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Starting Out– My First Time Being Published

22 May

Fair warning – when other writers hear my story they sometimes scream and throw themselves out their windows.  It’s the tale of how I got my first writing contract, and I don’t think anyone had ever had so easy a time of it.

When I was living in New York City, where I was VP of Production for a special effects house, I purchased a loft near Washington Square.  Instead of Escrow, as they have in California, a buyer and seller must instead use real estate lawyers to draw up the contracts.  My realtor recommended an attorney he usually worked with, a woman by the name of Judy Levin.  When I went to her offices to sign the papers I noticed that her walls were hung with posters from the New York Stage.  Some of the productions I had even heard of.  “Wow,” I said, “you must really love the theater!”

 Judy, who was both the most laconic person I’d ever met and, perversely, the most loquacious, merely said, “Oh, those?  I produced them.”  It turned out that she had started her career as an entertainment lawyer, and handled the legal affairs for a variety of theatricals.  When you do that in New York you also get a producing credit.  But, as happens to many who work in entertainment, she got burnt out and retired from the fray to become a real estate lawyer.

Well, it just so happens that I was looking to option a book to turn it into a stage play.  Judy got me the book in very short order and for a very reasonable price.  Having tasted the thrill of the theater again, however remote, she then asked me, “Do you have anything else I could look at?”

  Did I?!

 It just so happened that I had the first hundred pages of a novel to show her, a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, which I had called generically “Ancient Egyptian Murder Mystery”.  She took it and a couple of weeks later told me, “I really like it.  Do you mind if I show it around?”

 What do you think I answered?

Judy had brittle bones – this is not a segue, by the way – and had broken her foot.  She would hobble down to the courtyard of her building in Chelsea and – as I might have mentioned – Judy could talk to anyone in that same even monotone she used with me; a stranger, a dog, the clothes dryer.  A gentleman was also in the courtyard that morning, someone from her building who she had never before met.  He too was ill and was staying home from work.  In the course of their conversation he happened to mention his wife, Carol, who happened to work at Simon & Schuster, where she happened to be secretary to the legendary Michael Korda.  Korda, for those of you who don’t know, ran the editing staff of S&S since the 1950s.  “Do you mind if I give you a manuscript?” Judy asked Carol when she met her for the first time a few days.

Carol accepted the manuscript in their laundry room.  “It takes a brave woman to take a manuscript in a laundry room,” Judy said to me.  I could only agree.

But the good news was that two weeks later I had a contract not only to finish my novel, but also to write its sequel.  The first novel, Year of the Hyenas, went on to be named one of the five best mysteries of the year by Library Journal, while the second, Day of the False King, debuted on the LA Times Best Seller List.

And all because I bought a place in New York City.

Luck like that can happen only once in a person’s life, but it is also a story that could only have happened in New York.  It’s a city where you run into people you know all the time, thrust together as you are on sidewalks, in buses and subways, or by frequenting the same restaurants.

The luck began to change when Michael Korda retired, but I always knew that I had gotten to know him at the end of his extraordinary career.  When I was assigned to a new editor, she frankly told me she was not “into” historical fiction and was I interested instead in the chick-lit field…?

We severed our relationship on the spot.

I’ve gone on to write another mystery, but not set in ancient times – instead it takes place in 1957 Hollywood.  What would you do, it asks, if you were a studio mogul and your leading man happens to be a serial killer?  How would save your studio, your film – and your leading lady?

I’ve decided to go explore the self-publishing route this time; the new publishing industry is as unchartered as the wild west, but I’m game for anything.  I guess this is where the REAL work begins.

Another 5-star review for my mystery, “The Stand In”… thanks for making my day!

4 May

I thoroughly enjoyed The Stand In. I have just returned to living in LA after living in the Southeast for 25 plus years. I was in the mood for something “LA-ish” and with the feel of old school like the Noir films I used to love to watch. The Stand In hit the spot- Beagley’s knowledge of LA made the read really fun and the twists and turns as he unfolds the mystery kept me entranced and interested in where the story was going. I highly recommend this book!

