Monday, July 21, 2014
I've been interviewing the members of Beyond Blue Investigations, who are the lead characters in my upcoming detective novel. WARNING: Today's subject is prone to rude, inappropriate and profane language.
Ruby Sanchez met me with a sarcastic smile in a Europa Café in Midtown Manhattan. She’s tall, sharp eyed and full lipped, with a robust figure and flawless skin the color of dark chocolate. Her hair, a tight mass of dark ringlets, hangs just past her shoulders. A lot of men might think her the ideal woman until she spoke. A few minutes of her high, squeaky, raspy voice was enough.
AC: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms Sanchez…
RS: Of course it is, sugar. You a man and, let’s face it, I am the shizzit!
AC: Um, yes. Well, I’m curious about your background. Sanchez is Spanish?
RS: Got the name from my Cuban father. Never met the man myself. Obviously I get everything else, including my good looks, from my mama.
AC: Raised by a single mother… what was that like?
RS: Well, it ain’t like I was growing up along. It was me and my nine sisters in a little apartment up in Bed-Stuy with my Looney Tunes mother who made a living as a fortune teller and running small time con games.
AC: Bedford Stuyvesant is a tough neighborhood. How did you get out?
RS: There was this teacher in high school… Mr. Diggs… noticed I had a gift for observation and puzzles. Pushed me to check out law enforcement. If not for him I’d never have got into the FBI. That was a pretty good gig for a while.
AC: I take it you like Beyond Blue Investigations better. How’d you end up there?
RS: Hey, you go where life drags you. I learned a lot at the FBI but all the bureaucracy and paperwork just burned my ass. So I bailed and got a job where I could be on the street, as a cop in Jersey City. I saw a shitload of action there, until I caught a bullet in my lower back. It’s still there, because no doctor has the balls to go after it. Afraid I’ll get paralyzed or some shit. They gave me a medical retirement and I figured I’d go freelance as a private dick… without a dick. But the day I walked out of HR, Gorman was waiting for me. Said I was just what he needed in this outfit he set up.”
AC: What’s your role at beyond Blue Investigations?
RS: You kidding? I’m Gorman’s go-to girl when there’s real investigating to be done. Anybody can kick ass. I can find the clues to solve the mystery AND kick ass.
AC: Here’s a question I’m asking everyone. Fill in the blank: The problem with this world is that there’s not enough _______
RS: Whoa! You shitting me? There’s so much there ain’t enough of in this world. I gotta pick one thing? The real problem ain’t a shortage of anything, sugar, it’s that there’s too many assholes. Guess that’s why I do what I do. I’m in the asshole removal business.
You can read an excerpt from Beyond Blue (it's in the updates) and help get the book published, by visiting http://ow.ly/yqQSh
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Paea “Gunny” Robinson is a big man, six foot one and nearly 300 pounds, with a round, shaved head and an easy smile. His chair, behind the big central desk in the Beyond Blue reception area, fit him so well it may have been custom made and he sat with perfect posture. I could see why he’d be an asset to the agency, but I wanted to know more than just his imposing appearance.
AC: Obviously you’re a Pacific Islander but which island do you hail from?
GR: I am a proud son of the Royal Kingdom of Tonga. Our islands are small but we grow warriors there.
AC: Why do they call you Gunny?
GR: The day I turned 18 I went to Hawaii and joined the Marines. You Americans have trouble pronouncing my first name, but in the Corps we tend to call each other by our rank. I was a Gunnery Sergeant when I retired and the name just stuck.
AC: What’s your role here at beyond Blue Investigations?
GR: Well, I’m sort of the boss’s Chief of Staff. He’s the company commander and I’m his top sergeant. When I started out I ran the office completely, but then the boss hired Linda. She does most of the admin stuff, so I can do more field work.
AC: I understand you once considered being a sumo wrestler. How did you go from those aspirations to private detective?
GR: Well, I was Military Police in the Corps but I never really imagined being a civilian cop. I’d been a judo player since grade school and left the military with a third degree black belt. I love the sport but there’s no money in it, so for a while I considered sumo wrestling, which is respected in Japan like pro basketball is here. But this is, I don’t know, kind of a calling.
AC: So how did you get involved with Beyond Blue Investigations?
GR: [Laughs] Now that’s a story. Somehow, two days after my retirement the boss showed up at my door. Out of nowhere. And it was like he knew everything about me. Then he says, “I’m on a mission, and I need you, Gunny.” I got to tell you, I worked for some impressive men in the Marine Corps, but Paul Gorman, he’s in a class all his own. I’d follow that man into hell if he asked me to.
AC: What do you think of the people you work with?
GR: Well, they’re a quirky bunch. Some days I could do without Chastity’s pretentious attitude, and every day I could do without Ruby’s squeaky voice. But they are all very talented, capable and dedicated, and I’d happily march side-by-side into hell with any of them.
