Monday, October 29, 2012

Opinion & Blatant Promotion — Creating The San Francisco Series And Other Windmill Tilting

The books for which I’m best known, or to put it another way, the least unknown, are those in the Deets Shanahan series.  The lead character in the ten books that currently comprise the series is a septuagenarian, semi-retired private detective in Indianapolis.  He has a lovely, funny, tough girlfriend, two aging animals and a couple of good friends.  There are other regulars as well. 

I like these people.  And while I may not be done with their antics, writers, like everyone else, yearn after awhile for a little variety in the company we keep or imagine.  I’ve written a couple of stand-alone novels and a few years ago I began a new series set in San Francisco where I’ve lived 16 years this time around.  Unbeknownst to me, the new series began with a standalone novella called Mascara, which introduced a very private eye named Noah Lang and his accidental and originally unwanted friend, a multi-talented, gender-shifting immigrant called Thanh.  Because it was novella length and therefore deemed unmarketable by my agent at the time, the book sat in my computer as both a story and a screenplay.  It did so quietly and no doubt, like a fine wine, aged appropriately. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway.)

When I approached the idea of a new series, I picked the book up again and decided to use this as an inspiration for a full-length book in a new series using those characters. The only change I made was to add a female private eye to the crew.  This was premeditated act, I admit.  I did so for three reasons.  One, I had discovered with the Shanahan series that many of the readers liked Shanahan’s girlfriend, Maureen, so well that there were subtle suggestions I should knock off the old man and set her up as the main character.  That indicated to me that I might be capable of writing a believable female character.  Two, I introduced a female private eye because it was clear that more than half the mystery readers in this world are women. Third, I often write books that have two plots going at the same time.  Having a woman P.I. would give me another angle and greater creative latitude.

Because Noah was already established as unambitious, willing to take short cuts and operating on, oddly enough, his intuition, it seemed like I needed a more professional, principled and logical counterpoint.  Carly Paladino was born.  Cool, cautious and professional, she struck out on her own having reached a glass ceiling at a prestigious security firm.  Both are strongly independent characters. They bring out the best and worst in each other.

Carly Paladino ends up at this down-and-out investigation firm because Noah needed help with the rent.  And she needed an inexpensive office for her start-up business.  It’s a partnership made in a kind of humorous purgatory.

Severn House published the first two in the new series — Death in Pacific Heights and Death in North Beach, both to generally very positive reviews. But these weren’t the books loyal Shanahan readers and underfunded libraries wanted.  Severn House declined a third. The thing is I wanted to see the series continue.  My novella, Mascara, was renamed Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin and published as a prequel novella to the series featuring Noah and Thanh.  I published it myself. 

Penguin picked up the second novella, Death in the Haight, (now available in all e-book formats) as part of their re-launch of Dutton’s Guilt-Edged mysteries.  It focused on a more hard-boiled Noah Lang mystery — prostitutes, rogue cops and baseball.  Much of it takes place at AT&T Park during a Giants-Dodgers game.  I’m also polishing a novella with Carly as the lead.  Death on the Great Highway has to do with big oil, private armies and the murder of a lieutenant governor. I tilt at windmills, often ones that I build myself.

Meanwhile, I have written the first draft of my memoirs.  I can hear you now. What? You are writing your memoirs?  How pretentious can you get?  It’s tentatively titled Albion and New Augusta, Confessions of a Midlist Writer.  And of course I’m exaggerating a little.  I may be somewhat lower than “Midlist.”  No revelations of celebrity secrets.  I know no celebrities.  Nothing of historic importance.  Just summing things up.  I’ll be putting excerpts on this blog from time to time.

If you want to check out the new series — or the Shanahans, for that matter — please go here.  Many are available in trade paperback and on various forms of e-book.  The newest, Death in the Haight, though not on paper, can be found in nearly every existing e-book format for $2.99.

One semi-final note.  I have to admit that I think that Asphalt Moon is one of my better books.  But I was surprised to learn that a used “big print” copy was listed on Amazon for $9,999.00.  Look out, Dickens. Obviously a misprint, but I’d be happy to sell you a couple of copies for half of that.

On the final note, if you’d like to receive these posts automatically (usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday), they can be sent to you automatically by putting your email address in the box on the right, labeled “Follow By Email.” Your address will not be published or used for anything else.

1 comment:

Fran Johns said...

Did we know that Penguin picked up "Death in the Haight"? I am forwarding this blog to your fans in the Ladies Society for the Preservation & Encouragement of Overwrought & Underread Book Lovers! (Sorry. Book Group would have sufficed here.) And we are hanging on to our first edition "Asphalt Moon," though we might possibly let it go for $8,000 and change.