous cozy. Many cozies have female protagonists who run a store and live in a small town after leaving the big city. My protag is a guy who lives in Los Angeles and he had no head for running a business.

Sandy is a former teen idol still in the entertainment business and no other novel has a character in that profession. I’m aware of a mystery series about a former 80s pop singer but that character is no longer performing.

Why you I write what I do?

I write what I like to read: a light hearted, funny, easy read with colorful characters in the world of show biz and minimal sex and violence.

I started out writing in other genres but the mystery field is where I’ve found success.

How does your writing process work?

I don’t think of it as a “process”; I just do it. I handwrite the first draft and type it up on the computer for editing. Pen and paper is more conducive to creativity than the computer.

I plot out the story first. Before I start writing I know whodunnit and why. I create the main characters and red herrings. For this book, I had to “design” cruise ship and map out the rooms. The USS Zodiac closely resembles the Carnival ship I rode years ago.

Since this story takes place during a five-day cruise, I researched real cruises and their points of call. I am plotting what events take place on which days, working around the ship’s programming schedule and Sandy’s concerts. I only have five days in which to solve the crime.

I work a full-time job so I write in the evenings and weekends.

Thanks for reading! The authors I’ve “tagged” are James Callan (www.jamesrcallan.com/blog) Ilene Schneider (http://rabbiauthor.com),
Joyce Ann Brown (http://retirementchoicescozymystery.wordpress.com),
Jim Barrett (jimbarrett18592.wordpress.com).
and John Nelson (www.jwnelson.net).

Elaine Faber is not on the blog hop but she has a new book out I wanted to mention her anyway: www.mindcandymysteries.com.

 

Out of town on a blog tour

I’m cruising down the cyberhighway on a two-week blog tour for “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.” Please join me at any stop and leave a comment. I’ll be giving away two copies of the book along the way. Hope to start posting more regularly when the tour’s finished. Here’s the schedule:

February 17 – Chloe Gets a Clue – Interview
February 17 –
Christa Reads and Writes – Review
February 18 –
StoreyBook Reviews – Review
February 19 –
Kelly P’s Blog – Interview
February 20 –
Queen of All She Reads – Review – Guest Post – Giveaway
February 21 –
rantin’ ravin’ and reading – Review – Guest Post
February 22 –off
February 23 –
Cozy Up With Kathy – Interview
February 24 –
Books-n-Kisses – Review
February 25 –
Omnimystery News – Interview
February 26 –
readalot blog – Review
February 27 –
Community Bookstop – Review – Giveaway
February 28 –
Read Your Writes – Spotlight
March 1 –
Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – Review
March 2 –off
March 3 –
Brooke Blogs – Review

 

Song Titles and Chapter Headers

Song Titles And Book Chapters

I’m happy to announce the release of my latest book, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” the second book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol cozy mystery series.

Since Sandy was a former ’70s teen idol, I used song titles as chapter headers, partly to amuse myself and also because I can’t recall what takes place in each chapter just from the number.

Finding song titles to watch the theme or action for each chapter wasn’t as difficult as you might think. I only used songs that I actually like, so the titles will give you a good idea of my taste in pop music.

Here are the chapter/song titles and the artist who either originally recorded the song or else the version I have in my music collection.

1. Getting Together: Bobby Sherman, the theme song of a sitcom he starred in (and you thought he only did “Here Come The Brides”!)

2. A Must to Avoid: Peter Noone

3. Get It Right Next Time: Gerry Rafferty

4. Bad Blood: Neil Sedaka

5. Dyin’ of a Broken Heart: Micky Dolenz

6. Only You Know and I Know: Delaney and Bonnie with Eric Clapton

7. Green-Eyed Lady: Sugarloaf

8. The Show Must Go On: Three Dog Night

9. What Kind of Girl: Rosanne Cash (from the album “Carl Perkins and Friends”)

10. I’m Telling You Now: Freddie and The Dreamers

11. Forget That Girl: The Monkees

12. Tell The Truth: Derek and the Dominos

13. Dancing Fool: Frank Zappa

14. Inside Out: Traveling Wilburys

15. Remember: Harry Nilsson (from the musical “The Point”)

16. Daddy’s Song: The Monkees (from the movie “Head”)

17. Short People: Randy Newman

18: Chains: Originally covered by The Cookies and then The Beatles

19: Moonlight Feels Right: Starbuck (the group, not the coffee house)

20. This Just Doesn’t Seem to be My Day: The Monkees one mo’ time

21: Spooky Weirdness: Ringo Starr

22. Burning Down the House: Talking Heads

23: A Hard Day’s Night: oh come on, everyone knows who wrote and recorded this one

24: Beautiful Boy: John Lennon

There you have it! What are some of your favorite pop tunes from the 1960s through ’80s?

