Wednesday, February 10, 2016

BEING IN THE SERVICE OF THE WELL-WRITTEN WORD

After the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl, I was struck by Peyton Manning’s comment about how fortunate he was to be part of this team. He took no credit for himself, and it made me think about how fortunate I am to be part of a team as well, without whom little would be possible.  

Besides my co-publishers, Judy Shepard and Chris Knopf, our staff here in the office, Cathy Suter and Brian Skulnik who take care of all sorts of matters administrative and keeping The Permanent Press web-site up-to-date, and to Felix Gonzales who keeps up with orders, shipping and returns, and off campus personnel: Barbara Anderson who does copy-editing, Susan Ahlquist who does our typesetting (and reminds me to keep up-to date on scheduling), and finally to Lon Kirschner, our cover artist. Not only are all of them incredibly talented, but also they are a joy to work with. The same holds true for our foreign agents, most of whom have been with us for a decade or two, and their success selling translation rights abroad (if you want to see their names they are listed on the last page of  The Permanent Press’s electronic catalog). Without all of them as teammates, we would be hard placed to succeed as well as we have.

Of course, we could never succeed without our writers, who keep writing because the process is most important to them, though the income they receive seldom matches the hours and hours and hours they put into their work, nor do reviews necessarily follow, nor the acclaim they would wish for. Other creators who follow their muse, be they actors, painters, sculptors, musicians, and dancers face the same conditions, as do we as publishers.

But the thrill for us is discovering talented writers and publishing their books. Winning awards for their work is flattering and holds hope for more future success for these authors. We know that we can give voice to exceptional, if often relatively unknown novelists, in an age that finds people reading less and less, twittering more and more, and watching television at the end of a hard day rather than reading quality fiction. Every time good things happen for one of the 16 yearly books that we’ve been publishing since starting out in 1978, it gives us joy. How fortunate we are to find that we can keep going forward, working at something we love: being in the service of the well written word. 


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Judy and I are off to Virgin Gorda for two weeks, returning on the 25th of February. In the interim Chris Knopf might be posting a blog or two. But, fate wiling, there will be more coming from me on May 2nd. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

AGAINST PROFUNDITY

Ira Gold is a man few words. His description of himself on the dust jacket of his first novel, Debasements of Brooklyn is this: “IRA GOLD writes all the time and publishes occasionally.”

Is he also shy? Or modest? Or mysterious? Or all of these things? I can’t say for sure, but the back cover of his most unusual and funny mystery, due out in June, and already sold to Blackstone Audiobooks, depicts a man with sunglasses rendering him unidentifiable. Furthermore the major characters in this story—Howie and Ariel—both hide their thoughts and personalities from one another.

And who are these people? Howie’s father had warned him: “You can’t ride two horses with one ass.” But here he was, living a double life—one racketeering with his crew and the other sitting in cafes reading Penguin classics. To fit in, Howie hides his intellectual interests from his gangster friends, but they still suspect something is not right about him. He will also disguise his interests and personality from Ariel, a young woman he encounters in a coffee shop who seems demure and bookish, but likes her men rough and her sex rougher.

With this introduction I turn it over to Ira.


*         *         *

“Once a certain degree of insight has been reached …all men talk, when talk they must, the same tripe.”—Samuel Beckett, Murphey

My kid, nine years old, H, called me from Florida, early, before noon, on Sunday. He was visiting his grandmother, my ersatz mother-in-law. In a wavering tearful voice he claims, “I miss you Dad.”

This takes me by surprise. I serve, no doubt, a function in the boy’s life. But every Christmas he goes to Boca Raton for a week. He’s accompanied by my partner, R, his primary-by-a-lot emotional support, and is usually happy as a mussel in wine-sauce. He swims and eats horrific Florida food. His grandmother dotes on her only grandchild, plies him with gifts and imparts the Boca sensibility that more-is-better, and more-than-your-neighbor-is-best. I don’t know what to make of his crying on the phone. “Did something happen that upset you?”

