Saturday, August 20, 2016

A New Schedule Calls for Precise Writing

Scott D. Parker

We’re a week in for the new school year and I’ve already had to adjust my writing schedule.
One of the best things about the end of school this past May was that I had the mornings to myself again. I’ve always woken before the family on weekends and holidays, and that’s where I get a lot of my writing done. But the weekdays are different. Starting the Tuesday after Memorial Day, I’m on my own, the boy having his summer break. I still wake at 5am, but I not longer have to stop at 6:15am to help him. Now, I can write and write and write all the way to 6:30 before I have to stop and get myself ready for the day job. Thankfully, my commute is literally around the corner, so I can leave at 6:55am and still be at work by 7:00am.

As one might expect, when I had my summer months to myself, I occasionally slept in. Didn’t feel like rising out of bed precisely at 5:00? No worries. I can sleep in an extra ten, fifteen, or even thirty minutes and still have an hour’s time to write. It was a great system.

That system is no more.

The boy now carpools with another dad. That dad is a teacher at a nearby school. He has to be in his classroom by 7:05am. That means he has to leave his house—around a different corner from my house—by 6:30am. I think you see where this is going. Backing up, I now have to wake the boy up at 5:45am. Yikes both for the time, but also for the writing schedule.

I quickly realized a week ago Thursday that I’m down to a good 40 minutes of writing time. I subtract five minutes for waking, getting coffee and my warm lemon water, and feeding the animals. Do I have time to sleep in now? Nope. By the end of this week, I was actually setting my own alarm for 4:55am. What?! Yeah, really. I want to sit at the keyboard and start writing as close to the top of the hour as possible. Then, after I walk him to the neighbor’s house, I tend to have about 20 more minutes to myself. I’ll typically finish the scene and then head to work.

It’s worked pretty well. On the mornings in which I’ve known exactly what happens in the next scene to write, I can almost finish it in that time frame. But when I don’t, when I’ve sketched the scene so broadly, leaving it to my future self to ‘fill in the blanks,’ I’ve gotten into trouble.

So I’m falling back to precise writing. This is my own term I just created that basically means outlining. With so little time left for writing—the evening is still and has always been family time; I don’t like the idea of sequestering myself away during those time unless absolutely necessary—I need to know exactly what I have to do in the time I have. It’s almost like a mini Pomodoro time keeper.

I’ve reached 10,000 words on the new book. That’s not precisely where I want to be by this date, but it is where I am on this new schedule. I’m hopeful to catch up this weekend and get back on pace. But I’m also going to revisit my notecards and put in more details before I get to those scenes so that I can use the time I have and produce the most optimal results. Or I have to write faster. Perhaps I'll do some more dictation. Who knows, but it'll be fun to experiment.

Friday, August 19, 2016

On Bonnie & Clyde and Tropes.

It's no secret that I love working with tropes. Tropes get a bad name because it often feels like an excuse not to do the work of creating something new, but I don't think that's the full truth. A lazy writer will write lazily regardless of tropes and archetypes, and even a mythical "original idea" can be ruined by a writer unwilling to do the work.

The reason tropes exist in the first place is because people relate to these stories and archetypes strongly enough to repeat them over and over again. And as Joe Clifford is fond of saying, "there are really only two stories - a person goes on a journey, and a stranger comes to town (which are really the same story from two different perspectives)." I gave up the desire to create something "wholly original" not because I'd rather riff off other people's work, but because I'm a realist. People have been writing fiction for thousands of years, and it's all "a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." What makes fiction compelling, interesting, and original, is what we do with those two premises.

So when I set out to write my modern Bonnie & Clyde story, I wasn't worried about inventing a new story. I was worried about creating two characters that are interesting and compelling, and putting them in situations the reader doesn't fully expect. I focused a lot on what made the real Bonnie & Clyde so popular in their time - which isn't all that different from today, really. Historically, Bonnie & Clyde got a lot of adoration for sticking it to the banks during a time that poor people were really fed up with the financial status quo, watching people lose everything while the rich still managed to get richer (sound familiar?).