20 Minutes Into the Future: Max Headroom and Today’s Technology

In 1987 the cyberpunk TV show “Max Headroom” premiered on American TV screens with the tagline that the program takes place “20 minutes into the future.” Only 14 episodes were made of this rather dismal view of the future in which people constantly watched television and a handful of giant TV networks ruled the land. I recently started rewatching the show and was struck at much of technology has changed since the 1980s—and how much remained the same.

In the “Max Headroom” world, all technology—even common household appliances— operate from a centralized computer. Entire cities can ground to a halt if this mainframe goes down.

TV sets are everywhere and broadcast nonstop. In fact, an “off” switch on a TV is illegal! In one episode, a woman pushes a baby carriage that holds not an infant but a TV set which she views as she walks.

In another show, when a terrorist shuts down the networks, the people riot when they can’t have their TV shows. In desperation they buy boot-leg videos to watch.

The networks spew out a steady dose of garbage, including commercials compacted into 3-second blipverts (to prevent channel switching) and a ridiculous game show embedded with subliminal images that create addictive viewing.

Each person’s identity information is encoded into a central database. Purchases are made not with cash but with a metal tube that contains digital financial data.

The “blanks” are the people who rebel against the technology. The blanks have removed their personal information from the central database so they have no history and no identity. They move freely off the grid and beyond detection. Blanks are illegal and are subject to arrest. 

Much of the technology on “MH” looks obsolete: the characters use computer disks instead of flash drives, videocassettes instead of DVDs and clunky typewriter-style computer keyboards with not a flat screen in sight.

But the basic premise of the show is true today.

Every TV channel runs 24 hours a day, every day, even if that means filling the time with infomercials. And how addictive are reality shows that have viewers rooting for their favorites and avidly discussing the program around the water cooler? 

Today’s society may not be watching TV nonstop, but people are definitely glued to the screens of their cell phones and tablets. Some people even leave their cells and BlackBerries on and close to their beds when they go to sleep at night. People can’t even drive or walk without their eyes on their cell. Heaven forbid they miss a text or phone call that is probably not too important. Those who lose their cells panic, not only because they’re cut off from the world but that little piece of hardware contains all their personal data.

People purchase goods with their financial data encoded onto plastic cards. Those who refuse to use a cell phone or—gasp!—a computer are teased as “Luddites.” Such people also find themselves increasingly shut out from society as so much of the modern world—from retail shopping to government business—is carried out online.

People don’t memorize phone numbers because that info is programmed into their cell. In fact, children don’t memorize anything because they can access information from their tablet or cell. Kids are dumb as rocks without their Smartphones. But how can they learn algebra and advance math concepts if they can’t multiply two numbers in their heads?

All our personal information is available to any computer hacker. Stores track our purchases, the government can read our emails, and anyone can find our location through our cellphone GPS.

Much of our devices, vehicles and appliances operate by computer chips. When these computers fail—and they do—we’re stuck.

In one “MH” episode, Blank Reg, while bartering, hands a woman a print book. When she looks at it with disgust, he says, “It’s a book, a non-volatile storage medium. It’s very rare. You should have one.” With the ebook boom and school textbooks going digital, in the future a print book may be rare indeed.

On the TV show, Max Headroom himself is a generated computer image formed from the memories of ace TV reporter Edison Carter. While Max can move around inside databases and electronic files, he can’t exist outside a computer.

In reality, the technology of the 1980s couldn’t create a computer-generated person. Max was actually actor Matt Freuer with heavy makeup, superimposed on an animated background.

But today’s computer software has produced amazing images in such movies as “Avatar” and beyond. The Sims game lets those at home create their individuals. No doubt creating a real “Max” is not far behind.