“No.”
Stumped, “So what’s up?”
“I don’t know,” he sobs.

My heart breaks. His voice on the phone is high and wavering and inevitably reminds me of my ex-wife’s voice. “Listen H, are you depressed?”

He hesitates but then says, “Maybe.”

“I’m impressed, babe. My first depression didn’t hit until I was eleven.”

He doesn’t know what to make of this.

“You’re a prodigy. The heavy weight of existence crushed you before you reached double digits.”
By now he’s baffled enough to stop crying. He also likes to hear that he’s made me proud. I press the advantage. “Were you able to get out of bed this morning?”

“Yes.”
“Oh. Well, that’s a sign you’re not clinically depressed.”
Maybe sensing my disappointment, he quickly adds, “But then I went back to bed.”
“Really? Are you calling me from bed?”
“I’m in the bedroom,” he assures, then, more softly, “but not in bed.”
“That’s okay. Do you feel like doing anything?”
“No.”

So this requires quick paternal type thinking. These events shrieked for profundity, a deep teaching moment. “Do you remember The Odyssey? Odysseus travels everywhere, even to hell. He fights, he has Goddesses for girlfriends and pokes out his enemy’s eye like a real-life Three Stooger.”

The kid, I am happy to say, is familiar with the Homeric epics, due to a comic book I had bought him two years before. “Yes.”

“Well, do you know that about a hundred years ago a writer named Joyce rewrote the story and set it in Ireland and changed the main character’s name to Leopold Bloom?”
“No.”

Not surprising since the comic book for Ulysses hadn’t come out. “And do you know what his heroic act was?”

“No.”
“He got out of bed. Today, it takes all a man’s courage to put on his pants. After nearly three thousand years of religion and philosophy, we have not come up with a single legitimate answer to the question why bother?”

I stopped. I imagined the boy on the other end. Dark blond, moppish hair. Brown eyes. Cheeks as round and white as cue balls. He looked up to me just as if I were not going through the motions of fatherhood. He often listened as if I were explaining useful things such as a P.E. ratio or the meaning of a pitcher’s E.R.A.

“Why get out of bed? What is the point of all this going to sleep and waking up?”
“I have to go to school.”
“Why?”
“Are you doing the double talk thing?”
“No. A little. That usually cheers you up. What you had here was an attack of consciousness, maybe your first. Hopefully, you will not make a full recovery.”

“Really?” His voice wavered on the verge of breaking down. “I don’t like this feeling.”

“You’ll get used to it. If things go well you’ll wonder why time passes so quickly and pleasure fades like a dream. If not, life will bewilder you with its nightmarish quality. It will make you nauseous like a roller coaster that’s not guaranteed to stay on the tracks. The masters speak of absurdity and dread.”

I thought things were going well. Here I spoke naturally, not too obscurely while managing to include my deepest insight. I expected H to contemplate further and ask more questions.

Instead, his mother gets on. “I don’t know what’s going on. He’s never acted like this.”
“Don’t worry. I put things in context for him.”
“He’s locked himself in the bathroom. Let me find out what he’s doing in there.”
“Okay. Call me later.”

So I hung up, glad that instead of opening a 529 for his college education we were putting all our spare cash into a therapy fund. He will have access to his inner life if it destroys him.

I looked forward to talking to him again. I had prepared all my life to pass on the philosophical wisdom of the ages, and I was ready to talk Plato, Epicurus, Aquinas, Kant, Kierkegaard, Bergson, Sartre, Singer. While waiting, I re-read some of Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz, the chapter entitled “The Gray Zone.” When he called back, I’d be ready.

And he did, about two hours later. “Dad, Dad.”
“What? What happened?”
“I’m flying a kite. I’m on the beach flying a kite. And this man showed me how to do tricks. And I’m really good at it. The wind is great. And I can run really fast. I wish you were here. It’s so much fun.”
“That’s great, kid.” I didn’t let him hear my dejection. “And you’re feeling good?”
“When I get back to New York you have to get me a kite.”
“Okay.”

