Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Moveable Inspiration

Who do you count as your early-on writing inspirations when you were getting started. Has that changed over time? How? Why? 

by Paul D. Marks

HemingwayLoebMy writing inspirations are all over the place. Initially, I aspired to be a latter-day Hemingway, sitting on the Left Bank, sipping absinthe, chatting with my literary buddies. I wanted to live the romantic, adventurous life that Hemingway describes in A Moveable Feast. Yes, I liked his clipped and concise writing style, and his philosophy of the clean, well-lighted place, as well as the eponymous story, but I also loved the idea of that writer's life and lifestyle – so his influence is, or was, as much about the writer's lifestyle as his writing style. But when I tried it, drinking and writing, I just wanted to play – got no work done. Along with Hemingway comes Fitzgerald. Stylistically different, the two just naturally fit together, at least in my mind. One of my favorites stories is still Hemingway's short story, Soldier's Home, which I read every year or two.

But my writing influences don't only come from books and authors. I've always loved movies, uh, films, since before I could walk. And a lot of my writing has been influenced by them. I saw anything and everything I could, especially on the big screen. And though there's been a lot of influence from the movies in my work, from Frank Capra and screwball comedies to Alfred Hitchcock's suspense tales, and more modern directors like Martin Scorsese and even John Dahl, the thing that's stuck with me the most is film noir. I think I'm addicted, intervention needed.

I'm also one of those people who, while everyone else is leaving the theatre, is standing there, craning my neck around them, to see the credits. I've always been interested in who wrote a movie and, if it was based on a book, who wrote that.

So from this jumping off point, I began reading James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and other writers whose works were turned into noir or mystery movies. One of my favorites is  David Goodis (right), whose novel Dark Passage, was made into a movie with Bogie and Bacall. Having watched and liked that movie, I began reading Goodis, starting with the book that that movie was based on. But my favorite Goodis is Down There, made into the movie Shoot the Piano Player by Francois Truffaut. I have to say, though, that I'm not a fan of the movie, but the original book is terrific if you like down and dirty noir stories. Goodis has been called the "poet of the losers" by Geoffrey O'Brien, and his stories deal with failed lives and people who are definitely on the skids. They're often people who weren't always in this position though and the interesting part is seeing how they deal with their downfall – not always so well.

Along with film noir, the early hardboiled writers (though there is some crossover) have influenced my mystery-noir sensibility: Chandler, Cain, Hammett, Dorothy B. Hughes, etc. Along with these writers comes John Fante, although I'm not sure Fante would fit either the noir or hardboiled categories. Nonetheless his thinly disguised autobiographical tales of a struggling writer's life in early 20th century L.A. made enough of an impression on me that I wrote to him shortly before he died.

Later on I was drawn to Ross MacDonald with his psychological insights and James Ellroy with his corrupt and sultry grittiness. But for me Chandler, with his elegant descriptions, metaphors, characters, depiction of the mean streets and his ville fatale relationship with Los Angeles, will always be on top, as high above everyone else in his field as the Beatles are in theirs. They are sui generis, in classes by themselves.

What draws me to these writers and the noir and mystery genre in books and films is that they're about the other side of the American Dream. There's an inner core of darkness and corruption in society, a feeling of fear and paranoia. There's a moral ambiguity in the writings of most of these writers and in these films. They are the equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting (another major influence on my writing) with its cold light and shadows, filled with a sense of alienation and angst.

In much of noir and some hardboiled writing (and there is often, though not always a difference between the two) there's no sense of redemption, but much betrayal. No good guys, just bad guys and worse guys. The hero is flawed. People's own flaws and weaknesses create their fallibility and ultimately lead to their downfall. I think this appeals to me in the sense that it's a realistic, though often pessimistic and cynical, view of society. And in my own writing, both in my novel White Heat and many of my short stories, the characters are flawed, the situations ambiguous.

And now to throw a monkey wrench into the works, my two favorite books of all time are not hardboiled or noir, but both have influenced me in many ways. They are The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham and The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas. The former because I relate to the character of Larry Darrell on a lot of levels, his disillusionment after the war (WWI), and his search for peace and meaning in life. And the latter because it's the ultimate revenge story and revenge is so satisfying, served cold or otherwise.

As to whether or not my inspirations have changed over time, the answer is not really. The old ones are still there, but new ones get added to the list all the time, everyone and everything from Walter Mosely, Carol O'Connell and Michael Connelly, to movies like Ghost World and Pulp Fiction.

