SARAH CORTEZ – Award-Winning Author and Law Enforcement Veteran

ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson

Sarah’s latest crime fiction thriller is The Carlucci Betrayal.

Here is a glimpse into Sarah’s award-winning career:

Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in journals, such as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, The Midwest Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, her debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in many contests, such as the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and the PEN Southwest Poetry Awards Latino Book Awards, Border Region Librarians Association Award, Press Women of Texas Editing Award. She has been both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate; she is a law enforcement veteran of 28 years. Her memoir entitled Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays brings the reader into the patrol car as it reveals America’s most dangerous profession.

The Carlucci Betrayal takes readers deep into the Mississippi Delta during Prohibition to witness the founding of a criminal empire, and not since The Godfather has a Mafia family captivated readers the way the Carlucci brothers do in Robert Wilkins’ and Sarah Cortez’s rollicking novel of love, lust, and naked ambition.

Michael Bracken  – Anthony Award-nominated editor of The Eyes of Texas

 Genres in Which I Write: I write in more than one genre, and I love seeing how the interaction of skill and intention translates and doesn’t translate across genres.

I began as a literary fiction writer, then to poetry, then to memoir. At this point, I think I’ve been published in almost all popular and literary genres and subgenres. I love all kinds of writing and edit all genres.

Writing Process: In terms of my writing process, I don’t have much leeway to choose a particular set of locations or circumstances to write. As a full-time professional writer/editor, I write when and where I can. I always seem to have deadlines breathing down my neck, whether for writing or editing. I am also an editor for a large international Catholic online journal of the arts. Those deadlines keep me very busy. www.catholicartstoday

First Publication: My first book came out within less than three years of beginning to write poetry. I now have 14 books—all traditionally published. For quite a few years, I had one or two books published per year. I have been very fortunate to work with publishers who really believed in my book projects.

Characters: In the popular genre of crime fiction, there are usually two strong-willed characters: the criminal and the sleuth. They must be fairly evenly matched in order to have a drawn-out conflict that is sufficiently interesting for a reader to read the entire novel.

The process of creating a 3-D character, particularly a main character is involved and mysterious. Tomes have been written about it. Curiously enough, it is the one critically important step that most fiction writers, particularly beginning fiction writers, don’t spend enough time doing. All the hours of research, imagining, taking notes, thinking through personality and choices, and personal history of the character pay off. Yet, most fiction writers either skip this step or do it quickly—a fatal mistake to both plot and the possibility of writing a book that readers enjoy.

Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex: Due to police work and my corporate career before policing, most of my life has been spent working with men. I do not find it a particular challenge to write from a male’s POV. In fact, most of my literary and popular fiction is written in a male’s POV.

Do You Base Characters on Real People? As a freelance editor who has been privileged to work with many writers, I think that basing a fictional character on a real person is an absolute no-no. Fiction that does this results in erratic character motivation and is often boring. Characters must be free to act according to the psychological and emotional dimensions based on the imagined history and personality that the writer has given them. So, you can see from this line of thought that I never base my characters on real people and certainly never on myself.

How To Raise the Stakes for Characters? Especially in popular fiction, but also to a lesser degree in literary fiction, the author’s “job” is to apply stress on the main character. These stresses of circumstance create conflict, and conflict creates plot. The way the stress is applied to each character will be different since each character has a different personality and history.

Does a Protagonist Ever Disappoint You? As an author, I am not thinking about my reactions to characters in a book. I am always thinking, however, about what the scene needs to be of interest to a reader. Sometimes a protagonist needs to fail, whether that failure is of his choice or imposed on him. If the writer is writing a protagonist that changes throughout the book, the protagonist will make mistakes. Some characters, like James Bond, do not change over the course of a book. But even this type of character does experience failure of action and choices.

vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York

What Kind of Research Do You Do? I research what I need to research. Sometimes that involves an entire era with its cultural artifacts of music, dance, clothes, attitudes, disasters, politics, etc. Sometimes research is very specifically related to a particular scene. For instance, in The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to find out how a young male below the age of military service would get to Europe in 1938 to volunteer to fight against Hitler. Since 1938 was before the U.S. declared war, I had to see which avenues were open to this young man. This only affected a couple of sentences in a phone conversation between two main characters, but it had to be historically accurate.