I worked with this idea a lot through the first ten thousand words (and that first ten thousand actually got started and ditched a few times, so maybe the more accurate number is thirty thousand words). It's a story for our time, as much as it was a story for theirs. The thing that jumped out at me, reading up on their lives and the conflicting details that have managed to work their way into the popular consciousness is that the reason they were popular then, and the reason they resonate now - is not the reason their story has lasted over the decades. It's been over eighty years since they died in a hail of bullets. In those eighty years, the economic climate has rippled and spiked enough that their long lasting appeal can't be attributed totally to sticking it to the banks.

When it hit me, goddamit it was so obvious. 

Bonnie & Clyde is a story about two people who opted out of the American Dream, sure. It's a story about sticking it to the banks. The power of celebrity. The way we view violence and crime.

It's all those things.

But it's also the stuff of romance novels. It wasn't Bonnie & Clyde against the banks, or Bonnie & Clyde against the police. It was Bonnie & Clyde against the world. It's a powerful romantic trope that has infiltrated almost every genre. I talked about the film From Dusk Till Dawn here before, and the things Rodriguez and Tarantino did to make you root for characters that were inarguably really fucking terrible dudes - but the other thing that makes those characters relatable? It was the Gecko Brothers against the world. It's not romance in this instance, but it is about love.

Depending on which version of the story you believe, Bonnie was a garden variety hybristophiliac, turned on by Clyde's criminal past and eager to join in the fun. Others seem to believe that Clyde would have been okay if Bonnie hadn't pushed him further in her thirst for fame. There are a dozen different variations on their specific story, and a million ways to tell a story like theirs.

My characters aren't a whole lot like the public image of Bonnie & Clyde, but they are criminals who've seen the lie inherent in the American Dream and they are two people bound to each other for a variety of reasons that have to face off against a world full of people who'd sooner see them dead or behind bars. The more I work out what makes their story special and meaningful, the happier I am that I'm taking old stories, tropes, and archetypes, and fucking with them until I get what I want.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Your book is not my book

By Steve Weddle

For whatever reason, I live on the same planet as lunatics. Sometimes they attack writers online because, heck, I don't even know anymore. Not even writers. Ellen DeGeneres got called a racist.

I see folks online going after a movie star or an author or someone who works at Taco Bell for something or other. Your characters are homophobic. You need more Lithuanians working at your store. No one in your book looks like me. I think your main character is a stereotype.

OK. You think someone doesn't have enough women in their novel? Or enough people of color or enough rural Americans. Yeah, I get that. Cool. Let's discuss it, if you want. These are important discussions for us, especially on a planet with lunatics. Let's understand each other, listen to each other. Yelling and threatening aren't nice.

It's great that you're passionate about the novel you saw reviewed or about photos posted on Twitter or comic books that are changing. The Hulk is Asian-American. Ms. Marvel is Pakastani-American. Captain America is African-American, unless you're talking about the other Captain America who is a Nazi.  We have all kinds of new stuff happening and if you're attached to characters, I get that you're passionate about them. Coolio.

But attacking authors -- or Ellen -- online for a posted photo or a novel doesn't seem helpful.

When everyone is a racist, no one is. (I think that was in The Incredibles movie.) If you call Ellen a racist, then what happens tomorrow when someone does something that's really, for real, truly racist? Or when you see some subtle form of racism that's more pervasive and can't fit into 140 characters? Or when you've hit five racists today and five tomorrow and so on, what's left this weekend when you really have something to say? Believe me, there's racism out there, and Ellen ain't it.

And when social media is used as an attack zone, many creatives will retreat and avoid social contact with folks, and that's a shame. Twitter is a great leveller in that I can tweet to some of my favorite authors, jugglers, musicians and maybe they'll hear me and tweet back. How cool would it be to get into a conversation with your hero on Twitter? But if we're attacking artists, maybe they'll just sign off altogether. We make the fellowship hall so toxic, no one will hang out. Lauren Zuke left, as have many others. Soon, Twitter is just a billion angry people and my 47 fake accounts. Where's the fun in that? Social media is supposed to be kinda social, you know? We should be nice.

