Friday, October 30, 2015

Sharks Are Jerks

Today I’m happy to have my friend S.W. Lauden fill in for me. Steve is a rising star in the noir fiction world. As he likes to say he’s a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine.

In his debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, Salem, an East Los Angeles police officer by day and a beach cities punk rock legend by night, is forced into action when his two worlds violently collide. Bad Citizen Corporation is available now from Rare Bird Books. Check out the cool trailer here And his novella, Crosswise, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

"What motivates you most strongly to maintain your writing life, even -- or especially -- when the going gets tough?"

by S.W. Lauden

Writing my first novel was like doing surgery on myself while fighting off shark attacks. Lucky for you, the wounds are still fresh. So let’s do a little poking and prodding!

Why surgery? Because, as far as I know, nobody has ever written anything worth reading without digging deep inside of themselves with both hands. Doesn’t matter what genre. The best writing I’ve read seems to demand it.

Why a shark? Because they’re totally unpredictable killing machines and nature’s best stand in for self-doubt, self-criticism and self-sabotage. Sharks, at least for the purposes of this extended metaphor, are jerks.

Also, my new mystery, Bad Citizen Corporation, is about a punk rock cop who spends a lot of time surfing. So strap on your life vests, kids, the waters ahead are teeming with beach puns.

BCC may be the first novel I published, but it isn’t the first one I wrote. That honor goes to a sprawling, multi-decade tome about a time-travelling circus clown that accidentally invents rock and roll. I wrote it in 2001, had a few friends read it, and then promptly abandoned that project and fiction writing all together.

The surgery was a failure. The patient flat-lined. Sharks feasted on that bloated corpse for more than a decade.

Fast forward to 2011. I was swept up in the wave (!) of Nordic crime fiction that made Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Arnaldur Indridason household names—at least they were in my house. That’s when I saw it on the horizon, a sliver of an idea for a mystery novel of my own.

The concept for BCC started with the main character, Greg Salem, a punk rock cop who was caught between two worlds and trying to find his best friend’s killer. It was enough to get my wheels spinning.

I wanted to jump over the rail and immediately start swimming, but I couldn’t help scanning the water for fins. Sure enough, there they were, circling to remind me that I’d never be talented, dedicated or lucky enough to publish a novel.

You already know that I took the plunge anyway. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Not when the day job is kicking my ass, the kids are bouncing off the walls, inspiration eludes me or I get another rejection letter. Not even when I’ve convinced myself that everything I write is garbage. Again.

It can be hard work, but it isn’t anything I have to do. It’s something I want to do. Something I get to do. And I try really hard not to take that for granted. Some days are better than others.

So any time I feel like I’m going to end up swimming with the fishes, I remind myself that it could be a lot worse. I could give up on one of the things in my life that makes me the happiest.

That’s usually enough to clam me up. But when it isn’t, I pick up my scalpel and get ready for the sharks. They always arrive when the first drop of blood hits the water.

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, Crosswise, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.


Thanks for stopping by, Steve. Good luck with the book!


And, local SoCal people please check out the following MWA event at Barnes & Noble, Valencia, Saturday, November 7th at 2pm (click on picture to view a larger and more readable version):

Thursday, October 29, 2015

For Shame!

What motivates me to write?

Well, sometimes it's enjoyable. The words flow, the ideas spark like a cut wire in a puddle, the problems are ground to powder under the pounding of the lap top keys. That accounts for maybe ten or fifteen days a year.

And sometimes the end's in sight. I gallop towards the last page, looking forward to printing it out and dancing around to suitable music (ELO's "Mr Blue Sky" is excellent) then lying on the couch watching Castle and eating Kettle Chip sarnies. Let's call that another three days.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it's early days and nothing's gone wrong yet: the words on the page haven't started to knock all the gloss off the idea and cloud the bloom of creativity. Two days if I'm lucky.

So for twenty days a year I no more need motivation to write than I do to drink coffee and take Buzzfeed quizzes. Knock off a hundred days for weekends. Ten for Christmas hols (being a deadbeat European, I milk Christmas until after twelfth night (5th Jan)) another fifteen for Left Coast, Malice and Bouchercon, ten for summer hols and we're down to . . . two hundred and ten writing days to find motivation for.

