Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: mystery writers

Missing persons case filled with twists, turns at dawn of Pearl Harbor

Maximum Moxie, A Maggie Sullivan mystery
M. Ruth Myers
Tuesday House   Sept. 2016
$3.99 Kindle  $11.99 trade paper
262 pages

Book reviews, particularly for suspense novels, often begin by describing all the action of the first few chapters.  I’m not going to do that here.

In the first chapter of Maximum Moxie, Ruth Myers’ fifth PI novel in the series, Loren Collingswood walks into Maggie Sullivan’s office with a problem.   He’s a founder of a technology company and one of his most brilliant employees has disappeared.  The missing engineer is the key to a new project the company is scheduled to introduce in a week. And Collingswood says he’s been getting maximum-moxiestrange phone calls.  But, he says, “It can’t have anything to do with Gil [the missing employee].  It can’t have anything to do with me.”

Whether the calls are related to the disappearance remains to be seen, but the rest of the scene in Sullivan’s office contains an unconventional surprise you’ll have to discover yourself.

Ultimately,  Sullivan gets the missing persons job.  Now, before you get the wrong idea about a technology company, remember that Sullivan started out as a private eye in 1930s Dayton, Ohio. This book is set in the first week of December 1941.  Technically, that’s one of the surprises—but by no means the only one—in the first chapter.  But never mind, it’s mentioned on the back cover, so the date is no spoiler. The impending war gives the novel an extra sense of uncertainty and realism and provides a hint that the mysterious technology project might have military applications.

Searching for the missing engineer, Sullivan, a scrappy 5-foot-2-inch, 27-year-old, has to first determine if Gil Tremain is a kidnap or murder victim, a blackmailer, thief or traitor. Is he alive or dead?  As Sullivan knows, if Tremain is in peril, the sooner she locates him the greater her chances of not finding him dead.  Continue Reading →

Novel or screenplay: Film writer / novelist explains the challenges


You’ve seen the movie, now read the book.  Or vice versa.  What’s the difference? Guest writer Nina Sadowsky, author of the new novel, JUST FALL, explains how her career in film and television prepared her to write the book.  Her background taught her what she knew, what she didn’t and where she was willing to take risks.

Writing for film and writing a novel are profoundly different experiences, while also markedly the same.  For both, one needs a compelling story, strong characters, a powerful conflict, and ultimately, a satisfying resolution.

But the two disciplines also differ in significant ways.  One is the collaborative nature of creating filmed content, versus the relative solitude of writing a novel.

Writing a novel is a far more solitary process than writing for media. Not entirely, of course, as every writer gets input from his or her inner circle of readers as well as their editor. But making filmed content is entirely Just-Fall---Sadowskydependent on collaboration. From the very beginning of the process, the writer is asked to factor in the perspectives and opinions of agents, producers and development executives, and as the project moves forward into production, the clamorous voices of a director, production designer, cinematographer, costume designer, composer, editor, sound team, etc., all chime in to the narrative mix. 

When functioning at its ideal, this is the beauty of filmmaking—all these creative people working toward the same goal can be quite glorious. On the other hand, the writer knows she or he not only has to satisfy many other voices in the script development process, but also knows that the finished script is not an end in itself, but only a road map for others to follow and contribute to in pursuit to the ultimate product.

Another crucial difference between writing a novel and writing for film and TV is the import and impact of structure.

Film and TV scripts usually conform to fairly rigid, codified rules of structure. There are good reasons for these structures, based on a combination of creative, psychological and business factors.  Studies have shown that audiences instinctively respond to the rhythm of a three-act structure in film, for example. And advertising-driven TV requires breaks to allow for ads (while creating cliffhangers to encourage viewers to return to the show after the commercial breaks).

If one is writing for film, one is trained to think about three acts. Act One is exposition, the set up of the world and characters, establishment of the protagonist’s objective, and the event that propels the protagonist’s story forward. Act Two is devoted to “rising action,” in which the protagonist is thwarted in achieving his or her goal and acquires the skills needed to achieve their desire. Act Three is the story’s climax and resolution. While there are proponents of a five-act structure, most films contain three. In television, a writer may find herself conforming to different structural requirements at every network.