Is technology bad? Of course not. Technology has improved living (who wants to do without a washer or dryer?), helped people live longer and healthier, and brought the world together through communication and travel.

Technology has also created horrible weapons of war, viruses that can shut down computers, and platforms for hatemongers, bullies and terrorists to spread their wickedness.

The devices created to serve humans threaten to enslave them. In future, will face-to-face communication become a lost art when people can only communicate through texting? Can humans think and reason on their own without their Smartphone? If our attention is constantly focused on a screen, how can we think, plan, daydream, create or relax?

Let’s hope that those who are smart enough to invent technology also know how to use it wisely.

What do you think about today’s techno-centered society?

Rev up for summer reading

If you’re looking for some fast-paced beach reading, I’m happy to announce the release a new anthology, “Last Exit To Murder,” a collection 16 short stories about crime and the Los Angeles car culture, available now on Amazon, print and ebook.

Every two to three years since the late 1990s the Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter produced a new anthology of stories by members. Entries are judged via blind submission so each writer, newbie and pro, gets an equal consideration. Over the years a number of aspiring authors have earned their first mystery publishing credit via these anthologies.

The titles of the first two books, “Murder by 13″ and “A Deadly Dozen,” refer to the number of stories inside. Since then the titles and tales have taken on a specific theme.

“Murder on Sunset Boulevard” takes the reader on a geographic tour down that iconic street. “LAndmarked for Murder” has stories set at famed locations throughout the city. “Murder in La-la Land” highlights the eccentricities of the City of Angels.

“Last Exit” closes with my story, “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in.” When I was looking for a story, I was initially stumped. I’m not a car buff. Cars are just transportation. I hate driving on the freeways and dealing tailgaters and bad drivers. I don’t watch car races and I don’t go crazy over car shows. If I have no interest in something, how can I write about it?

In searching for ideas I discarded the most obvious: dead body in the trunk, traffic jams, police car chases. Other stories in the book use these themes so anything I wrote would be a duplicate.

I wanted to write about those great characters cars of TV-Black Beauty, Batmobiles, Monkeemobile, Munstermobile-but I couldn’t come up with a plot and I didn’t know enough about car customizing to give the story authentic detail. Besides, the SinC/LA anthologies shy away from Hollywood stories and deal more with common folk.

At the time I’d recently visited the Nethercutt Museum in Sylmar and its fantastic collection of restored classic cars. That place would make a great setting for a mystery.

At some point I hit on drive-in theaters. Ah ha! I could have fun with that concept.

I grew up in the Midwest, where the drive-ins were, of course, closed during the winter months. The first drive-in movie I saw was “2001:A Space Odyssey” with my brothers. Some time after that I had my own car with a long hood. At the theaters I’d sit on the hood to watch the show, parked between two speakers for a fake stereo sound. 

Years ago one drive-in that I frequented was torn down for a mall/indoor movie theater. That gave me an idea for my story: A greedy developer wants to build a state-of-the-art multiplex on the site of an aging, decrepit drive-in; however, the owner won’t sell. Great conflict, great characters, great motive for murder.

I researched drive-ins and found that the LA area-the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County-once sported a number of drive-ins, all of which are now closed. A few drive-ins still operate throughout California. Most have two screens to pull in more revenue and a few host flea markets during the day to make ends meet.

 Despite the poor sound quality and a lowbrow reputation, drive-in provided good family entertainment at affordable prices. The kids could romp in the playground while their parents watched the film. Teens could show off their wheels and socialize.

 With the drive-ins gone, some people are trying to recreate the experience. In Eastern Ventura County, during the summer several cities host outdoor movie screenings of family movies in parks or plazas. Oak Park High School invites people to bring their cars to the school parking lot for an outdoor screening (the audio track is broadcast over the car radios). Simi Valley has “dive-in” movies at a community pool. People can watch the movie while sitting on the grass or floating in the water.

 Why do drive-ins strike such a fond note among baby boomers? Is it the friendships made in the lot? The silly monster pictures watched? Enjoyment of a clear night sky? The bad-for-you but tasty concession food? The simplicity of movie going?

 What are your memories of drive-in movies? Would you like to see drive-ins make a come back?