Building a Platform – Day 5

Day #5

Acquire the ‘Write’ Type of Friends. Join a hands-on writer’s group in your area. Knowing you aren’t alone in this very lonely business is good for the psyche. You might have to join more than one before you find one that fits your age group and temperament. (There is a difference.) Some writers still appreciate proper grammar and spelling. (Some don’t.) And remember: you aren’t married to these groups, so leave if one doesn’t click. Or start your own group with people sharing your values, temperament, and needs. You want to improve your writing skills, so make sure this is a learning experience. And be very generous with your skills. Sharing your writing knowledge with others is part of the “platform” building.

Join on-line writers groups to keep your finger on the pulse of the business, and to make contacts and maybe get a few readers when your book comes out. This is another way networking pays off.

Day #6

Stand Up and Be Counted. After you have joined a national writers organization like Sisters-in-Crime or Mystery Writers of America, and you find you like what they offer, ask what you can do to help out. Volunteer. People will learn that they can rely on you. If the board members see that you are a good worker, you might find yourself on a committee or two. Get that face of yours out there. If you are willing to go the extra mile, see if you can get on the board and be one of those deciding what that group of writers can do to help each other as well as the community at large. This shows that you are a mover and shaker.

If you have a talent for teaching, you might try your hand at giving a class about writing or the business of writing. Kate Thornton, a short story writer with over a hundred short stories to her credit, has taught a course in “How to Write a Short Story.” Eric Stone (Shanghaied) has set up his own book tours when each of his books came out. He also teaches a course: “Setting Up Your Own Book Tour.” Their expertise has led to them sharing their knowledge with others. You just might have a class in you, too.

Keep notes of your writing progress, experiences, and things you have learned. They just might be the basis of a class you can give at a local library or at the next writers’ conference. It’s another presentation where your skills will come into play.

Your leadership skills are being polished and you didn’t even know it. It’s another “platform” to add to your collection.

Interview with Kate Carlisle

We are happy to have with us today Kate Carlisle, author of the Brooklyn Wainwright mystery series.

“Homicide in Hardcover” was your first bibliophile mystery, and “If Books Could Kill” comes out in February of 2010. Your character, Brooklyn Wainwright, is a book restorer. How did you come up with this unusual occupation?

From the time I was six years old, I’ve been making books. Granted, those early attempts were pretty pathetic. A raggedy piece of cardboard for the cover with a wobbly stack of lined school paper inside, all punched and held together with string. Very sad! But since then, I’ve taken numerous bookbinding classes and one of my dear friends is a master bookbinder. I also went through a period during which I collected rare and finely bound books and used to haunt the local antiquarian bookstores. I guess you could say I’m fascinated with books. So when I decided to write a new mystery series, the idea of a bookbinder, specifically a rare book restoration expert, as protagonist was irresistible. Thus, Brooklyn Wainwright was born. Unfortunately, whenever Brooklyn comes in contact with a beautiful rare book, somebody always dies.

You have a background in romance, and you can see it in the light, fun relationship that develops between Brooklyn and British security officer, Derek Stone. Do you think that mystery and romance are a natural combination?

Oh, absolutely! My favorite mystery series have always included a romantic interest (or two – Ranger and Joe, anyone?), going back to the days of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, then Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew. I think a touch of romance adds more dimension to any story. These days, I’m a big fan of Nancy Martin, Diana Killian, Kate Collins and Juliet Blackwell, among many other traditional mystery authors, and they all include a hunky hero in their stories—for which their protagonists are thankful, I’m sure.

As a writer, I most enjoy writing dialogue, and the flirtatious banter between Brooklyn and Derek is always fun for me. It’s my favorite way of developing their characters as well as advancing the plot. I always read the dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural. If I can make myself laugh, that’s a huge bonus.
And since I also write romance, I should add that a romance novel can always benefit from a touch of mystery or intrigue. All the best ones include both, in my humble opinion.

Brooklyn’s parents are members of a commune headed by Guru Bob, and her father and Guru Bob are a unique combination of spiritualism and successful capitalism. Where did these fabulous and funny characters come from?

Oh, dear. If I tell you I was once in a commune, will you be shocked? No, of course you won’t be. I was raised in California in the 60’s, after all! So yes, many years ago, I was involved with a spiritual and artistic community up in northern California where we also had a vineyard and a winery. I suppose you could say it was mildly successful. Additionally, my brothers were huge fans of the Grateful Dead and I was smart enough to tag along with them to a few concerts. It was amazing to get a peek inside that fascinating subculture and I loved using some of what I saw as background for Brooklyn’s parents. And then there’s my mother. She’s … hmm, unique! I couldn’t help using a bit of her personality when it came to writing Brooklyn’s mother. Anyway, I took all the bones of those people and experiences and created Brooklyn’s parents and family and friends and the wonderful Guru Bob.

