Tag Archives: Los Angeles

LA’s Epic Rock & Roll, Fashion & Art Party: Interview with Author Nora Novak


Whenever she’s asked why so many Millennials and Generation Z men, women and teens continue flocking to the music and style of the 1960s and 1970s, Los Feliz Confidential author Nora Novak has a ready answer: “I think Millennials are recognizing a sense of excitement and freewheeling attitude of that era by listening to classic rock, and streaming movies and documentaries that portray the ‘good times’ they find appealing in a way not found in today’s device-dependent, stressful and more violent world,” she says. “I think the boomers, the internet and the media have had a hand in this, unlike previous generations.”

Nora, who grew up in and currently lives in Newport Beach, is the author of one of the finest scenester memoirs in years, and winner of a 2017 Southern California Book Festival Award. Los Feliz Confidential takes us right inside the classic home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz where Nora and her boyfriend hosted some of LA’s wildest parties of the 1970s and early 1980s. But their wildness was classed up by the fetching, willowy blonde hostess, whose elegance, glamour, style and love of music turned these parties into something extravagant. With her visual descriptions and deeply honest portrayal of her own feelings, goals and hopes, Nora lures us into a narrative so rhythmic and rich that you can practically hear the songs of the period spinning on her turntable — and the lyrics weaving in and out of the narrator’s heart. If you can’t remember the titles of these memory markers, no worries: she lists them in a back, a clever piece of “soundtracking” the book.

But Los Feliz Confidential is much more than a musical all-nighter put to words. Nora takes us through her rich, complex world that she creates on the fly, as a trendsetting scenester and traveler completely in touch with her native Flemish roots. The fact she was born in Belgium, grew up in the U.S. with her Old World parents but never lost her connection to Flemish culture (but rather dove into and celebrated it), adds to both the perspective and depth of the book. She takes us around the world on her fascinating (and sometimes wild) adventures, one of which she shares in the interview. She also takes us into the crazy all-hours fun of 1970s Los Angeles, and into the glam rock, punk rock, hard rock and early New Wave worlds that she made part of her own. We meet her friends, and again throw ourselves on Sunset Boulevard and into the clubs and scenes that many look back on with deep reverence, while younger generations seek to know more about this time period where freedom, platform shoes, liberation, shoulder pads, creativity, long hair, imagination, art, style, and great music prevailed.

Los Feliz Confidential and Art Damaged Author Nora Novak.

Turning all these experiences and elements into a treasure trove of a memoir was no easy task, but Novak has the chops to pull it off. She’s a fine artist, designer of her fashion line (Noraluxe Loungewear), art gallerist, actress, model, and also the author of the novel Art Damaged. She comes from a very talented family as well. Her mother, Emma Albertina Bogaerts, a lifelong storyteller, is the 105-year-old (not kidding!) newly published author of Emmy: Memoir of a Flemish Immigrant, now available in English and being shopped to publishers in Europe. Nora’s brother, Mark Leysen, is an award-winning art director and fine artist, as well as the author of Klown, his third novel (Traveling Shoes Press) about a late-night talk show host who runs for President. It definitely echoes the present state of the world.

We caught up with Nora recently. To get your Black Friday book shopping chops going, here is what she says about life, L.A., making scenes, and Los Feliz Confidential.

Word Journeys: Los Feliz Confidential is an epic scenester read – the incredible LA music-fashion-art scene and how you and others showcased and helped define it in your travels and daily lives. Could you talk about the amazing chemistry that exists between music, fashion and art, and why it was so definitive of a generation? And still is?

NN: Because that generation (talkin about my ge- generation) experienced an explosive time of cultural change, social mores, pop art and particularly British rock that spawned new looks in fashion as a lifestyle. There was an innovative and artistic energy that changed the way people dressed. The 70’s rock-infused fashion had an element of sensuality and glamour with an edge that I certainly favored and is still being recycled today. Innovative new artists, designers, bands and clubs emerged in L.A. and provided a more artistic expression in fashion. It all played out with the music creating a dazzling decade that many look back on for inspiration today.

A good example is Stephen Spouse collaborating with Debbie Harry in the 80’s and Jeff Koons collaborating with the new Louis Vuitton line today. Music blasts at every fashion collection. I think music, fashion and art have always had an evolving synergy.

WJ: Take us through your writing process for Los Feliz. How did you pare down your countless experiences into a tightly written 200-page book? What themes and points did you emphasize? And tell us about your decision to basically “soundtrack” the book, with songs listed for each chapter.

NN: First of all, I wrote what I could remember! I could have added many more stories, but I chose to keep it moving like the fast pace I was living at the time. I wanted to emphasize the difference of how immigrating here made me feel and my fearless sense of adventure. I tried to be give my stories a visual sense of the fashion and look of things, the easiness of life at that time. Everything I wrote about had music running through my mind, reflecting the time, so I naturally made many musical references. When I finished I was compelled to write a Playlist for each chapter, which I really enjoyed doing.

