Category Archives: Stephen Jay Schwartz

THE LINEUP

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

Words

dropped arbitrarily on a page

as if shaken

from a container

 

A word or two

or three

strung together

forms an image

 

expresses an emotion

 

blocks of letters

and white space

somehow

 

calms me

 

I’m not a student of poetry but I know what I like. Some great poems and some great poets have influenced me greatly. My favorite poem is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot. It was read to me aloud when I was seventeen, by a girlfriend’s father, at dinner, with wine and jazz on the stereo. The setting could not have been better. It affected me then and has affected since. The words evoke a nurturing melancholy that I choose to indulge. The poem touches me on a spiritual and physical level. It’s difficult to explain, but I guess that’s poetry.

Another poem which caught me early was “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost. His simple words have provided a guiding hand for the big decisions I’ve made in my life. I’m also in love with playful poets, such as ee cummings and Ogden Nash. And Dr. Seuss.

I fall for the authors whose novels are poetic. James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, John Updike. Katherine Anne Porter. Jhumpa Lahiri. There are so, so many. I’m always amazed when I find poetry in unexpected places. For instance, I’m reading Marya Hornbacher’s memoir of anorexia and bulimia, called “Wasted,” and I’ve been captured by the stunning, lyrical quality of her poetic prose.

I’m also taken by the gritty poetry of Charles Bukowski. I like writing that is accessible. I like to experience the reflections of writers dealing with painful, often tragic issues. I like honesty in writing and I search it out in the poetry I read. Bukowski gives me that. He always makes me think, and he grounds me.

I suppose I strive to achieve a sense of poetry in my writing. I had an English teacher once who told me that everything I write should be original, that I shouldn’t depend on the creativity of others to form my thoughts. He was talking about my use of cliches, which he succeeded in eradicating from my work. But I took it one step further and applied it to the sentences I write. The last draft or two I do when writing a novel is dedicated entirely to finding ways to rewrite every sentence. I search for poetic, often obscure ways to reinvent the paragraph. It’s exhausting, but it’s my favorite part of the process.

Although I love poetic prose, I don’t consider myself a poet. I really haven’t put in the hard work to learn what I feel I should know about poetry. I don’t know any of the classic meters, I don’t recognize any of the literary references. I’m sure that Pound and Whitman and Yeats have amazing things to say, but I tell ya, I don’t understand the half of it. Someday I hope to enrich my life with a college class or two on the subject.

You can imagine how honored I was when Gerald So asked me to contribute some poetry to his fourth issue of the crime poetry magazine, THE LINEUP. I’m especially honored because the other authors I’ve joined are so renowned—Reed Farrel Coleman, David Corbett, Ken Bruen, Keith Rawson and numerous other authors whose works I’ve just been introduced to.

The work of these authors does what I had hoped—it takes me to a place of enraptured contemplation. Their poems examine the dark side of life, the moral ambiguity that drives people to commit crimes, the consequences that criminal behavior has on its victims. Bukowski-esque. Poetry about crime—what a great concept. The collection brings new insight to the phrase, “poetic justice.”

I hope you’ll check the book out. Copies can be purchased by clicking here, where you can also hear a free sampler of the poems being read. You can hear me read my contribution, called “Street Girls: Selected Memories.” You can imagine where that will take you…

Meanwhile, Gerald’s offer to participate has prompted me to dig out the poetry of my past. I wrote a lot after my father’s suicide, and while dealing with decaying relationships, and while searching for a place in this world. The stuff everyone writes about. And I’ve purchased a few more books of Bukowski’s work, just to keep the rhythm going in my head. Maybe Gerald has set me on a new course. If so, I’m indebted to him for getting me started.

Who do you feel are the “essential” poets to read? Who are your favorites? How does poetry affect you differently from prose? What do you think I should do to become a more learned student of poetry?

REPORTING FROM THE FRONT LINES

 

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

I’m reporting from the Romantic Times Convention in downtown Los Angeles. So, why am I wielding a Colt M4 tactical assault weapon? Could it be because men here are out-numbered 300 to 1 by their female counterparts?

It’s tough in the trenches – Brett, Rob and I have had to team up and take positions against an advancing army of faeries, vampires, zombies and Harlequins. We sleep in shifts and keep only what we can hump in the night. Umm…that’s the military definition of “hump,” ie, “to carry.”

Okay…maybe I should stop before I get into trouble.

The Romantic Times Convention is more exciting and diverse than I ever imagined. The photo above was taken at the ATF Workshop and Demo where conventioneers were introduced to numerous weapons of minor destruction (Remington 870 police shotguns, .357 Colt Pythons, Sig Sauers, a .22 caliber “pen” gun, an HK53 Malaysian military machine gun, an AK47 African Streetsweeper that shoots shotgun shells, and an M79 grenade launcher).

However, the deadliest weapon we encountered was the One-Shot Pekingese, pictured below:

 

 

The ATF demonstration also featured a German Shephard-attack on our moderator, Author Andrew Peterson, as well as lectures by a host of awesome ATF agents and SACs.

I’m just going to burn right through some of this, because the bar downstairs is filled with hundreds of corsetted authors and it just ain’t right to be sitting in my room while the party rages on…

I’ve been hanging with Alexandra, Allison, Sophie Littlefield, Joshua Corin (my roomie), Brett, Rob, Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, Andrew Peterson, Barry Eisler, Boyd Morrison, April Smith, Dianne Emley, Lori Armstrong, and so many more.

Today (Friday) I’m on three panels: Hollywood: Scriptwriting from TV & Film Insiders, with Sheryl J. Anderson, Robert Gregory Browne, Adena Halpern, and Gregg Hurwitz at 10:00 am; Hollywood Film to Page with Alexandra Sokoloff at 11:15; and Striking the Balance for Thrillers with Allison Brennan, Jan Burke, D.P. Lyle and Alexandra Sokoloff. Great friends, great authors!

Listen, I could go on and on about how great this conference is. But I really got to get down to that bar.

I’ll leave you with an image from tonight’s faery contest. Yes, faery contest. Don’t look for me on stage – my wings didn’t survive the trip.

ο»Ώ

 

That’s Dennis Pozzessere photographing two of our fine faeries!

WHOSE TRAJECTORY IS THIS, ANYWAY?

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

It was a lesson I learned over twenty years ago. Or I thought I had, although I’m not sure I ever will. It was shortly after Steven Soderbergh’s directorial debut, “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” which was a small, indie film that met with huge critical and box office success. Soderbergh published his diary shortly thereafter, recounting the steps he took to get the project – which he wrote, directed, photographed and edited – off the ground.