Call it a round two hundred. Sometimes motivation fails.

For those two hundred days, my motivational cocktail is made up of dread, shame and fear. The dread of having to get a real job, the shame that I would feel if I flaked out on my contracts when so many good writers are trying to get one, and the fear of ever meeting anyone ever ever again and having to tell them I'm no longer a writer. Yep, it's public humiliation all the way for me.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chained to the Desk, or Not

"What motivates you most strongly to maintain your writing life, even - or especially - when the going gets tough?"

This is a hard question for me to answer honestly because I don’t actually know and wish I did. I love the idea that I have a “writing life,” but feel like a bit of a fake at times.

First, I’m not always motivated. I goof off, I play, I say yes to friends who want to have lunch and people who want me to volunteer, and to my own travel lust.

Second, I’m occasionally writing without a contract; that is, I hope a story I’m writing will please my agent, who will then shop it around in the hope some acquiring editor will fall in love with it. Last year, I wrote an entire 70,000-page manuscript with no one pushing me with deadlines. Exciting to be flying free, but scary, and tough as shoe leather at times.

Third, every segment of the long process from that Hey-I-Have-A-Brilliant-Idea to the final proof before printing has its hard moments. The first draft is, for me, the most fun. The first revise is even okay. The revise after that, the one that deals with what the editor wants – the need to answer pesky questions about plot intricacies or character behavior – tough, tough.

I write because it’s damn near the only thing I know how to do. So, bottom line is this: I’m motivated because if I’m not writing, or sweating bullets editing for the fourth time, what else am I going to do? Bowling is out; I learned that in high school. The ladies who lunch are lovely, but I’m antsy after the salad and find that I’m eavesdropping on other conversations looking for a tasty bit of dialogue to steal.

So, ultimately, what motivates me is the idea that this time I may get closer to the vision I had in my head when I started the book, that I may get better at this writing thing, that people will read my story and love it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

New Faces, New Crimes, New Challenges, Bouchercon 2015

by Paul D. Marks

Before I get to the question at hand, I’d like to congratulate Art Taylor and Catriona McPherson on their award wins! So...congratulations! Well done—though I prefer mine medium rarified.
Ah, thoughts on the recently deceased Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, NC.

To go or not to go—to this or that convention—that is the question. We decided to go, hoping for the best all the way. Of course you never know what kind of riff raff you’ll run into on an airplane. We ran into this guy—Kevin Burton Smith of Thrilling Detective (see pic below)—who had the seat right behind me on one leg of our trip, which gave him ample opportunity to kick my seat and heckle me. Winking smile

And we had a great time at the convention. Seeing old friends, making new ones. We saw people from this blog: Alan Orloff and his wife, Catriona, Susan. Art and his wife, Tara. Wish I could have met up with Meredith, but next time! And we hooked up with Amy’s parents and one of her sisters, who drove up from Georgia for dinner, the night before B’con started.

The Shamus banquet was a hoot, as always. And I recorded my story “Howling at the Moon” for Ellery Queen’s podcast. I ain’t no actor, so hopefully I did okay. I would have preferred James Earl Jones do the reading and he wanted to, but unfortunately he had a previous commitment.

Every convention has its challenges. My biggest challenge this time around was trying to figure out what my panel was all about. The panel was called “New Faces, New Crimes, New Challenges.” That could be about anything.

Of course, everyone wants to get on a panel, myself included. And I was excited to get on two panels this time. Unfortunately, both were skedded for exactly the same moment in time. And I really wanted to do some Star Trek thingy—excuse my lack of expertise in TrekTalk but I don’t know what the term would be—where I could split myself in two and do both panels, but alas there’s only so much of me to go around—so I was deleted from one panel, just backspaced out and asked to moderate the other. I got volunteered.

