Category Archives: Stephen Jay Schwartz


By Stephen Jay Schwartz

So said Thomas Wolfe, that you can’t go home again.  The place you left when you ran away, when you escaped that provincial town to tackle the big city, it ain’t what it was when you returned after college, hoping for free room-and-board against the punishing kick in the ass life gave you in the form of first-last-security-utilities-parking-employment taxes.  Hey, mom, dad…I’m back.  What happened to my bed?  You’ve turned my room into a…tea parlor?

But the town was still the town and the things you thought were antiquated were seen with post-college eyes as quaint, even charming.  Something you might have actually missed, on occasion.

Then, off to chase the dreams again.  The next time you returned, well, ten, fifteen, twenty years had slipped on by. 

I returned home this past week, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on my book tour for BOULEVARD. 

Everything had changed.  Nothing had changed.

I grew up in Albuquerque, couldn’t wait to get the hell out when I was eighteen.  Followed my dream to the Pacific Ocean.  Everything about California was superior to everything in New Mexico. 

But as time went on I realized there were a few exceptions.

Like, maybe, the food.  Or, should I say the New Mexican Cuisine.  Where were the blue corn tortillas?  Hadn’t anyone heard of posole?  Or sopapillas?  Why weren’t the waiters asking if I preferred red or green?  The question was heard all the time in New Mexico: 

“Would you prefer red or green?” 

“What’s hotter today?”

“The green is spicier, we got it in from Hatch this morning.  Careful, it’ll burn your lips off.” 

“Gimme the green.”

And what about the sunsets?  Nothing like watching the sun set over the California ocean, sinking into eternity under a clear, aqua blue sky.  Nothing like that to remind me that the best sunsets I’d ever seen were the ones in New Mexico.  Big Sky country.  With giant, puffy, layered clouds kaleidoscoping the color spectrum like an enormous Disneyland above your head, bleeding pink-orange-yellow-red-purple-lightblue-darkblue-darker blue-black as the sun finally, reluctantly, crept into the desert night to produce a sky blacker than space itself, then the sudden sparkling illumination of constellations overhead.  Damn, I missed those New Mexican sunsets.

And I missed the adobe.  Bricks of mud and straw.  The humble roundness of earthen homes, unpretentious, traditional, embryonic.

Why couldn’t I find Navajo and Hopi Indians selling fry bread on the streets of Santa Monica?  Where were the luminarios at Christmastime? 

And where was the weather?  I missed the instant, angry thunderstorms and the lightening that chased its tail across the horizon, the booming thunder ricocheting off giant obelisks of red clay and sandstone.

I missed the tender four seasons—enough snow to build a snowman or catch a half-day skiing on Sandia Peak, a gentle Spring, a warm, dry Summer and zero percent humidity.  Los Angeles was perpetual summer, a Twilight Zone heaven to match the façade of perpetual youth and beauty that graced the beaches on hot December afternoons.

I missed New Mexico.  But when I returned I found it wasn’t the place I remembered.  What I remembered was my childhood.  The people who inhabited it, the relationships I had, my mother, father and sister.  My two dogs and four bullsnakes.  The empty fields and muddy ditches and lizards and crawdaddies I used to catch.  My first kiss, my first girlfriend, my first break-up, my best friend, my worst enemy.  The used, 1972 Mustang Grande my mom bought me for $500 when I was sixteen years old.  Scraping to find 32 cents every day to put just a little more gas in the car, every day. 

I returned to an Albuquerque where my father had already passed on, my mother had moved to Mexico, my sister to Texas.  The two dogs were in two-dog heaven.  The snakes buried in the backyard of what was now someone else’s home.  The fields were alternatively mini-malls or vineyards.  The friends looked like the parents of the friends I knew in high school.  Everything had changed.

And yet, I came home to a hero’s welcome.  A 3/4 page, color profile piece on the front of the book section of the Albuquerque Journal.  A welcoming committee of friends and relatives.  An impromptu headlining act at the local book club.  A full house, sell-out crowd at my signing at Book Works.  The people of the town, the ones who hadn’t left, remembered me and chose to celebrate my success.  They reminded me that, although I had left New Mexico, New Mexico would not abandon me.

I know now that I will move many times during my life.  I will live many places. 

New Mexico will always be home.

How about my little rati friends?  What does home mean to you? 

PS – I’m sorry I’ve been absent from the postings lately—I’ve been on tour and a bit overwhelmed. I’ll be in the air most of Friday, so I’ll sneak in as I can to check on comments.




By Stephen Jay Schwartz

BOULEVARD launched from Book Soup in West Los Angeles on September 16.  It’s been a whirlwind ride.  We had about fifty people in attendance, which included college friends I hadn’t seen in twenty years.  Brett Battles was there, too, as was the man (a good friend now) who employed both of us when we worked for Sir Speedy more than two decades ago.

It was great having my family at the event.  My mom flew in from Mexico to be with us, and my wife and two boys were at my side. 

I found it both intimidating and strangely comforting to sit behind a desk signing fifty copies of my book.  It was a feeling of quiet serenity, of friendly, honest smiles and handshakes and words of gratitude written and personalized on my title page.  My boys leaning against me as I signed, playing Nintendos.  Me catching glimpses of my wife in the crowd staring at me with that otherworldly, proud smile on her face.  It was a night of bliss.

Many in attendance had heard about my tattoo, so I rolled up my sleeve to show them the bloody, scabbing thing. 

I explained that the tattoo is a Polynesian version of the Tor-Forge logos on one side, and an old-fashioned Underwood typewriter on the other side.  It was a rite of passage for me—a defining moment that marked my transition from unpublished to published.  Something to remind me that I am as I define myself. 


The very next day was a punch in the face as I was forced to endure the eight hours of my day job.  As we know from Rob’s last blog (congratulations, Rob!), it’s impossible to be truly realized as an artist when forty hours a week or more is spent being someone you’re not.  I got through that Thursday and Friday by thinking of the launch and answering e:mails from friends who had attended, and by making nightly trips to the many Borders and Barnes & Nobles in the greater Los Angeles area, doing drop-in signings.

