Eli Sharpe: Enter the Mind of my Fictional Private Detective

Question: Why is Eli Sharpe, the PI featured in my debut novel Go Go Gato, fascinated by and/or obsessed with Richard Nixon, seersucker jackets, baseball, psychology, detective novels, George Dickel whiskey, guns, the Rolling Stones, his complicated relationship with his father, and lie detection?

Answer: Because I am fascinated by and/or obsessed with those things. I write for two main reasons. First reason: I love to read, and by writing, I can write the kind of stories I prefer to read, which, primarily, are detective stories. Second reason: wish fulfillment. I’m never going to be involved in a shootout or fistfight.  I’m never going to track down a missing person or say witty, off-the-cuff remarks to a femme fatale.  I’m never going to interrogate a suspect, or go on a high speed chase, or a stakeout.  I’m never going to break into a car or house, or any of the other incredibly cool stuff that happens in detective stories. I can, however, write about those things. What I can do is create a fictional world based on my own experiences and tastes, construct an interesting cast of characters to inhabit this world, and then–this is the fun part!–I can shove these characters into a dicey situation…just so I can watch what happens. The truth? The characters I create are the adult versions of imaginary friends; they’re who I “hang out” with instead of going golfing with buddies or drinking with colleagues.  And best of all? They don’t talk at me; they talk for me.  (Pretty sure Stevie Ray Vaughn said something similar about his guitar.)

Bottom line, Eli Sharpe is an amalgamation, a Frankenstein I cobbled together out of spare parts just lying around the junkyard in my brain.  From television, I constructed my detective from Atlanta Braves games circa mid-1980s, reruns of the Rockford Files,the first season of The Wire, and the Fletch movies.  From hard-boiled PI books, I borrowed elements from Lew Archer, Philip Marlowe, C.W. Sughrue, Archy McNally, and dozens of other fictional detectives. From my own life, I drew on half-remembered conversations between my father and me, fragmented images from my time in Asheville, and god-only-knows what else. But, in the end, Go Go Gato is the kind of story I would like to read, and Eli Sharpe is the type of detective that I, as a reader, would become obsessed with. Hopefully, other readers will share my obsession.  rockford_files__120417170500

 

 

 

 

 

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Salinger Documentary

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why Salinger, a documentary currently on Netflix streaming, upset me so much, and I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, it made me incredibly sad to learn the famous recluse built a brick building about two hundred yards from his house in New Hampshire, and he’d hole up there for days, sometimes weeks at a stretch, and just write, ignoring his family. I imagine his son and daughter looking out their bedroom windows and being able to see their father, but they couldn’t go talk to him; they couldn’t go visit with him unless they wanted to provoke his ire. Ditto Salinger’s wife. Now, on the one hand, I found myself envious of the man’s dedication, not to mention of the amount of free time he had to write and think and read. On the other hand, it sickened me to learn he (almost) completely ignored his family in order to write. Although I do live in my head, I still need connections with people, especially the two most important people in my life: Harry, my son, and Libby, my wife. Not only have those two made me a better person, they have also made me a better writer because I have experienced love through them. For that, I am lucky. Perhaps Salinger wasn’t so lucky.

Another thing that upset me was the man’s peculiar (I’m being kind) interest in young women and girls. Putting aside for the moment the unspeakably horrible things he witnessed during WWII, Salinger maintained a lifelong fetish for females who were not quite women but not quite girls anymore either. The film made it seem as if he wanted to live vicariously through these girls while also instructing them on how to live. This type of narcissism and self-righteousness can be found in Salinger’s later works, and yes, it is definitely present in Catcher in the Rye. 

I suppose what struck me the most about this documentary was that I, unfortunately, identified with Salinger. That instinct to hide from the world and indulge in writing and movies and books and daydreams and forget everything else is very real to me. At thirty-four years of age, I still haven’t shaken the romantic notion of the artist recluse, and it is a fantasy that I indulge in weekly, sometimes daily if I am particularly depressed or anxious. I, like Salinger, have impossibly high standards for myself and the world, and it truly bums me out when I don’t meet them; when the world–that beautifully-flawed orb I often times curse one second and marvel at the next–disappoints me, I want to escape, I want to retreat back to my favorite books and movies and TV shows and poems where there are fleeting moments of perfection, where the artist revealed something indelible about the human experience, and, not to sound adolescent, but you’re just not quite the same afterwards. Whatever else Salinger was or did or thought, he was also a guy who wrote Catcher in the Rye, a book that has more than its fair share of perfect moments. That book inspired me at a particular time in my life, made me comprehend certain things about the adult world and about myself.  But if you ask me if those perfect moments in that one book–a book I now have little patience or use for–excuse all his other transgressions, the answer is a resounding NO.. .

Salinger_Poster_embed_article

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596753/

 

 

Go Go Gato Publisher Revisions

I just completed the first round of editing/revising for Go Go Gato.  The publisher and editor notes were helpful, and I (hopefully) strengthened the narrative and the character development. I’m hoping I’ve written an engaging mystery with memorable characters, settings, and dialogue.  Put another way, my goal as a novelist was always incredibly simple and ridiculously ambitious: I strive to write the kind of books I enjoy reading.  Not to sound big-headed, but I enjoyed reading my book, which was kind of weird and sort of cool at the same time.  I actually stopped a time or two during the revision/reading process and thought, “That’s good writing. I wrote that.” I’m of the opinion that all writers have to be at least a tiny bit arrogant to believe others should spend time and money to read something they wrote, to believe what they have to say about the world, albeit a fictional one, is worthwhile.  That said, I believe my book is worthwhile.

