Category Archives: Stephen Jay Schwartz

AND IN THE END

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

 

And in the end

the love you take

is equal to

the love

you make

 

These powerful words

from the Beatles

Their last statement, on their final album, Abbey Road.

Let it Be was released later, but recorded earlier.

Abbey Road, their final thoughts. Life and music and politics and love. Kinda like the final thoughts of a bunch of authors I know.

And what a beautiful, complex set of songs the Beatles left for us in Abbey Road. From the whimsical Octopus’s Garden to the dark, atonal Because, and the long medley that begins with You Never Give Me Your Money and climaxes at The End, with wild tangents along the way, growing, evolving, escalating toward those final words, the words that sum it all up, that boil it down to the essential truth: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

When I was in college, in music school, I used to skip my sight-singing & ear-training class and hide in the campus music library where I listened to Abbey Road, over and over and over again. Upon receiving my D in the class, my instructor asked me why I rarely showed up. I told him what I’d been doing. He stared into space for a moment, then nodded. “I can see that,” he said. “You picked good teachers.”

The Beatles were diverse, ever-changing, impossible to categorize, and full of surprises.

When I look at the seven-year life of Murderati I can’t help but think about the music of The Beatles. Billed as a site where mystery-thriller authors marketed their books and shared stories about their adventures in publishing, Murderati grew into something more, a collection of diverse voices sharing their opinions on everything under the stars. Filled with surprises, Murderati was diverse, ever-changing and impossible to categorize. Exactly the kind of organization/disorganization I can relate to. And, like The Beatles, the members of Murderati are deliciously talented. I’ve sat amazed and overwhelmed by the insightful discussion I’ve read here. The dialogue and dialectic. It’s the Algonquin Round Table of the mystery sect, and I feel fortunate and honored to have had a spot in the room.

I’m lucky I got in when I did, to have a few years to write my 111 blogs. A number, by the way, that has always been magical for me. Three ones. It has become a tradition in my family to wish each other “Happy Anniversary!” each time we see the clock change to 1:11. It began with my wife and I after we took a romantic trip to Santa Fe and spent an evening at Ten Thousand Waves in a hot tub under the stars. The number on the door to our private room was 111. The “Happy Anniversary” was our little ritual and it spread to the kids when the kids came ’round.

So, it’s seems symbolic that my final blog for Murderati is 111.

I’ve always loved the fact that Murderati was a living thing, a place where artists moved into and out of. Authors came and went, but their words remained. It’s refreshing to know that the words will always be there, archived, for us to reference years into the future. Murderati remains as a testament to our time, to the world of publishing as it was. It’s a fascinating freeze-frame of the state of our art as things moved into the digital age. The excitement and fear of this moment are captured in our postings. Murderati exists as an historical reference to one of the greatest times of change ever experienced in the world of publishing.

I’m glad a number of past authors have come by to say goodbye. These are the folks who were here before and during my time, and I’ve missed their voices on the blog. It feels like a family reunion.

I only feel sorry that the site can’t continue as it has these past seven years, so that current readers of the blog could experience the joy of becoming Murderati bloggers themselves. It seems unfair to them, most of all.

I will miss this place.

But it doesn’t have to be so serious and sad. Even The Beatles, with their heavy message at the end, let us know that the final word, after the final word, was something else entirely.

Fourteen seconds after the end of The End comes the strike of a chord and the start of a silly little ditty called Her Majesty. A slap-happy, tongue-in-cheek drinking song that ends on the upbeat of an incomplete measure and reminds us that The Beatles, as deep and inventive as they were, simply wanted to have fun.

Because, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

I hope you’ve all had fun here. I have. I hope you’ve allowed yourself the opportunity to be silly and whimsical. I certainly have. Sometimes humor offers the greatest insight. After all, it’s the flip-side of tragedy, and no one knows that better than the authors and readers of the mystery-thriller community.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the yellow submarine has arrived, and there’s room for one more.

Happy Anniversary!

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(Remember to pop by this weekend for postings by past-Murderati authors)

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Oh, and if you’re going to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC this weekend, I’ll be moderating a panel called “Crime Fiction: Secrets and Spies” with Philip Kerr, Eric Van Lustbader and Tom Epperson on Sunday at 12:30.  And I’ll be signing at the Book Soup booth, also on Sunday, at 3:00 pm.  Hope to see you there!

PENULTIMATE

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

It’s not quite the last but almost the last. It’s the second to last. Penultimate.

I’ve always loved the word and yet never fully utilized it. Well, it gets its due today.

I was thinking about writing something entirely different. Something to keep us from dwelling on the fate of Murderati.

Then I thought, no.

Let’s talk about Murderati. It doesn’t have to be sad. It can be nostalgic.

I don’t know what I’ll write about next week, in my ultimate blog entry. I’ll save that for next Thursday night. I hope I leave something to be said.

What I can say now, what I want to say now, is that I’ll miss this place. It’s been very, very good to me. My entire author journey began here and a good part of the reason my opinion means something somewhere is due to the fact that I have a platform here on Murderati.

When I started on Murderati, when JT asked me to split her time, when Alex and Brett and others voted to bring me on, I wasn’t even published. I was set to be published and the above-mentioned authors had read and blurbed my ARC. But no one knew who the hell I was. So I had about three full months to do this thing called “blog” before Boulevard was released. And that blogging helped create a fan base for my work that resulted in some pretty hefty pre-sales numbers. I remember one comment I received on Murderati – still a month or so before my release date. The commenter said, “If Schwartz’s novel is as good as his blog I’m going to love it!” Murderati gave me a community before I even entered the scene.

And, along the way, Murderati created some amazing opportunities. The PR person for James Ellroy’s TV show found me and Allison Brennan through Murderati and invited us both to join Ellroy on his bus tour of historic, L.A. crime scenes. We spent three hours in a bus with fifteen journalists (we were the only authors) while Ellroy led our private tour. I was also invited to speak at the Omega Institute by an administrator who read our blogs. I’ve been invited to speak all over the country by readers who found my voice through Murderati.

I’ve met heros and personal saviors through Murderati as well, like Allison Davis, who helped me out of a serious bind when I was caught between jobs, and Toni McGee Causey, who recently arrived to help me through yet another fine mess I found myself in. Murderati brought me together with my old friend and past college RA Brett Battles, who became quite the mentor during my debut year.

