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?