Category Archives: Stephen Jay Schwartz

RAMBLIN’ ON…

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

It’s a story about guilt, about a powerful man’s sense of entitlement and how his assumptions cause an innocent man to cross the line.

No, it’s a story about a man’s desperate need to succeed, his last chance, and the line he is willing cross in order to get what he wants.

Or, maybe, it’s a story about a man who has gone way over the edge, and a boy who gets caught up in the man’s delusions.

How about a guy who wakes up from a six-week black-out and is coaxed into a crime plot by a bunch of grifters who convince him he’s someone he’s not?

My God, I haven’t been at the beginning for at least five years.  That’s approximately when I started writing BOULEVARD.  And, though I’ve just completed BEAT, my second novel, it wasn’t exactly like starting from the beginning, since it was a sequel.

But now I face a standalone.  I’m marveling at the realization that…anything is possible.  Sky’s the limit.  Providing, as my agent is quick to remind me, I stay in the genre in which I’ve been published.  Which is fine, I could write dark crime thrillers for the next thirty years. 

And you know what?  Maybe I can mix things up a bit, futz around with style.  I wrote those first two books in third person close, which is a bitch of a POV.  It’s like almost first person, but not.  It’s enough like first person to keep you from knowing what the other characters are thinking.  I like it, but I’m sick of it, you know what I mean?  It would be nice to explore different character points of view for a change.  It would be nice to really know what that other character thinks, instead of only knowing what my protagonist thinks that other character thinks.  Never knowing for sure until that character says, “Yes, I was exactly thinking what you thought I was thinking when you thought that in third…person…close.”  Aaaargh!

So, maybe omniscient third.  And yet I want something a little edgy, and so I’m thinking of writing in present tense.  Timothy Hallinan writes in present tense and he brings an immediacy to the story that makes it feel like you’re watching a movie.  Which is apropos, since screenplays are also written in present tense.  And I’m thinking of setting my standalone against the backdrop of Hollywood, so the present tense would also play up the blurred line between reality and illusion, which is a theme I want to explore.

Oh, God, it can be anything.  I could write in omniscient third, present tense, with alternating chapters in first person for each character. 

I almost don’t want to settle on a story, because once my mind is set the structure must be built, like a house.  Whereas now I’m letting EVERYTHING in.  I’m sponging the world around me.  It’s the most exciting part of the process, yet the most frightening as well. 

There’s been a magical serendipity around me lately, with the Murderati authors blogging about first ideas and how to start that next book.  JT’s blog that began with the photograph of the girl really made me think about process.  And Alexandra’s last blog hit home in a big way.  I printed it out and highlighted every other sentence.  Then I wrote a list of all the films and books I love, all the books or scripts I wish I had written.  And then I wrote out the major themes, just as Professor Sokoloff instructed.  

I discovered that I want to write something that combines the elements of Heart of Darkness, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Chinatown and The Player.  Can I just write that on a piece of paper and call it my book proposal?

Who wouldn’t want to read that book?  Forget about the fact that no writer can weave all those themes together in a believable thriller.  Let’s sell the proposal first and worry about the rest later.

Slowly, comfortably, a story is emerging.  A scene here, a bit of dialogue there.  I worry if the inciting incident is too over the top.  I worry that I won’t be able to capture the nuances of power and manipulation that exist in Hollywood, that I’ll make it a satire instead of a documentary.  These are things that keep me from putting pen to paper.  I’ll get over them, once I fully commit to the story.  Once I decide that the story I want to tell is the story I’d want to read.

One thing I’ve been doing is re-reading books that have a really strong voice.  Like Chuck Palahnuik’s “Fight Club” and Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” and “Pop 1280.”  Those books are tight as hell and unique in tone and style. 

I find it strange that, although I came from the film industry, I have a very hard time visualizing my characters and settings.  I’m reluctant to focus on photographs, the way JT does, even though I know it will probably help in the long run.  I seem to want my characters to remain physically elusive, and I suspect this is a holdover from writing screenplays, where the writer is encouraged to keep his character descriptions slight.  You don’t want to describe your protagonist as Mel Gibson when the producer who buys the script has a relationship with Matt Damon.

I’m holding myself back.  Because, when I commit, I don’t want anything to get in the way.  And right now I’m focusing on getting through the copyedit of BEAT.  But what I really want to do is drop everything and bury myself in words and images and stories and ideas.  And dreams.  I want to disappear for a few weeks and dive into the recesses of my mind.  I used to do this sort of thing, back when I was eighteen, nineteen years old.  I’d catch a bus and disappear into the countryside with a couple Steinbeck novels and a notepad, and I’d be gone for days.  Gone.  I’m desperate to do that now, but life is in the way.  I envy Alexandra’s freedom to wallow in her dreams, to let the collective unconscious guide her every day. 

Last Sunday I spent the day at Venice Beach.  It was hard to pull myself away from the family, but I felt it was necessary.  Watching the insane circus of humanity was a jump-start for my creative process.  I wrote everything I saw, just as an exercise.  It got the juices going.  Quietly observing human nature is my favorite way to find my voice, my story.  It’s like meditation for me.  I found it hard not to buy a cheap sleeping bag and pitch camp in the sand with all the other vagabonds. 

Oh, my mind’s a mess.  I’m all over the place.  But maybe that’s my process.  Maybe I’m exactly where I need to be.  As long as I’m not on a deadline, I can afford to be a flibbertigibbet. 

 

 

 



 

THE GOOD STUFF

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

“Would you rather vomit out your eyeballs or your nose and ears?”

My nine-year old boy has taken to asking such questions lately.  It reminds me of that scene in the movie “Parenthood” when the kids are in the back seat of the car singing disgusting lyrics to favorite camp songs, and Steve Martin says, “This is what we get for sending them to that expensive summer camp?”

My wife and I both chose to vomit the nose and ears and keep the eyes.  I realize that I’d rather vomit the whole shebang than lose the hair.

It’s been heavenly coming home from work every night to spend time with my family.  For years now I’ve been doing the day job then going to the café to spend another five or six hours writing.  And my weekends have been ten to twelve hour writing days.  But the second book in my two-book deal is done and when I come home now I see my wife and my kids and there’s simply nothing else I want to do but hang with them.

I’ve been playing chess with my nine-year old and he kicks my ass every time.  I finally got one win from him a couple weeks ago and I’m holding onto that feeling with everything I’ve got.  I don’t expect to be able to beat him again.  It was a fluke, it took all my mental energy and I didn’t have a clear thought for days after.  The kids have also got me onto their internet game-making site called Playcrafter.  They design and publish these cool little video games, and now I’m part of their world. 