And then he gave the phone to R. She said, “Yeah, I offered to get him a kite and take him to the beach. You should really be here to see this. The wind is high and he’s staring up at the sky as he lets out the string and pulls the kite this way and that. He’s just joyful.”

“Did he mention anything about what we were talking about?”
“No. Why? What did you tell him?”
“Just some jokes.”

So there it is. As literary writers, we like to think what sets us apart from the commercial junk is that we have deep thoughts, hard won through living and studying. We pride ourselves that we dive into those motivating issues that swim below the surface. But good fiction shows people flying kites in all weathers. Whatever meaning there might be must be extracted from that.

*         *         *

As usual, I hope you will leave comments on this blog. You can also reach Ira directly by emailing him at ira.gold@touro.edu or contact me at shepard@thepermanentpress.com.

I also make the same offer I  made last week: if you want an electronic file of Debasements of Brooklyn, I will happily send it on to you.

We have several possibilities for next week’s blog, and at this moment I can’t say anything more about it.


Marty

Friday, January 22, 2016

THE GOOD LIFE

Marian Thurm’s The Good Life, which we are publishing in April, is one of the most compelling novels I’ve read in some time. It’s also a book one could enter for all the major literary and/or thriller awards, as it is one of those novels that spans genres. When a gun is purchased in the first paragraph of the introduction, it’s easy to assume that it will be fired before the novel ends.  The result is a literary novel inspired by a real-life event. The ending is unexpected and shocking.

Thurm is a woman whose work has been praised so often and by so many sources that there is little more one needs to add. This is her eleventh book. Concerning the first ten, two had major reviews in the New York Times Book Review. The Clairvoyant, her sixth book, was reviewed there on October 5, 1997, and her tenth, Today Is Not Your Day was reviewed on October 4, 2015 and was also named an Editor’s Choice pick. Given this impressive track record we were delighted that she submitted this latest novel to us. October has been a good month for her at the Times, and I hope that April will prove equally hospitable. With that, I turn you over to Marian.

*         *         *


“As the author of eleven books of fiction, I’ve often been asked if I’ve ever done research for any of my novels. Well, let’s see: for my novel about a clairvoyant, I spent a handful of hours in the company of a couple of professional psychics. For a novel about a college student from New York who finds herself in a very small town in Kansas, I convinced my husband and son to accompany me on a road trip to a very small town in Kansas. All of this research proved to be both interesting and illuminating, but none of it made my heart beat any harder or took away my appetite for lunch. But when I began writing The Good Life, I realized that one of the most important things I needed to do was feel the weight of a loaded pistol in my hands. This was going to be a dark book—a fiercely dark book—the sort of novel that would eventually be described by Kirkus Reviews as a “pitch-dark emotional thriller.” And, in fundamental ways, it was going to be different from my other books, all of them literary fiction that never once featured a 9 mm semiautomatic Glock in the hands of any of its characters.

“Arriving at a shooting range in Pennsylvania, the nearest state to my New York City home that didn’t require a license to fire a handgun, I found myself waiting in line with a roomful of gun enthusiasts, including 10-year-old boys dressed in combat fatigues accompanied by their younger sisters and parents, all of them chitchatting casually and clearly eager to get in a little target practice this particular weekend. Not me. I was already starting to feel queasy, and wanted nothing more than to climb into our car and hightail it back to our apartment in Manhattan (the one filled with so many, many books, that my husband and I were reduced to storing some of them under the coffee table in the living room and under our bed). And speaking of books, the problem I was facing that Sunday in 2012 was that I wouldn’t be able to write my new one unless I actually went through with this gun business and held that Glock in my small, increasingly sweaty hands.

“My husband and I waited our turn in line for a half hour or so and then stepped up to the counter, where we were handed a Glock (which we were shown how to load ourselves) and a pair of headphones to cushion our ears from the sound of gunfire. I was already feeling sick with the worst kind of anticipation—the kind that requires a Xanax or two—and when we reached our assigned lane at the pistol range a minute later, I had to remind myself that this was all about my novel, the novel I felt so deeply invested in even though I’d only begun work on it a couple of months earlier.

