Cr Interview with author and photographer MARCO CAROCARI

Marco Carocari is for longtime Cruiser readers no doubt a household name: In the 1990s, he was responsible for some Cruiser covers and in the «pre-Internet period» produced the popular photo spreads in the magazine. On the previous page «Scene & Subculture», for example, you can see Marco’s typical photos. Those days are past. Marco emigrated to the USA five years ago, married his husband there, and is currently causing a sensation with his book «Blackout».

Cruiser: What’s it like: Married in the USA?

Marco Carocari (MC): When the subject of relationship and being together had taken a somewhat more serious turn for us, it was always clear that turn would take us abroad. As a photographer who speaks fluent English, it was far easier for me than for him as a real estate agent, who after seven years of a relationship with me can barely put together five sentences together in German. But when he does, it’s like, «What’s going on here?», «Shut up» or «You’re such a child», it’s well-timed and all the funnier.

Cruiser: What work did you do in Switzerland and what do you do now?

MC: For the last twenty years I was self-employed as a photographer, and worked, when commissions were far and few between, in other places on the side. Before emigrating, I worked part-time at Light & Byte AG, managing their photo studio and photo equipment rentals. I’m still a photographer, but my target audience has changed since I did portraits and shot pictures of male nudes. Today I shoot almost exclusively architecture, interior design and real estate, which can be very exciting in a city full of fantastic 50s and 60s buildings.

Cruiser: What was the launch into your «new life» like?

MC: In the main, positive—Californians are generally very open and warm. I have been coming to LA for over thirty years and I have always liked it here, but I also had to come to terms quickly with the fact that people could be quite superficial. It took me a few years to meet the kind of people who are still friends today. In Palm Springs, a city where many residents live only seasonally, this is a bit different. Americans, Europeans, Canadians, everyone is very relaxed; you’d meet (before Covid) while shopping, in the bar and would have closer contacts than in the big city. This may also have to do with the average age, which is much older here than in LA or New York, so that Mark (his husband) and I, in our early-50s, are considered boys in comparison.

Cruiser: And you’ve written a book now…

MC: Exactly. This started with a bet with myself, to see whether I could write a story that not only reads like those of my favorite writers—Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Michael Nava—but is also stylistically perfect in English, as if it had been written by an American.

Cruiser: What’s your book about?

MC: Franco DiMaso is a semi-successful, forty-three-year-old New York photographer who one night unintentionally witnesses a murder—that he previously had a sex-date with a stranger, during which he smoked a joint and then experienced a mental blackout, only complicates matters. The police arrive, but find neither the crime scene nor the body, and Franco leaves a more than questionable impression on the cops. Days later, when they find the body in a dumpster, the police not only take him seriously, they also treat him as prime suspect. Especially after it turns out that the new death is related to the murder of Franco’s father, which Franco witnessed as a four-year-old, just before the infamous 1977 Blackout.

Cruiser: It’s rare that you get rich writing a book. What was the motivation behind the book?

MC: In the 80s and 90s, there were dozens of really good thrillers that had gays as protagonists. And suddenly it was over. At the moment, we are experiencing another «Own Voices» wave in which marginalized authors have their say and are promoted (how long remains to be seen, with most publishers interested, as is known, only in the current trend and whether they can make money with the book). After six years of writing and rewriting I had reached the point where all my test readers found that the book could absolutely keep up with other conventional murder mysteries and thrillers. Then, the cover letter went to various publishers (I was already living in the USA), and at first it rained rejections. I continued to attend writing courses and crime fiction conferences, made contacts, and at some point, it suddenly worked out. «Blackout» found a home with [Level Best Books], a smaller publishing house with about eighty authors, and the enthusiasm of the publishers to publish a gay author with a traditional crime novel with gay protagonists convinced me to sign.

Cruiser: Franco Di Maso is the detective in your book. Marco Carocari and Franco Di Maso: Without having reading the book, rather quickly it becomes clear that the novel’s protagonist is a slightly younger version of you.

MC: Ha ha, yes, there are two camps in writing: «Write what you know» or «Write what you don’t know». I chose the middle. Franco has experienced some of my own ups and downs in his fictional life and, here and there, he resembles me in his thinking or actions. At the same time, though, I wanted the character to have his own rough edges and quirks. Various other characters are based on my closest friends but are ultimately also fictional. This gave me the balance with the topics I had to research and had not experienced myself, such as murder, growing up in the 70s America or police forensics. I wanted an «anti-hero» in an extreme situation, but who could also be your neighbor. Someone who has to find himself anew/reinvent himself, to (hopefully) get out of the situation.

