Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: craft of writing

Potentially intrusive—and/or boring—questions from Anastasia Pollack in her blog Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers (Abridged)


One of the mandatories when you publish a book is getting mentioned on book-related websites. 

You can hire Internet publicists who schedule you on “blog tours.”  A tour is simply a collection of “posts” on different websites.  The options for these posts usually include an interview, a summary of your book, an excerpt of your book or, in some cases, a column or article you write about your genre, your book or both.  My preference is the latter, but in many cases you don’t have a choice and must succumb to an interview.

When this new book came out recently I was eager to gain exposure for it. One of the ways you do that is take a ‘blog tour.”

Usually these blog tour interviews consist of a series of stock questions you are to answer.  You receive a list of questions and you type up your answers.  There are no follow-up questions based on your answers because the whole process is prepackaged. And depending on the website and how you got booked there, the questions even may not be focused on your book type.  The questions often sound as if they are directed at someone who has just published his or her first book. 

Such interviews can be a challenge for the writer.  You want to sound spontaneous and conversational even though you’re really not interacting with an interviewer.  You’re just answering a list of stock questions. Like taking an exam in school. 

With this in mind, here is an abridged sample “interview” from a website published by Anastasia Pollack. 

Anastasia: When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
Mark S. Bacon: Relatively recently. I’ve been a writer all my life: newspaper reporter, copywriter, business writer. I wrote several business books some years ago but had always been a mystery fan.  So about six years ago I started writing and publishing mystery flash fiction stories then moved on to mystery novels.

Anastasia: How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
Mark S. Bacon: You’re probably talking about “my new, first book.”  That was years ago, but let’s go farther back. I sold my first magazine article, to a national men’s adventure magazine, when I was 16.  Some years later I sold my first book, on business writing, by writing query letters to three big New York publishers. Selling a novel is a different animal. That took years.

Anastasia: Where do you write?
MSB: In my home office with my golden retriever at my feet and a concrete crow statue looking over my shoulder. (It could be a raven.)

Anastasia: Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
MSB: Although I learned to write in a noisy newsroom, I’ve become spoiled at my home office. Quiet is best. However, I sometimes listen to mood music, depending on what I’m writing. For one chapter of the book I just finished, I listened to Ravi Shankar. Does that give you a clue to the story?

Anastasia: Describe your process for naming one of your lead characters.
MSB: How many people do you know named Lyle? It’s a retro name to go with my retro setting. Also, his initials are LSD. I was going to use that in the plot of my first Nostalgia City mystery but never worked it in.

Anastasia: If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
MSB: You could pick any Lew Archer novel by Ross Macdonald. He was the master of language and characters, not to mention atmosphere.  Raymond Chandler was a pretty good PI writer, too.

Anastasia: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
MSB: We’re talking books, not politics here, right?  I’d say people who ask for free copies of my books.  People think authors get unlimited free copies of their books.  Not true.  We have to buy them from the publisher.  Yes, some publishers give authors free copies when the title comes out.  Back when I was writing for John Wiley & Sons, I received 20 hardback copies of each new book.  My new (mystery) publisher sends me one trade paperback.  Sign of the times?

Anastasia: What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
MSB: One of my first jobs out of college was at a small, neighborhood newspaper in Los Angeles.   My primary duty was to rewrite stories out of the LA Times. I quit after a week. 

Anastasia: You’re stranded on a deserted South Seas island. What are your three must-haves?
MSB: An Adirondack chair, plenty of books, and a lifetime supply of Krispy Kremes.


Courting Inspiration


By Wendy Tyson

It was cold the morning I wrote this. Three degrees according to the deck thermometer. Of course, in Vermont there is a saying (to be fair I think it’s a saying everywhere winters are cruel) that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Nevertheless, I eyed our snowshoes with suspicion. I’d rather be writing by the fire than traipsing out in the woods, but traipsing we would go. Hopefully by then it would be closer to ten.

We’d promised my fourteen-year-olds and one very large Labrador we’d go hiking. The forest can be a magical place, and watching the twins get lost with their canine companion in the white-coated outdoors reminds me that they’re caught between childhood and manhood. For them, Inspiration exists in the icy inclines, snow-covered clearings, and giant, uprooted trees. For a while they can forget the pressures of high school and pretend—or just be.

