Another Author of the Month at MyShelf.Com
Author of the Month
Joyce Spizer [September 2003]
Chosen by Kristin Johnson, MyShelf.Com
What do you do when you meet an author with a license to carry a gun? You listen to everything she says! Joyce Spizer has five books in print plus the autobiography of Howard Keel, which she co-wrote, under consideration for publication, two more autobiographies in the works, an "Unsolved Mysteries"-type TV series called "I Spizer" in development, a two-act musical called "Valley Confidential" to be produced in La Quinta, California in the fall of 2003, and a script she co-wrote called "Off Your Rocker" under consideration as a TV series. Joyce's advice for writers who want to be that prolific and still have a life, from her own Web site: "Schedule yourself. Sit yourself down and just throw up on paper. That's how you get things accomplished. Now just do it!"
I first met Joyce at the 1999 Desert Writers' Workshop put on by the Desert Woman and the National League of American Pen Women-Palm Springs Branch, which are just two of the groups this dynamo from Sweetwater, Texas gives her time and energy to. This started a friendship, mentorship, and at times, partnership, that constantly leave me in awe of Joyce and her boundless determination, only matched by her writing talent and her drive to make this world a better place.
I chose Joyce as September Author of the Month because of her books, her success as a writer, her versatility, and her determination to help others succeed. She goes out of her way to help other writers through the classes she teaches all over the country and the way she takes the time to counsel people who quit their day job thinking they're going to write a book and land on the best-seller list. The truths she tells about the long haul of publishing may be a reality shock, but they have helped many writers get out of the slush pile and get on with their dreams. As if that weren't enough, PR wizard Dan Poynter calls this 2000 Irwin Award winner for Power Marketing Your Novel for advice, and FBI agents call this former PI of 37 years (she and husband Harold were the "Hart to Hart" of Southern California), whose top-selling Harbour Pointe Mystery Series (The Cop Was White as Snow, I'm Okay, You're Dead, It's Just a Spleen, and A High School Ring) is based on actual cases she worked, for profiles on complex cases such as the D.C. Sniper.
Joyce freely admits that she, like many of the expert criminal profilers, were thrown for a loop when John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo turned out to be black, since typical serial killers are white males. Joyce knows more than she'd like about serial killers---she regularly visits one on Death Row in Florida. The Cross-Courntry Killer: The Glen Rogers Story, released in September 2002, told the story of Glen Rogers (the only prisoner ever to be extradited to California while on Death Row in Florida) through the eyes of his brother Claude Rogers Jr., a successful restaurateur and real estate agent who, like Joyce, is a resident of La Quinta, California. What was intriguing about this gruesome true-crime tale of a man with ADD and poryphria (King George's disease) who killed 70 people that we know of, is suspected of having committed some of the Green River murders, and remains the O.J. Simpson defense team's prime suspect in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, is the way Joyce uses it as, in her words, "a blueprint for how to raise a serial killer." It is a blueprint that is being played out among our nation's at-risk kids and the lack of intervention of teachers, law enforcement, coaches, clergy, and oh yes, parents at critical points in young lives. Glen Rogers' brutal parents raised seven children with 300 arrests between them.
Joyce's passion to save our children involves her in social service organizations such as Soroptimists as well as entertainment industry organizations such as Women in Film, where she campaigns for Hollywood to become more socially responsible in the messages it sends our culture and our youth. And you better not disagree with her, because she has a weapon: the gift of words and a heart to match.
Kristin: You certainly are prolific and diverse. How did you come to write Howard Keel's and Colin Webster Watson's books?
Joyce: I belong to several charity organizations and met Howard and his wife Judy because we were on a board together that would provide scholarships in the performing arts for our kids. One day Judy asked me if I'd be interested in helping Howard on his book. Who could pass up that opportunity to record Hollywood and Broadway musical history? And he sang "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" in my dining room. Wow. What a wonderful experience. That book is complete and with a NY agent.
I knew Colin, who is an internationally renowned sculptor, artist, poet, playwright, actor, chef, etc., from social events in the desert. One Sunday out of the blue, he called. He read me a poem he had written and said very plainly, "You're going to write my life story." I replied, "Of course, I am."
