Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, and majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay U. Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later toiled for the U.S. Government in computer programming and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.
Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Harley’s other passions are reading, his wife Anastasia, their two children, peace, Italian cars, and California wine.
Book description: White with Fish, Red with Murder is the story of Frank Swiver, a private eye in a love triangle. Frank accepts an invitation to a wine tasting on a private rail car, and brings along his secretary and lover, Vera Peregrino. The host, General Thursby, wants Frank to find proof that a friend whose death was ruled accidental was in fact murdered. Thursby suspects Cicilia O’Callaghan, widow of his late friend and an old flame of Frank’s. But Thursby takes two slugs through the pump, and the cops arrest Vera for his killing. Frank spends his nights with Cici, and his days trying to find Thursby’s real killer and spring Vera. But soon he realizes he must change his way of thinking, or risk losing both women . . . and maybe his life.
Welcome to Blogger News, Harley! Tell us, what type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
In a way, I’m like Hemingway, . . . although the daydreams and fantasies are there too. I was never a private eye in San Francisco, but many of Frank Swiver’s experiences are my experiences, enhanced as needed. My values, born from experience, are his values.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is? I get creative ideas while out running. I was not an athletic youth, but I decided to start distance running to reinforce my will to quit smoking. (That worked.) That was in 1978, so I’ve been a runner 39 years. Wow! When I’m in a groove—I’m slower than I used to be, but I still get in a groove–ideas come to me. Sometimes I’m trying to work out a problem in a story; sometimes it’s an idea to further develop something already in the story I’m writing. I think running suppresses the logical left side of my brain, and the creative right side takes over. Maybe it’s endorphins, or runner’s high.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take? Well, this first novel gestated and developed over a long period. For my 50th birthday, I decided to write a murder mystery play, and I invited my friends and assigned them parts to play. They dressed as if it were 1948, the year of the play. In 2005, I took out my notes and decided to turn them into a novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder. I drafted around two-thirds of the book in about eight months, but then my father died. I was sidetracked from writing for a few years. Eventually, I finished up the first draft. I revised; I polished. I tried to learn about publishing. By 2012 I had found an agent. But she couldn’t interest any of the big companies. In 2014, she gave up. I pitched my manuscript to publishers who accepted un-agented submissions, and found Driven Press in Jan. 2015. They’re a small operation, and the book moved slowly through their process. But now things are happening quickly. It’s being printed. Nineteen years in the making.
Describe your working environment. Al fresco, at a lovely café on Capri. Oh, wait. That’s those daydreams and fantasies poking in again. I have a home office of sorts. A poster of Hemingway at his typewriter in Key West, with one of his cats at hand looks at me from behind the monitor. Next to it is a page from The Maltese Falcon that my daughter Molly enlarged, framed, and gave me. Spade lays it out for Brigid O’Shaughnessy, page 213. A bookcase to the left, two nice windows to the right. The view is ordinary, just a suburban back yard. But I can look at Hemingway and his cat.
What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write? Scenes of passion and yearning. Character, plot, change–all must be manifested in actions. The hardest thing for me is to put the feeling—the passions of the characters—into those scenes. The writer must be convincing. James M. Cain’s characters always seem to be operating under intense passion. I study his books to see how he does it.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along? I backtrack almost daily and edit. My excuse is that I re-read prior days’ work to get in the minds of the characters and the mood of the story. I would like to be able to go through once to “the end,” but I’m not that sort of writer—yet.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I’m glad you asked. I’ve made false starts in a couple groups. Now I’m in an online group that has been together about five years. (I’d like to be in a group that met face to face, but someone would probably throw a chair through the window.) I’m the only genre writer—mystery. I’d call the others literary, but one has written a bit of a thriller, and one wrote a long, historical fiction. I think we’re all above average writers, and I benefit from their knowledge and skills. I would tell a novice you’ll get all sorts of feedback from your critique group, some good and some not so good. Don’t worry; you will probably know if someone’s critique is on target. Most important, you’ll get new perspectives, ideas for developing your fiction and for writing better. And be nice when you give feedback! Other people care about their work as much as you care about yours.
What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
Alphabetically, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ernest Hemingway. Cain, Chandler, and Hammett because they work in my genre. Cain because of his economy of words and the way it seems his characters are always operating on the edge, driven by emotions they can’t control. Chandler because of the beauty of his language, his pithiness, the depths of his characterization, the purity of Phillip Marlowe, and for better or for worse his plots. Hammett and Hemingway I love because they knew how to write straightforward, true, declarative sentences, and objective prose, and how to tell a story.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I have a couple potential follow-ups in the Frank Swiver series in the can. One is called Last Puffs, and looks at another aspect of Frank’s character—his time in the Spanish Civil War, and the connections he formed there, including his closest friend, Max Rabinowitz, a red (communist) attorney. But I realized that Vera Peregrino should be in any sequel, and in the years that White with Fish has been aborning, I have written about Frank and Vera in short stories and novelettes. I’d like to put those together into some sort of “Frank and Vera: A Novel in Stories.”
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
Harley Mazuk [http://www.harleymazuk.com/] is a mystery writer living in Maryland. His first novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder [http://www.drivenpress.net/white-with-fish-red-with-murder] is out now, from Driven Press. [http://www.drivenpress.net/]