And I’m just listening.  Hearing what they have to say, on a whole host of subjects.  My eleven-year old reads Scientific American and Discover and Night Sky and he tells me about the shrinking stars and inflationary expansion of the universe and the evolution of species and String Theory and I don’t understand half of it.  They tell me about the world of their Imagination, which is an actual creation, a story they’ve been building between themselves for years.  They add characters and adventures and they’ve put together this long family tree that covers a half-dozen generations.  They spend some time every day on this, and it’s like watching “story improv” to see them going at it.  I told them someday we’ll put all of that into a cool, YA book, written by them, with the help of their parents. 

And they both take violin lessons and, home from work yesterday, I watched them, with their long hair pulled back to keep from getting caught in the bows, and I felt warm and wonderful inside, with the rain pounding on the roof and the labradoodle like a lump of black sugar at their feet.

This time is fleeting.  I have to begin work on a proposal for my third book, which will be a standalone.  And I have to sweep up the mess of my life, what fell between the cracks while I wrote the first two.  There’s a foreclosure in the works, and maybe a bankruptcy, and the likely, looming loss of my day job, and more and more and more.  What I’d really love to do is make a clean break and go straight to writing full-time, which is what most of us would like to do, I’m sure.  Maybe a writer-in-residency program at some artist colony, a place to keep myself and the family for six months or more.  If anyone has any ideas…I’m all ears.

I’ll take my time on the book proposal.  I don’t want it to get in the way of daddy time.  I know that, soon enough, I’ll be back in the trenches, with deadlines and page-count expectations hanging over me.  My boys will see me with my head buried in the laptop and they’ll wonder what happened to the guy who used to end up at the bottom of every dog pile. 

Tonight, instead of burying myself in research, I’ll curl up on the couch under a blanket with the wife and kids and watch “The Witches of Waverly Place,” or my favorite, “Phineas and Ferb.”   Their world is simply much more fun than anything else I can think to do.  Sure, there’s a lot of crying and stomping of feet.  But, once I’m done, the kids always find a way to make me laugh.  We’re in that perfect, magical time, the time when kids actually want their parents around.  And their perspective is always refreshing.  We’ve had a huge “Happy Birthday!” banner on the wall for two years now, because the kids didn’t want to take it down.  Because, as I’m told, “it’s always someone’s birthday, somewhere.” 

They keep the Peter Pan in me alive.  I don’t ever want to take them for granted.  After all, this is the good stuff.

 

A TRACE OF SMOKE

 Interview by Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

 

I met the lovely and talented Rebecca Cantrell at last year’s Bouchercon in Indianapolis.  But I’d seen her picture before on the ITW Debut Author’s website and I’d heard wonderful things about her novel, “A Trace of Smoke,” which was nominated for RT Best Historical Mystery of 2009 and the 2009 Bruce Alexander Memorial Award.  It was also listed as one of the Top Ten Novels of 2009 by The Mystery Bookstore’s Bobby McCue.  I picked up my own autographed copy of “Smoke” and read it with relish. 

“A Trace of Smoke” is a richly-textured period thriller set in 1930s Berlin during the Nazi rise to power.  Protagonist Hannah Vogel is a journalist investigating the murder of her brother, a renowned homosexual cabaret star who has many admirers.  One, in particular, is a very powerful officer in the Nazi Party.  Cantrell’s lens captures the transition from Berlin’s free, tolerant society as seen in the cabarets, to the xenophobic nightmare of things to come.  The subtle rise of anti-Semitism is seen in every chapter.  And hypocrisy abounds.  Cantrell creates a beautifully visual world with images so specific that I sometimes wonder if I read her book in print or saw it unfold on screen.

Rebecca is on a blog-tour for the paperback edition of “Smoke” and I’m honored to present her to our Murderati gang today.

Rebecca, you’ve developed a striking and unique character in Hannah’s brother Ernst.  Why did you choose to portray an openly homosexual character in the setting of 1930s Berlin? 

I wanted to set a book just before the Nazis came to power, and 1931 was the last year I could do so.  Looking back, we know that 1931 was the year that Germany was lost to the Nazis.  But they didn’t at the time.

The late 1920s and early 1930s in Berlin was a time of intellectual and social freedom mixed with grinding poverty and violent protests. Berlin was a center for modern art, cinema, writing, and music. And yet within a few years it would all be gone: the artists fled, in camps, or in hiding. Just like that an incredibly vibrant part of a modern European city vanished to be replaced by the horror of the Nazis. How could such a transition NOT be a fascinating time to set a novel?

Once I had my time, and did my research, I was delighted to find there was such a vibrant gay culture in Berlin. I’ve since read that there were more gay newspapers and magazines in Berlin in 1931 than in New York City in the 1970s. This was lucky, because I knew that Ernst Vogel would be gay, out, and flamboyant.

Who was the first character in your book that came to you and why?

Ernst  was the first character to come to me. In the mid-1980s I went to Dachau for Spring Break (I was weird even as a teenager). I was transfixed by a stark wall with a row of colored triangles worn by actual prisoners: yellow, red, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, and black scraps of fabric. Above each now faded triangle, thick Gothic letters spelled out the categories: Jewish, political prisoner, habitual criminals, emigrant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, gypsies, and asocials (a catchall term used for murderers, thieves, and those who violated the laws prohibiting Aryans from having intercourse with Jews).

Even though I was just a teenager, I’d read enough to know what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Communists, the gypsies, and those who disagreed with their ideology. But I’d had no idea they’d imprisoned people for being gay. At that time I lived with a host family and my host brother was gay, flamboyant, and out. We often went clubbing in Berlin until the wee small hours of the morning. The subways stopped running around midnight, and if you missed that last one, you were out until five unless you caught a night bus. Then you were on the night bus for hours as it wended its way through every tiny street imaginable. Without much adult supervision, my host brother and I spent what in retrospect was probably too many nights leaned up against each other like puppies sleeping on the top front seat of the night bus or on the benches at the subway station.

We would snag a table at Metropol where we would both drink a Berliner white beer (his with a red shot of syrup, mine with a green) and then dance with an endless array of GIs. At the end of the evening, we’d hook back up and start our long journey home, talking about guys. Forty years before those innocent evenings would have been enough to send him to the camps.

