Murderati Anonymous

by Stephen Jay Schwartz

When JT asked what title I would like under my name on the Murderati blogsite she suggested The Newbie, since this had been her title when she first came onto the blogging scene. She also suggested “The Newcomer,” which jumped out at me since it ties directly into my novel, BOULEVARD, a crime thriller set in the world of sex-addiction amidst the dark, present-day streets of Los Angeles. The protagonist is a sex-addicted, LAPD Robbery-Homicide detective.

I’ve done a lot of research on the subject of addiction. I’ve read David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy,” Nick Sheff’s “Tweak,” Marilee Strong’s “A Bright Red Scream,” William Cope Moyer’s “Broken,” William S. Burroughs’ “Junky,” most all of the texts by Dr. Patrick Carnes (the preeminent researcher in the field of sex addiction), Lauren Greenfield’s documentary film “Thin,” Nikki Sixx’s “The Heroin Diaries,” Augusten Burroughs’ “Dry,” as well as many other novels, memoirs and textbooks on the subject of addiction. The compulsion and addiction topics I’ve studied cover the gamut: Meth, crack, heroin, speed, nicotine, alcohol, anorexia, bulimia, self-abuse (cutting & burning), over-eating, workaholism and sex addiction. I’ve done a lot of “boots on the ground” research as well, attending meetings and interviewing addicts, narcotics officers and health professionals. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the subject of addiction, but I’m certainly well-informed. One of the things I’ve learned through my research is that the Twelve Step meeting is a wonderful place to heal.

In the world of addiction, the phrase newcomer refers to someone who is new to the meeting. The newcomer arrives raw and wide-eyed and terribly vulnerable. He stumbles into the meeting searching for guidance or empathy or both.

He takes a seat among old-timers and veterans who view his sudden presence with trepidation. Is this kid going to make it? It’s his first day and it’s going to take a lot of one-day-at-a-times before he achieves even an inkling of serenity. Is he going to have what it takes to keep coming back?

The veterans know how hard it is to follow the path. They know the challenges, and they know that the newcomer will invariably make mistakes along the way. There exists a strange, symbiotic relationship between veteran and newcomer. The veteran often forgets the wild, out-of-control feelings he had when he first started recovery. The group encourages the veteran to listen to the newcomer’s voice so that he might recapture the sense of overwhelming excitement he had when he first started working the program. When he realized that there was, in fact, a path to follow.

Is it appropriate to compare the veteran Murderati authors to a room full of addicts? They seem like a crowd that can take some ribbing. And, while I am making a bit of a playful comparison here, I don’t want to make light of addiction. Too many families have been broken, too many loved ones have been lost. So I hope the readers of this blog take what I am saying in the spirit in which it was written.

The metaphor works. Here I am. New guy. Friggin’ excited as hell that my book is being published. Happy to discover there’s a recovery process from the painful years I’ve spent writing in dimly lit rooms and cafes, separated from my wife and kids, adding five, six, seven hours to the end of each day at the office. I might wonder, what does recovery look like for me? How does one recover from a lifetime of anticipation?

Here in this room I see a path. Every one of these authors was once an unpublished writer. And then, every one of these authors became a newcomer.

My recovery process has already begun. It began when I got the phone call from the guy who would become my agent. When the book sold, a month later, I could feel my feet planted firmly on the ground. Then came nice little moments that felt like thirty, sixty and ninety-day chips; selling the audio rights, selling the Italian language rights, executing my editor’s notes, seeing the first page proofs, the copyedit proofs, the ARC. Seeing my book available for pre-order on Amazon.com. I’ve had a year of “sobriety” from the anxiety of not-being-published and the book isn’t even out yet. Being invited to join the Murderati authors is like receiving my one-year chip and a cake all at once.

The Twelve Step meetings work because their members share the experiences that define who they are. Experiences that define them as alcoholics, or tweakers, or sex addicts. Or, as in this room, the experiences that define them as writers. They share so that other writers will see how difficult the path is for everyone, not just for the unpublished writer, or for the newcomer.

Part of the job of the newcomer is to share his First Step. The First Step is a public recitation of all the crazy shit that happened to him, and all the crazy shit he did as a result of the crazy shit that happened to him, and how all of this emerged as his addiction of choice, and how all of that eventually led him to the room he’s in now, sharing his First Step. I think I can say that my addiction of choice is writing. It has led me to this room. And writing isn’t a bad thing. But it can certainly be an addictive thing, and a compulsive thing. Not to say that I haven’t had other addictions or compulsions that have complicated my life. I’ve had my share.

In future blogs, as part of this “Author’s First Step,” I will share my experiences about how I got published. I’ll relate my story, which is different from Brett’s story or JT’s story or Rob’s story. And it will be different from the stories that other writers will tell after me, other newcomers who join Murderati in the future.

