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Earthquake weather
Lankford, Terrill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
293 pages ; 25 cm
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A veteran filmmaker and novelist now creates a riveting noir set in the power-mad jungle of Hollywood. In Earthquake Weather a natural disaster shakes a city and an industry to their cores, revealing new layers of deceit, desire, and deadly aggression.

Hollywood. The land of dreams and schemes. Mark Hayes has a dream. To make movies. But that's easier wished for than done. Years of frustrating career moves have yielded little progress and Mark now finds himself in a dead end job as a "creative executive" for the loathsome producer, Dexter Morton at Prescient Pictures, the hottest new production company in town. A job like that could lead to big things--but Dexter Morton has no interest in promoting Mark's ambitions. Then a major earthquake rocks Los Angeles and all deals are off. And when Mark finds a body floating in Dexter's pool he goes from D-Boy to murder suspect before he can say "three picture deal".

In the interest of self-preservation Mark must find out who the true killer is before he is jailed or becomes the next victim. The list of suspects is long: The hot young screenwriter who has been fired from his own project, the director of Prescient Pictures' most recent film who will do anything for final cut, the re-write man who has been toiling in anonymity for years because he passed forty ages ago, the wanna-be actress who would do anything--and anyone-- for stardom, the blackmailing producer who knows more about the staff of Prescient Pictures than anyone wants to admit.

As the noose tightens around the guilty and innocent alike, tensions rise and the earth rumbles. No one can trust the ground they walk on or the people they work with. In a town where power and control can shift suddenly, everyone wants credit for everything--except, of course, murder.

From the Hardcover edition.

Author Notes

Terrill Lee Lankford is the author of the novels Shooters and Angry Moon . He has also written, produced, and directed numerous feature films. Visit the author's web site at

