Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bouchercon Virgin

This year's Bouchercon is shaping up to be a major life event.  Perhaps the reason is composed of a series of coincidences, or perhaps it's a confluence of fate, but it constitutes a collection of Big Events.  There are four of them:

  1. My short story "Dead End" was nominated for an Anthony Award by Bouchercon attendees. This is my first short story award nomination and it was very exciting.

  2. My short story "Honeymoon Sweet" was selected to be included in the Bouchercon anthology Murder on the Beach. Though I've had several short stories anthologized, this was, by far, the most flattering and competitive acceptance.

  3. This will be my first time attending Bouchercon. Though my writing career is long and extensive, most of it was spent in nonfiction books and TV. My crime prose career is just getting started. With my agent still shopping my first novel, I've had nothing but an E-novella (Psycho Logic, Stark Raving Group) to promote and thus little motivation to travel far to attend conferences. This is the first time since I've been in this game that Bouchercon has been close enough to make economic sense for me to attend.

  4. We will have real poker chips for the first time at what has become the ritual writers' conference poker game.  At previous games, such as Left Coast Crime and the California Crime Writers Conference, we've had to make do with colored paper clips, hard candies and bags of corn chips.
So I'm looking forward to an eventful event, and hoping real chips don't sour my luck at poker.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Shamus Award winner Paul D. Marks tagged me to join the Writing Process Blog Hop. Check out Paul's writing process at

At the end of this post I will tag three other authors who will post about their writing process on their blogs on June 9th: Matt Coyle, Travis Richardson and Laurie Stevens.  You can read about them and find links to their posts at the end of this hop.



The short answer is: too many things at once.  I want to be working on my second novel, Go Down Screaming, which I'm about 80,000 words into (my agent is shopping my first, Go Down Hard, which was First Runner Up for the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville).  But I'm also doing occasional notes on a screenplay, Smuggling for Gandhi, which is in preproduction; working on a short story I've been hired to write for a speculative fiction anthology; marketing my first novella, Psycho Logic (; co-organizing the California Crime Writers Conference 2015 and doing procrastinatory projects such as this blog hop.


I write noir.  To me, noir is all about voice.  A lot of noir writers go to great lengths to imitate the voices of the greats.  I have neither the memory, the critical analysis skills, nor the patience to do that. So my voice is, by default, my own.  I consider my work neo-noir because it adds a certain psychological and emotional realism and depth that the classics lack but today's readers have come to expect.

I wrote my first novel and am writing my novel-in-progress in first-person present tense, which gives the work a feeling of urgency.  My novella and the short story that spawned it, Dead End (which was just nominated for an Anthony Award), are in third-person past but because my voice is attuned to the immediacy of my novels, I strive to capture that same drive without the leg up that the first-person present narration provides.


I've been a professional writer for forty years.  During that time, I wrote for newspapers or magazines or co-authored nonfiction books or wrote for film and TV.  I was a gunslinger with a pen.  In other words, after the first draft, my creative output was at the mercy of the dictates of editors, producers and network or studio executives, no matter how destructive their input.  Though I still do some screenwriting, which is ultimately a collaborative medium, my joy these days is in writing crime fiction, not only because it's what I love to read, but because I have to answer to no one.

Writing crime prose marks the first time in my career that I've been able to let loose and write for the sole purpose of entertaining myself.  It's an exquisite freedom.  I hope to slowly build a loyal audience, but no longer feel the need to tailor my writing to the audience in order to succeed.  I guess you could call my crime writing "active retirement" in a way, because very few of us actually make a living at it.  But my writing career until now has given me enough of a cushion to allow me to give this a shot.


Because I was a writer-for-hire for most of my career, I usually had to begin any project with a proposal.  In TV or film, I was required to write outlines (treatments) before being paid to write a script.  So I've always associated outlining with work, not play.  And I never found it to be a particularly pleasant process.  Partly as  a reaction to that, I became a seat-of-the-pantser in my crime fiction.

Being a creature of habit, I began my first novel with an outline.  But as I wrote, I felt like I was painting by the numbers.  How could I outline a plot before I knew my characters?  And how could I know my characters before I put them in a situation and let them show me who they are?  So I threw away the outline and got to know my characters as I wrote them.  This process lends itself to many more surprises, which I love.  Writing becomes less of a decorative process and more of an exploratory one.  In Go Down Hard,I didn't even know who the murderer was until I started the last chapter.  Among other things, seat of the pantsing makes it impossible to commit the mortal sin of telegraphing your ending.  Not that I don't foreshadow or lay in clues, but much of that happens in retrospect after the characters have displayed their true colors.

I'm continually circling back to fill in missing motivations, backstory or psychology as I write.  By the time I'm finished with a first draft, parts of the first half of the book will probably have been rewritten ten or twenty times, while later chapters only a few times.  It's a terribly inefficient, time-intensive method, but it makes the process fun, which keeps my butt in the chair.  And as I'm always telling aspiring authors, gluing your ass to the chair is what separates writers from wannabes.