That stuck in my mind and all these years later, I wanted to write about the people who lived in that long ago world, and what happened to them.

Hannah Vogel is such a warm and intelligent character.  I found it hard to turn the last page knowing that I wouldn’t be part of her world anymore.  How much of you is in Hannah?

Thanks, Stephen! The good news is that Hannah will be in at least three more novels: “A Night of Long Knives” (set during the 1934 purge, comes out in June 2010); “A Game of Lies” (set in the 1936 Olympics, comes out in June 2011); and “A City of Broken Glass” (set in Kristallnacht, comes out in June 2012). And I have ideas for a total of nine books that go up to 1950.

How much of me is in Hannah is a complicated question. I think the truth is: more than I’d like to admit. She has my strong sense of right and wrong and irritating habit of trying to do the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient. On the other hand, I’m not as tough and would probably not be jumping around so soon after being shot, stabbed, and just in general roughed up the way she is. I like to think I’m better at relationships too.

You write Berlin with the authenticity of someone who lived there.  How much time did you spend in Berlin?

I lived in Germany for three years. One year near Dortmund, two in Berlin (West) and six months in Göttingen.

The first year, I asked to be sent to a small rural German town, something similar to my Alaskan home town of Talkeetna (population 250). They sent me to West Berlin, a city of two million people surrounded by a giant wall in the middle of communist Europe.

I fell in love with Berlin: its sights, sounds, tastes, and historical burden. I lived in the cold shadow of the Soviet wall, toughing it out with my gay host brother, sarcastic artists, scrappy old timers, and German draft dodgers. On any given Friday night, more flirting teenagers, guest workers, and GIs danced to Starship’s “We Built this City” in the Kuh-Dorf disco than lived Talkeetna.

I’ve only been back for short visits since, but I think one of these days I’ll be able to stay awhile and see what it’s really like post-Wall.

What drove you to write this story?  What truths did you want to convey?

I set out to tell Hannah’s story in such a way that the reader would be transported there, able to see what she saw and hear what she heard. I wanted to go to places that I had never seen in fiction: Berlin’s vibrant gay subculture, the life of a woman crime reporter living alone, and an imaginative little boy. Hannah is going to some dark places in future books too, as she sees what the rise of Nazism did to the mothers and sons of Germany. I’m hoping that she can go in there, shine a candle around so we can see it, and then bring the stories back out. That’s where the truth lies.

What’s in store for Hannah in the future?

I just finished the rough draft of “A Game of Lies” last night. But first she has to get through the Röhm purge of 1934 (know as the Night of the Long Knives) after she and Anton are zeppelin-jacked back into Germany. There is film interest, so perhaps we’ll get to see her walking across the big screen too.

What’s in store for Rebecca Cantrell in the future?

I’m hoping to get a chance to write the nine Hannah Vogel novels in my head. For now, I have three written and four total contracted. I also have a short story set on a train transferring prisoners from Dachau in the late 1930s called “On the Train” in the “First Thrills” anthology that comes out in June 2010. Plus I have a YA series that I can’t talk about yet, but hopefully next week!

So, Murderati, please join me in welcoming Rebecca to our enclave, and make her feel at home!  To read more about Rebecca and her adventures in the writing trade, check out her website at http://www.rebeccacantrell.com.

Thank you, Rebecca!



 

DOCUMENTING THE JOURNEY

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

So, I’m about a week away from delivering my second novel to the copyeditor and it feels…I think it feels great, despite the fact that my whole being feels bludgeoned from the process.  Is it really almost done?  I can’t believe it.  They say the second book is the hardest and I’m here to say that, yes, they’re goddamn right.

Coming to the end of this journey made me think about the beginning of this journey.  What I went through to get the first book done.  It brought memories of the days when I was writing BOULEVARD on my own, without a book deal.  Before I had an agent.  When the idea of becoming a published author existed solely in my head.

I went back and found my journal, the journal I started when I was in the middle of the process, and pulled the first couple entries.  I thought it might be an interesting thing to share, now that I’m on the other side of it.  One thing that’s interesting is my relationship with San Francisco and how the city ultimately evolved into the setting for my second novel.  I can see the seeds of that decision in the journal entries themselves.

I hope this isn’t boring.  I hope it’s not the literary equivalent of showing pictures of my family vacations.  I’m sure many of you have gone through a lot of this stuff yourselves….

December 13, 2006

I’m starting this late in the game.  I’m 225 pages into the writing of Boulevard.  I’ve written and re-written the first forty pages many times. 

I wrote most of it straight from the heart without outline or thought of plot.  Which was liberating.  I’m used to making outline after outline after treatment after draft.  It felt good to just put pen to paper (fingertip to keyboard) and write.  The momentum and poetry came from that process – that “spontaneous prose”. 

And finally, when I’m closing in on the final fifth of the book, I’ve outlined it to the end.  I’m just a month or two away from completing the first draft.  And then there will be everything left to do.  A huge rewrite is in order.  I’ve left subplots dangling.  I’ve left characters hanging on ledges.  I’ve introduced motifs only to split and scatter them over a long bumpy pot-holed road.  All of the detail work has yet to be done. 

I’ve been at this story for about two years now.  I don’t have the time to put into it, not the way I did on all the screenplays I wrote before I had a wife and kids and a mortgage and a real job I cannot quit.

Today I’m mired in a scene of recollection as Darren (whose name I will change) drives back from The Slough of Despond after viewing the killer’s artwork and meeting a prostitute who cuts herself.  The Slough scene reads pretty well now, after spending numerous evenings reworking it.  But a simple scene where Darren considers the value of his partnership with ex-partner Rich is taking me all of two nights to formulate.  And I won’t finish it tonight.

I’m having trouble writing tonight.  Which is pathetic because I’m in my favorite writing spot in the world – San Francisco!  Actually the best spot is The Novel Café in Santa Monica.  But nothing beats San Francisco for ambiance, energy and inspiration.  I got here yesterday, working for the day job.  When I’m not out selling lights, I’m spending my time in the book stores, cafes, restaurants.  I discovered the Beat Generation Museum here and I’m considering taking another trip up here in a couple weeks to see Carolyn Cassady speak.  I purchased “Windblown World”, Jack Kerouac’s journals from when he wrote “Town and the City” and “On the Road”.   It is this journal, as well as the journals of John Steinbeck (written as he wrote “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden”) that has inspired me to finally keep a journal.  I must write a little something every time I sit to work on my novel. 

