July 18, 2021

Alan Orloff

Alan Orloff

Linda Hengerer and Alan Orloff talk about how real-life informed the writing of his latest novel, I Play One on TV; writing; SleuthFest and Bouchercon; Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America; and what networking with other writers helps your own writing.


Linda Hengerer talks with Alan Orloff, whose latest YA thriller I Play One on TV came out from Down & Out Books on July 19, 2021. Alan Orloff won an ITW Thriller Award for his novel, PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT, and he won a Derringer Award for his short story, “Dying in Dokesville.” He’s also had novels shortlisted for the Agatha Award and Shamus Award, and a story selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. He loves cake and arugula, but not together. Never together.

Find him at alanorloff.com.

Get to know Alan - The Tart Words Baker's Dozen:

1.     Plotter or Pantser? Combo?

I’m a plotter (plodder?). I think if I tried to pants, I’d find myself lost down a dark alley somewhere in Mexico City (or maybe Montreal) in short order. Having said that, my outlines are not very detailed, more like “Bill and Jane discuss how to bury the body over coffee.”

2.     Tea or Coffee?

And speaking of coffee, no, I don’t drink it. Nor tea. In fact, and this might sound weird, I don’t drink any hot beverages.

3.     Beer, Wine, or Cocktails?

And this may sound even weirder, but I don’t drink any alcoholic beverages either. I drink mostly water. Cold water.

4.     Snacks: Sweet or Savory?

Sweet.

5.     Indie Published, Traditionally Published, or Hybrid?

I guess I’m a hybrid. Although I’m not very good at marketing my indie-published titles.

6.     Strict Writing Schedule: Yes or No

Sometimes.

7.     Strictly Computer or Mix It Up?

99% computer.

8.     Daily Goal: Yes or No

Yes, when I’m in writing mode, I work to a quota. And I’ve been known to get up in the middle of a sentence once I’ve reached it!

9.     Formal Track Progress: Yes or no

I used to use spreadsheets, the whole nine yards. Now, I’m a little less formal.

10.  Special Writing Spot?

Not really. Usually my desk, but not always.

11.  Writer’s Block?

Nope. BICFOK (butt in chair, fingers on keyboard)

12.  File of Ideas: Yes or No

Yes, but I rarely look at it!

13.  Favorite Author(s)?

Many! Too many to name! Too careful to start naming them and leaving someone out!

Like this episode? Leave a review or rating! 

Transcript

Links for organizations and conferences mentioned in the podcast: Sisters in CrimeMystery Writers of AmericaBoucherconSleuthFestNational Novel Writing Month (NaNo)

Transcribed by Otter.ai; Lightly edited by Linda. Please forgive typos or grammatical errors.

Episode 332 - Alan Orloff

19:58

 

Linda 00:00

Welcome to Tart Words. I'm your host, Linda Hengerer. And I'm a writer, a reader and a baker. I talk to writers about their latest book and what inspires them, chat with fellow author Suzanne Fox about what writers can learn from reading their favorite authors, and share fast and easy recipes for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Join me as I share Tart Bites, Tart Thoughts, and Tart Words.

 

Today I'm speaking with Alan Orloff, who won an ITW Thriller Award for his novel, PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT, and he won a Derringer Award for his short story, “Dying in Dokesville.” He’s also had novels shortlisted for the Agatha Award and Shamus Award, and a story selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. His YA thriller, I PLAY ONE ON TV, comes out next month from Down & Out Books. He loves cake and arugula, but not together. Never together. Find him at www.alanorloff.com.  

 

Hi, Alan, welcome to the podcast. I'm looking forward to talking with you today.

 

Alan

Hi, Linda. Yeah, thanks so much for inviting me. I'm looking forward to it also.

 

Linda

Tell me about your latest book.

