by John Dwaine McKenna
We’re pleased and proud, to talk with Macavity Award-Winning author Paul D. Marks, whose just published novel, Broken Windows, is detailed above in Mysterious Book Report No. 349, and a writer who brings some serious chops to the craft, as well as a keen eye for the foibles, follies and quirks of human nature. He’s well on his way to becoming a master wordsmith and a household name in crime fiction, Thanks so much for your time today . . . and your original thoughts and insights into the hardest ‘easy’ job in the world. Our first question is:
What do you write about?
One of my recurring themes is people out of time. I don’t mean in a sci-fi way. But “dinosaurs,” people that time has passed by one way or another and who would have been better off living in an earlier era. While Jack, the sidekick in White Heat and Broken Windows, is in some ways a modern man, he also has some very unPC attitudes that might have served him better in previous eras. I was a little concerned about him before the first book came out, but people of all leanings seem to really like him. He says things that other people think but are afraid to say. He also definitely says some offensive and unpleasant things. On the other hand, he always does the right thing, even when he’s saying the wrong thing. And, as I say, more people have told me they like him than I ever could have imagined, people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Maybe you should think about him as the protagonist in his own novel . . . But with all that, my number one goal with all of my writing is to entertain. To bring the reader on a roller coaster ride that’s thrilling and fun.
Do you read your reviews?
I read most of my reviews. Sometimes, if I’m feeling insecure, I might have my wife read them first to soften the blow if there’s a blow to be softened. Negative reviews are part of the biz, you can’t please everyone. But I do get angry when the reviews seem to have an agenda, or the people clearly haven’t read the book. And sometimes you get reviews from people who only read cozies and then give my harder boiled books bad reviews because they weren’t cozy and I have to wonder why they bothered to read them in the first place. The best way I know how to deal with negative reviews is to just keep going and keep improving and practicing my writing. You can’t please everyone. You just have to strive to do your personal best.
Does luck play into success?
I think a certain amount of luck does play into things. There’s a lot of talented people “out there” who don’t get much or any recognition. But it’s not just luck. Mostly it’s hard work, putting in the time, paying your dues – even though sometimes you feel like you’ve overpaid on those dues. I think Pedigree (if by that you mean awards, titles and things along those lines) does play a part, at least maybe in opening some doors. That said, I think I have some pretty good bonifides and I still can’t get an agent, as others I know can’t. So I don’t know what the trick is there. As far as an MFA degree, I think it might help if you’re writing literary fiction. I don’t think it matters much if you’re writing genre fiction, like mysteries, noir and thrillers as I do. I think the thing that helps most there is having lived life and experiencing many things.
What makes a character compelling?
Some people think character is wearing a particular hat or smoking a cigar, having a tick of some sort, but character is about actions and the choices the characters make. I always ask myself, what does my character want most in the world and what are they willing to do to get it? How far will they go? Their actions and reactions to those types of questions are what makes for compelling, interesting characters.
Where do you get your story ideas from?
Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. I can overhear a snatch of dialogue, read something in the news, hear something on TV. They’re truly just floating on the air. You just have to recognize them and realize you can turn them into compelling stories. For example, in Broken Windows I borrowed a little from the past – back in 1932 an actress named Peg Entwistle jumped to her death off the Hollywood sign, which inspired Susan Karubian, the first character we meet in the book. The inspiration for White Heat was both the Rodney King riots and the death of Rebecca Schaeffer, an upcoming young actress. Ideas are everywhere, you just have to pluck them from the air.
Do you have any other comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes, quotes or inspirational material you’d like to share?
They say write what you know. And I do that a lot. I write about things I’ve experienced, but we can’t have experienced everything, so do your homework. And the main thing about writing is to just do it. A lot of people want to be writers, but the ones who make it are the ones who put themselves in a chair every day and write even when they’re not inspired.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-winning mystery-thriller White Heat, which Publishers Weekly calls a “taut crime yarn,” and its sequel Broken Windows. Though set in the 1990s, both novels deal with issues that are hot and relevant today: racism and immigration, respectively. His short stories appear in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, among others, and have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Anthony, Derringer and Macavity. His story Windward won the 2018 Macavity Award for Best Short Story, and has been selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, and was also shortlisted for the 2018 Shamus Award for Best Short Story. Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. He is co-editor of the multi-award nominated anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. According to Steven Bingen, co-author of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot, Paul has the dubious distinction of being the last person to have shot a film on the fabled MGM backlot before it bit the dust to make way for condos. www.PaulDMarks.com
Links to buy Broken Windows:
Thanks again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time out to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project.