Cruiser: Americans are masters at storytelling. What are they doing differently than we do here?

MC: With the Americans, everything is often bigger, and more incredible, but this does not mean «better». I love writers who—in my eyes—create the right combination of exciting story, credible characters, and action. Many newcomers like to make the mistake of describing everything down to the last detail. This is usually unnecessary because readers also want to insert their own imagination into the story. Finding the right balance took some time, but it also made the book much stronger and smoother. It is important to be able to captivate and excite the reader from the beginning; quieter moments in the story should only give him or her a breather, not put them to sleep.

I am still learning and continuing to attend courses or read books by authors I admire, but I am delighted that «Blackout» is being well received everywhere and receiving fantastic reviews. You always hope, but the joy and reactions of readers who are complete stranger have knocked me off my feet.

BLACKOUT on Amazon US

40-year old Franco certainly chose the wrong night… A date with a hot guy on the roof of his house in Manhattan and a joint—he doesn’t know that is laced—leave him dazed. And—if he remembers right, he’s the only witness to a murder across the street.

The problem is, the cops can’t find either a crime scene or a corpse, and Franco’s memories and conflicting statements aren’t particularly helpful to the police. Days later, when the mutilated body of a philanthropic millionaire is discovered, he is not only shocked to learn that he knew him, but with Franco’s fingerprints all over the scene, he quickly turns from unreliable witness to prime suspect.

Interview by Haymo Empl for CRUISER, June 2021

Title Photo: Marco Carocari

Photos of Marco Carocari © Mark Gutkowski

Link to original German text. Translation: Gabriel Valjan

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Guest Post: Lynn-Steven Johanson, author of Havana Brown

You’re an award-winning playwright. I’m generalizing here, but most authors write exposition well and struggle with dialogue. You will hear writers cite Elmore Leonard as their inspiration. Are you the opposite…Do you struggle with exposition, and who are your influences for dialogue?

Being a playwright, I naturally hear people talking to each other. So, yeah, dialogue is usually not a problem for me. I cite any real influences on how I write of dialogue. Lanford Wilson is one of my favorite playwrights, but if his writing has influenced me, I’m unaware of it.

Narrative writing is something I had to learn, and I still find myself stopping occasionally after hearing this little voice in my head saying, “Lynn, you need some description here! You’re not writing a play!” I know I don’t write as much narrative as some writers do. I guess that’s part of my style. I read a lot of mystery novels, and I’ve found that various writers use differing balances of dialogue and narrative. Jonathan Kellerman uses a lot of dialogue while David Baldacci uses more narrative to tell the story. Both happen to be favorites of mine.

Tell us a little bit about why you chose to write novels, first with Rose’s Thorn and now, Havana Brown?

It’s a rather convoluted story, but here goes. Writing a novel was the suggestion of my wife, Joyce. I mentioned to her some years ago that I had dried up on ideas for a new play, and she said, “Why don’t you take one of your screenplays and adapt it into a novel?” I scoffed at the idea and said, “I can’t write anything that long.” Several years later, I hit another dry spot and remembered what she had said. So, I took a look at the better of the two screenplays and thought, “What the heck, give it a try.” So, I adapted the opening scene into what is now the first chapter of Rose’s Thorn. I handed the finished chapter to Joyce and asked her what she thought. She’s an avid reader of novels and a former English teacher so I trusted her opinion. “Keep going,” she said. “It’s better than some things I’ve read.” Six months and thirty-six chapters later, I had the rough draft of Rose’s Thorn.

[Note: Rose’s Thorn won a 2021 Independent Press Award, the IPPY, for Distinguished Favorite Mystery.]

Havana Brown is a prequel to Rose’s Thorn, and I chose to write a prequel because I thought Joe’s backstory would be interesting to readers. In Rose’s Thorn, we learn Joe is on medical leave from Chicago PD after suffering a nervous breakdown (acute stress disorder) after capturing a notorious serial killer. And he is reacquainted with his former lover, a criminal profiler, and they work together again. Now, in Havana Brown, the reader learns about the serial killings, how Joe’s romantic relationship developed, what it took to track down and capture the serial killer, and what led to his breakdown. Havana Brown ends where Rose’s Thorn begins.

Why did you choose crime fiction and not historical, horror, or literary fiction?