And, I guess the point that really stands out for me is this: If the people in a book don't look the way you want, then write your own book. If you don't like a movie in which all five people on the rescue party are white, I get that. I totally get that. And maybe something could be done about it. Maybe after all the outcry with the new Star Wars movie being almost all white, maybe that caused them to do better. That's cool. A discussion. A working together without the assumption that the artist is evil. But what really helps, at least in my thinking, is for more folks to write more stories with different folks in them.

Jonathan Franzen got blown up on social media when he said he wasn't the person to write a race relations novel because he didn't have many "black friends." So Twitter went after him. Well, would you want to read a Franzen novel about race relations? Would the people yelling at him read that? Or were they just seeing another dumb thing someone said and going after him because it's kinda fun to kick people around? I don't know that Franzen is the dude for the job. I would imagine the world is full of folks with honest experiences who would do a better job. So instead of bashing Franzen, write your own damn book.

If you don't like Franzen's books, don't buy them. Use that money to buy some pens and paper and write your own damn book. Please. Tell the stories you want to share. Your book is not my book. My book is not your book. You don't have to kick Franzen in his testicles, you know. Please, tell your story.

That being said, we could all probably do a better job of sharing positive stories about people doing good things, you know? Look what yelling and being mean have gotten us. Sad!

Being nice is cool, but sometimes that's asking too much. Maybe we could share nice when we see it?

Oh, and Alyssa Rosenberg at WaPo says the some I would have said if I were smarter:

Anyway, be nice and write your own book, I guess. And when you see a book or comic or movie doing a good thing in terms of uplifting us, let us all know. Some of us are still on Twitter and would like to hear about the good stuff. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Countdown to Bouchercon: Swag Edition

by Holly West

Have you seen Robert Crais's green fuzzy balls?

Okay, so they're old news news, but Erin Mitchell's tribute to these furry wonders still applies. (h/t to Diane Vallere for sending me the link).

With Bouchercon coming up in just one short month, the subject of swag is on my mind. I usually wait until the absolute last minute to figure out if I'm going to bring anything and with so little time left to design and order something, I generally end up paying for rush services. If you're going to bring swag to conferences, don't be me. Apparently, I fall into the same swag category as S.W. Lauden, author of BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, who confesses, "It could be that branded swag takes a level of planning that I haven't achieved yet." He doesn't bring much more to conferences than business cards and a credit card to buy drinks with.

Ditto for Lisa Alber, author of the recently released WHISPERS IN THE MIST. "Given my disorganized tendencies, swag takes a backseat in my marketing efforts. I'd love to be one of those authors with cute and unique novelty swag items, but I'm not."

Then there's Shannon Baker, whose novel, STRIPPED BARE, is due out September 6. "I am really bad at swag. I am famous for forgetting business cards and if I do take them, I forget to use them."

I'm glad to see I'm not alone.

Team Kate earplugs.
All of this begs the question: Is swag really necessary? It kind of feels like it is. Tammy Kaehler, author of the Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries, says, "I feel like bookmarks are sort of like a website, you have to have them." In addition to bookmarks and business cards, Kaehler gives away custom earplugs, because they stand out. She admits they might not bring sales, but they do bring attention, which can lead to sales.

Macavity Award-winning novelist/screenwriter Craig Faustus Buck has a similar take. He gives out Band-Aid dispensers with the GO DOWN HARD book cover printed on them. "When you go down hard, you need a Band-Aid. I'm the only crime author I know whose swag can staunch blood."

Anthony Award-winning novelist Matt Coyle believes swag is important, but not most important. He brings books, bookmarks and postcards. If he hosts a table, he'll buy something that's related to the conference city and give it to his guests. Still, he claims free books work best for gaining new readers. As for other giveaways, he's still looking for the magic formula. "I wish I knew what worked," Coyle says. "The wall would have a lot less thrown at it."