Kristin: I understand that the book with Howard Keel has led to his becoming your leading man in "Valley Confidential" and "Off Your Rocker." Tell us more about those projects.
Joyce: Valley Confidential is a history of the Coachella Valley, a two-act musical featuring many stars who lived here and made their mark in our valley. Howard will narrate and star in this outdoor event in April 2004. I wrote Off Your Rocker with Howard in mind. The log line on this movie (that I hope will be a TV special followed by a series) is "Love Boat" meets "Golden Girls" in the 21st century. It's what happens when you dump your parents in the retirement home from hell while you go on with your life. The seniors say, "Payback is a B....."
Kristin: Interesting. You are a former L.A. P.I., yet you seem to have struck screenwriting and publishing gold in Palm Springs. Why do you think that is? What is it about the combination of the area and you that has led to this, and what role does your membership in Women in Film play? I know that you met your co-writer on "Off Your Rocker," David Holman, through WIF.
Joyce: It's better to be a little fish in a little ocean than a little fish in a big ocean. In a strong community such as ours we have discovered gold in our retired entertainers, up and coming stars, and people with ideas, concepts, and dreams. And we all converged into organizations like Women in Film who provide that visibility. It doesn't hurt that between two dear friends, one who owns a CBS TV affiliate and the other a movie studio, everyone in the valley can enjoy successes too.
Kristin: That certainly speaks well for the opportunities in the valley where you and I both reside. Talk about the importance of networking, which you address in the Power Marketing Your Novel chapter, "Let's Get Organized."
Joyce: Despite what writers believe, successful writing can be done in solitude, but the selling is a networking event. You cannot move those books sitting at your computer in your home. Attending conferences, joining writing groups, networking in your community extends the life of your book beyond your wildest expectations.
Kristin: That's certainly true. You wrote
POWER MARKETING YOUR NOVEL on advice from a colleague and outlined it
on a plane coming back from a conference in Florida. Tell us about writing
the book. How has it helped other authors? It's been a tremendous help
Kristin: Yes! You are nurturing and supportive of other authors, such as Raul Melendez, who maintains your Web site, and Caren Marsh-Doll, author of Hollywood's Child: Dancing Through OZ, published by your publisher, Joshua Tree Publishing. You edited her book. Besides turning off the Internet and writing every day on a schedule, what advice do you typically give to authors?
Joyce: Cut games off your computer too. I have "quiet time" every workday until noon. I don't answer the phone, pay bills, or water the flowers. I write. Whether I do one page or twenty pages, that's my work time.
Kristin: Good advice. There are some other wonderful gems of wisdom from you and from other successful people in Rejections of the Written Famous. Tell me how you came to write this book.
Joyce: My first book was rejected 72 times. And every time I attended a writer's conference or workshop or seminar I heard lots of other stories. I wrote them down to inspire me to keep going. When I had collected some of them, I wrote some of my writer friends like Carol Higgins Clark and Mickey Spillane and Larry Gelbart and asked for their stories. An avalanche of responses came back. So rich and wonderful and I knew I had to share those stories with other writers. You cannot give up. On the back jacket of the book next to my photo are these words: This is the face of a woman who didn't give up on her dreams and she won't let you either.
Kristin: Which leads me to my next question. What disappointments in your life and writing career have you overcome?
Joyce: People who are hired to do professional work and let you down. I've fired several agents and publicists who failed to meet minimal expectations.]
Kristin: On another tack, Rejections of the Written Famous is quite a departure from your astonishing true-crime The Cross-Country Killer. It's almost a way for you to escape from the negative energy you must have felt living with such a horrifying story day in and day out---not to mention being investigated by a grand jury and being arrested! Talk more about the book and the experience, and what the book has taught you about law enforcement.
Joyce: I wrote REJECTIONS as comic relief for the horrific story about Glen Rogers. I wrote that story to tell American families about the responsibility of having children, of raising them, of nurturing them, and teaching them self respect for others and themselves. It's been very disappointing to me how many people don't do an adequate job in their respective fields -- and law enforcement is one of them. It's almost as if when a guy's ID doesn't fall out of his pocket at the crime scene, the police are stymied about investigative techniques. Their methods leave a lot to be desired. Talk about ethics...