WJ: What are three of your favorite tales that you share in the book? And the funniest?

NN: Well (spoiler alert!), I do share an interesting story about my relationship with a Jordanian arms dealer and his Ambassador brother. There’s a tale about my first skiing experience – which also proved to be my last – and a humorous girl/girl story. I think the story about an ENT treatment given by my boyfriend’s surgeon dad is hilarious but for me it all seems humorous now. I’m still laughing!

Nora Novak’s fine collage work includes “The Girl from Antwerp”

Cinema Verite at Cannes? It’s red carpet time.

WJ: You are the daughter of a very take-charge, dominant father and a warm, artistic mother. How did that parent combination shape you as both a person and an artist?

NN: My father, although a stern and unpleasant man, instilled a strong sense of discipline and a somewhat sardonic outlook. However, he was responsible for my love of art and photography, for which I am grateful. My mother, on the other hand, emanated femininity, graciousness, a pleasant demeanor and sense of humor. The combination definitely shaped me as an individual and shows up in my work as an artist, as I generally incorporate female photographic images in my glossy mixed-media collages.

WJ: What struck me about your journey is how you took part in the lifestyle and excesses of the day, yet you always seemed to have a sense of who you were and what you wanted. How did you maintain that compass, if you will, of how to go forward?

NN: I readily enjoyed the excess and decadence of the times; it was a Bacchanalian era for rock ’n’ roll. Everything seemed so glamorous and indulgent, and was completely accepted in the L.A. that I knew. I did have goals though, like a working schedule and a sense of enough discipline that probably prevented me from becoming another Hollywood fatality. Many didn’t make it.

WJ: You write of your affinity for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. What was it about his voice, music, lyrics, and presence that captivated you? What do you feel musicians today can learn from their predecessors in terms of delivering from heart and soul vs. making a hit?

NN: Bryan Ferry evoked a sultry, seductive kind of singing unique from other rock stars. Not to mention his suave, good looks, elegant style, sophistication and harmonica playing that simply resonated in a big way for me. I thought his music and lyrics quite beautiful and loved his sexy album covers. It seems like everyone can sing today with a huge range and big powerhouse voices, but at the end of the day, it’s generally the more unique voice with soul and a great tune that becomes the hit. The late Amy Winehouse comes to mind.

WJ: You’ve also been creating works of art. Tell us about those.

Nora Novak’s “Nico”, honoring the late New York scenester and Velvet Underground singer. Part of her Femme Fatale collection.

NN: I started a new series, my “Femme Fatale” collection. I just finished three mixed-media collages, that can be seen on my website noranovak.com and will be exhibited soon. I’m thinking about starting another book next year, possibly a sequel to Los Feliz Confidential, picking up where it left off moving into the crazy 80’s.

WJ: Lightning Round: Who are your five favorite authors? Musicians or bands? Artists? Fashion designers?

NN: My favorite authors? When I was young, I would say John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. I that progressed to Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski, and more recently Irvine Welsh and Edward St. Aubyn. Musicians: It’s still Bryan Ferry, Iggy and the Stones and Amy Winehouse, miss her. Artists: Jan Van Eyck, Kees Van Dongen, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel to name a few. As for designers, Dries Van Noten, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, love the vintage Halston — and my own Noraluxe Loungewear line, of course!

WJ: Final question: If a musician came up to you and said, “Hey girl, I want to play you one song that speaks to who you are,” what would that song be? And who would be playing it?

NN: Well, I would love it if that musician was Bryan Ferry. I’d request his cover version of Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, but wait; can I get one with Iggy on vocals, Mick on harmonica and Keith on guitar, and they can play whatever they want?

WJ: Let us cue it up! Thanks so much, Nora, for a fun and enlightening look into an era so wonderfully captured in Los Feliz Confidential.


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Why Thrillers Are Fun to Write, and #1 to Read: William Thompson Ong Interview

After he retired from a long career in the advertising industry, William Thompson Ong knew he wanted to return to his other love – 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_writing – but didn’t know where to start. Like other writers, he wanted to draw plenty of fun and enjoyment from his daily sessions. However, he also wanted to write books that would find large audiences.

Ong did some research, and it brought him back to one of the favorite genres he read as a youth and young man: action thrillers with plenty of mystery. Bingo! He transformed into a typing thoroughbred, and burst out of the gates. In just a few years, he has written seven novels and a popular thriller series. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Ong reflects on why thrillers are so much fun to write, why they are the #1 fiction genre for readers (just ahead of the other ingredient in his books, romance), and how the stars have aligned ideally in the persona of Kate Conway, his protagonists for the novel series The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders, all available on Amazon.com.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: What is it about the personalities and characteristics of investigative journalists that make them ideal protagonists for thrillers and mysteries? 

