A Novel By
Terrill Lee Lankford
292 pp., $24.95
Read on the Biz
By Paula L.
Woods, November 22, 2005,
Los Angeles Times
of the more memorable specimens in Terrill Lee Lankford's
2004 L.A. sleazearium, "Earthquake Weather," was Clyde
McCoy, a third-string script doctor. A man perpetually
trying to find a toehold in Hollywood, Clyde is the kind of
guy who, upon learning of the murder of protagonist Mark
Hayes' roommate, blithely asks the distraught man if he'd
like to read one of his scripts. A character too good to let
go, Clyde plus Mark and a host of other Hollywood poseurs
have been revived in Lankford's "Blonde Lightning."
opens exactly six months after the '94 Northridge quake, as
Mark notes: "When you first get to Los Angeles, it does not
take long to realize that the ground you walk on is
untrustworthy, even when it is not moving underfoot." Mark's
sense of unease stems not just from his roommate Charity
James' death or the Northridge aftershocks but from O.J.
Simpson's slow-speed chase which interrupts Mark's enjoyment
of Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
also puts him squarely in the path of Clyde, who wanders
into Mark's favorite watering hole during the televised
pursuit and offers to buy him a drink as a peace offering
for being so insensitive. Given their history and Mark's
observation that Clyde is "an onion with layers upon layers
of façade," you would think Mark would have the good sense
to go on the lam himself, but after Charity's funeral and
losing his job as a "D-boy" or development boy when his boss
is murdered, Mark wants a screen credit in the worst way.
But is he willing to work for close to minimum wage as an
associate producer/flunky on Clyde's independent film,
us he's willing to do that and a lot more. The result makes
the novel "Blonde Lightning" not just another dose of
murderous mayhem but a deeper and more disturbing meditation
on Mark's love-hate relationship with the film industry.
Informed by Lankford's experiences as a journeyman
screenwriter-producer (his credits include 1988's "Hollywood
Chainsaw Hookers," reportedly filmed in five days for
$58,000), Mark disses and dissects Hollywood's finest with
gimlet-eyed dismay, from his boss' murderer fretting that
the media hype surrounding Simpson will deflect attention
from the auction of his movie rights to attendees at
Charity's funeral who skip the service for the
nosh-and-networking opportunities at the repast afterward.
the many acid-etched characterizations and spot-on
descriptions of Hollywood hangouts is serious business — the
making of "Blonde Lightning," Clyde's hommage to film noir.
For Mark, an
associate producer credit is better than nothing, even if it
means enduring Vince's fiancée-du-jour as a co-producer and
a born-again-Christian investor whose major requirement is
that Karen Black be cast to appease his fixated adult son.
But when Mace
Thornburg, a PR hack with a grudge against Clyde's
girlfriend and half of Hollywood starts harassing the couple
and a string of deadly accidents involve Clyde and those
around him, the question is not whether Thornburg will be
killed but who won't want to score this ultimate credit.
envisioned with "Earthquake Weather" as one volume, "Blonde
Lightning" stands on its own as a wicked cool read and
further solidifies the early praise about Lankford as a
latter-day successor to Nathanael West and Raymond Chandler.
With its structure cleverly mirroring the filmmaking process
and its behind-the-scenes dish and details, "Blonde
Lightning" will teach readers more about independent film
production than a year at AFI.
But for all
its wit and wisecracks, the novel is also a paean to films
and the people who make them, the ones who don't make the
front page of Variety or the Hollywood Reporter.