These days, I warn my family and friends that anything they say or do may be stolen and used in my books. These days, they’re very careful around me!

When we left Brooklyn at the end of “Homicide in Hardcover”, she was on her way to England with Derek Stone. Does this mean we are going to see more of this luscious security officer? Are they set to solve mysteries as a team?

Definitely! I don’t think I’d want to write a book without dashing Derek! So yes, he’ll be back in book two to torment—or be tormented by—Brooklyn. And not to give too much away, but he’ll be back in book three, as well. I must admit, I really love Derek, and I think Brooklyn seems to like him a lot, too!

Have you any desire to set one of the series’ books in England?

Yes. And while it’s not quite England, the next book does take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, at an annual book fair along the Royal Mile. I was very excited to use that city as a backdrop for the series because it has such a rich history—and lots of ghosts.

Also, if the series continues to be successful (fingers crossed!), I’m hoping to set a book in Lyon, France, where there’s a world-renowned school of book arts. And I would love to set another one in London, perhaps centered around one of the auction houses there. We’ll see how it goes.

OK. I just about keeled over laughing when I read “All About Kate” on your website which chronicles your journey into publishing. It includes headings such as “When Good Things Happen to Bad Girls” and “Lying for Fun and Profit”. Your parents had you marked as a telemarketer (excellent phone voice), a bookie (loved ponies), and a sales person (hawking chocolate bars to sailors). How do they feel about published author?

I’m so glad you enjoyed my biography. It’s all true, of course (ha ha!). Needless to say, my mother is absolutely thrilled that I’m finally published. (After twenty years, we all had our doubts.) But she’s my biggest fan now and at least once a week, she goes over to her local Barnes & Noble to check that my books are still there with the covers facing out. She also goes around giving my books to all the libraries in her area, which I heartily encourage. I have a large, extended family and all of them have been wonderfully supportive, showing up at my book signings, buying books to give to local libraries and hospitals, and talking me up among friends and co-workers. It’s great to have that kind of support.

What’s next for Kate Carlisle?

I’ve just started book three of the bibliophile mysteries, which takes place in San Francisco and the Sonoma wine country. Naturally, I had to do extensive research for that! I’ll also be taking lots of bookbinding classes over the next few months because for part of this book, Brooklyn will be teaching a master bookbinding class.

Additionally, I recently finished my first romance novel for Harlequin and I’ve just sent in a proposal for two more. I’m also involved with two group blogs every month so I’m always trying to write my entries early to keep ahead of schedule. And I’m very excited to be attending my first Bouchercon convention in ten years, in Indianapolis next week, so that should be fun.

Finally, book two of the bibliophile mysteries, IF BOOKS COULD KILL, will be out in February 2010, so I’m currently attempting to organize my life so that I’m not racing to meet a deadline while also trying to promote the next book. That way lies madness.
You can pre-order If Books Could Kill through Amazon.com, or visit Kate at her website.

A Review of Homicide in Harcover by Kate Carlisle

Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle

What trouble could Brooklyn Wainwright get into? She’s only a book restorer. But when her mentor, Abraham, is murdered at a private showing, she is suddenly surrounded by suspects and suspicions. The dead man’s last words are “Remember the devil”. Does this have something to do with the star of the showing—an allegedly cursed copy of Goethe’s Faust? The same book that Brooklyn is now in charge of restoring? If so, Brooklyn’s going to have to watch her step, or she could wind up the next victim. But with so many potential killers around, whom should she keep an eye on?

First, there’s Minka LaBoeuf, Brooklyn’s favorite choice for killer, maybe because Minka has a history of messing with Brooklyn that includes an “accidental” attack with an X-Acto knife. Abraham recently fired Minka, and experience tells Brooklyn that Minka doesn’t handle disappointment well.

The Winslow family, owners of the private collection, are acting strangely, and Brooklyn overheard Mr. and Mrs. Winslow argue about a problem with “the book”. Were they referring to the Faust or an old family bible that Abraham had also been restoring? Did her mentor discover family secrets worth killing over?

Even Brooklyn’s own mother can’t escape suspicion. Brooklyn saw her sneaking down to Abraham’s work room shortly before he was killed.