It’s been a struggle tonight.  I don’t feel like a very good writer at the moment.  The story is beginning to feel formulaic.  I’m not trying to write a stock crime novel.  I don’t know what genre this will fall into.  I expect a lot of trouble when I try to publish it, because no one will know how to market it. 

Sometimes I wonder if I have anything to say in the piece.   Or have I already said everything in the first hundred pages.  I feel like I’m just connecting the dots from here to the end.  The unique spark of creativity is eluding me. 

It’s such a process.  I torture myself with it.  I chew six pieces of gum at once.  I tap my foot incessantly.  I drink cappuccino and espresso and hot tea (caffeinated).  I spend my days nibbling at sunflower seeds like a rodent.  I’m anxious at writing, I’m anxious in stasis. 

This is maddening.

December 14, 2006

I’m surprised how little writing I managed to do while in San Francisco.  I was only in for two days and I wallowed in the sights sounds smells tastes of the City.  I love San Francisco more than any other place I’ve been.  I remember one set of days long ago when I was nineteen I sat in a café in the City reading Dante’s Inferno from beginning to end.  It’s such a literary city. 

I spent my two days walking in the mist and fog and rain in North Beach and eating and drinking and journeying to the Haight District and eating and drinking and bookstore hopping where I found old Doc Savage paperbacks the likes of which I read when I was thirteen and in camp in the Ojai mountains.  And I’ve been looking for them ever since, in used bookstores, and of course I should find them in San Francisco.  And I picked up Kerouac’s journals.  And the DVD “What Happened To Kerouac?”, the documentary that introduced me to the Beat Generation.  And a CD of Kerouac reading “On the Road”.  I spent time at City Lights Bookstore where I again saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti pass beside me.  Last visit I asked him to sign one of his books for me, which he did and I will treasure.

December 20, 2006

Thought I’d try a little warm-up writing on the journal before burying myself in doubt and struggle.  I’m at the Novel Café, early enough in the evening to get a little decent writing done.  I worked in the field with our L.A. rep today and ended early enough to land at the Novel by 4:30 pm.  I bought my two hours of parking and I begin the nervous clock-watching from now until 8:00 pm when I will put my last quarters into the meter. 

I sat down and read ten pages of Kerouac’s journal to get me into the mood, to slow me down a bit, to settle me and prepare me for a night of writing.  I spent a few minutes with Ralph, who told me that his screenplay, “Stronger than Steel”, will be represented by CAA.  I haven’t seen the other cast of characters yet – Paul, who was a reader for me when I worked for Wolfgang Petersen; Diana, Paul’s mother, a union reader who, along with Paul, spends her days and nights at the Novel reading scripts and writing coverage; Joe, long-time writer-buddy who is finishing his heist script, who lives on a boat in the Marina; Rob, a successful writer/director who has two films coming out simultaneously in January.  There are other regulars, like the “log guy”, a homeless wanderer who carries a lacquered, well-loved log wherever he goes.  The “veggie guy” who carries a sign on Venice Beach denouncing MacDonald’s and the full-scale slaughter of animals.  All the little gems that make the Novel such a wonderful place to write.  Such a creative pond of collective karma.

Spent some time this weekend learning about Tourette’s Syndrome, in an effort to understand more of what my son is going through.  He has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, Tourette’s and OCD.  A lot on his plate.  The Tourette’s and OCD have really taken over.  As I learn more about it I realize that I have or had Tourette’s myself, that all my strange, hyperactive tic behavior from my grade school days were the result of Tourette’s.  I still have a lot of tic behavior – biting my knuckle, clearing my throat constantly, always touching my face, obsessively eating sunflower seeds, etc.

Okay, I’m warmed up a bit, but not writing to my potential.  Still, I have so little time to write that I must get started.

I struggled through a few hundred words this evening.  I tightened and finessed the scene at the Slough of Despond.  And I deleted the three pages of transition scene after the Slough, with Darren driving home.  I’ve been trying to break through a wall for two weeks now.  This was most of the material I wrote in San Francisco, which read as dull, uninspired narrative.  I pushed through a bit on it, managed a few paragraphs to move the story forward.  But nowhere near the output I expect from myself.  My writing has been clunky lately, complicated further by the epileptic spasms of my computer as it coughs and putters in a complicated electronic death throe.  It’s been having meltdowns since yesterday when I downloaded updates to my software, and when I tried to set up my new wireless printer.  I re-booted the system tonight and when it re-upped it had cryptically reformatted my margins and font style so that the 223 pages I was so proud to have produced was reduced to 193.  I remember my excitement at having crossed the 200 page mark a few weeks back, and now I’m back under 200.  This is nuts.  I’m afraid of losing my work.  I need to get my laptop serviced before all is lost.

God, I’m tired.  I’m writing poorly.  I can’t think, can’t formulate words.  I’m writing in molasses.  I can’t focus.  Maybe it’s physical, maybe I’m sick.  Lots of people have been getting sick around me, so maybe I’m coming down with something.  My motor skills are off – I keep miss-typing; typing dyslexia, which is not me.  Usually typing is my forte.  I love typing and I rarely fumble.  But tonight I’m all over the place.  It’s a real struggle getting the words out.  Still, I managed to improve the beginning of the transition scene between the Slough and Darren returning home.  I’m going to have to pack up and leave the Novel soon.  It’s getting late and I have to be up at 5:00 am tomorrow to work the day job. 

I had a great conversation with Joe tonight about writer’s block.  He told me what I already know – if you can’t write, type.  Just keep it going.  You’ll work through the block.  Good old Joe.  He’s a real ally.  Uber comrade.  We discussed Frank Darabont, Paddy Chayefsky, Scorcese and Kerouac.  He gave me an interesting new perspective about the lionization of great writers.  He said he left that behind a while ago.  He does not hold any writer in awe.  He feels it gets in the way of developing his own sense of import as a writer – by putting some writers above him he is in effect lowering himself below them.  It allows him to focus on his writing without the constant comparison of him to other writers.  I argued that the great writers are my best mentors, my guides, the muses who help me monitor myself so that I can learn how to do the very best work I’m capable of.  I wouldn’t give up my Steinbeck, Kerouac, Hemmingway, Dickens, Updike, Augusten Burroughs, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Katherine Ann Porter, Flannery O’connor, James Baldwin, etc.  They ground me.  They center me. 