And finally, the other early – and continuing – inspiration for my writing, as much as any writers or movies, is the City of Angels itself. I remember it well enough from when I was a kid that it still resembled Chandler's L.A. And later, my friend Linda and I would drive around the city, heading out in all directions, searching out the old buildings and the ghosts of old L.A.

L.A. is my own ville fatale. She is my mistress and a harsh mistress, indeed. But she is also my muse. But that's a whole 'nother story for the sequel.

Angels-flight-LA (1)

(Originally posted on 7 Criminals Minds Blog)

Thursday, November 19, 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
(reprinted from

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 BuckBarb GoffmanJohn 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.

***       ***       ***

Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter

Please join me on Facebook: and  Twitter: @PaulDMarks

And check out my updated website

Sunday, June 21, 2015


My noir-thriller novella Vortex is just about ready to go – finally. Advance Readers Copies are available. Anyone interested in checking it out please let me know by e-mail. Hey, it’s short, you can read it in a couple of hours.

Zach Tanner is on the run. He can run from the war, but he can’t run from himself.

Zach and his girlfriend, Jess, careen down Sunset Boulevard, trying to get away from a red Camaro that’s hot on their tail. But it’s hard to get away from your best friends, who think you’ve stolen their spoils of war.

Praise for Vortex:
"Noir, Thy Name is Paul D. Marks
Marks is an authority on all things noir and L.A., and he knows how to give this contemporary tale the kick of a double shot of whiskey straight up. Chandler and Cain have found their heir."
                                                 —Jon Bloch / Criminologist and
 author of  “Identity Thief”
 and “Shadow Language”  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

Have you ever killed off a character you loved?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, I've certainly wanted to kill off a lot of 'characters' I've come across in my life, but we're talking fiction here. The answer is yes. Killing off a character that you like is never easy.  We all love killing the bad guys, seeing them get their just desserts. But when you kill off a sympathetic character, a character that you and your readers like and, who is a good guy and good friend to your protagonist, well, that's another story.  But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do for the sake of the plot and the story and a dash of realism.

Gaby, a character in my story Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne, set around the time of the Zoot Suit Riots during World War II, is missing. He's a friend of Bobby's, the story's main character.  And someone who knows Bobby's deepest secrets. But knowing them, he is sympathetic to Bobby and a friend to him.  So when he goes missing, Bobby wants to find out what happened.  And it isn't pretty. And though Gaby meets an untimely end, I liked the character.  So when I wrote The Blues Don't Care, a novel that "stars" Bobby in the main role, I resurrected Gaby to return in that story, which is set previous to the time of Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne. So, sometimes through the magic of fiction you can bring back a character that you like.  (This novel is not yet available.)

My short story Free Fall starts off with the main character, Rick, free falling to his death from a high-rise apartment in L.A.  So I'm not really giving anything away here. This was an interesting experiment for me as both the writer and reader know the main character, the narrator of the story, is dead from the beginning.  As the ground comes screaming towards him and in those few seconds before hitting, we get his story.  Having started this story off knowing my main character was going to die, I didn’t have time to become too attached to him, at least initially.  But, as I wrote his backstory, I started to like him and empathize with him and I think that gave the story a little more depth and interest as we realize all the events that led up to him taking this ultimate final step.

Spoiler Alert – Don't read this graph if you're planning to read White Heat: Probably the most heartrending death of a character both for me and my readers was the death of a dog in this novel. It's ironic because just a week or two before I got this question I read something that said you never kill a dog in a cozy.  Well, this book is about as far from a cozy as you can get.  Still, it was hard on my audience and I got a lot of feedback on that. Some people couldn't even read those parts.  And it was hard for me to kill him off.  But it did make people hate the bad guy even more – after all, who kills a dog?  I don't like the idea of hurting a dog anymore than anyone else.  But you do what works for the plot.  And in this case I thought it would jolt the reader into connecting with the characters in a more real way.  Suddenly the bad guy is really evil and the hero more sympathetic. Is that manipulative – maybe.  But isn't all writing?  Still, it hurt to write those scenes and you just feel it all well up inside you as you write. It was also hard on me because the real-life dog that the dog-character was based on was a dog I'd had as a kid.  Luckily that rascally dog lived to a ripe old age. End of Spoiler.