 

Alan

Well, it's called I Play One on TV. And it comes out July 19, so right around when this airs. And it's my first YA thriller. And I'm very excited because it takes place sort of in the world of teen acting. And so here's…I'll tell you the funny story about how I how I kind of came up with this idea. It wasn't really my idea. It was my agent at the time, sent me this email. And it said something like, you know, Hi, Alan, my wife, and I really like these crime reenactment shows that we watch on cable, wouldn't it be a cool idea to write a novel that features a teen actor who portrays murderer as a teenager on one of these shows, and then the killer, gets out of prison, and comes back to hunt this guy down. And I thought that is a fabulous idea. But what my agent didn't know was that I was the father of a teen actor who had portrayed a teen killer on one of those crime reenactment shows on cable.

 

Linda

No!

 

Alan

Yes, yes, my son is an actor. And he was on a show called Evil Kin, which ran on ID channel. So it was like it was meant to be. Plus, it meant that I didn't have to do a whole lot of research because I lived through it.

 

Linda

Right. But how scary as a premise?

 

Alan 02:49

Yes, yeah. So that's the premise of the book. And it was a lot of fun to write here. And I think it'll be a lot of fun for readers to read too.

 

Linda

Good. Well, that sounds exciting. Is this book part of a series? Or is it a standalone?

 

Alan 03:03

Well, that remains to be seen. Now I wrote it you know, sort of…I won't give the ending away. But the ending certainly would lend itself to a continuing series. So we'll see what happens. You know, a lot of that's not my decision. It's the publishers decision.

 

Linda

Where did the idea for your main character come from? I mean, I understand that you draw on your background, having a son who's an actor, but did you make the character up out of whole cloth? Or is he based on your son, and some other child actors that you know, or have known of?

 

Alan

Well, if you ask my son, he thinks it's about him. He's a little bit too old now to play the part, you know, in an actual movie, but he would love to be in the movie somewhere. Ever since he was like eight or nine years old he's always been involved in productions, theater production. I was, you know, around a lot of teen actors throughout the year. So I sort of took bits and pieces of various people and situations to find themselves in the books. Like I said, it was a lot of fun to write. And it sort of built upon many of the experiences I had taken to take it into auditions, and being backstage while he rehearsed and stuff like that.

 

Linda

And did you ever think when you were doing all that someday that would be fodder for novel?

 

Alan

No idea. Absolutely no idea.

 

Linda

It's funny how things kind of circle around though and some experience that you had way back when becomes the stepping stone to a novel or a short story or something.

 

Alan

Exactly right. Those life experiences sort of lodged in your head and you never know when they're going to break loose and come spilling out.

 

Linda

When your son read the novel, what did he think besides that it was based on him?

 

Alan

He thought it was good. I mean, he gave me some notes, as they say in the business. You know, I tried to revise it based on some of his comments, so he was very helpful.

 

 

Linda

When he was doing this reenactment was it always a killing or was it other types of crimes?

 

Alan 05:00

He was in one episode and it was a murder.

 

Linda

Did that murder scenario play out in your book? Are they totally different?

 

Alan

I mean, obviously, if there's a murder, there's a dead body, but where the sort of the backstory of it different. Yeah, it was, it was different, totally different. I don't want to get sued by anybody for anything.

 

Linda

So with your other writing, I know that you are an award-winning story writer. So tell me about some of your other novels and short stories.

 

Alan

I'll work backwards. So you're the one that's out now is called I Know Where You Sleep. And it was my first PI novel. I've always liked reading PI novels. In fact, I guess you could say I sort of started reading mysteries and suspense. When I lived in Boston, I had a manager who asked me if I like to read, I said, Yeah, sure do. So have you ever read a private eye series that takes place here in Boston, and the main character's name is Spenser. And at that time I hadn't, and I you know, I went home, and I got a Spenser book. And I just devoured him. I love Spenser. So kind of a weird thing is that I Know Where You Sleep was my ninth book. So my previous eight books, in my head, they were all sort of working off the Spenser template, but they didn't actually feature a private eye. So I was very excited to be able to write a private eye novel. And it just recently was nominated for Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye Novel.