Also, for The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to research Mississippi law regarding homicide and manslaughter in the late 1920s for a courtroom scene and for the lawyer’s arguments to be accurately based on the law.

A Writer You Admire: I greatly admire Megan Abbott, a wonderful noir writer. She successfully combines what’s best about crime fiction with exquisitely styled prose. She is so successful because so few writers write with her precision and energy in such gorgeous prose. My favorite title of hers is Bury Me Deep.

Advice for New Writers: I’ll pass along some wise advice from a professional saxophone musician: don’t choose anything but your horn. In other words, writing demands a serious commitment to practice and learning. When the others meet their friends to go bowling or drink at the bars, you must be reading, learning, revising, drafting, studying, etc. If you’re going to be a good (highly skilled) writer, then writing isn’t a hobby. It is your job.

Anything Else You’d Like to Mention: Getting to work on The Carlucci Betrayal was tremendously hard work and also tremendous fun! I’ve always wanted to write Mafia-era fiction. This gave me an opportunity to research plus create three-dimensional characters that acted according to a different era’s pressures in a society that was both more constricted and more free-wheeling than today’s.

I also relished my research into Mafia fashion. Not only for the men but for the women. Holsters, spare magazines, stilettos, razors, cigarette lighters, etc. Types and calibers of guns. Several PWSA members helped me out with these questions. For me, becoming conversant with places of concealment, fashions for men and women, mobsters on different coasts, and what they wore—fascinating! It was a delicious peek into the psychology and practicality of why the mobsters and their ladies wore what they wore.

Readers can contact me at: cortez.sarah@gmail.com or at carluccibetrayal@gmail.com

Our website,  carluccibetrayal.com – Search Results | Facebook, also has a “Contact Me” button.

Phone: 713-331-9342

I am available for virtual book readings and presentations on Mafia Fashion.

Follow us on Facebook at   The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Great post, Sarah, with so many valuable tips. I was so glad to see at the recent PSWA conference and catch up with you some. Hope you’ll come again soon.

    Reply
  2. Holli Castillo

    Sarah, loved learning about your writing process. I find it more difficult to write from the male perspective so I envy your ability to do it so easily. I also find the idea of mafia fashion fascinating. Your thorough research is evident in your work as it always rings authentic.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Hi, Sarah. Great advice about writing and the dedication to learning one’s craft. I loved the saxophone allusion. Your new one sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out. I remember when you were researching the holsters and such. Good luck and stay strong.

    Reply

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MARK COGGINS – See What Has to Say About Writing Successful Crime Fiction

Mark Coggins was born in the Four Corners region of New Mexico and is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation. His work has been nominated for the Shamus and the Barry crime fiction awards and selected for best of the year lists compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press, and Amazon.com.

 

THE DEAD BEAT SCROLL – Private investigator August Riordan’s quest to avenge the death of his old partner drops him in the missing person case his partner was working when he died. An alluring young woman named Angelina is looking for her half-sister, but what Riordan finds instead is a murderous polyamorous family intent on claiming a previously unknown manuscript from dead Beat writer Jack Kerouac.

What brought you to writing? I composed my first published short story, “There’s No Such Thing as Private Eyes,” in the late ’70s for a creative writing class at Stanford University taught by Ron Hansen. This was shortly after I’d learned about Raymond Chandler and his distinctive writing style in another class, that one taught by Tobias Wolff. I was all of 19 years old when I typed out the original draft on my Smith-Corona portable, but it was eventually published in the mid-1980s in a revival of the famous Black Mask magazine, where Hammett and Chandler got their start.