Kristin: I understand that Claude Rogers Jr. does speaking engagements where he talks to at-risk children about his past. How does the book get his message across?
Joyce: It's the history of his horrific childhood and we name a lot of people who had a chance to change history -- and did nothing. Claude stands as a living example of how you can't use your past as an excuse not to perform successfully in a society. He's charitable, kind, and generous.
Kristin: You make a pretty grim case for the future of our children if certain trends in our society (take the Laci Peterson and Danielle Van Dam cases) continue. Tell us what you are doing or plan to do with writing and with your involvement in groups such as Soroptimists and with Women in Film (to try to change the trash coming out of mainstream Hollywood).
Joyce: I've always been involved in charity and volunteers groups in my community. Through Soroptimist (a Greek word that means "Best for women" we reach young girls in our community and teach them self esteem, basic home elements -- setting a table, cooking, washing and hygiene. We work through our programs to keep them off drugs, alcohol, and smoking. If they falter we have a halfway house to help them back on track. I do consider public speaking and often, through WIF contacts, ask those in Hollywood to write from their heads, and their heart, not from their breasts, dirty mouths, and dumbing down of our children. We need more "Seabiscuit" films and less "Porky's".
Kristin: True! It seems your collaboration with Claude Rogers Jr. has done much good. You also have several other collaborations going, as have I. Beverly Garland approached you to write her book as well. What makes a successful collaboration and what advice do you offer to people seeing to co-write or ghostwrite books?
Joyce: To collaborate with someone you become the "fact gatherer" and let them tell the story they want to tell you. You tape it, as much without interruption as you can. Then you transcribe and edit showing them the creative process. Then ask them questions that fill in the blanks. It is their book. But it's your job to convince them how important the sizzle is to the process.
Kristin: As a solo author, your first books, The Cop Was White As Snow and I'm Okay, You're Dead received critical acclaim and commercial success. They transformed actual cases you worked into the thrilling adventures of Camellia "Mel" Walker and a cast of memorable characters, including Johnnie Blake, based on your cousin John Blackburn. How did you decide to turn your experiences into fiction?
Joyce: When my hubby and I were retiring from our PI careers he asked me what I wanted to do. This was around 1991. I told him I thought I would fictionalize some of my cases into books. He bought me a computer and I started attending conferences and learning the writing craft. It's much more than writing a Christmas letter that everyone looks forward to each year. My first book came out in 1998. Spleen will be #6.
Kristin: What's ahead for Mel, Johnnie, "X-Ray" Ramirez and Mel's love interest Lucas Tanner in It's Just a Spleen and a High School Ring? Do you have the entire series planned?
Joyce: SPLEEN is the third book in the series and should be published by October 2003. Lucas plays a small role during the book because Mel has to go to Texas searching for a small girl named Angel who was kidnapped from a Long Beach battered women's shelter. Lucas is on the job in Europe again. But there's a whammo ending that includes Lucas. Will there be more in the series? Stay tuned.
Kristin: I'll review that one too! You've fictionalized your cases, and I've read that you are writing your autobiography. There was talk that someone wanted to make a movie of your life. What's the status of the movie and autobiography?
Joyce: What with all my active projects, I've put my autobiography on the back burner for now. Several producers have spoken with me about doing a Lifetime or O or WE series based on my life, like a Ruth Rendell or "Murder, She Wrote". But nothing is cooking on the front burner right now. Heck, I'm still a work in progress. I have no idea how this all turns out
Kristin: In reading your books, even about Glen's story because Claude did survive, I detect this "can-do" attitude, a hopeful determination to succeed. And certainly putting Glen's story out there is an act of optimism because you are trying to change the future for children and wounded souls out there. I think this looking-forward attitude permeates everything that you've written and the projects in progress you describe. You are a work in progress and it's a beautiful work of art.
of the Written Famous
Reviewed by Kristin Johnson, MyShelf.com
Did you know Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team?
Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and didn’t become Prime Minister of England until he was 62?