At that time I had just completed the screenplay for a small, indie film that I hoped to direct. Called “A Little Sexual Contract,” it told the story of two couples, long-time friends, who wrote a contract allowing them to switch partners for a night. The screenplay dramatized the growing excitement and tension leading up to the “event” then examined how the night changed their lives. In the end, one couple’s relationship was strengthened while the other’s dissolved.

I had an indie producer attached and we were looking for financing to make the film. I remember telling the producer – a man with much more experience in the business than me – that I wanted to follow the path taken by Steven Soderbergh. The film subjects were similar, the budget was basically the same, the path to distribution identical.

The producer gave me the following advice: “Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t follow someone else’s path. What worked for them cannot be duplicated. You’re on a different trajectory.”

Wow. I wondered if I really had the life-experience to take this to heart. How could I not “compare myself to others?” Isn’t this human nature?

It’s like a survival instinct our limbic brains tap into to protect us. I’m sure it goes back to the cave. “Cold outside…Og has bear skin…Og is warm…I not feel fingers…should I get bear skin?”

Og will survive. If Og was an author, what would he do?

As a new author I tend to look around at what everyone else is doing. I judge my success or failure based on what I perceive to be the success or failure of others.

What are the guide-posts that signal success?

Edgars, Anthonys, Macavitys, Agathas, Daggers, Neros, Shamuses, Hammetts, Dilys, Barrys, Thrillers, Gumshoes. Best-seller lists, high-profile panels, book fairs. Audio book deals, foreign language deals, film and television deals. Sales figures.

Deep inside, I think we all know…none of it matters.

It’s all great. It’s validation. And it adds up, keeps our careers in play, enables us to pay the bills and keep on writing. But I think we – new authors and veterans alike – spend a lot of time judging ourselves, our talents, and our careers based on the nomination we didn’t receive for the latest award. Or the fact that we didn’t get a French publication deal. Or that we’re writing the next book without a contract.

Sometimes we take all the great things we do have, add them up, then try to compare them to the bundled accomplishments of other authors. In this way we can either pat ourselves on the back or beat ourselves up for falling behind.

I think it’s all rather arbitrary. I think a really good book will find its fans. A really good book might not get any awards. It might not become a best-seller. It might even complicate our career growth by appealing to too small an audience. But if you’ve succeeded in writing a good book…that’s the accomplishment. How do you define a good book? That’s an entirely different blog. But, ultimately, you have to know in your heart that the book is good, and hopefully you’ve listened to the criticisms of other writers whose opinions you respect, and you’ve done the work required to write a good book.

I’ve decided that I will not be depressed by awards or nominations not received. On the other hand, I am happy for my friends who are nominated and do receive awards, just as I would be happy if I received the same validation. And if a book is good, if I really LOVE someone’s book, I want it to receive the awards. I want to promote the recognition of great writing.

What do I want, ultimately? I want the freedom to always write full-time. I want to create a strong body of work. I want to support my family. And I want to connect with others through the examination of life in stories.

Anything else is icing. I’ll take it, but I won’t obsess over it. Anymore. Because, despite the fact that I learned this lesson twenty years ago, it seems I needed to learn it again, as an author. My path is my path. My trajectory my own. Trajectory unknown.

Maybe I’m thinking these thoughts because I’m reading Bukowski again. Whenever I feel myself drifting, I read Bukowski and I’m grounded. This was a man who wrote, every day, every night. He didn’t care about reviews or criticism or peer recognition. The path he followed was his own. He knew himself and, somehow, he succeeded. He could just as easily have failed. But his writing would have been the same, regardless. It was unaffected by the world’s reaction. That takes a kind of confidence I admire. It’s a path I hope to follow. There I go again…will this lesson ever be learned?

On a different note – I’m at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe this week. Pari, you’ve done an outstanding job. What a perfect event. And the setting is unparalleled. Thank you for all your hard work. I know I will remember this conference forever.

 

INSPIRATION EVERYWHERE

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

First of all, let me apologize for not being around this past week. A bizarre apartment malfunction sent me and my family running to the hotel we’ve been living in for the past six days, with only our dog and the shirts on our backs. All this, with very little sleep and the pressure of delivering the first draft of my screenwriting assignment today. It’s been an adventure, and the thing that’s kept me sane through it all is reality television.

Really, Stephen? Reality television?

I’m not talking about your parent’s reality television, like The Real World or Big Brother, where the point is to voyeuristically observe the train wrecks of troubled lives colliding.

I’m talking about a new generation of family-friendly phenoms that teach more about human emotion and the sanctity of life than the world of literature herself. Yeah, I know, big statement. But I’m talking about inspiration here, not the deep, dark ruminating of Tolstoy, Hemmingway or Emily Dickenson. These are shows that reveal the human spirit in action, the American work ethic working, and the indisputable value of family and friends.

The Unpoppables


Description: “The twists, turns — and ties — are many for the staff at New Balloon Art. Each episode of this series follows Addi, Katie and Brian as they meet with a client and then begin creating a large-scale balloon installation for a special event or occasion. An average of 15,000 balloons are needed to complete the intricate projects, and the team usually has no more than 72 hours to get the job done.”

This charming show is my favorite. It proves that you really can do whatever you want in life. Do you remember your parents’ reaction when you told them you were going to be a novelist? Can you imagine if you’d told them you were going to be a balloon artist instead? Well, that’s what these guys do, and it’s as much an art as anything you’ve ever seen. I am astounded by the amount of creativity involved. I never knew how many different shapes and sizes and styles and colors defined the universe of balloons. These guys have to build their projects within a 72-hour window or else the balloons will shrivel and wilt (I know the feeling). If they can imagine it, they can do it. And this is the message I want to convey to my kids. This is why The Unpoppables scores at the top of my list.

The Cake Boss


Description: “Buddy Valastro’s family-owned business, Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., is booming, and it’s bound to get even busier after viewers get an inside look at how Buddy and his staff, including his mom, four sisters and three brothers-in-law, produce thousands of wedding cakes, specialty cakes (as in Britney Spears’ circus-theme 27th birthday cake) and pastries every week.”