The first drop-in signing I did was the day before the event at Book Soup—the day the book was actually released.  We went to our local Borders, which had about ten copies BOULEVARD.  It was fun to see my boys running through the aisles, searching for, then finding my book stacked face-out in the shelves.  Of course, we took pictures.  We looked like the giddy, debut author family.

This week began the book tour, which took us to San Francisco where I did a reading and signing at the Beat Museum in North Beach. 

It’s a very special place for me because it honors the memories of the Beat Generation writers.  Jack Kerouac has been an influence on my life and my writing for over twenty years.  If you’ve never heard Kerouac read his work you’re missing out.  He was an amazing spirit and the fact that he lived in the “conservative” 1950’s makes his writings and life-journey that much more remarkable.  So, to be reading passages from BOULEVARD that were inspired by Kerouac, at the Beat Museum, in North Beach, across from the fabled City Lights Bookstore, was another defining moment in my life.

Before the event I took my family to the San Francisco Police Department’s Central Station, where I’ve been doing all my research for the book’s sequel.  I’m now friends with all the cops and they happily gave my wife and kids a tour of the armory and holding cells.  My boys were just a little freaked out to be standing in a room filled with almost a hundred automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

I also did something I’ve been wanting to do for a year—I presented a copy of BOULEVARD to the officers and placed it in their “library” where dozens of dog-eared police thrillers sat.  San Francisco is a city of readers, and the SFPD officers do their share to keep the thriller writers of America employed.

Our own lovely Louise Ure and her husband Bruce joined us at the Beat Museum, and it was a joy to finally meet her in person.  The next day my family and I had brunch with her in her city and we sealed a relationship that will last a lifetime.

We finished off the week at M is for Mystery Bookstore in San Mateo, California, where I discovered that the owner, Ed Kaufman, had already pre-sold almost thirty copies of my book.  What an amazing bookstore!  I saw books on the shelves written by ALL of the Murderati authors, as well as many other Murderati guest bloggers.  Ed is an avid reader and he’s extremely supportive of all the writers in our genre.

Listen, I’m a happy camper.  I’m having the time of my life.  I’ve got another month and a half of touring and panels, ending the whole thing with a trip to Indianapolis for Bouchercon, where I hope to see many of the people I’ve met on-line through Murderati.

I’ll check back in two weeks with further updates.  Being the Newcomer has been great fun, and I love the fact that Murderati has offered this forum for me to share the experiences of my debut year!  (I’ll be on the road when this posts, but I’ll try to check in with comments at stops along the way.  And sorry I’ve been absent for the past week…it’s been a whirlwind)

(Polynesian Underwood typewriter)



By Stephen Jay Schwartz


I’m promoting your shelf this week.  Your bookshelf, that is.  I’m suggesting that it might look a lot better with one of THESE on it…


Yes, it’s time.  After three and a half years of writing, after one and a half years of waiting (after the sale), the thing I’ve been hawking has finally arrived. 

BOULEVARD hits the shelves September 15.  That’s next week, folks.  I’m flipping out.  My first novel. 

Here’s what people are saying about BOULEVARD…


“Schwartz hasn’t missed a trick in this gripping first novel. He begins with a knowing guided tour of LA’s boulevards, i.e., “hooker strolls,” as seen by the cop/customer, and he skillfully develops Hayden’s flawed character, showing him to be decent, haunted, and sometimes loathsome. Most important, he artfully builds tension and suspense into horror and finishes with a stunning Grand Guignol climax. Expect much more from this talented writer.”



Like James Ellroy, Hollywood film developer Schwartz can make the reader squirm, as shown in his debut, a disturbing thriller whose hero is addicted to sex…Schwartz does a fine job of blurring the lines between sexuality and violence, the criminal world and the police world.

–Publisher’s Weekly


A New Golden Age? The modern mystery is advancing into new territory with unusual sleuths and a mix of genres and moods. Stephen Jay Schwartz’s Boulevard introduces a police detective who is also a sex addict.  Hayden Glass is the top investigator in the LAPD elite Robbery and Homicide Division. He’s also a sex addict. This debut novel revolves around Glass’s addiction and a series of sadistic murders that are aimed specifically at Glass. The murderer leaves clues that Glass puts together but that others miss mainly because few know about his addiction. Working with Kennedy Reynard, a former FBI profiler, he slowly tracks the killer. VERDICT: Plot twists and turns plus an unusual denouement make Schwartz an author to watch. Mystery fans who enjoy reading about the mean streets of L.A. (à la Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, T. Jefferson Parker) will devour this.

–Library Journal


“Boulevard is raw, twisted, and so hard-boiled it simmers from beginning to end.”

-Robert Crais, New York Times bestselling author of the Elvis Cole Novels


“Boulevard is terrific.  Fast-paced and convincingly told. The streets of L.A. have never been meaner or seamier. Stephen Jay Schwartz’s clear vision and knowing heartmake him a gifted writer to watch.”

–T. Jefferson Parker, New York Times bestselling author of The Renegades


“BOULEVARD is relentless and unflinching, a shocking thriller that dares you to keep reading. Schwartz has created one of the most complex and tortured protagonists I’ve encountered in a long time.A powerful debut.”

–Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Keepsake


“Tightly written and wildly original, you’ll be thinking about this story long after you close the covers.  Sex-addict Detective Hayden Glass is an unforgettable anti-hero you’ll love and hate at the same time. Stephen Jay Schwartz is going to give Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch a run for his money.  BOULEVARD is just plain excellent.”

–J.T. Ellison, bestselling author of Judas Kiss


“A lurid nightmare tour through dark streets and dark minds.  Stephen Jay Schwartz writes with the fevered intensity of early James Ellroy.”