“Great Book!” Five-Star Review of The Stand In

25 Apr

Feverish… Restless Writers and Spring Fever

23 Apr

I’m in a brief lull– one book, The Stand In, is launched, (garnering great reviews yet sales are quiet) and the second,  Chronicles of the Sanguivorous, The Rising, has been published as a teaser.   (The Amazon reviews are quiet so far, but sales are solid.) Chronicles is only the beginning of a novel and a series. That means that I must soon find the guts to finish it.  But writing a novel, I’ve discovered, is like jumping down a well.  At the bottom of it, you’re on page one and each succeeding page is but one laborious step upward toward that distant light at the top.  Only when you write “The End” can you consider yourself safe from the cold and watery dark.  It’s so dispiriting to realize that I must again hurl myself down that well, and – let me tell you – I’m mightily resisting the urge.   As I’ve stated repeatedly, I love writing but don’t particularly like doing it.  What I really like is having written.

It doesn’t help that a bad case of spring fever has attacked me with a vengeance.  All I want to do, it seems, is work in my yard, shop and go out to have drinks with friends – usually in the middle of the day.  And afterward, I’ll want a nice nap, too.  Soon it will be dinner time and cooking will occupy the end of my day.  The last thing I’ll want to do is march myself over to the keyboard and disappear down that well.

Usually I’m very disciplined when I write.  But it’s a kind of self-imposed hibernation that you’re forced to fall into when you’re writing a novel.  It’s a lonely, anti-social process.  And I’m about the only writer I know who has tested out to be an extrovert on the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  I like people, for God’s sakes.   Is that a sin?  And like I say, discipline is usually not a problem for me – except for those couple of times a year when all I want to do is play.

            Like now.

So I’m going to do what I always do when the fever hits, which is to give into it.  My rationale for doing so is that I will accumulate so much guilt by fever’s end that the only way to atone for it is to hurl myself down the well again; it’s a tactic, you see.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Today I have friends in town and predict that a round of mid-afternoon cocktails looms in my immediate future.  Frozen pineapple daiquiris sound good.  And then a nap.

            What can I do?  I’m feverish.

How to Write a Mystery Novel…

16 Apr

I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve this week and thought I’d revisit a topic that I posted about early in the life of this blog. I’d love to hear from the aspiring and published writers on this topic. Enjoy! Brad

How to create a mystery novel?  Of course, the answer is to read as many mysteries as possible.  There are no better models than the classics by Raymond Chandler or the modern thrillers written by Martin Cruz Smith – who I unashamedly admit to be my lord of lords, creator of the Moscow-based detective, Arkady Renko, who first appeared in Gorky Park.  (I would sacrifice a very private portion of my anatomy if I could write a fraction as well as Mr. Smith can – the left one, in fact.)  You can even learn something from Janet Evanovich, who is more machine these days than writer.  Though her plots may be thin and repetitious, they still obey certain rules that a new writer can observe, internalize, and replicate.

I never wanted to write mysteries.  I wanted to write historical novels along the lines of those written by Mika Waltari (The Egyptian) or Gary Jennings (Aztec).  But no one wants to read these epics today, and certainly no publishing house wants to publish them either.  (All those pages – such expense!)  But historical mysteries are another matter.  Mysteries, you see, rarely take more than a month to solve in a novel’s timeline.  They are never epics.  I like to tell my students that mysteries are not like symphonies, with hundreds of musicians, but more like chamber pieces with eight musicians at most.

So my first mysteries were set in Ancient Egypt and Babylon respectively, allowing me to write about history, true, but using the format of a mystery and keeping the action fast, hard-hitting, and distinctly non-epic.  My books have been called, as a result, “pharaonic noir” and my detective, Semerket, the clerk of investigations and secrets, an “Egyptian Sam Spade.”

I like it best when a detective is a flawed man, like my poor, alcoholic Semerket, so that in addition to solving the mystery at hand he must also solve part of the mystery within himself. Like the protagonists in Martin Cruz Smith novels, they also become the seat of moral authority.  All around them are crimes, official corruption, and indifference, but they remain committed to the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it is.  No matter how dark or dismal they are, they become heroic in the process – and your readers root for their success.

