Saturday, 13 July 2013

For the Love of It by Stephen Jay Schwartz

We’re delighted to feature an article from US based thriller writer Stephen Jay Schwartz on the issue of research for the crime writer. At the bottom of the article we have a special offer for UK readers, one that Michael Corleone would perhaps whisper “…it’s an offer you can’t refuse…”

I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with research.  Perhaps it was in college, after I managed to convince five professors that the research I would do in the Navajo Reservation was important enough to excuse me from two weeks of classes.  Somehow I got them on board, and then I was on a road trip that took me through California, Utah and Arizona, taking the picaresque journey I was writing for my protagonist.

What the hell was I doing?  I had a broken-down Toyota Corolla and a hundred bucks to my name.  Was I ducking my responsibilities, intent upon reenacting my own version of Kerouac’s “On the Road?”

Yes!  And yet it was one hundred percent university-stamped-and-approved!   Under the dubious title….RESEARCH.

I had amazing experiences along the way and somehow ended up sleeping with someone's .32 revolver under my pillow on New Years Eve.  The next day I found myself hanging on for dear life after I answered, “Sure, why not?” to the little Navajo boy who asked, “Wanna ride my daddy’s rodeo horse?”

My God was it fun!  I ended up in the snowy desert near a place called Rough Rock, without electricity, plumbing or running water, surrounded by hundreds of dogs and thousands of sheep wandering the snowy hills looking for shrubs.  I played duets with an ancient Navajo medicine man—his tribal flute to my soprano sax—and he fed me peyote for my ailing back and blessed it with cedar bark, and eagle feathers, and soon I saw spirits in the linoleum on his kitchen floor. 

On my last day I was driven out to the home of a Navajo educator who had promised to drive me back to Gallup and it was late and cold when I arrived and he saw me and said, “It’s an old Navajo tradition to sleep in the same bed for warmth, you know,” and I realized I'd just met my first gay Navajo.  “Thank you, I’ll just stick to the bed I’m in, if that’s all right,” I said, and when I awoke I found him standing over me peering out the window saying, “This doesn’t look good, we’ll be snowed in for days…” and he was right, the snow had descended on our little world and there I was. 

At breakfast I met his parents who figured I was one of those hippies who blew through in the Sixties, stopping to herd their sheep for weeks on end.  They asked if I would herd their sheep and I declined.  And during my stay I discovered that the gay Navajo (who was respecting my boundaries, by the way) was an amazing writer who had graduated from Santa Fe's St. John’s School of Great Books and had, in his youth, danced professional ballet in New York City and had been a good friend to Andy Warhol.

When I meet them I become them.  Through research I’ve been an astronaut on the International Space Station, a deep-sea submersible pilot, a cosmonaut on Mir, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, a member of an organization that hides women from human traffickers, a Special Agent for the FBI.

For my first novel, BOULEVARD, I cold-called the Chief Coroner Investigator at the LA Coroner’s Office and asked for an interview, and in a half-hour tour I saw over two hundred bodies and six simultaneous autopsies.

My second novel, BEAT, brings BOULEVARD’S protagonist, Hayden Glass, to San Francisco.  I spent many days over a period of many months “embedded” with members of the San Francisco Police Department.  I rode with narcotics officers, sergeants and patrol officers, interviewed captains and city councilmen, went on vice calls and foot patrol in the Tenderloin, interviewed everyone who had an opinion.  I’ve been seen with so many officers in North Beach that I can’t convince the locals I’m not an undercover cop. 

After six months of research I suddenly realized I had only three months left to deliver my novel.  What was I thinking?

Research.  I was thinking research.

*    *    *

Editor’s Note : BOULEVARD and BEAT are available on Amazon U.K. for Kindle and can be downloaded from the Shots Bookstore Here [and you will be supporting Shots eZine].  As a promo, I'm giving BOULEVARD, an L.A. Times bestseller, away FREE for five days - from July 15 - 19.  

Here’s an interview with Stephen Jay Schwartz for those who have not discovered his work

Part One

Part Two

More information on the dark world of Stephen Schwartz is available here

Photo Credits : cover art for UK editions is J. Brandon Loberg.
Author Photo Credit : Noah Schwartz.

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