 

Linda

That's very exciting. And when do those awards take place?

 

Alan

That will take place around the around Bouchercon, which is in August.

 

Linda

Where is Bouchercon this year?

 

Alan

Bouchercon is in New Orleans, it should be a lot of fun.

 

Linda

I went when it was in St. Petersburg in 2019. And it's just a fabulous conference.

 

Alan

It is it's a lot of fun. I was at St. Pete. I've been to Gosh, maybe 12 or so Bouchercons, everyone, it's like seeing 1500 of your closest friends in one place. It's fun.

 

Linda

Noir at the Bar is always a fun time and just seeing everybody at meals and in different panels and whatnot.

 

Alan

Yeah.

 

Linda

Do you have a writing routine or schedule?

 

Alan

I do. I do when I'm in it. This only counts for when I'm in the middle of a project. So if I'm writing a book, I will take a week or so before I start to plot it out. I'm a plotter. So I plot it out in general terms. And I sort of do character sketches if I think I need to. And then once I start writing, I kind of look ahead and try to figure out when I want to finish by so I if I have a some kind of contract deadline, I'll know when, when that is or if I don't have a contract deadline, I'll just sort of say, all right, I want to have my first draft on in two months, or three months or whatever. And then I'll work backwards and figure out how many words I need to write per day to meet that goal. So I write on a, on a daily quota basis, I write five days a week, and I leave that weekends in case I need to catch up. You know, I sit down in the morning and I start writing and when I reach my quota, I get up. Sometimes I get up in the middle of a sentence.

 

Linda 08:16

I tried that once. I read that that was a great way to jumpstart the writing for the next day. And I came back the next day and I looked at that half sentence and I'm like, okay, where was I going with this?

So I always finish my thought, I am a plotter. Also, if I was writing a novella, say 20,000 words, I'd have a four page sketch of where I think the story is, what I think the highlights are, who the victim is and why, who the killer is and why, just to give me a jumping off point. I know many people who are pantsers and just sit down and start writing. And it's terrific that it works for them. But it just does not work for me. I need more structure. Even though things change. You know, things always change along the way, as you get into the writing, things will crop up and you'll realize either it needs to change or something will be different. But for the most part, I like to start with those several elements. And I also will do character sketches just to get into that character's mindset. And also to think about what their backstory is.

 

Alan

Yeah, no, I I agree. I sometimes I envy the pantsers. Because, boy, that seems like you have to have a special skill to be able to do that.

 

Linda

I have a friend who is and she said she knows that she ends up wasting a lot of words that way. But for her it's necessary to work through the story in that manner. And then when she goes back for her second draft, she has a clearer idea of what the story is. So it makes cutting what isn't necessary. easier.

 

Alan 09:43

Oh, well, I have no trouble wasting words to my methods. They're cheap, they're easy to waste. There's plenty more where they came from. That's right. That's the theory.

 

Linda

Anyway, so we talked about outlining and that you do but do you have a creative outlet that plays into your writing or gives you respite from the writing?

 

Alan 10:00

Hmm you mean like painting or something like that?

 

Linda

Anything. I know you're the president this year of the MWA Florida chapter. So I don't know that that's a respite from writing.

 

Alan 10:12

No, that's like the opposite. It's like a lot of stuff going on. I exercise a lot. So typically I'll write in the morning, and then I'll go for a jog or I'll go swimming, or I'll go for a walk or something. So that seems to kind of help me change directions, my head. And then the afternoons. If I do some more work, I'll get back to well, you know, that writing is only sort of a small section of kind of what encompasses being a writer. So I'll do marketing, or I'll work on my website or something in the afternoon. So I really only write maybe three hours in the morning. That's about all I'm I'm sort of burned out for the day.

 

Linda

And what's your daily word count?

