Conversation With Marshall Karp, Author of Flipping Out

Marshall Karp, the author of Flipping Out, is an award winning former advertising executive, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a novelist. He has also written, produced, and executive produced TV shows for all the major networks.  

Bertram: I enjoyed reading Flipping Out. I must admit, you do know how to turn a phrase. You have a marvelous ear for dialogue, and a knack for one-liners. One, especially, sticks out as being memorable. The cops, Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, are ready to enter a house owned by a murdered celebrity. Terry looks up at the towering stucco columns and says, “Rather phallic. I think they’re art dicko.”

Marshall: Thank you for the kind words about my ear. That would be the left one. The right one is even more amazing. It can actually hear a tree falling in the forest even if I’m not there. Funny thing about art dicko. In my first draft, as they’re about to bust through the door, I wrote something that my editor felt was too close to what Terry had said the first time he saw that house. She told me to come up with something better. Who knew it would turn out to be one of the more memorable lines in the book. I just don’t want it on my tombstone. Marshall Karp, that guy who wrote art dicko.

Bertram: Is there anything in particular you’d like me to say my review of Flipping Out? Any particular passage you’re particularly proud of?

Marshall: Gosh, blurbers have asked me that, but never a reviewer. For sure, don’t mention art dicko. I wouldn’t want Terry’s lapse into sophomoric humor to define me. In fact, few lines from books do justice to the entire book, although an advance reviewer on Amazon picked up an exchange between Terry and Marilyn that tickled me.

My favorite reviews are those that capture what I hope to do best. My goal is to develop characters you just want to be with over and over again. Some authors have had success with worn down, burned out cynical cops, but I wanted real people. I hang out with real cops, and they are incredibly funny – in that business they have to be – it keeps them sane. So I made Mike and Terry human before I made them cops.

I write for people who want three-dimensional characters, real laugh-out-loud humor that is organic to the situation, and plot twists right up to the final pages. And while I make no guarantees, I’d say that a steady diet of my books can also help you lose weight, double your income, and improve your sex life.

I hope that helps.

Bertram: I’m going to use the last paragraph to finish of my review, if you don’t mind. It’s a great quote.

I am so sick of the stereotypical cynical, burned out cop that it’s refreshing to meet some fictional ones who aren’t.

Marshall: I’ve been reading some of your 100 word stories. They’re terrific. How do you do it? It’s an art form (literary form?) I had never heard of before. I was talking to JA Konrath today and saying that I’m not sure I know how to write a short story. I used to write 30-second commercials, but now I’m stuck in the long form. Plus once you wind me up, I tend to get going. That’s probably why my first book was 632 pages.

Bertram: I can’t write regular short stories, maybe because I don’t like to read them, but for some reason I can do the 100-word ones. They are called drabbles, and stemmed from sci-fi conventions where they developed from a novel writing contest.

With a drabble, you have to find the essence — which is why there are so few stories on my Mini Fiction blog. It’s hard to do. And then you have to have a beginning, a middle, an end and a change in the life of a character.

I think of it as a prose haiku.

Marshall: Well, you got me with prose haiku. Here’s an exercise I did at a conference. I don’t know if it fits the drabble parameters — the challenge was slightly different — but it’s only 95 words. So humor me, and tell me if you think it does.

When you work homicide in Southern California you see your fair share of dead celebrities, but this… this is the first one that ever really got to me.

There were deep ligature marks on his white skin, and his once perfect body had been gracelessly dragged to the side of his private pool and left to be further ravaged by an unwilling accomplice 93 million miles away.

“Who,” I sputtered, as the hot Pacific breeze greeted me with the aroma of my first morning cup of death, “who the hell would want to murder Shamu?”

Bertram: It is an excellent blurb that caught my attention, but it’s more of a scenario than a story.

We don’t know who Shamu is, so the last sentence isn’t much of a punch line. And drabbles seem to need a punch line at the end.

Marshall: Shamu is a pretty famous whale. You’re forgiven for not knowing. Damn those pop culture references. They don’t always work.

Bertram: Then I stand corrected. Your story works for a drabble. In fact, it’s very good. But use those extra five words to show that it’s a whale for us ignorant people. Thank you for talking to me. It’s been a pleasure.

Marshall: And thank you for helping support my life of crime.

See also:
Titles: What Makes a Good One by Marshall Karp
Review of Flipping Out review by Pat Bertram
How to Do a Blog Tour by Marshall Karp

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Titles: What Makes a Good One

My guest today is Marshall Karp, an award winning former advertising executive, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a novelist. He has also written, produced, and executive produced TV shows for all the major networks. Karp tells us what makes a good title:

1. Short.

That’s my first thought.  Why?  Because your title is not just words.  It’s a major design element on your cover – often even more than the illustration.  And given the space limitations, the designer can do a lot more with one, two, or three words, than with ten.  Also, picture your cover reduced to a thumbnail on Amazon.  Too many words become unreadable.  That said, I think my title HOW TO EARN MILLIONS, LOSE WEIGHT, AND DEVELOP KILLER ABS WITHOUT WORKING, DIETING OR EXERCISING would sell a ton.  I just have to write the book.