As to the plot, I like to think of it as a beautiful, decorated plate – intact and gorgeous – that has been viciously smashed to pieces by the crime at its center.  It is your detective’s task to pick up the pieces one by one, to find how they once fit together.  He or she is constantly picking up this piece and that piece in random order, until by the end of the book the plate has been put back together – irretrievably damaged, of course, but whole.  And though the mystery is solved, the denouement (literally, “untying” in French) should always resolve itself in a melancholic mood – for by solving the crime we come to know how unpleasant and corrupt the detective’s (and our) world really is.

In a mystery, the secondary characters are almost as important as your detective protagonist, because they will mostly fall into two groups – the criminal(s) and the “information passers”.  Each of these characters has one of the pieces of the plate in their possession; for reasons of their own, usually because they are implicated in the crime, they are sometimes reluctant to surrender it.  Others may be too willing to give up their piece, their information, but they are suspect, too.  Not only must your detective gather these pieces, the clues, but also perceive why and how these people who surrender them to him are connected to the crime, and how valuable their information really is.

Now, having said this, I have to confess that my latest mystery, The Stand In, violates most of these rules.  There is no real central detective; instead, the readers themselves take on this role.  This is because the story is actually a “smoke and mirrors” mirage – a special effect, if you will, something that Hollywood does so well – and Hollywood is the location of the novel, after all.  What is the truth?  What is really happening?  It’s all there in front of your eyes, yet it seems like something else is happening altogether….  Some will figure it out right away, others must wait until the very last sentence in the book…which is last piece of that plate.

Check Out This Review of “The Stand In” from Cassandra Parkin

11 Apr

I’m thrilled with this lovely review, it really makes my day. I also enjoyed reading Cassandra’s blog. Indie-authors could not ask for better readers and thoughtful reviewers…

“The Stand In” is a lovely, tightly-plotted, perfectly-crafted sliver of Hollywood noir. Rising Hollywood superstars and former lovers Rick DeNova and Lola Chandler are locked into starring roles in Centurion Studios’ production from Hell – a prestige vanity-project to bring Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities to the big screen…The Stand-In” would be worth reading even without the shock of discovering the author really has been cleverer than you, because it’s very, very well-written and it’s worth it just for the journey to its inevitable and well-foreshadowed ending. But finding a book that really has lived up to the “you won’t see this one coming” hype? That’s just delightful.

Dear Marilyn, Part Two

13 Mar

First, I want to apologize for the delay. My goal is to write two posts a week, but between the start of my new semester (I teach screenplay writing at Mt. San Antonio College) and finishing a screenplay, the time just got away from me.

Please keep reading, but … Have you read my latest book, The Stand In? 1957 Hollywood, intrigue and mystery for less than a latte. Now available on KindleNookeBook, and iPad. Downloading the book is a great way to support this indie-author. 

At any rate, where were we? Ah, yes, saying goodbye to the late, great Marilyn Monroe…

To recap, I was once the principle researcher on a best-selling book called, “Marilyn, the Last Take”, which dealt with Marilyn Monroe’s last film and final days. The real point of the book was to prove that the Kennedy’s had secretly killed her, making her death look like a suicide, because she supposedly was going to go public with her affairs with both John and Bobby.

How did they kill her? Well, there were two ways that were contemplated: one of the ambulance attendants, an FBI operative, purportedly gave her a hypodermic straight into her heart to cause an embolism. The other theory was that someone had given her an enema filled with seconal. When you think of it, both suppositions are equally nutty. Was the FBI supposed to plant someone on one of the many EMT services available, in the hope that they would be called in case Marilyn was in crisis mode? And the thought of someone taking the time to stick thirty seconal tablets up her ass is…well, a grotesquerie. What was Marilyn supposed to be doing all the time they were fiddling “down there”? The most logical explanation was that everyone around her knew that Marilyn staged suicide attempts for sympathy, during which she called all her friends to say goodbye, knowing that one of them would rescue her. On that last night, however, no one came. One conspiracy theory is that the Kennedy’s forbade their in-law and Monroe’s best friend, Peter Lawford, to intervene that night – and that’s the closest it ever came to murder. At best, it was a negligent homicide.