Arrogance aside, I must confess to feeling a range of emotions, most of them brand-spanking new for me, an emotionally-suppressed introvert who tends to dwell on the negative. First, I’m feeling grateful my work will be out there in the world soon. Writing is a vocation for me, and now that I have the opportunity to do what I love, and, possibly, hopefully, earn a bit money doing it is gratifying.  Second, I feel inspired to keep writing (and reading).  Honestly, there are countless books available nowadays, and not long ago that fact would have depressed me, but now it invigorates me, motivates me to keep working, keep doing what I love to do.

Okay, I’ll stop now before I start to sound too much like the “sentimental geek” Ryan Adams sings about.

 

Advice for Writing a First Novel, Part 2

Now that you’ve not only read and applied the advice I outlined in Part 1, but you’ve also vowed to name your firstborn child after me for providing such sage-like wisdom, it’s time to do the hardest part of writing: apply ass to chair and write. But because I teach for a living, I will try to be more specific. Hope the bullet list below is helpful.

WHILE WRITING THE NOVEL

  • Stick to your writing routine…no matter what.  In Part 1, I suggested that every first-time novelist should create a writing schedule, a set time and place where and when he or she writes every single day. The trick to this is sticking with it…because there will be days when the words come easily and days when they don’t. Either way, keep writing. And don’t take days off to go fish. Or to the movies. This is a job, so treat it as such.
  • Eliminate distractions. By this I mean do not listen to music, watch TV, or have any electronic device in the room while you write. At most, have your laptop and your beverage of choice. (I’d advice against alcohol; too distracting). I also recommend getting rid of the Internet on the computer you write on; this will limit the temptation to check Facebook or Twitter.  If you prefer to write your stories out by pen, that’s cool, but make sure you store your manuscript in a safe place. For anyone out there who likes to work in a coffee shop or other public location, I suggest you try my solitary approach and see how much more efficiently you write.
  • Have your detailed plot summary and character bios handy. If you want, you can condense these documents down even further to make it easy to keep track of scenes and basic character information. Try putting the condensed character bios on index cards and taping them above your work station. Ditto the scene by scene plot outline. Again, this level of organization is incredibly helpful, and it pacifies my OCD.
  • When not writing, read! More specifically, you should read novels in the genre you write. This will provide you with an idea of what’s being published, and it will serve as inspiration. And remember: good writers borrow; great writers steal. My advice: dare to be great.
  • Carry a journal with you wherever you go.  Throughout your work day, you will undoubtedly think about your novel, so keep the journal handy to record any ideas. This might include images, descriptions, plot points, settings, etc.

Below are links to excellent websites for mystery writers. In them you will find information on writing, revising, editing, marketing, and promoting your novel.  Check them out.

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com

http://bobandjackswritingblog.com/jack-remick-fiction-nonfiction/the-weekend-novelist-writes-a-mystery/

http://margotkinberg.wordpress.com

http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com

Advice for Writing a First Novel, Part 1

If time travel was possible, I would go back to 1999 and give my younger self some advice on how to go about the business of writing a novel. And, time permitting, I might tell him to never again dye his hair blonde and wear sport coats with shoulder pads. But that’s a post for another time.

Being that I’m older now and fanatical about organization, I’ve learned that all battles (and writing is a battle, albeit a fun one) are won or lost before they are ever fought.  With that in mind, this is the first in a series of three posts about penning a first novel. Learn from my many, many, many, many mistakes.

BEFORE WRITING A NOVEL

  • Make a detailed plot outlineI write a scene by scene summary of the plot on over-sized artist sketch paper, labeling each scene by number from beginning to end. Handwritten, these summaries are no more than five or six sentences in length.
  • Write detailed character bios. Include a physical description as well as some backstory on every character you plan to use in the novel.  Don’t forget to include full names, ages, and any memorable traits. For you mystery writers like me, don’t forget MMO (motive, means, opportunity).  Remember you want a lot of detail on these characters, especially the protagonists and antagonists.
  • Designate a specific time to write and a specific place…everyday! For me, this was in my tiny home office from 2pm to 4pm, no exceptions. I stripped the walls of said office of everything but my detailed plot outline and character bios, and I removed the Internet and all games from my laptop to really focus on writing. And of course: no cell phones, music, or TV. Humans aren’t cut out for multi-tasking, despite the rumors.
  • Write a contract for  yourself.  Perhaps this seems extreme, but I found it necessary to actually write down my goal, which was to complete a rough draft of my novel by a specific date. In addition, I wrote down vows, which were actions I swore I would take to reach my goal. Once I wrote these goals and vows down, I printed out several copies and posted them in my home office, my work office, my refrigerator, and half a dozen other places I would see them everyday. Call it an accountability thing.  (See the picture below for what this contract looked like.)

    Discipline trumps talen.

    Discipline trumps talent.