Now if you’re on a panel called “The Changing Face of Publishing for Writers and Readers” or “The Resurgence of the Traditional Mystery” or “Just the Facts: The Police Procedural,” it seems to me you’d have a pretty good idea what the subject is that you’re going to be talking about. But “New Faces, New Crimes, New Challenges” could be just about anything. So, I asked my panelists what they thought it meant and they couldn’t figure it out either. Anxiety grew exponentially: what will we talk about? Especially as not all of the panelists were really what I would consider new faces, including me.

So after much deliberation and consulting a higher authority—Yogi Berra—who said: “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else,” so we wound up someplace else and I decided we should talk about new faces and semi-new faces, new challenges and new crimes and how one gets away with those in the age of CSI and DNA. But from all reports I heard it went pretty well. And I was happy that we got about 30 people there since Megan Abbott and others were paneling at the same time.

So I was very happy that the panel went well. And really everything at the convention and the whole trip went well. We had no major glitches, which is always nice. We stayed on a couple of days after Bouchercon ended to explore Raleigh. You can see more about that on my Sleuthsayers post at on Tuesday, October 20th.

We got home just a couple nights ago and, as my mom used to say, “It’s good to go and good to come home.” And when we pulled in our driveway the other night and saw our house and anticipated seeing our animals that’s exactly how I felt: There’s no place like home.


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Coast to Coast -- Vortex Collage D1

Monday, October 12, 2015

Laughing All the Way

What we love about crime fiction conventions?

- from Susan

With so many of us at Bouchercon, or still recovering from one of the other great gatherings of readers and writers held throughout the year, we thought this week would be a good one to share thoughts about them.

When you sit alone in a room, or inside your bubble at Starbucks, writing away, trying to make characters come alive and plots make sense, you can feel lonely, invisible – or, worse, an idiot to think you can write. So, stepping off the elevator and into a crowd of hundreds of people who are either, like you, blinking at the sudden wall of cheerful talk or else scanning your name tag in the hope that you’re someone whose books they’ve read can be intimidating.

It can also be a great high. These people know what it’s like to confront the need for 2,000 fresh words today. These people want to read your finished books, want to know when your next book will be out, hope you will sign their copies of your past books, want to have a drink and discuss book contracts. My god – you have landed on your planet!

By the time this is published, I will have moderated a Friday morning panel at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The topic is humor in crime fiction and the panelists are such pros: Elizabeth Little, Johnny Shaw, Ingrid Thoft, and Brad Parks. All I’ll have to do is say, “Ready, set, go” and then stand aside. How can we write funny about shootings and stabbings and kidnappings and gang warfare? Who sets the gold standard in humorous crime fiction? Talk about the most outraged reader feedback you ever got.

I wonder myself why it doesn’t bother me to have my protagonist think something inappropriate when she sees a garroting victim. In real life, I’d faint. Dani comes awfully close to fainting, but when she gets over it, her inner cynic can’t keep quiet. Where in me does that come from? I love that critics think my books are “witty” and “wickedly funny.” When I started writing them, that wasn’t the goal, however. How odd is that?

We will be talking about the strangeness of pairing humor with violence at our panel, about stories that cry out for the balm of humor and characters who get by by injecting their skewed sense of what’s amusing into truly awful situations. For those of you who went to Bouchercon, my biggest hope is you heard the audience guffawing as you walked by our room and decided you had to check out what was so funny. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are a few good books by the writers I’ll be talking with in my session:

Elizabeth Little: Dear Daughter
Johnny Shaw: Plaster City
Ingrid Thoft: Brutality
Brad Parks: The Player
And, a little self-promotion, if you’ll pardon me:

Susan Shea: The King’s Jar

Friday, October 2, 2015

Midnight at the Internet Cafe

What is the research tool you turn to most often? How important is visiting the site of your story to your research?

by Paul D. Marks

These days my go-to research tool is the internet, what else? It’s close at hand. It’s easy. It has “everything” on it. And it’s right all the time. Well, most of the time. I mean much of the time. Yeah.

In the olden days, BI—Before Internet—one had to go to the library or the bookstore. But if you’re a night owl like me you’d be hard pressed to find a library or bookstore open at 3am, my prime time. Not impossible, but also maybe not close by. And much as I love browsing both of those places, I’d rather do it in the middle of the night, but I guess they want to sleep and I curse them for it.