While I cherish the family time, I also needed to get out of my head. After several tight deadlines and three rounds of work travel, I was feeling fried. It’s one thing to be productive on a tight schedule, but it’s another thing to court Inspiration. With a blank page in front of me—Greenhouse Mystery #5—I needed the thrill of Inspiration, not the pride of accomplishment.

I’m often asked where I find my Inspiration. The truth is, I don’t always know. I can’t tell you the exact moment when the universe comes together and an idea begins to take shape. I can only tell you that Inspiration isn’t something I wait for—I have to court it. And I have to be able to recognize it when it appears. Like my boys in the woods, it helps if I nurture my imagination, allowing myself to dig deep into its recesses, into that untamed part of my consciousness that will spot a great concept and develop it into something bigger. I have to be willing to go out into the wild.

But how?

The process is different for everyone, but here are a few techniques I’ve found helpful for finding and capturing Inspiration.

  • Connect with the page. I mean that quite literally. There is something visceral and real about writing the old-fashioned way, using pen and paper. When I want to connect with what author Natalie Goldberg calls “wild mind,” I pull out a notebook and a favorite pen and free write. There are no rules in free writing. I don’t think about grammar, spelling or themes. I don’t care if what I write makes sense. The idea is to dig deeper, find something that will resonate and possibly lead to a story. This almost always works for me—and I use it when I am stuck on a novel as well.
  • Silence the critic, court the muse. I don’t know about yours, but my inner critic is quietly insidious, almost diabolical. She whispers mean little sound bites into my ear, pouring vinegar into every sensitive open writing wound I have. When I want to find Inspiration, I have to shut her up, allowing her more timid sister to visit instead. Free writing helps with that, and writing early in the morning, before my inner critic is fully awake, helps too. I find that Vivaldi lulls the critic into silence, and a change of scenery can mask her voice (a bustling coffee shop or a busy ski lodge, perhaps). Sometimes it’s pure will that puts my critic in her place. “You’ll have your time when I’m revising,” I tell her. Occasionally she even listens.
    • Hit the road. I love to travel. Not the highly scheduled travel I do for work, but the kind of off-the-beaten-path travel that invites reflection. I find leaving my comfort zone, even for a little while, offers a change of perspective and new ideas. Some of my best concepts have come to me while on a train or driving along an unfamiliar stretch of foreign roadway.
  • Go outside. Leave your cerebral nest, don a jacket and sneakers (or in my case this morning, four layers of long underwear and down alternative), and enjoy Mother Nature. I’m convinced that Inspiration lives in the woods and at the beach, in the snow-covered rocks, under the icy river water, on the rough sand and in the fallen trees. When you need to find her, get out of your head for a while and play, unapologetically. Remember what it’s like to be a kid. You might be surprised—Inspiration just may come to you.


Wendy Tyson is a writer, lawyer, and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy writes two mystery series, the bestselling Greenhouse Mystery Series and the popular Allison Campbell Mystery Series. Wendy’s short stories have appeared in literary journals, and she has short fiction in two anthologies, Betrayed and the forthcoming The Night of the Flood. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Penn Writers, and International Thriller Writers, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for International Thriller Writers’ online magazines, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. Wendy and her family live in Vermont.

‘Desert Kill Switch’ by the numbers


The estimated number of kill switches (and GPS trackers) presently active in cars financed in the US

Number of words in the book

Number of cups of Lapsang Souchong tea I drank while writing

Number of miles from Las Vegas to Reno

Number of days it took me to write it  (That’s elapsed days. Some few days I didn’t work. I was riding my bike, driving to Canada, etc. )

Number of pages

Number of times my dog interrupted me asking for attention or a walk

Height, in inches, of my protagonist Kate Sorensen

Number of Chapters

Age of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am on the cover

Number of characters  This number is approximate.  Some characters are so minor they are not counted and some are dead.

Percent of the book I wrote while sitting in an Adirondack chair in my back garden

Number of times I use the f-word.  This is not excessive for a crime novel this long with lots of nasty characters.  But I cut it down in my next book. (See an upcoming post on the use of profanity in mystery novels.)

Number of years my publisher, Black Opal Books, has been in business

Per cent of the book I wrote in my pajamas

Number of times I use the f-word in my next book

Number of times someone slugs protagonist Lyle

Number of pictures   It’s just a mug shot of me at the end.  This is not a picture book.

Number of times I use the word “awesome”  (It was in dialog.)

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