Today, we’re pleased to interview Rick Bleiweiss on the MWA NW blog for Writer Spotlight Wednesday!
Please tell us about your upcoming release!
Book title: Pignon Scorbion & the Barbershop Detectives
The year is 1910 and in the small and seemingly sleepy English countryside municipality of Haxford, there’s a new Chief Police Inspector. At first, the dapper and unflappable Pignon Scorbion strikes something of an odd figure among the locals, who don’t see a need for such an exacting investigator or eccentric individual. But it isn’t long before Haxford finds itself very much in need of a detective with his abilities.
Luckily, Scorbion and the local barber are old acquaintances, and the barbershop employs a cast of memorable colorful characters who – together with an aspiring young ace reporter for the local Morning News – are nothing less than enthralled by the enigmatic new Chief Police Inspector.
In this reality in which all the greatest detectives lived, Dr. John Watson’s friend, eccentric Chief Inspector Pignon Scorbion deductively solves cases much like his contemporaries Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. However, Scorbion alone solves his cases in the barbershop, aided by a colorful group of amateur sleuths – the barbers, a shoeshine man, and a young newspaper reporter – all acting as his assistant “deputies.” Witnesses, suspects and victims alike are interrogated and interviewed in the Barbershop; it is where Scorbion delights the barbers with tales of his exploits and his unique family history as well as telling them background stories relevant to the cases they work with him.
Scorbion’s father was an Egyptian entrepreneur and seafarer who met his mother in her native Haiti, and together they settled in England where Pignon was raised. Pignon is a fastidious dresser whose signature black & white shoes and custom-made colorful suits set him apart from the average Brit, while his deductive abilities are second to none.
Investigating a trio of crimes whose origins span three continents and half a century, Pignon Scorbion and his “tonsorial sleuths” interview a parade of interested parties, but with every apparent clue, new surprises come to light. And just as it seems nothing can derail Scorbion’s cool head and almost unerring nose for deduction, in walks bookshop owner Thelma Smith – dazzling, whip-smart, and newly single.
Has Pignon Scorbion finally met his match?
Please tell us a little about yourself!
At 77 years old, I am starting a new venture as a mystery novelist. In my career, I have been an author, publishing executive, music producer, rock musician, record company senior executive and educator.
Prior to moving to Ashland, Oregon in 2003, I spent my life in New York City in the music industry. I was a rock performer & songwriter, produced over 50 records, including a Grammy-nominated album, and I was a senior executive at major and independent record companies helping to launch the careers of Melissa Etheridge and the Backstreet Boys. I also worked on the records of Kiss, U2, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears and many other superstars, and specialized in marketing and selling major film soundtracks, including the first three Star Wars films, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease to name a few.
I have lectured at multiple universities on the business of entertainment and the audiobook industry, and I co-founded a sports & entertainment marketing program at Baruch College.
I have written articles and columns for magazines and newspapers, contributed stories to a number of anthologies and am a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.
Since 2006 I have been an executive at Blackstone Audio where I have acquired works by many incredible authors including James Clavell, Leon Uris, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, HP Lovecraft, Catherine Coulter, Pablo Neruda, Rex Pickett, PC & Kristin Cast, and Nicholas Sansbury Smith. I also co-created a book/audiobook series to preserve the wisdom, humor, stories and life experiences of First Nation elders.
I have a B.A. in Film and an M.A. in Communications from New York University and completed an accelerated business leadership program at Harvard University.
What was your journey to publication like with this title?
I was a member of a local writing collective in Ashland for a number of years, and in 2015/2016 I began writing Scorbion as a short story. Then I stepped away from it to write a science-fiction novel (never published). The other writers in the group kept letting me know they really liked Scorbion and suggested I write more about him and his associates, so a few years later I began writing the novel, using that first short story as the starting point.
When I completed the novel I asked a literary agent, Nicole Resciniti, owner of the Seymour Agency (who I knew from my role at Blackstone) if she would read it. She did, she liked it a lot, and then she and Julie Gwinn (the president of the Seymour Agency and my co-agent) did some initial editing on it.