WILLIAM THOMPSON ONG: I’d like to answer with some comparisons between the detective and the newspaper guy or gal. Both appear to be dedicated to discovering breakthrough facts or evidence they can weave into a conclusive story or an indictment.  Aren’t they both in the same business, after all—fighting crime?

In Kate Conway’s case, the hurdles are set higher. The investigative reporter is in a class by herself at a newspaper or magazine journal, assigned to the really big and explosive stuff—stories and cases that go far beyond the murder story.  These are the bright, tenacious, and fearless guys and gals who won’t be home for Christmas—they’ll be spending it hiding in a basement in Teheran to escape a terrorist’s sword. These are the guys and gals whose names will appear on the stories that garner Pulitzer Prizes for their papers—(to say nothing of boosting circulation enough to keep today’s newspapers alive for another year.)  And in most cases they’ll be acting alone—not with the NYPD at their disposal.

Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)WJ: You mentioned a disparity between typical education levels of an investigative journalist and detective, which creates major story problems in moving crime novels along because of the distrust with which one often views the other in real life. How did you get around that in your series?

TO: I made Kate’s father a gnarly ex-detective—(Paul Conway is a career dick from Brooklyn). When Kate needs help she whistles and Paul Conway appears, wise in the details of police procedure (which Kate and I choose not to be) and just dropping his name opens doors for Kate. Some may think I am cheating by supplying Kate with a crutch like this. But it allows Kate to cruise on a higher level and solve the really complicated crimes.

All of this explains why I lean away from the straight detective story in favor of the mystery-thriller. I’m still that stickler for detail.  But now I can keep a lot more balls in the air when it comes to plotting.

WJ: In The Fashionista Murders, and also The Mounting Storm, you give an expert’s touch to how you portray the high fashion industry and the high-end art world. Are these interests of yours, or just story drivers that you researched (well) and brought to life?

Like Kate Conway herself in The Fashionista Murders, I am totally turned off by fashion—which is why I attached the serial killer to the story. In The Mounting Storm, introducing Kate to Margaret Winship opened up the world of art and museums and society that heightened Kate’s search for the missing Monet she suspects belonged to her grandmother and triggered Kate’s unmasking the Nazi.

It also opened all of Kate’s subsequent novels to the swanky world of high finance and billionaires and celebrity society with its pretension and snobbery and deviousness—absolutely wonderful and trusty elements for layering your novel.  These elements are story drivers and not comfortable elements already present in my life—although at one time I seriously considered becoming an artist.

WJ: You had an interesting way of becoming a thriller writer after leaving the advertising industry:

TO: I did. My decision to write thrillers was based on some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants research.  I found thrillers to be the most popular genre. I also found there were more female readers than male readers, which helped lead me to inventing Kate Conway.  Discovering that romances were the second hottest genre convinced me to spread Kate’s adventures with hot and spicy romance.

WJ: Were you a big reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction in your growing up years? Who were your favorite 41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_authors, and what influenced you most about their works, styles and/or voices?

TO: When I was 9, my father brought home The Five Orange Pips and lightning struck. I became a Sherlock Holmes fan forever, admiring his characters and atmosphere (who can resist The Hound of the Baskervilles for atmosphere?) as much as his sleuthing.  But as I grew older, my tastes gravitated to more intricate thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Day of the Jackal.

By the time I reached college, writing style became important—the   grace and class of W. Somerset Maugham as well as the biting vividness of Hemingway and the magic of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I have worn out several soft-cover editions of A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.)

WJ: Story structure and writing style definitely resonates in your books. We start off on one trail, only to be switched to another – then another –  always with entanglements of some kind involved. Is this a reflection of the way Kate keeps changing and running into surprises? Or the storycrafting style you’ve decided to run with?

TO: It’s both. The multi-layering of plot that I began in The Mounting Storm logically became a pattern for all of Kate’s novels.  In the beginning I had no thought of making the novel into a series.  It was to be a dark and brooding Citizen Kane type of story dramatizing the deviousness of Stirling Winship with Kate almost a minor figure. On the advice of an agent I cut some 90 pages and 30,000 words of background color on Stirling and turned it into a fast-paced thriller featuring Kate. But almost all the plots and subplots remained intact and we were off to the races with the Kate Conway series.

41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ: Rather than go the traditional publishing route, you’ve partner-published with Charles Redner and RiPublishing. Could you elaborate on the advantages you’ve found to the path you’re taking?

TO: The advantages? I am getting to see my books in print, I’m getting strong reviews, and I’m selling enough books to encourage me to keep going. Plus, it’s happening right now. This sure beats waiting around while an editor fiddles and fusses with changes for a year and then spends another year wondering whether the publishing house bosses will give me the final green light.

Self-publishing no longer bears a stigma. It’s attracting big name authors as well as beginners.  If you can’t afford to wait, it’s the place to be. If your books have the necessary magic, they will almost certainly rise to the top.