And with that, I hand off to three other fine writers (in alphabetical order), who will tell you about their processes on June 9th:

Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California in a large Irish-Portuguese family. He knew he wanted to be a writer at the age of twelve when his father gave him The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. It took him a while, but he finally achieved his goal. Matt’s first novel, Yesterday's Echo (2013), won the IPBA Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best New Voice in Fiction and has been nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel and The San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery. Matt lives in San Diego with his Yellow Labrador, Angus, where he is feverishly working on the 2nd Rick Cahill crime novel. You'll find his blog hop here on June 9.

Travis Richardson currently lives in Los Angeles. His novella Lost In Clover was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines as well as the anthologies Scoundrels: Tales Of Greed, Murder And Financial Crimes, Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble and All Due Respect Issue #1. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter, reviews Chekhov short stories daily at and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, Keeping The Record, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. You'll find his blog hop here on June 9.

Laurie Stevens is a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. Her debut The Dark Before Dawn begins a psychological suspense series. The novel earned the Kirkus Star, was named to Kirkus Reviews “Best of 2011,” and was honored at the 2012 Hollywood Book festival.  Deep into Dusk, the second in the series won the Southern California Book Festival, was honored at the London Book Fest, and named Shelf Unbound’s 2013 Notable Page-Turner.  Her story “Kill Joy” is featured in the anthology, Last Exit to Murder. Laurie lives near Los Angeles with her husband and two children. You'll find her blog hop here on June 9.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Anthony Award Nomination!

I came home from a swim workout today to discover that my short story "Dead End" had been nominated for an Anthony Award!  As you may recall from the tom-tom curcuit, "Dead End" is the prequel to my novella Psycho Logic.

I'm especially honored to be nominated along with friends Darrell James, Matt Coyle, Travis Richardson, Lisa Brackmann, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

The winners will be announced at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, CA on Saturday, November 15.

Friday, May 9, 2014


I just got home from a month in Spain and Morocco to discover that my novela, Psycho Logic,  was published while I was away.

Here's a brief synopsis:
A cop accidentally taints evidence. A killer goes free. The cop is defrocked and now lives in his car. Years later their lives collide again on Malibu beach and the cop winds up killing the murderer, launching a thrill ride through a dark world of blackmail, pornography, torture, betrayal, vengeance, love, guilt, passion, murder, muscle cars and valet parking.
At $3.99, a penny buys you almost 100 words, and they're pretty sweet words if you like noir.  Check it out at before it goes wide.  It should be available everywhere in a few more weeks.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Love Fester

Moving right along, my agent got this rejection today:
  • Thanks so much for giving me the chance to read Craig Faustus Bucks' Go Down Hard. I was really impressed--an interesting narrative and a unique voice. Unfortunately, I'm going to need to pass. This has more to do with our limited publishing schedule than it does with a lack of excitement with Buck's book. Things have tightened up more than I thought they would, so we're very limited with the number of books we can publish. Good luck in finding a suitable publishing partner.
Why can't someone just hate it? This lovefest is killing me.

Speaking of love, my short story "Blank Slate" got bought by a new quarterly called Blank Fiction Literary Magazine, which aims to publishing intelligent and thought-provoking genre fiction."

It's a Cold War noir piece about an American who gets shot in the head in pre-wall Berlin and wakes up in an East German hospital with amnesia.

I was surprised to learn that they only publish four stories per issue so it was a tough cut. The first issue was literary. Mine will be in the noir issue. And the third issue, so far the last announced, will be Science Fiction. I don't know much about these guys, but they do pay for stories, which is a rara avis these days.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Men Of Mystery was a blast yesterday.  For those who don't know it, it's a Raven-winning luncheon event in which 500 readers are invited to spend the day with 50 male mystery writers (and at least two super-stars). Each author sits at a table with ten mystery fans. There are short self-introductions, keynote speeches, an award to three high-school writers, a twenty-minute period wherein the writers pontificate for the readers at their own tables, and a book-signing orgy.

I had a tableful of thoughtful, funny, interesting women and I hope they had as good a time as I did.  The two keynote speeches would have killed in any comedy club in the country, the first from Scott Turow and the second from Alexander McCall Smith.

Authors often write because it alleviates the pressure of coming up with the right word on the spot, a requirement of public speaking. So it was astounding to hear 50 of us speak off the cuff for one minute each (strictly timed by Mistress Joan Hanson), and not one of us embarrassed himself too badly.

There was an author's champagne reception afterwards where I had a chance to visit with friends and chat with "Sandy" McCall Smith for a good half hour. All in all, it was a delightful day. I highly recommend it for authors and readers alike.  Next year's will be a mini-MOM at Bouchercon in Long Beach. I'll be there!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

All of a sudden I'm Mr. Orange County.  I haven't been there in years, but in the next month I've got to venture south three times!
  • I'll be on a panel about adapting screenplays to novels or vice versa next week at the Big Orange Book Festival sponsored by the L.A. Times and KCRW.

