Friday, September 26, 2014

SinC Blog Hop: Blog the Night Away!

by Paul D. Marks

Well, it’s my turn to hop on the Sisters in Crime blog hop. Art Taylor passed the baton to me last week, so now it’s my turn to hijack our weekly question. (And I’m tagging Susan Shea, you’re up next.)

To participate, I have to:

(a) ignore our regularly scheduled weekly question
(b) choose a question from the list below & answer it here today
(b) tag another Criminal Mind to take the next turn

The Question Choices:

1. Which authors have inspired you?
2. Which male authors write great women characters?
3. If someone said, "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men," how would you respond?
4. What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?
5. Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?
6. What books are on your nightstand right now?
7. If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I’m going with #6. I know Robin did this a few weeks back, but there’s only a limited number of questions so I figured I’d give it a shot too. At least for the “short list” of nightstand books.  I’m also including digital books here, that might not be on the physical nightstand. And I’m purposely leaving off any books by people I know personally in case I might accidentally leave someone out, so they don’t come after me with a blackjack in the middle of the night.

Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons and Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. The former because I like to mix things up and read different kinds of books, even though I mostly write mystery-suspense and the latter because, like Joan Jett, well, I love rock ‘n’ roll. I love the Stones and Keith—the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll outlaw. I also enjoy reading about writers, artists, musicians in general. I feel their pain, to quote another rock star...

In the on-deck circle are several books. But they can change. Things go in and out of the pile, often before I might get to them. So, in no particular order.

Viveza: The Secret to Creating Breathtaking Photography by Robin Whalley; and Plug In with Nik by John Batdorff: I bought the Nik suite of photographic tools/programs some time ago, but haven’t really had a chance to play around with it/them and learn by doing, so I figured if I bought a book or two I could read about it and at least feel like I was getting something out of the programs.

Goodis: A Life in Black and White by Phillipe Garnier—a biography of David Goodis, the “poet of
the losers,” a phrase coined by Geoffrey O’Brien. Goodis wrote the books on which the Bogie-Bacall movie Dark Passage and Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (book title Down There), among several other films, are based. I’m a huge Goodis fan and have been waiting years (decades?) for this book to be translated into English—the only full-length bio on Goodis, to my knowledge. Got it as soon as it came out.  I started to read it, but was disappointed that it had no index or table of contents, things I really appreciate in non-fiction books, so I sort of set it aside, though I’m sure I will get back to it.

The Poet by Michael Connelly—I’ve read this one before and I think it’s Connelly’s best book. And just have the urge to read it again.  ‘Cause I like spending time with the scum of the earth.

It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell—Well, just because I love Carol O’Connell and her tough as nails (and I do mean nails) NYPD detective Kathy Mallory, but don’t ever call her Kathy. Mallory only. But this shows how far behind I am, as this book is about a year old and I still haven’t gotten to it.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein—This has been on my “to read” shelf for a long time and I just can’t bring myself to read it.  I like animals too much, especially my own, and I think it might be too much of a downer.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chabon—I read a review of this when it first came out and thought it sounded like an interesting and intriguing story.  And still do.  I will get to it, soon, I hope.

Perfidia by James Ellroy—Well, this one’s complicated.  I used to be an Ellroy fanatic. Would go to all of his LA signings, including one time when he even had a band with him.  And these signings are events in themselves. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, Ellroy too.  Now here’s the complicated part: I don’t have the book yet.  In the “olden” days I would have bought it the day it came out (about two weeks ago), and there’s still part of me that wants to read it, but I’ve been disappointed by Ellroy lately. He’s adopted that staccato style, but has gone way too far in that direction to the point where some of his work is unreadable, at least to me.  So, while I still have an affinity for him, I haven’t been able to get through his last couple of books.  And, while Perfidia sounds interesting and like something I would like subject-wise, I’m also gun-shy about getting it and then not being able to get into it.  So, while normally it would shoot to the top of my pile, right now it’s on the phantom night stand. And maybe one day it will make to the solid, real-world nightstand. Maybe...

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And, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I’d also like to respond briefly to this week’s regular 7 Criminal Minds question:

Is there a novel that you're afraid to write, that you're waiting to attempt until you're older/your mother dies/your skill level matches your ambition?

There’s nothing that I’m afraid to write—I guess I’m either fearless or stupid or both. But there is a Big Book that I’ve been wanting to write for years.  It spans most of the twentieth century, with several storylines that ultimately intertwine.  I’ve made notes on it, even a chart, so long ago it’s handwritten on a huge piece of paper, BC: Before Computers.  That’s how long I’ve had this idea.

And, while some ideas come and go, and some seem great at the time, but not so much later, this one has stuck with me.  And one of these days I will do it. No, I’m not going to go into details here.  But it’s one of those backpocket stories that you just carry around until it has to come out.