Did I ever think I’d be glued to a reality TV show about a bakery? Never in a thousand years. So, why is this show so damn compelling? It’s Buddy. He’s an incredible hero. His story is the American Dream, realized from the boot-straps on up. The great message of this show is that integrity, loyalty, hard-work and commitment to family prove to be the ingredients needed to live a happy life. Buddy is a tough-guy Italian at first glance, but reveals himself to be such a loving romantic that I feel like a slug when compared to him, and any guy who watches the show with his wife is going to be compared to him. Interestingly, this is another show that proves art is a component of every vocation. I’m enthralled by the way science and aesthetics combine to create such functional beauty.

The Next Great Baker


Description: Join Buddy Valastro as he puts 10 talented pastry chefs through the wringer to earn the title of “Next Great Baker.” At stake in the competition: a $50,000 cash prize and the chance to work side-by-side with Buddy at Carlo’s Bakery.”

It was this show that introduced me to Buddy Valastro. He comes off as the boss-from-hell in this show, as he puts a group of talented, young bakers to the test. I was blown away by how much suspense can be squeezed out of baking cakes. All the dramatic beats of Greek tragedy exist here.

Pit Bulls and Parolees


Description: “Follow the turbulent drama and bittersweet moments of Tia Torres, her family and her crew of ex-convicts as they come together to rescue and rehabilitate abused and abandoned pit bulls.”

What’s not to like in that log-line? What marketing genius thought to combine Pit Bulls and parolees? If I banged my head against a wall for a thousand years I would not have come up with that combination. Reality wins again. This is a show about second chances. Everyone deserves one. These ex-cons learn to see themselves in the abandoned and abused dogs they manage, experiencing the kind of rehabilitation that could never exist in prison. And the fact that a tough, no-nonsense woman runs the place, keeping everyone’s attention focused on the plight of the animals, says more for Women’s Lib than a hundred pamphlets distributed in the parking lot of the Miss America Pageant.

This show also provides another great message for my children – there is good in all of us. If you fuck up, you can learn from it, you can make things right. Another common message in the above three shows – failure is part of the process. It’s the first ten steps of success.

Outrageous Kid Parties


Description: “Whether it’s a birthday party, a graduation, or any milestone celebration, each week Outrageous Kid Parties documents parents as they go beyond their means to give their child a huge eye popping, jaw dropping fete. With high expectations, they force other family members, friends and party planners to go to extreme measures to ensure that their fabulous party goes down in history as an event never to be forgotten.”

Okay, this is my guilty pleasure. This is the train wreck we watch from the sidelines. The best thing I can say about this show is that it serves as a cautionary tale for the handful of disturbed housewives who want to live their unrealized dreams through their children by spending $30,000 on a six year-old’s birthday party. And the women are perfectly matched with clueless husbands who enable them and always seem surprised when they arrive home to find a thousand people in their front yard holding tickets for a ride in the elephant parade. Then there’s the poor siblings of the Chosen Child who are told through a million un-spoken cues that they are not the favorite child, that they are undeserving of the $30,000 party, that the only thing they’re good for is getting on the bus to serve the favored one. These siblings might as well study balloon art and prepare for the worst.

19 Kids and Counting


Description: “The Duggars aren’t your average family. In fact, they’re over 5 times the size of an average family. And while raising 19 kids can be a challenge, for the Duggars, it comes with more than its share of rewards.”

The best thing about this show is that it directly follows Outrageous Kid Parties and thus provides an alternative to slitting our wrists. The show reminds us that all families are not dysfunctional. It is all about family and love and respect. Like The Cake Boss, the message is clear – you work hard, you’re there for your friends and family, you treat others as you want to be treated, and the goodness of life will be yours.

It’s interesting to note that I didn’t choose any of these reality shows. There were, in fact, forced upon me. I watched them because my kids wanted me to, and then I got hooked. What’s cool is that my kids saw their value first. They showed me the way. And I’m there for them, letting them know that their opinion counts. Reminds me of the special moments my father and I shared, watching episodes of the original Star Trek or Night Gallery together. It was our time to hang out, to be friends.

In addition to the reality shows, my kids have aged enough to appreciate the wry humor, sarcasm and sexual innuendo that permeates some of my favorite shows – The Office, Saturday Night Live (especially classic episodes), and Whose Line is it Anyway? This is a great relief to me, since just a few months ago it was Zack and Cody and Hannah Montana. Please, gag me with a spoon. I’m glad they’re growing up in a family without dysfunction. Oh, wait, is that the Girls Next Door they’re watching? I better go join them. (It’s called “adult supervision,” folks.)

RELATIVITY SPEAKING

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

I am acutely aware that this moment is spectacular and fleeting. It’s the first time in over twenty-five years I’ve had one full year to focus solely on writing.

I cannot believe that almost two months have passed already. I now have only ten months to write a screenplay and two novels. Since leaving the day job I truly understand what my kids have been saying all along—“When you quit your job, daddy, you’ll be having fun, and the days will go by fast.”

I wake, the rising sun warm on my face. I blink. The setting sun cools my skin.

I’ve always enjoyed the fast lane, but now I can feel my foot searching for the brake pedal. Just a tap or two, I don’t want to start a skid. But I would like the chance to see the landscapes I’m passing.

I’ve tried reading Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I’ve looked to Stephen Hawking for help. I get lost when “one observer gets on the train and experiences a different sense of time than the observer who waits on the platform.” I can’t figure out if I’m supposed to be the guy at the station or the guy in the train car and I don’t understand why that nanosecond of difference should turn my life upside-down. But, apparently, it does.

They say the days go faster as you age. I can feel that. People who are older often say they feel like they’re still in their twenties. The face in the mirror doesn’t match what’s inside. I’m right there. Memory has compressed my life. Time has surely been bent, and the events that occurred early in my life have been folded to meet events I experienced last week. What was in the middle has been folded out. The 90s. I suppose they were forgettable enough.

The last time I had that full year to write was when I was nineteen years old. I had just moved to Santa Cruz, California from New Mexico, after having spent one year in the Jazz Music Department at North Texas State University. I had changed my career aspirations and decided to tackle screenwriting. My mom was paying my rent for a while and I had nothing to do but write. I wrote whenever I felt like it. If I woke up at 3:00 in the morning with an idea, I’d write it out over the next five hours, then fall asleep for the next six hours, then wake up and continue writing. It was a perfectly fluid schedule that worked with the creative impulses of my mind.

I guess I thought it would always be that way. Now, a quarter of a century later, I’m on that schedule again. In my mind, I’m the same kid. Like I stepped off the West Cliff bus in Santa Cruz on the way to my favorite cafe (the transfer is still in my hand) and, the moment my foot touched pavement, I landed in Los Angeles, twenty-five years later. My life has been folded.