And that's the thing. Nobody seems to know what (if anything) works. Okay, maybe bookmarks work, at least according to Chris Holm, author of THE KILLING KIND (nominated for an Anthony Award this year). "Everybody needs 'em. They're great for showing off covers and blurbs. They're not terribly expensive. And they can do everything a business card can do. I can tell you from experience I've looked up authors I've met using their bookmarks."

Bestselling author Diane Vallere agrees. "Bookmarks are a given." When she occasionally brings non-bookmark swag, "it falls under the category of 3-D novelty, as in, something series related that stands out when set on a table with a bunch of bookmarks/postcards/door hangers."

"Bookmarks are selling tools," claims Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest historical mystery
series. "They remind the reader about the series, it shows the covers of the other books in the series with the one I'm promoting much larger, there is a QR code to get you directly to my website if you're looking for an ebook and it has blurbs from authors on the other side. I didn't believe in those blurbs until once at a Bouchercon, someone came up to my signing table and said that if so-and-so author thought my book was good, he'd give it a try, too!"

Not everyone is on the bookmark bandwagon, however. Eric Beetner, author of WHEN THE DEVIL COMES TO CALL, says, "I've brought bookmarks but I don't see them as being particularly effective, especially at a con the size of Bouchercon or Left Coast. There are thousands of bookmarks around and it's impossible to stand out."
From my personal swag collection:
 Protection charm from Jess Lourey and Young
Americans button from Josh Stallings

I'm not a fan of bookmarks, either, though I do use them occasionally to promote my books. Since 99% of the books I read are ebooks, I really have no practical use for them and if I want to learn more about a particular author, I'd rather have a business card printed with their contact information and website URL. I can easily fit that into my wallet, which, for me, is the safest place for a promo item to go if an author wants to ensure the item doesn't get thrown away.

And not all authors think swag of any kind is necessary. Anthony Award-winning novelist Simon Wood has this to say: "IMHO, swag is a waste of time and money. It doesn't bump sales. Most of it ends up in the trash. Your personality is going to sell more books than novelties."

"I used to bring beaucoup swag," says Jess Lourey, author of SALEM'S CYPHER. "Nut Goodies taped to postcards of my book, color-changing pens with my website URL on them, mini flashlights with lock picking kits inside of them, bookmarks. Now I bring none. None Swag. I never saw a single sale from it and I think it gets lost in all the noise."

Based on my own experience, I have to agree. Despite spending a good amount on different kinds of promotional items, including USB drives printed with my book covers (my books are ebook only so it's the only way I can give out free books at conferences), I'm pretty certain every penny I've spent on promotion has been wasted, if I want to think of it in solely in terms of return on investment.

Giving away free ebooks on a USB drive

Swag might not be tied directly to sales, but it can help in other ways. "Several years ago," Vallere says, "Jeri Westerson handed out sword pens attached to a postcard that described her Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series. Because it was a unique item and perfectly represented the character, a disgraced knight, I remembered it. Whenever I talk about swag, I mention Jeri Westerson's Crispin Guest series, so, because of her pens, I now help build awareness of her series."

Vallere cites her own example, as well. "I filled prescription bottles with sweet tarts and made fake labels that hinted at one of my series. Several other writers saw them, thought they were funny, and posted pictures and tagged me, which boosted my own exposure."

And that's really what we're talking about, right? Boosting exposure.

Personally, I'm a big fan of buttons. Anthony Award-nominated author Josh Stallings had really eye-catching ones made to promote his most recent novel, YOUNG AMERICANS. "Josh's button worked because by wearing it, I got to be part of the 'Young Americans' club at the conference and it got me talking about his book with people," says S.W. Lauden.
Buttons, FTW!

Travis Richardson, the mulit-award-nominated author of numerous short stories and two novellas, has also used buttons as a promotional tool. "We made buttons that read "I Got Lost in Clover" for anybody who bought the book. We also made buttons for my Anthony-nominated short story, "Incident on the 405."

