July 25, 2021

Neil Plakcy

Neil Plakcy

Linda Hengerer and Neil Plakcy talk about writing, Neil's many writing projects, and his writing process.


In this episode, Linda Hengerer talks with Neil Plakcy about writing, his many writing projects, and his writing process.

Neil S. Plakcy is the author of over fifty gay romance, gay mystery and adventure, and cozy mystery novels. His eclectic work career includes stints in shopping mall construction, web development, and computer game producing. He grew up in suburban Pennsylvania where the golden retriever mysteries are set, and spent many childhood hours in his lakeside backyard with his dog, chasing butterflies and longing to be in the planes that flew overhead. 

He is a professor of English at Broward College in the Fort Lauderdale suburbs, where he lives with his husband and two rambunctious golden retrievers.

Find him online:
WEBSITE: www.mahubooks.com
BLOG:         http://mahubooks.blogspot.com
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE:   http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001JP4EL6
FACEBOOK:      https://www.facebook.com/neil.plakcy
GOODREADS: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/126217.Neil_Plakcy
PINTEREST:       http://pinterest.com/neilplakcy/boards/
TWITTER:           https://twitter.com/NeilPlakcy
BOOKBUB:        https://www.bookbub.com/profile/neil-s-plakcy
INSTAGRAM:    https://www.instagram.com/neilplakcy/
LINKED IN:        www.linkedin.com/in/neilplakcy
Amazon Author Profile: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B001JP4EL6 

Quote from E.L. Doctorow: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."


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

1.  Plotter or Pantser? Combo? I’m a combo—I like to lay out the main points of the story and then let my imagination get me there.

2.   Tea or Coffee? Raspberry mocha cappuccino from Starbucks. Though I have become my own barista during the pandemic and now I use either Raspberry Chocolate or Coconut Rum ground beans.

3.   Beer, Wine, or Cocktails? Given the choice, I’ll order a Cosmopolitan, please, though at home I’m more likely to drink a fruity ale or a cider.

4.   Snacks: Sweet or Savory? Sweet. Entenmann’s chocolate donuts or chocolate chip cookies.

5.   Indie Published, Traditionally Published, or Hybrid? Hybrid, though leaning more toward indie. I still have contracts with one small publisher for a series of erotic anthologies that continue to sell well.

6.   Strict Writing Schedule: Yes or No. Yes, in general. Since the pandemic, I’ve been aiming for three hours every morning, with extra bits as I can fit them in.

7.    Strictly Computer or Mix It Up? Strictly computer. I can type a lot faster than I can handwrite. Though I do occasionally dictate notes into my phone if I’m driving and I get an idea.

8.    Daily Goal: Yes or No. No goa

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Transcript

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

Episode 335 - Neil Plakcy

25:05

 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. 

Neil Plakcy is the author of over fifty gay romance, gay mystery and adventure, and cozy mystery novels. His eclectic work career includes stints in shopping mall construction, web development, and computer game producing. He grew up in suburban Pennsylvania where the golden retriever mysteries are set, and spent many childhood hours in his lakeside backyard with his dog, chasing butterflies and longing to be in the planes that flew overhead. 

He is a professor of English at Broward College in the Fort Lauderdale suburbs, where he lives with his husband and two rambunctious golden retrievers. 

Visit him at www.mahubooks.com.

Welcome to the podcast. Neil, I'm looking forward to talking with you today. 

Neil

Hey, it's great to talk to you, Linda. Thanks for inviting me.

Linda

You're quite welcome. Tell me about your latest book or your latest project. I know you always have something interesting going on.