Do we get to shake out the folds at some point?

Everything has changed, nothing has changed. I’ve gained much, I’ve lost much. The only thing that remains the same is the length of my hair.

I hope this life thing we’re experiencing is infinite. I hope we live forever and retain the special memories we’ve built here on Earth. Because I’ve learned a little something from my elders. Our time here is short. Relativity speaking, of course.

LIVING IN THE MANIC

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

“Mania: excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, elevation of mood; excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm.”

Yep. Yeah, that’s where I’m at. I’m fuckin’ manic.

I never thought of myself as a “manic-depressive” person, but these past couple years have put my moods to the test. I saw huge “highs” with the publications of my first and second novels and all the goodies that came with that. This includes the friendships I’ve made with hundreds of authors and readers. But the “lows” were pretty tough. I struggled with foreclosure and ultimately lost the home my wife and I built together. I pounded my head against the wall in a day job that left me unfulfilled five days a week. Each day at the office brought a depression that dragged into my evenings and weekends, my only time to write or hang with the family. The only way I could finish my second novel, BEAT, was to give my employer a doctor’s note saying I had to take an immediate, two-week medical leave of absence in order to rest my heart. I spent those fourteen days writing twelve-hours a day in an effort to finish the book. When it was over I handed the book to my editor and went back to the day job, nursing my wrists for the first carpal tunnel I’d ever encountered. I think my boss was surprised that I didn’t look like a guy who spent two weeks on mandatory bed-rest.

2011 initiated the Big Change. With the short-sale of our home finalized, my family and I were able to set ourselves up in a stable little apartment in a beautiful area not far from the beach. One major stressor was removed from my life.

And just before that, near the end of 2010, I started interviewing for a screenwriting assignment for a big, 3D zombie movie. I read different drafts of the project and delivered notes on how I would approach a rewrite. The notes reverberated with the producers and director and I got the gig.

There was no way I’d be able to write a screenplay and a novel and keep a full-time day job. I had to evaluate what that job gave me—security and health insurance on the one hand, depression and heart palpitations on the other. It was time to give it up.

It was a strangely exhilarating feeling, walking into the same office I’d gone to every day for ten years and walking out a free man. It was very much like that moment in “Jerry Macguire,” when Tom Cruise was listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ singing “Free Falling” on his car stereo. “I’m freeeeeeee….free falling!”

Stressor number two was removed from the list.

I didn’t think it was possible to live a manic-depressive life without the depressive. But now that I’ve closed the file on the house and the day job…well, I’m feeling pretty good.

What I’ve learned is that I rather enjoy living in the manic. Okay, maybe we’re supposed to have a calm, balanced life. Someday I’ll move to Tibet and meditate my way to Nirvana. But, for the present, I reside in friggin’ Los Angeles and I’m living the dream. I’ll take that adrenaline hit and ride it on out.

I’m a long way from completing my third novel, however. My goal is to write two novels and a screenplay this year, and by God, I’ll…really try to make that happen. I’ve done some significant research for the book, but not enough. I’ve written the first fifty pages a couple times and thrown them out. It’s a process, but, thankfully, now I’ve got time.

It’s only been one month and I’ve already forgotten what the date is–I’m barely aware of the days of the week anymore. And, since my favorite writing cafe is open 24/7, I don’t even need to know what time it is. My world has become magnificently malleable. If I wake up at 2:00 in the morning with an idea, I can get up and follow that trail to its end, crashing out on the sofa again at 10:00 after putting in an eight-hour work day. The last time I had that kind of flexibility was when I wrote my first screenplay at age twenty.

But I’m not twenty anymore and I’ve yet to wake up at 2:00 am to tackle the Muse. My day begins when I drag myself out of bed, about an hour after the alarm clock sounds. I’m gonna have to work on that. Then I toodle around on the computer, take the dog for a walk, take a long shower, and before you know it I’ve arrived at my cafe for the day, at 11:00 am. Again, not good. Gotta get there by 9:00 am sharp. Fortunately, I can work until 10:00 pm, which gives me an eleven-hour work day if I start by 11:00. Or, if I get a later start, I can go to the 24-hour cafe and pull an all-nighter. But I’m not going to the gym, so I have no stamina, which means that I end up falling asleep at the cafe, my mouth open, spittle drooling from the corners of my mouth. If I’m going to write like this I’m going to have to get back in shape.

I’ll figure it out. Give me another week or two and I’ll have it down. The biggest challenge I’ve got is juggling the novel with the screenwriting assignment. The script is definitely one thing I don’t want to fuck up.

Having been a development executive in the film business, I recognize just how good this screenwriting opportunity is. Most of the time screenwriters find themselves writing and rewriting for producers or studio executives who hope to attract a director or actor to their project. When these “elements” come on board they usually have their own ideas for the script, and they often have a screenwriter in mind to do additional rewrites. In this way, screenplays can go through years of development before landing in production, and the vast majority never get that far. But I’ve stepped into a project that’s slated to go into production this summer, with a talented director attached and the financing in place. And I love the producing team—they’re all incredibly bright and inventive. In all the years I did development work I rarely saw such a positive environment for creative collaboration.

Another fun perk is that I get to bring my kids to the studio and show them the 3D technology that will be used in the film. I’ve already seen it, and it’s amazing. I was never a big 3D fan until I saw “Avatar,” and then I thought, “I don’t ever want to see a movie that doesn’t look like this again.” Instead of leaping into my lap, like most 3D films, “Avatar” invited me to join its world, to walk among the foliage and see the butterflies and other creatures up close. The producers making this film are doing the 3D conversions for films like “The Matrix” and “Titanic.” And if James Cameron signs off on their work, you know they’re good. I saw the 3D conversion they did for a Jane Austen-type period film and it made me feel like I’d just walked through a cathedral in 19th Century England. When I told the producers I was surprised to see a 3D period film they said, “3D is the way we see the world. 2D is the anomaly.” It’s very cool to be joining a technological revolution in its infancy.

So, come on, now. I’m spending my days reading and writing at beach cafes, taking meetings in Hollywood, hanging with my wife and kids. And since an apartment is easier to clean than a house, we can now make the place presentable for babysitters. My wife and I just had our first “date night” in two years!

Kick me if I sound like I’m gloating. I’m really not. I’m just truly happy for the first time in years. Like a nut-case I’m bumping into walls and tripping over my feet. It looks a lot like “excessive and unreasonable enthusiasm.” If the psychologists want to call that “mania”…so be it. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

THE ILLUSTRIOUS KELLI STANLEY!