But God am I scattered tonight.  I don’t know what’s going on in my mind.  I must be getting sick.  I can’t keep a thought.  Time to pack it up and get my few hours of sleep before the long workday tomorrow.

                                                        *   *   *

 ….and on and on the journal goes.  I think it ended up being around a hundred pages, covering the next year or so, with stops and starts along the way.  It continues through the search for an agent and the sale of the book.  I love reading the journals of authors and filmmakers—it gives me insight to their process and humanizes them.  It makes what they do seem attainable.  Observing their struggles on the page gave me the courage to keep at it, year after year, until the day I could ultimately say, “this book is done.”

So, what about the Murderati gang?  Do you keep a journal when you write?  Anyone want to share an excerpt?

On my next blog I’ll be interviewing novelist Rebecca Cantrell as she looks forward to the paperback release of her fantastic, period thriller, “A Trace of Smoke.”

 

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

We’re going to be on a minimal posting schedule through the New Year. Not a complete hiatus, but semi-regular postings, since many of us are traveling and trying to get a real break from the Interwebs. We’ll be back at full force January 2.

We truly appreciate that you take the time to stop by, to participate, to be a part of this fabulous community all year long. We value your input so much that we thought we’d throw the field open to you.

If you comment over the next week, you’ll be entered into our Festivus Contest!

And what, pray tell, may the glorious prize be for commenting? Why, a package of signed Murderati books, of course!

14 books from 14 authors.

Now that’s a deal.

Here’s what we want to know:

(answer as many as you wish, but only one answer is necessary to be included in the contest.)

 What are you doing for the holidays?

What are you reading?

What topics would you like us to cover in the New Year?

What questions do you have for any or all of us?


 We wish you and your families the very best of holiday joy!

XENOPHOBIA

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Xenophobia:  a dislike and/or fear of that which is unknown or different from oneself. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “stranger,” “foreigner” and φόβος (phobos), meaning “fear.” The term is typically used to describe a fear or dislike of foreigners or of people significantly different from oneself, usually in the context of visibly differentiated minorities.

I don’t know why this was on my mind this week.  Maybe it’s because I’m aware of the unique opportunity we as writers have to combat xenophobic thinking.  It brings up the writings of Jim Thompson, a classic crime writer from the 1950s.  His protagonists always encountered xenophobic characters, yet even before the days of the Civil Rights Movement, Thompson managed to reveal the absurdity of racism and discrimination through character confrontation.

Thinking about this, I considered my own role in this process.  I wondered if I had truly examined my perspective on race and culture.  It brought out the moments in my life where I first observed xenophobic thinking:

Memory Flash #1:  I’m in high school, with one of my very best friends.  She and I weren’t romantic, but we were so close that, at times, it seemed like we were meant to be together.  I knew she was a very religious Christian and, since I’m Jewish, I recognized that this was one major point of difference between us.  I remember one day at lunch I saw her crying and I asked her what was wrong.  She told me she was sad because someday we would pass on from this world, and she would be in Heaven, and I wouldn’t be there. 

Memory Flash #2:  I’m in college, at North Texas State University, in Denton, Texas.  A friend of mine is waiting for the dorm-mate who had been assigned to her.  It’s a week into the semester and the girl hasn’t arrived.  Then one day she appears and tells my friend, “This is the imaginary line in the center of our room.  I’ll stay on my side and you stay on yours, whitey.” 

Memory Flash #3:  I’m in college again, playing in a sixteen-piece swing band called Big Al’s Swing Dance Orchestra.  I’m playing alto and I’m working through a section with the tenor player.  He’s being a real jerk to me, as he always is.  Suddenly he apologizes, saying that he’s just never been around a Jew before and didn’t know how to deal with someone whose people were responsible for killing Jesus Christ.

Memory Flash #4:  A girl hangs out with us at the dorms.  She’s mulatto, but her features are mostly African American.  She’s a musician, like the rest of us.  The guys she hangs out with at the Black Student Union tell her she has to make a choice – is she black or white?  ‘Cause she’s acting like an “Oreo”.  She is torn.

Memory Flash #5:  I’m driving in a heavy rainstorm in Northern Arizona, doing research in the Navajo Reservation.  My car breaks down.  I’ve got the hood up and a Navajo man in his twenties stops and asks if I need help.  I’m freaked out, scared, having heard stories of people being held up on the road in the Res.  “No, I’m fine!” I say and I instantly regret it.  I see the look on his face, he shakes his head.  I can tell I’ve hurt something inside him, hurt him bad.  He goes back to his truck.  He was only trying to help, after all.

These are experiences I’ve had and I can surely use them in my own writing, in an effort to unmask xenophobia, the way Jim Thompson did.  But I wonder if these experiences are enough.

Part of my job as a writer is to walk in the shoes of the characters I depict.  But I wonder if I truly understand the racially and religiously diverse characters I write.  Am I writing real people or stereotypes?  Is there a subtle xenophobia working behind the scenes, keeping me from capturing the nuance of characters too different from myself?

I wrote an African American detective named Wallace into my novel, BOULEVARD.  Does he read authentic?  Does he need to read different than any other American detective I write?  I first wrote the character as white, and then, mid-stream, I changed his ethnic background.  Should I have reached back further, created a new character analysis to redefine his perspective on life, based on the different forces that have influenced his life as a black man in America?  I did some of this on the fly, but was it enough?  I wonder if I have a responsibility to do more.

When I was in college I wrote a screenplay about a nineteen-year old Navajo boy who took a trip through the Res, encountering other Navajo characters on his way to California.  I did a huge amount of research for this story and, in the end, I think I captured the characters realistically.  But maybe the work was overly sentimental.  Maybe it was a white, Jewish, college kid’s idealized version of the world of the Navajo.

What does it take to see the world through the eyes of another?  Does our best work come when we rely on our own experiences for authenticity?  We’ve all heard that we should write what we know.  So many great writers have written from their own childhood experiences and their work stands out because of it.  But I’ve always thought that good research would fill the gap.  If I research it, I experience it, and therefore I know it.  And then if I write this “researched experience,” I’ll be writing what I know. 

But is that enough?  Can I possibly write from the perspective of a Navajo or African American or East Indian if all I’ve done is the research?  Is there a part of me that’s afraid of the differences between them and me?  And, if so, will I truly be able to represent their stories on the page?  It makes me wonder if I’m capable of exposing our xenophobic world through my fiction, when my own point of view might be influenced by the xenophobia that surrounds me.

It makes me admire Jim Thompson all the more.