Murderati has also allowed me to celebrate the work of some very good artists through Wild Card Tuesday interviews. I’ve introduced friends like film director Blair Hayes, film director Kevin Lewis, author Sean Black, photographer Eraj Asadi, film and TV manager David Baird and many others to our unique readership. I hope in some way these interviews have benefitted them, as they’ve certainly benefitted us.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work alongside such wonderful, wonderful, talented individuals as David, Gar, Zoe, PD, Alex, Pari, Martyn, JT, Brett, Dusty, Rob, Tess, Alafair, Cornelia, Jonathan, Toni, and the lovely Louise. And not just the other authors, but the readers, too. Reine, Lisa Alper, KD, Larry Gasper, Richard Maguire, Shizuka, Sarah W, Allison Davis, Fran, Stacy, Stephen D. Rogers, Philip, Lil, Susan Shea, Susan from SF, and so many others…I apologize if I didn’t include everyone’s name. You guys have been my sounding-board and first-responders.

Murderati is also where I’ve done some of my very best work. It has allowed me to stretch my fingers a bit, to write outside of the “dark, sex-addicted homicide detective” box. Here I can be fun, playful, autobiographical, snarky, and sometimes downright silly. I’ve had the opportunity to explore the growth of my children and to celebrate the daily wisdoms they pass my way. I’ve explored my attitude towards society and examined the weight it brings on the writer’s soul. Murderati has been my soap box and forum. Overall, the exercise of writing two blogs a month has made me a better writer. I really can’t thank you enough.

And yet, the blog has blogged me down, too. It comes down to available time. Juggling a day job, a family, various writing projects, and running from the law takes most everything I have. Sometimes I have to choose between writing my book and writing my blog, and that’s when it gets tough. I have so little time for creative endeavors, I’ve got to make each moment count. Of course, now I won’t have any excuse not to write another novel. Hayden Glass Part III, coming your way.

And so….it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke after all.

I love you guys…I’ll be here until the end. I’ll save the tears for my final blog, Friday, April 19th. See you then.

 

WHY I LIKE WRITERS

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

Before I became an author and joined the community of authors I felt very much alone. Not so much in college, where I shared the artist dream with a community of dreamers who dreamed big because, well, they were in college and the world held so much possibility. No, it came after college when the dream began to fade, when the priority was to support first myself and then myself and my family through a variety of day jobs that others called “careers.”

I watched as my college peers took their own deconstructive paths, becoming car salesmen or temp workers or salesmen of one sort or another. I was the long hold-out for a long while, finding employment “within” the industry, in marketing and distribution at Disney Studios, in film development for Wolfgang Petersen. I seemed to be succeeding, but I wasn’t living my dream. I was still doing the “day job” while writing the dream at night and on weekends. The development gig was so invasive that I finally had to give it up. In roughly five years as a development executive I didn’t get any significant writing done. I had to leave the “creative” job and find a “normal” day job so I could create some time to write. Because, in the end, that’s what I do. I write. Writing is my career, even if it doesn’t pay my bills.

It took a lot to give up that high-profile film job. I had to really come to terms with what and who I was, and what the ultimate cost would be if I didn’t make the time to write. I had to realize that the ups and downs of the film business meant nothing to me. My head was somewhere else.

My head was in the story. The story that began when I woke up in the morning and paused when I went to work. The story that resumed after 5:00 pm and escalated into the night, until sleeping paused it again, or rather, shifted it into another gear, because dreaming was another form of writing. The story dominated my weekends and paused again at 9:00 Monday morning.

Why I like writers is they’re like-minded.

At all the day jobs I’ve had I’ve witnessed the petty machinations of office politics at work. It seems the more people involved in the process–customer service, inside sales, accounting, engineering, technical support, shipping–the more opportunity there is for back-biting, gossip and general chaos. People seem to need drama in their lives. People seem to need to be seen and heard and voice their opinions when their feelings are hurt, and then step on toes to assert their dominance. It’s high school all over again. It can be a full-time job just keeping up with who has the power and whose favor must be curried to stay in the game.

I’ve never participated in such office politics. It’s a drain on my creative energy. I don’t need the drama, because the drama is waiting for me when the work day is done. It’s on the page. It’s real drama, life-and-death drama, and the best thing about it is no one gets hurt.

Writers have more important things to do than dwell on their workplace version of Game of Thrones. And I think that tends to make us targets at the office. Because we won’t play the game. We’re outsiders, by definition. We sit on the outside and observe human behavior and translate our observations into believable, fictional characters. And sometimes we exact our revenge on characters who closely resemble characters in our daily lives, in our daily jobs. But it’s a private victory, and no one gets hurt.

The authors I’ve met since being published have instilled in me the confidence that I lacked when I was merely the “weird writer guy” at the office. I didn’t know a single author before I was published, and now I know thousands. It’s a community that gives me strength. I realize that I’m not the lonely dreamer, that there are tens of thousands of us, and each and every one has had to find his or her own way in a world where success is measured in dollars earned.

Writers live in the present and the future simultaneously. We sit at our computers presently, writing the story that will find it’s time in the future. We do our daily jobs in the present, but write an insurance policy for future happiness, when the book comes out and our dreams become reality.

Maybe the people who sit bickering at their day jobs, who ally themselves with others against a common enemy, who devour a co-worker’s reputation through continued picking and pecking, maybe these people see their day jobs as careers, and the hopeless realization of this truth is simply too much to bear. It would be too much for me. I, too, would be angry if I had to give up the dream. Because most people, when they’re kids, dream big. They want to be astronauts or firemen or super heros. When they become the tech support guy or customer sales associate for this or that company and realize that the road to NASA is closed, well, it can be a bitter pill. Then every little upset that occurs in the course of their day means the end of their world. Often they choose to bring others down with them, especially those who haven’t yet learned to let go of their dreams.

A writer’s world never ends. There’s always another story to be told. We’ll never live long enough to tell the stories we have to tell.

Our stories are simply more important than the workplace dramas that consume those around us.

And that’s why I like writers.

SELLING OUT

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

I grew up in the Seventies and in the Seventies artists didn’t expect to get rich being artists unless the artistic value of their work was magically discovered by the world or they did what most artists would never, ever consider doing: sell out.

Selling out meant they went commercial.

I remember my first encounter with the concept. It was in 1988, when Eric Clapton played “After Midnight” in the famous Michelob commercial that turned many of his fans against him. What was he thinking? Did he really need the money? Didn’t he have any integrity? These were the questions people were asking at the time.

I remember the scene in the movie The Doors. Jim Morrison came back from one of his black-out drinking binges to discover that the rest of the band sold the rights for “Light My Fire” to a car commercial. Jim was incensed. How could his bandmates have sold out like that? Nowadays, most bands would kill to sell their music rights to a television commercial.

The late Sixties, the Seventies. Antiestablishment years. Us against the man. The Man, represented by the cops, the politicians, and corporate America.