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

If you’ve been to any writers conferences in the past couple years you’ve almost certainly bumped into the charismatic and exceptionally talented Kelli Stanley.  In her fedora hat and 1940s couture, Ms. Stanley can usually be found amidst a crowd of companions.  She’s friendly and incredibly supportive to other authors in our genre.  And she’s one smart cookie.  She’s on the fast-track to success with two published novels and two more coming out this year.  Her first novel, NOX DORMIENDA, was a Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award winner and a Macavity Award finalist.  Most of us know her from her highly acclaimed second novel, CITY OF DRAGONS, which set the world on fire last year.  Set in San Francisco in the 1940s, CITY OF DRAGONS introduces the unforgettable protagonist Miranda Corbie—ex-escort and now private investigator.  My kind of gal.

2011 will see the publication of two sequels – THE CURSE MAKER, a sequel to her first novel NOX DORMIENDA, and CITY OF SECRETS, sequel to CITY OF DRAGONS.  THE CURSE MAKER releases on February 1st, 2011.

Please join me in welcoming Kelli to our family….

Kelli, you’ve got to be the most energetic and optimistic author I’ve ever met. What gives you such enthusiasm?

Massive quantities of drugs and alcohol. Er—that’s a joke, folks!

Seriously, Stephen, thank you. I’m by nature a positive and highly motivated person—type A and all that—and when I see you and other friends I’m generally feeling the high of the community … I’m a people person, and I enjoy the social aspects of the business very much. 

What you don’t see, however, is how often I—like every other writer I know—get depressed, let down, disappointed, scared, panicked and question whether or not I should keep writing or whether what I’m writing is any good, or whether I should just cut my ear off and paint sunflowers.

Insecurity should, by rights, decrease as you get older … but we’re in a very odd business with very few benchmarks, which is one of the many reasons why you can easily go mad … as if hearing voices in your head isn’t enough.

I’m like everyone else—I’m extremely insecure, and question what I’m doing here on a daily basis.  However—I also yell at myself for doing so, and I try very hard to focus on the positive. My family puts up with a LOT.

You graduated with a Masters degree in Classics. How has that influenced your writing style and do you feel that it has contributed to your success as a storyteller?

Classics is a field composed of many parts—history, archaeology, cultural and gender studies, literary theory, philology. The philology aspect (it literally means love of words) teaches you, in a profound way, how subtle language can be. English is like a light saber as opposed to a surgical laser … it’s strong, beautiful, and comparatively clumsy in comparison to highly inflected languages like Latin and ancient Greek.

As writers, we make choices on every page … but Cicero or Sophocles made many, many more. The possibilities and subtleties of rhythm and diction and nuance in Latin and Greek would take your breath away.

I grew up reading poetry, and have always been drawn to the sound of words, the music of them, and certainly Classics—and learning and teaching and translating Greek and Latin—enhanced that. Chandler was always very proud of his Classics background—he boasts about it in at least one letter—and I think that experience informed his lyricism and precision.

For myself, I believe it strengthened my ability to “hear” the rhythm of a sentence, and taught me how one word, one position of a word, can affect an entire passage.

 

Can you tell us a little about the history of THE CURSE MAKER? I understand it is the second in a series; the sequel to your Award Winning debut novel, NOX DORMIENDA. Why did you choose to continue the series?

Well, there are pluses and minuses to selling the first book you write. The plus was that I didn’t have to wait. The minus is that I had no “stock” upon which to draw once I was published.

The only book I had waiting in the wings, so to speak, was the sequel to NOX, since I’d always intended it to be a series. I wrote the sequel during the fall of 2006, after a summer trip (and Master’s graduation present) to England.  It was my swan song as a classicist, and I gave a presentation at the University of London. Then I traveled to Bath, where the curator of the museum very kindly took me behind the scenes and gave me some hands-on time with the curses—ones not on display.

NOX had not yet secured a contract, but I wanted to write the sequel while the England trip was fresh—and before I lined up a day job. So … flash-forward to 2009. I sold CITY OF DRAGONS in January of that year, and my editor liked NOX, so I thought, “Why not see if my publisher might want to take up my first series?” I rewrote the sequel extensively—a complete revision—and, to my everlasting joy, they bought it. That’s THE CURSE-MAKER.

I’ve been told it’s highly unusual for a publisher to produce two series by the same author—especially this early in my career—so I’m immensely grateful to my editor and the folks at Thomas Dunne/Minotaur/SMP for the support. Because NOX was originally published by Five Star (to whom I will also and forever be profoundly grateful), I consider this more of a relaunch than a sequel.
What is “Roman noir” and how did the term originate?

“Roman noir” came about through marketing cogitation. I was trying to figure out what really set my first book apart. At first, I thought it was the setting and doctor protagonist, but Ruth Downie’s debut novel actually beat me to the punch. I thought my career was over before it had begun, when—like a lightning bolt from Jove! πŸ˜‰ – I was watching a film at the Noir City film festival in San Francisco, and realized—that’s it! NOX DORMIENDA is an homage to Raymond Chandler (even the title could be translated as “The Big Sleep”)—and “Roman noir” was born. It’s a perfect fit, because it’s actually a tongue-in-cheek pun: “roman noir” is also a French literary term used to describe the hardboiled detective story—exactly the style of writing I was trying to capture for Roman Britain.

So many of us know you from the tremendous success of CITY OF DRAGONS, your hard-boiled tale of a female escort-turned-investigator set in 1940s San Francisco. How is your Roman series different from CITY OF DRAGONS and the upcoming sequel, CITY OF SECRETS?

Thank you, Stephen!  CITY OF DRAGONS and the Miranda series is my “dream” work—it’s the root of what motivates me to keep writing. The period, the politics, and my attempt to recapture the past as it was, rather than how we wish it to be, make it a dark journey, but one guided by Miranda’s personal code.

My books generally offer some ledge of sanity or perspective to cling to. When you look around—either in 2011 or 1940—you see so much horror, venality and despair that giving up—relinquishing the fight or giving in to it—would be easy. Writing about despicable people doing despicable things is easy. What isn’t always easy is making readers care about the pain and humiliations of our fellow flawed human beings, about the rules of behavior that can sometimes make us warders of our own souls. This is the kind of noir I try to write with Miranda.