Many years ago an agent asked me if I had a “Big Book,” ‘cause that’s what he was looking for.  I told him I did, but it wasn’t written. It’s still not written...but it will be one day.

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And a little BSP: I just launched my Facebook author page this week. So why not check it out and if you’re so inclined give it a ‘like’. Thanks. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Feel The Fear And Write It Anyway

"Is there a novel you're afraid to write? That you're waiting to write when you're older/the rellies are dead/your skill matches your ambition?"

I think every family has at least one story that would make the basis of a compelling  . . . well, psychological suspense novel anyway. Some poor souls live in families with thrillers going on. And not everyone waits until the stars of the show are dead. Not by any means.  I once went to a book launch for a novel about family dysfunction - child sex abuse, serious neglect, foster "care" - where all the main players were still alive (some in jail, one in the audience). It made for an interesting Q&A.

I couldn't do that. I think my chip of ice is defective - not quite melted but rounded at the edges and useless for skewering with. So, yes there are stories I've heard that I can't write.  Am I living on wheatgrass and Pilates so I can write them when everyone's dead? Nah. There are lots of other stories and bacon matters too.

As for waiting until I'm older, I think stories come when they come and inevitably the stories that come to me when I'm seventy-five (get up, turn round three times, spit, sit down again) will be different from the stories bubbling up now. My first three stand-alone novels - As She Left It, The Day She Died and Come To Harm have come from tiny incidents (a bargain bed in an antique shop), fleeting glimpses of others' lives (a young man counting change in a supermarket), filtered through my own past and set in places redolent of something that half intrigues and half repels (see below).

God knows where Dandy Gilver comes from. It feels like playing to conjure that world - pure chortling joy - and I'm only glad I'm still getting away with it. 

But what about the book I'm afraid to write? Honestly, I think I've just written it. The Child Garden (w/t) has a central character who I loved and believed in, but whom I fully expected no one else to warm to.  I aired some of my worries at Sister in Crime, Desert Sleuths recently - but no one had read it so no one could either agree with them or reassure me. 

I breathed a sigh of relief that changed the weather patterns all across the continental US when my agent said she adores Gloria and started asking if it could be a series.  And Midnight Ink gave me a thumbs up too. Phee-ew. Gloria Harkness, in a book that might be called The Child Garden, will be joining us in September 2015.

And my brand-new advice to anyone would therefore be . . . write the book that you're scared to write. It might turn out okay.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Pursuit of Truth in Writing

It’s a pleasure to introduce Criminal Minds readers to a friend and fellow author who has a new book out. Holly West is the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Harlequin’s Carina Press will publish the latest book in the series, Mistress of Lies, on September 29. She lives, reads, and writes in Los Angeles with her husband, Mick, and dog, Stella.

I can’t remember where I first met Holly West, but, knowing her, it was wherever the fun was at the time. I can remember where I first met Stella. She was curled up next to Holly, staring at me with big, round eyes, a worry line above her cute little nose. Holly’s saga of hard work before her first two Mistress books were published pales next to Stella’s recent trauma, when she had most of her little teeth extracted to treat an infected jaw. Okay, maybe I’m getting too involved with Holly’s and Mick’s dog. Onward, Holly:

By Holly West

As a guest to this blog, Susan Shea assured me that I wasn’t required to answer the Question of the Week. But when she told me the topic—“Is there a novel that you’re afraid to write?”—I decided it was something I wanted to address since my current work-in-progress is just this type of book.

It’s no secret that writers use experiences in their own lives as a basis for some of their stories. My Mistress of Fortune series is set in 17th century London—seemingly a million miles away from my life in present-day Los Angeles—and I still found inspiration for the books in my everyday experiences. For instance, the plot of Mistress of Lies, which will be published on September 29, involves the goldsmith profession, a craft I studied for many years. My amateur sleuth, Isabel Wilde, lives in a house at the intersection of Drury Lane and Aldwych, very near to where the Waldorf Hilton now stands and where my husband and I have stayed many times. And Madame Laverne, a seamstress who appears in Mistress of Fortune, is named after a dear friend who passed away a few years ago.

All that said, the experiences I used in the Mistress of Fortune series are but small references to my real life. My new work-in-progress (as yet unnamed) is a whole other matter. It’s set in both Los Angeles and a fictional town called Gold Valley that’s based on the community I grew up in and some aspects of it autobiographical (albeit loosely).

It’s the story of an alcoholic actress who, after hitting rock bottom, checks herself into rehab and a counseling session triggers a repressed memory about her mother’s unsolved murder that occurred twenty-five years earlier. Convinced she actually witnessed the killing, she returns to her hometown—a haven of secrets, lies, and corruption—to learn the truth about her mother’s death.