The Eighties saw the rise of a different kind of attitude. In the movie business the corporations took over and started developing content. Star Wars and Jaws began the trend, while films like Flashdance sealed the deal. Gone were the days of Apocalypse Now and Midnight Cowboy. At some point, making a big, popular movie wasn’t considered “selling out,” it was considered “making it.”

I’m not sure artists struggle with the concept anymore. I don’t hear people complaining about how their favorite musician, film-maker or author “sold out.” The only guy that comes to mind for me is Kenny G, who I mentioned in my last blog. He went from being a brilliant, unknown jazz fusion artist to a hugely successful brand name, playing simple, sappy elevator music for the masses. I really don’t believe he was playing the music he loved, I think he was playing the music that sold. In my humble opinion, of course.

I suppose it’s really up to the artist involved. If an author writes a purely commercial novel that he hates to write, just so he can widen his readership and make some money, has he “sold out?” Or has he simply given himself some breathing room, so the next time he can write the “special” novel that may or may not have a chance at gaining commercial success?

I tend to think that most authors I know write exactly the type of novels they want to write. Some try different genres in an effort to gain a foothold in new readership, but I don’t know if they see themselves as “selling out” when they do this.

Most authors I know just want to write for a living. They’ll write anything and everything in an effort to turn that dream into a reality. I do, however, know an author who turned down a high-paying ghostwriting assignment because the employer was a highly-annoying radio talk show host who didn’t share the author’s political views. I don’t know if the author would have considered himself a sell-out if he’d taken the job; I think he just realized that the money wasn’t worth the headache it would cause.

Personally, I’d love to only write books that I’m passionate about writing. I was passionate about writing Boulevard and Beat. When my agent told me to write a “bigger book,” something more “international in scope,” I struggled to find my way. It felt like I was trying to write for the market. And no one can predict the market. It felt like I was writing Hollywood screenplays again. I had to come back to myself to determine what I really wanted to write, something that may or may not be considered commercial or marketable. I only have so much time to devote to my writing and, in the end, I want to know that I really love what I’ve written. Maybe this is what keeps me from getting those juicy ghostwriting gigs. Not that I wouldn’t take them–because it’s work and I want to be a working writer. But if ghostwriting doesn’t pay enough to quit the day job, if all it does is take time from the projects I love, well, I’d rather let those opportunities go. I’ll keep the boring day job and write passionately, for myself, after hours. I guess these are the choices we make. As far as “selling out,” I don’t think I’ve found myself in a position where I can make a choice either way. I first have to establish a career from which to sell out. I’m working on that.

So, what do you think? Are there any authors, painters, dancers, musicians, actors, or film makers that you feel “sold out” in order to advance their careers? Does it even matter?

FACING THE MIRROR

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

It’s always good to do a little self-reflection now and again. I decided to Google questions about life, something to get me thinking about my priorities and how they’ve changed over the years. I found this little ditty on a site called TottalyTop10.com, under the title, Top Ten Questions for Discovering Your Life Purpose.

Q: If failure or money were not an issue, what would you do?

Schwartz: This is a great question because it removes the two biggest obstacles that keep us from following our dreams – fear of failure, and the fear that we can’t make a living doing the things we want to do in life.

When I was younger I would have answered that all I want to do is direct films. Now I’m not sure I’d want to play the Hollywood game, even if I could afford it. As they say, it’s lonely at the top. That said, I wouldn’t mind being an actor. I mean, if it were handed to me. If I didn’t have to suffer for it, year after year. And if I could act.

But the thing I long for, the thing that would provide me with a real sense of completeness…I’d love to work with gorillas in a nature preserve designed to help reintegrate them into the wild. I’d do the same with orangutans and Bonobo apes (the Bonobo is probably the smartest ape you’ll ever see, and the closest relative to humankind, sharing more than 98% of our DNA). All I ever really wanted to do as a kid was hang around animals. At my core, that’s still all I want to do. However, I don’t want to be murdered by poachers and I don’t want to see the wonderful animals I care for murdered by poachers and I’m not really sure I want to live in Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So, what I’m really looking for is a gorilla sanctuary located in Palos Verdes, California.

Q: What do people compliment you on or say you are good at?

 Schwartz: Communicating. Whether in writing, on the phone or in person. It spills over into the arts as well – communicating through music, writing and film making. I guess I love people about as much as I love animals. I’ve always loved hearing peoples’ stories and discovering the details of their journies through life.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

Schwartz: Reading books, watching movies. Hanging out with my wife and kids. Going to dog parks – sometimes I go to the dog park without my dog, just to watch and play with other dogs. Everything is great until the dog owners realize I don’t have a dog in the park. And then they give me the “weird” look.

Q: What do you like learning about?

Schwartz: Science. From astronomy to String Theory. I also like learning about peoples’ lives through reading biographies and watching documentaries, or through direct interviews. And I do like history, which is really like saying I’m interested in everything that’s ever occurred in human existence.

Q: If you could teach something, what would it be?

Schwartz: It seems the obvious answer is that I would teach creative writing or screenwriting. There was a time when I wanted to do that. But not so much anymore. I wouldn’t mind teaching Literature – basically turning people on to some of the great writers of our time. Sharing my passion for the discovery of great minds through great story-telling. But I’m kind-of tired of talking about three-act structure and character development. I don’t want to examine the process anymore – I just want to enjoy the results.

Q. What things make you feel happy and good about yourself? 

Schwartz: Spending time with friends, which I hardly ever do anymore. But I remember my days in college – the best times I had were the all-nighters with friends, screaming passionately about films, books and politics. I think this is why I’m so drawn to the Beat Generation writers and the artists of the Lost Generation. They talked and talked and talked and created and dreamed and it was all so vibrant.

Q:  In what areas do people seek your counsel?

Schwartz: I’m usually asked to help resolve conflicts between others. I was the VP of Sales and Marketing at my last job and I travelled a lot. When I came back in town and went to the office the employees would put a sign on the door that said, “The Doctor is In.” I was the only guy who would listen to everyone and try to resolve their interpersonal problems.

Q:  What would you regret not doing at the end of your life?

Schwartz: Ain’t that a tough one. I would regret not living in Ireland for a few years. I would also regret not living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I would regret not working at that gorilla sanctuary. I might regret not doing at least one sky dive, unless of course that sky dive is the very last thing I do in my life.

Q: What do you value in life?

Schwartz: My family. They are the most important thing in my life. My writing and film career used to take priority over my family and, over the years, I’ve made an effort to change that. Now family comes first, even if it means I don’t get as much writing done as I used to. I can always write when my kids are in college. If I miss these crucial years with my kids it’ll be “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the rest of our lives.

