Corona Del Mar Author on Her Latest Project “Palm Springs Noir”

Corona del Mar author, radio and podcast host, and writing teacher Barbara DeMarco-Barrett celebrates the dark side of a desert paradise as editor of “Palm Springs Noir.”
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Part of the Akashic Books’ city-centered noir series, “Palm Springs Noir” includes stories by Janet Fitch, T. Jefferson Parker, Alex Espinoza, Eric Beetner, and 10 other writers, all with a connection to Palm Springs or the surrounding desert communities. As in a great noir plot, DeMarco-Barrett’s latest literary caper started with a chance encounter, one that occurred years ago at a book festival.

How did the book come to be?
This really came out of “Orange County Noir.” I was at the L.A. Times Festival of Books in 2009, and I remember being in the green room with Susan Straight and T. Jefferson Parker. We were standing at the buffet table, and Susan said, “Barbara, you should talk to Gary Phillips because he’s putting together this anthology; maybe you have a piece for it.” I later talked to Gary, and he was like, “Yeah, it’s a noir anthology, and you can have Costa Mesa.” I had never written noir fiction before but I said, what the heck. That story came out, and then it was chosen for the “best of,” the “USA Noir” that Akashic put out in 2013. Around that time, I started going to the desert a lot. I started holding writers retreats out there. Every summer, I would rent a house. But before I would sign a lease, I would look up the Palm Springs crime log to make sure the neighborhood was safe, and where the trouble was. I grew to love noir more and more, and I put a proposal together for a desert anthology.

Why is Palm Springs a good locale for noir fiction?
What’s interesting to me about Palm Springs is it’s such a sunny, relaxing place. It’s one of my favorite places ever to go to. You go to the market and there’s all these people with their six-packs and sodas, but then there’s a lot of homelessness out there. That provides an interesting contrast.

Are you a noir person? Is there such a thing?
Of all the mystery subgenres, I think it’s mine. I’ve never been into cozies. Noir is a little more realistic to me. My mother-in-law says noir is like life: Things go from bad to worse. It has characters who want to do better but just keep falling into the same patterns. I think we can all relate to that. A therapist once told me that everbody has a dark side. Noir is that dark side, except most of us choose the high road if we can. But noir characters keep making the same mistakes. They think, this time, it’s going to be different. I have empathy for them.

What else distinguishes noir fiction?
It’s the tone. It’s word choice, attitude. When you look at all the genres, it’s tone. Is it breezy? Is it going to be cozy with a neighborhood where somebody found a dead body in the garden and maybe it’s a little amusing? With noir, there are tropes: sex, greed, and murder. Jeff Parker’s story (“Specters”) doesn’t have any of them, but it has the tone. It’s like what they say about pornography—you know it when you see it.

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