Hollywood Sign Collage D1aThen, of course, there’s first hand research, going to the location/s in your story or to primary source people. For example, if you’re writing about the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles and you live in Los Angeles you can drive up there, annoy the people who live in the neighborhood, duck potshots from them, get close to the sign and, after running the gauntlet of angry residents, find out it’s fenced off so you can’t get there anyway, at least not right there. But you used to be able to go there. I hiked up there with a friend one time when we were doing research on a screenplay. It was fun and exciting and before the neighbors were perpetually upset—and before it was fenced off. But today it’s hard to get to, at least to get right up close to it, because it is fenced off. So what do you do? You turn to the internet or books. Or people who’ve been there or you watch through binocs or you beg everyone you know to find someone who knows someone who can get you inside the fence. And when that fails you hit the books again or the internet.

Kiss Me Deadly Angels Flight w caption d1I recently sold a story to Ellery Queen that takes place on and around Bunker Hill, no not that Bunker Hill in Massachusetts. The one in downtown L.A. L.A.’s Bunker Hill of today and the Bunker Hill of 30-40 years ago are two vastly different places. When it began in the late 1800s, Bunker Hill was a neighborhood of fancy Victorian homes for the wealthy near downtown. Over time the swells moved west and Bunker Hill became run down and the elaborate houses were turned into rooming houses. In the late 60s, redevelopment began. The people were kicked out. Some of the houses were torn down and others were packed up and moved to other locations. So, though my story takes place today it deals with elements of the long-lost and lamented Bunker Hill of yesterday. How did I research that? Well, the usual, the internet, books, etc. Watching old movies shot there—many film noirs were shot on and around Bunker Hill. But I had also spent time there as a young man, exploring the houses, getting into some, riding the original Angels Flight funicular railway. Going through the Grand Central Market that John Fante talks about in Ask the Dust, before it was remodeled. And I still have the top of a newell stairway post I liberated from one of those old Victorian houses—a memento both to L.A.’s and my own past. I’m also old enough to remember L.A. as Raymond Chandler describes it and before it started to change and “grow up”. And I remember it pretty well—first-hand research you might say.

My novel White Heat takes place mostly in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots of 1992. I lived through that and used both personal experience and recollections of others, both civilians and cops that I know who were there to add flavor to the story. But parts of the story also take place in Calexico, California and Sparks and Reno, Nevada. I have recollections of both places, but it’s been a long time since I was there, so again I turned to the internet to be my researcher’s best friend.

But what if you’re writing something that’s set where you’ve never been. I’ve never been to the Amazon, though it’s one of my dreams. Pre-internet, I was working on a screenplay set there, so I researched it in books, etc. But I also drew on personal experiences of being in other riverine environs, transposing some of those experiences and adventures to the Amazon.

Gas_Station_1942 d1What if it’s a time you’ve never lived in or experienced firsthand? I have a character named Bobby Saxon who’s been in three published stories. I wrote a novel with Bobby that should be done soon. Those stories all take place during World War II on the L.A. homefront. Well, that’s before my time. But I know L.A. pretty well and I know a lot of its history. So I had a good foundation to start with. But I also turned to primary resources: my mom and her friends. My family goes back here a long way and my mom was an L.A. native, so she and her friends could tell me first-hand things about L.A. during the war. I supplemented that with—what else? —the internet and books. But also with maps. I wanted to know how people got from point A to point B in a time before freeways. So I bought several period street maps on eBay, as well as looking things up on the net. And, aside from the good research the maps gave me for the story, I just love looking at them and seeing how things change over time. I also got some of the flavor of the era from old movies and music of the time, both of which I love.

When I was working on a script set in New Orleans...I had to go research it in person. Had to. Wouldn’t you? I wanted it to be real and how could I make it real without actually tasting the food at Commander’s Palace? Winking smile

But what about writing about professions or places that I have no first-hand contact with, well, it’s research and again you go to primary sources when you can. Example: I’m not a doctor so I ask doctors how certain symptoms might be treated, what meds would be used, etc. As for places I haven’t been, well, sometimes I try to go, but if I can’t it’s back to the internet drawing board.