The Arcturus series—as the “Roman noir” tag line implies—is lighter by nature. You’ll find dark corners—some very dark corners—to explore, but because Arcturus himself is a much less despairing individual—and one blessed with a healthy relationship—the darkness isn’t so much at the core of the book.  And there’s much more humor … sarcasm tends to be one of his coping devices.

As a writer, it allows me to have fun with the conventions of the genre, pay my respects to it (THE CURSE-MAKER was inspired by Red Harvest, among other titles), and take a small writing break from my 1940 series.

What are the differences and challenges you find in writing male versus female POV?

I think women tend to see themselves reflected in life, rather than straight on. Men—at least straight men—generally don’t. They see out of their own eyes. Gender construction was a particular interest of mine when I was getting my degree, and I don’t just mean the “Venus-Mars” thing.  I start with the human being and go from there. Character voice tends to emerge naturally. I don’t find it more or less challenging to write male or female POV, but I do think the female voice presents certain challenges … that aspect of watching yourself being watched that I mentioned before. The idea of vulnerability, the ease with which women can embrace manipulation instead of outright assertion.

It is, as they say, “complicated.”

Is it even possible to write a hardboiled novel with a happily married protagonist?

I hope so, because that’s what I’ve tried to do! I figured if Chandler intended to marry off Marlowe, there’s precedent.

The darkest parts of THE CURSE-MAKER are dark, indeed—Aquae Sulis is a health resort, last chance for the desperately ill—and desperation can make your skin crawl. Brutal murders, the lengths to which people will go to humiliate one another … there are a number of themes that are quintessential noir.

Arcturus doesn’t have to completely experience it himself in order to recognize it and understand it. And some of his troubles concern his wife … he comes to Aquae Sulis because he IS desperate to help her. And frustrated because he doesn’t know what’s wrong.

Again, their relationship is that ledge I was talking about earlier. It’s what we can cling to, sometimes with our fingernails, in a jagged little world.

What influenced you to write such diverse topics as series novels?

I wanted to use my degree—I owe a lot in student debt! So NOX was an attempt to use what I know and combine it with what I feel. The Miranda series does that, too, though my formal education is not in twentieth century history. I’ve always been drawn to the period, though … even my house was built in 1941.

The common thread is noir. My first series uses the style to make the period more accessible, and the second series is a restructuring of both style and period—1940 with the gloves off and not illuminated with a key light.

I love series writing, because I love character. I’m fascinated by psychology, and I enjoy seeing how events shape and change people. They shape and change my protagonists, certainly.

I don’t intend to always write historicals. I’d like to write a thriller set in Humboldt County, California, where I spent my adolescence. And a contemporary stand-alone, and a graphic novel … if I’m very, very lucky!
What has it been like to put out two books in one year? How did this
opportunity come about?

It came about because I’m lucky to have an understanding and supportive editor. And I had the chance, so why not? I didn’t want to wait for a full year before the next Miranda. She’s the constant in my life and career. So we’re launching THE CURSE-MAKER now and CITY OF SECRETS in September, just in time for Bouchercon.

As far as what it’s like … so far, so good, but it is a bit confusing to go on tour and be asked about first century Roman Britain when I’m thinking about CITY OF GHOSTS (the third Miranda that I’m working on).

 

What’s next for Kelli Stanley?

The paperback for CITY OF DRAGONS should be out August 30th, followed by CITY OF SECRETS. The sequel takes place in May of 1940, just a few months after CITY OF DRAGONS.

A young girl—a model at one of the “flesh” shows on the Gayway at the World’s Fair on Treasure Island—is found stabbed to death with a souvenir ice pick … and an anti-Semitic slur scrawled on her skin. I think Miranda is a bit more confident in this novel—thanks to the events in CITY OF DRAGONS—and she needs to be.

The events take place in San Francisco and Calistoga (another spa town in the Napa Valley), and is based on research on American populist fascism of the era.

Many people don’t realize how strong some of these extremist organizations were, particularly on the coasts. Certainly the anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler radio commentator Charles Coughlin enjoyed widespread popularity across the country.

I’m currently writing CITY OF GHOSTS. I hope to write Miranda forever! And if THE CURSE-MAKER proves to be successful, we’ll see how far we can take Arcturus and Gwyna.

Thank you, Stephen, for having me over at Murderati—you guys are the best, and I’m honored to be here!

Kelli – thank you so much for joining us.  I am taken with how well you articulate your thoughts about your work.  I love your writing and I’m happy to be one of the voices out singing your praises!

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LIVING IN THE TREMOR OF INTENT

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons premieres Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 10 pm (ET) on Investigation Discovery

2011 started off with a “Bam!” for me when I was asked to join a press corps bus tour of L.A.’s historic crime scenes with none other than the Demon Dog of American Literature himself, James Ellroy.  I was one of two authors on the trip, the other being our very own Allison Brennan.  Allison and I met up at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, had a bite and a schmooze then jumped onto the Demon Dog Bus with two-dozen journalists and the big man himself.

The event was cast as a promotion for Mr. Ellroy’s upcoming television series, James Ellroy’s LA:  City of Demons, which premieres January 19 at 10 pm (ET) on Investigation Discovery.  I feel comfortable repeating this information over and over again, considering our host, in classic James Ellroy form, hammered these words into our skulls as if they were the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner. 

The evening began with his now-trademark greeting, “Hello all you peepers, prowlers, pedophiles, pedants, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps!” and evolved into a raucous journey that became James Ellroy’s personal tour of Hollywood Hell.  “Crime is a gas and a goof and we all are lucky to live through it vicariously,” he said as we rolled into town, circling the levels of Ellroy’s Divine Comedy, stopping to see such sites as the spot where L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen nearly met his end to a failed assassination attempt (just outside the Roxy on the Sunset Strip), the front door stoop where actress Rebecca Schaeffer lost her life to the gunshot of an obsessed fan, and the house where Johnny Stompanato’s heart stopped the blade that was thrust into his chest by fourteen year old Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s only child.

All this to the sizzling, up-tempo narration of the L.A. Death Hunter, to the zing in his voice and the twirling gesticulation of his caffeinated limbs. The man’s a fucking dynamo.  A speed-ball.  A master of instantaneous alliteration and onomatopoeia.  And I tell you, he’s on his game. 

The television series (premiering January 19th at 10 pm ET on Investigation Discovery) starts with a “Bam!” as well.  The intro is classic L.A. Noir, with loud, brassy music and tabloid shots of our devilish little city, capping it off with the image of a helicopter fleeing scenes of death and destruction as palm trees burn in the foreground.  It’s a playful, punchy, predatory peek into subterranean shitholes and backyard buffoonery.  I can’t help the alliteration—when you listen to Ellroy it all comes flying out.

