Northeast Writers Squared

Not only do I live in a great metropolitan area for writers and other artists, but my ‘hood is pretty cool, too.

I’ll be at this next week, joining with other writers from my neighborhood, Northeast Minneapolis.

NE Writers poster done

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Gabriella Giovanni Recipe Book

What I’m working on …

Screenshot 2014-03-11 15.08.15 (2)

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Writer Interviews – Bruce DeSilva

Rag Cover 2

DeSilva 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Please welcome Bruce DeSilva to my website for his second visit. As you’ll see below, just like me, Bruce considers his mystery fiction featuring a reporter protagonist “a lyrical elegy to the business that I love.”

Q: Tell me about your new book?

A: Providence Rag, the third novel in my Mulligan crime series, is the first to be inspired by a true story – one I covered as a journalist many years ago. I’ve long been fascinated by the case of The Warwick Slasher, a teenager who stabbed young mothers and their female children to death in his suburban Rhode Island neighborhood in the 1980s. The real killer, Craig Price, was just 13 years old when his murder spree began and 15 when he was caught, making him one of the youngest serial killers in U.S. history. But that’s not the interesting part. When he was arrested, Rhode Island’s juvenile justice statutes had not been updated for decades. When they were written, no one had ever envisioned a child like him, so the law required that all minors, regardless of their crimes, be released at age 21 and given a fresh start. Nevertheless, he remains behind bars to this day, convicted of committing a series of offenses behind bars. I have long suspected that some of these charges were fabricated, but in the very least, Price has been absurdly over-sentenced. For example, he was given an astounding 30 years for contempt for declining to submit to a court-ordered psychiatric exam. Have the authorities abused their power to prevent his release? I think so. Should he ever be let out to prey on the innocent again? Absolutely not. The ethical dilemma this poses fascinates me. No matter which side of it you come down on, you are condoning something that is indefensible. In the novel, the murders are committed and the killer caught in the first sixty pages. The rest of the book follows my protagonist, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I. newspaper, as well as his fellow reporters, his editors, and the entire community, as they struggle to decide which is worse: condoning the abuse of power that is keeping the killer behind bars or exposing it and allowing him to be released to kill again.

Q: What was the biggest challenge in basing a novel on a true story?

A: Although the characters and plots of my first two crime novels sprang entirely from my imagination, this has not prevented some readers that suspecting each was a Roman à clef. No, I tell them, the mayor in my Edgar Award-winning first novel, Rogue Island, is not a thinly-veiled depiction of former Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci. No, the attorney general in my second novel, Cliff Walk, is not my take on former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet. Despite my protests, readers continue to speculate. In fact, two of my old journalism colleagues are convinced that my protagonist is based on them. He’s not. Because of this, I initially resisted the strong urge I felt to fictionalize the Price case. But finally, I surrendered. In the novel, I invent an early childhood for the killer. I give him a love of reading, allow him to display a clever but chilling sense of humor, and provide him with a prison jargon-laced style of speaking. But I have never met Craig Price. I know nothing of his childhood. I don’t know how he talks. I don’t know what drove him to murder. So the character in my novel is most emphatically not Craig Price. None of the other characters in the represent real people either. Of course, every novelist draws material from life and fashions it into something new. Still, I can’t help but worry that some readers will view the book as disguised contemporary history. That made Providence Rag a difficult, nerve-wracking book to write.

Q: Do you revise as you go along or once you have a first draft?

A: I never outline, preferring to discover my story as I go along. I write each scene, each chapter, rapidly in a stream-of-consciousness fugue state. When I do this, my characters do and say things I could never have anticipated. As a result, I end up with a lot of unusable junk on the page–but I also end up with some wonderful surprises. Once I finish a chapter, I spend the next day cutting and polishing before moving on to the next.

Q: How many revisions do your novels usually go through?

A: It varies. My Edgar Award-winning first novel, Rogue Island, in which my protagonist investigates an arson-for-hire scheme, underwent a single revision thanks to great advice from my agent. She thought the book had too many male characters and suggested I make one of the men a woman. As a result, the fire chief, a minor character who originally had been a man, became a woman. As soon as I made her a woman, she developed a life of her own, turning into a major character, one of the most appealing I’ve created. My second novel, Cliff Walk, required nothing but minor copyediting after I finished the initial draft. But when I finished the third one, Providence Rag, I was troubled. I liked each chapter, but they didn’t fit together right. My agent read it and identified the problem: the events depicted in the story were presented in the wrong order. The result was a top-to-bottom rewrite that made it my best book to date.

Q: Do you have trusted readers who give you feedback before you send your manuscript to your agent or editor?