Partnership-publishing is even better. In Charlie Redner, I have the advantage of a fellow author who acts as my publisher and also my agent when it comes to advice.  There’s a lot of advice you’ll need, especially if you’re like me and have a mind that was built to function in the old days before the computer and the internet—back when we spent our time thinking and doing things instead of walking around pressing buttons on gadgets. (But thank Heaven the word processor replaced my typewriter!)

WJ: Final question: In each of your books, what is the one scene, situation, or character shift that surprised you most when it came flying from your mind to pen or computer screen?

TO: What a terrific question for ending this interview!

In The Mounting Storm, it’s the scene where Kate’s having dinner as the guest of Winston Winship.  She has found the guy an obnoxious bore and lets us know it. But then he says something encouraging about her idea for a new magazine—and she warms to him. When he invites Kate to the party he’s throwing in the Hamptons, which she absolutely hates…

            Kate looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his         coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his   extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with      their look of sadness.

           “Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.

In The Deadly Buddha, in the party scene at the Hollywood movie studio, Kate has no idea the handsome dude chatting her up—and from whom she reluctantly accepts a ride back to her hotel—is the Welsh movie star she’s been ordered to interview.  He stops at the Griffith Observatory and they find themselves having a ball as they recall from memory the lines James Dean and Natalie Wood exchanged in Rebel Without a Cause. This is how the scene ends:

             Kate didn’t lean over and kiss him, although she thought about it. They were too busy laughing. They laughed all the way back to the hotel. The doorman helped her out. She turned to wave goodbye, but he was already in the circle and heading toward the Wilshire exit, his hand waving carelessly in the air.

           That was the moment Kate realized she didn’t even know his name.

In The Fashionista Murders, we go through the thought process that keeps Kate from giving in to sex, this time in the apartment-studio and in the arms of the handsome photographer covering the fashion shows with her:

Maybe the shrink her friends had dragged her to was right—instead of shutting men out of her life she should loosen up when she felt her buttons being pushed and let things happen. Maybe she needs to change—not just Cam.

          “You are not only a sex maniac but a full-fledged, card-carrying, conniving bastard,” was the way she began the terms of her surrender.  

           She took a step back, grasping both his hands in hers while shaking her mane of Irish red hair. “And now that I have made it ridiculously clear, you may do what you want with me—so long as it’s not boring, distasteful, or so devious it will land us in jail.”

 I warned you how much fun it is writing thrillers, especially when you decide to stretch the boundaries a little. Thanks again for inviting me into your sanctuary.

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Interview: How Derek Haas Keeps Us Watching & Turning Pages

Derek Haas (left) and co-writer Michael Brandt

Derek Haas (left) and co-writer Michael Brandt

To say Derek Haas is on a writing hot streak is a gross understatement. The 43-year-old adventure thriller novelist’s career is vaulting into the stratosphere with bestsellers like The Right Hand and The Assassin Trilogy (Silver Bear, Columbus, Dark Men), featuring contract killer Columbus, one of the more intriguing protagonists in recent years.

However, this only nicks the surface of Haas’ life. He has also become one of the hottest all-around writers in the world, currently touting a bestselling novel (The Right Hand), and with longtime co-writer Michael Brandt, one of the most acclaimed TV series (Chicago Fireand a dossier of screenwriting credits that includes The Double (2011), Wanted (2008), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003).

41O0S7VJgIL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Some great TV writers, like Stephen J. Cannell and Sidney Sheldon, graduated to bestseller novelist status after leaving television. Others moved on to write memorable movies. Some novelists have become prolific screenwriters. A great example is the indomitable Elmore Leonard, the master of printed dialogue, whose novels and short stories have been adapted into more than 20 movies, some written by himself. One of his adapted short stories is 3:10 to Yuma. 

However, very few writers have worked in all three media simultaneously.

Such dexterity is a tribute not only to Haas’ abilities, but to his work ethic. He is a throwback to the classics, such as Paddy Chayefsky (who won Academy Awards for the writing of Network, The Hospital, and Marty), who got up every day and wrote great movie scripts and teleplays during TV’s golden age – no matter what. Haas attributes this discipline, along with years of rejections and “almosts”, in forging his dogged determination to succeed.

Haas on the movie set

Haas on the movie set

All of Haas’ work is action-packed, with well-layered character development and plenty ofsurprise twists and turns. Whether it’s a chapter in his books or an episode from Chicago Fire, subtext and various narrative threads are working just beneath the main arc, providing the full experience his readers and viewers have come to expect. After reading three of his novels and watching the entire first season of Chicago Fire over a month’s time on Hulu Plus, I mentioned to Derek how one can tell an accomplished novelist wrote that series. “Well, a TV series is episodic, like the chapter of a book,” he replied.

I first met Haas at the 2011 Southern California Writers Conference, where he delivered the featured keynote speech. Now, after 2 ½ years, one movie, two books and a hit TV series later, Haas shares his experience in this special interview.