–Marcus Sakey, Strand Critics Award-winning author of Good People


“BOULEVARD is one of the most riveting debuts I have ever read.  Stephen Schwartz has written a story that will enthrall you, haunt you, disturb you, and keep you thinking long after you’ve finished reading it. Once you begin this book you won’t be able to look away.”

–Brett Battles, bestselling author of The Cleaner


“Dark and gritty, Schwartz’s dicey debut is seriously twisted.”

–Robert Ellis, bestselling author of City of Fire


“Stephen Jay Schwartz is a brave and gifted author, and Boulevard is an electrifying journey into sinful delights and escalating evil. Morally sound, addictive as a speed-ball, and rich with insight into human frailty-this novel kept me awake and disturbed my dreams in all the right ways.  Lock your doors and read it.”

–Christopher Ransom, international bestselling author of The Birthing House


“Boulevard is a mesmerizing read;  Schwartz has drawn a swift, brutal, and compelling portrait of a nightmare underworld of Los Angeles and a protagonist tormented by his own sexual addiction as well as by a real human evil.  Boulevard is one of the most compelling books on addiction I’ve ever read, wrapped up in a gripping thriller.”

–Alexandra Sokoloff, bestselling author of The Unseen


Thank you Murderati authors for your wonderful blurbs!!!

I’m doing a short little book tour, which you can find by visiting

I hope to see everyone at Bouchercon in Indianapolis, October 15-18.

Thanks for allowing me my moment of shameless self-promotion.  I promise it won’t happen again until I’m out in paperback.



Tales of Woe in Glitter Town


By Stephen Jay Schwartz

The funny thing about development executives in Hollywood is that most of them aren’t writers.  Becoming a development exec is the route one takes to become a film producer.  That was the trajectory I was on had I continued climbing the ladder at Wolfgang Petersen’s company.  I was there for about five years, beginning as an assistant, rising to Story Editor and finally settling as his Director of Development.

If I had stayed I would’ve eventually become Vice President of Development and ultimately a producer, or I would have made a move to become the president of a company where an actor, director or writer had his/her development deal.  Or I might have segued to the studio to become a Creative Executive, Story Editor, Director of Development or Vice President. 

What I did instead was what every writer/development executive I knew ultimately had to do:  I got the hell out. 

I knew around a hundred development execs.  We went to all the parties, we tracked projects, we exchanged notes and recommended screenwriters we’d been reading.  Sometimes we competed for the same project.  We were buried in our work.  It was a 24/7 gig.  After a full day at the office I’d typically take two screenplays home with me to read at night.  I read anywhere between ten and twenty screenplays every weekend.  Sometimes I’d have a novel thrown in, just as a nail in my coffin.

Out of those hundred execs I knew, only three others were writers.  For us the job was more difficult.  We were on the writers’ side.

We knew what it took to deliver that 120-page screenplay.  We understood the agony of facing the blank page. 

I think the writer has it the hardest.  At least the director has a place to start.  He’s got a “blueprint,” provided by the writer.  The production designer has the screenplay and the director’s vision to work with.  The film editor has the footage; the result of everyone’s efforts, built upon the foundation of the screenplay.  Everyone has something to refer to, except the writer.  The writer faces the demons alone.

We writer/development execs often fought on the side of the writer against what we knew was a losing cause.  The system wasn’t always set up to recognize good writing.  It recognized attachments.  Was there an actor attached?  A studio?  A major producer?  A director?  Who’s the agent?  Often times it were these very attachments, or elements, that kept the projects from succeeding.  Too many cooks.  A producer will make the screenwriter change the hero’s gender because his deal is with Nicole Kidman, not Hugh Jackman. 

When I was working on the movie Outbreak (Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo, written by…well, that’s another story…) we were rushed into production because a competing project with the same storyline was going up against us.  We had a big studio, big producer, big director, big actors.  They had a big studio, big producer, with Ridley Scott directing, starring Robert Redford and Jodi Foster.  Theirs was based on the bestselling book The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston.  Ours started off based on the book, but when the producer didn’t get the rights to the book he decided that any story based on the outbreak of an infectious disease was fair game.  He decided to create his own.

This was the perfect example of the tail wagging the dog.  Everyone seemed to forget about their respective stories, their non-existent screenplays.  Each side made a mad rush to be first to the finish line.  As it happened the rush was to the starting line.  Both productions advertised the exact same production start date in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.  The industry awaited the head-on collision as only the film business can—with relish.

The screenwriters credited on the movie Outbreak are Laurence Dworet and Robert Pool.  These were the credited writers on the screenplay that came to our production company in an effort to get Wolfgang attached as the director.  From the beginning it was all about the idea of the story more than the script we were handed.  I never saw a second draft by Dworet and Pool, although the draft I saw might have been their tenth draft, for all I knew.

Our company immediately set upon getting someone to rewrite the script, which was par for the course in Hollywood.  Ted Tally was chosen (wrote the screenplays for Silence of the Lambs and All the Pretty Horses) and we were off to the races. 

We had problems with the Tally draft and then he was on to another project, so we brought in another set of writers, I can’t remember their names.  Their draft didn’t impress, so we brought in Carrie Fischer to punch up the dialogue.  Meanwhile, The Hot Zone, which had become Crisis in the Hot Zone, was going through its own devolution.  Redford and Foster apparently couldn’t agree on their script and the rumor was that each wanted the screenplay rewritten to make their character the principal role.  The story took back seat to the attachments.

It was a race to meet the date to begin principle photography.  Nobody had a produceable script.  We hired Neil Jimenez (River’s Edge, The Waterdance) to begin a page-one rewrite while we were in the middle of pre-production.  Ultimately, Crisis imploded, its stars unable to agree on the script.  Yea, we had won!  Now what?  There was no way to stop the machine.

Poor Neil wrote day and night, faxing pages in at four in the morning for each day of production.  Us development folk in the office alternately cried or laughed, and both reactions were appropriate.

Wolfgang is a talented director.  He pulled it together.  It wasn’t his best film, but it wasn’t bad.  If he’d had a better screenplay it might have been great.  But it really wasn’t about the script, anyway.