Neil 01:27

I was invited to participate in a serial, it's hard for me to explain what this is without kind of just jumping into it. There are, let's say six stories in Volume One, six in Volume Two, and I am in volume three, the title of it is Guns then the symbol plus and Tacos, so Guns + Tacos. The prompt for my story, for all these stories, is a character goes to a taco truck in Chicago late at night, orders a taco meal and gets served up with guns at the same time. They're all called the name of the order. Mine is called “Two Steak Taco Combos and a Pair of Sig Sauers”. I was invited to join this and the prompt kind of stuck me for a bit because I said I don't want to write about criminals. So I have to write about good guys who go to this truck and get a pair of guns. Well, who would that be? Police officers, law enforcement, even private eyes usually have their own weapons and a license for them. I said well, who would be a legitimate character who couldn't have or bring their own guns. And I thought of the heroes of my Have Body Will Guard series. They are two body guards two American body guards. One is a former US seal. The other is a retired professor of English for academic purposes, or English as a second language, and they live in southern France. Their adventures have taken them from Tunisia, which is where they first met to Corsica to France to a bunch of other places. Let's just leave it at that for the moment. And so I thought, well, what would bring them to Chicago? One character, Liam, as I said, as a former seal, US Navy SEAL, and his best friend Joey is still in the service, but about to depart and marry his fiancée, who is a social worker in Chicago, I decided that she's been kidnapped. And Joey, because he's stationed in Afghanistan can't run to her rescue. So who would he turn to but his best friend, so my guys head to Chicago, figure out the lay of the land, get the guns. And that's the story. And it was really fun to write because I hadn't written anything set for them in the United States. My primary point of view character is Aiden, his partner, the former teacher, that's the guy that I connect with most.

Linda

As a teacher yourself. 

Neil

Exactly. And he has a lot in common with me. So this is written from Liam's point of view the other character who occasionally gets a point of view in books. But it was again, fun challenge to write a whole story from his point of view, that's one thing that's just out now it's from Down & Out Books, all one word, if you're going to their website downandoutbooks.com

Linda 04:34

And I'll put a link to that in the show notes too.

Neil 04:37

It's a six-story package. So you get my story as well as the other five, all with this same prompt. I have not gotten my copy yet, but I think it'll be fun to see how different authors approach the same prompt. And the other thing that I have that's relatively new, I think because you're a Floridian and your husband's a musician...are you a Jimmy Buffett fan?

Linda 05:00

I have been to a Jimmy Buffett concert in the past when it was at the Sunrise Music Theater, which is a smaller venue. 

Neil

Did you like it? 

Linda

I did. It was interesting. I liked his music. I'm not a Parrothead, I'm not a diehard Jimmy Buffett fan. I'm more of a Bruce Springsteen girl.

Neil 05:19

And I agree. I'm a Bruce Springsteen guy, Jersey guy all the way but I do love Jimmy and I love his music. And about a year ago, a short story writer who I had met at Malice Domestic mystery fan conference in Washington DC approached me. His name is Josh Pachter – P A C H T E R. He's a very prolific short story writer and now an antholologist and he had a contract from Down & Out Books to put together an anthology of crime fiction based on Jimmy Buffett songs. He wanted to have one song from Jimmy's first recordings, one from his latest and then basically one song per album. Jimmy has written so much music there's so much to choose from. My favorite Jimmy Buffett song is A Pirate Looks at 40 - my case, it's now you know the pirate’s looking at 60.

Linda 06:17

It's a lucky pirate who gets to age to 60.

Neil 06:21

Somebody had already taken that song. So I went looking through the canon. I had seen a musical that Jimmy wrote based on a book by Herman Wouk called Don't Stop the Carnival. I saw that in its pre-Broadway run at the Coconut Grove Theater in Miami, went out, bought the CD, listened to it memorized all the songs. When Josh asked me I went looking and I said, Well, let me let me look at Don't Stop the Carnival. And I picked a song called Public Relations. The plot of the musical essentially is that a Broadway PR guy has retired to the Caribbean to run a hotel, I use that as the jumping off point. What kind of job or client would cause this PR guy who has retired to the Caribbean to return to New York. As you know, I love puns. All the titles of my golden retriever mystery series are all a flip on dog versus God. The first book is In Dog We Trust. I said, I can't resist the double entendre of public relations. It's a client of his who has been caught having relations in public. And the client is an ostensibly straight married man, who is the president of a company that manufactures condoms. And he has been caught on video bare-backing. So not using a condom with a young male hustler. So that's the kind of story that requires a PR master to spin. It's not necessarily a prompt for a piece of crime fiction. Josh had asked us to use as many of the phrases from the song as possible as little Easter eggs for the readers. I have read most of the other stories in the anthology. And if you're a Buffet fan, it's a pleasure to read because the stories are all fun, but they all also are filled with these little Easter eggs of quotes from the songs. I wrote the story. And I sent it to Josh. And he wrote back well, this is really fun, but it's not really crime fiction, see what you can do to focus on a crime here. And so I did. That's, to me, the beauty of an editor who can point out what needs to be polished in the story how to emphasize certain points. And so I did, I rewrote the story, sent it back to him. He took it. And I'm really pleased with that anthology, which is called The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett. So it's been fun. We've promoted that book a couple of times in Zoom videos with other authors, just the sense of joy that comes through come many of these authors really loved coming up with these stories, and they love talking about them. So I think it's a really fun book.