I’ve always been interested in mysteries, whether they are films (L. A. Confidential), television (Masterpiece Mystery), or the novels I read. I don’t write mystery plays. The only exception was The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis, and I doubt it will ever be produced given the cast size and cost of production. In essence, mysteries intrigue me and always engage my mind. Who did it and why? And even as I look back at what I watched as a teenager, mysteries were some of my favorites (Mannix, Alfred Hitchcock Hour) Wow! I’m really dating myself.

Plays are structured. Is this feature, Friend or Foe for you as the mystery author?

Oh, I have to have structure. It’s my friend! Before I ever begin writing, I use Sid Field’s screenwriting paradigm to outline the plot in detail. It sets the major plot points, the mid-point, and the minor events in between. That way I have a detailed plan to follow. I’d be lost without it. However, it’s not something set in stone, and I often find it changes somewhat as I’m writing. But the major plot points generally remain the same. Oddly enough, I am not structured like that when I write a play. I know the basic idea and who the main characters are. Once I begin writing, I turn them loose and see where they take me. The exception was the Meriwether Lewis play since it was based on a lot of historical research and followed the last year of his life.

Tell what it was like to write Havana Brown?

I don’t mind telling you, it was a little intimidating. Since Rose’s Thorn was based on a screenplay, everything was already laid out for me. Virtually every scene in the screenplay was a chapter or part of a chapter, and a lot of the dialogue was already written. I simply had to embellish it and create the narrative around it. Havana Brown, being a prequel to Rose’s Thorn, was written from scratch. I had nothing to base it on other than a few of references to Joe Erickson’s back story in Rose’s Thorn. There was some trepidation on my part as to whether I could do it. Thankfully, my creativity kicked in, and as I mapped out the story using Sid Field’s paradigm, I became more confident that I could write it. Once I had finished the first two chapters, I began feeling pretty good about it.

What kind of man is Chicago Detective Joe Erickson?

He’s from my hometown, Marathon, Iowa. It’s a small town in Northwest Iowa with a population of 250. So, in some regards, he has some of the values that were instilled in me and many of those I grew up with: a strong work ethic, honesty, sincerity, and empathy for others. One of his best qualities is the fact that he’s very intuitive and trusts his gut when he’s investigating a case. More often than not, it takes him in the right direction. A characteristic that sets him apart from a lot of other detectives is he likes to think outside the box and isn’t afraid of using unorthodox methods to get the job done. His creative thinking can sometimes annoy his commander.

What’s next for you…another adventure with Joe?

I’m presently working on a third Joe Erickson mystery. I’ve joked with a couple of friends saying, “I’m only killing two people in this one!”  I like Joe, so I may continue writing books in the series until I get tired of him or need to move on. We’ll have to wait and see. But for the foreseeable future, he’ll continue his relationship with Destiny, work with his partner, butt heads occasionally with his lieutenant, and solve those tough cases in the Windy City.

What do you do for fun?

Like the character of Joe Erickson, I’m a gearhead, too. I’ve always loved hot rods and muscle cars. While Joe has a Camaro that’s featured in the first two books, I have a 1932 Ford coupe that I started building in 2000 and finished in 2004, and I drive it to car shows and cruises around the area when the weather is nice. You develop a bond with a car you build, and there’s special feeling you get cruising down the highway in a car like that. I also sing baritone in a local choral society group, and we have concerts twice a year, although Covid has eliminated that for the time being. And my wife and I (primarily my wife) have been breeding and exhibiting Lhasa Apsos for over forty years, and she travels to dog shows and competes to earn championships on our dogs. In addition, we have three adult children and four grandchildren, so we are both busy people with a lot of interests.

 About Lynn-Steven Johanson

Lynn-Steven Johanson is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced on four continents. Born and raised in Northwest Iowa, Lynn holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He lives in Illinois with his wife and has three adult children.

Level Best Books Author Page

Amazon Author Page

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Guest Post: Linda Norlander, author of Death of an Editor

Two areas that I think are difficult to write well are Place and Humor. Let’s talk about setting first. You had me itching from mosquitoes around a lake in northern Minnesota in Death of an Editor, the first in Cabin by the Lake Mystery Series from Level Best Books. Why rural northern Minnesota and not the Twin Cities?

Actually, the setting for the book came first—before the characters or the plot. In my younger days I used to camp and canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in the north woods of Minnesota. It’s a magical place for me filled with the good and the challenging of nature. Among the pristine lake waters, the fresh air and the pines are mosquitoes and deerflies and poison ivy. I loved the contrast and wanted to write a mystery in that setting.