AC: Here’s a question I’m asking everyone. Fill in the blank: The problem with this world is that there’s not enough _______
GR: Shrimp. There can never be enough shrimp. The world would be a happy place if only everybody could have enough shrimp. Especially me.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
Beyond Blue Investigations agent Chastity Chiba pulled up in her powder blue Mazda MX-5 for our interview in Central Park. She had insisted on meeting in a public place. She was lovely, with long, black hair and dark almond eyes. Her overly fair skin conflicted with her hard but shapely body. Her appearance prompted my first question.
AC: Tell us about your background?
CC: My name tells the story. I was born in Japan. Chiba is my mother’s family name. She couldn’t take my sort of famous British father’s name but she graced me with a typical British first name so I wouldn’t forget.
AC: So you found your father? How is he “sort-of” famous?
CC: I never got to meet my father, but I put the clues together and figured out his identity. He was British Secret Service on a mission in Japan when he met mother. They married, but only for the sake of his cover. He had amnesia for a while and stayed with Mother. When his memory returned he went back to the U.K, never knowing that Mother was pregnant.
AC: That story sounds familiar…
CC: Yes, they’ve written books and made movies about Father’s life. Using a different name of course.
AC: Um… yes. I see. So how did you get involved with Beyond Blue Investigations?
CC: Well, I wanted to follow in Father’s footsteps so I developed my skills and learned the tradecraft. When I came of age I presented my impressive talents to both the Japanese and British secret services but they acted like I was barmy and rejected me. I travelled for a while as an independent contractor, until G found me.
CC: Paul Gorman. I think he was arse over elbow when he saw my skills. G saw my value and invited me to join his team.
AC: What’s your role here at beyond Blue Investigations?
CC: I’m G’s blunt instrument. True, I have sharp investigative skills and surveillance expertise, but my martial arts ability makes me uniquely suited to dealing with hard cases.
AC: How did you come to be so qualified for this work?
CC: It’s all in open sources. If you put the time in, in the gym and at the books, you can learn to do anything. Pick locks. Bug phones. Whatever. Just like the fictional Bruce Wayne became Batman.
AC: Why is this work so important to you?
CC: It’s my family heritage. I love the chance to bring down a Mafia Don or expose a corrupt senior official. Stopping the master criminals - it’s what I was born for.
AC: OK. Here’s a question I’m asking everyone. Fill in the blank: The problem with this world is that there’s not enough _______
CC: Adventure. Most people never even try to get excitement in their lives. Ever climb a mountain? Scuba dive? Skydive? Ever been shot at? I live for that stuff. The world needs more adventure… for everyone.
Monday, June 30, 2014
For the next few weeks I plan to use this space to interview the lead characters in my upcoming novel, Beyond Blue.
I had the rare opportunity to interview Paul Gorman, Director of Beyond Blue Investigations. We sat down in his comfortable but unpretentious office on one of the upper floors of a skyscraper with a perfect view of Ground Zero where the World Trade Center used to stand.
Gorman is physically impressive for a man nearing 60. He’s a big man, six feet tall with hulking shoulders, a deep resonant voice, and a lion’s mane of thick, dark hair.
AC: Hardly anybody knows about Beyond Blue. What makes your agency unique?
PG: Well, we’re not like any other private detective agency. We have only one mission. That is to help policemen in trouble. Any kind of trouble.
AC: I understand that you offer that help free of charge.
PG: That’s not quite true. Every client has to make three commitments in return for our help. First, they have to keep our service confidential. If they ever see a fellow officer in trouble, they have to bring it to our attention. And they accept that they owe us a favor.
AC: A favor?
PG: Nothing illicit or illegal. But sometimes cops have access to information we need, or skills that can be of help to another officer. If we need their help, they have to come through.
AC: But it takes money to run an operation like this. Where does that come from?
PG: We have a source of funds that prefers to remain anonymous.
AC: And how did you find this benefactor?
PG: Oh, I didn’t. He found me. And that’s all you’re going to get on that subject.
AC: Very well. But he must have seen you as someone special. What qualifies you to run this agency?
PG: I could say just the fact that I love the people in law enforcement qualifies me. But I do have the background. I did my twenty in the army’s Military Police Corps. When I retired I started a second career in civilian law enforcement. I ran three different major metropolitan police forces, and I’ve served as a consultant for just about every police chief or commissioner in the country at one time or another. Actually, I was getting bored when this job came along.
AC: And now you’ve assembled quite a team of agents to help you in your crusade. How did you find them?
PG: You’re slick, but I won’t let you belittle my people or our mission. So I wouldn’t call what we do a crusade. It is perhaps a calling we are dedicated to. I sought out these special individuals and recruited them for their special talents AND their dedication.
AC: No offense meant. I hope to interview each of them.
PG: I’ve got no problem with that, but it will be up to them.
AC: Fair enough. Now, one last question: Please fill in the blank: The problem with this world is that there’s not enough _______
PG: Hmmm… a very good question… very revealing if answered honestly. I would have to say justice. Too often life just isn’t fair. People don’t get what they deserve –good or bad. That’s part of why we do what we do, I think. We bring justice to some of those who work to support the justice system.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
I don’t know anyone who writes with the specific objective of winning an award. Nor do my author friends list best seller lists as their reason for creating. It is still true that most of us long for those things, not so much for the sales and money those things bring but for their inner value. Bestseller lists suggest love and respect from readers. An Agatha award from Malice Domestic or a Lovey from Love is Murder is validation from fans of your genre. An Edgar or Nebula award gives a writer validation from his or her peers.