Derek Stone, a British security officer hired for the private showing, vacillates between suspecting Brooklyn and wanting to protect her. Eclectic best friend Robin keeps Brooklyn occupied when she’s not searching for answers. And if she’s searching for answers to more philosophical questions, she can always ask Guru Bob, the spiritually and financially successful commune leader.

Brooklyn makes a delightful sleuth, and the details about book restoration are a fascinating addition to a mystery that’s a joy to read.

Building a Platform – Day 4

Day #4

Is anybody out there? Now you are thinking, “OMG, this writing stuff is harder than I thought it was going to be. Do other people really do all this?” Find out by joining several writers’ organizations in your chosen writing genre. (Mystery writers have groups like Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America.) After you join, talk to other members and find out if they are going through the same things and are as nervous as you are. (The answer is yes, but still ask.)

Go to events sponsored by these groups. Meet other people who are going through the same things you are, or talk to those who have progressed a little further and learn more of the ropes from them, and share your experiences. Say hello to the featured speakers. Make contacts. There will come a time when you will be selling your book at an event and you will want people sitting in the audience listening to you. Be there for others and maybe they will be there for you.

Interview with Bruce Cook

As a huge fan of Blood Harvest, I’m happy to see Marshal Lawe return to print in Tommy Gun Tango. Will this book take on the point of view of other characters as Blood Harvest did? Any animal POV’s?

It’s so nice of you to interview me, Jackie—thank you! And I am happy that you are a fan of Blood Harvest.
Yes, I am once again using multiple first person points of view in Tommy Gun Tango. That was an experiment in Blood Harvest, and I found I really enjoyed the process. I am sticking with fewer points of view this time around—four people, instead of six humans and two animals. By the way, I borrowed this idea of contradictory/contrasting first person POVs from the Japanese film Rashomon, by Akira Kurasawa.

I greatly enjoyed writing from the point of view of a dog and a crow last time, and some of my readers found it amusing and entertaining. But that choice—to write as an animal some of the time—caused a tremendous split among readers and reviewers. They tended to love or hate the book based on that criterion. I decided to forgo that technique this time around—and besides, Marshal Lawe has moved across the country by car in 1932. His police dog Chief had already passed on to the Great Hunt in the sky.

This story begins with the POV of Marshal Lawe. We then see things from the POV of his serious girlfriend, Gladys, who lost her diner back in Massachusetts and moved to be with family in Los Angeles. We also hear from Jackie Sue, the sexually precocious and ambitious 13 year old from Blood Harvest. She is now 16 and is working as an actress in Hollywood. The final voice is a new character, Al Haine, a handsome Irish gangster, con man, and smooth talker. (Side note: Al Haine is the grandfather of Sam Haine, the lead character in my first novel, Philippine Fever.)

For Tommy Gun Tango, Bruce Cook collaborated with alter ego Brant Randall. What did each self bring to the process?

The Bruce Cook side of me is a scientist and mathematician by training. I worked on the Apollo Project in the 70’s as a laser physicist, before becoming a film maker. Bruce tries to be a close observer and factual reporter.

Brant Randall is the story teller, memory-keeper, spinner of tall tales, researcher of times past and customs vanished. He grew from my work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, director, cameraman, film editor, and sound designer.

You have two very different protagonists in your novels—Marshal Ichabod Lawe and ATF Agent Sam Haine. Do you find it difficult to move between their mindsets? And do you ever work on both series at the same time?

I have written 30 screenplays, none of them sequels to each other. I do not find it difficult to invent new characters. None of them are myself—but they all have aspects of my personality.

This is seasoned with the traits of my friends, family, co-workers, passersby, and enemies.
I haven’t worked on both series at the same time, but I don’t see that it would be a problem. I see it in much the same way as when you move from workplace to home to church to public space—you display different aspects of your personality. When I move from contemporary times to the past I switch attitudes and mores to match the setting.

In Tommy Gun Tango, you take on a real person, actress Jean Harlow, and an incident in her life—the death of her second husband, Paul Bern. This had to be intimidating. How did you approach your research, and were you nervous about upsetting Harlow fans?

I read plenty (and there is plenty to read!), re-watched her films, talked to film buffs—just immersed myself in Hollywood of the 1920s and 30s. I enjoy research, so it was fun, not intimidating.

I perused news accounts of the death of Paul Bern. I was able to get hold of some court transcripts. I found late-life memoirs of people involved with Harlow, Bern, and MGM. I read the gossip sheets from the era. The material was fascinating and contradictory. Bit by bit a pattern emerged (to my eye, at least) of Hollywood studio cover-ups of crimes by stars and producers. The police and city officials were complicit in these cover-ups. From all this data I drew my own (reasonable, I think) conclusions about Bern’s death.