A: When I finished my first novel, I sent it to six trusted colleagues for their feedback and received so many conflicting suggestions that I was temporarily confused. That taught me that it’s a mistake to listen to too many people. Now, I allow only two people to read my novels before they are sent to the publisher. One is my wife, Patricia Smith, one of America’s most honored poets, whose suggestions add music to my prose. The other is my agent, Susanna Einstein, one of the best story doctors I’ve ever encountered. Thanks to them, my editor at Forge has had nothing to do but have the books copyedited.
Q: What book on writing would you recommend to other writers?
A: The best book for fledgling crime novelists, bar none, is Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print, by Lawrence Block. And On Writing by Stephen King is brilliant.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I just finished my fourth Mulligan novel, tentatively titled Providence Vipers. The book, which explores the world of legal and illegal sports gambling, will be published by Forge about a year from now. Once I return from a month-long, coast-to-coast book tour, I’ll get started on three new projects. One will be another Mulligan novel. Another will be a stand-alone, or perhaps the beginning of a new series, featuring a young man who grew up in a mob family and is trying to decide which side of the law he will live his life on. And the third is collaborating on a crime novel with my wife, Patricia. Written in our alternating, very different voices, it will follow the intersecting lives of a white Chicago cop and a black hairdresser in the weeks before and after the 1968 riots that destroyed much of the city’s Westside. I’m not sure which book I’ll tackle first.

Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to add?

A: I’m often asked why I left journalism after 40 years to pursue a career as a crime novelist. The truth is, I didn’t leave journalism. It left me. For me, investigative journalism had been a calling. As my protagonist, Mulligan, says, it’s like the priesthood but without the sex. But for many years, now, newspapers have been hemorrhaging revenue and readers. Today, they are a shell of the vital institutions they had once been. Meanwhile, network television news departments, never all that good to begin with, have shriveled into irrelevance. Twenty-four-hour cable news channels spew endless loops of trivial celebrity news, provide soap boxes for blowhards, and poison the public discourse with partisan distortions and misinformation. And the few internet news sites striving to be more than propaganda organs for the left or the right lack the will and the revenue streams required to cover the news with breadth and depth. I see nothing on the horizon that can replace newspapers as honest brokers of news and information. I can’t begin to describe how much damage this is doing to the American democracy. In my final years as the worldwide writing coach for The Associated Press, I tried to fight the good fight. The last major project I oversaw there, an investigative series about the exploitation of child gold miners in Africa, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I have nothing but admiration for those hardy souls who battle on, but I grew weary of being part a rear-guard action and dispirited over the inevitability of decline. So when the venerable AP offered an early retirement package, part of its own retrenchment in the face of economic pressures, I decided it was time for a second act. My novels are all hardboiled mysteries, but they can also be read as a lyrical elegy to the business that I love.

You can learn more about me at my website: http://brucedesilva.com/
And on my blog: http://brucedesilva.wordpress.com/

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Writer Interviews: Alex Segura

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I’m not sure exactly how I first “met” Alex online but he always was talking about something interesting and seemed like a great guy — so I wanted to support him by reading his book, but the clincher for me was seeing one of my very favorite authors, Sara Gran, give it a blurb — “SILENT CITY is a noir page-turner I couldn’t put down. A race through the Miami tourists don’t see. I loved this book. And can’t wait for the next one.”

SOLD!

I bought the book (which incidentally has the most gorgeous cover) and it most definitely lived up to all the good hype. Here is Alex in his own words:

1. Describe your writing routine and/or schedule?

It really depends. One of the best bits of advice came during a casual conversation with a fellow author. He said “Today’s the first day in years I haven’t written at least a sentence.” And he seemed totally bummed about it. That really resonated with me. So, the goal for me is to always try and put at least a few words down – whether it’s part of the current work-in-progress, or a note for a new piece. Even that’s a challenge with a day job and the ever-present desire to relax a bit after coming home. I try to get 1-2 days a week where I can sit in front of my computer and crank out a few thousand words. And even that’s not enough.

I write better during the day, no music on, distractions at a minimum. I work better at home than in a cafe or around others.

I keep a notebook with me at all times, so I can jot things down. I often just email myself plot ideas – if you saw my Gmail inbox you’d see subject likes like “After Pete gets shot in Chapter 3″ or “Villain reveal,” or stuff like that. The initial draft phase, for me, is about getting a jumble of ideas on paper in some kind of order and seeing how they fit, with revision shaving off the confusing and nonessential stuff.

2. What do you do if you get writer’s block?

Maybe this is slightly pretentious, but I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think you have to power through it and just go with the expectation that some days it’s just not gonna flow as easily or as well. No one said this would be painless – if it were, everyone would be doing it. I don’t claim to have coined that phrase, but I think its logic is very strong.

3. Who do you read, or recommend other writer’s read, in regards to craft?

I devoured Stephen King’s On Writing. I think his books – like The Shining and It – are great examples of strong craft. I’d point to anything by Megan Abbott, James Ellroy, Laura Lippman or George Pelecanos as good examples of solid craft, for very different reasons. As far as books about the craft, some essential ones for me include Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies For Fun and Profit and Robert McKee’s Story. But I feel you can learn as much from reading a great book than reading a good book about how to write good books, if that makes any sense.