Killing off the characters in the three cases that I mention above worked for each particular story.  And you do what you have to do to make the story work.  But that doesn't mean you don't regret it sometimes. In one particular screenplay of mine, that was optioned over and over but never produced, I kill off the main character's sidekick buddy.  But I really liked that character and since it hasn't been produced, well, maybe it's not too late to save his ass.

(originally posted on 7 Criminal Minds blog)

Friday, September 5, 2014


Today I welcome mystery author and former private detective G.B. Pool to my blog. She’s
responding to the Meet My Character blog tour.

Besides having worked as P.I., she was once a newspaper reporter for a small town weekly. She writes short stories as well as two detective series, one featuring Johnny Casino, an ex-mobster, and also Gin Caulfield, an over fifty gal who’s still packing heat. G.B. teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story,” ”How To Write Convincing Dialogue,” and “How To Write a Killer Opening Line.” Website:

Here her character Col. Robert Mackenzie from her Spy Game trilogy tells us a little about himself and the series.

1) Please state your name. Are you a fictional character or an historic person?

My name is Colonel Robert Mackenzie. I’m a spymaker. As for whether this is fictional or not, let me put it this way: The facts are true. The rest is made up.

2) When and where is the story set?

The Odd Man starts out during World War II when my plane was shot down over Germany and I ended up working with German resistance fighters, anyway, that’s who they said they were. I was suspicious. I followed the head guy, Gunter Beyer, one night after I misunderstood what he had said to his beautiful wife, Monika. We ran into some real Nazis soldiers and I realized I had made a huge mistake. And had it not been for Monika following me, we’d all be dead.

Then Gunter and I got caught in the firebombing of Hamburg. Next, we helped Danish resistance with the escape plans for Niels Bohr who was then spirited out of Denmark on his way to Los Alamos.

I finished out the war in London working for ‘’Wild Bill” Donovan and the OSS. I went back to the States after the war and ended up teaching a school for spies, first out of SAC, then with the newly formed CIA. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

3) What else should we know about you?

When I was lying in beautiful Monika’s bed, burning up with fever, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Then I woke up and realized she was just taking care of me and I figured my life was over. I was young; there was a war going on. Stuff like that happens. But Monika, a gypsy by birth who was spared the concentration camps when Gunter stole her away from her tyrannical father, told me I had a future. She could see it in my eyes. I laughed. Then years passed and I realized she had been right. My future was in the spygame. I was one of the best damn spies there was and better still, I could train men and a few women to be part of the last defense against tyranny coming ashore. Little did I know at the beginning, but the enemy often comes from within.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up your life?

After the war I went back to the States, finished college, and the Korean War broke out. This time I go back in the service as an instructor. I teach a lot of brass hats in the military how to beat the enemy by using my chess game theory: Know the enemy and be six moves ahead.

They let me have my own training camp in a secret location where I trained guys to blend in to their surroundings – foreign or domestic. I teach them well and my first group goes off to Berlin in the early Sixties.

When my pipe-line is blown a few years later, the survivors and I try to figure out who betrayed us. While we are looking toward the Soviet Union and East Germany, our prey is actually in Washington, D.C., polishing his political résumé. Greed and arrogance would have him stop at nothing, even selling out his country, to achieve the biggest prize of them all.

5) What is your personal goal?

My goal: Learn as much about the enemy as you can and then beat him with every trick in the book. We don’t have a choice.

6) And a question to the author: When can we expect the book to be published?

The SPYGAME Trilogy comes out in 2015.

The first book, The Odd Man, is just as Robert Mackenzie described it.

clip_image004The second book, Dry Bones begins at the 30th high school reunion of a group of people who graduated from an American military boarding school in France. Held in Sin City, Las Vegas, a handful of former friends unearth old memories and old murders.
The Premise: Someone wants to prevent the remains of a former classmate killed in Vietnam from being returned during the reunion. Hint: The school was a recruiting ground for CIA operatives who went to Vietnam during the 60’s and 70’s.

Master spymaker Robert Mackenzie and writer Elaine Barton put the pieces of this puzzle together by digging up bones in the catacombs of the old deconsecrated monastery in France where Elaine went to school, uncovering the real story of two mysterious classmates whose father, Etienne LeBlanc, had been a notorious drug dealer, and by discovering the true history of an antique dealer in Saigon who knows where most of the bodies are buried.