2. Intriguing. 

I think it helps if your title makes prospective buyers wonder what that book might actually be about.  My first title, THE RABBIT FACTORY, is probably my best.  It just seemed to grab people.  And the chalk outline of a six-foot rabbit on the cover added to the mystery.  Note: a year before publication another author used the same title.  I was crushed, but my publisher told me that titles are copyrighted, and there are lots of duplicate titles. THE RABBIT FACTORY, he said, was too good to change. He was right.  The title definitely helped sell the book, both to the trade and to readers.

3. Not generic. 

My second book, BLOODTHIRSTY, is about murder by exsanguination.  I was so excited when I came up with a title that described the plot in one word that I never thought twice about it.  In hindsight, I should have.  Blood is a little — make that a lot — overused.  But the designer loved having a word that was loaded with visual possibilities.

4. It’s a title. It’s not the book.

The title does not have to communicate what the book is about.  It has to make the reader want to buy the book to find out what the book is about.  Sorry if that sounds like I’m talking down to you, but it’s a basic fact that I was late in learning, and still have trouble dealing with.

5. If you’re lucky, the title will keep on changing.

English is not the universal language.  So while THE RABBIT FACTORY is called THE RABBIT FACTORY in the UK and literally translated to IL MISTERO DEL CONIGLIO SCOMPARSO in Italy, it’s CARTOON in France, and in Dutch it’s loosely translated as FATAL ATTRACTION. 

My latest book is about a group of cop wives who are getting murdered.  They also have a house flipping business together, and my US publisher is very happy with the title FLIPPING OUT.  But my UK publisher said the Flipping part wouldn’t resonate.  I got in touch with my inner Agatha Christie and reluctantly offered up THE DEAD WIVES CLUB.  They loved it.

But months before either book was ready for market there was a lot of confusion among readers, booksellers, and reviewers.  Even when I tried to make it perfectly clear on my website that it was the same book, going by two different titles, people kept asking me how two different books could have the same synopsis?

Finally, my UK publisher agreed, and now, FLIPPING OUT is called FLIPPING OUT in the US and the UK.

6. The Airport Test.

Titles are very personal and intensely subjective.  It’s hard for an author to subtract his or her own investment in a title when making the final decision.  So try putting your prospective title to this test.

Narrow down your titles to a small handful.  Then find someone whose opinion you value and say this:  You’re in an airport. You have 30 seconds to buy a book.  If you saw this title, does it (a) intrigue you to want to learn more, or does it (b) just grab you?

You want a title where the respondent says (b).  Because the best thing a title can do is grab a reader in a way that makes her want to grab the book.

See also:
Review of Flipping Out
Conversation With Marshall Karp, Author of Flipping Out
How To Do a Blog Tour by Marshall Karp

One lucky commenter, chosen at random, will win a free copy of Flipping Out. If you do not win, click here for your consolation prize:
flipping cover[2] - online jigsaw puzzle - 40 pieces

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A Letter From an Agent

I got a letter from an agent at William Morris Agency. It started out: Dear Pat:

Nice. Not too stuffy, not too familiar. Then the agent thanked me. Also good. And finally, he said that he was enclosing a manuscript for review.

Okay, that was mean of me to lead you on, but I liked the irony. Over the past seven or eight years, I sent out two hundred queries and primarily got form letters in response. (Form letters? Try form scraps — most agents enclose a much photocopied slip of paper into your SASE, and expect you to be grateful for that, which, of course, you are since many agents don’t bother acknowledge you at all.) But here an agent was sending me a manuscript, asking for my opinion. As I said, I liked the irony of it.

I also got a letter from the publisher (along with a finished copy of the book) thanking me for my review. The thing that struck me about this letter was the acknowledgement that readers sell books:

Writers write books, but it’s readers who sell them. Now, more than ever, the best way to hear about a good book is to hear about it from someone who read it and wants to spread the word.

All of us at St. Martin’s Minotaur are grateful for the time you’ve taken to read, review, and blog about . . . etc, etc.

So, is this more irony, this bringing the book business down to my level? Because my books are being published by a new press, I won’t have the sort of publicity that an major publisher can afford, but I can blog about my books, and I can (perhaps) get readers to talk about them. Just like a major author. Odd, isn’t it, this brave new world of publishing?

In case you’re wondering, the book is Marshall Karp’s new novel, Flipping Out. (He also wrote The Rabbit Factory andBloodthirsty.) I’m not allowed to talk about it until his blog tour, (he’ll be here on April 12th) but there’s nothing hush-hush about it. You can read the first five chapters on Karp’s website.

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