  • A few weeks later I'm moderating a luncheon for the 49th anniversary of the Corona Friends of the Library with T. Jefferson Parker, Stephen J. Schwartz and Connie Archer.
  • And then, in November, I'll be one of the Men of Mystery in the event shown below (my star billing courtesy of Photoshop).  A lot of gas, and I'm not only talking transportation.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pongo's Lucky Day

My short story Pongo's Lucky Day is featured in Plan-B Magazine at the moment.  Check it out, it's a free noir romp to darkly lighten your mood.

On another front, my short story Dead Wrong which was published in May in Twisted Dreams Magazine has been picked up for a paperback anthology called Undercurrents of Fear published by Static Movement.  I'm not sure when it will be released but I'll post when it comes out.

Friday, August 2, 2013

My First Short Story Review

Until today I didn't know people bothered to review short stories but my publisher, Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads sent me the link to my first review (not counting my Amazon reviews because Amazonians will review anything from pots to pencils).  Then the website, Long and Short Reviews sent me an Email noting that I'd been reviewed on their site and included a little button I can display.  So here it is:

The thing about this particular short story is that I've become intrigued with the main character and am toying with putting him in a novel or a series of stories.  If anyone has any thought about that after reading the story, please let me know.

If you're too strapped for time to click on the link, here's the review:

"Sometimes karma takes a long time to catch up with someone. Is it ever acceptable to artificially speed up the process?

Imagine running into your arch nemesis years after he ruined your life. Johno’s reaction to seeing Vico enjoy the pleasures of wealth and success was a fascinating introduction to both characters. I could feel the tension between them mount as Johno makes a series of impulsive decisions that alter both men’s lives forever. I was surprised by how quickly and thoroughly Johno’s personality is revealed. Within the first few pages I knew he was impulsive, vengeful, and a little arrogant despite him spending most of that time alone.

At first I was puzzled by certain details in Johno’s explanation of how he came to know Vico. The clues seemed to conflict with each other at first, and it wasn’t until the end of this tale that I realized what was really going on.

In the end everything makes sense, though, and once I reread it I noticed a clue or two that I’d missed the first time around. I was not expecting to spend so much time figuring out the twist. It was pleasantly surprising to be so stumped by what I thought would be a straightforward case. This piece could have easily been expanded into a novella or series of short stories for the purpose of further developing secondary characters and exploring the rich backstory that is mentioned only briefly, but Dead End works well as it is written. While I don’t know if the author has any plans to do so, I would be quite interested in revisiting Johno’s point of view again in the future.

Dead End kept me guessing. This book is a great choice for anyone who like the intellectual challenge of deciphering a series of subtle clues in a short timespan."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My zombie erotica debut: 

2 is for Taboo

in  the anthology
Fifty Shades of Decay

is now available in a print edition at Amazon

REVIEWS are waxing poetic.  A few tastings:

" I have no hesitation in admitting that I don’t read horror, and I generally do not like zombies.  That being said, my curiosity and love of erotica got the better of me... I would definitely rate Fifty Shades of Decay 5 out of 5 stars.  It is well worth the read."  
--  Becca Butcher 

"First off I have to say that I’m not a big fan of zombies, and I haven’t read any of the 50 shades books; but I love short stories, and I have a warm spot for erotica (in my heart you dirty minded readers you!).  So, when this book came across my radar I thought “sure why not? ... All in all I enjoyed this anthology, it was different from what I normally read and even though there were some parts that made me gag, I was very entertained throughout."
--  Rina Lee  

"A couple of things I really enjoyed about Fifty Shades of Decay.
1) 51 different authors.  The vast majority were new to me and I discovered several, that I'm excited about seeing what else they have to offer.
2) 51 different concepts of zombie erotica.  That in itself was pretty amazing.  Hat's off to editor Stacey Turner for presenting such a varied assortment of stories.  The theme was consistent, but the stories all came at the subject matter in unique ways.
Needless to say, Fifty Shades of Decay is strictly adult fair and certainly not for everyone, but if you'd like to spice up your zombie experience then this is just what you're looking for." 
--  Frank Michael Serrington 

"This book is seriously fun and has a tremendous selection of stories. Ranging from sexy to gory to downright disturbing. When a friend told me about it I thought they were out of their mind. I took a chance and, while I am not finished with it, I have come across a few stories that were just awesome. Worth looking at."
--  Cool Hat Luke, Amazon review

"Great job, I liked the range of stories and enjoyed the humor. I didn't finish the other fifty shades no problem here."
--  Connie Lipscomb, Amazon review

"First, I want to reiterate, this book is rated MA for a reason. This is not a book for the squeamish either! With fifty-one different authors, there is plenty of variety in this collection. And while some were able to gross out the best of 'em, (me), there were others that ... dare I say ... touched me with sincerity and possibly a bit of romanticism. And then there were others that were just plain hot. :)"
--  Melissa Stevens, Amazon review