Nicole and Julie sent the manuscript out to publishers to gauge interest in it, and when offers started to come in, I/they brought it to Josh Stanton the CEO of Blackstone. Josh had one of his top acquisitions people, Haila Williams, read it. I was on tenterhooks waiting for her verdict on the manuscript and was delighted when Haila raved about it. Josh made a meaningful offer for the first two books in the series (hopefully, with many others to follow).
Blackstone is where I wanted to be in the first place, so it worked out great for Josh and me.
Then, of course, came the editing, and while Jason Kirk and I did most of the developmental editing, other friends and associates did some as well.
Did you do any unusual research while writing this book?
Scorbion is an historical fiction mystery set in England in 1910, and I wanted it to feel ‘real,’ so I had to make certain it was accurate to the time period and the environment. I did massive research which enabled me to incorporate real-life people and events that were taking place in both England and in the world at that time.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how much research I’d actually have to do, but I knew it was the ‘small things’ that would make it feel credible or not. I had to research the language that was spoken at the turn of the last century in Britain, names, places, events and even French (one of the characters intermingles French words and phrases with his English). Also, because the book incorporates scenes from other locations and eras, I had to research all of that as well. I even researched Scorbion’s first and last names to make them interesting but at the same time true to the cultures and countries of his parents.
And then after it was fully written, I had a number of Brits, Native Americans, and French speakers read the manuscript to make sure it was accurate and correct. They all made the book better.
What’s the fascination of detective – or detecting – fiction in your opinion?
I think that people like detective fiction because it challenges them and keeps them guessing – they try to figure out ‘who did it’ before the detective does. Also, in many cases, the characters in a mystery book are interesting and readers want to know what happens to them.
In the case of my book, I have written Scorbion and the supporting amateur sleuth characters as colorful individuals who, hopefully, become the reader’s friends during the course of the book. Also, as opposed to hard-core bloody thrillers, Scorbion’s kind of mystery is lighter fare that won’t make people cringe. Hopefully it will make them smile. In fact, Nancy Pickard, one of mystery writing’s most decorated authors, talks about how much she laughed out loud while reading the book. To be clear though, the book is not a comedy, it’s a full-on mystery with humorous elements.
I find it gratifying that the book has appealed to authors who write in many different genres, all of whom have endorsed it, including Rex Pickett (Sideways), Heather Graham (paranormal, suspense, romance), Andrews & Wilson (military fiction), Shelley Shepherd Gray (romance), Natasha Boyd and Pamela Binnings Ewen (historical fiction), Robert Arellano, Dick Lochte, Nancy Pickard, Amanda Flower and Reed Farrel Coleman (mystery), James Wade (literary fiction), Eric Maikranz (science fiction). People just plain like a fun whodunit with interesting cases and good characters.
Scorbion’s group of helpers—the Barbershop detectives—what’s their function in the story?
They serve as his foils and assistants and lend color, humor and interest to the book. They help him solve cases, and together become an ensemble that hopefully readers enjoy meeting and knowing. The female bookshop owner serves in that role as well, but also becomes a love interest for Scorbion. She is beautiful and brilliant – a match for Scorbion – and provides a voice for the modern woman of 1910 as she engages in the women’s suffragette movement and other causes. The young reporter serves as Scorbion’s chronicler, somewhat in the way that Watson was for Homes, but also contributes a different perspective at times for Scorbion to consider.
What unusual things have you done in conjunction with the book?
A software design company built a Pignon Scorbion ‘Find The Hidden Objects’ video game that is free in the Apple and Google app stores. It contains locales from the book in its 6 levels/scenes. Even though it is free, and fun to play, there is a small catch: to unlock the last two levels, the player has to input an unlock code, and that code is found in the book, ebook and audiobook. I have written and performed a theme song for Scorbion, Scorbion’s Theme, and it plays in the video game, the audiobook and the video trailer. We are selling and giving away Scorbion t-shirts and expect other merchandise to follow.