4. Who do you read for fun?

I think even reading I do for work or research is fun in its own way. I hate to classify anything as a guilty pleasure because I feel like I get something out of it as a writer. I’m a fan of fiction that doesn’t feel beholden to one specific genre, or that takes tropes from one genre and injects them into another. I love the Chris F. Holm Collector books, Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black novels and Adam Christopher’s work. They’re very well-written and thoughtful, but also punch you in the gut from the first page. I read a lot of comics – both for my day job and for fun. I love LAZARUS, FATALE, HINTERKIND, BATMAN, TRILLIUM – plus the core Archie books.

I really enjoy a good true crime book. I don’t do it with a novel in mind, but for they eventually end up informing my own writing at some point. PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS by Richard Lloyd Parry, A WILDERNESS OF ERROR by Errol Morris and NOTES ON A KILLING by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie come to mind – nonfiction books written so well and with such an eye for building drama that they read like great fiction.

5. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us about it.

I don’t recall a heavens-parting moment, but that’s mostly because telling stories or making things up came naturally to me. It was just something I did for fun as a kid. Reading comics really helped spur that in my brain. Then I got older and went into journalism and that’s probably when it first crystallized that this could be a career of some kind. At that point, I’d written short stories, poems and scripts, but it was still a pipe dream. But to answer your question – I think it was something I always wanted to do, so to have the chance to spend some of my time each day coming up with stories for people to read, is amazing and really fulfilling.

6. What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Read a lot. Write every day. Finish what you start. It’s easy to get enamored with the idea of being a writer – it happens to all of us, I think. But writing is about putting in the work and finishing things. Everyone says they have a novel in them or that they started one a few years back. But you have to finish one before it can be published!

7. What do you think is the most important skill to have to succeed as a writer?

I feel weird speaking about this just because it implies that I’ve made it in some way others haven’t, but I will answer anyway! I think it’s important to leave your ego at the door, because it is going to get severely bruised. You’re going to get rejections – from potential agents, editors, fellow authors…everyone. You’re going to get bad reviews. You’re going to be dismissed. You have to be tougher than that and write because you love it, not because you anticipate an epic payday. So, resilience would be my choice – assuming you’re putting in the time and have the chops to be a writer. That’s gotta come no matter what.

8. What is your favorite food and/or drink?

I’m vegan – have been for a few years now – which means I don’t eat meat/dairy/animal products. Ironically, I am NOT a picky eater. Put me in a vegan restaurant and I’m in heaven. I’m also Cuban, so I love Cuban staples like picadillo and rice and beans. Vegan versions, of course. Maybe I should write a Cuban Vegan Cookbook?

As for drinks…I’m boring. Seltzer is my drink of choice. Love it. Not big into the flavored stuff, but I drink it a lot. I’m fun at parties, I swear.

9. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

I will always watch WRATH OF KHAN, GOODFELLAS or THE GODFATHER movies (even III!) if they pop up while channel-surfing.

Book-wise, my favorites are probably A FIRING OFFENSE by Pelecanos or DARKNESS, TAKE MY HAND by Lehane. Honorable mention goes to MIAMI PURITY by Vicki Hendricks.

10. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share?

Just a quick slice of self-promo, if you’ll allow me. My first novel, SILENT CITY, hit late last year. It’s the first in a series starring washed up journalist Pete Fernandez – who seems to stumble more than investigate and drink more than plan. He’s stirred from his descent into darkness when a coworker asks him to find his missing daughter. Unfortunately – she’s entangled in the hunt for one of the deadliest underworld killers in Miami history. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Thanks for having me, Kristi! It’s been a pleasure.

EDITORS NOTE: If you do pick up Alex’s terrific book, be sure to pop over and leave a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon — that is the best way to support authors you like! : )

 

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Twenty Things You Might Not Know About Me

farshotmeindoor

 

1. I am a xenophile
2. I am a minimalist
3. I am a bookworm
4. I once flew in an FA/18 fighter jet over Big Sur
5. I once watched an autopsy
6. I was in a hair-raising high-speed pursuit on a San Francisco Bay Area freeway in the passenger seat of a cop car
7. I am Catholic
8. I love to cook and host small dinner parties
9. I bake my own bread
10. I am a proud Italian-American
11. I used to live with the musician Beck and his family
12. I shook President Bill Clinton’s hand once when he was still in office. I was rendered speechless beyond muttering … “Mr. President!”
13. I once spent the first 8 hours of a homicide investigation trailing along with the detectives, which included sitting in the living room with the parents when the detectives told them their son was dead.
14. I can whistle so unbelievably loud I could probably break glass — at the very least I silence every insect outside for about a 5 block radius.
15. I was named most valuable player on the high school downhill ski racing team.
16. One night in L.A. my job was to escort porn star Traci Lords around a rave my boss was throwing at the Shrine Auditorium.
17. Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson once asked the owners of a restaurant to introduce me to him.
18. It was because of an article I wrote about a naked, masturbating man who crashed his car and then fought off emergency personnel.
19. On the other hand, Jerry Seinfeld rolled his eyes at me when we met.
20. I make a tasty biscotti.

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