“Lifting the gun into my hands for the first time, I was surprised at the heft of it, and intensely aware of the thudding of my cowardly heart. I took my place at the firing line and pulled the trigger, shocked at both the violence of the kickback and the sound of the bullet exploding out of the barrel. It was a profoundly visceral moment for me, leaving my hands trembling. Call me a wuss, but there was nothing thrilling about any of it; all I felt was horror, thinking of this 9mm pistol and the grievous harm it could bring to anyone in the path of its bullets. 

“One shot and I’d had enough. “I’m done!” I announced to no one in particular, and the man in the next firing lane laughed at me. “You’re just like my wife,” he said. Obviously this was not a compliment, but I wasn’t the least bit insulted.

“A few days later, working on the darkest scene in my novel—the darkest scene I’d ever composed in the nearly 40 years I’ve been a published writer—I  was close to tears. This had never happened to me before and I doubt it will ever happen again in the writing of another book. But each time I read the scene, which of course I had to do over and over again as I kept reworking the novel, I felt the same anguish, the same queasiness. These characters of mine were as real to me as if they had flesh-and-blood lives beyond the page, and I couldn’t bear to hurt them. 

“And yet I had to, because that was the story I needed to tell.”

*         *         *

As always, I hope you will post your comments on this website. If you want to reach Marian directly you can contact her at thurm14@aol.com.

COMING NEXT WEEK a blog from Ira Gold, author of Debasements of Brooklyn, whose droll first mystery featuring two original and memorable characters, is due  in June, and has already been purchased by Blackstone Audiobooks.



Monday, January 18, 2016

MOPPING UP

This May we’ll be publishing Charles Davis’ Hitler, Mussolini, and Me, a historical (and hysterical) novel that takes place in Rome in 1938, before World War Two and the holocaust. This meeting cements the relationship between the two dictators that will lead to the Axis powers. Charles, a Brit living in France, had always wanted to write something historically correct about these two men, but do it “differently” which, after immense research he has accomplished, marrying Truth with his keen sense of the Absurd. Its uniqueness makes it one of my favorite titles for this or any other year. 

We published two previous novels written by Charles that gathered great reviews. Walk on, Bright Boy (2007), was described in Publishers Weekly as “taking place in a remote Spanish village during the Inquisition, after the Christians have conquered Moorish Spain. A combination of morality tale and gothic horror, the book raises questions about religious extremism, faith, miracles, justice and torture.” Standing at the Crossroads (2011) was lauded by Library Journal as “an exciting and thoughtful adventure story as well as a subtle political and philosophical meditation on Sudan’s long-term tragedy,” while Kirkus called it “an absorbing read, written in the spare, allegorical style of his first novel.” Translation rights for both were sold in Poland and Russia.  

Suffice it to say we were surprised to receive Hitler, Mussolini, and Me as a manuscript a year ago, and see how Charles seamlessly melded facts with sharp satire. Better to laugh at these monsters of history, men who came to power quite by chance rather than brilliance; by cosmic forces beyond understanding. One would never guess that all of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s dialogue comes from what they actually said. And the same holds true for Hitler’s flatulence and Il Duce’s chronic constipation. Truth, in this case, trumps fiction. 

This background, however, has nothing to do with Charles’s current blog, which offers high praise to one of the best copy-editors in the world, our very own Barbara Anderson.

*         *         *

“I'm a rubbish writer but a champion rewriter. That's what I've always believed, at least. Beliefs can be hard to hold onto sometimes. I was reminded of this recently when a correspondent mentioned The Permanent Press's copy-editor, Barbara Anderson. The possessive "'s" back there, that's for her. Personally, I'd just go for the inverted comma and have done with it, but Barbara insists on her esses. Worse, she can tell you why, too.