Linda 09:29

I think Jimmy Buffett as a musician tends toward the fun side, he's not generally writing social commentary. He's not doom and gloom like some other artists might be. And I think his songs are very catchy and I think very fun to do that sort of project with.

Neil 09:48

There often is a naughty element, let's say speeding, stealing, that kind of stuff. So they lend themselves. Josh has also done a couple of other…This seems to be a popular thing, songs based on an artist’s catalog. He did a Joni Mitchell one. And he also did Billy Joel one. His newest is based on the movies of the Marx Brothers. I have been invited to join another one of these artists collaborations, but I can't speak about it now because they haven't gotten the contract signed. And I'm really excited about a story that I have coming out of an anthology that's been accepted. But again, there's that kind of gag order until they make the official announcement.

Linda 10:37

You'll have to come on the podcast again, when you can talk about it. 

Neil

I will, because I'm psyched about that. 

Linda

Yeah, you should be. I know you teased me with what it is when we first corresponded. So I'm very excited and happy for you.

Neil 10:52

I keep hoping to get that email saying okay, it's alright to talk about it. Because I've been tantalizing individuals.

Linda 10:59

Tantalizing, teasing, there's a fine line there. Yes, exactly. Tell me about your series characters. I know you have Steve and his dog Rochester in the Golden Retriever mysteries, and you have Liam and Aiden, Aiden in the body guard mysteries. And they appeal I think, to different audiences, Steve is a retired – well, forced into retirement from his job as a computer hacker or as a computer person because of hacking.

Neil 11:33

When I first started writing that series, which is, I would say, came out first in like 2014, maybe at the very, really kind of the start of the Kindle boom, I had been a computer professional for, you know, maybe 20 years or so and had transitioned into being a college professor. But I still knew a lot about the computer business, even though I would never say that I was a hacker of any kind. And so I thought that would be a good background to give to a guy. The other thing that has turned out to be really important for Steve is the reason why he hacked was because his wife at the time had a miscarriage and then went on a spending spree after that – retail therapy. And then she got pregnant a second time, they were very happy, excited, she miscarried again. And in order to keep his finances intact, he hacked into the three major credit bureaus and put a flag on her account that she shouldn't be able to charge it. Now, there were other probably better ways for him to have handled that. But one thing that I had learned through a colleague whose wife miscarried was that the father suffers pain at the loss of that child as well. And that was something that I wanted to explore a little bit. And what I've discovered is that that pain of those lost children has really carried through in all the books, that that's become an important part of who he is, and how he reacts around families and around issues of fathers and sons. And I think that's something that has really given some resonance to what's otherwise a cozy mystery series about a guy and a clue-sniffing dog. You know, given it some longevity, Steve has a bunch of miscellaneous things in common with me, the place where he grew up, his Jewish heritage, those kinds of things, I can build on those things when I'm writing him. Aiden, in the Have Body Will Guard series also has a lot in common with me, a Jewish guy who went to the University of Pennsylvania, who loves to travel, has a what I consider my fantasy boyfriend in Liam. So they're really fun to write about as well. And I get to in their books, I get to explore more things – like I kind of think of them as a pair of gay superheroes out helping to protect LGBTQ people in the world. They get to do those Indiana Jones kinds of things. And actually the new book in the series is going to come out in I'm thinking early August, and it's called The Graveyard of God’s Name. Jews cannot destroy anything that has God's name written on it. So a Torah scroll, a prayer book, the mezuzah that you put on your door has a little tiny scroll inside; the tefillin, which are a series of leather boxes and ropes that very observant Jews attached to their forehead and their wrists, again, has a little scroll in it. So what do you do when something like that becomes so worn out then it's no longer usable. They keep them in a storage room adjacent to the synagogue called a genizah. G E N I Z A H. There's a very famous one of those in Cairo that had an ancient, ancient manuscripts. Eventually, if your genizah gets too crowded, you can bury them in a sacred burial ground. The title of the book, The Graveyard of God’s Name, comes from that idea of the genizah, of the place where things with God's name are buried. The plot there is that a young Jewish scholar discovers a very old scroll very, very old scroll back from the time of the writing of the Book of Leviticus. And Leviticus, as you might know, is the place only place really in the Torah that discusses homosexuality at all. This scroll has a little twist on that idea. So it becomes a kind of minefield, the young guy gets in danger, and so Aiden and Liam swoop in to protect him and figure out who is endangering him. So in that case, I get to do Jewish stuff. And I also get to do gay stuff. And so really a fun for me combination of the two worlds.

