Q & A
How did you become a writer?
That story begins sitting on the floor of a workshop training life coaches. A fellow student coach was practicing her coaching skills on me. She asked, What are you really on this planet to do? I spoke some words I had never spoken aloud before, and burst into tears. I said, I want to be a writer.
First I wrote a novel about psychotherapy. I got an agent who loved it and everything seemed easy. It never was sold. Then I wrote and sold two nonfiction books Working Clean and Sober (Hazelden, 2000) and Dreams and Recovery (never published). Then my agent fired me. I never gave up.
How and why did you start working on this book?
I wanted to write a novel. Another novel, one that might sell. I decided against literary fiction, I had already failed there. I started studying the market. Genre sells: science fiction was flat, horror was dying and I couldn't bring myself to write romance. So mystery was it.
Then I read every book I could find on writing fiction and on writing mysteries. And I started devouring mysteries. If I had to slog through one more burnt-out-ex-cop-private-eye-who-is- discovering-AA-but-having-a-hard-time-with-it I was going to scream. All the women heroes were cool: complex, caring, caught between two worlds. I wanted to know them better. The men protagonists I just wanted to slap.
And establishment! I swear most of those guys would vote Republican if they could get over their misery and despair long enough to vote at all. I wanted someone off the grid. How Left, weird, counterculture, and eccentric could I get?
When I wrote The Eight of Swords. I created a manic-depressive, ex-60's-bomb-throwing radical, living underground as a Tarot card reader on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. How's that for different?
I started marketing it by sending it to the Donald Maass agency and then by entering it into the St. Martin's Press Malice Domestic Contest. The Maass agency sent me a very nice rejection letter. Then came six months of rejection letters. I feared to go to the post box.
I received my forty-third rejection letter on a Monday. I said to myself, Self, I think the handwriting is on the wall. It was a good dream while it lasted. But if nothing happens by the end of this week it is time to tuck that manuscript under the bed and start looking for Dream Number Two.
Tuesday morning I picked up the phone expecting a coaching client. But it was some lady from St. Martin's Press named Ruth who had a ridiculous tale about me winning the Malice Domestic Contest. The only time in my life that I have fell into a chair, almost fainting. Within a week I was represented by Jennifer Jackson, of the Donald Maass Agency (read about David's query letter here).
I was waiting to find out it was all a cruel hoax. But when I got her e-mail inviting me out to the conference to receive my award, I had to believe it was true. It still feels like a dream. But a damn good dream!
Why do you write?
I think the difference between a writer and someone who thinks they have a good book in them is insanity. I am insane. I freely admit it. I write while the rest of my house sleeps, and I walk around the next day with dark circles under my eyes. I write on vacation, in fact a perfect vacation is if everybody else goes away so I can write all the time.
I taught addiction treatment courses and I used to work at Cokenders. I know one when I see one. I am totally strung out on this junk. A coach, trying to help bring balance into my life, once asked me, What would you do if you couldn't write at all? What would be available to you then? I fired him.
Writing is the most important thing that I do. I mock myself saying, David, you loser, who cares about some stupid murder mystery? Then I go back to my keyboard. Because I care.
How do I get an agent?
The best way is to query (one page). Running a close second is go to a mystery conference and then query.
Mystery Conferences in 2005:
Feb 4-6, 2005, Love is Murder, Chicago, IL
Feb 24-27, 2005, Left Coast Crime, El Paso, TX
Mar 3-6, 2005, Sleuthfest, Ft Lauderdale, FL
April 29 - May 1, 2005, Malice Domestic, Arlington, VA
Early May, 2005 Mystery Writers of America Edgars week symposium, NY, NY
May 26 - 29, 2005, Mayhem in the Midlands, Omaha, NE
May 14, 2005, Murder in the Grove, Boise, ID
June 11, 2005, Of Dark and Stormy Nights, MWA, Schaumburg, IL
June 17-18, 2005, Deadly Ink, Parsippany, NJ
June 17-18, 2005, Hardboiled Heroes and Cozy Cats, Houston, TX
July 15-18, 2004, Book Passage Mystery Writers' Conference, Corte Madera, CA
July 21-24, 2005, Conmisterio, Austin, TX
Oct 1-3, 2004 Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, Manhattan, KS
Sep 1-4, 2005, Boucheron, Chicago, IL
Oct 22-24, 2004, Magna Cum Murder, Muncie, IN
Oct 29-31, 2004, Cape Fear Crime Festival, Wilmington NC
Queries are always a one page ad. They need to be written with a strong hook, that grabs the agent. It is not a letter, it is your whole campaign. Make it socko, make it personal and rewrite it fifty times.
Want to see how my own query letters changed as I got better at it? Click here.
What's a typical day like for writing? (Do you commit to finishing a particular scene or commit to x amount of pages?)
I work at my day job all day, which is life coaching, a really great job! You can find out more about my coaching work at www.insightorientedcoaching.com. Then I shoehorn in writing and promoting my books in the evenings and on weekends. Not very romantic, I know.
What's the second book in the Warren Ritter series?
High Priestess. Start reading it!
What are you currently working on?
Hanged Man, the third in the series. Warren is going undercover in the San Francisco S and M Community.
Who are your favorite authors?
Dickens, Kazanzankas, Rowlings, Hemingway, Laurie King, Agatha, Nero Wolfe, Bruce Spalding, Tolkin, Mary Oliver, but I would sell my soul to be able to write as well as S.J. Rozan.