“Being a rubbish writer but a champion rewriter is not unusual. I heard John Irving saying something similar in an interview, though admittedly he didn't use the word "rubbish". Plenty of writers sling stuff down on the page in their first drafts that later makes them cringe with horror. There's no shame in this. It's like having a party in your parents' house when you're a teenager. So long as nobody gets hurt and you clean up the broken bottles and more unsavory items afterwards, it's all a normal part of progressing toward maturity.

“Admittedly, the parties I have in my first drafts are very wild and very messy indeed, but I chuck a lot of stuff out afterwards then scrub like crazy, so that by the time I open the door, I'm persuaded that subsequent modifications will simply be titivation to take account of other people's tastes. Basically, straightening the chairs and rearranging the flowers. On the whole, I think this is the case. When Marty and Judy suggest changes it generally involves dispensing with superfluities or rendering slightly more plausible the illusion that there was never a mess in the first place. For the most part, I follow their advice (they are putting their money on the table, after all) and when I baulk, they are big enough to let me have my way. Then Barbara comes along.

“I don't know how she does it. I've done a bit of proofreading for friends, I'm a bit anal retentive (you should see the coat hangers in my wardrobe), I taught grammar for several years, I've got a thing about words, and as I say, sticking with the teenage party image, I've been scrubbing the bloody carpet for months on end. But Barbara, she's like the Mr. Muscle of dirty manuscripts. She spots these horrible stains where somebody (not me) has done something unspeakable in the middle of the ceiling; she's fishing slimy things out of dark corners and pointing out sticky patches on the sofa; and "Oh, my God, she's found a moribund body in the basement!"

“It can be quite humiliating, the typos, spelling mistakes, infelicities, factual errors, howlers, inconsistencies, and downright imbecilities still lurking in a text despite the fact that you've been poring over it for a period that is almost glacial in its duration. But Barbara cleans up the mess you've made with such expeditious energy, insight, and good humor (and not a jot of anal retention) that there's nothing to be done but thank her for preventing the humiliation becoming public. I was tempted to write "pubic" there just to upset her, but I restrained myself.

“Copy-editors are the unsung heroes and heroines of publishing. What you have just read is hardly a song of praise. Barbara hasn't had a go at it, you see, so it's more like the first inebriated belch of the evening. But for want of anything better, let it stand as a nod toward a very necessary profession.”


*         *         *

As always, I hope you will post your comments on this site. If you wish to reach Charles Davis directly, you can email him at chadavis@gmail.com

COMING NEXT WEEK is a blog from Marian Thurm, who has written ten previous books—two of which have gotten major coverage in the New York Times Book Review—and whose forthcoming literary thriller, inspired by an actual event, The Good Life, will be published in April. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ON eBOOKS

Cathy Suter has been working as our managing editor for the past five and a half years. Earlier she was employed by Columbia University Press, Abrams, and Philosophical Library where she did editorial work. A resident of East Hampton, she is also a painter whose works have been exhibited nationally at well over a dozen galleries. In her spare times she’s also raised four daughters. It’s been our good fortune to have her on our staff, and a pleasure to share her unique blog with you.


*         *         *

“As with any new form of communication based on technology, eBooks have sparked their own brand of controversy.  Some readers fear that eBooks have pulled down the quality of writing. Others feel that the experience of reading an eBook is vastly inferior; they miss the smell, the look, the feel of the printed book. There’s an artist named Rachael Morrison, who’s made it her project to go through the Museum of Modern Art’s library and smell each and every one of their 300,000 books, cataloging their unique scent. 

“Like other technological innovations, they will most likely work their way into society, subject to momentary trends, but ultimately sticking around, evolving, and becoming routine. Readers can take innumerable eBooks with them on a trip to Europe or on a hike up a mountain. A passenger of a two seater plane can take thousands of eBooks with them on a kindle. Charles Lindbergh, who took stamps off his letters so as to reduce the weight on his aircraft during his first trans-Atlantic voyage, would have had the option of taking a lot of reading material to Paris.  In the future, eBooks could be a valuable resource in prisons if the right kind of eReader is ever developed, since, sadly, printed books are considered dangerous because they can be used to smuggle in contraband or flood a toilet in a prison cell in order to create diversion. A company called Library For All seeks donations of eBooks to send to libraries in developing countries around the world, where poverty and disorganized infrastructures, as in places like Haiti, make getting print books nearly impossible. And Digital Book World just reported that libraries lent a record number of eBooks and audiobooks to patrons in 2015. There is also another layer of responsibility that comes with this instantaneous (almost), organic and globalized way of sharing books, because the bestseller in one culture could be heavily censored in another.

