The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Monday, June 9, 2014

Next Stop in the Writing Process Blog Tour

I’ve been invited by fellow mystery writer, Mike Martin author of the Sgt. Windflower mystery series to participate in a unique blog tour on writing.  Mike’s latest installment in this popular series is “Beneath the Surface”, available in Chapters/Indigo Bookstores across Canada and on Amazon in print and Kindle formats at  Sgt. Windflower solves crimes and performs heroic deeds on the rugged East Coast of Canada.  You can visit Mike at or at http//  Links on Mike’s blog can take you to other authors on this tour.

And so, to continue the tour, I will answer the four questions posed to participants in the Writing Process Blog Tour:

1.     What are you working on?  

I just published “The Origin Of Murder”, which brings Roger and Suzanne to Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.  That means I’m spending a lot of time trying to sell the new novel via social networking sites and guest blogs like this one. 
I’m also currently part of the way through a work in progress, a new Roger and Suzanne novel set in Alaska.  The current Alaska-based work in progress will be my sixth novel (and ninth book overall) in the Roger and Suzanne South American mystery series, about halfway completed.  This entry will take place in Alaska’s Denali national park wilderness, where a couple of Roger and Suzanne’s friends have been killed in what appears to be a random attack by a bear.  It’s a pretty good bet they were murdered, but how, and by whom?
 It looks like my characters will be visiting other interesting parts of the world than South America in some of the novels to come.   After the current book is completed, I want to do another novel built around their German Shorthaired Pointers, possibly featuring the world of hunt tests and field trial competitions for hunting dogs.  The ground rules for all the books, past, present, and future, are simple.  I’ve lived in or visited all of the places I write about.  The descriptions, foods, wines, and ambiance are authentic.  I think readers appreciate this, and the vicarious travel to exotic places adds a great deal to the books.

2.     How does your work differ from others in its genre? 

My genre is Mystery/suspense/thriller.  It has been my favorite genre to read all of my life, so is a natural choice for me.  It is certainly not the ideal genre for big sales---romance and/or vampires and other paranormal beasties would probably be a better choice commercially.  But we write what we love, so here I am.  So far, it’s only been mysteries as a genre, but the full range between hard-boiled and cozy.  My comfort zone seems to be as a “tweener”---tougher, darker, and more violent than a cozy, but minimal graphic violence, no four-letter words (at least in English), no smoking, alcohol in moderation, minimal concussions for the P.I.s, and no gratuitous sex.  For example “The Deadly Dog Show” is a whodunit mystery set in the world of canine conformation contests.   Because one of the lead characters is a dog, Amazon calls it a “cozy”.  I’d call it “hard-boiled” or “noir”, but with clean language and no gratuitous sex.  I guess that means it’s somewhere between those various genres.  My target audience is adults who enjoy suspenseful, fast-paced mystery novels set in unusual locales that are described authentically.
How do the Roger and Suzanne South American mysteries differ from other books in the genre?  I think it’s a cumulative thing.  1. They’re very good in terms of plot and setting.  2.  They’re well written.  3. They’re well researched and therefore educational.  4.  They’re quite affordable (maximum price of $2.99 thus far).  5.  They’re different---where else can you learn all about dog shows, Incan history, South American indigenous creation legends, and biochemistry and molecular biology in the same series?  6.  Finally, even though each book can be read as a stand-alone entry, some of the same characters are used throughout the series.  It’s a lot easier to take a character I know, put her or him into a specific situation, and ask myself how would they react to the situation than it is to start this process from scratch with a new character in each new story.  The recurring characters grow within the series, so you can keep up with old friends in the new books.  To me, that’s the best reason to write in a series format.

3.     Why do you write what you do?

I’ve been a big fan of mystery novels all my life.  I started reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in grade school.  Erle Stanley Gardner and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came next, before I hit my teens.   As I moved towards college and nominal adulthood, my favorites became the masters of the private eye genre, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.   For example, “The Matador Murders”, a hard-boiled, noir, whodunit mystery set mainly in Montevideo, Uruguay, is a reworking and modernization of Dashiell Hammett’s immortal novel, “Red Harvest”.   I like the noir style, the role of the private detective as the hero, and the fast pace of the action as a complex plot unfolds.  It just seemed, one day, that I should try constructing the puzzles as well as trying to solve them.  And here I am.