I mentioned that I find humor difficult to write because so much could go wrong. In my opinion, there’s always the possibility of offending your reader, and comedy is a matter of pace, timing, and delivery. Do you have a natural funny bone, and what’s your approach to writing humor?

Humor is part of who I am. My Dad was a great punster and my mother had a self-deprecating kind of humor. I think the key for me is keeping it as self-deprecating as possible. My style of humor might be called, “the joke’s on me.” In using humor, I always run the risk of offending someone. I once wrote a piece about my disaster making Jell-O for a Lutheran funeral. I received a letter from a woman who was quite put off because she couldn’t understand what Lutherans had to do with Jell-O. You never know how people are going to respond.

We’re both nurses in our former lives. It’s profession where humor is a defense mechanism, but also one that heightens a writer’s powers of observation. You were a hospice nurse—which I have a tremendous respect for—so the inevitable question is, did your years of clinical experience inform your writing?

My nursing background has definitely informed my writing. The years I worked in hospice and in public health gave me a wealth of human experience. I’ve witnessed the amazing resilience of people in the midst of great trauma and also the other end of the spectrum. I love the way people can laugh in the midst of crisis. I remember a hospice patient who was carefully reading the obituaries. When I asked him about it, he said, “Just checking to see if I’m in there.” I think he was serious, but I’m not sure.

While Jamie isn’t a nurse, I like to write in characters who are nurses, even if they are peripheral to the story. They are so essential to the health care in rural areas. Nurses in the small hospitals have to be ready for anything from a heart attack to a suicidal patient. They are the glue that keeps hospitals running.

Thinking of your literary creation Clarence, an octogenarian, I like how you show that age is a state of mind. Clarence is a quite a treat. I’ve also noticed that you like writing animals (thinking of a certain rescue dog and authors who feature canines in their series, such as Margaret Mizushima and Paul Munier). Can you talk a little about Clarence and the group of friends around your protagonist Jamie Forest?

It’s always amazing to me how as a story develops, the characters show up. I feel like Clarence knocked on my door one day and said, “You need me for my wisdom, experience and humor.” Like the others in the books, I wanted to create a community for my main character. As the Cabin by the Lake series continues, I’m learning more about those relationships and how they support Jamie.

I love pets even though I don’t have any due to allergies in the family. Bronte the dog was based partly on my son’s family dog, lovable and loyal, but still a dog. Not only does Bronte have a role as the companion for Jamie, she has a role for me as a writer. There are times when I want to reveal more about what’s going inside Jamie’s head and having a dialogue (okay a monologue) with her dog helps me get those things out.

Death of a Starling is your latest in the series. Can you set it up and describe it for us?

In Death of an Editor, I have a small side story about a school shooting in a nearby town.

Death of Starling finds Jamie pursuing a story about it. She wants to know since the victims were all Native American whether this was a hate crime. She finds that no one in town wants to talk about the shooting, the shooter or the victims. The town appears to be covering up a dark history.

Who did you read growing up, and who are you reading now?

I read whatever I could get my hands on. I grew up in a small town in western Minnesota. The public library consisted of two bookcases in the office of the Wheaton Gazette. When school closed for the summer, I was left without much reading material. When I could get books, they ranged from Nancy Drew to the Black Stallion series and anything else I could find.

Currently I usually have at least two books going at a time. I’ve been reading the classics, those books I should have read earlier in life. I just finished Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. For guilty pleasure I read mysteries (of course.) I finished the first in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series and the first book in Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher series. I’m now reading your second Shane Cleary mystery, Symphony Road and thoroughly enjoying it. [Thank you]

Cozy mysteries are stereotyped as crime fiction light, although Dame Agatha Christie did write dark stories. Malice Domestic has been hard at work to correct this perception. Any thoughts on lightness and darkness in writing murder and mystery?

When I wrote Death of an Editor, I didn’t even know the definition of a cozy mystery other than the main character was supposed to be an amateur sleuth. I wanted to create a story based on some of the realities of living in an area where the preservation of the wilderness is at odds with economic development. I wanted to stay away from graphic violence and show the humanity of the victim. I see the genre as a way to feature serious topics using a lighter touch.

What do you see in Jamie’s future?

We will see Jamie in adventures through the four seasons in northern Minnesota. Death of an Editor takes place in the summer. Death of a Starling in the fall. The third book tentatively titled Death of a Snow Ghost in the winter and a spring book is in draft stages. As Jamie adapts to the environment, she will begin exploring her own newly discovered Native American roots.

Linda at Level Best Books 

Linda’s website or Facebook or Twitter

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