Mark S. Bacon began his career as a southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades.

After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing when he became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the freeway from Disneyland, and later for a Los Angeles advertising agency.

Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including Do-It-yourself Direct Marketing, printed in four languages and three editions, named best business book of the year by Library Journal, and selected by the Book of the Month Club and two other book clubs.  His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, Denver Post, and many other publications.  Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Desert Kill Switch is the second book in the Nostalgia City mystery series that began with Death in Nostalgia City, an award winner at the 2015 San Francisco Book Festival.

Bacon is the author of flash fiction mystery books including, Cops, Crooks and Other Stories in 100 Words.  He  taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University – Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of Nevada – Reno.  He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State.

About the book:

On an empty desert road, stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming finds a bullet-riddled body next to a mint-condition 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies: no car, no body.  Does the answer lie in Nostalgia City where Lyle works? The Arizona retro theme park re-creates—in every detail—an entire small town from the early 1970s.  It’s complete with period cars, clothes, music, hairstyles, food, shops, fads, restaurants—the works.

Lyle swapped his job as a Phoenix homicide detective for a cab in Nostalgia City when the anxieties and disappointments of police work nearly pushed him over the edge.

Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Nevada on park business when she gets mixed up with a sleazy Las Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” and GPS trackers in cars he sells—mainly to low-income buyers.  Miss a payment—sometimes by as little as a few days—and your car is dead.  Maybe you are, too.

When Kate’s accused of murder in Reno, Lyle arrives to help his blonde, not-quite-girlfriend and they plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives.  Kate and Lyle hit one dead end after another as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and help find the missing corpse.

The idea to create Nostalgia City goes back to one of my early jobs as a writer.  I’ve always been a mystery fan and when I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm I thought a theme park would be a great setting for a murder mystery—especially at night.  While working at Knott’s I saw, from  behind the scenes, what it takes to make a large theme park work—and what could happen if things went wrong. Scary.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I’ve always outlined my books before I start to write.  Sometimes my outlines have run to 25 pages or more.  With this book I had a bundle of notes rather than a chapter-by-chapter outline.  I knew I wanted one climatic scene to be a chase in the middle of the Nevada desert in August and I worked my organizational structure around that.  With a mystery, part of the fun is coming up with the crime, the suspects and the plot twists and then making it all fit together. I do that at the beginning before I start writing.

Did your book require a lot of research?

Yes.  The title comes from a somewhat common practice among auto sellers.  Car loans are usually backed by a finance company, but originated at the dealer.  Some dealers install GPS tracking devices and kill switches on cars for people they consider high-risk borrowers.  If the person defaults on the loan, the dealer flips a switch and the car is disabled.  The GPS tracker tells the dealer where to go to repo the car.  It’s estimated that two million cars in the US have these devices in them.

I also researched the restoration and sale of classic cars.  It’s a huge business; some classic motor cars from the 1930s sell for more than $1 million, but even well restored 1970s hot, sporty cars can fetch more than $100,000.

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?

It’s during routine trips to the store where the car sort of drives itself that ideas pop into my head.  Also in the shower.  Really.  Sometimes I forget what part of me I’ve washed, but I remember the plot idea.

This works because doing a routine task lets your subconscious slowly float up, to just below the surface.  Either that or writers are just nutty.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

I suppose “muse” is a figurative representation of creativity, but it’s plain silly.  Okay, I get ideas in the shower.  Is this a “muse”?  Muses are the product of someone’s imagination.  No pun intended.  I know lots of writers and I’ve never yet met a muse.  To write a book you have to sit at the keyboard and pound the keys again and again and again. Period.

My favorite quote on this subject is from E.L. Doctorow:  “Planning to write is not writing.  Outlining a book is not writing. Research is not writing.  Talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing.  Writing is writing. “

Describe your working environment.

I have a life-size concrete statue of a black crow looking over my shoulder.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

Every morning I read what I wrote the day before and edit it until I’m reasonably satisfied.  If I can get through my average of 7-8 pages without throwing out much of it, I consider it a successful start of the day. The more I like what I wrote the day before, the more energized I am.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

Gin and tonic.

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

First thing in the morning.  If I haven’t done the majority of the work by noon, it’s likely not going to get done.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

You might call this a quirk.  When I bought my first PC I used a program called WordStar.  It was designed to help you write as quickly as possible.  It allowed you to control the cursor simply with the keyboard without touching the arrow keys or mouse.  Of course MSWord took over and WordStar is long gone.  But I have an MSWord add-on that mimics the WordStar keyboard commands.  This way my fingers can keep up with my brain.

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 believe in the value of critique groups provided you pair them with common sense.  You can’t create a successful novel, or any other type of book by yourself.  Feedback is essential. Members of critique groups have helped me immensely by pointing out weak elements that I likely would have missed.  But you need to remember that not all the comments you get are relevant or useful.  And you need to  be thick-skinned.  It’s up to the writer to take it all in, then sort it all out.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Unless you have broken hands, you do not have writer’s block.  Writer’s block is a lot like the muse, an excuse for not writing.  “Block” simply refers to quality, not quantity.  I keep writing and it gets better.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, please visit me at www.baconsmysteries.com   You can read sample chapters from my books and explore my blog where I describe some of the behind-the-scenes work of mystery writing.

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

The opportunity to write books and second, having them published.  These are things for which I’m profoundly grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

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