- by Denise Dietz
I was lucky enough to score an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of FLIPPING OUT from one of my favorite authors, Marshall Karp, who burst upon the writing scene in with his phenomenal The Rabbit Factory.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching the TV show Take This House and Sell it, and I’ve surfed past the show that flips houses for profit, thus I know its premise. But Marshall Karp offers us a new angle, albeit a similar premise in FLIPPING OUT.
In brief, several women belong to a house-flipping group, headed by famed mystery author, Nora Bannister, who writes “The House to Die For” series. Each house in her series is a real house, newly renovated, and it seems people will pay big bucks for a home where a fictional character meets a violent end. Unfortunately, members of Nora’s group start meeting their own violent ends. One warning: If you think you’ll be able to figure out whodunit quickly, you’re wrong…dead wrong. Karp manages to throw one heck of a curve ball at the climax. And yet, the humor never stops.
If I were doing a review, I’d simply say, “There are no flaws in Flipping Out and it will make my ‘Top 10 of the Year’ list when December rolls around.”
Marshall has put the first 5 chapters of FLIPPING OUT on his website — www.lomaxandbiggs.com — so I thought it might be fun to do an informal interview with him, very informal.
First I asked Marshall who he would choose to hang out with, LAP detective Mike Lomax or LAP detective Terry Biggs. Marshall said, “I’d pick Mike. While they both would be fun to hang with, Terry is a classic wiseass. Not unlike, ahem… me. Mike, on the other hand, is funny, a guy’s guy, but he’s not afraid to let us see the vulnerability, sensitivity, and other characteristics that may not be considered macho but make him an intensely likable three-dimensional character. Terry is who I am. Mike is who I try to be.”
I told Marshall I loved his books for their humor, and asked him how he managed to infuse LOL humor into murder and mayhem. He said, “Humor is vital to me. And while I have been known to be serious on occasion, I find that I can make some very intelligent points using humor. If I weren’t funny, I’m sure my wife would have traded me off for a low maintenance husband years ago. But I try to be smart funny. One-liners make me think of Rodney Dangerfield. Humor makes me think of Mark Twain. Guess who I’d rather be compared to?”
My books have humor, too, but I’ve been told – more than once! – that murder is a serious subject. My response is that I’ve never killed a cat. So I asked Marshall if he found the disparity between murder and humor difficult to sustain. He said, “Not to sustain, but at times to restrain. I love humor as a counterpunch to murder. If you hung out with me for a while, you’d see that I’ve been known to cross the line. But unlike life, in my novels I can go back and delete the foot from a character’s mouth.”
In FLIPPING OUT, Marshall kills off some sleazy real estate speculators. CNN would ask him how he came up with such timely victims, so I did too. He said, “I’ve worked in TV and film, and while you meet a lot of fun people, show business has its dark, ugly side. So when I finally turned to novels, I couldn’t resist skewering the people I used to work with. My books are popular with readers, but they really pissed off the people in Hollywood who turn books into movies. So my agent asked if I would kindly kill off some folks who weren’t in show biz. I zeroed in on cop wives and gave them a common cause, a house flipping business. Then I made them partners with a famous murder mystery author, and while the cop wives renovate the house, the author turns it into the focal point of her next murder mystery. By the time the house goes on sale, it has achieved celebrity status, and the real estate prices go through the roof. To answer the question, I owe it all to my keen insight, having my finger on the pulse of global economic trends, and the fact that in college I majored in Dumb Luck.”
Next I asked Marshall how he developed his characters. He said, “When I set out to create Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs, I first made them three-dimensional guys with all the warts, flaws, joys and disappointments that one can accumulate in forty plus years on the planet. I wrote character Bibles; their complete biography. All the dumb little details, some of which I may never use, but continues to shape how they behave. Only when I was finally happy with who they were as people, did I make them homicide detectives. Then I figured out how and when they decided to be cops in the first place. Readers expect your plot to be new and inventive, but they come back to your series time after time, because they know that the characters will give them a predictable emotional experience. Characters drive a series. In fact, they may know what they want to say or do before you do. Sometimes my characters will take over in the middle of a chapter. When that happens, I just sit there and type and let them do all the work.
Finally, I asked Marshall if he had any tips for aspiring writers. Here is what he said:
“Writing is all about rewriting. Rewriting is not punishment. It’s an opportunity to make everything better.
“Read Stephen King’s On Writing. If you’ve already read it, read it again.
“Get a dog. To keep you company, to be a sounding board, to go out and play ball with when you need a distraction. I like cats, but dogs are less likely to walk across your keyboard.”