I hadn’t thought about other possible sources of validation as a writer until I received an email from fellow mystery author Neil Plakcy.
I’ve known Neil for three years, since I reviewed his novel Mahu Blood for the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter The Big Thrill. At the time it was the latest in his much-respected Mahu mystery series, set in Honolulu. Neil also teaches at Broward College in Florida and recently contacted me because he was assembling materials for a new version of their mystery fiction course.
Neil had read my essay, “Black Ain’t Nothing But a Detective’s Color,” which was published in the summer 2007 issue of the Mystery Reader’s Journal. In that piece I discuss how being Black makes a detective different. I was pleasantly surprised when Neil asked permission to incorporate my essay in his mystery course. He explained that many of his students were coming from a multi-ethnic community and that my essay would be valuable to those students. I could help them understand African-American characters in crime fiction.
And more, it’s a Master Course which could be taught by multiple instructors over a period of years. So going into the future it could be that hundreds of people who want to learn how to write mystery fiction will read my essay as part of their course of study.
Of course I still long for fan accolades, reader appreciation and peer endorsement. But I never realized how much academic validation might mean to me. It says something about my understanding of my genre that makes me glow with pride.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Why would a writer take the time to design a class about the craft of writing? Why take more time to present a class at a writer’s conference? Why share what it has taken you years to learn with a roomful of emerging or just aspiring writers? I've often said that presenting to new and future authors is personally rewarding. I’d like to present a couple of concrete examples.
Last weekend I had the chance to present at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Fifty talented writers signed up to hear my three hour talk about how I create fictional characters. The group was attentive and inquisitive, and gave great feedback during the class. But even more fulfilling was the feedback I received after the class, like this email:
Austin---I want to express my gratitude and thanks for the presentation you gave at the Conference this weekend. I learned a great deal and found your “delivery” quite understandable, delivered with a sense of humor and giving me new insights. I am a short story writer so maybe not 100% of what you said translates into my work but 99% of it does.
I also heard from one student who appeared to be dealing with a serious disease, one that made it difficult for him to speak. Nonetheless he contributed during class and asked good questions. Days after the Con he sent this email:
I wanted take to a moment out of my day to say thank you. I was in your class at the Philadelphia Writers' Conference and I found it very informative and helpful. I loved your style of teaching. You made the class fun, which is what writing should be, with your wit and sense of humor. And from the passages you read from your books, you're an excellent writer.
Thank you very much for coming to the conference and on a more personal and meaningful note, thank you for your patience when I spoke to you after the class. I am the man with the disability and you took the time to listen and to care. To use a phrase I have used before, you saw me as a writer who happens to be handicapped, not as a handicapped man who happens to writer. Thanks very much.
I don’t care how long you've been published or how many books you have out there, no awards, honors or even sales figures could be more satisfying than feedback like that. This kind of thing makes the time and effort of presenting at writers’ conferences more than worthwhile.
If you’ve seen a great presentation at a conference you attended, or as an instructor received this kind of feedback, why not share with us?
Sunday, June 8, 2014
In conversations at the Philadelphia Writers Conference this weekend I learned of the common belief that “genre” only exist so booksellers will know where to shelve books. However, I think that genre labels serve a purpose for readers, helping them to select their next book based on their own tastes.
When we established Intrigue Publishing we decided to narrow our focus more than most small presses. We would publish only genre fiction, and only four specific genres at that. However, over the last two years we have found it challenging to define the books we want to publish. It’s even more challenging when you consider all the sub-genre books can fall into.
For example, one of our four genres is crime fiction. That encompasses thrillers and mysteries. But thrillers can be international, or political. They can be military or spy thrillers, action/adventure books, caper stories, or novels of suspense that can sometimes border on horror. Similarly, mysteries can be noir, hard boiled, police procedurals, or cozy (excuse me, I mean traditional mysteries.) We love them all.
We also publish Young Adult (YA) fiction. I believe YA to be an audience rather than a genre, and those young readers enjoy EVERY kind of fiction. We’ve published Y-As that could be classified as science fiction, fantasy or espionage thrillers, but a coming-of-age story would fit us too.
We’ve been looking for sensual romance books, but keep getting erotica. Not the same thing, people. Keep it romantic. A lot of paranormal writers like Sherrilyn Kenyon hit the right spot. So do Jude Devereaux and Amanda Quick.
And then there’s urban drama. We’ve learned that when most people see “urban” they think “African American” which was not our intent. No "street lit" please. And contemporary drama tends to bring in chick-lit and we are NOT looking for Nicholas Sparks. Our first example is
B. Swangin Webster's upcoming "Let Me Just Say This."
Maybe we need a new label for the books we want to publish. So, help us out - not for bookstore shelving, but to help authors know what to submit to us. How shall we label the stories we’re looking for? We want fiction with strong characters facing real life challenges - things that happen every day in American cities. These are stories of personal struggle and triumph. Help us define this genre, because we know a lot of women who want to read these books.