WORDJOURNEYS: First of all, Derek, you’ve been on a writing rampage the past seven years – three movies, four adventure thriller novels, and a hit TV series. How do you switch back and forth from novel writing to TV writing to screenwriting? And keep the creative energy flowing?

Derek Haas: I don’t have any secrets other than I put the time in and try not to procrastinate.  I make sure I write every day; I make sure I read every day.  I love to write, so it’s never been a drag for me.  I have a partner in screenwriting so it is easy to avoid writer’s block.  If I get stuck, I just click “send” on an email.  Here you go, Michael (Brandt).  Your turn.

Derek Haas with a composite of his TV and motion picture protagonists

Derek Haas with a composite of his TV and motion picture protagonists

WJ: Your world must be rocking this summer between The Right Hand and writing season 2 of Chicago Fire.  Which leads to process: Since every writer wants to know about every other writer’s daily process, what’s yours?

DH: For television, it’s a pretty standard process.  Brandt and I (with the help of Matt Olmstead and our writing staff) come up with a story, which we then write into about a twelve-page outline.  The outline tells exactly what is going to happen in each act.  Very detailed.  We then go through a series of approvals, after which, we write the script incorporating ideas generated from the feedback.  Michael and I then pass the script back and forth until we get it to a place we like, then we go through the same approval process.

With novels, I just write long hand in one of those good ol’ Moleskin booklets.  I don’t usually outline… I just kind of know my beginning, middle, and end.  It lets me run a bit wild.

WJ: You made a distinction to the Chicago Tribune between TV series and movies that showed your novel-writing experience. You said that in movies, you need a beginning-middle-end, but you can end TV episodes with danglers. Could you elaborate?

DH: Well, you want viewers to tune in the following week… so the episodes end up being like chapters rather than books.  We’ll close this storyline this week, but we’ll open the door on three other storylines so you’ll want to come back and see how they finish.  It’s the “cliffhanger” writing that has been around for a long time.  A lot of times, we think of things as three-episode arcs … over the course of three episodes, we’re going to tell this story.  (Three is arbitrary; it could be four or seven.)  One three-episode arc might start in episode five, another might end there.  Does that clarify it?

The Right Hand, Derek Haas' latest novel

The Right Hand, Derek Haas’ latest novel

WJ: You’ve come off the heels of The Assassin Trilogy with a highly acclaimed action thriller, The Right Hand. I’m reading it now; it’s hard to put down. Austin Clay is incredibly intriguing, how he balances his life while engaged in very deep black ops. What is it about action, adventure, and the lone wolf archetype that captivate you so much?

DH: I don’t know… I’ve always liked stories about a lone wolf, where everyone in the world is against the protagonist.  I’m attracted to characters who are gray – an intriguing blend of good and bad.  It’s fun for me to write a despicable character in such a way that the reader cares for him or her.

WJ: You really like Europe as a setting for your novels. What do you enjoy about the European cultures, history, buildings, landscapes and people, and what are the combination of elements that make it so intriguing for you to write about, and readers to sink into?

DH: Great question!   Europe works for a lot of reasons… for one, it’s easier for an American spy or hit man to blend in – the basis for a lot of espionage.  I love the nooks and crannies and Old World layouts of cities, before there were cars and grids.  I also like to take readers out of their comfort zones and give them something new to imagine.  I like to play on perceptions of cities… for instance, Paris is usually this romantic place, but I like to take you down the darker, seedier streets.  I like to write about places I’ve been to… and I haven’t made it to Asia yet, so that’s probably a factor.  I really love Europe. When you respond to a place, when it gets in your blood, it comes out on the page.

WJ: Your readership arc for The Assassin Trilogy is almost like the viewer arc for Chicago Fire, in that some people got it right away, and then word-of-mouth caught fire and greatly increased audience as you were deepening the stories and bringing in new characters. What adjustments did you make from one book to another in The Assassin Trilogy to keep it fresh and new?

DH: I made a concerted effort to make Columbus more likable as the series went on… here’s a guy I wanted readers to want to spend more time with… so I couldn’t keep him as cold-blooded as he was in the first book.  I decided to give him a relationship that would cause him to question his role in life.  After I had Risina, I knew I could build empathy between Columbus and the reader.  I think that was the biggest progression.  I love writing him… he’s so heartless in one moment and so damned big-hearted the next.   Anyway, I hope that answers the question.

WJ: That it does. Another Columbus question: I’ve seen Columbus described as “the anti-Jason Bourne.” As his creator and storymaker, what intrigued you most about him as you wrote him out?  What background work did you do to get the hit man character right?

DH: I had spent some time with the FBI at Quantico and they talked to Michael and me about organized crime.  The world fascinated me.  I thought a hit man would make a great anti-hero, and I loved the idea of writing him in the first person, so the reader would be forced inside the head of a guy who killed people for a living.  I loved thinking about the psychological ramifications of hunting someone down, killing him, and walking away to do it again.  I wanted to make the toll of that on a man’s psyche seem real.  Then I hired a hit man to kill someone so I could shadow him and write about him.  (Just kidding about that last part.  Seriously, don’t send the FBI after me.)