And I tell this tale to illustrate what, exactly?

It’s one of many reasons I stopped being a D-Guy.  It’s one of the reasons I stopped writing screenplays.  The whole environment was so rarely about the one thing I truly loved – storytelling.

Movies are a director’s medium.  I know a number of successful screenwriters.  I don’t know if I know a happy screenwriter.  I think the happy screenwriters are the ones who direct their own screenplays.  Artists expressing their visions.  Otherwise, they’re writing blueprints for a director to do as he/she pleases.

I left to write a novel.  I had this crazy idea that I might be able to tell a story the way I wanted to tell a story and that someone would actually want to share the vision I had in my head.  I figured I’d write something similar to Philip Roth.  I didn’t care if it sold.  I just wanted the freedom to express myself.  Thank God I read those thousands of thriller screenplays at Wolfgang’s company.  Thank God that Three Act Structure was embedded firmly in my mind. 

The point is if you’re a storyteller you’re a storyteller.  I had to get off the D-Guy treadmill and do what had to be done.  As did the other three writers I knew who had D-Guy or D-Girl gigs.  The ones who stayed either burned out or became VPs, producers or presidents of companies with development deals.  A lot of them drifted off into sane, stable careers.  I didn’t know any who had become novelists.  I didn’t know any screenwriters who made the jump, either.

Until I met Alex and Rob.  Something tells me they’re a lot happier now than when they were in the “game.”  They are storytellers, and people are loving their stories.  This wonderful give-and-take with the audience is something I never experienced writing screenplays in the film industry. 

Anyway, this is Part One in what will eventually be a series of tawdry tales about the glamorous world of Hollywoodland.  It was a nightmare, but it was fun.  I still love developing screenplays, usually for smaller filmmakers outside the reach of the giant attachments that make Hollywood such a charming place to do business. 

I remember having this terrible epiphany – I realized that Robert Altman’s The Player wasn’t really a satire.  It was a documentary.  When I recognized myself on the screen I knew it was time to get out.





By Stephen Jay Schwartz

I used to think I knew him. And his cousin, Jack. But now, after forty-five years, I realize I don’t know Diddly Squat or Jack Shit.

I’d like to think I’ve become smarter over the years. Maybe I’m just more handy. Like, I’ll know how to turn off the gas the next time there’s an earthquake. And I can hail a taxi in New York City at rush hour. These are things I now know.

But there’s something bigger that confounds me. It’s this thing we’re all doing here. This thing called Life.

And what’s weird is that I had it all figured out when I was eighteen. Life was a simple through-line, no subplots. Hero takes journey, faces zero obstacles, succeeds. Everybody loves him.

I think the first sign that things would be different came when I was twenty years old and my dad killed himself. That, in the movie business, is what’s called the End of Act One.

Hence came drama and escalating action. It’s been twenty-five years since, and I’m still deep into Act Two. I suppose I should be happy about that. I want to stay in Act Two as long as possible. Ultimately, some terrible crisis will propel me into Act Three, and we all know what happens after that. The End.

Throughout Act One and much of Act Two I insisted I had learned the way things worked. With each knew year of life came greater understanding of the great mysteries I had encountered. I gave simple, pat answers for what were truly complex questions. I actually thought the question, “Why is the sky blue?” required a scientific answer. Worse yet, I thought it could be answered at all.

I’ve always been drawn to the people who asked the questions, as opposed to the people who provided the answers. In college I was drawn to Jack Kerouac and writers of the Beat Generation because they questioned authority. I was drawn to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, to Timothy Leary, to Abbie Hoffman, because they, too, questioned authority.

But the Angry Young Man energy that fueled my interest in people who questioned authority gradually settled, and I started to see the many different sides of the complex problems in life. I realized that the world didn’t really exist in black and white, bad guys versus good guys. I found that I occasionally empathized with the authority figures. Sometimes what they were fighting for made more sense to me than the rest.

As my anger subsided, my awe for life’s unanswerable questions overwhelmed me. I realized I would never know the answers. So why not focus on asking great questions?

And that is how a work of art is defined in my mind. The exploration of life—through oils, charcoal, sound waves, digital bytes, film emulsion, words on a page…

I am not impressed by a well-told story, if that story only tells the actions of plot and relates the feelings of fear, anger, love or anxiety that directly result from that plot. If the story is only the perfect execution of dramatic structure, I might as well take a nap. I get excited when I witness the question asked anew: “For Godsake what is this thing called Life???” When that question vibrates off the page, I get excited. I want to see how other writers approach this. I want to see how they handle it in memoir, thriller, crime fiction, fiction and science fiction. It’s what makes Asimov so appealing. His short story “Bicentennial Man” wasn’t just about a robot trying to fit in, it was about the African American struggle for equality in the 60s. Asimov’s work is always about so much more than the crafty execution of plot.

I think people yearn for guideposts in their lives. I know I do. I read books in hopes that some new wisdom will be revealed to me, that the author will, with taste and subtlety, leave little breadcrumbs behind so that I might find my way. And when I recognize this quality in a writer’s work, I stand up and scream his or her name from the tops of the roofs. I want everyone to know of them.

One of the extraordinary things about my debut year is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet writers whose work gives me this sense of awe. My conversations with them fill me with optimism. We are travelers together, we occupy the same raft, and yet our experiences are vastly different, and our survival stories unique. I enrich my journey through the experiences they share through their art.

I hope my own work contains the qualities I look for when I reach for something to read. One never knows. One can only try.

If any of you happen to meet Diddly or Jack along the way, I’d love an introduction.

Adventures in Newbie Land


By Stephen Jay Schwartz

I’m feeling much better now, after surviving the chaos of my previous blog. I discovered that, yes, if you ignore the strange sound that squeaks from inside your car it will in fact go away.