Guess whose getting buttons made to promote her Anthony-nominated story, "Don't Fear the Ripper?" at Bouchercon? This girl.

Laura Benedict, author of the forthcoming THE ABANDONED HEART: A BLISS HOUSE NOVEL, has found that conferences don't have great opportunities for handing out swag. "It just isn't done on panels, and so things get dumped on tables. I never know who's picking stuff up." That doesn't stop her from bringing a few special things to give out with her business cards, however. "In the past I've done packets of seeds and candy. I'm doing something different this fall, but I'm not telling!"

Ellen Byron, USA Today bestselling author of the Cajun Country mystery series, is a self-confessed swag nut. "I love coming up with fun new items branded in my signature Mardi Gras colors." Purple stylus pens and measuring spoons, recipe cards, a brochure called The Laissez Girl's Guide to Easy Cajun Entertaining and notebooks decorated with labels of her book covers are a sampling of things she's given away.

Swag is important to her overall marketing efforts. "It's a way of both reaching readers and thanking them for their interest in my work," Byron says. "My general goal with swag is to brand myself. That's why I try to create items that people might use over and over again, like the pens and spoons." She calls these giveaways "memory jogs" and hopes they bring her Cajun Country Mysteries to mind.

Susanna Calkins, Agatha and Mary Higgins Clark nominee and author of the Lucy Campion historical mysteries, keeps it simple. "I bring bookmarks and business cards, which I've learned to carry around with me in my lanyard. I also bring magnets which I put out for people to take."

Of course, the greatest ideas come with a cost. "I considered beer can cozies for LOST IN CLOVER that read 'Choose Your Trailer Park Wisely,'" says Travis Richardson. "I decided against it for cost and possibly offending people. I also looked into making Topps baseball cards for KEEPING THE RECORD." At a dollar per card, this particular promo idea didn't make the cut.

Wine swag. Not sure I'd do this again.
When MISTRESS OF FORTUNE came out I bought bottles of wine with custom labels printed with the book cover. They were a great giveaway (reserved for the most special of occasions, like thank yous, charity baskets and hosting tables) but they were spendy. And my husband and I drank one of the bottles when we ran out of wine once (okay, twice).

 Like I said, don't be me when it comes to swag.

"For my first two books, I had a T-shirt designed that linked to the stories," says Mary Higgins Clark and Anthony award-winner, Lori Rader-Day. "As giveaways, though, they were expensive and so were reserved for very supportive people during the publishing process like first readers, et cetera."

For the record, I'm still waiting for my T-shirt to be delivered.

Still, even if I've learned that swag really isn't the best use of my time or money, I like to have something to give out at conferences. I think we can all agree that much of the swag we collect ends up in the garbage. If that's the case, is there anything that really works?

The authors weigh in:

"I've come to think that the only truly effective swag at all are free books. If you want to give away something, it's got to be the book itself. The first in a series or a short novella tied to a series. Something to hook the reader in. It needs to be a loss leader in order to get a dedicated reader who will follow you into the next book you write." --Eric Beetner

"I was part of a collective giveaway, which I'd done a few times. This time I decided to include a coffee cake from a popular food website ($20). I more than doubled the number of people who entered--from approximately 100+ to 350+. It may not have increased sales, but it got my books in front of more people." --Terry Shames, author of the Samuel Craddock mystery series

"The only sales tricks that work is to make a connection with people and/or write an incredible book." --Jess Lourey

"The book itself is the best marketing tool. It's nice to have STUFF and it certainly helps when it looks nice and features all the right information. But at their best, these things should serve as a reminder to someone to buy your book. What's better than that? An actual copy of your book!" --Alex Segura, author of the acclaimed Pete Fernandez mystery series

"The most useful swag I've ever picked up was a bag clip with G.M. Malliet's name on it. I think it was in daily use in my kitchen for five years, and I will never forget her name or that she writes mysteries!"--Laura Benedict

"At conferences, what I've found most helpful to leave on the giveaway tables are free books. Someone gets a free book they are more likely to read it and look for others by that author. Swag is added value, but I don't think it sells books as much as we might like to think it does." --Jeri Westerson

And there you have it. Free books seem to be the best giveaway. But I don't think anyone would argue it isn't useful to at least have some business cards or bookmarks printed up. For those of us who forget we have them, take a lesson from Susanna Calkins and carry them in your badge lanyard.

