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Archive for October 5th, 2017

Author Mark S. Bacon 5052 - smlrMark S. Bacon began his career as a southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades.

After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing when he became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the freeway from Disneyland, and later for a Los Angeles advertising agency.

Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including Do-It-yourself Direct Marketing, printed in four languages and three editions, named best business book of the year by Library Journal, and selected by the Book of the Month Club and two other book clubs.  His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, Denver Post, and many other publications.  Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Desert Kill Switch is the second book in the Nostalgia City mystery series that began with Death in Nostalgia City, an award winner at the 2015 San Francisco Book Festival.

Bacon is the author of flash fiction mystery books including, Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words.  He  taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University – Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of Nevada – Reno.  He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Desert Kill Switch. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A:  On an empty desert road, stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming finds a bullet-riddled body next to a mint-condition 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies: no car, no body.  Does the answer lie in Nostalgia City where Lyle works? The Arizona retro theme park re-creates—in every detail—an entire small town from the early 1970s.  It’s complete with period cars, clothes, music, hairstyles, food, shops, fads, restaurants—the works.

Lyle swapped his job as a Phoenix homicide detective for a cab in Nostalgia City when the anxieties and disappointments of police work nearly pushed him over the edge.

Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Nevada on park business when she gets mixed up with a sleazy Las Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” and GPS trackers in cars he sells—mainly to low-income buyers.  Miss a payment—sometimes by as little as a few days—and your car is dead.  Maybe you are, too.

Front cover - Full Cover DKS v3 (1)When Kate’s accused of murder in Reno, Lyle arrives to help his blonde, not-quite-girlfriend and they plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives.  Kate and Lyle hit one dead end after another as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and help find the missing corpse.

What compelled me to create Nostalgia City goes back to one of my early jobs as a writer.  I’ve always been a mystery fan and when I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm I thought a theme park would be a great setting for a murder mystery—especially at night.  While working at Knott’s I saw, from  behind the scenes, what it takes to make a large theme park work—and what could happen if things went wrong. Scary.

Q: What do you think makes a good mystery?  Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: The answer to the first question depends on who you ask.  Raymond Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe, thought that many British mysteries, such as those that take place at a manor  house in the country, lack interest.  You have to read to the end of a cozy mystery, he said, to find anything exciting.

I don’t completely agree, but here’s my take on mysteries. I love to read novels filled with a multiplicity of clues and puzzles to solve—stories that appeal to the head.  But I appreciate mysteries that move quickly, are filled with suspenseful action and keep you guessing about the safety of the protagonist—thus appealing to the heart.  To me, a good mystery must appeal to both the head and the heart.  That’s what I try to do with my novels.

That’s an outline view.  The guts of a good mystery must include believable characters—I prefer sympathetic protagonists—and a challenging story.  Add to that realistic, entertaining dialog.  Entertainment is a critical element, but it’s one of those eye-of-the-beholder concepts.  Some people get bored reading interviews with suspect after supect, others want the detective to move ahead ploddingly, examining every clue and every witness with a critical eye.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A:  I plot my books piece by piece and don’t start writing until I have many pages of notes including a plot outline and summary of each character’s personality, manner of speaking and goals in the story.  I know some writers just start somewhere and say their characters move the story along as they go.  My characters move the story along because I tell  them what they’re going to do ahead of time.

That said, many of what I think are the best plot twists or complications occur to me as I’m in the middle of writing.  If so, things change.  I may have to back up and rewrite, add a new character or whatever is necessary.  But I have the main story arch, and lots of details, written before I start chapter one.

This is the way I construct a complex mystery (or two) and have all the pieces fit together logically.  I think many readers analyze the plot along with my protagonists.  I want to play fair with them and not bring in some murderer or major clue toward the end, without giving clues or foreshadowing earlier.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A:  As I mentioned, I do various types of character profiles before I begin.  I did much more for my two protagonists when I wrote the first book.  Kate Sorensen, for example, is a combination of several people I’ve known.  She’s a former college basketball star, a six-foot-two-and-a-half- inch tall USC grad.  She’s also a corporate vice president of public relations.  My youngest daughter played college basketball for four years. She excelled at the game, played with passion and led her team to many last-second victories.  But she was a point guard and nearly a head shorter than Kate.  Some of Kate’s abilities to deal with pressure comes from my experience watching my daughter.  A little insight on being a six-foot-plus woman comes from listening to her teammates.

Some of the executive women I’ve worked with contributed to Kate’s personality.  Like Kate, they had to be the best at what they did in order to succeed in male-dominated fields.   Kate’s height poses another challenge, both personally and professionally and I explore that in this second book in the series, taking inspiration from a combination of sources.

I spent even more time on my other protagonist, Lyle Deming.  Anxious is his default setting.  He left the police department under a cloud of accusations of mental illness.  Actually, he’s not crazy, even though he talks to himself aloud and wears a rubber band on his wrist for stress.  I did lots research into anxiety-related disorders as I was creating Lyle.  I combined that with other experience early from in my career covering the police beat as a newspaper reporter.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: You can’t tell much about the villain in a mystery without giving away the secret.  Let’s pick Al Busick as my example.  He’s an antagonist, but not really the main bad guy in the story.   He’s devious, self-centered and lacking in business ethics.  But he’s also a self-made man who started at the bottom in the car business and worked his way up.  I explore his personality not only through his actions and words, but in how others describe him.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: I designed the point of view structure I use in each book with suspense and reader interest in mind.  Lyle and Kate are each POV characters and I alternate them. So in one chapter Lyle may be getting into trouble or about to uncover an important  clue, then I switch to a Kate chapter.  The reader has to wait to find out what happened to Lyle.  My chapters are also short, so the story moves apace.  My first book, Death in Nostalgia City, had 74 chapters in 300 pages.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Nostalgia City is a 1970s town.  Everything from the look of a J.J. Newberry store to the sound of a Linda Ronstadt rock song blaring out of a record store is designed to impart a retro feel.  The characters communicate without the use of cell phones—unheard of in the ’70s.  The cars cruising the streets include Oldsmobiles and Plymouths, marques that ended decades ago.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A:  The value of the past, the role it should play in the present and present-moment living are recurring themes.  The concept of nostalgia, while the main attraction for the Arizona theme park, can be a burden.  I will continue to examine this as the series progresses.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: Of course editing can destroy creativity, but most professional editing is not designed to gut a story but to make it better.  Every good writer craves editing.  Every good writer can learn from editors.  I learn every time my work is edited.

In every job I’ve had, I worked with editors, whether they were called city editors, creative directors, or something else.  Writers need editors.  Period.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A:  The same things that make a successful novel make a successful novelist: characterization, plot and setting.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: At first I thought this sounded screwy.  Seems to characterize the occupation as a life sentence. I suppose the homework could be the constant revision of a piece of writing until you’re absolutely satisfied it’s the best.  Or it could be homework when you read for pleasure but actually analyze the writing to see what you can learn from it.  Maybe there’s something to this.  But writing is about words, about passion for words and for communicating.  Could you turn it off?  Possibly, but why would you do that?

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A:  I’ve read a lot of books on how to organize and write a novel.  Many are useful, particularly The Successful Novelist by mystery writer David Morrell.  The best book I’ve read on writing, one that shows simple yet effective techniques for telling a story, is The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William E. Blundell.

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A:  If you want to be a writer, you must be a reader.

 

 

 

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