In addition to being my first appearance in print, the tale also introduces my series character, San Francisco private eye August Riordan.

Tell us about your writing process: I maintain a research folder on my computer for each novel I write. In it goes digital photographs, Word and PDF files, links to web pages, etc.—anything that can be stored on disk. I also have a small notebook in which I write a variety of things, including location descriptions, snatches of dialog, plot ideas, and similes. The dialog can be imagined or something I’ve overheard.

Of course, the reason I have the notebook is to draw upon the entries when I’m writing. If I decide to use an item from the notebook, I put a tick mark beside it, so I know I’ve already put it in a novel. But even when I don’t select something I can use directly, I find thumbing through the notebook can be helpful, especially when I’m suffering from writer’s block. Somehow, just reading through everything I’ve jotted down can be inspirational, and I usually come up with an idea to get me back on track again.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Yes, in The Dead Beat Scroll, I killed a character named Chris Duckworth. (This isn’t a spoiler since the book begins with news of Duckworth’s death.) Duckworth was Riordan’s sidekick for five of the seven books. Many readers found his personality and the byplay between Riordan and him to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the novels. Although Riordan and Duckworth are estranged at the time of Duckworth’s death, I hope Riordan’s regard for Duckworth and the real grief he experiences come across in the book. I found the process of writing the final scene in the novel—which is a celebration of life for Duckworth—to be particularly poignant. I hope some of that poignancy is transmitted in the text.

What kind of research do you do? The first research I do is on Bay Area locations, where most of my books take place. I usually walk around a neighborhood I’m going to set a scene in, taking both pictures and notes that I use to jog my memory when I get to the actual writing.

I also do research about the theme or social issue I’m using to drive the plot. For instance, in my novel Runoff, I researched electronic voting and the possibility of defeating the security of voting machines to rig an election. To do that research, I interviewed computer science experts on the topic and talked with poll workers who had an “on the ground” understanding of how the machines are used in a precinct.

For my novel Candy from Strangers, which was about cam girls, I interviewed a young woman who has a website where she solicits anonymous gifts.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My settings can probably best be described as hyper-real. I try very hard to set every scene in a real location—often in San Francisco—and many of my books feature black and white photographs of those locales.

Do you have any advice for new writers? I can’t emphasize enough the importance of critique groups. In addition to providing camaraderie and support, they give you feedback, encourage you to write to deadlines. Reading other writers’ work with an eye towards making suggestions for improvement helps me better understand what does and doesn’t work in fiction. Good writers read a lot, and even better writers read a lot and analyze what they are reading.

 

Website: https://www.markcoggins.com/

Twitter: @Mark_Coggins

The Dead Beat Scroll – https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Beat-Scroll-August-Riordan/dp/1643960318

Podcast (where I do serial readings of some of my books) – https://riordansdesk.buzzsprout.com/

 

4 Comments

  1. Mary Hagen

    Enjoyed your comments. Unfortunately, my critique group disbanded. I miss them.

    Reply
  2. Mar Preston

    I don’t miss my critique group meetings for anything, Mark. That’s sound advice. Something that is glaringly obvious to you may not be to anyone else. It can be humbling.

    Reply
  3. Michael A.Black

    Really sound advice, Mark. Thanks. I remember the short-lived revival of Black Mask and have several of them. I’ll have to look for your first story as well as check out your new one. Good luck.

    Reply
  4. Thonie Hevron

    Fascinating interview! Thanks for letting us get to know you.

    Reply

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MAR PRESTON – Teacher – Editor – Amateur Actress (Her Words) and Author

Mar Preston is the indie multiple award-winning author of seven police procedurals, six writing craft books, and many short stories.

Her whodunit mysteries celebrate the mean streets of Santa Monica and a fictional California mountain village. She is a writing teacher and editor, a very amateur actress, and a comedy skit writer. She now lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s national capital.