As the show’s devious emcee, Ellroy enters scene at full-throttle, opening with, “Welcome to my wildly warped world of murder and malignant mayhem, crime and crazed passion, skanky scandals and scorching skin.  Murder is on our malevolent menu tonight!”

Episode One, called “DEAD WOMEN OWN ME,” takes a look at Ellroy’s transmogrification of his mother, Jean Hilliker (killed when he was just ten years old) with another victim of violent crime, Elizabeth Short (AKA the Black Dahlia).  Ellroy’s mother was sexually assaulted and strangled in a crime that continues to remain unsolved more than fifty years after the fact.  Studying Elizabeth Short’s murder gives Ellroy the opportunity to delve into the unresolved feelings he has towards his mother, whom he had “cursed” by wishing her dead shortly before that fatal night.  Her death influenced everything he did from that point forward, ultimately leading to his career as a crime fiction author.  As he says, the experience left him “tied, died, swept to the side, screwed, blued, tattooed and buffangooed.”

James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons is vintage Ellroy, in-your-face and pimped with pizzazz. “Viewers are terribly tired of the trailer trash tragedies that caustically contaminate documentary TV,” he says.  “They wantonly want to groove, grok, gravitate and glide toward glamorous crime – and L.A. is where all that shimmering sh…stuff…pervertedly percolates.”  The show is a must-see for anyone interested in the darker history of L.A. and the seamy side of Hollywood. 

However, as good as the show is (I’ve seen the first two episodes) it doesn’t compare to the experience of spending three hours on a haunted bus tour with James Ellroy as your guide.  I got the chance to learn some pretty cool things about the guy who alternately refers to himself as either the “Slick Trick with the Donkey Dick” or the “Death Dog with the Hog Log.” 

I’ll share some of the tidbits I learned.  Of course, this is off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush:

The outline for Ellroy’s latest novel, BLOOD’S A ROVER, was over 400 pages long.

Ellroy had six books published before he was able to quit his job as a golf caddie.

Ellroy was raised as a Lutheran.  Religious elements permeate his work – “In the end they are all stories of redemption,” he says.

Ellroy’s advice to women – be wary and put up a fight.  The ones who fight usually survive.

Authors who inspired Ellroy are  Don Delillo, Joseph Wambaugh, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett.  Authors he’s not particularly fond of are Charles Bukowski, John Fante, William S. Burroughs and Raymond Chandler.

The most important male influence on Ellroy’s life is Ludwig van Beethoven.  “He was a messenger sent directly from God.”

And, finally, the thing that really sticks with me is the way he described himself as “living in the tremor of intent.”  The phrase comes from an Anthony Burgess novel, and Ellroy interprets it as living in a “constant assessment of meaning.”  He observes his world and asks, “What does this mean?  What does that mean?” 

Fortunately, for us, he puts pen to paper and proceeds to answer those questions.  We’ve read the result, and it’s enduring.  If you haven’t read his work yet, then James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons provides the perfect primer for previewing those perverted perceptions.  You’ll be glad you tuned in.  At Investigation Discovery.  Wednesday, January 19th.  10:00 pm, ET. 

Fan-boy out.

IMPATIENCE

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

I’m not a marathon man.  I’m a short-distance runner, a sprinter.

When I was a kid I was in AYSO and I always played center halfback, the hard position, the running position.  It wasn’t the glamour spot—I rarely made goals.  The forwards got the glory.  But the team knew they lived or died by the strength of their halfbacks.  The entire field was mine and at any given moment I might be supporting the fullbacks defending our goal then sprinting up-field to help the forwards penetrate our opponent’s defense.  It was a fast-run position and I was fast.

But put me on a paved track and tell me to run for an hour and I’m done for.  I just don’t have the stamina.

And yet, what is a novel if not the longest marathon a writer ever faces?  A single thought sustained over an entire year.  Bits and pieces of ideas coming together over many months, interrupted daily by the millions of thoughts and actions required to keep us living our lives.

What really drove this home was a recent thought I had for the climactic conversation between my protagonist and antagonist set to take place in the final, climactic scene of a book I’ve barely started.  I realized I’m going to have to tuck that conversation away for a long, long time.  Put it in a drawer.  Think of it from time to time, build moments towards it as I write what precedes it.  Foreshadow.  That’s stamina stuff and it drives me crazy.  I’m a “now” kind of guy.  It makes me crazy that I can’t execute an idea as soon as I’ve conceived it.  I’d make a terrible scientist.  If I spent half my life figuring out how to get to the moon, there’s no way I’m spending the other half waiting for the materials to be built to accomplish the task.  I have zero patience. 

And yet…somehow I’ve managed.  Against all odds.  I’ve managed to hold and sustain a thought over many months, even years.  I’ve managed to place the pieces of the puzzle into their spots despite the terrible lag in time. 

I think the trick is that I see a novel as a series of sprints.  Each time I sit down to write, whether it’s for two hours or eight, I’m sprinting.  I put all my energy into one powerful burst of writing and, when I’m done, I crash.  There’s no passing the baton.  I cross the finish line and fall over.  And then, the next opportunity I have to write, I pick up from where I left off, a new race, a new sprint. 

Occasionally I need the relief of writing a short story.  Or a poem.  A blog post.  I never blogged before Murderati and, although it can be maddening having to find a worthy subject every other week, it’s also refreshing to start something and finish it in a few days’ time.  Getting immediate feedback is validating.  I’m sure that’s the reason film actors slip away to do Broadway every now and then.  I know, I’ve done some theater and there’s nothing better than feeling the vibe of the audience, hearing the laughter or holding the tenor of a silent pause in the palm of your hand.  And then there’s music performance, playing with others, communicating musically, sax to guitar to piano to drums.  Cause and effect.  Instantaneous connection.  Try dragging that song out over a year, see how fun that is.  Try writing a symphony.  Long-term shit again.  That’s what we’re in for when we write novels.  We take a good concept and, over the course of months, sometimes years, we bury the thing in more gobblygook than we knew we could muster and after a while we don’t know if it’s gold or if it’s crap and the only guideposts we get are the comments of friends or family or an editor if we’re lucky.  It is torture and don’t let anyone say it ain’t so.