“Throughout history, most every major change in communication has been greeted with skepticism.  Socrates elaborates in Plato’s Dialogue The Phaedrus, written around 370 BC, on the dangers of writing as opposed to the spoken word: ‘Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.'

“In his book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirkey discusses the printing revolution:  ‘There was an abbot, Johannes Trithemius, who was so alarmed by the changes that threatened the livelihoods of monastic scribes that he wrote De Laude Scriptorum (In praise of scribes), but ironically, to achieve widest possible distribution, had it published via the printing press’

"And in the esteemed Scientific Journal Nature, this excerpt from an article entitled ‘Nature’s Revenge on Genius’ appeared in November 1889.  ‘At present our most dangerous pet is electricity—in the telegraph, the street lamp and the telephone. We have introduced electric power into our simplest domestic industries, and we have woven this most subtile of agents, once active only in the sublimest manifestations of Omnipotence, like a web about our dwellings, and filled our atmosphere with the filaments of death.

“ ‘The telephone is the most dangerous of all because it enters into every dwelling. Its interminable network of wires is a perpetual menace to life and property. In its best performance it is only a convenience. It was never a necessity. In a multitude of cities its service is unsatisfactory and is being dispensed with. It may not be expedient that it should be wholly abolished, but its operation may be so curtailed and systematized as to render it comparatively innocuous.’

“At least eReaders are mostly wireless…”


*        *         *

I’d welcome your comments below. If you want to contact Cathy directly you can reach her at cathy@thepermanentpress.com.

COMING NEXT WEEK a blog from Charles Davis, whose historical, philosophical, inventive, and hysterical novel, Hitler Mussolini and Me, will be published by us in May.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

FINDING THE INNER COP

In March we’ll be publishing Connie Dial’s sixth thriller, Set the Night on Fire, all of them taking place in Los Angeles, where Connie, until retiring in 1999 (“on July fourth, my Independence Day!” she laughed), was the first female captain and later the first commanding officer in the Hollywood Division of the LAPD.  Four of her thrillers featured the ongoing story of Captain Josie Corsino...with Fallen Angels (2012), Dead Wrong (2013), and Unnatural Murder (2014) preceding Set the Night on Fire

It’s been our pleasure and privilege to meet her at mystery conferences, know her, publish her, and find so many readers have shared our pleasure when reading her mysteries. With that, I turn this blog over to Connie.

*         *         *

“I never thought of myself as a cop who became an author, but rather a writer who, until her adventure bug had been thoroughly satisfied, couldn’t sit still long enough to do the thing she loved. A lifetime of notebooks full of short stories, poems, plays and even a few book manuscripts tucked away in my file cabinet was a constant reminder of a habit I never could or really wanted to kick.  My writing obsession always made me think of an alcoholic who stashes bottles around the house to sneak a sip now and then.

“Journalism was supposed to be the perfect answer to my dilemma, but after several years I found investigative reporting wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the characters and stories I could create in my imagination, and the excitement level never met my expectations.  Police work on the other hand turned out to be an adrenaline junkie’s dream—going to work every day looking for trouble, driving fast with lights and sirens, shooting guns, and chasing bad guys.  No need to make it up.  I was living the dream.

“After nearly thirty years in law enforcement, the desire to write finally grew stronger than my fascination with adventure, and I discovered that all those hours spent scraping parasites off society’s underbelly wasn’t wasted. It exposed me to some of humanity’s finest and nastiest moments and best of all provided a cornucopia of ideas for plot and character.  

