“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” —Kurt Vonnegut, “Bagombo Snuff Box”
I’m always fascinated to find out how a particular book got published, so I thought I’d share the evolution of my new mystery novella, “Crosswise.”
I was on vacation in Florida and doing a crossword puzzle when the idea came to me for a violent dark comedy set in the Sunshine State. The concept tumbled around my head the rest of that night so I got up early the next morning to start writing.
Authors really know how to relax, right? Just ask my wife and kids. They thought it was pretty awesome that I got inspired right then. It’s cool, they’ll come back…one day…
Because “Crosswise” was intended as a short story, I wasted no time getting to the action. My protagonists—Tommy Ruzzo, a disgraced NYPD officer, and his drug-addict girlfriend, Shayna Billups—have their checkered past explained on the first page. Dead body number one turns up at the top of page two. Hilarity ensues.
From that point forward, and in adherence to Mr. Vonnegut’s indispensible advice on short story writing, awful things happened to all of the characters every paragraph or two for the next five thousand words. That’s about how long the first draft of “Crosswise” was when I flew back to Los Angeles a week later.
I remember reading it the morning after we got home and feeling pretty good. Only problem was I didn’t know what to do with it. It was too long for the websites and magazines I was familiar with, and I hadn’t started pitching to anthologies yet.
So I sent it to an indie publisher I’d met at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for some objective feedback. Since I’d already been asked to submit a novella, I decided to see if they thought “Crosswise” was worth expanding. I got the thumbs up and went back to writing.
Things weren’t working out with that publisher when I finally had something to share a few months later. It was time to submit elsewhere, but I wasn’t having any luck.
In the meantime, I got to know a fabulous writer and editor named Elaine Ash. We hit it off and she agreed to read “Crosswise” to give me some feedback. I’d already had a few beta readers check it out, but this was different because she’s a pro.
I chewed on my fingernails for the next few weeks until she finally called. As expected, her comments were much more detailed than anything I’d experienced before. What I didn’t see coming was her enthusiasm for the story and the publishing potential she thought it had. We developed a professional partnership from that point forward and I dug into “Crosswise” again based on her thorough notes and suggestions.
That’s when she introduced me to Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books. Eric and I had met briefly at Bouchercon in 2014, but Elaine’s endorsement got him interested enough that he agreed to read my manuscript.
I didn’t need much convincing that Down & Out was the right place for “Crosswise” given their impressive list of authors, including Les Edgerton, Eric Beetner, J.L. Abramo, John Shepphird, Gary Phillips and Reed Farrel Coleman—to name a few. It was also a plus for me that Down & Out is based in Florida, where “Crosswise” is set.
Eric followed up with a phone call and told me a little more about his publishing company, some of the exciting new books he was working on, and his plans for the future. I can’t share details, but there are a lot of cool things happening at Down & Out.
We’d already been through a few rounds of edits when the conversation turned to book covers. My suggestion involved palm trees, hundred dollar bills and cocaine vials—you know, classy. Luckily, Eric had cover maestro J.T. Lindroos put something together that blew my concept away.
The first copies of “Crosswise” arrived in the mail last week, and the book is available starting tomorrow. I guess it’s time to plan another vacation so I can write my next book.
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, was published by Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available February 29 from Down & Out Books.