I was fortunate—I published my first novel shortly after I finished writing it. And because of this it might appear that I haven’t experienced much rejection or failure. But I also spent twenty years working in the film industry and much of that time was spent writing spec screenplays that never sold. Now as I look back on it, each of those screenplays was a stepping-stone to the novel, to Boulevard. Each and every one of them gave me the thing I needed to be what folks in the film industry call an “overnight success, twenty years in the making.” And there’s still so much more to achieve.

As a newcomer I think it’s important to share some of these experiences with the Group to underscore the fact that there are many paths to success, and a lot of them look, at first glance, like failure.

Blogging is a lot like sharing, which is the Twelve Step term used to describe the process of talking about one’s daily struggle. Sharing personal stories, telling them to the room. Sharing is important not because we like to hear ourselves talk, or that it feels good to talk and be heard, but because when we share our struggles we open ourselves to others who are facing similar challenges, and it reminds us all that we are not alone. We are a community. We, at Murderati, are a community of writers. I was not published—I struggled—I was rejected—I struggled—I tried I tried I tried—I was published. The stories I heard from other writers along the way gave me the strength to continue, all the while knowing in my heart that I would someday succeed, providing that I always wrote, listened carefully to feedback, and did what was necessary to improve my work, one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter, one draft, one day at a time.

I’ve considered some of the topics I plan to talk about in future blogs: The Joy of Research, How to Find a Book Agent, How to Find a Film Agent, The Development
Process in Hollywood, Adapting a Novel to Film, Creative Visualization, Story Analysis Using the Writings of Joseph Campbell. There are also subjects I find close to my heart, subjects that have influenced my style as a writer. One I’m looking forward to exploring will be called Kerouac, Jazz and the Art of Spontaneous Prose. And there will be plenty of playful, silly blogs, after I learn to chill out a bit, when my friends remind me not to take myself so seriously.

To finish off the Twelve Step allegory, I’ll throw out a few interesting commonalities:

It’s helps to have a sponsor. I’m lucky because I feel like I’ve walked into this room with three caring sponsors: Brett Battles, JT Ellison and Tess Gerritsen. Brett and I met in college. We lived in the same dorms, went to the same parties, had many of the same classes. I lost touch with him for twenty years, until just recently when I found him on the Murderati blog site. He’s become a good friend again and he’s helped me prepare for the things I expect to encounter as a published author. He also gives wonderful tips, like “Always ask a person how to spell their name when you sign their book.” For my part, I introduced him to the best writing café in Southern California. Tess has also been there from the start, from the day I sent her a blind e:mail asking for advice on how to get an agent. She gave me help that made a difference, and then she read my galley and gave me an amazing blurb, one that continues to make a difference. And then there’s JT, who has been a vocal supporter and who gave me the official invitation to join the Murderati authors. All three have given me blurbs and advice and support. I couldn’t have found better sponsors.

A few other Program phrases jump out as I write this…

Just Show Up. Just show up to the meeting, even if you don’t feel like going. Just show up to your computer. Even if you don’t feel like writing or if you don’t think you have anything to say. Rest your fingers on the keyboard. Close your eyes. Tap, tap, tap.

Keep Coming Back. To the story. To the page. To the computer. Don’t give up. Don’t stop the process. Finish the book.

And, though I’m not very religious, I’m growing more spiritual as my days grow shorter. I’ve come to see that the Serenity Prayer applies to just about anything that challenges me:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference…

Thanks for attending Stephen’s Friday meeting of Murderati Anonymous. Keep coming back.

33 thoughts on “Murderati Anonymous

  1. Dana King

    Welcome Stephen, excellent post.

    As this is a site devoted to murder (in its way) let’s not forget the optional ending to the Serenity Prayer: Lord, help me to remember to hide the bodies of those I had to kill because they pissed me off.

    Reply
  2. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Great alternate ending to the Serenity Prayer, Dana. I should use it as a tag-line on the book cover!

    Reply
  3. Rob Tate

    Only thing missing from the 12-step analogy to writing is anonymity…
    How many writers do you think would go for that?
    πŸ˜‰
    -Rob

    Reply
  4. Louise Ure

    "How does one recover from a lifetime of anticipation?" Stephen, I hope you never do. Enjoy every single "chip" that comes with the publication of your first book. And welcome to Murderati.

    Reply
  5. Pari

    Stephen,
    Beautiful post.

    Your analogy almost worked for Murderati itself — but we’ve just become 13 and I think it’s going to be a very lucky number.

    Welcome!

    Reply
  6. Cornelia Read

    Stephen, this is a gorgeous post–thank you so much. And it’s nice to have someone taking over the Murderati Newbie Spot from me. Can’t wait to read what else you plan to blog about here, and your novel.

    Reply
  7. A.C. Steingold

    A thought-provoking essay! Looking forward to rat a tat tat dodgers beat angels with a bat rings on cafe tables for the stable and the able biscotti in the coffee we dip and of kerouac we clearly rip.

    "…as my days grow shorter." Please. Jessica Fletcher has a solid twenty years on you.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the solitude and hypergraphic anxieties of the modern-day writer. All this talk of sex addiction, but what of the romance? We are not in those glory days of HemingFitz, perhaps, but I sense from you a kind of reborn nostalgia in the process of craft. Which comes across as youthful enthusiasm. So there.