Q: What causes or beliefs do you feel strongly about?

Schwartz: I’m not a big joiner of causes. I don’t like much of anything if it’s organized. And yet some really good, charitable work is done through the efforts of others and organizations that exist. I support Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and I’m behind the actions of Captain Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherds. I still feel like there’s a lot more I can do to get involved in charitable works. I mostly just subscribe to the dictum, “Can’t we all just get along?” 

Pretty good questions, eh? How would you answer them? Go ahead, give it a shot.

FYI – I’m on the road today from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm and I won’t get a chance to respond to comments until early evening. But don’t let that stop you from speaking your mind. I’m looking forward to reading your answers tonight.

 

UCK MANGIONE

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

As I look back I remember it as an idyllic time. Nineteen eighty-one. I was seventeen and working at the largest record store in Albuquerque.

Sound Warehouse was the coolest place in town and you couldn’t even think of getting a job interview if you didn’t know someone. I didn’t know a soul and there was nothing useful I could put on my resume. Until then I’d only had a few jobs: working with Arabian horses when I was thirteen (and by “working with” I mean shoveling horse manure and doing embarrassing clean-up chores after breedings that would haunt me forever), a summer landscaping job (still have my herniated disc from swinging a pick-ax into hard concrete and carrying 200-pound railroad ties) and one eight-month nightmare as a waiter for Bob’s Big Boy (the previous jobs were a dream compared to this).

Sound Warehouse gave music-lovers the same feeling book-lovers get when they go to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland – rows and rows of classic vinyl (before it was considered “classic”), foreign special editions, laser discs, New Wave, rock, acid rock, experimental. It was big on popular rock, but all styles of music were represented. There was even a large, glassed-in section for classical purists and, as a customer, I often hid there to escape the cacophony of life and soothe my own teenage angst.

There weren’t really specialists at the store. Just the classical guy, who’d been there for a decade. The rest of the employees catered to what was hot in the rock scene. Every high school kid who could carry a tune wanted to work there. The competition was fierce for a new guy without any references.

I took a different tack. I targeted their lonely jazz section and told the manager that, if he gave me a job, I’d build it into an enviable collection. This was before Kenny G single-handedly turned jazz into the syrupy, elevator goop we hear today. At the time, Kenny G still played for The Jeff Lorber Fusion, a kick-ass fusion band with chops. When I was in college I saw Kenny perform with Jeff Lorber in Dallas at the Kool Jazz Festival and he was nothing short of brilliant. A few years later he became the Pied Piper of sap, forcing the death of hard-core fusion under an avalanche of C-grade “soft” jazz artists.

In 1981 the jazz scene rocked with new music from innovators like Chick Corea, Weather Report, Return to Forever, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, The Dixie Dregs, Jean Luc-Ponty, The Brecker Brothers, Spyro Gyra, Manhattan Transfer, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Dexter Gordon, Jan Hammer, Jeff Beck, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, Gary Burton, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, George Benson, David Sanborn…and so many more. I’d been introduced to this music by my high school jazz band instructor, who boasted a huge collection of the above and would play these records on a classic Bang and Olufsen stereo system which he babied like a baby, only more so.

Unfortunately, Sound Warehouse wasn’t begging for a “jazz guy” to come onboard. But I figured it gave me an edge, or at least something to differentiate me from the other high school kids who dropped their applications at the front counter every day.

I targeted the manager responsible for writing the work schedule and hassled him every week. And always the same response – “Try again later.”

Finally the day came when I had to quit stalling. I picked up an application for McDonalds and prepared myself for the worst senior year I could imagine.

Although I’d been disappointed every time, I decided to swing by Sound Warehouse one last time before making the fast-food commitment. The moment I stepped in the manager looked up from his paperwork and said, “I think I can use you.” I’ll always remember those words, because they saved me from the embarrassment of working for McDonalds. (However, in college I broke down and took a job at Jack-in-the-Box. Never say never, I guess. I still can’t say I’ll never be a minimum-wage fast-food worker again – I am a writer, after all).

I began the job the very next day.

Over the months that followed I used my employee discount to build a personal jazz collection that rivaled the ever-growing jazz section I managed at the store. At that time I was dating a girl who performed in her high school’s modern dance ensemble. She was always looking for unique music to set their routines to. I volunteered to schlep my giant stereo and speaker system, along with a hundred or so albums, to her school where I introduced the girls to the kind of music they never would have heard on the radio. I think they settled on Kraftwerk and Manheim Steamroller as the soundtrack to their state championship dance routine. Suddenly, I found myself popping up at the different high schools around town to “do my thing” for the modern dance troupes, drill teams and cheerleading squads. What a perk!

I worked at Sound Warehouse for over a year, chalking up loads of memorable experiences. Like the night Lisa, my manager, encouraged me to try Skoal. I liked the buzz until the retching began. I spent the next three hours with a paper bag taped to my mouth. Or the time she accidentally kicked the silent alarm switch under the cash register and the parking lot filled with members of the Albuquerque Police Department, their guns drawn. I answered the phone to the voice of a police negotiator saying, “Send one representative into the parking lot with his hands in the air…”

The place was filled with the drama of young love, fast cars, faster music, alcohol and pot. It was “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with a time-clock. It would’ve been “Footloose” if any one of us could dance.

Sound Warehouse also subjected me to my first polygraph test. It was discovered that the Ticketmaster cash register had been relieved of a couple dozen concert tickets and everyone was a suspect. Bigwigs from the corporate office in Dallas showed up to polygraph all twenty-five employees, including the managers. They never discovered who took the tickets, but they were surprised by the amount of slippage that occurred in the form of pens, pencils, t-shirts, pins, and other merchandizing paraphernalia.

Every night at closing we played touch football, knocking over cardboard displays and racks of cassette tapes. The ceiling was probably three stories high and the walls were filled with giant styrofoam images of musical artists and band logos. The company actually employed an artist who designed and cut the styrofoam images using a specialty heating tool and a selection of spray paints. One of these giant renderings featured an image of Chuck Mangione playing his trademark flugelhorn. Beneath the image was his name, in bold, green letters.

A week before I left for college, a week into my two-week notice, our nightly football game resulted in a direct hit on the Mangione display. A large, styrofoam “Ch” fell from the sky.

The temptation was too, well, tempting.

I slipped into the artist’s work-space and disappeared from the scene. I rummaged through discarded sheets of styrofoam until I found a usable sample. I plugged in the heating rod and let it warm up. I cut a jagged form and softened the rough edges with a piece of dull sandpaper. I shook the spray paints, tried a few greens until I found the one that was used on the sign before.

