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.
You can read an excerpt from Beyond Blue, and help get the book published,by visiting http://ow.ly/yqQSh (look in the updates.)
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.