Author’s Bio: Jeff Markowitz is the author of the Cassie O'Malley mysteries, an amateur sleuth series set deep in the NJ Pine Barrens. After penning three books in the series, Jeff decided to embrace his dark side. His most recent book is the award-winning black comedy, Death and White Diamonds. Jeff currently serves on the Regional Board of Directors of the New York Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Monmouth Junction, NJ with his wife, Carol. You can usually find him at his computer at 5:30 in the morning, plotting someone's murder.
What inspired you to write your book?
I “found” a dead body on the beach in Cape May. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I “imagined” the dead body on the beach. You see, I have a writing exercise…I refer to it as finding the dead body. It’s an exercise in finding story ideas. When I find a body, I write a couple of sentences to capture the scene. But this time, the dead woman kept bugging me to tell her story.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Dr. Seuss made me want to be a reader. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve read And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street. It’s a story about a boy who likes to make up stories.
Is this your first book? How long did it take to start and finish your book?
Death and White Diamonds is my fourth published book. When I “found” the dead body on the beach, I had no plans to turn the scene into a book. As I explained, it was just a writing exercise, like a musician practicing his scales. Besides, I was busy at the time working on It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder, the third book in the Cassie O’Malley Mysteries. So it was a few years before I decided to start writing the story. Once I began, it took me four months to finish.
Do you write with an outline, or just let it flow organically?
I think that writing a book is a lot like taking a cross country road trip. Before I begin the journey, I need to know where I’m going to start and where and when I hope to end. I need to know a few of the stops along the way. But in between, I allow the story to find its own path. I encourage the characters to explore uncharted territory.
But I’ve noticed a difference depending on whether I’m working on my series or on a stand-alone like Death and White Diamonds. I need to do a bit more planning for my series; I’m more comfortable letting a stand-alone develop organically.
Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, is there a theme song for this book?
This is another good example of the difference between writing my series and writing a stand-alone. Music is not significant in Death and White Diamonds, neither in the story nor in the writing process. However, jazz plays a significant part in the Cassie O’Malley series. When I’m writing Cassie, I’m generally listening to Miles Davis.
What are the keys to success in getting your book out to the public?
John Wanamaker once famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the problem is I never know which half.”
You will never have the time or the money to do all of the things that people tell you to do to promote your books. And you will rarely be able to accurately judge their value. So do the things you can and don’t stress about the things you can’t.
What advice would you give to new authors?
Write the best book you’re capable of writing.
“When you die, I believe, God isn’t going to ask you what you published. God’s going to ask you what you wrote.” (McNally, T.M. “Big Dogs and Little Dogs,” in Martone, Michael, and Susan Neville. 2006. Rules of thumb: 73 authors reveal their fiction writing fixations. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books).
How about sharing an excerpt from Death and White Diamonds?
The weather was changing, clouds blocking out the stars, wind whipping the surf into a frenzy. As high tide approached, the beach was nearly gone, just a narrow strip of sand between water’s edge and dune grass, the rhythm of the waves pounding at the shore, washing away the evidence. My attention was drawn to the distant lights of a lonely freighter. There was a chill in the air. I hardly noticed. The knife was still warm in my hand.
I looked down the beach. Not ten feet away lay Lorraine, her blouse ripped, an ugly gash just above her left breast, a delicate thread of blood making its way between her breasts and running down along her abdomen. I couldn’t take my eyes off the blood. Something in me stirred. Was it wrong that I saw her, at that moment, perhaps for the first time, achingly lovely?
I forced my eyes away from her chest and peered at my wristwatch, the hands luminous. Three a.m. We had walked down to the beach together shortly after midnight, through the dune grass, giggling. I’d been carrying two wine glasses and a bottle of merlot. Lorraine had been carrying a blanket. I remember thinking, at the time, the surf sounds angry. And then? I can’t remember. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t responsible for the death of Lorraine van Nessen. But it took no great powers of deduction to realize that I was going to be the prime suspect when Lorraine’s body was discovered. If Lorraine’s body was discovered.
I pictured Lorraine’s body floating out to the middle of Castleton Bay. I wondered how long it would take for her body to sink. And once it was submerged, I wondered whether it would stay underwater. I’d watched enough detective shows to realize that at least on television, bodies had a way of popping to the surface at the most inopportune moment, usually just before the first commercial break. I couldn’t take that chance. Disposing of the body safely would be a gruesome bit of business. Still, I didn’t think Lorraine would mind.