I dragged the largest ladder in the building to a spot under the broken display and climbed to the top. I carefully glued my work of art into the space where Chuck lost his “Ch.”

I did all this under my manager Lisa’s watchful eye. She was a Southern rebel, a lesbian Texan who didn’t mind kicking the establishment in the balls. She was taking a risk, but she knew that life was short and it didn’t pay to play by the rules. And, personally, I think she was pissed about having to take that polygraph test along with everyone else.

“Fuck Mangione” stayed up for two full weeks before Lisa’s nerves got the best of her.

And yet no one noticed a thing. It even survived a surprise inspection when the company bigwigs came into town. Lisa watched as their eyes scanned the store, gazing past my work and settling on the Ted Nugent display to its right.

That night, she dragged the ladder under the display and removed the “F.” She placed a work order with the company artist for a new “Ch” and things were back to normal the very next day.

Was it all so fun because I was young and stupid, or was it all just so fun?

 

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

So, I’ve been reading short stories lately. Hundreds of them. All contemporary, mystery-thrillers. I’m judging another competition, so I’m deep in it.

I kind-of forgot about the short story format. Like many of you, the short story is where my writing career began. It started with “Sammy the Dinosaur,” the four-page story I pecked out on our Selectric typewriter when I was eight years old. “Sammy the Dinosaur” was new and original to me, though I’ve heard that there was some other series with the same name that preceded me. My wife mentioned this recently, saying she assumed I stole the idea from the original author. This is simply not the case, however. When pressed, she softened her accusation, suggesting that my eight year-old mind was merely susceptible to ideas originated by others and that I imagined the story as my own. What she doesn’t know is that “Sammy” was the name of every pet I had as a child. Every fish, whether it was a beta or catfish, was “Sammy.” For a short time I had a salamander named Sammy. “Sammy” actually became something of a cursed name, since each fish never survived more than a month and the salamander disappeared after a massive, New Mexico dust storm lifted its cardboard home into the sky.

After the salamander debacle I began naming my pets with “B” names, a tradition that continued all the way to our recently deceased (seven years ago) dog Bandit and ultimately to the names of my ultimate pets, Boulevard and Beat.

It started with my first bullsnake, which was given the amazingly original name, “Bull.” The snake was a gift from my father, who brought him home to face the violent protests of my mother and sister. My dad held his ground and, for this, I gave him the honor of choosing its name. My father was a doctor and this moment proved that he was a man of great skill and no imagination. “Bull,” he said. “You know, for Bullsnake.” As though it needed an explanation.

Ultimately I had four bullsnakes: Bull, Belle, Billie and Bess. Bull was the only male in the group, so the rest was his harem. I had other pets during this time, too. They were the mice my snakes didn’t eat. It was weird, but if a mouse looked at them wrong, or if one accidentally kicked a snake in the jaw before the fatal strike, the snake turned tail and ran. The mouse went from pastry to pet.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seven years old, so feeding mice to snakes became pretty hypocritical after a while. One day I tried to get Bull to eat an egg. I dropped the egg out of the familiar “feeding container” (a Folgers Coffee can punctured with air holes) and watched as the snake crawled OVER the egg to get a better view into the empty can. I then had the bright idea of picking up the egg and dancing it around the cage so that it would appear “mouse-like.” Needless to say, my hand became that night’s meal.

When I got older I bought an iguana. Because iguanas eat salads.

It’s time to stop this tangent. We were talking about short stories.

After “Sammy the Dinosaur” I graduated to long form. When I was fourteen I wrote my first screenplay, with my writing partner Seth Gardenswartz. Together we were Schwartz & Gardenswartz Productions. He wanted us to be Gardenswartz and Schwartz Productions, but I told him it sounded clunky. Schwartz & Gardenswartz worked because it was “two Schwartzes separated by a Garden.” It took a full afternoon to convince him that my intentions were good and that I wasn’t trying to steal the spotlight. Finally, he agreed. I remember snickering softly, within earshot, “My name is fi-irst, my name is fi-irst…”

So we wrote that screenplay, a sci-fi thriller called “Battle of the Gods.” Written in long-hand, because neither of us typed. We gave it to my sister, who turned it into a typing class pet project. It came back as a 65-page paragraph. Really. All the dialogue, descriptions, name slugs, transitions, everything, wrapped into one gigantic paragraph. Thanks, Sis.

High school was four years without thinking about stories or writing. High school was four years of thinking about girls. I can’t remember if I read a thing. Wait, there was Steinbeck’s “The Pearl.” I remember hating it. They could have at least assigned Nabokov’s “Lolita.”

College came around and I started reading, and appreciating, good writing. The first writings that caught my attention were short stories. Flannery O’Connor. Katherine Anne Porter. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.” Fantastic stuff. And then there was Hemmingway, and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

And Amy Hempel. My God, have you read Amy Hempel?

Stories by Bernard Malamud. Stories that lit the fire.

After college I got lost in screenplays, writing at least ten feature scripts before ditching the film world to set my sites on the novel. I began by tackling the short story. I wrote seven or eight pieces that I kept to myself. Just getting used to the process. Then I dove into long-form with my first novel, Boulevard.

And now I’m studying the short story. Again. A good short story is a whole little novel in an itty-bitty space. I’m more intimidated now than ever. I’ve been asked to contribute to a short story collection for Red Hen Press, with some pretty impressive authors in the mix. I’m trying not to let it scare me. But it does. I’ve gotten used to the long format and, as exhausting as it is to write a novel, at least I have the comfort of knowing that I’m never really expected to finish one. Then there’s that great surprise at the end, when I actually do finish. (I assume I’ll experience that feeling again, someday). But these short stories…geez, there’s simply no excuse to not get one done.

I guess it’s fortuitous that I’m judging a short-story contest the same time I’m supposed to write a story for publication. I’m learning what works and why. And what doesn’t work, and what to avoid.

Short stories open a whole new world for me – at their best they’re magnificent dishes meant to be consumed in one sitting, yet remembered forever for their satisfying taste. At their best they influence our styles and give us something to emulate. And, as authors, they give us an opportunity to experiment with different styles and points-of-view and tense, without committing our careers to the kind of “risky” change that scares agents and editors. And, if a new style works as a short story it might signal a new direction for the course of our books. Or it might signal exactly what we shouldn’t do in our books; the canary in the coal mine. Something to think about.

What are your favorite short stories? Which ones have influenced your style? Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? Do you prefer reading short stories or novels? Why?

STIRRINGS…

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Oh, I’m up. It’s my turn again. Blog Time.