 

Alan

Well, it depends on my goal. So when I first started writing, and I had no other writing responsibilities, there's no marketing. No, there's no dealing with agents, I wasn't doing short stories, or they, I would pump out 2000 words a day. But lately, with all the other responsibilities that I've somehow accumulated, it's maybe 1000, 1200, 1500. Maybe, you know, it depends.

 

Linda

Do you find that your writing now is cleaner than it was then? So that your words now are – I don't want to say more productive but require less editing or revision?

 

Alan 11:25

Yeah, that's exactly right. Much more efficient now. You know, I mean, after a while, I think you've probably feel the same. It's not that writing gets necessarily easier. But it's, it's quicker, maybe it's maybe it's a little bit easier to get the words down. You know, the revision still takes a while to do. But initial, the initial first draft, I guess it does go quicker, because partly because I'm not worried about writing down crap. Because I know that I always write down crap in the first draft, and you fix it anyway. So just write it faster.

 

Linda

Writing is rewriting.

 

Alan

Yeah.

 

Linda

And I also think if you don't write down the crap, you don't have an opportunity to discover what's hidden by the crap, by which I mean, I'm always surprised like, if I do NaNo, or I'm doing word sprints, where I've got a timer, or I have an aggressive word count goal per day that when I am writing, and just focused on the writing, things will come out on the page that I hadn't necessarily planned. And there's probably a lot that needs to be eliminated. But there are some things that I never would have thought of just sort of what I was outlining that comes up and it's like, oh, that's really good. Or character will say something or it's like, when you're in the headspace, when you're in the flow of writing, things will just come out that are really gems.

 

Alan

Right. And if you give yourself permission to write quickly and not rent, necessarily, right, well, I think you're right. I think a lot of that stuff kind of comes out sort of like a free association type type deal. So it's sort of like the, the great sculptors, you know, they get a giant block of marble, and then kind of chip away to make it actually look like a person or something.

 

Linda

Was that Michelangelo who said that the David was in the marble, he just had to cut away everything that wasn't the David?

 

Alan

Yes, exactly. Of course. That's the tricky part. Right? Yeah. Exactly. Knowing what it is and knowing when to stop cutting.

 

Linda

Yes, this was really terrific. I enjoy talking with you, as always. Do you want to say a little bit about MWA or Sisters in Crime?

 

Alan

Oh, sure. Yeah, both are excellent organizations. And for all those crime fiction writers listening, I encourage you wholeheartedly to join one or both of them. I met so many great people. And going into it, I did not come from a writing background. And I was pretty clueless about all of it. I didn't know how to really write fiction. I didn't know what to do with it once I had written something. And I found that the people I met the programs that these organizations put on and the networking that's involved, were really invaluable. There's a lot of Sisters in Crime chapters, they don't take just women. I'm a Mister of Sisters. And you know, they have some really great programs, a lot of the chapters put together anthologies, stories from their members, which is a great way to break into getting published if you haven't published anything yet. And then the Mystery Writers of America also have chapters. We live in Florida or the Florida chapter. And we have monthly meetings where we bring in great speakers, whether they're speaking about the craft of writing, or whether they talk about forensics, or there's special experts on certain law enforcement type things that are really great. So I encourage everybody to check them out. Become a member.

 

Linda 15:00

Yes, I was a longtime member of the Florida chapter and co-chaired SleuthFest for five years and I can remember both when we had SleuthFest and had the bomb squad at the hotel and also when we had the bomb squad for a chapter lunch meeting notifying the front desk that the bomb squad was there for us, not to worry if any of the guests came to the front desk concerned that the bomb squad was there, but having them there and being able to look at both the truck that they had, the robot that they use, have actual bomb squad members talking about what their job entails and how they do it is invaluable for anyone who's writing crime fiction or mystery fiction. And even if you're not putting a bomb in your book, it's still having the background of what law enforcement does and how law enforcement works.