It took three bankruptcies before Henry Ford found the Ford dynasty?
Tony Hillerman’s agent told him, “Get rid of the Indian stuff”?
One movie review called The Wizard of OZ“Unimaginative and boring” and one editor deemed The Diary of Anne Frank“ Not interesting enough”?
If you’re having another nightmare day wrestling with blank pages or pounding the Internet pavement for customers, give yourself encouragement by reading that Fred Astaire kept on his mantel a memo he framed about his first screen test in 1933: “Can’t act! Slightly bald! Can dance a little!” Or that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, his favorite, sold only eleven copies in his lifetime.
Former PI Joyce Spizer reinvented herself as a writer, and has since received her share of setbacks. Her first novel The Cop Was White As Snow received 72 rejections, including one as kind as this from a publisher: “I regret to say I don’t think it’s right for me, which has nothing to with your obvious ability to tell a story.”
After you’ve seen your first dead body at 21, more scathing criticisms don’t faze you. Neither does the dreaded “No.” As Spizer writes in her dedication to the imaginatively titled Rejections of the Written Famous, “’No’ is a word on your path to ‘Yes.’ Don’t give up too soon.” Not even if well meaning parents, relatives, friends and colleagues tell you to get “a real job.” Spizer inspires with the words, “Your dreams are your real job.”
This book will turbo-charge an inventor, artist or writer’s career with fun facts, stories, and java-jolt quotes from Louisa May Alcott (a manic-depressive who was told to stick to her teaching) to Albert Einstein to Ann Rule. Important lessons: Don’t be afraid to fail, don’t listen to teachers and reviewers (who seem to dole out the most negatives), keep those rejections coming, and someday you could be in Spizer’s revised and expanded edition!
The first thing everyone noticed about Glen Rogers was the blue eyes and flowing blond locks that made women such as Sandra Gallagher, Kelly Ann Camargo, Linda Price, and possibly even Nicole Brown Simpson follow him to their deaths. The itinerant ADD son of abusive alcoholic parents left a trail of murdered redheads (his mother Edna is a redhead) and devastation, also peculiar purple body fluids from poryphria (King George’s Disease), all across the country
Former PI Joyce Spizer is the only writer who could possibly makes us feel outrage on behalf of a monster. How does she accomplish this? By showing us the failings in the justice system, police departments, and the social supports and the schools that could have prevented the deaths of the 70 people of which Glen Rogers has killed, that we know about. Glen’s coaches, teachers, and law enforcement failed to stop this angry but charming construction worker whose first kill happened when he was not yet a teenager. In one disturbing account, Glen showed up at a police station to report a stolen truck just as the APB about him came across the wires. The police department did not read the APB or check his record, but found his truck and let him go on his murderous way.
Spizer's most shocking revelation is not that Glen may be the one who actually killed Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. She holds mothers and fathers accountable for parenting by saying that Glen’s depravity is partly due to his unfit parents, who have rendered all but one of their seven children, including his brother, Spizer co-author Claude Rogers Jr., forever damaged (they have 300 arrests between them.) Her insight into judicial errors of L.A. County and Florida makes you take seriously her argument that the law enforcement officials who failed to stop Glen Rogers before he killed his first victim are as much to blame for the ruined lives as Glen himself. Spizer sets out to do something revolutionary, and succeeds in sounding a wake-up call to those who just wash their hands of troubled at-risk juveniles.
Okay, You're Dead
The series set in fictional Harbour Pointe and started in Joyce Spizer’s debut novel The Cop Was As White As Snow is getting its legs. Plunge with P.I. Camellia “Mel” Walker and her witty gay pistol-packing partner Johnnie Blake into trouble. Meeting a client in a dark alley, Mel doesn’t expect an ambush.