I took two weeks off from the day job and put fourteen 12-hour work days into my second novel, which is due to my editor mid-August, but will be delivered on September 15, which is, coincidentally, the launch date for BOULEVARD. I’ve come a long way, but I ain’t out of the woods yet.

I managed to write 200 pages in two weeks. This, after having reached page 150 a month ago, then throwing out 85 pages, then spending two weeks hammering out a beat-by-beat treatment from chapter one to the end (with the help of my wonderfully talented story-editor wife Ryen).

I crossed the 300 page mark last night (about 75,000 words) and I’ve got two weeks to write the next hundred pages to finish the book. Then one month for rewrites and a polish before handing it in.

So, what wasn’t doable two weeks ago is doable now. And I’ve got a good lead on turning the home foreclosure mess into a short-sell, so there’s hope there, too.

Meaning, I’m feeling much better, thank you.

And….the BOULEVARD train has left the station…

Reviews are starting to come in. Publisher’s Weekly and Book List so far, and I couldn’t be happier.

In my first blog as Murderati’s Newbie Author, I promised I would share the adventure. Report on the things I’m learning and the experiences I’m having. So here goes.

First and foremost – I recently joined the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Author Program and received their Debut Author’s Survival Guide. This is something I should have read a year ago. Incredible insights and practical advice about what goes on the moment your book sells. If I had read this earlier I would have saved my agent and editor tremendous heartache. Kudos to JT and others at ITW for having made this awesome resource available.  It is something that I will continue to reference for months to come.

I’ve also been getting my tour schedule in order. I’ll be covering all of California as well as my hometown of Albuquerque, Phoenix, Denver, Portland and Las Vegas. The Vegas trip will be fun, since it’s being sponsored by a friend who has guaranteed at least twenty Vegas strippers in attendance. That might not mean much to you…but that’s what I call a friend. Needless to say, my wife will be attending this event.

I’m also excited about the invitation to speak on a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair. I don’t know if I should feel honored or insulted, actually, considering that the panel is called, “Dark and Twisted: Testing the Limits of Taste and Depravity.” I’m afraid to meet my fellow panelists, unless, of course, I’m the most depraved of the lot.

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet some fantastic authors. Brilliant writers, all of them.

I figured the best way to illustrate what’s going on is to post my current “To-Do List.” It tells more about where my head is than anything I might write in linear form. So here goes:

To Do List

Summer of ‘09

1. Research tattoos

2. Join Mystery Writers of America, per JT Ellison’s e:mail

3. Join Sisters in Crime

4. Schedule time with David (The Novel) for black & white photography

5. Ask Eric or Scott if I should do a book trailer – Blair. L/W 6/24.

6. Schedule lunch with Mike DePasquale, re: Robbery-Homicide Division

7. Be a guest blogger on Naked Authors site per Patty Smiley.

8. Figure out Google Alerts – look at Brett’s e:mail message. What am I doing wrong?

9. Put tour schedule on website.

10. Figure out how to access website and make changes regularly

11. Let everyone know tour dates – drum up a crowd for each signing.

12. Figure out how to do an e:mail blast/save the date thing like Brett did for “Shadow.”

13. Website fix-its: a) Take out quote or attribute it to proper person – Salman Akhtar, not Carl Jung, b) Add new blogs, c) Add proper titles to author blurbs, d) fix links – from one category to the next, e) enlarge navigation buttons so people can read it, f) add book-signing schedule and appearances, g) add reviews when they become available, h) add new covers for hardcover and audio book.

14. Check in w/ Ray Porter re: audio book narration

15. Suzuki – send letter to yet another marketing manager

16. Set up newspaper interviews with Albuquerque Journal

17. Book air flights and pay for tour.

18. Check on train trip and hotels for San Francisco, San Mateo, San Deigo.

19. Get a listing or account or whatever.

20. Pay back the $300 to Uncle Jerry & Aunt Annette

21. Practice autograph

22. Review Bouchercon list of events – sign up for things.

23. Check to see if I paid my business license for 2009!!!

24. Days to take off work – Sept. 10, 16, 21-25, Oct. 5-9, Oct. 15, 16, 28, 29, 30.

25. Finish Blog #6

The list, of course, is ever-changing and never-ending. “Get an iPhone quickly before all is lost!” has been accomplished. As well as “Figure out how to make a website.”

Some of the things on my list might sound a little strange. “Research tattoos” being number one. I want something specific to represent this moment in my life. I want a “rite of passage”, marking my transition from unpublished to published. I’m a tattoo virgin, too, so it’s a big deal for me. My wife insists I choose the artist based on the quality of biohazard suit he wears while applying the tattoo, as well as the tidiness of the satellite construction “clean room” from which he works. (I should have added one other item to the list – #26: Daily yoga and meditation to prepare for mother’s reaction when she discovers I’m getting a tattoo). Really, I’m a big boy, it’s not the first nor will it be the last mistake I make in my life. Yes, but this one is permanent, and the Rebbe won’t let you be buried in a Jewish cemetery… 

What’s the Suzuki thing about? Good question. Good story, actually. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a cool motorcycle for a couple years now. Oiy, he wants a motorcycle now? I’ve never ridden before. About a year ago I pulled up to one of my writing cafes and I saw the perfect bike. A little roadster, all black with shiny, bright chrome. Leather saddlebags. It was the best bike I’d ever seen. I drew closer and read the name on the gas tank, which was also written on the saddlebags. It was a Suzuki Boulevard.

Come on, now. What are the odds? This had to be the universe calling my name. The coincidence propelled me into action. This wasn’t just about finding the perfect motorcycle anymore. It was about finding the perfect cross-promotion marketing opportunity. I quickly found the names of two senior-level marketing execs at Suzuki and wrote to them, giving them the story, suggesting we cross-promote the launch of my novel with their motorcycle. I suggested I could have a banner on my website with a link to their website. I suggested they could sponsor my book tour, that I would ride the new motorcycle they gave me to book signings all across Los Angeles. I suggested they pay for my publicist.

I’ve sent that letter about four times now, to four different marketing executives.