Blog Time ain’t exactly Miller Time, you know, where the point of the thing is to kick back and relax, raise the beer to the lips and press “play” on the remote. No, Blog Time requires effort. It requires that I have some kind of opinion on some matter of the day that means something to someone, including me.

Maybe I’ve said everything I have to say. Did you ever consider that?

No, that’s ridiculous. I’ll never have said everything I need to say. Although there’s still a chance I could make that move to Tibet, don the orange jumpsuit and meditate my way to Nirvana. And if there ever comes a time when you don’t hear from me, that’s a good place to look. It sounds oddly comforting – no Facebook, no outward communication, no blogs. I remember studying Japanese literature and religion in college and I was struck by one faction’s belief that the only purpose to life was to meditate oneself to a higher plane. Something like that – I mean, really, do not quote me on this stuff. But part of the discussion was that the poet or the artist should remain silent, too, because to engage in writing poetry or doing one’s art is an act of selfishness that ties one to the flesh. That is, it is a projection of self into the world. Why write poetry or anything if not for the satisfaction it brings us when others read our words? So, it comes back to self, ultimately. I’m sure David Corbett will have something to say about this – in fact, I invite him to jump in now and finish my education on the subject. Because, as we know, a little education is a dangerous thing – and I’ve only had a little education here.

Still, the concept strikes me as truthful, the concept that the writing is meant to fulfill a sense of self-satisfaction. Not that that’s a bad thing – do it if it makes you feel good. But so much of the time I see people writing in an effort to get “successful” or “famous” or to finally “get respect” from others. And, I admit, that’s been a big motivator for me, through the years.

But all along there’s been that nagging thought, that voice from my Japanese Literature and Religion class saying that the purpose of life is to focus on elevating our connection to the universe through meditation, and that even the act of writing is something that distracts us from this goal. It kind of freaks me out, that this should resonate with me. Because I don’t want to stop writing. I’ve always felt that writing is at the core of me. It’s my essence. So, why do I entertain this notion that writing is a masturbatory process? Was I just in a really susceptible place when I took that class? Corbett, help me out here.

My relationship to writing has changed over the years. I sacrificed everything so that I could produce writing that would get me that recognition, that “respect.” Is it worth it? Was it worth it? Yes, for me, in my experience, it was. However, I’ve had to do some repair work in its wake – I’ve made a point of spending more time with the family I ignored while I wrote those books and screenplays. I left the day job and spent a year writing at home so I could really be with them. But dwindling finances required a return to the work-force, which put me in the tough spot of having to prioritize my time again, which in the past has meant that the family gets the short end of the stick. And now I’m not willing to drop those precious relationships back to the third-tier, behind the day job and writing.

I no longer need to prove anything to myself. I no longer need to win an Academy Award, or to have the most successful book series in publication. These things would be nice, but I no longer live for them.

Instead, I’ve grown to appreciate this ability to express my views in writing for its own sake. The ability tell a story. This, in itself, is a prize. And I know that I can tell a story when the time for telling stories presents itself. I’ve discovered, in the process, that I’m a different kind of writer. I’m not a one or two book a year guy. I think my agent discovered this long before I did.

I think of all the experiences in life I’ve missed by sitting at a desk writing about the experience of life.

I wonder if it’s in me to sit silent and watch the world move about without the narration of my words. Maybe, someday. But I doubt it. I think I’m the guy who steps back and observes, then jumps in and produces, then steps back and observes. I’ve always been a sprinter, not a long-distance runner.

It’s nice to know the mountain is there. For the day I have nothing to say.

Which isn’t today.

See, I found something to blog about.

I AM RESOLVED

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

 

As 2012 rolls to an end I find myself contemplating plans for surviving 2013. That might not be the best way to look at it – surviving, as opposed to conquering the new year, or simply relaxing and enjoying it – but experience has taught me that survival comes first.

 

That’s dramatic, of course. I’m really doing much better than surviving, especially when compared to about 98% of the world’s population. Living basically middle class in Southern California, despite the small apartment and a mountain of debt, is a huge life achievement.

 

Things were a bit scary around this time last year. I had left my day job to write the-movie-that-seems-never-to-be-made and tackle my third novel, the-book-that-seems-never-to-be-finished. The screenplay money didn’t last, and soon my savings ran out, and the panic set in.

 

With a family of four to house and feed, I went into survival mode. It was a tough time and help came from friends both near and far. One woman in particular jumped in to make sure my rent and utilities were paid while I searched for the job that would keep me afloat. Paying her back remains on my “resolutions” list to this day.

 

2012 was also a year of health challenges, as one of my sons required medical treatment in another state and was required to leave our home for two months. While it was difficult to see him go, the moment revealed itself as the resolution to a problem that had been growing for years. His departure and treatment marked the beginning of what has become the best thing that ever happened to the Schwartz Family. We are reunited and healthy, and close, and thankful.

 

So I’ve been in this day job for almost eight months and it feels good to be paying my way, to be standing on my own two feet again. The only great challenge ahead is to find a way to manage the demanding day job, the precious family time (which I refuse to sacrifice), and still be a productive author, screenwriter, and poet.

 

And while it’s been great being a judge for two major writing competitions this year, I’ve learned that a commitment like this means something has to give, and unfortunately what gave was my writing. In the future I’ll have to be more protective of my time, because, as writers, time is our greatest resource.

 

As I look towards 2013, I make the following resolutions:

 

  • Learn to say no. Protect my three major objectives: work, family and writing. Don’t commit to anything if it derails any of the three.

  • Write the next Hayden Glass novel. Commit to it. Finish it.

  • Finish the standalone project. No excuses.

  • Save a little money every month. Build a safety net.

  • Similarly, put some money into paying down the debts I’ve accrued. Don’t be a dependent, don’t be a flake.

  • Look around. Keep looking for a way to support myself as a creative individual, 24/7. I shouldn’t have to live two separate lives.

  • Don’t live beyond my means.

  • Plan for a future as a working writer. Write spec TV episodes in an effort to get staffed on a show.

  • Work out at the gym with Ryen and the boys. Get the body I had when I was nineteen.

  • Stay connected to my wife. We’re taking this journey together.

  • Don’t dwell in the darkness. Remember that things are good. Stay positive and appreciate what I’ve got.

  • Read more Bukowski. Read more Updike. See more movies. Return to my roots.

  • And, if there’s time, pick up that saxophone and wail.

That’s about all I can think to write. What are your resolutions for the new year? Care to share?

AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR SEAN BLACK

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

Despite the fiercely intense gaze and the eyebrows slightly arched, as if to say, “I’ve got a shiv in my hand that could sever your carotid in the time it takes you to avert your eyes,” Author Sean Black is the sweetest guy I’ve ever met. His author photo delivers the kind-of tough-guy persona you’d expect to find behind his popular LOCKDOWN series, featuring bodyguard-turned-avenger Ryan Lock.