What do you think, folks?  Is this a universal writer’s struggle, or am I making more of it than I should?  Should I just shut up and get back to work already?

 

 

 

STEP RIGHT UP AND SPIN THE WHEEL…

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Next week I check in for Jury Duty, and I really wish I could afford to be placed this year.  As it is, I’ll have to try to appear “unappealing,” so I don’t become one of the chosen ones.  I think saying I’m a crime novelist will do the trick.

A number of years ago I had one of the coolest experiences ever.  I was working at Disney Studios and they paid my normal salary while I was on Jury Duty.  Out of the dozen or so jobs I’ve had in my life, this was the only time my employer actually paid for Jury Duty.  Which was great, because I sat on that jury for three weeks.

It was a murder trial.

Now, I’d spent some time pulling cable on Judge Wapner’s The People’s Court, and I even worked as a director’s apprentice on an episode of Jake and the Fatman, so I figured this courtroom thing was going to be a piece of cake.  I soon learned the difference between “TV Land” and The Real Fucking Deal.

Here’s the scenario:  A guy and a girl in their twenties were sitting in the front seat of a car.  They were a couple.  Their “friend” was in the back seat.  The girl was driving, with her boyfriend in the front passenger seat.  The guy in the back pulls a gun and shoots the other guy in the back of the head.  He tells the girl to keep driving.  They end up in her apartment, where he rapes her at knifepoint, and then leaves.

What I found amazing was the killer managed to create an excuse for every bit of circumstantial evidence connecting him to the homicide.  It seemed that, through the discovery process, he was able to study the evidence gathered against him, and then create, probably with the help of the cheeseball lawyer he’d hired, a convenient explanation for why it looked like he had killed someone.

I can’t remember all the details, except that the two guys were going to “jack” some guy’s house that night, that they’d shot up a drug-dealer’s apartment earlier, blah, blah.  These guys were not missionaries.  Ultimately the suspect said that it was the girl who did it, that she killed her boyfriend and came to him looking for help to get rid of the gun and other evidence that was still in the car.  This explained his fingerprints at the scene, it explained the blood on his hands and clothes, it explained his behavior when he was questioned.  Her boyfriend’s body, by the way, was left in the car.

There was no usable evidence tying him to the rape of the girl.  Basically, after all was said and done, it came down to his word against hers.  Yet, in my opinion, the circumstantial evidence was enough to hang the guy.

As jurors, we heard testimony from ballistic experts, gunpowder residue experts, the coroner, blood spatter professionals, and a private investigator, among others. 

And then we heard the testimony of the girl.  I’ve never heard anything so real, so intense.  And I’ve never seen a film, TV or stage actor come across more believable.  Although her words did not constitute “evidence,” they left an indelible mark on my mind. 

I knew nothing about the other jurors during the trial.  None of us discussed the case.  We did it by the book.  Then came the deliberations.  Suddenly the place was alive with character, passion and conflict.  It was Twelve Angry Men, with the addition of women. 

After all the evidence had been considered, after days of detailed analysis, we had eleven jurors prepared to convict the guy.

One juror held out, because he thought the prosecutor had an attitude.

Yes, the prosecutor had an attitude.  He was like a caricature of a1950s ex-homicide cop, with the same antiquated Dragnet-era prejudices.  He’d come right up to the Jury Box, his fingers shaped like a gun held in the air, and dramatically yell, “Pow!” while describing the deadly gunshot.

Eleven of us ignored his antics.  We looked at the evidence and made the best decision we could.  One juror held out.  And that constitutes a mistrial.

As I see it, a guilty man was set free that day.  Of course, the state could’ve chosen to call for a re-trial.  Or they could’ve plea-bargained a deal with the guy’s schiester lawyer.  I never learned the outcome.

A couple years later I was again placed on a jury and I couldn’t wait to get started.  I wanted to sit on another murder trial.  Then came the case:  A small dent on the back of a car, a driver suing his insurance company, a stack of chiropractor bills, the insurance company proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the driver was trying to bilk the system. 

Boooooring.

I guess you never know what you’re gonna get when you spin that jury wheel.

What about the Murderati Clan – what have you taken away from the Jury Room?  (And I’m not talking about pencils and staplers!)

 

I HAD A VERY RELAXING DAY TOMORROW

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 I’ve been living for tomorrow since I was eight years old, when I wrote my first short story, Sammy the Dinosaur (Copyright 1972 All Rights Reserved No Persons Shall Use Any Portion of Sammy the Dinosaur Without Permission of Author or Author’s Estate.  Sammy the Dinosaur is a Fictional Character and as such is not Liable for the Reckless or Irrational Behavior of his Creator).

Maybe I figured Sammy would lead to greater things.  My mother sent the three-page story filled with typos and drawings of lopsided dinosaurs to Readers Digest where it was promptly rejected. 

I started making Regular 8mm movies when I was in fourth grade, graduating to Super 8mm films after my bar mitzvah money bought me the new Chinon XL555 movie camera complete with slo mo, fast-mo, stop-frame, and various other special effects.  In those days you could either get a camera that had sound, or a silent camera with effects.  I went for the effects, since my friends and I had been shooting our own version of the James Bond films, and slow motion was essential for those scenes where Bond shot me with a plastic machine gun and I tumbled from a snowy mountain-top to my death.  I always liked being the bad guy, the one who skied off a mogul and into a tree.

I figured those Super 8 movies would lead to a better tomorrow.  They simply led me to more expensive movies that I made in 16mm or 35mm, after spending my future credit rating on the loans that would get me through film school. 

In school I wrote screenplays that were sure to bring me millions.  I felt comfortable maxing out my credit cards and taking out more student loans – it was all an investment into my future life, the great “tomorrow” I would soon be living.  I mean, geez, ONE screenplay sale would wipe out my entire debt and put me in the black for years, right?  One after the other, each “million dollar” screenplay became a door-stop.  Became garden mulch.

I’ve suffered the American Dream a long time, friend. 

When my agent went out with BOULEVARD he was certain we’d make a bundle.  After a number of publishers rejected the book, my agent made that wonderful call to tell me it had sold.  Before telling me the offer, he warned, “Listen, it ain’t life-changing money.  Maybe we’ll sell Book Three for a million.”

It was a two-book deal, and fifteen years ago I could have lived on the advance for a year.  But now I’ve got overhead and past-due bills and a family and all those student loans to pay back, with interest, with collection fees. 

