Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bouchercon Schedule... Whew!

I'll be attending my first Bouchercon this week and I'm excited about it.  Here's what I know so far about my schedule, NOT including the panels I'm not on, meals and bar chatting.

  • I'll drive down from L.A. to Long Beach very early Thursday morning. I'm hoping to leave by six or so to beat traffic. We'll see.

  • Throughout the conference I'll be checking in regularly and occasionally sitting in when they're in need at the California Crime Writers Conference 2015 table (which I'm co-chairing with author Diane Vallere), Regency Foyer (4th flr)

  • Between 11:30 and 1:30 I'll stop by the Brash Books table to meet Joel Goldman, co-founder (along with Lee Goldberg) of Brash, which will be publishing my novel Go Down Hard on May 5, 2015.

  • At 4p Thursday afternoon I'm on a panel called Short But Mighty: The Power and Freedom of the Short Story moderated by Travis Richardson with writers Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti, Paul D. Marks and Art Taylor. Regency D

  • Thursday night may or may not be the first Bouchercon authors' poker game of what has become, for me, a writers convention ritual. I never play poker except at these events, which is painfully apparent when I have to ask about the rules before every hand. But the other players take it in stride, along with my cash.

  • Friday at 7a I'll be at the Meet the New Authors breakfast to pimp my novel Go Down Hard, which comes out from Brash on May 5. This may be a problem if I play poker until one or two a.m., but that the convention lifestyle. Regency A-B-C

  • At 4:30 I'm moderating a panel called From Page to Screen: Stories in Books, Television, and Movies, with authors Max Allen Collins, Elizabeth Cosin, Andrew Kaplan, Thomas Perry and Taylor Stevens. The talent on this dais is amazing. I can't wait for this one. Promenade A.

  • At 8:30p there's a dessert reception sponsored by the Stark Raving Group, who published my novella Psycho Logic this year.

  • More poker

  • Saturday at 8:30a I'll be participating in the once-maligned-and-misunderstood-but-now-back-in-good-graces Men of Mystery event. Again, late night poker may have an impact on my wakefulness for this. Promenade 104 B/C

  • From 12:30-2 I'll be signing the Bouchercon 2014 Anthology Murder at the Beach, edited by Dana Cameron. I was honored that my story Honeymoon Sweet made the cut. Promenade B/C

  • Time permitting, I will hie from the signing to the Westin where the SoCalMWA, of which I am currently VP, will be co-hosting with Penguin Random House a high tea for librarians. Salon C/D

  • Then, at 6 or 6:30, depending on what page of the website you reference, I'll be going to the Anthony Awards Reception at the Terrace Theater. My short story "Dead End" is a nominee so I will either be celebrating or drowning my sorrows at Grand Central Publishing's Anthony After Party immediately following.

  • More poker.

  • Sunday is panels until mid-day, long goodbyes, and then the drive home.

And there you have it. For my first Bouchercon, it seems pretty booked up to me, but what do I know? I look forward to seeing a lot of friends and making a lot of new ones. If you want to catch up with me, check the Hyatt bar after the last panel of the day.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Hop

Laurie Stevens has graciously invited me to the “Meet My Character” blog hop today. Laurie is on
the Board of Sisters in Crime LA with me and she is the terrific author of the Gabriel McRay psychological thriller series. The two books in the series have won 9 awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 and the 2014 IPPY for Best Mystery/Thriller. Her second book is currently up for a Kindle Book Award. Laurie is a “hybrid” author, having self-published her books, finding an agent for worldwide rights, and then selling her books to Random House, Germany.


Johno Beltran is not a series character, as of yet, but I like him so much that after creating him for a short story, "Dead End," a current Anthony Award Nominee (winner to be announced at Bouchercon on November 15), I decided to continue his saga in my next project, the novella Psycho Logic (Stark Raving Press).