Port Salmon was a ghost town in February, especially on the bay side of town, along Ocean Avenue, at three in the morning, the homes seasonal, rentals mostly, just a few hundred yards from the beach, but all of them empty during the off-season. Lorraine’s grandfather had built most of these homes and even in retirement, he looked after “his” houses. He remained one of the few year-round residents right up until the end. Lorraine was the only one left who made use of the house. And now that too was coming to an end.
I would have plenty of time to dispose of Lorraine’s body. I walked toward Ocean Avenue, turning back briefly to make sure that Lorraine wasn’t moving before hurrying back to the beach house. I didn’t have a plan, not at that point anyway. But I did have a glimmer of an idea.
I rooted through the cellar, searching for a proper tool. Fifteen minutes later I was back on the beach. As I made my way through the dune grass, I sensed a presence on the beach. I was not alone. Someone was crouching low over Lorraine. I held my breath, trying to get close enough to see without being seen. I looked again. Not someone, I realized. Something. A dog was sniffing at the body. I scanned the beach, praying the dog was a stray. Suddenly I felt bad for Lorraine.
Scat, I hissed, waving the hacksaw in the dog’s general direction. The dog snarled, but backed away. I threw a piece of driftwood down the beach and the dog took chase. I stared at Lorraine’s body, a woman’s body, plump and inviting, even in death, especially in death, her full hips, her perfect round breasts, the four inch gash just above her left breast. I’m sorry Lorraine, I whispered, for what I’m about to do.
It was slow work, with the hacksaw. Before long, I was breathing hard. My shirt was soaked with sweat, the sweat drying cold against my skin. I had to face a hard truth. I was out of shape, twenty pounds overweight, unused to physical labor. The hacksaw had not been designed to cut through sinew and bone. At least not by me. My arm grew numb, but I had little to show for my effort, her body scarred by the hacksaw blade, but still intact. I was making more mess than progress. The tide was coming in quickly now. I needed more time. Lorraine needed more time.
It’s funny, don’t you think? Whenever Lorraine wanted to talk about our relationship, about our future, I always put her off. We’ve got plenty of time for that later, I told her. All the time in the world. Now we needed more time.
Wrapping her scarred body in the blanket, I dragged Lorraine back through the dune grass. The path through the dunes was narrow and long. My feet sank in the soft sand. As I made my way through the dunes, the footing gradually grew firmer. When I reached the road that bordered the beach, I slung her over my shoulder and carried her across the street and down the deserted road until we arrived at the house. Pulling open the cellar door, I carried her body inside and collapsed in exhaustion at her side.
I imagine that most men would find it difficult to fall asleep next to a corpse, even if the corpse wasn’t your girlfriend, even if you weren’t about to be the prime suspect in her murder, even if you weren’t just a little bit turned on by the intimacy. I dipped my finger in the blood between her breasts. I drew my finger up to my lips. I wanted a taste. But that would be wrong. I kissed Lorraine lightly on the lips and said good-night.
I slept till mid-morning, on the floor in the cellar, Lorraine at my side, lying in a pool of dried blood and semen. I shook the stiffness from my shoulders and breathed in the day. The day, apparently, smelled of death and White Diamonds. Lorraine had a thing for Liz Taylor. Something about that made me happy.
What’s next for you?
Upcoming new novel:
When you’re eighteen years old, it can be hard, under the best of circumstances, to balance the demands of your father and the desires of your girlfriend. For Ben Miller, graduating from high school in 1970, circumstances are far from perfect. His girlfriend’s mother, Mrs. Rosalie Bayard, has been murdered. Ben’s father, a detective in the Fifth Precinct catches the case. It’s not long before evidence suggests that Dr. Bayard may have hired a hit man to murder his wife. As Detective Miller conducts the homicide investigation and Dr. Bayard attempts to keep an affair with his secretary secret, Ben and his girlfriend Emily find themselves attracted by the philosophy, politics and lifestyle of the counter-culture. Hit or Miss raises questions that were important in 1970 and still resonate today – questions about American involvement in an unpopular war, about equal rights for women and about end-of-life decision-making and the right to die.
Where can readers find out more about you and your book(s)?
- Website: www.jeffmarkowitz.com
- Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/jeffmarkowitz
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/jeff.markowitz.3
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/JeffMarkowitz1
- Blog: www.jeffmarkowitz.wordpress.com
It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.