I think most mystery writers, including me, can rule out monetary gain as our greatest reward for being published authors, especially independent authors.  Of course, there’s a personal satisfaction in seeing a book with our name on it.  It’s a form of creativity that can be very reinforcing as you do it.  And, I’ve met (live and via Facebook) some very nice people who’ve helped me along the way.  But the biggest reward is the feedback people have given me, via book reviews, e-mails, and Facebook, that reading one or another of my books gave them several hours of pleasure, or a desire to visit South America, or a memory of already having been there.  That kind of positive feedback feels awfully good when it happens.
4.     How does your writing process work? 

I work full time, so my days aren’t available for writing novels.  That leaves early mornings, nights, and weekends for writing fiction.  I don’t follow a routine, other than to do it when I can.  Much of the “first draft” is done in my head before I ever actually write (type on the computer) anything.  I never know “whodunit”, and seldom know what’s going to happen after the first few chapters, when I start writing.  The story takes over the process and leads me to the later scenes and resolution once I actually start writing.  The book tells me when enough is enough.  The last couple of novels have been significantly longer than the earlier novels.  I’m not sure what that means.  Either my style is changing or I’m not listening to the books carefully enough when they tell me to stop.
You should be able to do a lot of the preliminary planning for the plot of your new mystery in your head.  Or, if it’s easier, draft an outline.  Then sit down at the computer and write.  It’s the same way as you write a scientific manuscript.  Just sit down and write the first draft.  It doesn’t matter how bad it is.  That’s what editing is for.  Just get it down on paper---editing is easier than creating.  And don’t forget to keep a character list as you go along.  That saves a lot of work later.
So far, there hasn’t been any “writer’s block” for any substantial amount of time.  There are good days and bad days when it comes easy or it doesn’t, but I try to write something every time I sit down to write.  I reuse characters I like in later books of the series, and try to let them grow as they progress through the series.  The characters I don’t like as much make good murder victims in the later books since I already know their backstory.
The major characters are all from my imagination, except they may contain bits and pieces taken from reality.  By an odd coincidence, for example, Suzanne works in the same scientific areas I do, so I have some expertise in what she does.  Roger’s skills in Brazilian jiu-jitsu are related to my son Matthew’s expertise in the area.  On the other hand, my supporting characters are definitely related to real people I’ve met, or to composites of several real people.  The character of Bernardo Colletti, the head of the Uruguayan Nazi Party from “The Ambivalent Corpse” and a suspect in the murder, has his roots in reality.   Bernardo also does a guest appearance in the title role in the story “The Body In The Bed”.  If you want all of the details about the real Bernardo, check out the post entitled “Where Do All of Those Characters in the Books Come From?” in my blog at  The blog post also discusses the roots in reality of several other minor characters in my books.
I’ve already done the research for the settings by choosing locales I know from first hand experience, either living in the locations or visiting them as a tourist.  That’s why South America and California are featured so prominently.   The Surreal Killer is a mystery/suspense novel, a work of fiction.  For a couple of years now, it has been in Amazon’s top twenty in the category of travel>non-fiction>Peru.  It’s a great way to visit Machu Picchu, Lima, and Cuzco in Peru, as well as Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert.
Fact checking is done on the Internet or using the library as a resource.  The science is based on my career as a biochemist and toxicologist; I keep my character’s expertise, especially Suzanne’s, within the boundaries of my own.  “The Body in the Parking Structure” was a lot of fun to write because I could draw on my professional skills for much of the background material for this book, which involves a pharmaceutical company and a potential new anti-cancer drug in the plot.