To research the series, Sean trained as a bodyguard with former members of the Royal Military Police’s specialist close protection unit, spent time inside America’s most dangerous maximum security prison, Pelican Bay Supermax in California, and underwent desert survival training in Arizona.

He was born and raised in Scotland and attended college at Oxford, where he graduated with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After college, he spent a summer teaching in a housing project in New Orleans before following former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke’s campaign for US Senate. Having whet his taste for America’s diverse culture, Sean won a place at Columbia University in New York to study for his Master of Fine Arts in Film. He lived in New York for three and a half years, before moving to Los Angeles, where he met his wife.

After a short stint living as a screenwriter in Hollywood, Sean returned to England to teach college before landing his first television-writing gig. Between 1999 and 2008, Sean wrote over seventy episodes of some of Britain’s best-known television dramas.

In 2006, as part of the research for a television series he was developing, he enrolled on an intensive 24-day bodyguarding course. The TV series wasn’t picked up, but it gave him the idea for a series of thrillers about an ex-military bodyguard who finds himself working in high-end private security. In November of 2007, he started writing the first book in the series, Lockdown.

 

In September of 2008, after a heated auction, Lockdown sold to Bantam/Transworld in what Publishers Weekly categorised as ‘a major deal’.

I met Sean a few years ago at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, California, the night before the L.A. Times Festival of Books. He was absolutely charming; a humble guy from across the pond who hadn’t let his success in television go to his head. We kept in touch over the years — I think he’s read every Murderati blog I’ve ever written — and recently we brought our families together in Hermosa Beach for a brunch he wouldn’t let me pay for. His family is adorable, and his daughter is the type of precocious young woman who will surely break the hearts of all the young men she meets, including my two boys. She has the kind of clever that inspires strong female characters, and I am sure we will see her influence in the pages of Sean Black novels yet to come.

Today, Sean and his family live just outside of Dublin, Ireland.

With that, I bring you Sean Black…

Stephen: Sean, you’re pretty much my hero when it comes to taking life by the horns. I love the way you throw yourself into research in an effort to bring a sense of reality to your writing. How the hell did you get into Pelican Bay, and what did you do while you were there?

Sean: Thanks, Steve! It was not easy getting into PB because we went through the official channels and they are seemingly not that keen on people from outside coming into Pelican Bay. I still didn’t have a yes when I flew out but I’m a believer in getting off your ass to make things happen. Finally, a few days before I had my flight booked to come home, I got the go ahead. I was inside for the day. They did offer me a place to stay overnight but I politely declined. They had just had a minor riot so it was relatively chilled when I got there. Days before they had a young white inmate who was a Crip (a predominantly African-American organization as many readers will know). He decided that despite words of warning, he would hang with the Crips on the yard – a Pelican Bay no-no. He was attacked as he walked back into his unit and it turned into a fairly serious incident with live rounds fired from the tower, but thankfully no-one killed. The white and black inmates were on lockdown when I visited so the other inmates were pretty damn happy as they didn’t have to watch their backs for a few days. Mixing with someone of another race is a no-no for the prison gangs. The most nerve-wracking part was going inside the SHU or secure housing unit. They give you a protective vest. I was puzzled because I thought, “Wait, they’re in their cells.” “Oh, yeah,” I was told, ” but sometimes they try and spear us.” They make little darts in their cells, dip them in, well use your imagination, and fire them through the holes in the cell door with the elastic from their shorts. If you have someone with Hepatitis or HIV and it breaks your skin, well, it ain’t nothing good.

Stephen: What other cool research experiences stand out in your mind?

Sean: What got me started was doing a three and a half week close protection operative (bodyguard) course in the UK and Eastern Europe. It was right around the time when companies like Blackwater took off and there were hundreds of guys signing up to go to Afghanistan and Iraq and work as private contractors. I stumbled across this world and was fascinated. I thought it would make a great TV show but I couldn’t get the pilot episode away (still open to offers on that one) so I wrote Lockdown instead. The best thing about it was meeting the two former British Royal Military Police close protection unit guys, Andy and Cliff. In a world full of bullshitters, they were the real deal, and they gave me this amazing insight into a world very few people see. I also got to smash up cars on a dis-used airfield, did firearms training in Prague, and generally live out every twelve-year-old (thirty-seven-year-old?) boy’s fantasy for almost a month. When I got home I spent a month praying someone would break in so I could kick the shit out of them. Thankfully for all concerned, no one did.

Stephen: Your history really reminds me of another talented author we know here at Murderati – Gregg Hurwitz. Did you run into Gregg at Oxford?

Sean: No, bizarrely I met Gregg at my mother-in-law’s house. She and her husband had been on a USC alumni cruise and Gregg had been there helping his Dad who, if memory serves, had broken his arm. I was writing TV at the time so she wanted us to meet. And, well, if you’ve met Gregg he is one of the most talented, coolest people you will ever meet. I read his Rackley series and loved them and I loved his whole approach to research, which just comes off the page. One of the great things over the past year or two has been seeing him hit it big in the UK, having spent several years banging on to everyone I met, especially in London publishing, about how good he is. No one deserves it more than he does. I just wish he wasn’t quite as good looking. It’s really not fair to be that talented and have that face as well.

Stephen: How does a kid from Scotland end up following David Duke during his campaign for senate? How does that process even get started?

Sean: During summer vacation, I went to New Orleans to volunteer for an anti-death penalty group. The death penalty is something I still oppose. Not because I don’t feel that need for punishment but because, let’s be honest, in the southern US, there are dozens of black men on Death Row who are, and have been proven to be, innocent. DNA is no safeguard either, incidentally. Anyway, while I was there, Duke was running for Senate so I went to interview him. Of course he talked in code for most of the time. So he would talk about welfare mothers, which was code for black women with kids. He was an utterly bizarre, quite seductive individual. And, he came within a few percentage points of unseating one of the strongest Democratic incumbents in the US Senate. He did not like me one little bit, which I took to be a great compliment.

Stephen: You must have been your parents’ dream, coming out of Oxford with a degree in Politics and Economics. What sort of psychotic break did you experience that made you decide to study film at Columbia?

Sean: Ha ha ha ha. That’s how it feels some days. Most writers have that “What the hell have I done with my life” moment, don’t they? A lot of my friends went to work for the UN, or into the City of London, or to work as management consultants. I had already started writing journalism and fiction and it was that dumb ass romantic notion of wanting to be a writer. Anyway, one day I picked up this career magazine and it was about film schools. I thought “aha, screenwriting, you can write and make a living.” Cue hollow laughter. I went, had a great time, and then spent the next seven years trying to break in. It was great though. I got to live in New York in my early twenties and Columbia is a great school.

