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Enter the PI and the Dancing Shoes

Here Robert Downs talks about how he writes his books on Casey Holden.

Graceful immortality by Robert Downs is reviewed here in: “Grace and Dancing: Murder and TV “on my Dec 21st 2014 blog post.

  1. Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?

I’m a big fan of hard-boiled mysteries, and I like to think of myself as the consummate underdog. I’ve never been the smartest kid, or the fastest, or the most athletic, even in my own neighborhood, but when it comes to persistence or perseverance, “giving up” is a phrase that’s never been in my vocabulary.

What I wanted was a character who wouldn’t give up, and who was more or less my alter-ego. Needless to say, I probably wrote him a little too well, because he pisses nearly everyone off, except me. And that’s because while Casey Holden may have his flaws, he has an inner-strength that’s pretty impressive.

Writing starts with character, and since I like to think of myself as unique, I tried to create a unique character. Near as I can tell, I’ve succeeded, because I haven’t read anything quite like him. That may mean he and I end up taking a few punches, but we’ve prepared ourselves well in advance for the possible consequences.

  1. How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?

I’m going to turn to a favorite writer cliché, but it applies here and often elsewhere as well: Every story is different. Most of the time a story, or an idea, will germinate in my mind over a period of time (which often differs for each story). The seed grows, then it becomes an itch, and then I’m forced to write about it, as I try to make sense of it. I started the Casey Holden, Private Investigator series around 2004, and the first novel in the series was published in 2011. So, hopefully, that gives you some idea. But I like to think I’m a bit smarter about the writing process now, and I wrote plenty of other manuscripts during that period of time. One will come out later this year, and a few more I’m either shopping around now, or will be in the next year or so.

I use scraps of notebook paper, blank pieces of paper, my phone, and voice recorders. I never know when an idea will hit me, and I need to be ready to go at any time.

  1. How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?

I take John Grisham’s approach to research: I do as little as possible. I want to do enough to create a believable story, but I also hate breaking up the writing process to do research. But I also love to learn random tidbits of information, so I’m always reading and observing. I’m filled with all kinds of useless information, and I like to sprinkle these random bits around whenever the story warrants it.

I did very little research. I knew I needed an awesome car, but I had no idea which one I was going to use. I believe I was standing in a Barnes & Noble looking through some book on automobiles, and I saw the Dodge Viper SRT-10, and I said, “That’s Casey’s car.” There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind. But as far as research on detectives and PIs, all I can say is I read a lot, and I watch plenty of TV.

  1. What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?

Other books. Those are my main resource, along with TV, Microsoft Word, the Internet, a good dictionary, a thesaurus, and my own imagination, of course. For the longest time, I never would have said I had an active imagination, but I guess it was there all along, and all it needed was the right spark.

  1. How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?

I haven’t spoken to the police directly. I know nothing beats that firsthand knowledge, but there’s plenty I can find out on the Internet, and I have heard them speak at writer’s groups and whatnot. Again, I listen, file that knowledge away, and regurgitate it when the story warrants it.

  1. How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?

My stack of rejection letters is a mountain that keeps getting higher and higher. Did I mention I’m persistent? I’ve never actually calculated the exact figure, because it would depress me, but if I’m not pushing four figures yet, I’m probably not trying hard enough. It won’t be long before I’ve crossed that barrier if I haven’t already. I’ve been rejected for over a decade, and I plan to be rejected quite a bit more. Rejection doesn’t bother me. It feeds my underdog story. What I hate, though, is hearing nothing. I know how to deal with success, and I know how to deal with failure, but I haven’t yet figured out how to deal with hearing crickets.

  1. Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?

No, I decided long ago that I didn’t want to go the self-publishing route, and despite that hard and fast rule, I nearly gave in and self-published. But I’m glad I didn’t…for me. I add the last part, because it was a personal decision on my part. I know plenty of people have had success going the self-publishing route, but I wanted validation, and I wanted a publisher’s support and backing, because I knew I didn’t know everything the first go round, and there’s plenty of stuff I’m still figuring out. But writing is a process, and so is the marketing of a novel, and I’m always learning something new.

  1. Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?

It really depends on the author, and the author’s situation. I don’t think you can say, “Yes, thou shalt go the self-publishing route; and you there, you shalt try your hand at traditional publishing.” The self-publishing approach has worked for some to build an audience, and the traditional approach has worked for others. But there are plenty of self-published writers that readers have never heard of, and there are plenty of traditional writers who have been cut loose by their publishers. There are no hard and fast rules. That can be scary, but it can also be freeing.