 

Alan

We had a picnic once, it was co-sponsored by the Sisters in Crime chapter and the MWA chapter. And they had a speaker who brought cadaver dogs, and they did a demonstration. And it was fascinating. And I knew nothing about cadaver dogs going into it. But I ended up writing a story that ended up in this Sisters in Crime anthology that year. So you never know where inspiration is gonna come from, you really don't. Or what you'll learn.

 

Linda

One of the things I learned is that as you're speaking of cadaver dogs, there are bomb squad dogs, and there are drug dogs because you want to know what they're alerting on, whether it's a bomb, or whether it's a drug, because those are very different things.

 

Alan

That's an excellent point.

 

Linda

This was really interesting. It's always fun talking with you about writing and I know I met you for the very first time at a SleuthFest, one of the best perks of being in an organization besides the fact that you meet people who understand what you're going through, so that when you have a question about whatever your genre is, you know, people that you can go to with a question.

 

Alan

Exactly. Or if you need someone who can format your ebook, or give you a good cover, or help you with your mailing, mailing out to your newsletter, or whatever it is. Odds are, there's someone in the chapter who's gone before you and can give you some pointers. Now, you mentioned SleuthFest, so let me just take 30 seconds and tell people what that is. It's a it's a annual writing conference that's held down here and it's held in Florida. It's great. It's two or three or four days, depending on the year. And there's just panels and panels. And it's about mostly about craft the craft of writing crime fiction. There's a forensic track often. And it's just a lot of fun to meet a lot of writers and that writers come from all over the country. For the last two years, we have not been able to meet in person because of the pandemic. We'll be back to doing an in person.

 

Linda

March 2022. It was online this year, and it was really terrific. I thought Raquel and Michael did a great job setting it up with the panels that they did when you're online, you're limited to what you can serve you know, you don't have multiple tracks going on at the same time. Whereas with in person SleuthFest, there are generally four tracks so you can go to whatever of the four panels suits your needs the most. And there's always one or two terrific keynote speakers at lunchtime on the Friday and Saturday. It's really just a wonderful conference. And I can't tell you how much good information I've gotten from every SleuthFest I've ever attended.

 

Alan

And the people that I've met, it grew so fast was the first mystery writers conference I went to and it was just so great. I'm glad to see that'll be continuing. And this year, our guest of honor is Jeffrey Deaver.

 

Linda

He's terrific. And he's very generous about sharing how he writes, what he’s written, and in general, what the writer’s life is all about. And I'll have links to MWA, Sisters in Crime, and SleuthFest in the show notes.

 

Alan

And speaking of outliners, Jeff writes 80-page outlines.

 

Linda

And he uses Post-it Notes too, or has he gotten away from that?

 

Alan

Whatever he does, it's working for him.

 

Linda

And that's actually the key thing about writing. What works for one writer may not work for you. It's finding what works best for you. And then that becomes your process.

 

Alan

Exactly.

 

Linda

Well, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it. And I will have the links in the show notes. People can find you online at your website, www.alanorloff.com.  

 

Alan

Well, thanks so much. It was a lot of fun as always.

 

Linda 19:15

Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit tartwords.com/tart332. Before you go, Follow or Subscribe for free to the podcast to receive new episodes when they're released. Follow now in the app you're using to listen to this podcast or sign up for email alerts through an easy signup form for Bakers, Readers, and/or Writers at tartwords.com/about. Thank you again for joining me, Linda Hengerer, for this episode of Tart Words.

 

Alan Orloff

Guest

Alan Orloff won an ITW Thriller Award for his novel, PRAY FOR THE INNOCENT, and he won a Derringer Award for his short story, “Dying in Dokesville.” He’s also had novels shortlisted for the Agatha Award and Shamus Award, and a story selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES. His YA thriller, I PLAY ONE ON TV, comes out July 2021 from Down & Out Books. He loves cake and arugula, but not together. Never together.