Harley Mazuk’s first novel is White with Fish, Red with Murder. While that book was in development, he began to write short stories, featuring the same private eye, Frank Swiver. His initial effort, “The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler,” resulted in his first sale, to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine(EQMM) (Jan. 2011.) They have subsequently published three more of his stories, and he has sold longer fiction to Dead Guns Press and Dark Passages.
Harley is from Cleveland, where he was born the last year the Indians won the World Series. It’s a curse, but he lives with it. He studied English Literature at Hiram College, and Elphinstone College, Bombay U. He worked in the music business in New York, then joined the Federal Government, for a 29-year run, first in information technology, later as a writer and editor in corporate communications.
Now retired, Harley’s passions are his family, writing, reading, running, peace, Italian cars, and California wine. He lives with his wife, Anastasia, in Maryland, where they have raised two children.
Welcome to Blogcritics, Harley! Tell us, what is your book about?
A pacifist private eye, Frank Swiver, is invited to attend a wine tasting in a private rail car on the night rattler from San Francisco to Seattle. He brings along his secretary and lover, Vera Peregrino. The host, General Thursby, wants Frank to investigate the “accidental poisoning” of his friend, Rusty O’Callaghan, and he suspects the widow, Cicilia. Cici had been Frank’s lover, fourteen years earlier, before she married Rusty.
Thursby takes two slugs through the pump before the tasting begins, and the cops arrest Vera for his murder. Frank spends his days interviewing the guests at the tasting, trying to find Thursby’s killer and spring Vera; he spends his nights with Cici, as their renewed affair heats up. But Frank’s love triangle soon turns poisonous, and he may lose both women . . . or his life.
What was your inspiration for it?
The suspects on the train are trying to obtain Thursby’s rare wine, the “Blackbird,” or his Blackbird vineyard, so one of the inspirations was Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon with its pursuit of the black bird. I was also inspired by the style of Raymond Chandler, and the emotional impact of James M. Cain. Mostly it was about an era, and a style, (late forties, and pulp fiction) and the atmosphere and feeling Hammett, Chandler, and Cain evoke.
What do you hope readers will get from your book?
This book is an “entertainment,” as Graham Greene used to say about some of his works. So I hope readers enjoy and have fun. I’d like to transport readers to a slower paced, less technical world, in which the detective doesn’t rely on technology, lab results, or computers to solve the crime, but rather on his courage, his persistence, and work ethic. I’d like to leave readers wanting to come back and see Frank Swiver and some of the other characters again—there will be more.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
Chandler says “when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.” This is good advice, and the creative author can do variations on this theme.
A troublesome character, the type that makes a scene, adds excitement to a narrative. I like to use characters with bad manners, characters who can’t control themselves. When I tell a story, it’s not a story about an average day in the life of my p.i. It’s an exceptional day, when something extraordinary happened, and whatever is possible in my imagination is credible in my story. I set out to give you an exciting story.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
I certainly can understand this. Writing is a creative activity, and when you share your creation with others, when you “sell” a book or story, naturally, there’s some expectation that your work will be judged. That would translate into a vague anxiety for many folks, thinking oh, what if no one likes it? If you overcome that vague anxiety and write, that’s a small victory, something you can be proud of. As you gain confidence in your writing, the quality improves.
What was your publishing process like?
My publisher is Driven Press in Brisbane. I’m in the U.S. so I didn’t travel to the main office to be wined, dined, and signed, or photographed with the staff. We keep in touch via e-mails and Skype calls. DP has had my manuscript two years now. It’s a small publisher, and they like to do things in-house as opposed to contracting work out.
They bought several titles at one time, so I had to wait a while for an editor. I felt good about the edit process, which began with a substantive edit. Then there was a thorough copy edit, and a follow-up copy edit and proofread. I’m a new author, and I thought gee, these folks are professional editors; they’re putting quite a bit of effort into my book. That felt good.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
Completion of my book called for dinner and a bottle of sparkling wine with my wife. Selling the book was even bigger. We flew to Venice and drank prosecco in a gondola, passing under the Bridge of Sighs at sunrise, while the gondolier sung “Stairway to Heaven.”
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Where is your book available?
The novel is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon AU, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay, Kobo, and others. You will always be able to find the latest on where to buy it at the publisher’s web site, Driven Press.
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Two things—discipline and perseverance. Write every day, or at least six days a week. It is beneficial to incorporate some sort of discipline into the easy-going lifestyle of a writer, and developing a daily writing habit is the most productive way to give yourself discipline.
And persevere. There is more to being an author than just writing a book. You’ll have to find either an agent or a publisher, and you need to keep trying despite rejections. I pitched my book to more than two hundred agents before I found one, but she was unable to sell it to a publisher despite her best efforts. None of this shook my confidence in the quality of my work—it’s not always a lack of quality that results in rejection.
It’s a crowded marketplace out there, and some genres are tough sells. So I pitched the book to publishers who accept un-agented submissions and I found one—a good one, Driven Press. I’m sure there is some bad writing out there that probably shouldn’t see the ink of a press run. Yet if you like your work, I’ll bet you’ll find others who like it too.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
If you enjoy White with Fish, Red with Murder, you’ll be glad to know there are more Frank Swiver stories in the works. One is a novelette or short novella, “Pearl’s Valley,” coming in April from Dark Passages Publishing. It is a “man goes on a journey story.” And I have another completed novel-length manuscript.
I’m always happy to hear from other writers or from my readers at [email protected]