Switched identities and phony pasts entangle lives from Vietnam to France, all linked by an enigmatic man named Tran Van Quang and a jade Saint.

clip_image005Star Power, the final novel in the SPYGAME Trilogy, traces the activities of a world-famous actress, Irene Roman, who is a Soviet agent. She started her career in the 1950’s, when the McCarthy Era was captivating America and she uses her beauty and prominence to infiltrate many areas usually closed to the average Joe.

Her agent, Michael Walsh, part of the Popular Front movement in the 30’s and 40’s, recruited several stars for Party work as well as for their acting. He used a dumb little blonde named Estelle Murray until she learned too much about a plan to do more than infiltrate the movie industry with communist propaganda.

To push forward the Front's agenda, Walsh blackmails a script reader from MGM , Lillian Pritchard, a bit of a lush, who has an illegitimate son by a famous Hollywood screenwriter, Sidney Berman. Lillian is the only intelligent person in Walsh's life besides the fellow-traveling intelligentsia who are trying to make a statement in American movies.

The commies are more than willing to let the Hollywood Left write anything they want, just send all that lovely money back to Moscow. Irene arrives on the scene when more than money is required. She marries a rising star in Hollywood to get her foot in the door, followed by a few other famous men whom she uses. She even names a name during the HUAC hearings. Talk about your red herrings. She even marries the handsome American Ambassador to India to try to disrupt Chinese-Russian relations during the Vietnam War.

Master spymaker, Robert Mackenzie, runs into her several times around the world, once in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring. Because she looks like an old love, he finds it hard to get her out of his mind, but when he finds out she’s a spy, he decides to use her to America’s advantage.
Irene and her cronies want to oversee the ruination of America by weakening the moral and mental fabric of the country. Her final gambit is to assume the seat of a dead U.S. Senator in a fixed election and press to have America capitulate when a threat is uncovered that could destroy major parts of North America. Can Mac and his team stop this before it’s too late?


Thank you, Gayle!

And now Gayle is tagging writers Matt Coyle and Joel Fox to carry on the Meet My Character Blog Hop.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Hop

I was tagged by the terrific and talented Michael W. Sherer to participate in the Meet My Character blog tour/hop.  Michael recently posted his, and you should check it out:

Mike is the Thriller Award-nominated, best-selling author of Night Blind, the first in the Seattle-based Blake Sanders thriller series, which was also named a best book of 2012 by The Examiner’s “Miami Books.” Mike has published six novels in the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series and a stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, which was a USA Book News “Best Books” award-winner in 2008.

So here’s my answers to the Character Blog Hop questions:

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

storm2 Zach Tanner is a fictional character in my stand-alone novella Vortex. Zach is, or was, a cocky guy who joined the National Guard with three of his high school buddies. But after his tour in Afghanistan some of that cockiness has been knocked out of him, big time.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story is set in Los Angeles in the present, or at least the not-too-distant past. It begins with a flash open of a chase on Pacific Coast Highway. Zach and his high school sweetheart, Jess, are being chased by a hot red Camaro. Jess wants Zach to talk to their pursuers: He responds: “We can't go back. Don't you understand, they'll kill us.” “They're your friends,” she says. "Yeah," Zach says, then thinks to himself: ‘The first rule of war is know your enemy. And I knew mine, too well—or maybe not well enough.’ —And that’s the problem, the people chasing him are his friends—or were.

3) What should we know about him/her?

Zach and his three buddies enlisted together. Served together. Did some bad shit together and thought their bond would never break. But war changed Zach more than he could ever imagine. And maybe it changed his buds too, but in the opposite way. Now the former best friends are enemies. And the collateral damage could be Jess or Zach’s brother or his new love.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Don’t want to give too much away. But: Zach and his buds set something in motion while in Afghanistan that has major repercussions on their return home. Zach has a change of heart...but his buddies don’t.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

His immediate goal is to protect his girlfriend, Jess, and get them away from his former pals, who think they might know something. His long term goal is to put it all behind them and live a normal life, after this chain of events that might end up taking several lives.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

Vortex. And, unfortunately nothing more yet, but stay tuned for further updates.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

Not sure. Hopefully not too distant future.

I’ve tagged three terrific authors to carry on the bunny, I mean blog hop:

Max Everhart is the author of Go Go Gato, a terrific debut mystery. He writes and reviews mysteries, crime thrillers and detective fiction, when playing hooky from teaching English and Creative Writing.

Jan Grape is an Anthony award-winning writer with a successful mystery series and more than two dozen short stories to her credit. Her novels include, Austin City Blue and Dark Blue Death, both featuring Austin Police detective, Zoe Barrow.