“Usually cops interact with people who have had something out of the ordinary happen in their lives, sending them to the police for help, empathy or in too many cases plain old vengeance.   I’ve seen more than my share of dead bodies and gore, gone to too many funerals, but there were those amazing acts of courage rarely observed outside life and death situations.  My stress level bounced up and down at least a hundred times each day, but within every interaction, every bit of fear, excitement, and aggravation was a potential story. 

“I was lucky. As one of the first women patrol officers in LA, I was exposed to a lot before the nature of police work changed.  In the early seventies, Los Angeles was a little reminiscent of the Old West. My first night out of the police academy involved a foot chase, a pursuit, a shooting, and our cruiser was involved in a traffic accident. And it only got better. I worked undercover intelligence and participated in a group that wanted to overthrow the US government. We went to jail together after a particularly violent demonstration and I was one of the few cops who knew what it felt like to get hit with a police baton, gassed, handcuffed and thrown in the back of a paddy wagon.   

“My time as a detective in narcotic enforcement supplied a feast of characters.  I had an informant who suggested my partner and I take out a life insurance policy on him. He expected to be killed 
but couldn’t resist the urge to snitch. I worked undercover and bought heroin from Jimmy Lee Smith the police killer in Joseph Wambaugh’s non-fiction book The Onion Field.  Just before we arrested him, he told me he’d never go back to prison because he could always spot a cop and would never get caught again.  

“Almost every cop will tell you he or she has a great idea for a book. They probably do. Real life is stranger and sometimes a lot funnier than fiction.   However, most of them quickly discover that the idea is the easy part; writing is much harder.   My first manuscript was over four hundred pages. Practically everything I knew about police work got into those pages. It was a good story but also a wordy primer on how to do a murder investigation.  Paul Bishop, a very fine writer who also happened to be an LAPD detective, agreed to read it and gave me some great advice.  He told me to find the story buried under all that procedural stuff and he was right.  

“One of the questions I’m always asked is, “What bothers you most about the way writers portray the police?”  The answer is easy—just about everything.  I’m certain doctors and lawyers feel the same way about their professions.  It’s difficult to reproduce the true nature of what it’s like to be a cop even if you’ve experienced it.  I try to give readers a peek into that world and they tell me there’s authenticity.  That’s gratifying because most civilians and a lot of authors have formed their impression of detectives and the work they do from books or movies.  Those characters usually display a litany of psychological defects and seriously need an AA sponsor.  They’d survive about a day in any legitimate police department.

“Granted, there must be something different about a person who would want to do police work.  Trust me, I speak from hours of soul searching and self-analysis, but limiting a detective’s personality to a few external characteristics does that investigator a great disservice.  

“The best cops I know do their jobs knowing that in today’s world they are walking targets. They love police work, and their gallows humor is recognition of how tenuous life on the streets can be. They have an urgency to live fully at an accelerated pace and do most things such as loving, playing, drinking, as if they might not have another opportunity.  They might not. Camaraderie comes from a dependence on each other to stay alive, not a code of silence, and fear is unacceptable. They are warriors who feel the need to help others as much as the desire to battle criminals. They’re complicated and need to be written that way.” 

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I HOPE YOU WILL POST YOUR COMMENTS HERE. If you wish to reach Connie directly, you can email her at conniedial06@aol.com

We’ll be taking a two-week break from posting these weekly blogs and resume them again on January 13. 

If any of you, dear readers, want to contribute to these blogs, contact me directly at shepard@thepermanentpress.com and send me your suggestions during the interim, since none of us working here are taking two-week vacations. Anyone who has blogged before and has something new to add is also welcomed back.

Wishing you all a good holiday season and a rewarding 2016.

Marty

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

JUST WRITE

Anthony Schneider’s first novel, Repercussions, starts off our 2016 list in late January and was greeted with a sterling pre-publication review in Kirkus. It’s interesting to me that another South African novel, Love in the Time of Apartheid, closes off our list. So all the other 14 novels this year have these fascinating bookends that enclose them.