I'll leave you with a couple of parting thoughts:

"For self-promo efforts, I don't think a big swag effort is a necessity, just like I don't think tweeting every day is a necessity. Ultimately, I think it's about doing what's fun for you--some authors really do have fun with swag--and fits your style." --Lisa Alber

"I think the challenge with conventions is finding the right balance between 'hustling' and 'fun.' Obviously, these trips aren't cheap and most authors are footing their own bill, so you want to leave the event feeling like you've earned out. Seize the opportunities to market yourself as they arise and allow yourself to relax and enjoy the moment. If you're constantly handing out postcards or demanding to be on as many panels or what-have-you, you're gonna rub people the wrong way and probably accomplish less than you would if you were judicious about when you go into self-promo mode." --Alex Segura

Now I'd like to open it up to others. As an author, what swag have you found to be most useful? And as a conference attendee, what swag do you most enjoy receiving?

Thank you to all of the authors who participated in this post. I'm looking forward to seeing many of you in New Orleans! 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Interview with John Shepphird

Deception is the name of the game in John Shepphird's California-centered Shill Trilogy, a series made up of The Shill, Kill the Shill, and Beware the Shill. Shepphird's writes terse, no-nonsense prose, and knows how to spin a fast, entertaining tale. 

I talked to him a little bit about the three books, so, why delay, let's get to it: 

Scott Adlerberg: BEWARE THE SHILL, the concluding volume in your trilogy of novellas, just came out.  Each book revolves around a Los Angeles based actress - Jane Innes - who has had her share of career struggles in Hollywood. Still, she is a skillful actress, so she's an intriguing person to follow through the trilogy's various capers and games of deception. I found her a nice change from the typical central character in this kind of crime fiction. What was the inspiration behind her character? 

John Shepphird: I live in Los Angeles and have directed a number of TV movies and straight-to-video titles. Jane is inspired by actresses I’ve known, some of which I've dated, driven by blind ambition. I'm drawn to crime fiction that embraces flawed but sympathetic protagonists. Jane's lonely and battling depression. She's obsessed with beauty magazines and aspires to the unattainable. She can't admit to herself that finding success in show business is not going to happen. Her life changes when she falls for Cooper, a con man. Her blind ambition makes her justify that impersonating a carefree heiress in his scheme is simply playing a “role” as opposed to actually being an accomplice. That fateful decision is what puts everything in motion.

And Jane comes from the other side of the tracks so pulling off a convincing heiress is a challenge. Cooper must school her. This echoes themes from Pygmalion or My Fair Lady. It’s all about deception. Through the series, as things escalate, Jane impersonates other characters and relies on her skills as a magician. Ultimately Jane must pull off the performance of her life to survive.

Deception is a subject and activity that clearly fascinates you.  I know you've written a couple of short stories about a Private Eye named Jack O'Shea who is a "Deception Specialist."  Where did your interest in the types of deception and the personalities of people involved in deception come from? And is there any crime fiction that you've drawn upon as an inspiration that really digs into this territory?

As a kid I studied magic and thought I'd pursue it as a career.  Maybe I should have.  Doesn't David Copperfield own an island or something? Instead I chose film and television, but there's magic in that. The art of deception has always fascinated me and I love a good twist.  The mustard seed was planted when I was gifted a magic set at nine years old. Then over the years I read and collected various books about cons and con men. There is less fiction that has inspired me but movies certainly have, including Vertigo, Blood Simple, The Usual Suspects, and of course The Sting -- all classics, all crime stories.  Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine publishes my Jack O'Shea series of short stories. He's a reformed con man trying to redeem himself. Dented armor, and another flawed protagonist.