Well, as I’ve said, the book was an immense best-seller and it was fun to be associated with it. I so enjoyed working with its authors, Peter Brown and Patte Barham (true LA royalty, whose father gave his name to the famed boulevard located next to Universal Studios), and never expected to again become connected to the book. But when it was scheduled to come out in paperback, the authors once again contacted me.

It seems that after the hardbound book was published, the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” had done an episode about “the unsolved murder” of Marilyn Monroe, and Robert Stack had asked the public to write to L.A. Supervisor Antonovich to reopen the case. The Supervisor needed something like 30,000 signatures for legality purposes, if I remember correctly, but received only 8,000 letters and the matter was dropped.

In the meantime, however, after reading the first issue of the book, other people had come from the shadows to tell the authors what they knew, and their “confessions” were to comprise the addendum that was to be included in the paperback. My job was to go to the Antonovich office to read those 8,000 letters; to see “if there were any legitimate clues” that could be found in them.

Let me say that I found no legitimate clues. But, oh my God – those letters gave me a harrowing insight into the public’s collective mind that I have never forgotten.

I got to the Antonovich office in the morning and was led to a stark, windowless room where boxes and boxes of the letters were piled. I began to read them and became increasingly appalled at what they contained – and then, after the first two-thousand had been digested, I began to realize that they were repeating themselves. I saw patterns begin to emerge, and I was soon able to catalog them into a few sub-categories.
First, I’d like to say that only the very old, the very young, the truly profane, and the certifiably crazy took the trouble to write. Why? It’s because the sane, ordinary people don’t write at all. We’re too busy leading our lives, working our jobs, raising our kids, balancing our checkbooks – we just don’t have the time.
The next thing to surprise me was that the letters came from all over the world, from wherever the show was broadcast – mainly from Australia and New Zealand but also from Europe and even Vietnam. Antonovich couldn’t have used these signatures at all, because only American Citizens could have signed the petition to reopen the Monroe murder case. The foreign letters could not be counted, which cut the number of interested parties to about half.

The sub-category I next became aware of, because they were the most numerous, was the Marilyn for Sainthood letters. There was something so evanescent about her cotton-candy screen image that people could pin any hope and belief to her memory. To these writers, she was the Tragic Victim of an unfeeling world, too pure to live in its muck, a secular saint that was too fine for this hard, hard world. “Yes,” they said, “yes! By all means eopen the case, so that her true glory can shine again!” My God, I thought after reading them, this is how saints and redeemers are created. Marilyn is becoming Our Lady of the Overdose! (I just bet that this was how Jesus came to be regarded in those first years after his crucifixion – a gossamer mannequin that you could clothe in any costume you wanted. He could be Everything and Everyman. Now the same beatification process was happening to Marilyn.) What those letter writers seemed to forget was that Billy Wilder had called her the “meanest woman in Hollywood” or that Tony Curtis had said that “kissing her was like kissing Hitler”; they had also forgotten that she was an erotic vagrant of epic proportions and that she had terrorized directors and producers with her sheer and utterly selfish unprofessionalism. Yes, she burnt a hole in celluloid like no one else, but at what a cost – to both herself and the studios that employed her. In truth she was just ordinarily insane, just like her mother, and that’s from where our pity should spring. But to these writers, she was a goddess; enshrinement was their only end.

The next category I noticed was that of the Kennedy haters. They would write to anyone who asked them to vent their spleen about that terrible family. “She was assinated!” wrote one of them. (Need I mention that grammar and spelling skills were not readily apparent in most of these letters?) “The Kennedy’s were behind it and she was assinated!” (Yes, I thought, and after that she was rectified!) One particular writer went into lengthy discussion about how he could prove that it wasn’t Teddy Kennedy who had driven Mary Jo Kopechne into the drink, but that it was actually John F. Kennedy. John, you see, had actually survived that nasty “assination” attempt in Dallas, and the family had secretly installed him – almost a vegetable – on Chappaquiddick Island. Apparently they trusted him with the car keys, however, and poor Mary Jo paid the price. Teddy had come forward to cover the entire thing up! They assinated her!
Then there were the letters that went into what I called the Sacred Relics pile. These writers wanted Monroe’s body disinterred for any number of reasons – one saying that we would find a chip on her breast bone, where the aforementioned FBI agent had nicked it when he gave her that embolism. The most plaintive came from a gentleman from a foreign clime. “Please do a DNA test on Miss Monroe’s remains. The test will prove that I am the long-lost child she gave up for adoption in 1949” – which had been a long standing rumor, by the way – “signed, Quon Duc Pho of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.”