A good writer has to like writing.  Remember, most of us learn by doing.  The hard part is selling the books, and all the work that goes with trying to get reviews, get sales, get noticed.
And now, the sales pitch.  Why buy these books?  Several reasons.  They’re well written suspenseful mysteries with complex whodunit plots.  They’re well researched and therefore educational.   At $2.99 each for the novels, and $0.99 each for the novellas, they’re quite affordable.   Each book is written as a stand-alone novel---this isn’t a serial with cliffhanger endings or the same plot eked out in installments.  You can start with any book on the list and it will make sense.  If you want some sense of order in terms of how the characters are introduced and their back stories, you might prefer to start with either “The Ambivalent Corpse” or the anthology of short stories, “Five Quickies for Roger and Suzanne”.  In chronological order of publication, the books [All available form Amazon Kindle] are:
Novels:  The Ambivalent Corpse.  What do a dismembered corpse and South American indigenous creation legends have in common?  The answer to this question is a crucial clue as Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster solve a brutal murder in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The Surreal Killer.  What motivates a serial killer?  The answer to this question is the "whydunit" that leads Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster to "whodunit", the solution of a series of brutal murders in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia.  This tightly written mystery story will keep you guessing all the way to the thrilling conclusion.

The Matador Murders brings Roger and Suzanne back to Montevideo, Uruguay. One of their friends is suspected of murder and needs their skills as detectives to help clear him of the charges. Life for Roger, and especially for Suzanne, is more complicated these days as they now have an infant son, Robert. The three of them, accompanied by Robert’s nanny, Bruce, fly to Uruguay.  Before long we have our heroes directly in the middle of a gang war, off for a quick trip to Chile to learn all about the local crime scene, and meeting some unlikely allies in their mission. The book has lots of action, a good whodunit storyline, and occasional opportunities for sightseeing and eating regional specialty foods.

The Deadly Dog Show, a suspenseful journey into the world of competitive canine conformation contests, provides an exciting backdrop for murder.  Roger Bowman, private eye, is hired to investigate mysterious occurrences at California dog shows.  Before long, Roger is working undercover at the dog shows impersonating an owner, dead bodies are accumulating, and a mysterious stalker is pursuing Roger’s wife Suzanne.

In The Origin of Murder Roger and Suzanne take a vacation cruise through the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador.  Suzanne finds a dead body floating with a couple of bullet holes in its back floating in the Pacific Ocean and we're off to solve another deadly mystery.  Among the suspects is a treacherous travel agent with an eye-opening secret, a cheerful couple of bird watchers from Germany, a happy honeymooning couple, two sensual sisters from San Francisco, two recent retirees from Australia working through their bucket list, and two middle-aged Montevideo residents seeing the wonders of the world while they can.   Lurking in the background behind the scenes is a mysterious Ecuadorian general.

I’m also in the middle of writing the next book to follow in the series, tentatively entitled Being Dead In Alaska Is Unbearable, which will take our detective couple to Alaska.

Novellas:  The Body in the Parking Structure.  Suzanne discovers the body of a Bolivian scientist in the parking garage next to the Medical School at UCLA. The police treat the killing as just another drug deal gone bad.  P.I. Roger Bowman, Suzanne, and his team investigate the murder, which seems to be linked to a small biotechnology company and a new anti-cancer drug they are developing. The reader is off on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles and Westwood in search of clues. The clues are all there: Can you figure out whodunit before Roger does?  I got to use some of my scientific knowledge on this plot, which made it a lot of fun to write.
The Body in the Bed, a suspenseful whodunit, brings Roger and Suzanne back to Montevideo, Uruguay where another bloody murder needs to be solved.  International intrigue, corrupt cops, and a complex plot based on current world events make this novella one of the more interesting entries in the series.

Anthology (novel length) of shorter stories:  Five Quickies for Roger and Suzanne features a novella, The Empanada Affair [a completely re-written and re-edited version of the original first novel in the series, a murder mystery set in Salta, Argentina which describes how Roger and Suzanne first met]; The Body in the Parking Structure [also available as a novella, described above]; The Haunted Gymnasium [a mildly paranormal short mystery story set in Fortaleza, Brazil]; The Dog With No Name [a short story for dog lovers describing Roger’s first case as a private detective]; and “Someone Did It To The Butler”, my first attempt to write the classic California mystery short story that popularized the style in the pulp magazines our grandparents read.    

Blog: “South American Mystery Novels and Stuff” at

Facebook Link:

Amazon Author Page:
Your Next Stop on the Blog Tour is a professional colleague of mine, biochemist and toxicologist Henry Forman, author of  "Poisonous Science", which can be found at  Henry's blog may be found at:

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