They say the economy needs to “adjust” before we can begin to see any improvement.  Before banks begin to loan again, before new houses are built.  We first need to work through our inventory of foreclosed properties.  As I wait for my own house to foreclose or short-sell, the house I put all that refi money into when the prevailing thought was, “buy, remodel, add equity,” I think about this tomorrow I’ve been waiting for.  I realize that I’ll have to “adjust,” I’ll have to lose all the overhead and settle into a realistic standard of living that I can afford. 

In many ways “tomorrow” has arrived.  My first book has been published and my career as a novelist has begun.  But I still have that day job and come Monday morning I don’t feel so much like the hot-shot writer.

I imagine a tomorrow where I might wake up late with nowhere to go, with nothing to do but write the things I want to write, with plenty of time to do it in, without worrying about bills, or losing my home. 

Tomorrow, maybe.

 

What were your dreams growing up, Murderati?  Have they changed over the years?  What have you sacrificed to get them?  What are your dreams yet to come?  And…can “tomorrow” really be attained?

 

CRAZYWOOD

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Comparing the world of publishing to the world of filmmaking as I did in my last blog reminded me of the fact that, while I hate Hollywood, I really love Hollywood.

I’m not alone.  Anyone who only loves Hollywood has never really met Hollywood.  Hollywood is a deceitful little bitch, but God she’s cute.  Sure, she can be admired from afar, but if you get too close, those little vampire teeth start to come out.

But I do have some telling stories about my days as a D-Guy, and one came to mind the other day….

This is the story of how I made the transition from being an Assistant to being a Story Editor when I was working for film director Wolfgang Petersen.  I ultimately transitioned to Director of Development, but the real crucial segue happened at this earlier stage, when I found it essential to prove that I had enough “story sense” to become a D-Guy.

By the way, this is a tale that reveals more about the dysfunctional chaos of Hollywood than it does about the qualifications I did or did not have to fill the position.

At the time, there were two people in our development office:  a Director of Development, and me, the lowly Assistant.  It was her job to find the next big Wolfgang Petersen project, and my job well, to answer phones.  But, as anyone in Hollywood will tell you, most of the submissions are read by the assistants first.  Especially if that assistant wants to move up the ladder.

Now, I knew the kind of films Wolfgang wanted to direct.  Big films with a social or political theme, films that dealt with universal issues, with social ramifications that could be felt around the world.  “Outbreak” was a great example of the kind of idea that excited him—how one little virus could polarize a nation, could ultimately take out a significant number of the world’s population if it wasn’t held in check.  What would we, as Americans, do to stop this from happening?  Would we destroy an American town?  These were the kinds of questions Wolfgang liked to consider.

So I received this spec script submission and, by God, it had everything I knew Wolfgang was looking for.  It was a very complex story about an American scientist who discovers a plot to bring a Russian nuclear weapon into America and detonate it in New York City.  It was a very smart script, much more akin to “The French Connection” than to any of the popcorn terrorist scripts that had been circulating at the time.  But the plot was so complicated it required a very focused reading just to “get it.”

There were clearly problems with the script.  But they were problems that could be addressed in development.  The important thing was that it was a smart political thriller that met Wolfgang’s requirements.  I felt that he should know about it and at least have the opportunity to read it and say “yes” or “no.”  The Director of Development wasn’t willing to stand behind the project.  She said that I was free to pitch it to Wolfgang if I wanted.

Now, I wasn’t really sold on the script as it stood; I was sold on what it could grow into, with Wolfgang’s guidance.  But I had to make a decision – do I stick my neck out for this or not?  I decided I would.

That decision was the key that turned the switch to Crazywood.

Wolfgang didn’t have time to read the script, but, based on my pitch, he felt we should go for it.  Go for it…what the fuck did that mean? 

His producing partner turned to me and said, “Well, that’s it then.  It better be good, Steve.”

And we went for it.  Which meant that we took the script to our studio and asked them to purchase it for us.  Suddenly Wolfgang was “attached” to the project.  And the town reacted. 

Now, remember, I was THE ONLY ONE at the company who had read this script.  And suddenly every production company in town was demanding to see it, and many were passing it up the ladder and submitting it to their studios.

But no one really took the time to READ the script.  Those who did, read it quickly, paying little attention to the details.  As things started heating up my producer came to me and said, “Steve, I’m getting all these calls from producers I know and no one understands this script – they can’t follow the story.  Either you’re a genius or you’re duping this whole town.”

Okay.  No pressure there. 

So the studio where we had our first-look deal passed on the project, which freed us up to take it to other studios. 

What happened next characterizes the world of Hollywood and is the stuff that keeps the sane from crossing the Arizona border into California.

Now, Universal Studios had just hired a new President of Production, and this guy was intent upon making a name for himself, and quick.  He was determined to create relationships with top film directors by purchasing their pet projects and launching them into production.  So, when he saw that Wolfgang was “attached” to this spec script, he swooped in and made a preemptive purchase of the script for 500 against 1.2. 

That means that the writer was paid $500,000 for the script and, if it went into production, he would get another $700,000. 

Just to make sure that we’re all on the same page here—this studio executive had not read the script.

When the dust settled and people actually READ the script, everyone turned to me and said, “What’s this story about?”

It was at this point that I was bumped up from Assistant to Story Editor.

I sat down and wrote a 25-page, beat-for-beat synopsis of the script, putting it in the simplest terms I possibly could.  I never said the script was ready to go, I only said that it seemed like the kind of material Wolfgang would like.  Suddenly I was responsible for a $1.2 million dollar deal and a marriage between Wolfgang and Universal Studios.

But wait, it gets worse.

This was the exact moment when a little studio called Dreamworks was born.  Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen.  They were their own studio, but they existed on the Universal lot.  They had a deal and a working relationship with Universal.  They had been developing a project that would become their very first feature film.  The storyline had been kept under wraps from everyone except the most inside of Hollywood insiders.

As it happens, it was exactly the same story as the spec script Universal had just purchased for Wolfgang.  Suddenly we were in a war with Spielberg.

And this was a huge embarrassment for the new President of Production for Universal, who really should have known what was being developed at his own lot.  He shouldn’t have gone out and bought a project that competed directly with the debut film from their boy wonder’s new film company.

Spielberg got hold of our project and read it and agreed that it was a smart script.  He suggested that we combine efforts, with Dreamworks producing and Wolfgang directing.  We read their project and we agreed that ours was smarter, more interesting, more realistic.  But ours still needed a huge amount of development work.  Spielberg’s project was almost ready to go.  Wolfgang declined their offer and we went to work on developing the script we had purchased.