Whatever an author decides to do, he or she needs to go into it with realistic expectations in the marketing arena, and realize that it may be years or decades, if ever, before a writer is truly discovered by the reading public. If a writer does it for himself, and then the reader, and doesn’t expect to get rich anytime soon, then I don’t think he has anything to worry about. But if he thinks the wine, women, and song will flow freely, along with the royalty checks, odds are he’s going to be disappointed.

  1. Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?

Not exactly. There’s a term: starving artist. If most artists are starving, my dad said, “I’d be dead.” And he’s probably not too far from the truth. But lucky for me, I have a day job that I thoroughly enjoy, and so I write on nights and weekends, and the occasional morning when the opportunity and the muse present itself.

I’ve discovered days that begin with writing are better than days that don’t, but I also figured out pretty quickly that 4:30 or so comes pretty early in the morning, and I can’t do that all the time, and still keep my sanity.

If the sufficient income scenario ever does happen, that’d be awesome, but I won’t hold my breath.

  1. What was the funniest or strangest thing to happen when you were writing or on a book tour?

I don’t have any really good stories. I wish I did. I guess I save those for my writing. But I will say that if I can surprise myself during the writing process, which I have done on more than one occasion, I’d like to believe I can surprise the reader as well.

Website: http://www.RobertDowns.net

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/RobertDownsBooks
I find it very interesting that all the authors so far interviewed say two things:

1. It was very difficult to get published and it took many rejections before they were but  they never gave up; and

2. It is very difficult indeed to make a living as writer. good job i don’t need to be paid to write my blog – i have sufficient income from job and pension!

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Moth: still not turning! War seems inevitable.

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Some thoughts on how to read:

Below you will find some ideas from me and also some I have ‘borrowed’ from other sites. All mistakes are mine!bookpile.jpg

  1. Start by looking at some recommendation sites and work out which ones are closest to your interest. Some good ones are: For Books Sake which specialises in women authors; opening the book.com/which book; bookreporter.com send a regular email with reviews and details from author events such as talks they go to. US oriented but…
  2. Join GoodReads and then look further at any sites they recommend. In GoodReads you will find a large number of sub-groups which are chatty or specialise in particular genre. You can find friends to discuss books with and also lots of book reviews. Some groups pair you up with a buddy to read a set book with over a month or two and then you can swap ideas.
  3. If you are confident you can read fairly fast and can write a review of each book you read – then join NetGalley as a reviewer. You will be given free books – as document downloads – some of which as proof copies and thus will have spelling/grammar or formatting mistakes. Ignore all of these and concentrate on the story, style and general quality of the writing in the book. They have some information about how to review a book well also. If you can manage to write good reviews – not necessarily praising the book, but explaining and justifying your comments, and are prepared to post onto Amazon and GoodReads, then you may be auto authorised by some publishers, which means you will always obtain their books.  Note: you will not always be given the book you ask for. Check out what the publisher says they want from a reviewer and see how your bio agrees with it.
  4. Build a reputation as a reviewer, if you want to read free books. Start a WordPress blog that has lots of book reviews on it. Look at other WordPress sites for book reviews and how they do it and what they are reading. You  will find lots of people writing about books on WordPress and Tumblr so ensure you look through them as you will find lots of ideas for books for you to read also.
  5. Try and have a mix of genres when you are reading and try and read some non-fiction as well as fiction (or vice versa of course). Stretch yourself into genres you wouldn’t have first thought of – keep that mind active! You may surprise yourself.
  6. Don’t force yourself to finish every book you start. Read around 40-50 pages or 1/3 of the book. If you still don’t like it. Put it aside – delete it from your electronic book store but try and think wny you didn’t like it – you an build up a review of pet hates in books that way!
  7. Join a book club. Physical or Virtual – or more than one. You may hate what people have chosen, but you will be forced to try new things.
  8. Look at the Bibliotherapist at the School of Life where you can get recommendations for reading for ‘what ails you’.
  9. Follow authors. Read their blogs and comments.
  10. Finally. Ensure that you are warm, comfortable, and have your favourite tea/ coffee and biscuits/cake near at hand. Get your cat to sit on your lap and start…

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Ophelia and her wet hair in San Francisco

Book Review: [For NetGalley and Brash Books]

Poor Poor  Ophelia  by Carolyn Weston

A Summary:

“Traditionalist veteran cop Lt. Mike Stone is partnered with Inspector Steve Keller, a young, inexperienced college-educated go-getter in the homicide division of the San Francisco Police Department. The two enjoy a bantering relationship while they hunt down the bad guys..”