You seem so comfortable writing “outside the box”, whether it’s placing your story on foreign soil in Philippine Fever or traveling back in time for Tommy Gun Tango. I know you lived in the Phillipines, but you certainly weren’t around when Blood Harvest took place in the 20’s. Is this simply great imagination? Painstaking research? Magic?

I’ll pick research and magic.

Seriously, I read accounts of the times written by many different voices. And then I interviewed people who were alive during those times and let their memories flesh out my vision of the past. I also found fabulous visual and audio resources. I was greatly aided by fiction films and documentaries made during that era. The internet and Netflix are wonderful tools.

You are also a teacher. Do you think this impacts your writing and how?

Yes, indeed. I constantly try to improve my teaching—which I see as the process of getting ideas and information from my mind to the mind of the student. And of course that is the same task that an author faces. Sometimes techniques from the craft of writing change the way I teach—and other times the tricks I have learned as a teacher work just as well on paper.

Among your former students are Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), actor Laurence Fishburne, six Academy Award nominees and winners, and twelve Emmy nominees and winners. You obviously have something important to say to artists. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The difficult thing is to develop a voice and world view that is your own—recognizable to others so that they can identify with it, but quirky (or twisted or off-kilter or…) enough to force the reader to see things freshly. The writer is a storyteller first of all, a conservator and purveyor of the culture—but if he/she isn’t also an innovator, then the story is old and formulaic, not worth the reader’s trouble.

I have to ask. You used the names of people you know in Tommy Gun Tango. (Including our own Gayle Pool and Jackie Houchin.) Are you careful to be complimentary when you do this?

I asked permission first to name characters after these fellow authors, and told them briefly what kind of character each would be. Once I had written a substantial passage that included them I sent it to them to vet. If either had been offended or homicidal about her portrayal I would change the character name to Jackie Vick.

My buddy Robert Fate also shows up in this book and other friends and family have been used as well. It’s meant to be fun—so if it’s not, I don’t do it.
What’s next on Bruce and Brant’s agenda?

Well….Bruce is writing a textbook on screenwriting just now. When that is out the door Bruce and Brant are going to collaborate once again. The next book is set in contemporary Los Angeles and features a number of ancient gods, mythical characters, and other immortals of waning power and influence. They all are trying to break into show biz to re-establish their identities in popular culture and regain solidity in the Jungian world-mind. The book will be called Nasté, Brutus, and Shorte.

And yes, there will be animals: Odin’s talking ravens, Hugyn (Thought) and Mugyn (Memory), for those of Scandinavian inclination.

You can order the book by clicking on the cover. You can also visit Bruce online.

Review of Bruce Cook’s Books

Dancing with the Stars

A Review by GB Pool

Great atmosphere shares center stage with a cast of memorable characters whose lives are intertwined in this fascinating tale of the dark side of old Hollywood.

Tommy Gun Tango, co-written by Bruce Cook and Brant Randall, brings back several characters from Randall’s Blood Harvest, an equally entertaining story set against a backdrop of the KKK in Massachusetts. And readers of Cook’s first novel will recognize a name that might be a relative of his hero in Philippine Fever, Cook’s adventure story set in the steaming back streets of Manila.

Utilizing multiple points of view, one per chapter, each character starts out by explaining where they came from and about the skeletons in their closets. First is Marshal Lawe, an out-of-work constable from a podunk town called Peony Springs in rural Massachusetts. His little town pretty well dried up and blew away, so he headed west to the Golden State.

Along a deserted highway one night, Lawe sideswipes a hitchhiker who ends up completing the journey with him to the land of milk and honey. This is the Depression, 1932, and everything looks better on the other side of the tracks.

The guy Lawe hits is Al Haine, a two-fisted Irishman who uses one fist to fight and the other to gamble. He is good at both. Talk about the luck of the Irish. Al manages to secure a few extra bucks on their journey to the coast. He never mentions the bruised bodies he leaves in his wake.

Once in Hollywood, Lawe gets himself a job in the movies as an extra. His credentials lead him to a security job for one of the big studios. Al tries his luck at the dog track. He does well and soon moves with a faster, more dangerous crowd.

Laced throughout the opening section of the story are tasty little tidbits ripped from the headlines of the newspapers of the day. Stories like the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and the mysterious death of William Desmond Taylor. Each tale shows how the studio heads deal with moral turpitude and the threat to their box office receipts along with their willing accomplices in law enforcement.