Dreamworks moved quickly and cast their project with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.  We were still rewriting drafts of our project when they went into production for “The Peacemaker.”

“The Peacemaker” was no “French Connection.”  It was the popcorn version of what could have been an extraordinary film about the real-life consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union.  But it was Dreamworks’ first film and its release effectively killed our project.  So, our writer never did get that additional $700,000.

But the process gave me my Story Editor stripes.  I think my salary was bumped up to $35,000 per year.

As crazy as this was, how could it not be fun?  How could I hate Hollywood when the ride was always this dynamic?  It was great, as long as I didn’t put my heart into it.  The day I really began to care was the day I had to leave.  And heal.

*   *   *

On a completely different note, I wanted to post a link to my interview on “Connie Martinson Talks Books.”  Connie has been doing author interviews for almost thirty years and I was very honored to have been chosen to participate in her series.

 

SO NOT HOLLYWOOD

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

What impressed me more than anything about Bouchercon was the warm reception I received from a community of authors who had no doggone reason to be so damn warm and accepting.  But there they were, the top mystery-thriller writers of our day, opening their arms to one and all.

I only knew a few of these folks when I arrived, but I left knowing most everyone.  Because that was their way. 

At Bouchercon you walk into the hotel lobby to find yourself swallowed into the bar scene where those you know introduce you to those you’ve only read or heard about.  I arrived nervous, wondering who I might know, wondering if I would be accepted into a group whose members had paid their dues and earned the right to be there.

I stepped into that bar to encounter Alex/Brett/Cornelia/JT/James Scott Bell/Alan Jacobson/F. Paul Wilson/Christa Faust/Marcus Sakey/Sean Chercover/Lee Child/Rebecca Cantrell/Bobby McCue/Rebecca Cantrell/John Gilstrap/Matt Hilton/Naomi Hirahara/Jason Pinter/Howard Shrier/Kelli Stanley…you get the picture.

And everyone, every single one of them sang the praises of every other one of them, shared the stories of their successes and failures, shared the little tidbits of advice that had been shared with them by others or had been learned through their own hard luck efforts.  And they listened to the stories of my successes and failures, nodding their heads, patting my shoulder occasionally, smiling or showing concern when appropriate. 

Someone always arrived to take my hand, to guide me to someone they wanted me to meet.  To someone influential, someone that might advance my career.  Not a single author hoarded this information.  They passed me eagerly, from hand to hand.  As they did with everyone.  I was not singled out.  I was not the exception. 

And the readers, and the fans, and the writers-yet-to-be-published were welcomed as well.  In the same fashion.  Everyone had access to everyone else, and everyone respected the boundaries of others.

A special treat for me was meeting some of the readers of our Murderati blog site.  The warmth I felt when people like Allison introduced herself, reminding me of some of the things we’ve shared in past blogs, allowing me to get a glimpse into her world as a writer and lawyer in San Francisco.  I can’t count how many times someone came up to me to say they read my posts on Murderati and that they had hoped to meet me at Bouchercon.  The thing I wrote most commonly when signing my book was, “Thanks for your enthusiasm and warm smile.”  Because everyone I met was enthusiastic, everyone had a warm smile. 

“You sound like you’re at camp,” my wife said as I rat-a-tat described the events of my days.

“Camp, yes…”  It was exactly like camp, without the tents and bugs and campfires and bad food.  The camaraderie was the same.  The silliness was there also, like the drunken 3:30 a.m. bar songs in the lobby of the Hyatt with shouts of “Shut the fuck up!” from a room somewhere around the tenth floor.  Or Alexandra Sokoloff, Joe Konrath and others waltzing through the lobby in their bathing suits on the way to the hot tub, carrying a tray filled with beer.  The security guys stopping by once in a while to tell them not to drown, saying that they didn’t mind at all so long as the bathers kept the riff-raff from other hotels from invading the pool (not knowing, of course, that none in Alex’s party had a room at the Hyatt).

Each day was more exciting than the last.  The things I loved the most:  Brett Battles receiving the Barry Award for Best Thriller of 2008; his inviting me to share the celebratory dinner with just him and his editor; the phone call I received from my publicist to tell me that, after only four weeks in release, I had landed on the L.A. Times Bestseller List; the wonderful review I received in the L.A. Times the next day; the crowd that attended my panel; watching my books disappear off the bookstore shelves; the friends I met for the first time; the hugs and handshakes at the end.

I realized how unlike Hollywood was the Bouchercon experience.  The world of Bouchercon = “Come on in, there’s always room for another author!”  The world of Hollywood = “Fuck you get out of my way who the hell let you in to begin with?”

Hollywood is a tough place to hang your hat.  Everything devolves into Social Darwinism where the strongest, fittest, most predatory players find great success.  There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, and I’ve met a few talented, successful screenwriters who are accepting of others.  But I haven’t met many happy screenwriters.  Film is a director’s medium, so what the screenwriter ends up doing is writing a blueprint for the director’s vision.  That’s great if the screenwriter is directing the film.  However, that’s not generally the case.

At Bouchercon I met a whole lot of happy authors.  Sure, not a lot of Ferrari owners in the crowd, but at least we authors get “final cut.”  Our vision stands on the page.  And, while we’re all generally a bundle of insecurities, at least our insecurities don’t manifest into arrogant behavior that isolates us from the one, true support group we can enjoy—our peers. 

The authors in our genre, the authors I met at Bouchercon, understand this.  We are a support group.  It’s hard enough just to get published.  We don’t need to compete with ourselves.

So, is it a wonder I fell into a minor depression the minute the conference closed?  How can anyone go back to his day job after that?  How can anyone face the daunting creditors?  Bouchercon gave me a glimpse of what life could be, if only I could live it 24/7. 

The depression coincided with another event—the passing of my grandmother, who was 103 years old.  She died ONE DAY before her 104th birthday.  I had visited her just last week, after four years away, when I traveled to Denver on my book tour.  She was fine and healthy and full of humor.  She had another twenty years in her for sure.  Then one little bladder infection and it was all over.  She died Saturday morning, as my mom was flying in for her birthday.  My mom waited until Sunday afternoon to tell me because she didn’t want to ruin my time at Bouchercon.

Life and death, ecstasy and grief.  I experienced it all over the course of one weekend.  Thankfully, I had a great support group to share it with.

 

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