The sound of crickets. Not even a return call to say, “Mr. Schwartz, your request is preposterous.” I should’ve taken the Suzuki item off my list months ago.

And, what, you’re giving me grief about practicing my autograph? You can’t tell me that wasn’t on your Debut Year To-Do List. So far I’ve signed three ARCs, and one was to Brett. The way my handwriting looks, I might as well take a chicken foot and an inkpad to my signings.

Anyway, the journey has begun. I’m getting the biggest kick out of watching my kids explore the world of publication. We’ll be road-tripping California, hitting Sea World and other exciting kid-friendly places along the way. It’s truly an amazing experience. The opportunity of a lifetime.

Let’s do something fun – give us a look at your current “To-Do” List. Just whip it off your computer or type it up and post it. Don’t you dare self-censor!




By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Air and light and time and space

By Charles Bukowski

“-you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something
has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
For the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and the time to

No baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

Baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

End poem. Start blog.

Oh, my God, but the distractions have become unbearable.

I have the cat crawling up my back, if the cat is credit card debt.

I have the earthquake, bombardment, flood and fire as represented by the imminent foreclosure of my home, underwater by leagues. As great a disaster as any of the above for it involves the dislocation of family, pets and material goods to god-knows-where with god-knows-what money to pay first-last-deposit and no savings from which to pull and no credit on which to borrow.

Oh, my God, but there are distractions.

Pressures and expectations seeping up from the cracked earth beneath my feet, requiring that I play so many parts so very well: stable daytime sales executive, relentlessly focused debut novelist working book two on deadline (nights and weekends, of course), dependable provider for family of four (oh, but the bills are such distractions!), loving, available, husband and father.

I’ve written through pressure before, but the stakes have never been this high.

Now, on command, create.

You have (fill in the blank) hours today to create. Create well. Do not be distracted by the lawsuit behind the curtain. Sit. Focus. Create. Do not be distracted by the flickering of lights and the rattling of pans.

in the world of the story.
That’s all that concerns you.
What is the character thinking? What does he do next?

Do not listen to the strange sound that squeaks from inside your car. It should disappear in time.
Do not listen to the voice of your boss who calls you distracted.
Do not listen to the strange sound that squeaks from inside your chest. It should disappear in time.

You are a writer and you will create.

I used to think that I loved writing and now I’m not sure.
One thing I do know, for sure: I love having written.


by Stephen Jay Schwartz

He would have been 73 today.

He took his life twenty-five years ago, when I was twenty years old.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality lately. The triple-whammy celebrity toll didn’t help any. Ed McMahan, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson.

I used to watch the Tonight Show when I was a kid, dreaming of the day I would sit on the sofa beside Johnny, laughing about the plot of the film I had in theaters at the time. Then Johnny died and so did that dream. Now Ed’s gone and the era is over.

I remember Farrah from Logan’s Run. Gorgeous. I wanted a flashing gem in the middle of my hand just so I could meet her. I was one of those boys who had her poster on the wall, too. Red bathing suit showing just enough up top to keep me up at night. I never did watch Three’s Company, but I sure did watch that poster.

I didn’t think much of Michael Jackson. He was kind-of disco era to me, and I was into Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Van Halen. Now I listen to his music and watch his dance moves and I have to agree with everyone else – the guy was amazing. Why didn’t I notice that before?

Last week I had a coroner-related question for my new novel. It had been about eight months since I last e:mailed the ME I knew at the LA County Coroner’s Office. I sent a note – “Hey, when you took me on that tour last year I thought I saw an X-ray machine. Do ME’s use X-ray machines, and under what circumstances?”

About five minutes later he sent an e:mail describing all the situations in which an X-ray machine would be used in helping to identify a body. I sent him another note a little later and he answered quickly again. Later, in the afternoon, I was driving and I heard his name announced on the radio and then I heard his voice saying, “We won’t have Mr. Jackson’s toxicology reports for another six weeks…” and I realized that he was doing the autopsy on Michael Jackson.

I e:mailed him the same day he had Michael’s body on the table.

I don’t know, but that kind-of freaked me out. The entire world was mourning Michael Jackson, and I had this strange, direct link to his most personal of personal possessions—his body.

It made me think of his body of work—what he left behind. I think it’s safe to say that Michael Jackson accomplished his great, artistic goals before passing on. He did what he came here to do. I would say that Ed McMahan, Johnny Carson, Farrah Fawcett, George Carlin…they said what they had to say.

It makes me think of mortality. Will I have enough time to say what I have to say? If I died tomorrow would my life have been fully realized? One novel, a couple short films, a few short stories, a bunch of unproduced screenplays, a documentary for the Discovery Channel. I think that about covers it.

But there are other things, too. A beautiful wife and two incredible boys. I’d rather have those two boys than the ten novels I didn’t write these past ten years. I know it doesn’t have to be one or the other, but I could have made a lot of headway with the career if I hadn’t been the sole breadwinner, responsible for the lives of four. However, I have a lot of single friends who managed to get a lot of good work done, but they don’t have children to sit with in the park, collecting potato bugs.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Sunday in the Park with George” makes it pretty clear for me—the most important things we leave behind are children and art.

And so I think again about my father. He took his own life. He would have been seventy-three today. What did he leave behind? The daughter-in-law he would never meet. The grandchildren who would never hold his hand.

He was a doctor and that was his art. After he died I was given the opportunity to take things from his walk-in closet. His wife permitted me that. I asked for one thing only. His medical bag. I saw her gasp at the thought—of course, it really was the essence of the man. One little black bag said it all.

I am his legacy and I carry his legacy. I set the bag upon the bed and open it for my children, his grandchildren, to examine. They run their fingers over the rough, black leather. Feel the pigskin bumps. Read the name printed in gold script above the latch – Doctor Larry R. Schwartz. Play with a twenty-five year old stethoscope, listening to each other’s heartbeats. Dig around the tools of his trade, the instruments of his art.