G.B. Pool (Gayle Bartos-Pool) is a former private detective and once a newspaper reporter for a small town weekly. She writes short stories as well as two detective series, one featuring Johnny Casino, an ex-mobster, and also Gin Caulfield, an over fifty gal who’s still packing heat. G.B. teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story,” ”How To Write Convincing Dialogue,” and “How To Write a Killer Opening Line.” Website: .

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Thriller Award nominee Michael Sherer tagged me to join the Writing Process Blog Hop. Check out Mike's writing process at . And at the end of this post I will tag four other authors who will post about their writing process on their blogs on June 2nd: Craig Faustus Buck, Stephen Campbell, Mark Danielson, and Dianne Emley.

It's always interesting to see different authors' processes. Everybody does it differently, so here goes:

clip_image0021. What am I working on?

Since the sequel to White Heat is done and that, along with another novel, are with an agent, I'm working on a couple of different things. Two novellas right now. One for a publisher that specializes in novellas and the other one is just for me, at least for now.

The first is a hardboiled, noirish story of a soldier coming back from the war in Afghanistan. While there he and his buddies pull a fast one and now that they're back they find their scam is catching up to them in more ways than one.

The other novella is a mystery, more of a mainstream mystery than hardboiled or noir. But it does have an unusual angle in that it's all set in one location. And that created some challenges, but half the fun is overcoming those challenges. I guess you could call it "high concept".

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

We all bring a part of ourselves to whatever we write, so my personal experiences color everything I write, as every other writer's experiences color what they write.

There's really nothing new under the sun if we want to be honest. It might hurt our egos a bit, but it's been said that there are five (or seven, depending on who's talking) basic plots and they were all done by Shakespeare a long time ago. So what makes any of our works different is what we bring to them, the little pieces of ourselves that we insert, the insights, our personal and life experiences.

Even when just doing a work-for-hire rewrite job, I will do it differently than the next person because of who I am. So what makes my story and novel writing different? I think my characters live in a world of grays rather than black and white. Most of my characters are flawed, nobody wears the proverbial white hat, more so they wear a "gray" hat.

Also, several of my lead characters are people out of "time"—not in the sense that time is running out, although maybe that too—but in the sense that time has passed them by. They are "dinosaurs," living in the present in their bodies but their minds are in the past and they look at the world from that perspective. They have to adjust to the way things are today, and sometimes that isn't so easy. Often, my characters are not just "out of time," but also out of place, not quite fitting into the world in which they live.

clip_image004And in my story Angels Flight, from the collection L.A. Late @ Night, Tom Holland, the main character and an LAPD cop, is definitley out of his element in both time and place when he's assigned to work with a community liason from the mayor's office, who is about as opposite from him as anyone can be.

They are also often haunted by the past. In White Heat, the main character, Duke, is haunted by his past and all the mistakes he has made and continues to make. Bobbie in The Blues Don’t Care, the other novel I mentioned that's with the agent, is out of place in the sense of not fitting in with 1940’s American society.

3. Why do I write what I do?

'Cause I don't know anything about making frappés. The cartoon character Popeye says, "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam." And it's true, what else can we be, what else can we do? And what else can we write, if not what speaks to us personally?

I write a variety of things, but most would fall into the mystery genre or one of its sub-genres. That said, I've had over 30 short stories published. Some are mainstream, some humorous or satirical and many are noir or hardboiled stories. So to try to come up with a unified field theory that would apply to all of them: I write what I do because I’m trying to understand something or get a question answered. Something that puzzles me or intrigues me or bothers me. Even in my mysteries, at least most of them, I’m trying not just to solve the mystery but to explore some aspect of society and/or the characters. To see where they and we are coming from and where they and we are going. Sometimes the road isn't pretty or has a lot of potholes, but at least I can learn something from the journey.

For example, in my story Dead Man's Curve, from the Last Exit to Murder anthology, there is a mystery and a dead body. But the part that interests me the most is the main character, Ray Hood's, bumpy road to (hopeful and possible) redemption, which occurs in the context of trying to solve the mystery, but to me is the much more interesting aspect of the story.
I also tend to write a lot about, or at least set a lot of stories in, Los Angeles. My family goes back here longer than most and it's a city that intrigues me, both in terms of its reality and its literary and movie heritage. It's a place that lives both in the past and the present and, especially, the future. There are still, though fading fast, remnants of the old L.A. of my grandparents and then there's the new L.A. that's hip and trendy and that dichotomy of the old and new, the "in" and "out" is what intrigues me and inspires much of my writing.