Anthony, born in South Africa, spends much of his time between London, England, and New York City, and maintains citizenship in both countries. He is currently at work on his second novel, Lowdown

This is the fourth and last posting from this first novelist series and I hope you like reading his blog as much as I did. 


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The Steps

“Just write, I told myself. If it interested me, I kept going. I filled a lot of pages, and new characters popped up (and sometimes vanished as quickly as they’d appeared). The individual pieces didn’t cohere, nor were they all related to the same places, events or ideas. But I kept going. I wondered whose story it was, and what it was all about, and then I stopped worrying and wrote a bit more. And that’s the funny thing about writing. You delve, you scratch, you explore. You have an idea where you are going but you are also a passenger. You rush to find meaning, discover what it is you’re writing about, or what it is that’s stopping you from writing, but you also have to be patient. You have to play, and be comfortable in the half-light of your nascent creation. And maybe it goes somewhere and maybe it doesn’t. Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s half fun and half frustration, half search and half serendipity.

“The first big step I took toward a cohesive novel, a single book knitted together from all of those fictional shreds and patches, was a cast of characters. The book would be about him and her and her and the younger version of him… and that’s it. After that it got easier. If it wasn’t one of their stories, it wasn’t something I was going to write, not today anyway.

“The main character in Repercussions, Henry, was there all along somehow, and writing the book was about uncovering and discovering. A very long game of hide and seek, and sometimes I was looking for Henry and I suppose sometimes I was looking for things about myself.
  
“The second big step was about committing myself to writing—and to writing that novel. I don’t have much more to say about this because it starts to sound a bit like a self-help book or your vaguely spiritual friend’s Facebook post: be committed, be authentic, hashtag grateful. Don’t get me wrong: they’re important ideals. I just don’t have much light to shed. 

“The third big step was probably peculiar to my novel, one that spans eighty years and three continents and features a relatively high number of characters for a relatively short novel. This is undoubtedly of no use to any writer, but I’ll tell you about it anyway.

“Here’s what happened. I was on holiday on a beautiful Mexican island with a woman. Romantic? Not really. We’d just broken up and while I’d offered to buy her out, pay for her part of the trip and get a week by myself to write and walk and swim, she said no, and I was stubborn and she was stubborn, and so there we were: two stubborn unhappy people side by side in bed, with matching Netflix envelopes, watching different movies. Actually we had an okay time. But she didn’t want to go to the little town for breakfast, and because she could order room service and breakfast was one more meal to get through without bickering, I did walk to town each morning. And there I ate excellent granola and yogurt or scrambled eggs and drank strong coffee and went through the book and played with structure. I ripped it apart and put it back together, moved sections and figured out a structure that could hold my jigsaw puzzle of a novel together. It was the closest I came to a eureka moment with this book. Thank you Sahila (not her real name). Thank you Isla Mujeres. 

Five Rules:

“I’m often asked about rules for writers. I don’t know many rules. I know about five, maybe five and a half. If you hate lists, or rules, or detest pens and pencils, stop reading now. 

Rule #1:

“Don’t show your work to people at every step. Be mercenary, be secretive. Hoard, write, wrap your head around it. 

Rule #2:
“Carry a notebook and pen or pencil. 

Rule #3:

“Don’t give up when you think it’s shit. Don’t believe it when you think it’s going great. 

Rule #4:

“Don’t write something because you think it will sell, or because it will help heal some psychic wound. 

Rule #5:

“When you think you are finished but not yet at the point of fine-tuning the commas (yes, it’s a very fine line), do show it to people, people you trust, more than one person. And listen.”


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I invite you to comment on Anthony’s blog here, and if you want to contact Anthony personally try him at Anthony.schneider@masstransmit.com

Anyone else in the business of books who might wish to post a blog, should email me (shepard@thepermanentpress.com).

COMING NEXT WEEK, December 23, there will be a blog posting from Connie Dial, former head of the Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department who has written six enthralling mysteries that we’ve published, unless Santa Claus sends us something we can’t resist...though, given all the gifts he carries about for children, that is not likely to happen.

Marty