Linda 16:14

One of my sisters is Jewish. For listeners, Neil and I have known each other for over 10 years now, we met when we were both members of Mystery Writers of America, the Florida chapter and specifically worked together as co-chairs for SleuthFest, their annual writers conference. I have two sisters, one is Jewish, one is Catholic, and they both converted. So I'm familiar with a lot of the Jewish religion, my sister when she had been converted for 13 years, and all three of her daughters, had Bat Mitzvahs when they were 13. Our other sister and I both did readings during all four of those Bat Mitzvahs. It's been very interesting and illuminating to see how different religions are different and how they are similar.

Neil 17:01

Oh, absolutely. What's been really interesting for me is that I grew up with a very strong Jewish education. However, there's all kinds of Jewish offshoots that nobody really knows much about, you know, there's the general Ashkenazi Jews, who were the ones with the heritage from Russia, Poland, that area, and the Sephardic, who come from the areas like Greece and Turkey, and Spain, they were kicked out of Spain in 1492. And we're traveling, but there's other groups too. There's the Mizrahim, who are the Jews from Iraq and Iran, and those areas that have their own traditions. There's the Romaniote, who are Jews who, after the destruction of the Second Temple, moved to Greece, and became very Hellenized and changed, you know, a lot of their language and customs changed to accommodate the Greeks. And they're still active, groups like that out there. And so I've been loving exploring those different aspects, too. I'm a teacher and a reader. And so I love to research this stuff. And then to be able to put these little elements into the books.

Linda 18:15

It's fun when you can flavor your writing with the research that you've done, and help give people a jumping-off point. If they want to learn more they can research it themselves, but not giving so much information that it's boring to those who aren't interested in it.

Neil 18:31

Exactly. And to, you know, take that and wrap that in an adventure plot so that you understand a little bit of the stakes of what's going on. But you're really just in the book for the what's going to happen next. The other characters we haven't talked about, and I'll just be real brief is I have a character named Kimo Kanapa’aka, who is an openly gay Honolulu homicide detective in, well over 13 books. Now he goes out and solves crime to protect and serve the people of Honolulu as well as go through a little bit of the gradual stages of the gay man's life. They're coming out, making friends, falling in love, settling down, having children, all that kind of stuff. And then I have a three-book, soon to be four, series about a young gay FBI agent in Miami in his first big cases. All these guys have been really interesting to write about at different points in their lives, different cases, different structure about you know what you can do in a private eye series or an amateur sleuth or a police procedural. I just started working with a new character. I don't know exactly the title of the anthology, but it's something about private eyes in the swinging 60s and I was again asked to write a story for them. And so I came up with a guy who's a private eye on Miami Beach in 1968. Just out of the military and he was a Master at Arms in the Navy, which is the equivalent of the military police. And so I'm having fun learning about his world.