So if I had to pick one winner, it would be the internet. The world is at your fingertips.

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Bouchercon2015_logoLargewAnthony -- Smaller-Sharpened JPGIt’s still not too late to read all the 2015 Anthony Award nominated short stories:

The five Anthony nominees in the Short Story category are Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, John Shepphird, our own Art Taylor...and me, Paul D. Marks. I’m honored to be among these people and their terrific stories.

I want to thank everyone who voted for us in the first round. And if you’re eligible to vote, people attending Bouchercon can vote at the convention until 1pm Saturday.

I hope you’ll take the time to read all five of the stories and vote. All are available free here – just click the link and scroll down to the short story links:

But even if you’re not eligible to vote, I hope you’ll take the time to read the stories. I think you’ll enjoy them and maybe get turned onto some new writers.

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And now for the usual shameless BSP:

Coast to Coastx_1500 (1)NEW from Down & Out Books – Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea – an anthology of short mystery stories, chocked full of major award-winning authors, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks (Me!)

Released on 10/1 (that’s yesterday for those without a calendar, so hot off the presses)

“Envelope-pushers! A truly WOW collection by the best mystery writers out there – full of surprises only they can pull off.”
—Thomas B. Sawyer, Bestselling author of Cross Purposes, Head-Writer of Murder, She Wrote

With a Killer Cast Including:

4 Time Edgar Winner William Link • Grand Master Bill Pronzini • Scribner Crime Novel Winner William G. Tapply • Shamus Winner Paul D. Marks • EQMM Readers Award Winner Robert S. Levinson • Al Blanchard Award Winner James T. Shannon • Derringer Award Winner Stephen D. Rogers • Sherlock Holmes Bowl Winner Andrew McAleer and other poisoned-pen professionals like Judy Copek • Sheila Lowe • G. B. Pool • Thomas Donahue

Available in paperback and Kindle e-book on Amazon.  Click here to go to Amazon.

***       ***       ***

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mooching about and gawping

I get quite intimidated when people start talking about research. A writing friend said only last week that he doesn't read as much fiction as he'd like to because he always reading books for research. I nodded and smiled and changed the subject.

The last time I read a reference book for research was three of my own books back. I read No Mean City, the classic expos-ay (can't find the e-acute symbol) of (some say hatchet job on) 1930s Glasgow, for Dandy Gilver and The Unpleasantness in The Ballroom.

Since then I've written Quiet Neighbors (May 2016), Dandy Gilver and Some Nuns (working title) and am halfway through The New Book (barely working title) without cracking a single volume.

What I have done - and this answers the other half of the question - is trumph about and stare at stuff, sniffing the air and listening to the birdsong. Quiet Neighbors is set in Wigtown - Scotland's book town - and I spent four days down there last summer, during the annual book festival. A casual observer might have thought I was stoned, or trying to remember if I'd turned the oven off, as I dawdled up and down the streets of the town, sat on benches, looked out from the harbourside and watched the clouds roll by.

Wigtown 2014
My research into the nuns was even more aimless. I set the fictional convent (and a nearby insane asylum) on the Lanark Moor. It doesn't even have streets or anywhere for a tractor to idle while the driver gets his morning paper. The sum total of my research for the nuns was me standing on the moor, with the wind blasting my cheeks, thinking of how to describe the sound of it in the dry grasses and what the shade of the hills could be called. (Jenny Milchman, incidentally, described it perfectly in As Night Falls. She was talking about the Adirondacks in winter, but it would do for Scotland in summer: "a landscape the colour of potato peelings".)

Of course, the internet is great for swooping in and answering little questions, but you have to be careful. I researched traditional nun's clothing: guimpe, cap, wimple, robe, scapula . . . but I had a scene in the convent laundry and I wanted to know what they might wear underneath that could be being boiled in the copper. People: never put "nun's underwear" into Google. Trust me