4. How does my writing process work?

clip_image010I'm what's commonly referred to as a "pantster"—I write by the seat of my pants, at least for the first draft or two. I basically sit down at the computer and let it fly. Whatever comes comes—stream of consciousness and I don't care how good or bad it is or how much will be kept or cut. But I do get to know the characters and story this way. I have a basic idea for a story before I start, maybe even some notes for characters, scenes or other bits in my head or written down. But I hate outlining. I just don't think in those terms. And I usually do my first draft in screenplay format. Like:

Joe runs from several men dressed in black Ninja outfits. They look out
of place on the beach, but Joe really looks out of place with his black tie
and tails running along the water's edge.

And the above is probably even more detailed than I would get in my first draft. It's mostly just the scene setting, in this case the beach, and dialogue, that goes down the middle of the page, plus maybe a little action. Little to no description.

So, in eseence, that screenplay draft is my outline, but it's also a story with dialogue and as bare as it is it's more fleshed out than a true outline.

And I may or may not keep much, most, any of it. But it's a start. But for me the real writing comes in the rewriting phases. That's where all the fine tuning and polishing and hopefully the magic happens. With each draft you see a clearer picture and everything starts to come into focus.

I've seen other people who labor over each word and sentence as they go along so they probably don't have as much revising to do. But for me, that's where it all really starts to take shape. I pretty much let it fly in the early drafts and the real shaping, honing, fine tuning, polishing, come together in the revising. I might have ten drafts – or more – on a project, but some of them may have only have a handful of changes while others have wholesale changes in plot, character and incidents, all of which need to 'come together' in 'the end'.

The worst part of the revision phase is that it's an endless process, because every time you read the story, even if it's been published, you find holes that need plugging and things that you want to change, from small things like typos, to major things like plot points and characters. And no matter how many times you go over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb, no matter how many times other people go over it, you will always miss something, even after it's published.

And so with this blog I’m sure I’ll find something that I wish I’d said differently, but luckily once I post it it’s done and I have to leave it alone ….or maybe just one more tweak?


And now I’m handing off to four other fine writers (in alphabetical order), who will tell you about their processes next Monday, June 2nd:

Craig Faustus Buck is an L.A.-based journalist, nonfiction book author, TV writer-producer, screenwriter, short-story writer and novelist. Among his six nonfiction books, two were #1 NYT bestsellers. He wrote the Oscar-nominated short film Overnight Sensation. He was one of the writers on the seminal miniseries V: The Final Battle. His first noir mystery novel, Go Down Hard, which his agent is currently shopping, was First Runner Up for Killer Nashville's Claymore Award. His indie feature, Smuggling for Gandhi, is in preproduction. Stark Raving Group published his novella, Psycho Logic in May, and the novella's prequel, his short story "Dead End," is a current Anthony Award nominee.


Stephen Campbell was born and raised in Ohio, but after two blizzards in a single winter decided that enough was enough and moved to Florida to pursue his dream of becoming Travis McGee. While failing miserably at living the life of a boat bum doing favors for friends he did manage to graduate from the University of South Florida and stumble his way into the software business. Stephen loves reading fiction of all types, but most enjoys mysteries and thrillers.  His first full-length novel, Hunters Gamble, will be published in 2014.

Pilot/novelist Mark W. Danielson has been flying and writing most of his life.  Seeing his small article printed in a 1972 newspaper led to his having over one hundred non-fiction articles and five mystery novels published.  Twice-selected as the US Navy’s top aviation safety author while on active duty, he now flies as an international airline pilot, spending much his time away writing.  Spectral Gallows, the latest in his Fort Worth Homicide Detective Maxx Watts series, takes Watts and partner Blaine Spartan into the paranormal world at the haunted Scott Theater to solve a decades-old hanging.  Please visit


Dianne Emley is a Los Angeles Times bestselling author and has received critical acclaim for her Detective Nan Vining thrillers, including The First Cut and Love Kills, and the Iris Thorne mysteries including Pushover.  Her standalone, paranormal thriller, The Night Visitor, will be published 9/16/14. Her short stories have been published in Literary Pasadena and other anthologies and her books have been translated into six languages.  A Los Angeles native, she lives in the Central California wine country with her husband.  “Emley masterfully twists, turns, and shocks.” —Tess Gerritsen
Twitter: @DianneEmley