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In a neat twist on the ending of Nathanael West's Day of the Locust, veteran filmmaker Lankford starts his Hollywood noir with a taste of Armageddon--not West's surreal fire next time but the all-too-real L.A. earthquake of 1994. Suffering from post-quake shell shock, Mark Hayes, D-Boy (or script reader) for schlocky producer Dexter Morton, finds his career in tatters, just like his quake-damaged apartment in the Valley. Then he finds a body floating in Dexter's pool and becomes a murder suspect. Along with a motley crew of similarly dysfunctional cronies, including a washed-up writer who spouts cliches about killing creativity for a paycheck, Mark slouches toward Armageddon or a jail cell, whichever comes first. Lankford nails the updated noir mood, and he fills the tale with juicy insider stuff about the industry (like the fact that nobody says the industry anymore). It all seems a little like old news, but that's the thing about burned-out Hollywood. West's ashes have been smoldering a long time, and Lankford does his best to fan the flames. --Bill Ott Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Filmmaker Lankford serves up an insider's view of Hollywood in this entertaining crime drama about a producer wannabe who gets ensnarled in a murder plot. Mark Hayes has been kicking around the movie industry for more than 15 years with little to show for it. Now in his mid-30s-old for Hollywood-he toils as a creative executive, fancy talk for a "development boy, as we were called by the disrespectful," screening scripts for his hateful boss, Dexter Morton. Although he's had one huge hit, Morton is despised throughout the industry for his two-faced dealings. When he's found floating face down in his swimming pool-his "giant, hairy tarantula" of toupee clogging the filter-nobody really mourns except his now out-of-work employees. As the police drag through their investigation, Hayes decides to launch his own probe, partly out of boredom and partly because he finds himself near the top of the cops' suspect list: after all, Morton had stolen his girl and Hayes found the body. But there's no shortage of suspects; Morton left a trail of bitter screenwriters, producers and even creative executives. Lankford (Angry Moon) shows lively wit and characterizations, and he shines in skewering the practices and personalities of the film industry. Though the story falters when Lankford leaves the entertainment world and steers the action down a more predictable path of drugs and violence, this is a fast, fun read. Agent, Matthew Guma at Arthur Pine Associates. (On sale Apr. 27) Forecast: Biting wit, a winning narrative voice and praise from Michael Connelly and Joe R. Lansdale should make this one a modest hit. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter 1 PART I There was a desert wind that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. -Raymond Chandler "Red Wind" Earthquake weather makes the Santa Ana winds look like pussies. -Clyde McCoy ONE I don't believe in Heaven or Hell, but on any given night Los Angeles can do a pretty good imitation of either locale. In the early morning of January 17, 1994, L.A. slipped into Hell mode in a big way. At the time I was living in an apartment in Sherman Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. Despite the early hour, I was still awake when the event occurred, having been unable to nod off due to a strange mixture of listlessness and unfocused anxiety: It's said that dogs experience similar precognitive distress prior to seismic events. I had just closed the book I was reading, Rudy Wurlitzer's Hard Travel to Sacred Places, and reached for the light when I heard a terrifying rumble in the distance. Something big was about to happen. It was an incredibly loud noise, yet it seemed to be emanating from a distant place and moving closer with great speed and violence. I realized it could only be a few things: an earthquake, a comet striking Earth, a nuclear blast, or some other big-ass explosion, maybe from a stunt gone awry on a movie set filming in the west Valley. It was four thirty in the morning on Martin Luther King's birthday and the idea that anybody, even Joel Silver, might be blowing up buildings at this hour was somewhat unlikely. I had only a split second to consider these possibilities and I quickly circled number one-earthquake-just as the first shock wave hit. The entire apartment complex was lifted into the air and brought back down hard. The halogen lamp fell from the top of my bookshelf and shattered. Glass hit me in the face. A rip of plaster tore straight up the wall directly behind my head. When the crack reached the ceiling, it zigzagged across the surface out of the bedroom. The streetlights in the alley outside the room flickered and went out, followed immediately by the flashing lights and neon trim on the marquee of the La Reina Plaza on Ventura Boulevard a half block away. My bedroom was plunged into darkness. The initial shock wave seemed to last an eternity. It was probably only twenty or thirty seconds in reality, but that can be an eternity if you live on the second floor of an apartment building that feels like it has turned into wood-and-plaster-flavored Jell-O. When the huge bookshelf itself fell over and crashed six inches from my head, I decided that this was an earthquake worth getting out of bed for. I scrambled over the fallen bookshelf to the doorway, got the door open, and stood in the arch. Five feet across the hall I saw my roommate, Jeff, standing naked in the arch of his doorway. A vaguely familiar TV actress, also naked, dangled from around his neck, looking up into his stoic face as if she were seeing the face of Jesus in the gloom. It was easy to see how she could have been confused. Jeff had his arms outstretched and pressed against either side of the doorjamb for support. A flashlight at his feet bounced illumination up against the rubber walls, hauntingly lighting his face from below. He looked like he was suffering on an invisible cross. "It's the fucking Big One!" Jeff screamed in an un-Jesus-like fashion. He seemed to take little notice of the girl carving her initials into the back of his neck with her fingernails. I nodded approval of his assessment. It did indeed appear that this could be the notorious "Big One" that we had all been waiting for. I had experienced hundreds of earthquakes over the years, most of them small, a few of them sizable, but I had rarely moved to a doorway for any of them. This sucker was intense. It felt like the entire building was going to tear itself apart. We could hear glass breaking everywhere, in our apartment and outside, in the dozens of apartment houses and office buildings that surrounded us. The shaking did not seem like it was going to stop. I had a brief aerial vision of the entire area, along with half of California, heading out to sea. The quake abruptly came to a halt. Nine million car alarms filled in while the rumbling earth took a quick cigarette break. "That wasn't so bad," I said. The woman around Jeff's neck let go and bolted for the front door. "I'm outta here!" she screamed, seemingly unaware of just how naked she really was. Jeff stayed in his doorway and yelled, "Don't!" as loudly as he could, but she ignored him. I smiled at Jeff and said, "She'll never make the door." We braced ourselves for what we knew was about to happen. The first aftershock hit with almost as much force as the earthquake itself. It was enough to turn the apartment into a Salvador Dali landscape. Everything became liquid. The girl was tossed into the air and catapulted into the front door with a resounding splat. Luckily her shoulder was leading or her head probably would have gone right through the wood panel. The vibrations were on the gentle side by the time Jeff and I decided to apartment surf out of the place before the next shock wave could hit. Jeff reached into his room and grabbed a bathrobe and a towel. I made my way gingerly through the darkened minefield of fallen items and broken glass, snagged my leather jacket off the kitchen chair, and slipped it on. I was wearing boxer shorts, so a jacket was all I'd need. I grabbed Jeff's lady friend by one arm and started to pick her up off the floor. Jeff, dressed in his Hugh Hefner robe, grabbed her other arm, and we hoisted her to her feet. She looked like a dazed raccoon that had bounced off a car fender. Jeff had the flashlight in his free hand. He swept it across the apartment and we saw that everything was on the floor. Everything. He bounced the light into the kitchen where pots and pans were still gently rattling against the thousands of pieces of broken glass that had been our dishes. The place was thrashed. The apartment stopped shaking for a few seconds, but it continued to rock and sway gently, its beams and girders singing out that this was not the way things were meant to be. The place was old, and part of it appeared to be older than the rest. We had two front doors, almost side by side, one in the kitchen, the other in the living room. An open arch separated the two rooms. The arch looked like it had been designed in the forties and I had a feeling that the kitchen area had been an add-on. I hoped the place wasn't going to split at its seams. We got the living room door open and piled out onto the balcony. The hammock, strung diagonally between two opposing beams of the balcony, was still swaying from the aftershock and the wood floor was creaking as if it wanted to collapse under us. We negotiated the darkened stairwell with the girl. There was another door at the bottom of the stairs. I turned the knob but the door would not open. Jeff shined the flashlight around the edge of the door frame. The building had settled on the door slightly. Jeff and I looked at each other for a moment of Butch and Sundance bonding, and then we both kicked the door hard, knocking it open and sending splinters everywhere. Luckily the building had been standing for more than fifty years. The wood was soft, practically rotten. We dragged the naked actress into the large parking lot next to the building and received a standing ovation from our neighbors, who were gathering in clusters in the safety zone, shining flashlights wildly about in the dark. Beams of light danced all over the stunned girl's naked body until Jeff wrapped her in the towel. He held her close as another large aftershock rocked the ground. Even over the earth's rumble I could hear someone in the crowd say, "Hey, isn't that? . . ." referring to Jeff's dazed actress girlfriend. The great thing about natural disasters in L.A. is that they are star-studded events. An Irwin Allen Production made flesh. In the hours, days, months, and years of earthquakes and aftershocks that would follow, we would never again trust the ground on which we walked in quite the same way as we did before this quake (which, at a magnitude of 6.8, was impressive, yet far short of the Big One), but at least we were finally going to get to meet the neighbors. Excerpted from Earthquake Weather by Terrill Lee Lankford All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.