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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A day in London – what can be seen:

Last week we had a day ‘out’. My husband and I decided to see some things we had been wanting to see for a while plus we had booked tickets to the theatre AND to a concert.

So the two things we had wanted to see were situated very close together near Goodge Street Tube Station. Just opposite is Heal’s. The famous store. That specialises in design and craft work. As it was hosting a craft market of modern craft workers and I wanted to go and see just what was on offer and also what the prices were.  This proved to be very instructive as someone was selling hand-knitted hats with a pompom – in a bag – at £75 each! I couldn’t believe this and immediately decided I needed to add some pompoms onto the hats I knit for charity as clearly they will be more worthwhile – but £75 of more worthwhile I am not sure….

Just round the corner from there is the Building Centre- http://www.buildingcentre.co.uk/. Where they had an 3D model of London showing the new tube lines and also posters and other interesting items discussing how London was being developed and where the new ‘towns’ within London were to be built.

Whilst interesting as both these exhibitions were, neither took too long to visit so there was plenty of time to go to an afternoon performance at the theatre. At the Hampstead Theatre was a play called Hello Goodbye. Now this was really a ‘duvet day’ play – a RomCom with amusing and quite sharp wit.

The play by Peter Souter (his first) and directed by Tamara Harvey starred Shaun Evans and Miranda Raison with Bathsheba Piepe playing in the second half plus a substitute for Luke Neal. Shaun will be familiar to many TV watchers of crime drama as the Young Morse  in the series where we get the prequels to Morse the grizzled detective – and plays him  very well too. In fact it was somewhat surprising when he took off his shirt to see just how toned his muscles were and that he actually had a six-pack considering how weedy he looked in his baggy clothes! But I guess all actors needed to show some muscle these days. So Shaun did very well on stage and played the geek well. His co-star Miranda did her very best with the script but it did, initially, leave her looking very unlikeable and shrill. She did better as the play progressed, but overall, in our theatre group discussion, we felt that the playwright had not done a great job with her lines. And we didn’t give the play more than 3 stars. We also were not that impressed with the direction and found that seeing it on a large apron stage left a number of people unable to see vital parts of the stage, including one member of our group who was behind a pillar and had to move her seat.

So that was the afternoon spent reasonably agreeably but the play did leave us somewhat unsettled.

We found the evening entertainment much more satisfying.

We went to the church of St Andrew, Holborn for a concert (http://standrewholborn.org.uk/).

St Andrew Holborn has been a site of worship for at least 1000 years but when the Crypt was excavated in 2001 Roman remains were found so the site could have been in use for much longer still. It is situated between the City and the West End, and St Andrew’s first appears in written records in AD 951 as a church on top of the hill above the river Fleet. The river Fleet being the river most associated with the press of course ie Fleet Street. But is now very hidden indeed. The Fleet flows from Hampstead Heath starting with 2 springs on either side of Parliament Hill going down to the Thames, joining it at Blackfriars Bridge. In Roman times it had an estuary at Blackfriars and even a tide mill and the word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for estuary. Now it is a sewer! The Hampstead and Highgate Ponds come from the Fleet and the river flows down through what is now called Kings Cross but was originally Battle Bridge where Queen Boudicca fought the Romans in 60AD. There is of course a legend hat says Boudicca is buried under Kings Cross station – platform 10 to be precise. You can trace an amount of the old river’s course through the wells it fed, of which some still remain as wall remnants eg the Chalybeate Well in Hampstead. The Fleet also provided the water for the Bagnigge Wells spa of 1760 which was located on Kings Cross Road.  In Farringdon Lane you can see another well through a window which used to belong to St Mary’s Nunnery. If you stand in front of the Coach and Horses pub on Ray Street  you can sometimes hear the river through a grating as it flows beneath. For more on London’s Lost Rivers do take a look at the book by Paul Talling.

If you want to read more about the River Fleet as a river rather than a sewer  as it now is and as Micelle Obama saw it, then look at the page http://lndn.blogspot.co.uk/2005_08_01_lndn_archive.html where Diamond Geezer ( a Cockner rhyming slang name) gives a really detailed history and description of the river from which I have snipped the following map of the river’s route.

fleet

The concert was given by the Londinium choir (http://www.londinium-voices.org.uk/) and compromised ne short work and then the Rachmaninoff Vespers (All-Night Vigil) performed in the ancient Church Slavonic chant. It was Rachmaninoff’s last major work before leaving Russia and also represents both the final flowering and greatest achievement of the Russian Orthodox (Church) tradition before its suppression after the October Revolution. Rachmaninoff’s work was preceded by Knut Nystedt’s haunting O Crux, performed in memory of its composer whose hundredth birthday would have fallen in 2015 had he lived.

This performance we gave 5 stars. Luckily we didn’t have to sit all through the night for the Vespers as we were just given the movements 1-15 although it could have taken 3-4 hours if sang in its entirety.

Note that the Londonium choir was some 40 people singing in harmonies without instrument and was truly heavenly.

 

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Moth: still not turning! War seems inevitable.

Continue reading “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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