Stephen: What was your “Hollywood” experience like? Was it anything like you expected?

Sean: My original experience was straight out of film school and didn’t work out, which I am very grateful for now. One of the people I have got to know over the past few years is David Seidler who wrote The King’s Speech. He told me that part of the reason for the longevity of his career was that he came to Hollywood when he was forty. Hollywood is all about the new thing, and the flavor of the month. Lots of people break through, they have ten years if they’re lucky, and then they are done. A very few like David reconnect with their passion, stick at it and they get a second shot. I was so happy watching him pick up that Oscar knowing what he had been through. Also, last time we were out to dinner, I got back to the parking garage in Santa Monica after it closed (because I am an idiot) and he gave me a toothbrush and let me sleep on his couch so, great guy. So, yeah, Hollywood. I think as long as you don’t take it too seriously it’s hugely enjoyable. It is full of very talented people who I enjoy meeting immensely but don’t get sucked in by the mirage and you’ll be fine. I mean who doesn’t like being told how great they are? Just remember though that behind door numbers two through ten are a bunch of other people who are going to get the same speech. It’s that old saying, isn’t it? Hollywood is the only town where you can die of encouragement. I have a Scotsman’s cynicism so that’s helped me.

Stephen: Do you feel there are more opportunities to write for television or film in England than the U.S.? How are the industries different in the two countries?

Sean: TV in England is producer led, which in terms of drama doesn’t work that well. I know lots of very talented TV writers in the UK but it’s like a big sausage machine so it’s hard to discern just how good some of them are. Americans see the best of British TV, and vice versa, so we both have a skewed view of how good each other’s television is.

Stephen: How did you segue from writing television to writing novels? Were you able to bring fans of your TV series to your books?

Sean: With a few exceptions, I don’t think anyone who watches TV has a clue who wrote it, or cares, so not really. It gave me some amazing things, the best of which was a lack of attachment to my words,and an ability to know a good note from a bad note. Most of all though I wrote a LOT, and saw hours upon hours upon hours of my work on screen, so you get to see what works. You learn fast in that environment or you don’t work. It’s brutal in that regard. It was a wonderful training ground where I met some very talented people.

Stephen: Do you feel more satisfied writing novels than television? If so, how?

Sean: Novels are infinitely more satisfying although I do miss the contact with other writers and all the people who make a TV show possible. One of the big differences is that if you want to blow up a building in a novel, you write it. Good luck trying to get that scene past a producer. So you have that freedom to go anywhere and do anything and immerse people in a world in a book. On the other side, if someone thinks you suck, well you can’t exactly blame the director. It’s all on you, but overall, novels by a long way. As a side note, when someone told me it was harder to sell a debut novel than get a TV show commissioned, I can remember laughing. A debut costs what at the low end? Well, nothing now, but with a big publisher? Say fifty to eighty grand? That’s going to cover the catering on a TV show – if you’re lucky.

Stephen: Currently you’re living with your wife and beautiful little daughter in my favorite country in the world – Ireland. Why did you make the move? Does Ireland offer advantages to authors that are not available in the U.S or U.K.?

Sean: The best thing about being here for us are the people and the education system. The economy is in the toilet but the people (if we can talk about them as a monolithic entity) are just great. There is still that sense of community here. I would argue we all need that sense more than ever these days. I wish the weather was better, I guess. Oh, and our politicians are for the most part, to use an Irish expression, a bunch of ‘cute hoors,’ but that goes for most politicians these days. Apart from that though, I love it.

Stephen: Tell us a bit about your Lockdown novels. The series became very popular from the start – what is it about your books that draws the readers in?

Sean: I still feel like I’m on the nursery slopes in terms of readership, with a very long way to go, but yes the reaction has been great. I’m not sure that I’m that beloved of the cognosceti because the books are very stripped down in terms of prose. I think people tend to enjoy the pace of the books, and the interplay between the two main characters, Lock and Ty. Lock is more of your buttoned up good guy and Ty is a self-styled bad boy, ladies man. Interestingly, female readers seem to really love Ty. I make no comment. I hope that above all, the books are fun. Whether they are thrilling fun or scary fun or funny fun, it doesn’t matter to me. I want to engage people and I will go anywhere and do anything and screw up my back sitting at my desk for hours to make sure that happens.

Stephen: Is there a TV series or film version of your books in the making?

Sean: We’ve had interest but nothing firm on the horizon. I’m in no rush. The books are there for people. Plus, I know how hard it is to get a movie or TV show made these days so even if you get an option, well, that takes you to the first base camp with the rest of the mountain still to climb. If the right people come along, great. If not then I’m not going to cry myself to sleep.

Stephen: What’s next in the series – do you have a book coming out now?


Sean: Over the summer the fourth book in the series was published, The Devil’s Bounty. Lock and Ty are recruited as bounty hunters to go after a very wealthy serial rapist who has fled across the border into Mexico and is being protected by a very violent drugs cartel. I also just published a novelette, if that’s the term, called Lock & Load. It’s a pretty simple story about a young Hollywood actress whose movie star ex-boyfriend won’t leave her alone. Lock and Ty deal with him in a slightly atypical fashion. It’s a bit lighter than The Devil’s Bounty, not that it would be difficult.

Stephen: What’s in store for Sean Black? Will you continue to write novels, branching out into new series characters? Do you anticipate a return to writing for TV, or possibly film?


Sean: Lock and Load was a way of keeping the series ticking over while I work on two different novels. One is finished. One is halfway done. I can’t say anything much about either of them just yet, although one is a big thriller, and the other is also big canvas but a completely different genre and something I just wrote for myself. Once they are done, I will come back to Lock and Ty for a fifth novel that I already have planned out in my head. Thrillers are hard to write because there is so much reverse engineering but I love those characters and I have readers who will hunt me down and kill me if I don’t give them more books. And readers after all are the people who make me get up in the morning when it comes to the work. They are the start and the end. In terms of TV, as big Sean Connery said, Never Say Never Again. If the right project came along, or I came up with an idea that seemed like TV or a movie, then who knows. It’s not something I am actively seeking out.

Stephen: Well, I’m real proud of you and happy for your success, Sean. It’s great to see smart, talented authors being rewarded for their efforts. It’s even better when they’re truly wonderful people, like yourself. Thanks for stopping by on Christmas Day.

Sean: Thanks so much, Steve!

 

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