By Accident is the 5th in a series about a Santa Monica Police Department cop working homicide. The Santa Monica Police Department is composed of 233 sworn police officers and 250 civilian staff members. The 8-square mile city on the Pacific Ocean edge of the Los Angeles sprawl generates a lot of heat and excitement.

By Accident may be the last in the series about my Santa Monica cop that I’ve come to know so well. I’m just too far away now for the scents and sounds of the city to reach me. I moved back home to Canada after a 50-year hiatus in California just in time for Covid-19. I’ll always be tempted to write another because interesting things happen in Santa Monica that give me ideas.

Santa Monica’s beaches and luxury hotels are tourist destinations for millions of international travelers, and they are the targets of crime. The city is also called “The Home of the Homeless.” Homeless people like sunshine and beaches as much as anyone else, and a felon on the run can’t flee from trouble any further west.

It’s also the home of about 100,000 residents, most of them ordinary dog-petting citizens. But Santa Monica is more known for celebrity sightings and drunken starlet wrecks in Lamborghinis on the Pacific Ocean Highway. I had my nose down some nasty rat holes in previous books researching international crime, genocide, and female mutilation. By Accident? I did my research while waiting for the hairstylist reading People magazine, Us, supermarket tabloids, and watching Entertainment TV. For a time, I knew who was doing whom and how.

I’ve been fascinated for a long time watching smirking celebrities stroll out of the courtroom … if the case even gets that far. In By Accident, the celebrity couple gets it, and they get it good. I’m grateful to Sgt. Bill Lewis (Ret.) of the Oxnard Police Department for a chase and capture ending I never could have dreamed up myself.

Here’s a link to the Santa Monica Police Department series and a very different series featuring a homicide detective in the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

Mar shooting the ARB-15 at the Writers Police Academy.

You can contact Mar at: marpreston@gmail.com

10 Comments

  1. Vicki Batman

    I enjoyed reading the interview and getting to know you.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Glad you’re doing well and engaged with everything going on around us these days! Good to hear from you, so glad we met at PSWA.

    Reply
  3. Marilyn Meredith

    Mar has been a friend of mine a long time–dating back to when she lived in the mountains off the 5. We are fellow Sisters in Crime, members of PSWA, and it’s been too long since I’ve seen her in person.

    Reply
  4. Ana Manwaring

    Hi Mar! So lovely to hear about you and the book. I look forward to reading it, and will anticipate the new series set in Ottawa!

    Thanks to you to George. Alway interesting posts!

    Reply
  5. Thonie Hevron

    I’m so looking forward to reading Mar’s books. I met her several years ago at the Public Safety Writers Conference and loved her goofy sense of humor immediately. Thanks for this lovely interview, George and Mar!

    Reply
  6. Deven Greene

    Your books sound interesting. It’s probably easier to imagine crime taking place in Santa Monica than in Ottawa, but I’ll bet there are a few criminals even in Canada.

    Reply
  7. Mar Preston

    I sneak in a lot of social commentary in my books. I write about things that make me mad that I can do very little about.

    When I first heard about Alec Baldwin and that mess I thought aha! Another celebrity. Is he going to walk out of the courtroom smirking. Now I’ve come to have a little sympathy for him.

    I would imagine a lot of you have discussed this thoroughly.

    Reply
  8. KGThomas

    Thank you for this blog post about your writing journey and your past research – including very interesting resources. Your series sounds like the kind of story I like to read – especially because it operates through class divide and privilege.

    Reply
  9. John Schembra

    Mar is a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, a wonderful writer, and delightful person. I’ve read a couple of her books, and can highly recommend them. Well written, great plots, and filled with wonderful characters!

    Reply
  10. Michael A. Black

    Mar is a very talented writer and teacher. I highly recommend her books, which she thoroughly researches and writes with an elegant style. She also a very nice lady and I hope our paths cross again at a future conference. Stay strong, Mar.

    Reply

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