Interrogation—Maria Alexander

Who: Maria Alexander

What: Maria Alexander is a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning and Anthony Award-nominated author of both YA and adult fiction. She’s also a student of Japanese swordsmanship. She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats, a Jewish Christmas caroler, and a purse called Trog.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Congrats on your recent Bram Stoker Award! Can you tell us a little about SNOWED?

SNOWED is a YA paranormal mystery about the teen skeptic Charity Jones who discovers she should not only believe in certain Christmas myths, but she should be afraid of them.

What went into creating Charity Jones?

Charity is today’s teen. Because of her racial background, her family’s dysfunction, and her intellectual gifts, she’s got a lot to deal with. But throw in the complicated business of online life and the resulting information overload, and teens today have way more to process today than I did when I was in high school.

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Interrogation—Craig Faustus Buck

CraigFaustusBuck_smallWho: Craig Faustus Buck

What: His debut noir mystery novel, GO DOWN HARD, was published by Brash Books in 2015 and was First Runner Up for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award. His short story “Honeymoon Sweet” is currently nominated for both the Anthony and the Macavity Awards. He is chapter President of Mystery Writers of America SoCal.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

I just finished reading your debut novel, GO DOWN HARD. It focuses on two of my favorite things—L.A. and rock and roll. How did you dream this story up? Why is L.A. the right place for this story?

After years toiling in TV, I was sick of outlining (a required step in selling a script), so when I turned to crime writing I just sat down and started. I had no idea where the book was going, but I had a first paragraph (long gone), which ended with: “If there is a flaw in her beauty it’s the back of her head, which some jerk has seen fit to splatter across her million-dollar Lichtenstein.”  That seemed promising, so I figured out who “she” was and the bricks began to lay themselves. As I met new characters, they started driving the story and I just held on for the wild ride. Of course I had to go back and do a lot of shucking and jiving to make a cohesive story out of it, but I had a ball doing it. Seat-of-the-pants writing was a whole new concept for me, and I loved it, even if the book took three times as long to write as it needed to.

Of course, it had to be set in L.A. and to me, that means rock. My old school friend Robert Landau has an exhibit up at the Skirball Museum as I write this, about the last of the hand-painted rock and roll billboards of Sunset Boulevard. That was my turf. I grew up above the Sunset Strip. My grandmother went to L.A. High. I went to Fairfax, as did my mom. I formed my first band when I was 12. I ran the light show at the Whiskey a Go Go when I was in High School. The first house I ever owned was in Laurel Canyon, which is a rock hall of fame in and of itself. I haunted the Ash Grove and the Troubadour. I ushered at the world premier of Hair (and I don’t mean the movie). L.A. and rock are the soil from which I sprang, the blood in my veins. Not to mention that noir was born here. How could I NOT set GO DOWN HARD in the world of L.A. rock?

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Interrogation: Paul D. Marks

Paul_D_Marks_bio_pic -- CCWCWho: Paul D. Marks

What: Author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller WHITE HEAT. His story HOWLING AT THE MOON is short listed for both 2015’s Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story. VORTEX, a noir-thriller, is Paul’s latest release.

Where: Los Angeles

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

I just read your next novel VORTEX. I loved how the action bounced around Southern California, almost as if the region was one of the main characters. Was that your intention when you set out to write it?

Thanks for having me, Steve, and I’m glad you picked up on that. To me the location of my stories or novels are characters in and of themselves. They inform the stories, they mold the characters. Often the people are who they are not only because of their background in terms of upbringing or what they’ve done or not done, but also because of where they live now or grew up.

I have stories set all over the place, from Calexico down on the Mexican border to Morey’s Piers, New Jersey, Death Valley, Reno and even Graceland. But the majority would be in LA and Southern California. I like LA for a lot of reasons. It’s Chandler country, so you might think it’s been overused, but there’s always something new to bring to it. It also has Hollywood and Venice (LA’s #1 tourist attraction) and, of course, Disneyland. Plus I grew up here, born in Hollywood, literally. And I’m just old enough to remember LA as Chandler probably knew it from when I was a kid before the building boom and when City Hall was still the tallest building. I rode the original Angels Flight and explored Bunker Hill before they tore everything down in the name of “progress”.

LA and many parts of SoCal are like a femme fatale who seduces you with dreams and promises, then leaves you washed down some arroyo—forgotten about. That’s also what appealed to me about Venice Beach and the Salton Sea in VORTEX. Venice because at one point it was supposed to be a romantic American version of Venice, Italy; and the Salton Sea because it was billed as some waterfront desert paradise that turned into a wasteland of empty, undeveloped streets and rotting, dead fish along the shoreline. I guess the theme I was going for is showing the decay and wasted dreams and a noir sense of the main character being his own worst enemy. You couldn’t tell the same story in New York City or Boston, nothing against those places—they have their own unique attributes, but they have a different vibe than SoCal/LA.

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Interrogation: Matt Coyle

Coyle Head Shot jpeg IIWho: Matt Coyle

What: Matt Coyle has a degree in English from UC Santa Barbara. He’s taken detours into the restaurant, golf, and sports collectible businesses. His first novel, YESTERDAY’S ECHO, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, and the Ben Franklin Silver Award. NIGHT TREMORS is Matt’s second novel in the Rick Cahill crime series. Matt lives in San Diego with his Yellow Lab, Angus.

Where: San Diego

Interview conducted by email. Some questions/answers have been edited.

You set out to write the “great American novel” after college, but didn’t publish your first book until thirty years later. How did your publishing dreams and writing style change over the course of three decades? 

yesterdays-echo-225First of all, thanks for having me. I think dreams is a great choice of words because my preparation and expectations were unrealistic when I first started writing. First of all, I had to get off my rear end and consistently write. That took about twenty years to figure out. Then I thought writing was a completely solitary endeavor: You write in a cocoon without outside intervention because it’s your story. How could anyone else have anything to add to it? Once I finally had a first draft done, I thought, “Okay, time to find an agent, sign a big book deal and quit my day job forever.” Hard knocks taught me that the life of a writer is quite different than my dreams.

My writing style evolved as it had to for me to have any chance of getting published. I took novel classes at UC San Diego Extension and joined writers groups. I broke out of the cocoon and realized that readers my not be reading the story I thought I was writing. Plus, I starting writing in first person and found the voice of my protagonist, Rick Cahill. That changed everything.
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