And yet, God what a neat thing it is to sprint through a passage.  Just one passage.  A perfect three pages.  Surrounded by weeds, a patch of green.  It might be crabgrass, but it grows, and it’s green, and it’s…pretty.

I’m never really happy with my work until the third pass or so.  That’s when I take the story I’ve written and tighten it down to the thing I really wanted to say, from the start, with great attention placed on the placement of words, and movement, and punctuation.  And if it takes nine months to get to that third pass…that’s nine months of not really being happy with my work.  Who lives this way?  Why do we do this?  Maybe it’s that big financial pay-off waiting at the end.  That was definitely a motivator when I wrote my first book.  It even teased me through the second. 

Now that I’m not so goddamn naïve I realize there’s another reason I put myself through it all.  I do it because it must be done.  I do it because, when you get right down to it, I LOVE IT.  I love being a writer and I love writing and I’ll do it as long as I live whether there’s a chance of financial success or not.  Because if I added up all the money I’ve made as a writer I’d have enough to buy a car and a year’s worth of gas.  Or maybe six months of health insurance for my entire family (the premiums only, not the deductibles).  The point is, it’s not about the money.  I’m sure that, once I start getting paid a lot of money it’ll be more about the money, but the truth, the godawful truth, is that I’d write whether I got paid for it or not.  Hell, half of us would pay for the opportunity and I bet, in one way or another, all of us have.

So, let it take a year.  It takes as long as it takes.  I’ll be pushing myself in 2011 anyway – tackling a screenplay and two novels.  But it will be easier than ever before, because I won’t be balancing it with a day job.  But that’s a blog for another day.

All writing, all the time.  Sprinting every day.  Before I know it I’ll have run a marathon.  (Or two).

I want to thank Brett and Rob for recommending William Goldman’s “Marathon Man,” which I tore through in two days.  Ah, the lessons I’ve learned!

And, oh, I think there’s a holiday coming up.  Happy New Year to All!

 

 

 

GHOSTING

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

And here’s yet another example of how music has influenced the way I think about writing.  There’s a musical term, called “ghosting,” that describes a particular style of jazz improvisation. Let’s say there’s a musical phrase, or “lick,” that stretches over a number of bars.  When a musician “ghosts” that phrase, he whips through the notes, punctuating certain notes while passing over others on his way to the end of the phrase.  He might not even express the notes he passes over, he might merely suggest them by fingering the corresponding keys or allowing a very small amount of air into the instrument (if it is a saxophone or trumpet) in order to give the impression that the note was sounded. 

It’s kind of hard to describe this in words, but if you take a listen to Charlie Parker playing Au Privave, you’ll get the gist.  The music starts off with the melody line, which is repeated once.  Then Charlie improvises, and you can hear how he “ghosts” the musical phrases.

Even though we don’t hear all the notes he’s playing, we sense their existence in the context of the musical phrase.  The notes are felt, even though they might not be audible.

I realized how this concept applied to writing when I was working as a development executive and a writer I knew was having trouble cutting back a long scene.  She was reluctant to let go of the back-story she had written into the scene, thinking the reader would be lost if things weren’t spelled out clearly.

“Cut it,” I said.  “All you need is a word here and there to suggest the extensive back-story you’ve written.  Your dialogue already contains subtle references to it.  The ghost of what you’ve written will remain.”

I was discovering the musical connection even as I was saying it.  Teaching works that way, you don’t know what you know until you try explaining it to others.  She liked the concept and went off to do her rewrites.  When she finished, her script was vastly improved.  It said more, with fewer words.  And she didn’t just cut the back-story, she “ghosted” it.

I started thinking about how ghosting plays a role in other aspects of our lives.  For instance, anyone who has had to deliver a hundred-word bio goes through the process of ghosting.  Take mine, for example, with its emphasis on my development work with Wolfgang Petersen.  That was over ten years ago already, yet it influenced my life in ways that the jobs I held thereafter did not.  What about the “day job” I’m currently in?  It doesn’t show up in the bio, except for the line, “Mr. Schwartz traveled the United States extensively…”  That was for the day job.  The traveling influenced the writer I would become, but the job itself…fuggedaboudit.  Ghost it.

And how many of us have written three or four completely different resumes, each in their own way accurate in their description of our work history, accomplishments and goals?  We present different images of ourselves for different purposes.  The full story of my life exists in the combination of all the resumes, but that would be too much information, and probably too confusing.  Ghost it.

And what about our memories?  Don’t we remember the big events, the things that are really significant in our lives, while letting the less significant ones disappear in a haze of gray?  You can’t tell someone the story of your life without ghosting. 

I used to keep a recording device with me so I could capture every “great” idea that came into my head.  Then one day I was having lunch with another writer and he pulled his own tape-recorder from a hidden pocket, hit the record button, and said something to the effect of, “Note to self:  the protagonist should have a bouquet of flowers in his hands when the gunmen approach.”  Click, he slipped the recording device back into his pocket while turning to me with an innocent, “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

I ditched the tape recorder after that.  I realized that the good thoughts stick around.  Recording them or instantly jotting them down seemed redundant.  If the idea was still in my head after a week I knew it was something worth using.  If I forgot it ten minutes later then it probably wasn’t that important.  Kinda like the time I did shrooms and was absolutely fascinated with a glowing filament encased in a glass capsule, I spent hours marveling at it’s unique, sleek design and the God-inspired wisdom that caused it to come into existence.  The next morning I looked at the device again and said, “Oh yeah, a light bulb.”

But I digress.  We were talking about ghosting. 

So, ghosting in writing could be described as an intentional suppression of information that allows for the seeping through of certain elements of that information in order to suggest the existence of a deeper, fuller background than what is written on the page.

Man, I want a spot on the next Webster’s Dictionary writing gig.

What about unintentional ghosting?  I was having a conversation with a friend recently and he told me about his father’s Alzheimer’s.  It’s in the early stages—the man still remembers his family members and most of the important moments in his life.  But if you ask him what he had for lunch he’ll just make shit up.  He’ll give a whole schpeil about the fictitious dining experience he didn’t have.  Brushing over the fact that he doesn’t remember a thing about it.  Unintentional ghosting?

All right, I’ve wasted too much of your precious time already.  Let’s all get back to work.

Does anyone out there in Murderati Land have any cool made-up words that almost make sense?  Or something you’ve taken from a different medium and applied it to writing?

Oh, yeah…one last plug on this…Crossing the Line, my short story prequel to Boulevard and Beat, is finally available as a free Kindle download from Amazon, as well as appearing as a free downloadable pdf from my website…