Seeing O.C.'s dark side

Daily Pilot

"Orange County Noir" explores the underbelly of Orange County locales with the noir treatment complete with danger, cynical characters and the antithesis of Orange County pretty.

The book, released in April, features Orange County and Southern California writers who take a hard-boiled look at Orange County. The collection of 14 short stories carries on in the tradition of the greats such as Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep," Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" and James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

Noir usually ends badly for the central character. Noir has a dark edge. Noir women are suspect. Noir is about setting, atmosphere and characters that want something and are willing to get it anyway they can.

What makes O.C. noir?

"It's the contrast between the county's sunny reputation and its darker undercurrents," said Martin J. Smith, once a denizen of Los Alamitos, who now drives daily from Palos Verdes Estates to Newport Beach to edit Orange Coast Magazine.

Smith refers to Orange County Noir editor Gary Phillips' comments, "Sunshine and surf are the metaphors for Orange County, but sunshine casts long shadows. It's in the shadows that these stories take place."

Smith finds that fascinating. His story, "Dark Matter," is set on Balboa Island, a location he believes is emblematic of Orange County's striver culture.

"It represents the good life and everything it has to offer — mansions, yachts, excess!" he said. "And, yet, the story is the tale of a guy who had it all … and then lost it all, and eventually succumbed to his own bad judgment."

Author and host of KUCI's "Writers on Writing" Barbara DeMarco-Barrett placed her character in Costa Mesa, which as she said "surely has its dark side."

She liked the setting because it has wealth and it has poverty and everything in between.

"My character Mimi lived on the Costa Misery side of town, but very much wanted a slice of heaven, found on the Eastside."

DeMarco-Barrett describes noir characters as characters "that have a little something loose, who circle the drain with little effort, who are drawn to the dark side" and have few qualms about getting what they want.

The Orange County areas featured in the anthology include Balboa Island, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Tustin, Santa Ana, Santa Ana Narrows, Anaheim, Orange, Garden Grove, Seal Beach and Los Alamitos.

Upcoming events may help iron out the conflict between the dark and the light in Orange County. Three events through May 17 will feature talks and book signings with the Orange County and Southern California contributors to "Orange County Noir."

The writers with Orange County connections include DeMarco-Barrett, Smith, Patricia McFall, Gordon McAlpine, Mary Castillo and Dan Duling, who is the scriptwriter for the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.

The foreword is written by bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker. Parker drew on Orange County locales from the time Laguna Heat hit the shelves in 1985.

"Enjoy the black orange," advises Parker in his foreword to "Orange County Noir." "There's a dark side to most places…noir writers are bent toward the darkness so don't expect the Orange County in these pages to be quite as sunny as it thinks it is."

Event dates: From 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday is the Pen on Fire Speaker Series @ Scape Gallery, 2859 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar. Phillips, DeMarco-Barrett, Castillo and Smith. Panel discussion about noir and writing noir fiction, especially in "sunny Orange County." $20, reservations required. Light hors d' oeuvres. Registration information at Pen on Fire.

3 p.m. Sunday. Sisters in Crime monthly meeting, Irvine Ranch Water District, 15600 Sand Canyon Road, Irvine. Smith in conversation with Orange County Noir Editor Phillips.

From 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, Laguna Playhouse Moulton Theatre, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Panel discussion with DeMarco-Barrett, Nathan Walpow, McAlpine, Rob Roberge, Duling, Castillo and moderator McFall. $25 fee, which supports the playhouse.

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