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An Interview with Marshall Karp, Author of Cut, Paste, Kill: A Lomax & Biggs Mystery

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Do you believe in book fate? I do. Book fate — a term I think I just created — is a book falling into your hands right when you need it most. I’d just left some jobs and had a lot of worries on my mind and what I needed was a book that could distract me while also making me laugh.

Cut, Paste, Kill: A Lomax & Biggs Mystery did that and more — it surprised and delighted me, engaged me, made me laugh out loud a few times (which is normally not the case, at least for me, when reading books about serial killers).

The author, Marshall Karp, is smart, clever, and funny. I think his past work writing for sitcoms shows, in a good way, in the amusing and witty dialogue and plot. I am definitely going to be checking out Karp’s earlier books in the Lomax and Biggs series.

Cut, Paste, Kill is about a serial killer leaving scrapbooks at crime scenes. The detectives investigating the case don’t know quite what to make of it but the story’s twists keep the reader guessing. And there’s a hilarious subplot that seems to be making fun of detective TV shows that’s also quite funny, especially when you consider the author’s past and present work on television.

And with that, let’s get to the interview we had by email.

Your bio explains that it took quite a while before you got around to writing your first novel but it sounds like you’ve had quite a wild ride, from advertising to movies to this series. What do you consider the low points and the high points of your life so far?

I’m a glass half full guy (but I married a glass half empty woman to keep me balanced) so the way I remember things I’ve had a lot more highs than lows.  I think Writer Highs tend to be about the work.  My ad won an award, my play just got a great review, my book is getting published.  Writer Lows focus more on self.  I suck, what made me think I could write a play, who would ever want to publish me?

If you’re not a writer you’ll probably read that and say WTF?  But the soul searching, navel gazing, stare into the bottom of a beer mug or coffee cup and brood writers will all understand. 

Simply put, which I can’t do without an editor, my highs have come after my work was deemed worthy — which means either I loved it in private, or somebody else bought it, praised it, laughed in all the right places, or just put his arm around my shoulder and said “good job, son.”

My lows have come when I feel rejected, unloved, unwanted, and I am positive that the phone will never ring again.  These are known as self-inflicted wounds.  I also get down immediately after a major achievement.   When I finally come to the end of a year-long project and my new book is finally done, I go into a major funk.  It’s a common creative person syndrome I call Post-Artum Depression.

How did this book series come about? I wonder if the characters could fit alongside some of the TV sitcoms you’ve been involved with complete with smart ass remarks (and I mean that as a compliment).

The series is a complete fluke.  Like many writers I was hoping to finish one novel before they pried the mouse from my cold dead hand.  I thought The Rabbit Factory would be that one book.  It was the characters who tuned it into a series. 

When I asked my publisher why he bought it he said after three chapters he was caught up with Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs and wanted to spend more time with them — not just to watch them track down a serial killer but to follow their lives.  He not only bought that first book, he immediately ordered a second.

One of the things I learned working in television is that people tune in not for the story line of any given episode, but because the characters provide them with a predictable emotional experience — week in, week out.  And while I think Lomax and Biggs could easily get as many laughs as most TV characters, I hope they’ve proven to have more depth and substance.

I just happened across Cut, Paste, Kill – how many into the series is that? Should readers start with the first one or does it matter?

Cut, Paste, Kill is number four in the series and you can read it without having read any of the others.  The first book, The Rabbit Factory, gives readers some of the back story on the characters’ lives. But I wrote it so that when it catches someone’s eye (like it did yours) you don’t have to buy every book that came before it.  I figure if you like this one enough, you’ll go back and read them all.

What’s this about the series being turned into a TV series by TBS? How did that come about?

A year ago my agent called and said Lionsgate wanted to option Lomax and Biggs and develop them for TV.  Specifically they wanted to work with Allan Loeb, a writer with some very impressive credits, the most recent of which is the new Oliver Stone update of Wall Street.

Six months later Loeb and Lionsgate sold the idea to TBS who ordered a pilot script.  Last week it was announced that the pilot would be shot for TNT (which makes more sense for a cop show). 

I don’t know much more.  What I do I posted on my site.

Your books are fun to read — I can practically picture you smiling or smirking as you write them. Is that the case, that you’re smiling as you write it or do the jokes become less funny as you write and rewrite and edit them?

One nitpick before I answer.  My books are funny, but I try not to think of myself as writing jokes.  Hopefully the humor comes out of the characters and the situation.  And when it does, some of the biggest laughs catch me by surprise.  I didn’t know I was going to write it because I had no idea what the character would say next.  These people may be fictional, but they definitely have a mind of their own.  Mike and Diana surprised the hell out of me the first time they had sex — but that’s not your question.

The picture you have of me is pretty accurate.  Smiling, smirking, and sometimes laughing out loud.  (Did you notice I wasn’t wearing any pants?)  As for the humor wearing thin with each subsequent edit, I try to remember my first reaction to it — if it made me laugh the first time, I might not laugh the tenth time, but I’ll trust that it’s still funny enough for readers to laugh the first time.

Where did you get the idea of combining a serial killer with scrapbooks? Was this vengeance against someone with a serious addiction to scrapbooking?

Without giving away too much of the book, the killer chooses each victim for a reason.  They have all gotten away with some heinous crime (like the woman who was drunk, mowed down a kid with her car and then got off because she was a diplomat’s wife and had immunity.)  The killer needs to leave behind a signature that lets the world know that this is more than murder; it’s justice.  A scrapbook documenting the crimes of each victim seemed like a smart possibility.  When I found out how many millions of people in this country are scrapbookers, and how impossible it would be to find one scrapbooker out of millions, I went for it, without an ounce of vengeance in my heart.

What’s it like to have great mystery authors like Michael Connelly praising you as not just good but funny? Do you set out to make the books particularly funny or do you just see yourself more as a conductor trying to herd wacky characters across these pages?

Mystery authors are a very generous bunch.  But the bigger they are the more they get asked to read and blurb a book, and they don’t have the time to read them all.  So it’s a thrill to know I’ve made the cut and to get praise from James Patterson, Michael Connelly, David Baldacci, or most touching for me, Donald Westlake, shortly before he died.

And no, I don’t see myself as a conductor trying to herd wacky characters across these pages.  True, back in my sitcom days I herded my fair share of wacky characters.  They were usually one dimensional, but always funny, and that’s why people tuned in.

Books are different. People pick up a murder mystery looking for non-stop action, page turning suspense, twisted characters and even more twisted plots.  So I never set out to make a book funny.  First I need to come up with a great story.  Funny comes later. 

Most of the cops, morgue attendants, and prosecuting attorneys I’ve met get through the ugly days of dealing with violent crime by relying heavily on humor — much of it dark.  My fictional cops are like real cops.  Without comic relief they’d go nuts.  But to repeat what I said before, the humor has to come from the situation and the characters.

What are you working on next?

My next book is a standalone thriller I coauthored with James Patterson.  It’s called Kill Me If You Can and will be released in August 2011.  I finished it in July and was planning to spend the rest of the summer doing all the things I never got to while I was busy writing.  The first thing I did was have my appendix removed.  It wasn’t on my Things To Do list, but it jumped to first place in the middle of the night. 

Now that I got that out of the way I’m working on the next Lomax and Biggs.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.