WJ: You’ve worked for years with Michael Brandt on movies like 3:10 to Yuma, Wanted and The Double, and now on Chicago Fire. What are the advantages of a writing partnership – and how have you brought out the best in each other? What is your writing process together like?

DH: Michael and I have been working together now for 15 years… it’s been such a great partnership.  He’s a fantastic writer, and it certainly helps to have someone share the trials and tribulations of Hollywood with you.  There are so many ups and downs in this business… to go through it alone?  I don’t know how solo writers do it.  I’ve said for a long time… I’m really just writing to impress Michael.  We pass scripts back and forth via email (written on Final Draft) and change the colors so we know who wrote what.  We do that three or four times before we turn something in.  That’s our process, I guess.

The Cast of 'Chicago Fire'

The Cast of ‘Chicago Fire’

Chicago Fire question: This show builds on each episode – big time. It’s taut, riveting, great characters, really good mixtures of procedure, drama and action. How does your background as a novelist help you write these shows, especially showing the patience to bring out the characters over several episodes, developing subplots and individual stories, and creating dangler endings?

DH: Like I said, it’s basically the way you write chapters in novels.  You have a season – which is like a book – and then the individual episodes are the chapters in that book.  At the beginning of the year, the writing staff sits in a big room with a blank board and we arc out all the characters over the course of the season.  It’s like a giant grid… here’s what will happen to Casey, here’s what will happen to Severide, here’s where those two things will intersect.   Then, as we write each episode, we try to tie that episode into a central theme… for instance, if this episode is about the consequences of telling lies, then that theme will show up in individual character arcs and also in the accident calls.  But you have to know ahead of time where all these stories are going over the course of a season, or the audience will soon realize that you never had a plan.  A lot of the heavy lifting is in those first few weeks in the writer’s room.

WJ: Well, I guess I’ll unwittingly add to the theme of telling lies, because I do have a follow-up: Which Chicago Fire character(s) outgrew your original concept and expectation when Season 1 started? Who literally took off within your mind as the season progressed? Why?

DH: When we first started, we had Herrmann as this kind of death-of-a-salesman lovable loser who was always trying to get rich quick.  We kind of had him in our minds as a tragic fool.  (Executive producer) Dick Wolf told us that it was a disservice to the character, and the guy was actually the heart of the show… a family man who is just trying to put food on the table for his wife and kids.  He became a very relatable character and a bunch of storylines jumped off of that change in his character.  I love the way he turned out, and David Eigenberg does an incredible job of bringing him to life.

WJ: Final question: What do you enjoy most about creating and crafting stories? What brings out the pure fun and play element of writing for you?

DH: For me, writing is all about surprise.  Surprising the reader, surprising the viewer, surprising the characters, surprising yourself.  Zigging when they think you’re going to zag.  Misdirecting them this way and then slamming them that way.  Any time you can have a reader go, “I never saw that coming,” or better, “I should have seen that coming,” then it is very satisfying.  I get excited when I craft an intelligently set-up surprise… be it in dialogue, plot, setting or character.

The greatest part is having a viewer or reader email you and tell you his or her thoughts.  I still pinch myself when I get a nice email from someone who took the time to write it.  I can’t believe these characters who were in my head connected with people.  It’s very satisfying.

WJ: Derek, it’s been a pleasure. We’ll continue to follow what surprises come up in Season 2 of Chicago Fire … and in your books.

DH: Thanks!

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Writer’s Conference Fever

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Quick blog this morning, as I’m getting ready to head to LA Valley College for the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference, which begins today and runs through Sunday (and still time to register at the door, starting at Noon today, BTW).

la writers conference

Writers Conference are amazing events – and I’ve told every aspiring and active writer I know to attend at least one, if not one per year. Why? Because after spending so much time writing in the loneliness of your home office, you get to mingle with kindred spirits. Everyone’s in the same boat, and the energy level is through the roof when we get together to compare struggles, triumphs, titles, voices and techniques. Secondly, the variety of helpful workshops, presentations and panels is tremendous. At this particular conference, non-fiction and fiction is fully covered, along with screenwriting and television writing (why not? Hollywood is just down the road).

For instance, I’m sitting on four panels, with plenty of variety. Today, I’ll be in on the Memoir Writing panel. On Saturday, it’s off to the Ghostwriting panel, then a pair of all-important Editing panels – Revising and Editing manuscripts on Saturday, and Rewriting on Sunday. (Revising and Rewriting are two entirely different processes, though all too often, we tend to blend the two). Will post my outlines from the Memoir and Ghostwriting panels on this blog next week.