The most bizarre grouping of letters came from what I soon called the Lonely Woman Club, which exists mainly in Australia and New Zealand, but with ancillary chapters in places like Wyoming and Montana. Long, rambling twenty-page hand-written letters would describe their bleak lives on distant ranches or farms. “People have often compared me to Miss Monroe,” went one of them, “and often remark that I, too, am sad and tragic and not fit for this life.” Then a tiny slur against Monroe: “Only I am a natural blond!” Invariably these women would send snapshots of themselves posed provocatively against the corral fence, beside their best friend in the world, their horse Fluffy. I thought the first one was odd when I read it, but along about the thirtieth (complete with snapshots), I realized that these women (and they were only women) were so pathetically lonely that they would write to just about anyone who asked them, even a stranger on a television show. Then, almost as an afterthought on the last page they would remember the ostensible reason why they wrote and add, “please add my name to reopen the Marilyn Monroe murder case.”

I know there were other genres of letter, but I can’t quite remember them all. Suffice to say I had a whole new respect for our poor members of congress, city councils, and even Presidents – because if these were the kinds of people who wrote to them, just imagine what they must be thinking! We’re a nation of imbeciles, that’s what.

Perhaps the most profound thing I learned from these letters is that people are truly comforted by conspiracy theories. It is far safer to think that there was an important reason behind the death of a politician or a movie star; that cabals and conspirators with their elaborate and improbable plots are behind everything. What terrifies people most seems to be pure, uncaring randomness – because if even the likes of a protected, cocooned star like Marilyn Monroe can be doomed by chance or chaos, what hope do the rest of us have?

Have You Read, The Stand In?

27 Feb
Couldn’t resist sharing my latest review on Amazon! Have you read it? You can download it on Kindle, Nook and iTunes for iPad.
New! B. Maxwell reviewed The Stand In
 Grabs You From Page One February 24, 2012
Given to me by a friend, I couldn’t put this book down! On its surface it’s about a 50’s Hollywood movie idol who uses his celebrity to seduce and kill young women until his studio mogul boss begins to suspect him. Instead of going to the police and risking his #1 asset, the mogul decides to secretly replace him with an innocent young actor with an uncanny resemblance. But will his true role be replacement or fall-guy? Along the way the plot twists and turns, drawing you in with characters that, true to life, are both seduced by their dreams of success and love, and battered by the reality of what this town does to you. So what author Geagley ends up unspooling is a seductive thriller with wry insider’s view of Hollywood. Oh, and you’ll never guess the ending.

Loose Ends

31 Jan

1. Susan Schnelbach has created a great blog for readers and writers alike. I was lucky enough to be the subject of an author interview. Head on over to The Tameri Blog and give it a read.

2. My head is spinning from the rave reviews on Amazon for The Stand In.  (I swear my mother had nothing to do with them.) Seriously, I’m so grateful for readers, and reader who review. Thank you.

3. Kobo and Sony eReaders, fear not. You’ve been so patient. BookBaby has assured me that The Stand In will be available in both of these formats soon. No exact dates, but it will happen.

4. And finally, my former German publisher is reading The Stand In, considering publishing. My earlier books were translated into 23 languages.  Cross your fingers and stay tuned!

Best,
Brad

A Little Crowing for My Latest Novel

26 Jan

A review posted tonight for The Stand In on Amazon… “Nothing like reading a book & enjoying the excitement of not wanting to put it down so as to keep lusting for what is going to happen next! Mr. Geagley has a knack for setting you right in the midst of this Hollywood era when the words “who done it?” was a bitter reality for those caught up in the outrageous lifestyles of the rich & famous. Notoriety, money, greed…. What a combo! I was able to visualize his characters so vividly which adds that edginess of prejudicial suspicion! Didn’t think I would enjoy a “modern day” read from this Author since his expertise seemed to be prominently in Egyptian History. Surprise, surprise!”

Thank you for indulging me. 

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