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Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Award-winning author Larry Beinhart discusses what he learned in the process of writing his new mystery novel, The Deal Goes Down.

Larry Beinhart is the Edgar Award-winning author of No One Rides for Free, How to Write a Mystery, You Get What You Pay For, and Foreign Exchange. His book American Hero was adapted into the movie Wag the Dog. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Larry Beinhart

In this post, Larry discusses what he learned in the process of writing his new mystery novel, The Deal Goes Down, his advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Larry Beinhart
Literary agent: Anne-Lise Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency
Book title: The Deal Goes Down
Publisher: Melville House
Release date: August 9, 2022
Genre/category: Mystery/Thriller
Previous titles: Wag the Dog, No One Rides For Free, You Get What You Pay For, Foreign Exchange, The Librarian, Salvation Boulevard, Zombie Pharm; Nonfiction: How To Write A Mystery, Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Elevator pitch for the book: “A first-rate, and first-noir-murder-Buddhist-comic-Woodstock-thriller. Fantastic fun.” —Shalom Auslander

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

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What prompted you to write this book?

Credentials.

That's one word to summarize what I took to be the essential lesson of a long journey.

This book was preceded by two others.

One was a nonfiction book on economics. I was quite fond of it. It was provocative, original, and had a great title—The Rich Can't Be Trusted With Money. It was prompted by years of writing a political column and then three years of direct research. Economics is a very credentialed trade. Only those apprenticed and trained to it are allowed to speak of it. It's as if only those with advanced degrees in Bible Studies and who reference Latin for their proofs are allowed to speak of religion. Which is why economists are so constantly wrong and think they see scientists when they look in the mirror.

I couldn't sell it. Actually, it was worse than that. I couldn't get any agents or publishers to even read it. Except one editor at a major and very prestigious press. He was kind enough to praise my research but told me that since his imprint was now a dime store item in a very major corporation, they would never publish it. I'd best look to small indies.

The other was Zombie Pharm. Pharm as in pharmaceutical. It had a classical Zombie structure. Yet I could say to those who didn't like such things that it was to zombies what Johnathan Swift's A Modest Proposal was to animal husbandry, viciously satirical. My then-agent was very enthusiastic. He couldn't sell it. I asked him why. The closest thing he gave to answer was that it wasn't genre enough. Which I took to be semi-synonymous with credentials. I wasn't a horror writer.

If you're at all like me, you'll likely think maybe the reason I couldn't sell it was that it wasn't very good. I finally self-published. It's up online (Amazon and the others) so you can judge for yourself if you like.

What could I sell?

I decided to go back to the beginning. A detective novel.

Indeed, using the same character as in my first three books. One of which won an Edgar and another had been a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I have credentials, and these are them.

That third Cassella book had been 30 years ago. If I made the character that much older and the times that much later, that would automatically be a nice twist. The good old repackaged as something new.

As to the story in the book ...

That's best explained by another writer story. Many years ago, I did three books with my wife. She was an actor and a detective. The books were based on her. The series was sold, but it got so severely orphaned that although the third was paid for, didn't actually get published. Somewhere amidst the zombies and economists, I sent it off to another ex-agent. It was bright, witty, and fun. As my wife is. The agent told me that was no longer the current saleable style (in mysteries not spouses), that The Girl On The Train was the contemporary in-thing, with a sad, miserable, alcoholic, complaining heroine. Oh, the man had done her wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

It is my nature to think of books in sort of athletic terms. There are rules—structures might be a better word—that you have to play within. Other players—other writers—constantly show us how the game can be played and give us things to play against.

The title of the first chapter The Deal Goes Down is “Woman on a Train.”

It immediately takes off in very different directions.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

Some books are very quick to write. I'm not sure why. Maybe the stuff that's going in them has been building up for a long time and it's just there.

This one was quick. Three or four months.

Then it took 18 months to sell. I have no idea why. I thought I'd designed it to be a quick and easy sale.

As many writers do, I sent it out personally before I sent it out professionally. The reactions I got convinced me that the book worked very well.

By reactions, I don't mean praise. It's hard to trust people to be mean if your work is bad. In our racket—mysteries and thrillers—speed is what you should judge by. Presuming you know their actual start time, anything under four days is a winner. If you have to start counting their time in weeks, you're in big trouble.

I wouldn't say the idea changed. But the tone did. It was originally going to be a lot about death. The lead character is in his 70s. People are starting to die all around him—not from violence, from disease, degeneration, and inevitability.

In the events—in the book—it got faster, twistier, funnier than "death."

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

The publishing process is just starting. So nothing truly marvelous or fearfully macabre has happened yet.

With one exception. I think the interior layout and typesetting is really marvelous. That's something I don't normally even think about. So was a delightful surprise.

Larry Beinhart: On Rejection Leading to Mystery

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Not in the writing.

There have been pleasant surprises in many of the reactions. I'm trying to figure out how to say this without creating spoilers or skewing how people read the book.

The closest I can come to explaining is to imagine the people in the book are real. And the things they do are real. You and I and 20 other people meet them, chat with them, engage with them. After the get-togethers, we gossip about them. Nobody in our group knows anything about them that I don't know, yet many of you have very different opinions about them than I do.

I like that. A lot.

It doesn't feel like I've failed to convey what I intended them to be. It feels more like I've given them some degree of life that can evoke reactions that depend on the readers' lives.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Value received.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

At one time I thought I knew what I was doing.

I believed in the mechanics of it. Craftsmanship. Which is accessible to all, achievable by hard work. I wrote all that down in How To Write A Mystery. I still go back to it when I need to fix something or I'm stuck.

I didn't think much about luck.

Over the years, I've been surprised as it was delivered to my door by the wagonload. Good luck and bad luck. There's a whole big world out there. People who'll shower you with gold and who'll trample your everything. With the former you'll be certain it's because you're so wonderful. When it's the latter, you make up stories to explain why they’re doing you wrong. But you don't really know the true causes of the giving and the taking.

In order to research my own book on writing I read others. When I did so, I disdained magical thinking about inspiration, writers who must write, how to unlock your creativity, and such.

Yet ... there are mysteries in the mysteries.

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