The other reason writer’s conferences are so important is that we find out the latest happenings in the publishing Low Res Cover Backroadsindustry from the literary agents and editors on hand. Right now, if you’re thinking of publishing – or moving into other genres – it pays major dividends to be current on traditional and digital publishing events. Things continue to change so rapidly. I’m particularly interested in the concept of “hybrid authors”, since I am one, publishing works in both traditional houses and through collaborative partnerships, such as my work with Tuscany Global, which is putting out my poetry/essay book “Backroad Melodies” next week, and Vol. 1 of “Best of the Word Journeys Blogs” next month.

If you’re not coming up to LA, and you’re serious about your writing, please make sure to sign up NOW for the Southern California Writers Conference, which takes place Sept. 20-22 in Newport Beach, Calif. This is one of the hottest conferences in the nation for book contracts.

Losing my religion_cover_low resMeantime, time to hit the road. Oh yeah, before I go: be sure to stop by Amazon.com and pick up the hot new novel that hits the shelves today, “Losing My Religion” by Jide Familoni. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever worked with, a great story of a man trying to live in one lifestyle and culture while retaining the core traditions of another.

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Feasting on Words: Billy Collins, Southern California Writers Conference, and New Books in the Making

A few odds and ends while feeling very inspired and energized by the past ten days, which have included a wonderful Southern California Writers Conference, starting to put together what will be a smashing Spring 2013 issue of The Hummingbird Review, watching editing clients get one deal and opportunity after another, and Tuesday night’s superb event with Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States…

The Billy Collins program at Point Loma Nazarene University was truly special. Billy has drawn hundreds of thousands of otherwise non-poetry fans into the world of poetry through his easily accessible, humorous, poignant and endearing takes on life’s otherwise ordinary moments. On Tuesday night before a standing room-only crowd of more than 400 at Crill Hall, he read 17 poems spanning his career (10 collections, plus several anthologies), including a couple from his latest, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems 2003-2013, which will be released October 22. He also sat with PLNU journalism faculty member and Writer’s Symposium coordinator Dean Nelson, himself the author of a dozen books, for an excellent hour-long discussion.

One of Billy’s many funny lines? Check out this succinct take on science fiction: “There are only two directions for all of science fiction: We’re going there, or they’re coming here.” Priceless.

Discussing poetry with former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Discussing poetry with former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

A couple hours earlier, I interviewed Billy at his bayside Shelter Island hotel for The Hummingbird Review. It was fun, lively, full of wisdom and humor – typical of Billy’s take on the world. We had a wonderful discussion about his poetics and vast contributions, a part of which I will share in this blog on Friday. For the rest, you’ll have to pick up The Hummingbird Review.

A really funny moment popped up during the interview. When my sweetheart, A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda, and I told Billy how Carlsbad High School teacher Tom Robertson turned us onto poetry in our freshman English class, Billy looked at Martha and quipped, “So you were one of those mean girls!” He was referencing the fact that he (like me) was painfully shy in high school, and not on the radar screen of the school’s most beautiful girls. We informed him that Martha was one of the nicest (and best looking, and still is) CHS beauties, to which he replied, “So you were the nice one!” Gotta love this man.

• • •

I’m still pouring through notes from the Southern California Writer’s Conference, so I want to share a few comments that famed science fiction writer David Brin made that are great takeaways for writers and readers alike (with very special thanks to Alicia Bien for emailing her notes as well):

On the bad guys we all love to hate (or maybe root for) in novels: “Give the villain great dialogue so they are tempted. Make your villains so powerful that the U.S. government can’t beat them.”

Bestselling science fiction author David Brin (photo by Gayle Carline)

Bestselling science fiction author David Brin (photo by Gayle Carline)

On the purpose of writing: “Convey your sense of joy on the page. Control your ego, but believe you can write material that people want to read. Remember: writing is the only true form of magic.”

How to write a first page that hooks readers: “The first page must sing. Copy the first page of writers you respect, see how they move the story, and find that within your own voice, your own story.

Four keys to getting published and drawing your readers:

1)   You need an ear

2)   Bring on the criticism because you can be even better – and you know it

3)   Hard work

4)   Luck

• • •

Have been having a blast editing and/or writing proposals for some truly wonderful books that have made their way onto my computer in the past several months. Will rattle off their titles and authors now, so that you will grab them and share the experience when they hit bookstores in the next 12 to 18 months (as I am fully confident they will):

• A Taste of Eternity, a memoir by Martha Halda

• Home Free Adventures, a travel narrative by Lynne Martin

• Island Fever, Mustang Fever and Storm Chasers, an adventure romance trilogy by Stephen B. Gladish

• Who Will Cry for Us? a memoir by Davion Famber

• The Columbian Prophecy, a novel by Gary B. Deason

• Changes in Longitude, a travel narrative/memoir by Larissa and Michael Milne

• Red Hand, a novel by Seamus Beirne

• Forgoing Stress, a prescriptive book by Leo Willcocks

Next week, I will talk more about a couple of books coming from yours truly, including my forthcoming novel, Voices. We’ll also hear from authors Larissa and Michael Milne, Martha Halda and Stephen B. Gladish. Stay tuned.