And, being a huge supporter of independent booksellers, there is a page on my website that lists the names and contact information for over 1300 indie bookstores so the public can easily find ones near them no matter where they are in the United Styates.
Do you have any must-do writing habits?
When I write, the story plays out in my head like a movie, and my job is to capture what I’m seeing and write it in a way that the reader sees what I’m seeing. I don’t outline my books, so other than knowing in advance what the general mystery/plot will be, everything else is written ‘on the fly.’ Because I am concentrating on the story unfolding in my brain, I can’t have any outside distractions, so I don’t have music playing or anything that would serve as a diversion. I also find that I tend to write in spurts, and rather than write for an hour or two a day, I’ll write for many hours on some days and not on others. I always get my books, articles and stories done on time, so it’s working for me doing it that way.
What’s your favorite book that you’ve read in the past year?
If I only pick one book, answering this question could get me in hot water with the fabulous authors I’ve signed to Blackstone whose works I’ve read, but whom I don’t mention. So instead of answering the question straight on, I’d like to put forth to you Grandma Says: Wake Up World! by Agnes Bake Pilgrim (known to most as Grandma Aggie), who for the majority of the time I knew her was the oldest living Native American in Oregon. She passed away two years ago. The book and audiobook capture, in her own words and voice, the experiences, anecdotes, wisdom, humor, knowledge and advice of a Native American elder for posterity. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.
If you could go back in time and give your younger author-self advice, what you tell yourself?
Write more. Especially novels.
I want to clarify that.
I have written most of my life – newspaper and newsmagazine columns, magazine articles, cover stories, political literature, and I’ve had stories in two non-fiction anthologies. I wrote a sports newspaper when I was eight and sold the two carbon copies to neighbors, I wrote a play when I was fifteen and a science fiction rock opera when I was in my twenties.
But… I didn’t start writing novels (and some quirky short stories) until a few years ago, when I was well into my sixties. And I regret not having started sooner because I think I’m a good storyteller. People tell me that they truly enjoy Scorbion and his cast of amateur sleuths after having read it, many saying that the book is a fun throwback to a classic British period whodunit, with humor, mystery and colorful characters.
So, I do wish I had started writing novels earlier in my life.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I’d have to give two answers that are somewhat related. The first is not to give up if your works get rejected, and the second is to have a thick skin and don’t stress over rejections or bad reviews.
The list of authors/books, films and musical acts that were rejected by companies yet ended up being huge is enormous. You can’t let rejection stop you from continually exercising your artistic side no matter what form that takes. Rejection comes with the territory, and if you can’t handle it, you should consider doing something that isn’t dependent on others evaluating your work.
And part two is that you should always remember that successful book after book have received one or more bad reviews whether they be from a professional reviewer or some online troll. You can’t let it get to you. I know of at least one mega-selling author who won’t read a bad review of their work and their publicist only sends them positive reviews. That truly minimizes stress, and kind of appeals to me.
How can people learn more about your book and follow you?
The book has been favorably reviewed by Publishers Weekly, the Amazon listing for it contains all the endorsements from the authors I mentioned above, it is on Goodreads, and if people go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgS2TKClnDw they can see the video trailer for the book.
Finding me is pretty easy. If people Google my name they’ll find a lot about me and the book as well. My site www.rickbleiweiss.com has a lot of information about me and the book (and other books I have stories in). I can also be found on Twitter: @rickbleiweiss
Facebook: rickbleiweissauthor LinkedIn: rickbleiweiss Instgram: rickbleiweissauthor Pinterest: Rickbleiweiss0410 TikTok: rickbleiweiss. Plus, my channel on YouTube features information about the book, the video trailer, the theme song and a lot more, PLUS a video show I host titled ‘Rick Bleiweiss’ Chapter & Verse’ in which I interview best-selling authors, literary agents and other entertainment executives talking about their careers and offering advice to writers.