For the trilogy as a whole, as an overall piece of crime fiction, did you have any particular literary inspirations? Who are the crime writers, or non-crime writers for that matter, you feel have made the biggest impact on you?

I’m big a fan of vintage noir fiction and nobody has inspired me more than James M. Cain. Partly for his brilliance in economy but mostly I’m drawn to Cain's fractured love stories.  Those relationships resonate with me; Cora and Frank in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Phyllis and Walter in Double Indemnity, or Joan and Earl in Hard Case Crime’s recently discovered and never before published until now The Cocktail Waitress

James M. Cain gives credit to screenwriter Vincent Lawrence who introduced him to the notion of a “love rack” -- the moment love is “recognized” by a character as a “moment of poetry”. And being true noir, Cain assures that one of the lovers has to be the losing lover. With the Shill series I attempted to weave a suspenseful page-turner with a dysfunctional love story at the core. Jim Thompson and Charles Bukowski also inspire with their odd love stories. Contemporary writers I read that inspire me are Steve Hamilton, Wallace Stroby, Jason Starr and Megan Abbott

Though the trilogy is contemporary, you have an interesting historical reference that figures in the plot. Want to talk about what this reference is and how you came to include it?

One of the movies I co-wrote and directed (Chupacabra Terror for SyFy Channel) was shot in the Turks & Caicos.Those small Caribbean islands served as a hideout for pirates and that fact really sparked my imagination. I researched the era and was fascinated by the notorious (and treacherous) female pirate Anne Bonny. Although there's nothing supernatural in these books, Anne haunts the series.

Living in California, the history of the Gold Rush has always fascinated me. There was so much money made in so little time!  While doing research for Beware the Shill I was inspired by the sea tragedy of the steamship Yankee Blade. Greed, cowardice, missing gold -- the stuff is too rich not to write about, and to mirror. 

I feel we're all connected to the past. History often repeats itself and that's why I try to weave a little bit of the historical into my stuff. Plus it's just plain fun.  

You mentioned that you directed a number of TV movies and straight to video titles?  Anything about storytelling through visual means that has helped in how you tell stories on the page?

It's all about economy, both on the screen and on the page. When I first started directing I spent too much time and effort on the technical--dolly moves, crane shots.  But experience taught me that a director's job is to simply put the camera exactly where it needs to be. Work with the actors to make it true, then capture those moments, period.  I started my career enamored by wide shots and camera gymnastics. Now I realize it's all about the close up. Where's the emotion? Where does the audience need to be? 

I know you have a full time job and family. Everyone has their own way of getting in the writing time they need. How do you work writing in to your routine? Do you write every day?  And are you kind of person who zips through a first draft fast just to get something down, before going back and revising, or do you outline a lot beforehand?

I'm a morning person so I'm up early before the crack of dawn and try to get at least an hour in a day. My routine is I'll write a chapter then go back and revise it once, and then proceed. Then when it's complete I'll go back to the beginning and begin revising it all over again until I feel it's ready.  I don't outline but I have written the last chapter, or my final culmination, first.  That gives me something to to write toward.  It's often revised once I get there, but it provides me a milestone to aim for.       

The Shill was originally published as an ebook by a publisher you had problems with. After you did some searching, Eric Campbell at Down and Out took it on, and the two books that followed. How's it been working with him and how would you describe the small press experience overall?

The experience has been very positive. I’m grateful to be with Down & Out Books and honored to be included among their stable of authors. They’re progressive and have established a unique brand. They’ve been in business for over five years and in 2015 Down & Out's Moonlight Weeps by Vincent Zandri won both the Shamus Award  and the ITW Thriller Award.        

Writing wise, what do you have on the horizon? 

I'm finishing a novel titled Bottom Feeders -- Hollywood slang for filmmakers working primarily on low budget schlock.  It's a murder/mystery/ thriller that takes place on the set of a low budget TV movie, something I know a lot about.          

You can get The Shill here.

Kill the Shill is available right here.

You can get Beware the Shill here.