My guest today is mystery author Mark S. Bacon. Bacon began his career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California where he covered the police beat and wrote features. He then moved into advertising and marketing as a copywriter and later as a bank marketing director. He’s also authored nonfiction books on marketing and communications, and one of them was awarded Best Business Book of the Year by the Library Journal, published in three editions, printed in four languages, and selected by the Book of the Month Club and two other book clubs. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The San Antonio Express-News, BusinessWeek online and other publications.
His first book in the mystery series Death in Nostalgia City, was published by Black Opal Books and was an award winner at the 2015 San Francisco Book Festival. He’s here today to chat about his latest mystery, Desert Kill Switch.
Welcome to Blogcritics, Mark! Tell us, what is your book about?
A life-and-death chase across the Nevada desert in the middle of August highlights the action in this complex mystery spread across the southwest. Desert Kill Switch is two overlapping stories in one. Lyle Deming is a stressed out ex-homicide detective who drives a cab in Nostalgia City, the Arizona theme park, as his escape from the disappointments and anxieties of police work. But on page one, he discovers a body in the desert next to a pristine 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he comes back to the scene with sheriff’s deputies, the car and body are gone. Was he seeing things?
Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is Nostalgia City’s PR VP and she’s in Reno working in an exhibit booth. She’s representing her employer at a sprawling retro festival featuring classic cars and rock ’n’ roll. She’s accused of trying to steal the Reno festival and move it to Arizona. Worse, she’s accused of killing the festival chairman.
Lyle arrives in Reno to help his blonde, not-quite-girlfriend and they plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives. Kate and Lyle hit one dead end after another as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and help find the missing corpse.
What was your inspiration for it?
Although I eventually came back to newspaper writing, early in my career, I switched from newspapers to advertising. I was a copywriter at Knott’s Berry Farm, the giant theme park down the freeway from Disneyland. I’ve always been a mystery fan and at the time it occurred to me that a theme park, especially at night, would be a great setting for a murder mystery.
So, when I started this mystery series, I set it in a theme park—but an unusual one. Nostalgia City is a thorough re-creation of an entire small town as it would have appeared in the 1970s. It’s complete with period cars, clothes, movies, food, fads, music, hair styles, shops, restaurants—the works.
And I use some of my experience behind the scenes at Knott’s to color the action of my stories.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes. Although I now write fiction, I do research. I want my stories to be plausible and based on reality. For this book, in addition to getting advice on law enforcement procedures from two working police detectives, I researched (1) kill switches and (2) the business of buying and selling classic cars.
I came across a number of news stories that talked about how some car dealers install GPS trackers and kill switches in the cars they sell to low-income buyers who they consider high risk borrowers. If the buyers miss a payment, sometimes by as little as a few days, their cars are dead. I saw a news story about one particular dealer who bragged about this and said his buyers loved the kill switches because it helped remind them to pay their bills. To me, that sounded like perfect material for a murder mystery. I did further research on auto lending to make my story complete.
Classic cars also figure prominently in the book. Meticulously restored muscle cars from the 1960s and 1970s, for example, can sell for anywhere from the high five figures to a half million dollars. And they can be counterfeited. How do you identify a counterfeit? One example: a mint condition 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner can sell for $100,000 or more, if it’s all original. What a dishonest car trader might do is find a 1970 Plymouth Satellite, a base model that’s not in demand, and dress it up like a Roadrunner by switching engines, name plates, and other parts. Again, prime material, I thought, for a mystery.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
First, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I began writing as a newspaper reporter and in that business you don’t have the luxury of waiting for your muse to get in gear.
Being able to write on command, however, doesn’t mean that everything you write is profound or even readable. That’s where editing and rewriting come in. I write by revision. I guess you could say I can see the lack of a solid “muse” when I read what I wrote the day before. If that’s the case, I rewrite.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
The story is told from the viewpoint of my two main characters. Most of the chapters alternate viewpoints. You read a chapter following what Lyle is doing, then a chapter from Kate’s point of view. Lyle could be on the verge of an important discovery or be in trouble, then the chapter ends. From there you have to read what Kate is up—before you can catch up with Lyle again.
In a sense, this is built-in suspense that’s impossible to create with some other types of storytelling. For example, in a first-person story, the main character is in every chapter and every scene so you always know what’s happening to her or him.
In addition, my chapters are short. Not quite as short as Mary Higgins Clark’s, but close.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
Not exactly. I love to write, so when I sit down at the keyboard what I’m feeling is excitement. I’m excited about the chance to write, to know it will be published and read. Anxiety comes in when the editing, proofing, publishing process is engaged. At each step I want the product to be the best it can be, but I don’t necessarily have control at that point.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Please visit me at baconsmysteries. Here you can read sample chapters from this and the first book in the series. You can also read complete flash fiction crime stories.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
Although I majored in journalism, I took a fiction writing class as an undergrad in college. My instructor was best-selling author Nathan C. Heard. One day he asked everyone in class to tell him why they write.
When he came to me I said, “Because I have to.”
Heard pointed at me and said, “You’ll be a writer.”