Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I grew up in the Bronx, a place I left as quickly as I could. For the past few decades I have lived in Los Angeles, and the City of Angels has played a key role in all of my writing. L.A. is fascinating, as it is home to an outsized level of wealth, sin, beauty and despair. I also earned a master’s degree from USC; my love for the Trojan football team helped spur the creation of my protagonist, Burnside, a former USC football star turned private detective extraordinaire.
In total, I’ve written nine books, and have a tenth on the way. My first book was an unholy mess — but it was absolutely critical in the development of my next book, Post Pattern. I learned the importance of plot structure, character arc and foreshadowing, as well as the danger of self-indulgence. Structure is critically important in genre fiction, and especially in the mystery category in which I write. It’s a hard lesson to learn but one which is essential in developing a great story.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My most recent book is called Tampa Two, and it is the eighth novel in the Burnside Mystery series. At the end of book seven, Double Pass, I left myself with quite a challenge.
A character who had been critical to the shaping of my protagonist returns. Judy Atkin was the teenage prostitute that Burnside arrested when he was with the LAPD. He tried to help Judy but she turned on him, and he wound up losing his career and his reputation. Over the past decade, Burnside has rebuilt his life and emerged as a successful private investigator. But now Judy is back and she needs Burnside’s help, and he ends up being caught in yet another vortex.
I had always wanted to do a back story on what happened to Burnside, but I didn’t feel up to writing a prequel. By bringing Judy back a decade later, I was able to provide some closure on a part of Burnside’s past.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I create a 24 point outline before I start writing my novel. This details the 24 most important events that happen during the story. There are times when I may need to tweak these, but I am an author who needs a certain amount of structure. I don't use a white board, my 24 point outline is done on a Word document and is normally about 5 or 6 pages long. I also don't sketch out character descriptions, I simply think a lot about who they are and what makes them do what they do.
Regarding my actual writing process, I am easily distracted and have trouble concentrating. I follow the guideline Oscar Wilde advised, which is to say that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. I recognize I may need to spend six hours procrastinating in order to achieve one or two solid hours of writing. But those one or two hours produce some extremely good material. And whether it takes combing through the internet for bits of trivia or simply daydreaming before I can ease into the actual writing, I know this is simply part of my process. Forcing myself to sit and stare at the screen does not yield good work.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I am a fan of great writing, so that includes mainstream fiction and non-fiction. Over the years, I have loved reading the works of novelists such as John Updike, Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Pat Conroy, as well as non-fiction authors Studs Terkel, Joan Didion, and David Rakoff. In the mystery genre, my influences have come primarily from the giants of the field, such as Raymond Chandler, Ross Thomas, Robert B. Parker and Dashiell Hammett as well as some local Los Angeles writers, Les Roberts, Gar Haywood, and of course, Robert Crais and Walter Mosley
What are you working on now?
I am partway through the 9th Burnside mystery which should be released in the summer. It once again hurls Burnside into the world of football, but also couples that with the murder of a local political leader. It is another classic hard-boiled detective story, complete with unexpected plot twists and compelling characters. I think that some of the best writing today is coming out of the mystery category. I love putting together a well-written, well paced novel that drops just enough clues to allow the reader to make an intelligent guess as to who is the villain — but not too many so that it makes it easy for them to figure it out. When the culprit is revealed, I want the reader to sit back and marvel at how the answer makes so much sense. I believe the best mysteries depict the villain hiding in plain sight. Getting to that point is a challenge though, but it's part of the mystery writing process and I enjoy it thoroughly.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I initially chose to go exclusive with Amazon in terms of promoting my first few Burnside novels. Amazon is the largest digital publisher and they also offer KDP Select. This has been a successful tool for me because of both the free days, as well as the Kindle Countdown. But over time, as I have written more books, I knew I needed to go wide and offer my books to a broader audience through Nook, iTunes, Kobo and Google Play.
This past February, my first Boxed Set was accepted by BookBub for a 99 cent promotion. This was a compilation of the first three novels in the Burnside series, and my thinking was if people liked the first three, they’d go on and buy the rest of the series. BookBub has a very large customer base, and the results are stunning. I sold thousands of books that week, and the Boxed Set ended up on the USA TODAY bestseller list. I was shocked at how many sales there were, but even more pleasantly surprised by how this continued over the next month. Sales have tapered off as they always do, but it was quite a thrill to see my books ranked a few slots ahead of To Kill A Mockingbird!
Do you have any advice for new authors?
While you can't ignore the old adage to write about what you know, there are limits to that approach. We only know so much! I would submit that new authors should write about those things which they feel passionate. It's important to remember that when writing a book, you will be living with the story in a very intimate way for many months — or possibly years. Having strong feelings about your subject matter will get you through those dark days when you are troubled by the self-doubt and writer's block that most writers have to endure at some point.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Shakespeare said it best: to thine own self be true. This carries over in your writing and in your life. You don’t have to be part of the crowd or do what others say you should do. We all know people who are pretending to be something they are not, maybe living out someone else’s dreams. Eventually that catches up with them. Deep down, we know what’s best for us and tapping into that inner knowledge provides a unique and serene peace In the end, we all have to live with the consequences of our decisions and our actions. Following the path that our hearts carve out for us makes the journey so much easier.
What are you reading now?
I always have three or four books going at one time and this is most likely due to my difficulty in focusing. I am presently reading a brilliant novel about Vietnamese immigrants entitled The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a very interesting memoir about surfing called Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, and a compelling family saga, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. And I often have a mystery novel in the mix; I just re-read one of my favorites by the legendary James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I have no idea! That's what makes writing fun.
What is your favorite book of all time?
That is a very tough question! I’m not sure I could narrow it down to my Top 20 favorite books. Certain books have influenced me greatly, but at various points in my life. From The Alchemist to A Clockwork Orange to Huckleberry Finn to In Cold Blood to The Prince of Tides to Tattoos On The Heart, all have been important to me because they were so unique and original and showed me a part of the world I did not know existed. But if forced to choose one, I would have to go with Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I don’t think I have ever read a book that was so brilliantly written, so strikingly original, so monumentally complex, and so undeniably life changing. Joseph Heller took the experience of war and pulled back the curtain to reveal many shocking truths. And to do this in such a humorous way was a grand achievement. I’ve read and re-read Catch-22 many times and it never fails to amaze and inspire me.