Linda 20:09

Neat. Do you have a writing routine or schedule?

Neil 20:12

I've been very fortunate for the last year and a half. You know, once we went into lockdown for quarantine, all of my college classes went online. And I've started basically every morning, I can spend about three hours writing, usually what I do is I have to have office hours for my students. So I open up the Zoom window for the office hours first thing in the morning, and then I just sit there at the computer and write while I'm waiting for any students to show up. [Linda - Multitasking.] Yes, I've had to become my own barista, though, you probably know I used to go to Starbucks every day. And I had a real heavy-duty Starbucks habit. Once I couldn't go there. I had to find the kind of beans I liked and a coffee maker and so got a whole new routine now as my own barista.

Linda 21:00

Do you think you'll go back to Starbucks once things open up again?

Neil 21:05

I think once I have to go to school in the mornings, I probably will try and head out to Starbucks, do an hour's worth of writing there and then head off to my academic responsibilities. But probably not as fervent as I used to be. Used to be the coffee was my reward for getting the writing done. Now, if I have the coffee at home, not as much of a reward, right? 

Linda

Do you outline? 

Neil 

I'll try and set up the plot points. What's the important thing that's going to happen at a third of the way through, halfway through; sometimes I'll know what all of those plot points are. I actually had a dream a while ago, I woke up and wrote it all out. And it was a short story. It needed a lot of polish but I got all of those points right away. Normally I'll start out with what's the crime, who's the victim, you know who needs help, that kind of thing. And then start working my way through in the new Golden Retriever mystery. I started out with Rochester and Steve are out walking along the Delaware River on a beautiful sunny afternoon and they encounter of confused elderly gentleman who obviously has some kind of mental impairment, doesn't remember his name, doesn't know where he's from. They help him get back home. And then a week later, he's fallen into the river and dead. Steve has a friend in the police department who often he often helps with these investigations. For the longest time as we know with an amateur sleuth, the police say oh, I don't need your help. I can do all this myself. Over the course of a series the police gradually tend to accept the help from the amateur sleuth. For the first time, his police friend actually reaches out to him and says the Medical Examiner has classified this as the guy who got brought it on himself. It's an accident and the guy just fell in the water. No police case there. But the detective feels like there really is a case there but his hands are tied. A Death by Misadventure is what the Medical Examiner calls it. The guy brought it on himself by wandering aimlessly by the water. Steve's friend actually comes to him and says, Please help me figure out who killed this guy, then that's what I started with. And then I just had to start going through and getting to know the characters and then gradually jumping a few steps ahead and going, Oh, okay, here's what's going to happen next. Oh, okay. Now I know who did it. Now I can work my way there. 

Linda 23:38

I like that, too. When you have an idea of where you're going, you have a better idea of how to get there as opposed to – not writing blindly, but having a better sense of what the story needs.

Neil 23:50

I used to have a quote by my computer for years. I can't tell you who it's from, but it's a famous one. “Writing a novel is like driving at night with your headlights on. You can only see a short way ahead. But you can make the whole journey that way.” 

Linda 24:05

Yes, I have seen that also. And I also forget I'll look it up and I'll put it in the show notes. [E.L. Doctorow: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”] This has really been terrific talking with you, Neil. I always enjoy it.

Neil 24:14

I love talking with you. We'll have to do this again sometime soon.

Linda 24:17

Yes, we definitely will. Thanks for coming on the podcast. 

Neil

My pleasure. 

Linda

Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit tartwords.com/tart335. 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.

Neil S. Plakcy

Guest

Neil Plakcy is the author of over fifty gay romance, gay mystery and adventure, and cozy mystery novels. His eclectic work career includes stints in shopping mall construction, web development, and computer game producing. He grew up in suburban Pennsylvania where the golden retriever mysteries are set, and spent many childhood hours in his lakeside backyard with his dog, chasing butterflies and longing to be in the planes that flew overhead.

He is a professor of English at Broward College in the Fort Lauderdale suburbs, where he lives with his husband and two rambunctious golden retrievers.