Thankfully, I have no personal experience with murder. But I do have plenty of experience with dysfunction—in my case, it’s the severe depression of a close family member that’s never been properly treated. At its core, this is a novel about a deeply troubled family that can’t face its own demons and the tragic consequences of their denial of the truth. It is multi-generational and seeks to answer a key question: Is it ever possible for younger generations to heal past wounds by looking truth in the eye and facing it, head on?

When you’re writing about something that’s important to you, it feels like there’s a lot at stake. I want to be true to my story without hurting anyone who might recognize themselves within its pages. It is, after all, fiction, and while it might have some basis in truth, it is a highly dramatized version of people, relationships and events. Furthermore, the issues I want to tackle are complicated and sometimes difficult to articulate. Not only do I fear that telling the story might be hurtful, I feel doubt about my own ability to tell it properly. Am I really ready, as a writer, to do such a story justice?

I try not to spend much time worrying about it, however. If I’d given into the doubt that sometimes overwhelmed me as I wrote the Mistress of Fortune novels, they wouldn’t exist. I powered through, even when I had no idea what I was doing. And that’s just how I intend to proceed with this current project.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fiction is the Lie

Was there a point before you were published when you thought of giving up? If so, how did you get over it and keep going?

By Paul D. Marks

I still think of giving up, but I don’t do it.

Part of the reason we’re writers is ‘cause we’re persistent. Lots of people want to be writers, give up to easily or just don’t’ find time to do it. It’s a passion – it’s not like a hobby that you give up when you don’t have the time. And it’s a passion that you have to do every day like eating.

You write because you have to. Yes, it’s nice to get published. And even paid. But if that’s why one writes you’re in the wrong biz.

It’s kind of like “Ol’ Man River,” tired of livin’, but scared of dyin’. But the river keeps rolling along. As do we. Because there’s nothing else we can possibly do. Sure we might have families, other jobs, other obligations, but we find the time to write because it’s in our blood and in our bones.

We write because we have something to say, some interpretation of life that we want to share. Or maybe we just want to entertain. In “Sullivan’s Travels,” the classic Preston Sturges film, Joel McCrea plays a movie director who makes silly trifles like “Ants in Your Plants of 1939”. But he wants to make a serious film about people struggling, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”. Not knowing anything about the downtrodden he has the studio
costume department outfit him like a hobo and he takes off, entourage not far behind. To cut to the chase, so to speak, and through a series of misadventures he finds himself on a real chain gang. And there, watching the prisoners laugh at a Mickey Mouse cartoon he realizes that people just want to laugh and be entertained. And I think that’s what we want to do, entertain. It can be serious entertainment or light entertainment. But ultimately that is the bottom line – we are entertainers.

And how do I get over those doubts about continuing, I wake up the next day, sit at the typewriter (in the “early” days) and type. And if it really is in your blood you just get over it. Just like you do after you break up with the “love of your life.” Sure, h/she’s the one that got away. And you still think about her on occasion. But it’s yesterday. Today is working on that new chapter or character or funny bit or whatever. You just do it.

All of this because ultimately, as Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Doomed and happy to be so.

by Catriona

"Was there ever a time before you were published when you thought of calling it quits?"

Clare's answer yesterday was spot-on. Writing the first book, pre-agent, pre-deal, pre-anyone actually believing you've got a prayer isn't quitting time. It's the good old days. No deadline, no publicity, no helpful frenemies forwarding bad reviews. Before a writer is published everything in bathed in a golden glow.

Is it pessimistic to think of The Future as the end of hope and every achievement as another door slammed shut?  Possibly. Accurate, though. On a yearly scale, each book is perfect before you write it and then you make it worse and worse until it's finished and the only reason you carry on is to be done with it and get to the next perfect book-to-be. On a career-sized scale, each milestone takes you further away from the fork where you might have chosen the path that swerved the headache du jour.

How I wish I was completely kidding. (How I hope that at least one person reading this is going to know what I mean. (How I fear that some friends might stage an intervention.))

But I sort of mean it. Not for nothing is my favourite bit from Radio Days that bit when Julie Kavner says to little Seth Green: "Our lives are ruined already. You have a chance to grow up and be someone."

By the way, if anyone wants to start an argument about whether the argument about whether the Atlantic or the Pacific is a better ocean is a better bit, go for it.

Anyway, if it's so terrible to combine writing book X with dodging reviews of book Y, promoting book Z, and not counting how little time there is left in the year to write book What Comes After Z, perhaps the question should be: "Was there ever a time after you were published that you thought of calling it quits?"

And in this case the answer is  . . . still no. It took me such a long time to work out that writing was for me and the other jobs I did were so unspeakable (except the one where I worked in a local history library, which was really just research for writing) I've never doubted for a minute that I'm doing the work I was meant to do.

Do I wish I'd worked it out a bit quicker? Nah. I think the only way to get to wherever you are is the way you came, on this wrong path, starting at the fork of regret. That's a sort of sunny side, right?