Another character who graces the pages is Gladys Alwyn. When the war broke out she left Virginia and turned tricks in New York City before saving up enough money to buy a diner in Peony Springs. She hid her past and became romantically linked with Marshal Lawe, but when the economy turned south, she headed for Los Angeles. She had relatives there. She took with her another, darker, secret that she figured would ruin any further notions about making any permanent plans with Lawe.

Al Haine’s tempestuous past was filled with rapid departures, usually when a dead body turned up. His anarchist tendencies finally landed him in America from Ireland where trouble kept finding him. Once in Los Angeles, he sought to improve his lot in life and ended up working at one of the studios as a dancer in a gangster musical. His dancing partner, Gayle, a gorgeous blonde, is a kid with ambition, but this little number plays by different rules.

Gayle wants to get out of the chorus line and into better things. She is a Jean Harlow look-alike who wants to parlay her considerable assets into a sizable career. The young woman (really young, try sixteen) ran away from her hometown, Peony Springs no less, changed her name to a high-toned hyphenated British derivative and, with a doctored birth certificate that places her outside the statutory range, works every angle to get ahead. She meets Al who likes all her angles. They decide to pool their resources and take Hollywood by storm. But they have no idea what kind of storm is brewing.

So everybody is now in Los Angeles, and a particular Hollywood death draws each into a soul-searching nightmare. Tommy Gun Tango is filled with spot-on atmosphere and terrific characters. Any fan of the movies from the 1930s will be instantly transported to an old black and white movie, so bring the popcorn.

A fast and fun read. My only complaint: I wanted it to last longer. The characters are so well drawn, I wanted to see more of them. But the authors left a few doors open, so there just might be more adventures in Hollywoodland.

Published by Capital Crime Press, $14.95.

Blood Harvest
By Brant Randall
Capital Crime Press, May 2008, $19.95

Review by Jackie Houchin

Reminiscent of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Blood Harvest is the chilling tale of hatred, racism and violence spread by the Ku Klux Klan, not in the South, but in New England in the early part of the last century. It’s the story of two rival bootlegging families, related by marriage but separated by prejudice.

Years earlier, the youngest MacKay daughter defied her family and ran off with Nick DeCosta, a detested, “non-white European.” They had a son, Angus, who ran wild as a teenager. One day the boy showed up at a church social where he found young Jackie Sue MacKay ripe for picking.

Her cousin discovered them under a rhododendron bush, and pulled Angus out by the ear. The MacKay men folk thrashed him and tossed him off a bridge, breaking his leg and nearly killing him.

About that time Nick came looking for his boy, saw him in the riverbed, and opened fire on the MacKay men, injuring several. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder. What follows is a trial with little hope of justice.

What makes this book a pleasure to read, and re-read, is Randall’s unique voice. He relates the story of the trial, the lynching and a bizarre revenge murder through the eyes of nine colorful viewpoint characters – including a dog and a crow – and it’s perfectly believable. His back-woodsy dialects ring true, and his animal-speak is mesmerizing. The mystery is well-plotted and absorbing, his writing is fresh, but it’s the characters that sell this one.

Building a Platform – Day 3

Day #3

Get yourself plastered…all over the Internet. Create a Web presence with a website, blog, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin – so people can find you. Even before you send out your first manuscript, create a website, preferably with your name in the title. http://www.agathapenwrite.com/ will draw more people to you than http://www.im-a-greatwriter.com/. Unless “Great Writer” will be your pen name, use your real name. You are selling “you” out there. You are the product. And you want people to buy “you.” You want people to pick up a book with your name on it, recognize your name, and pay real money for that book. You want people to say, “Oh, Agatha Penwrite wrote this. It will be good.”

Sign on to Twitter, find people you know, other writers, old classmates, old boyfriends, ask them to follow you. Then map your writing quest. Using those 140 characters, let people know that you finished the first draft of your new book, you joined a writer’s group, you sent query letters, that you got some bites. Put a few notes on My Space about who you are. Remember you already discovered the “real you” in the first bullet point in this series. Now it’s time to get your name out there.

While you are signing up for all the websites, get someone to take a good picture of you to post on the site. People want to know what you look like. The generic silhouette they use when you have “no picture available” says you don’t know who you are yet. If you are nervous about having a picture taken, rent a nice looking dog and hold him up next to you. You are putting your name and face out there so people will know who you are. Get that picture on your website and all those other sites. No time for being shy. And your publisher will love you for advertising the product (you) out there in cyberspace.