Forget the pristine pastels and mid-century modern mojo. When it comes to Coachella Valley, something ominous – even bloodstained – exists in the shadow of the dazzling sun.
This is the premise behind “Palm Springs Black”, a captivating anthology of short stories edited by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. In an unlikely dark setting, the valley is hardly an idyllic oasis.
Evil things are happening, in fact.
DeMarco-Barrett, an Orange County resident and frequent visitor to the valley, curated 14 short stories that delightfully raise eyebrows and keep eyes on the page. There are Airbnb mischiefs, a story about an addict burglar turned cat, a nice touch of gay camp on a memorable outing, and a slew of other shocking things sprinkled into the mix.
“I just had to do it,” DeMarco-Barrett says of the organization of the anthology. âIt was really my continuation of the project with the publisher over time that they finally gave in and said, ‘OK.’ They hadn’t had Palm Springs on their list of places to cover.
That publisher is Akashic Books, whose best-selling anthologies take place in traditional dark places such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley, among other cities. In this venture, DeMarco-Barrett presents desert-based stories in a variety of hotspots – from Twin Palms and the Historic Tennis Club to Indio and the Salton Sea. Local writers Tod Goldberg, Rob Bowman, Michael Craft and JD Horn are on hand, while scribes T. Jefferson Parker, Janet Fitch, Eric Beetner, Kelly Shire, Rob Roberge, Eduardo Santiago, Chris J. Bahnsen, Ken Layne and Alex Espinoza complete the collection. DeMarco-Barrett also wrote a story that is sure to capture the attention of any homeowner with a swimming pool.
âThere are so many great writers in the Coachella Valley, and it took a while to find the right ones – they weren’t falling from the sky,â she says. “I rushed to find them, but it was exciting.”
Some writers with whom she had already befriended. Others came to see her on recommendation. All of them have successfully captured the allure of the dark in a hotbed of desert possibilities.
“Like so many main characters [in noir stories], we can understand that we want to improve our lives, âsays DeMarco-Barrett. âThese characters have high aspirations and goals, but they keep making the wrong choices. Most of us try to take the high road, but it’s pretty delicious to read about characters going the other way.
This is one of the reasons why mystery writer Agatha Christie is only surpassed by the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare. His characters are simply convincing.
âWe want to spend time with these people,â says DeMarco-Barrett. âWe like to live vicariously through them. We ask ourselves, “How are they going to get out of this? What would we do? ‘”
DeMarco-Barrett has spent many years pondering these kinds of questions. Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, she ventured west to San Francisco before settling in Orange County. She has seen every slice of humanity – from her time as Lady Avon to her current success as an educator, writer and editor.
His short story “Crazy for You” was published in Akashic’s “Orange County Noir” and went on to appear in a Best of the Akashic Noir series. Her first book, “Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within,” made it to the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, winning the Outstanding Book Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
âWhat I love about writing and what’s mysterious to me about this art form is how writers create something out of absolutely nothing and need next to nothing to do it, âshe notes. âAll you need is something to write on and a surface to write on. It’s quite magical.
Bowman, who has lived in the Coachella Valley for over seven years and whose short story, âEverything Drains and Disappearsâ is set in the Bermuda Dunes in the anthology, agrees. He also thinks the desert is a “wonderful and strange place” for black.
âThe Coachella Valley is defined by those who enjoy a life of leisure and those who work to provide that leisure,â he says. âThe working class here is very intentionally hidden from view, like working paths hidden in giant estates, so that the view is not marred. My story is that of the working class which finds itself in despair. They look to what they want to have – and what they are willing to do to get it.
Craft, a longtime resident of Rancho Mirage, wrote âVIP Check-inâ with that idea in mind. Drawing inspiration from Palm Springs’ vibrant LGBTQ culture and how it presents a unique and diverse approach to storytelling, he set the news in Little Tuscany. It revolves around two antagonists – a gay white man and a straight black woman – who are seemingly polar opposites.
âMany people living in desert resort towns refer to life here as ‘paradise’,â Craft recalls. âThe way I think it’s just asking for trouble. What could possibly go wrong? “
Striking a wonderfully campy note, Craft then developed this short story into a full-length detective story called “Desert Getaway,” which will be released next summer by Brash Books.
DeMarco-Barrett says readers âgenerally hope that the characters we read in black will come out of their bad situation, but it’s more realistic that most of them don’t find happiness. It is a form of realism.
Was she shocked by any of the anthology submissions?
âThey all surprised me,â she says. âA couple here is so funny. It surprised me – that a story could be so dark and so funny. Writers like Eric Beetner and Michael Craft have done well. We think black is dark and depressing – those old movies from the 40’s and 50’s, shadows everywhere, no sun. But the writers of this book were able to take the scenery and do something without the common black tropes.
âIt’s like, ‘Let’s do something new with the form that’s rewarding, something that we didn’t think was allowed,â she adds. “I hope readers are entertained by the flawed characters in the book and see a version of Palm Springs they won’t find in the coffee table books.”
To learn more about “Palm Springs Black,” visit akashicbooks.com/catalog/palm-springs-noir.
Greg Archer writes about change agents, chance and the entertainment industry. Her work has appeared in USA Today Network, Palm Springs Life, Huffington Post, The Advocate, and other media. Her memoir “Grace Revealed” recounts her Polish family’s odyssey during World War II. gregarcher.com.