I think he had more to say. I don’t really think he did what he had come into this world to do.

My wife and I end all of our cards to each other with the same sentence. It’s from “Sunday in the Park with George” again. It’s about the process of living in this world, creating in this world, and sharing what we create in this world. It’s really quite simple:

Give us more to see…

She’s All That

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

It’s time to give props where props are due. This, to my supportive and enthusiastic wife, Ryen.

She’s all that. And more.

The more is something I never would have guessed when I met her twenty years ago at that Hillel dance in college. She was such a cutie then, cute as a little button. And exactly my type, with her long, long blond hair, her great smile and bright blue eyes and thin, petite body. Features that she’s kept to this day. I have to admit, what grabbed me first were her looks.

I knew she read a lot, but I also knew she read the kind of novels I didn’t read, like…historical romance. And she watched a lot of television, which wasn’t really my thing, since I had just come out of film school and was buried in the Gigantic Technicolor Epics of World Cinema.

Her background, however, would sneak up and save me.

Years into our relationship I began working as a development executive in Hollywood. Soon I was reading two screenplays every night after work and fifteen to twenty on the weekends. We got married, and I realized that if we were going to make this relationship thing work we were going to need to find a way to reduce the workload. The way I had it figured, if we split that “weekend” read between us, with the two of us reading Friday night and all Saturday day and night, we’d have Sundays off. I gave her screenplays to read and asked her for a verbal synopsis, or pitch, of each screenplay. If the screenplay was good, or if the subject matter seemed appropriate for the film company that employed me, I would read it myself. Before long she became my “ghost reader.”

And we had Sundays off.

What surprised me, however, was that she was really, really good. From the start. No learning curve. Her sense of dramatic escalation, plot, character and dialogue stood out as something exceptional, something I rarely saw, even though I was surrounded by people whose job it was to analyze and develop story for films.

When I wrote BOULEVARD, Ryen read every word, sentence and chapter behind me, every night. She found the subject matter disturbing; this wasn’t the kind of stuff she liked to read. But she got it. She knew where I was going and what I needed to do to get there. And when I pulled punches she caught them. When I skirted the darkness she turned me around to face it.

I’ve never encountered anyone with such a natural sense of plot. And I think a lot of it came from her total immersion in television as a child, combined with her addiction (and that’s what it was – I bet you didn’t think I could get the word addiction into yet another blog!) for historical romances. Both forms of storytelling adhere to specific formulae regarding primary plot development, subplot development (usually a romantic plot-line), plot points, and standard three (sometimes four) act structure. Ryen didn’t know any of this. But she knew all of it. She knew it so well she didn’t have to think about it.

And so I’ve discovered that my wife is not just a supportive mother to our two young boys, whom she home-schools. She is not just a sensitive and understanding partner who endures the dramatic mood swings of an over-anxious writer. She is not just the perfect cheerleader to my occasional touchdown pass, or the chummy grade-school coach who’s there to pick me up when I fall. The girl is all that. And more.

Was it fate, then, that the young girl I met at the Jewish dance would turn out to be the brilliant, natural story editor I would need in order to find success as a novelist twenty years later?

I need her now more than ever. As I drown in the research of my second novel, as I write and rewrite scenes and chapters that will never see the light of day. I depend on her to review, organize, and focus my thoughts into coherent lines of plot and real-life characters whose dilemmas demand real-life empathy.

But don’t think it’s easy. She’s got her opinions and, by God, she’s always right. If you think it’s tough receiving criticism from your friends, try getting it from your wife. All…the…time. I put my foot down recently when she suggested that I correct the spelling of “labridoodle” in my bio. “It’s spelled with an ‘a’,” she said. “Labradoodle.”

“It should’ve been spelled with an ‘i’ to begin with,” I insisted. “It’s a made up word anyway, for a made up dog, a Disney dog, a dog that consists of parts of dogs that should never have been combined. Labridoodle is cuter and it’s the way I choose to write this silly new word to describe our silly new dog.”

But she won’t let it go. For my labridoodle “win” I have to give her a two-page rewrite on the sex scene I’m writing for my next book, because the scene reads, “too cute, too silly, too…Disney.”

We spent most of last weekend tearing apart my next book’s plot, again, and rebuilding it into a story worth telling. It was a painful and humbling experience. She took the inspired mish-mash I had and gave it direction. I would lend her out to every writer I know, but I’m afraid she’d kill them. She delivers brash bullets of truth. She tears my heart out and feeds it to the demons she keeps in her tote bag, with her sharpened pencils and antibacterial hand gel.

The girl’s an ego-killer. But she wouldn’t do it if she didn’t care, if she didn’t want my work to be the best it could be. And, shit, it works. She’s got something, man. Something that eludes me. I’d be a fool not to listen.

So, Ratis, who do you turn to when you want an honest, intelligent perspective on your work? Who watches your “blind side?” Is it your editor? Spouse? College professor? Another writer? A workshop?

For the Love of It

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

I don’t know exactly when it was that I fell in love with research. Perhaps it was in college, when I managed to convince five professors that the research I would do in the Navajo Reservation was important enough to excuse me from two weeks of classes, and that it would require the rescheduling of my mid-term exams. I can understand why my screenwriting professor went along with this, and maybe even the guy who taught Film as Literature. But how did I convince my American History, Astronomy and Sociology professors? Somehow I got them on board, and then I was off on a road trip that took me through California, Utah and Northern Arizona, taking the picaresque journey I was writing for my protagonist, a young half-Navajo, half-hick pig farmer on his way to the Salinas State Fair to show his nine hundred pound Dorac.

What the hell was I doing? I had a broken-down Toyota Corolla and a hundred bucks to my name. Was this a vision quest of some sort? Was I ducking my adult responsibilities, intent upon reenacting my own version of Kerouac’s “On the Road?”

Yes! Yes, and more! This was one-hundred-percent-university-stamped-and-approved road trip extraordinaire! Under the dubious title….RESEARCH.