    Reply
  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    >>>Is it appropriate to compare the veteran Murderati authors to a room full of addicts?<<<<<

    I’m not sure it’s appropriate to compare us to anything else.

    I think this post is all the evidence anyone needs of why he was our unanimous choice And Boulevard is a terrific book – one of the most compelling books on addiction I’ve ever read, wrapped up in a gripping thriller.

    Welcome, Stephen!

    Reply
  9. Daniel

    Stephen we met the other day at the coffee shop. Thanks for chatting with me and sharing that table. To be honest, I don’t usually read murder mysteries and your book is a bit darker than I would normally go for. I bet right now everyone is thinking "then why is this guy here at Murderati"? πŸ™‚ At any rate, can’t wait to get my copy and finish the book. Hopefully I’ll see you around. If not you can get in touch with me through either one of those two websites I gave you.

    Reply
  10. Allison Brennan

    When JT mentioned you, I had to look you up and preorder your book because, well, unlike Daniel I tend to like the dark and dangerous stories. Have you read Keith Ablow? He’s a forensic psychiatrist who had a series (6, 7 books) from St. Martins featuring a forensic psychiatrist with a cocaine addiction. It was one of the best series I’ve read, and I was really bummed when he turned to non-fiction, though he went from unknown to #1 NYT bestseller after writing a book on Scott Peterson.

    Writing is addictive and sometimes that’s good, and sometimes bad. When I’m on a roll time becomes meaningless. There have been nights I’ve looked up and realized it’s after three in the morning and I don’t know where the time went. And other times, when I’m struggling, that the clock ticking towards deadline makes me crazy.

    Reply
  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison – Thanks for the note about Keith Ablow – I’ll definitely pick up his work. And thanks for preordering Boulevard!

    Reply
  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, Alex! I should have mentioned also that Alexandra gave me a fantastic blurb! Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Pammy D

    Welcome Stephen!

    Your book sounds fascinating. Now give on the best writing cafe in So Cal, even though it’s probably two hours away in normal L.A. traffic

    Tx!

    Reply
  14. Allison Brennan

    Read PSYCHOPATH if you read anything. It’s his second book, I think. It changed the way I think about villains. He’s as good, or better, than Thomas Harris. (Will Graham will always be my favorite Harris character (sorry, Alex!) and he also has a battle with addiction.)

    Reply
  15. JT Ellison

    Oh no! I left a comment early this morning telling you I wasn’t going to be able to comment fully until later today, and poof, it disappeared. So let me try again.

    WELCOME, STEPHEN! Alex said it best – you are the perfect choice to join this crew. If this post isn’t evidence enough, just wait until they read Boulevard. May I share my blurb with y’all?

    "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."

    (by JT Ellison, rarely so impressed by a debut novel, especially one that she waited several months to have a chance to read after her agent made mention of this cool book he was repping…)

    Seriously, Stephen is a wonderful writer and has all the right sensibilities to fit in just perfectly here on alternate Fridays.

    I can’t wait to learn from you, and watch your journey. I know it will be all you could hope for, and more.

    Reply
  16. Steven Ja;y Schwartz

    Great blog Steve…cannot wait to read your book…
    plan to pre order….
    enjoy your blog..plan to be on to read your comments.
    thanks.
    Paula

    Reply
  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    JT – oh, you are so wonderful….thank you for that beautiful comment. You make me feel so special. Everyone here at Murderati has shown incredible kindness and support. I’m going to enjoy blogging here now and for years to come. I’m working with my programmer today on my website, which will be up in a few weeks. I can’t wait to share it with you.

    (PS – that comment just above is from my mother-in-law, Paula, although she typed my name into the author section)

    Reply
  18. Jill James

    Stephen, what an amazing and thought-provoking post. Sometimes writing does seem like an addiction. I’m happy when I’m writing. Upset and counting the minutes until I can find time to write the next page, chapter, or story.

    Reply
  19. Tom

    Welcome, Stephen. In 12Speak: "You’re the most important person in the room right now, keep coming back, it works if you work it, you’re where you need to be."

    Oh, yeah, and, "Stick with the winners."

    Reply
  20. Twanya

    I enjoyed your blog very much. My first visit to Murderati too. Looking forward to reading your new book!

    Reply
  21. Shannon

    I’ve been a lurker here for a while now (easily intimidated by all this success) but I’m taking this opportunity to say congratulations, Stephen and thank you for giving us unpublished some hope. I’m looking forward to hearing about your journey and to reading your book. Fiction is escape and delving into human nature….sounds like you’ve conquered both. Good luck to you.

    Reply
  22. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thank you for your comment, Shannon. It was obviously heartfelt, and it meant a lot to me.

    Reply
  23. Alex Stukalov

    Crime in Los Angeles, sex addiction and the present time of the novel are not the only reasons why I want to read it. I’m very curious because you are the first published author I know in person and I saw you writing the book. Can’t wait to read it!

    Reply

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