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Write What You Know
But Go Easy On Yourself When It Comes To Expectations For Success
I didn’t set out to write crime fiction about musicians, but at this point I have to admit that’s mostly what I do. This realization is freeing, but also presents some challenges when it comes to finding like-minded readers.
Most people will tell you they like music. A smaller group will say they read crime fiction. But the potential audience of music-lovers who’ll read hardboiled crime fiction about musicians isn’t huge. At least in my experience.
I learned this the hard way, but it’s not a complaint.
The truth is that I’m very happy with the kind of gritty crime fiction I write. I’ve also come to grips with the fact that I chose a pretty narrow niche to explore. Here’s one of the first short stories I ever got published (NSFW):
My first crime novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, was published by Rare Bird Books in 2015.
The action revolves around Greg Salem, a punk rock singer turned cop who loses his badge after a suspicious shooting. He later becomes an amateur PI when his best friend gets shot on stage during a show.
The funny thing is, I thought it was going to be more of a literary novel when I first sat down to write it—but as the story and characters evolved, I leaned more into the plot’s central mystery, and the protagonist’s musical back story.
There are currently three books in that Punk Rock PI series, including Grizzly Season and Hang Time. I’ve also self-published two Power Pop Heist novelettes—That’ll Be The Day (serialized for free on Substack earlier this year) and Good Girls Don’t—about two brothers who play in a power pop band, but make their living stealing valuable music collectibles (think rare Beatles paraphernalia, and you’ll get the idea).
I’ve also contributed short stories to several music-themed anthologies, including Waiting To Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak Inspired by the Replacements, Just To Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, and Murder-a-Go-Go’s: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of The Go-Go’s, to name a few.
Sensing a theme? It all becomes perfectly clear when you take into consideration that music and writing have long been my two greatest passions.
From my early teens until this very moment, just about any conversation with me will quickly turn to one—or both!—of those topics.
I started playing drums in bands when I was in junior high and have performed and recorded on-and-off since then. I’m also an avid reader who includes modern authors like Don Winslow, Ottessa Moshfegh, Blake Crouch and Jo Nesbo among recent favorites.
And, of course, I devour a lot of nonfiction books about music. I recently read Lisa Whittington-Hill’s 33 1/3 book about The Go-Go’s Beauty and the Beat, and I’m currently reading Peter Jesperson’s autobiography, Euphoric Recall.
So it’s no surprise that my crime fiction marries the two. On the plus side, this means that I’m never short on story ideas, and that I’m always deeply engaged in the characters I write about.
That’s a gift, and something that I truly hope comes across in my books. But I also understand that not all readers see the obvious connection between the two things that I do, or necessarily like my writing.
I’ve stood up in front of audiences at book conferences and tried my best to explain the concept of a “Punk Rock PI” or a “Power Pop Heist.” I’ve seen expectant expressions glaze over, watched people collect their things and head for the doors.
And you know what? I totally get it. Success isn’t guaranteed.
Sure, I still occasionally allow myself to have modest commercial hopes for my books—that’s part of being a writer, I suppose—but I’m no longer disappointed when they only land in the hands of a specific group of readers. Those are my people!
In fact, I’m honestly thrilled that anybody reads my books at all. And I’m incredibly thankful for the small, but growing group of readers who continue taking chances on my fiction whenever I publish something new (it’s been a while).
I’m lucky that I get to write and publish at all, and I’ve learned over time to not take those things for granted. If that path somehow miraculously leads me to commercial success, then I will be among the luckiest people on the planet.
Until then, I’m just going to keep writing for as long as I’m still excited about it. That seems like the most rock and roll thing in the world to me.
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