Johno Beltran used to be an LAPD homicide detective but he was defrocked through no fault of his own and his life degenerated to the point where he now lives out of his car and works as a valet parking attendant. Here's how Johno explains his downward spiral:
"I was one of four homicide dicks assigned to the [torture-murder] case. On my way from the scene to the crime lab I made a ten-minute detour by my house to grab a lunch bag from my wife. I had evidence in my trunk. By the time Vico’s hit squad of eight-hundred-dollar-an-hour lawyers got finished, my left-over meat loaf sandwich had turned into a wanton extravaganza of evidence-tampering."
The poor guy lost his career, his wife, his home, most of his friends and his reputation. By the time we meet him, all he has left are his gut instincts, his detective's skill set and his beloved aqua blue '64 GTO Bobcat convertible.
"Her stacked quad headlights greet me like a lover’s eyes. I call her Marylou and she’s the object of my desire, if a bit cramped to live in. She is also the one and only thing of beauty I was able to salvage from my former life. I had to give up my half of the house for that car. Not the smartest financial move I've ever made but, on the other hand, that house was never going to get me from zero to sixty in four-point-six seconds."
Johno was born from my desire to write a character with expertise in investigative methods, criminal behavior, weapons and such. But I didn't want him to be an active cop because I didn't want to write procedurals. An ex-cop fit the bill but it's also a cliché. So I pondered ways of making him different. The infamous OJ Simpson trial figure Detective Mark Fuhrman came to mind. Fuhrman, an alleged racist, wasn't exactly my idea of an ideal protagonist, but I was fascinated by his situation. What if a similar fate happened to a nicer guy?

I liked the idea of a sympathetic and honorable cop getting fingered by a team of slick attorneys to be the fall guy in their defense of a truly evil psychopathic killer. The defense is successful, the murderer gets sprung from the jaws of justice, and Johno's life winds up in the toilet.

Johno's debut in "Dead End" occurs four years after the trial of Dr. Luke Vico, plastic surgeon to the stars, who also happens to be a brilliant homicidal maniac. As Johno described the situation:
"If I hadn't skipped dinner to spend that night working the Angela Landau crime scene, I might not have been so desperate to eat something the next morning. And if I hadn’t stuck to the truth on the stand they might never have found out about that fucking ten-minute detour. And if I hadn't blown my top on TV when they let that weasel’s ass walk, I might still be working homicide. And if I hadn’t put my fist through the living room wall, my wife might not have left me. But impulse control was never my strong suit—maybe the only thing Vico and I have in common."
Dr. Vico drives his $100,000 BMW into the restaurant lot where Johno works, brazenly smacks his girlfriend, then tosses Johno his keys.  In the course of parking the BMW, Johno finds something that makes him suspect Vico has another victim stashed away somewhere. This leads Johno into a noir journey whose twisted ending leaves readers wondering if Johno has set his own doom in motion. At least, that was my intention.

My next project started where "Dead End" left off because I, for one, was dying to find out what happened to Johno next. I had committed to write  Psycho Logic, a novella, so I used the opportunity to explore Johno's fate. While "Dead End" was written from Johno's POV, Psycho Logic opens with the POV of a woman who just happened to be walking down Malibu beach at the moment of  the short story's dramatic conclusion. So the opening scene of the novella is a retelling of "Dead End's" penultimate scene from a different POV. An anonymous innocent bystander in one story becomes a principal character in the next.

The added length of the novella gave me room to explore more of Johno's personal life, and I soon discovered him developing a romantic interest in the passerby on the beach, the no longer anonymous Alyssa Lido.  I don't work from outlines so I had no idea their distant exchange of glances would turn into the core of the novella's story. Their relationship was completely unintended when I started writing, and that's what I love most about my writing process. It's the unexpected that keeps me coming back to my desk, that motivates me to write, that inspires my stories.  Johno Beltran is a prime example.  

Next up, I suspect Johno will be lobbying for a full-length novel. I can hardly wait to see what he'll do with a hundred thousand words to inspire.


Be sure to check out these terrific authors as you hop along the Meet My Character blogs next week:

Travis Richardson is a fellow Anthony nominee, fellow Board member of Sisters in Crime LA. and fellow novella author with Stark Raving Press.

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 first, Go Down Hard, 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" came out in the last quarter of 2013 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.