There are certainly guidelines that apply to novel structure, but when I embarked on my first novel, JUST FALL, I decided I wanted to throw all structural rules out the window.  I began the book as a purely personal exercise. I’d felt my love of writing eroding and wanted to reinvigorate that love outside of an “assignment” or a job.  My sole goal when I started the book was to finish it, so I figured why not play with structure?

The book is told in alternating chapters, entitled NOW and THEN.  The NOW chapters are all linear. 

Author Nina Sadowsky

Author Nina Sadowsky

The THEN chapters are completely non-linear and are juxtaposed against the NOW chapters in order to best illuminate character.  This worked creatively on multiple levels, (not the least of which is that we meet my protagonist, Ellie Larrabee, in an island hotel room with a dead man in her bed.  The structure I settled on allowed me to then contrast that grisly opening with Ellie on the day of her wedding, a moment filled with hope, beauty, optimism and cultural and social resonance).

I wrote the forward story and the backstories separately and then index carded every chapter.  For months we had to eat dinner around the cards that lived in constant rotation on our dining room table.  I threw structure out the window and then created a new one all my own.  It was liberating and thrilling to do so.

My take away? There are always rules to writing. And also rules just waiting to be broken.


Nina Sadowsky has worked in film and television in various capacities virtually her entire career.  She was a  producer, an executive, a director, a film professor and a screenwriter. As a result, she looked at creating filmed content from a variety of perspectives. Those experiences were part of her preparation for writing her first novel,  JUST FALL. 

She is the author of many original screenplays and adaptations, was executive producer for “The Wedding Planner,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey,  and produced “Desert Saints,” an independent film starring Kiefer Sutherland.  She has worked for The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, Signpost Films and Lifetime Television.  She is a member of the adjunct faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

How to bring an authentic voice to crime fiction


Guest writer John Stamp discusses the part voice plays in fiction.

Voice is one of those shadowy, complicated areas in writing. The term voice in writing is in itself a metaphor right? Right, but a metaphor for what?

That can be a difficult question to answer. Is voice the sound you bring to text? Is voice the environment or character in whatever flavor you create when you fill a page? Not easy questions.

In researching publishers, agents, etc., in effort to get my books to market I would see the words strong voice, on at least Shattered-Circleeighty percent of the submission pages I read, and I read a lot of them. So voice is important, but if you ask twenty people what voice is in writing you might get fifteen different answers. So, since this is my post, I get to lay down the definition.

For me, having an authentic voice in my crime thrillers is paramount. Among the writers I’ve always looked up to are Wambaugh, Leonard, and Crichton.

In Elmore Leonard I was drawn to the grit in his words, the bare humanity he illustrates so well in his writing. From his early westerns to his more famous string of crime novels, Leonard’s voice, the flavor of his writing, resonated so authentically that the man seemed a master of the grey area of human nature.

In Michael Crichton’s work, I found he had a magical ability to explain the science behind his fiction in a way that could keep a lay reader engaged. Whether the science was sound or he made it up as he went, his background as a medical doctor allowed him to blend his heavy science background with his creative voice.  He could give a lecture on DNA processing, quantum physics, or mechanical engineering while at the same time keeping us turning the pages.

With Joseph Wambaugh’s work, I found the way he captured the subtle intricacies of police culture utterly fascinating, and it became the standard I set for myself as a writer. He can illustrate the fine details of what takes place in a police cruiser so expressively that the tight confines of a Ford Crown Victoria become a world unto its own.

Each of these writers carried their voice across the page in a way that evoked an expertise as we listened to their narrative in our heads. Wambaugh was an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. Crichton, as I’ve said, was a medical doctor. Having that expertise and experience as a foundation for their voice gave an air of authority to their work that is rare and genuine.

John-Stamp-gun-quoteLike Wambaugh, I was a police officer. I was also a special agent with both the FBI and the NCIS. When I started writing, I wanted to be sure that if I was writing a crime thriller I would be able to speak to that law enforcement culture and bring it to the page. My voice as an author is directly tied to my background and experience.  I want to bring my readers with me to experience what it is like when a simple call for police service degenerates to a life-or-death situation, or the sensation of running code three (lights and sirens) down a crowded city street. Continue Reading →

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