And then a funny thing happened. I started learning about life. Things that would become the world of my story. I was alone in a strange land, lost first in a little hunting town called Kanab, Utah, then lost in a big desert called Monument Valley (almost lost to the flash floods that were flashing behind and in front of me), and then lost and found again in Window Rock, Arizona. And I met amazing people along the way – Native Americans and Anglos alike—and somehow I ended up sleeping with a .32 revolver under my pillow on New Years Eve, and somehow I ended up atop the wildest beast I ever know’d, hanging on for dear life, after I said the words “Sure, why not?” in answer to the question the little Indian boy had when he looked me in the eye and said, “Wanna ride my daddy’s rodeo horse?”

My God was it fun! And I ended up in the snowy desert around a little place called Rough Rock, or Round Rock, or a combination of the two, it didn’t really matter, they were one and the same with their lack of electricity and running water and plumbing and the hundreds of dogs and thousands of sheep that wandered the snowy hills looking for edible shrubs, some of which were medicinal, others hallucinogenic. And an ancient Navajo medicine man who duetted with me—his tribal flute to my soprano sax—gave me peyote for my ailing back and blessed it with cedar bark and a wave of his eagle feathers and soon I saw spirits in the linoleum on his kitchen floor.

Damn straight, this was research.

And I rode horseback through Canyon de Chelly to view the Anasazi Indian ruins first-hand, and I interviewed Navajo teachers and prophets and politicians and farmers. On my last day I was driven out to the boonies (it was all the boonies) to the home of a Navajo educator who had promised to drive me back to Gallup and it was late and cold when I arrived and he saw me and said, “It’s an old Navajo tradition to sleep in the same bed for warmth, you know,” and I realized that I had just met the first gay Navajo I’d ever known and I said, “Thank you, I’ll just stay over here in this bed…” and when I awoke I found him standing over me peering out the window saying, “Tsk, tsk, this doesn’t look good. We’ll be snowed in for days…” and he was right, the snow had descended on our little world and there I was.

Then at breakfast I met his parents who lived with him and spoke about me behind my back and he told me that they figured I was one of those hippies who used to hitchhike through in the Sixties and would stop in to stay and herd their sheep for a week or two. They asked me if I would like to herd their sheep and I declined. And during my stay I discovered that the gay Navajo (who was respecting my boundaries, by the way) was an amazing writer who had graduated from St. John’s School of Great Books and had, in his youth, danced professional ballet in New York City and had been a good friend to Andy Warhol.

By the time I returned to campus I had a glint in my eye and a taste for adventure. I took my delayed midterms and sat down to write. But I had friends who had heard where I’d been and one or two came to me and said, “You should’ve told me you were going to the Res, I could have hooked you up with a Navajo family and you would have stayed in their ceremonial Hogan…” I had no choice but to go back for more. And I did.

Research. Sometimes I think I’m a writer as an excuse to do research. I love it as much as the writing itself.

I once saw a greeting card that read, “We write so that we may experience life twice.”

I’ve learned that I do research so that I might experience life once, from as many perspectives as there are people to meet.

And when you call yourself a writer, people will talk. People will tell you the most amazing things. Everyone wants to be remembered, and everyone has a story to tell. And if you’re willing to listen…watch out!

When I start a project I like to do what I call “wallowing in research.” Sometimes I call it drowning, or sponging, or diving off the deep end. I go native. A life-long vegetarian, I recently went to Alabama to research the world of hunting in an effort to add some realism to the life experiences of the hero of one of my short stories. I thought it would just be an interview, and when I told the hunter I didn’t want to see an animal killed, he inched up close to my face and said, “Boy, this here’s a turkey hunt and if I see a turkey I’m gonna shoot it. If you get in the way you’re gonna end up with a chunk of birdshot in your ass.” Thank God we didn’t find any turkeys.

When I meet them I become them. Through research I’ve been an astronaut riding the space shuttle to the International Space Station. I’ve been a deep-sea submersible pilot. I’ve been a cosmonaut on Mir. I’ve been a Nobel Prize winning physicist. I’ve been the second man to step foot on the moon. I’ve been a medical examiner at the L.A. County Coroner’s Office. I’ve been the oldest policeman in the San Francisco Police Department (having first spent thirty years as a cable car brakeman). I’ve been the Executive Director of an organization that hides women from the perpetrators of human trafficking. I’ve been a Special Agent for the FBI.

For my novel, BOULEVARD, I researched sex addiction and LAPD procedures. As an unpublished writer I didn’t always get the access I wanted, and LAPD Media Relations didn’t want anything to do with novelists (whom they tended to call “journalists”). I do remember cold-calling the Chief Coroner Investigator at the LA Coroner’s Office and asking for a tour and interview, and I was astonished when he granted the request. In a half-hour tour I saw over two hundred bodies and six simultaneous autopsies, and every variant of death and decay you can imagine. It was strangely more serene than I had imagined and the experience reinvented my paradigm for writing scenes that take place in the Coroner’s Office.

My second novel, THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS, brings BOULEVARD’S protagonist, Hayden Glass, to San Francisco. I’ve spent many days over a period of many months “embedded” with members of the San Francisco Police Department. I’ve ridden with narcotics officers, sergeants and patrol officers, i
nterviewed captains and city councilmen, went on vice calls and foot patrol in the Tenderloin, interviewed everyone who has an opinion. I’ve been seen with so many officers in North Beach that I can’t convince the locals I’m not an undercover cop. And the restaurant owners won’t let me pay for a cup of coffee or a plate of linguini.

After six months of research I’m suddenly faced with the daunting realization that…I’ve got to WRITE something! I have to deliver a novel in three months! What was I thinking?

Research. I was thinking research. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After I finished this post I read through Brett’s post and discovered that we’re blogging the same topic this week.  Well, that’s serendipity for you.  Sorry, Brett – at least you beat me to the punch.  Here’s my question for the Ratis – what is your opinion on research?  How has research influenced your own writing?  Do you love it or hate it?