Except that this isn’t a summary of the book but of the TV series that was created from the book!

First aired in 1972.  Yes 1972.

This another book that has been taken and re-issued by Brash as a digital book, and yet despite it having been written some 40+ years ago has stayed the test of time and you wouldn’t necessarily have realised just how old it was until you looked up the author’s bio.

You might remember the somewhat tinny theme song if you heard it (and are old enough of course!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgPZ81xA_Ao to listen to it and then do look at the actors too… you must surely recognise that rather pitted and jowly face of Karl Malden and the young Michael Douglas.

Just look at that hair! streets san fran

It ran until 1977, was filmed actually in San Francisco (that makes a change but close to Hollywood of course), there was even a TV movie made, but no episode covered the storyline of Poor Poor Ophelia that I can work out. *

So in this book story there is a lawyer who gets reluctantly involved with the police investigation of a drowned girl to whom he gave a laminated business card, which she was found clutching. It was a very suspicious death as the pathologist Deacon remarked – ‘Deacon was famous for preliminary reports full of what he called ‘details’, and the card being one of these famous details.

The girl lived in a bedsit with a very nosy landlord -‘It’s a crime or something to keep an eye on your property?’ – perhaps a voyeur? And yet the landlord didn’t ask for any proof of identity when a man claiming to be the dead girl’s uncle – a man he had never seen before – came and collected her post after her disappearance – more than once.

The cop looking for her murderer was

‘Depressed by the idea of another air-tight compartment in a society hellbent in separating itself into rival camps…tribalism’

when looking at her set of apartments for singles only.

I liked this book a lot and will give 3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

*

Correction:

I have been told  by Brash Books that The book *was* filmed as the pilot episode of STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. Robert Wagner played the attorney!

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube. Here’s the link to the pilot episode.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O91oKitZ9Q

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Mariners, Auld Beds and John Molloy

1. My first book Steady as she Goes is a nautical memoir written about four years deck Apprenticeship from 1957-1961 with  Shipping Co named Irish Shipping Ltd. Now this book has sold thousands in paperback all over the world and still sells, but I put in on Kindle Amazon last May and it has taken off and is selling very well.
The reason I wrote tis book is of course because its a true story. Now my recent book The Atlas Murders has a strong nautical theme and as such I called on my sea going experience as a master mariner and sea going experience.
My recent book which is going out free tomorrow 15th Dec -19th Dec. An auld Bed in Havana is a romance and thriller with a part set on a yacht in the Caribbean.
2. I think about a topic for maybe months and when I decide to write about it I take notes from relevant books and papers and first hand experience as I like to visit a place before I write about it, and the people there.
3. When I start writing I keep researching and could leave the story for days while I walk and think how to proceed with a particular topic or character, I seldom change a plot or character’s action once I have written it.
3. The sources I use are from the hundreds of books I’ve read and past experiences and last but not often the internet. I jot down lines from old books and special Authors I like eg. Nevil Shute, Alastair Mc Clean, Denis Wheatley, Nicholas Monsarrat, I could go on and on but I keep notes and special quotes and use them in different sentences and meanings than the original, I suppose it’s plagiarism of sorts.
4. I would never go directly to the police for information or help as I’d prefer to conjure up my own plots and twists, I would try to make sure I gave the police their due respect in any way I would involve them.
5. I published my first book and had it refused a number of times, I now have my own publishing Co. Reginald Press and do my own publishing now. I would recommend self publishing or getting in touch with a small publisher like me who would help with editing and publish at a very nominal fee, distributing would be a major part that a new author would have to consider and explore.
6. I do not earn enough money from published work and as such it is only a hobby, if it happened some book took off and made some real money it would be a welcome bonus, all our dreams?
7. I would advise aspiring writers to follow their dreams as we all have some and life would be very dull without them. Try to get published without having to outlay too much cash and work hard at promoting your work. No one knows where the next big block buster can come from so all young people keep trying.

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