• • •

Speaking of March, two events are coming up in the next two months that I hope you will participate in, if you are suitably located geographically: the Tucson Festival of Books March 9-10 at the University of Arizona in Tucson; and the L.A. Times Festival of Books April 20-21 on the University of Southern California campus. Between the two, more than 100,000 people will be in attendance. These events are a paradise for readers, a chance to meet and talk with hundreds of authors and publishers in all genres. Check them out.



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100th Word Journeys Blog: Involvement With an International Book Award Winner

I’ve been wondering what to write for the 100th Word Journeys Blog. I will still write an anthology blog that highlights this wonderful writing journey, with links to the better blog experiences. However, this morning, an ideal topic fell on my doorstep — rather, my email queue. It combines everything I care about: writing, books, education, my spiritual life … and a lifetime achievement by a man I deeply admire.

This morning, I learned that Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, by Swami Kriyananda, won the International Book Award for New Spirituality Books. Since I am in the middle of promoting this book for three major events directly ahead — the Yuga Cycles Conference at The Expanding Light Retreat, at which Kriyananda is speaking Saturday as one of 10 esteemed presenters; Book Expo America, which is June 5-7 in New York; and Kriyananda’s book appearance at the Ford Theater in L.A. on June 24 — my first response was, “Perfect timing!” Let’s face it: you can’t pay the New York Times Review of Books for a year of full-page ads and receive more serendipitous timing.

Then I sat back and thought about what this book has meant in my life: as an author; an educator at Ananda College who utilizes the Education for Life method (which Kriyananda initiated); as someone who first welcomed Yogananda’s teachings (that merge essential Christianity and essential Vedic truths) into his life more than 30 years ago; and as one who counts among his dearest friends many deep and wise souls who live and work at Ananda Village in Northern California (which Kriyananda founded). Never mind my admiration for Kriyananda’s prolific nature; Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography is his 130th book (give or take). All of these books extend the yoga master’s teachings into the 21st century, and into every corner of our lives, societies, and communities. So for starters, the International Book Award serves as sort of a Lifetime Achievement Award for an incredible 86-year-old man who has given his entire adult life in service to God – and touched countless thousands of souls in the process (or millions, if you count the 4 million books he has sold).

When I contemplated how Yogananda’s teachings, Kriyananda’s books, and the many ways in which I have worked with Ananda over the past 23 years (including two stints at Crystal Clarity Publishers, 20 years apart), have helped define my life, I asked myself a question: Where would I be without it? I can come up with all sorts of answers, but few – if any – will add up to anything close to the mixture of God, joy, creativity, nature, happiness and serviceful spirit that is part and parcel of my daily life.

Then there is the book itself. Many of you have probably read or heard about Autobiography of a Yogi, the book Yogananda wrote in 1947 that remains the best-selling spiritual autobiography of all time. It has changed countless lives; Kriyananda read it in 1948, dropped his life as he knew it, and took a bus to L.A., where Yogananda received him at his headquarters in L.A. In one sense, Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography tells the rest of the story, one that, for whatever reason, only Kriyananda has been willing to share. For starters, there are more than 60 stories that have not appeared in Autobiography, Yogananda’s other works that he wrote in his lifetime, or in compilations that have appeared since. Secondarily, Kriyananda offers a bird’s eye view of Yogananda’s approaches to many different spiritual and everyday life situations, creating a glowing narrative of this God-realized man’s enormous compassion and strength that Yogananda was too humble to write himself. That’s what good biographers do.

But then Kriyananda reached out and touched everyone: he shared what Yogananda did the past few years of his life. Yogananda ended his public speaking engagements, which drew up to 7,000 people during the 1920s and 1930s, and wrote books and instructed his closest disciples to carry his mission forward. As one of his editors, and the leader of the monks, young Kriyananda belonged to that inner circle — and was tasked to get the word out. Yogananda had a mission and a vision for bringing souls and society into a future age where energy would accelerate, communication would become faster and more global, and spiritual magnetism would grow to become the law of the land. In the Vedic cycles of time, this is known as Dwapara Yuga. Yogananda envisioned and spoke of communities of like-minded souls (like Ananda), education that emphasized the inner as well as outer development of the student (like Education for Life), and lives lived simply, with complete devotion to God.

Here we are. Here, in my opinion, is why this book bears such significance that it claimed the International Book Award. It is also why I, as a multiple book author dedicated to focusing on the highest ideals and potentials of my students, clients, friends and others, feel so honored to be working on the promotion of Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography.

Finally, to Swami Kriyananda: Congratulations on a wonderful achievement. You have written 130+ books in your life and helped provide deeper purpose and meaning to the lives of countless people … and now, the book world salutes you. To put it in one of your favorite languages, “Bravissimo!”

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