As usual, Mel’s nose for investigation and her pursuit of justice for the deceased Peter Connelly tests her bond with tough, sexy cop X-Ray Ramirez, a former small-time teenage hood Mel’s deceased father (read all about it in COP) took under his wing. Mel has a way of disregarding crime scene rules that creates an interesting ongoing tension with the police department her deceased father, murdered in the previous book, loved. But Mel, whose nose for justice may soon need surgery by the mysterious Dr. Sarah Reynolds, who she links to the murder through snooping in the dead man’s house, isn’t being disrespectful of law and order. She has a soft spot for underdogs such as Terry Malone, a stripper with a heart of gold who owns the Skin Inn (in a humorous scene, Mel is offered a job and asked “Is you a dyke?”), a connection to Peter Connelly and Peter’s bank-robbing partner Buddy Danko, who also winds up dead. Did we happen to mention Peter Connelly pulled off a bank heist with Buddy and that Mel is looking for the other half of a bond he gave her as payment? Sometimes having a sense of right and wrong makes life too complicated. Particularly when your slimy attorney ex-husband plays the temporary good guy to defend Terry Malone and…without giving away the ending, it was a surprise that plays into a scorned woman’s wish-fulfillment dreams. Spizer knows her craft.
Occasionally, Mel takes a break from murder to help out loyal housekeeper Rosa’s women’s shelter project, deepen her relationship with Texas oilman Lucas Tanner, and even wrestle with crow’s feet and gray hair…plus, the adorable Johnnie falls in love! The cover is striking, designed by writer Raul Melendez (www.raulmelendez.com). In the glut of mysteries, this is a keeper.
Marketing Your Novel
Reviewed by Kristin Johnson, MyShelf.com
Let’s get real. Your mother is not going to buy more than 20 copies of your stunning bestseller about Civil War vampires. So how are you going to move those books and get a movie deal with Brad Pitt as the star?
Joyce Spizer answers those questions in Power Marketing Your Novel, which debuted the same year as I'm Okay, You're Dead. That proves that Spizer, who has a Ph.D. in Marketing, talks the talk by creating a buzz about her two books. She learned the tips and tricks of marketing fiction and nonfiction along with husband Harold, who had the cover of her book THE COP WAS WHITE AS SNOW silk-screened on a T-shirt in a mall where Joyce was signing, then walked up and down the mall, enticing potential book-buyers into the store. For example, if your cover features General Lee with fangs, you have a great T-shirt that is sure to attract controversy (read: PR) from the Civil War fans.
Also, Spizer suggests positioning the release and publicity of your book, which will have a shelf life of about three months unless you’re descended from General Lee and a big Hollywood star, to coincide with a holiday or media event. For example, on July 1, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg began. Time the release of your book for July. Attend Civil War reenactments and network with history fans who also love Stephen King. Spizer addresses networking in her chapter “Get Organized!” Chiefly, she talks about writers’ organizations, but she also advises to think outside the box, and find groups that you can give speeches to. For example, if there were supernatural forces at work in the Civil War, that’s a sizzling topic. Don’t forget to build your own Web site with your own domain name, www.civilwarvampires.com, or your name.
Spizer delivers information that you’ll read over and over, finding that you’ve missed a gem of a promotional idea or a great story, such as her experience riding in a police squad car to an author appearance. Her advice is useful, timely, motivational, and will help in any endeavor.
Cop Was White As Snow
Reviewed by Kristin Johnson, MyShelf.com
“Camellia Walker’s high heels sunk into the loose soil beside the freshly dug grave.”
That and author Joyce Spizer’s now-familiar sound byte, “I saw my first dead body when I was twenty-one years old,” gives us a vital clue that her heroine, P.I. Camellia “Mel” Walker, would agree indicates an intriguing new debut police procedural mystery. But Mel doesn’t have time to read hard-boiled crime stories---she’s too busy proving that her beloved father, cop William “T-Bone” Walker, committed suicide as a result of being a corrupt cop, which everyone, even “T-Bone” protégé and former teenage hood Detective “X-Ray” Ramirez, believes. An attack at her father’s gravesite, a search of her father’s home, during which she eerily walks in his footsteps, a break-in at her home, and several threatening phone calls demanding “the book,” keep her occupied with the certainty that these events indicate her father was murdered, dying as he lived, as a good man. She does, however, get a few moments to snuggle and have white wine dinners, with sexy Texas oilman Lucas Tanner---when they’re not getting shot at during a romantic interlude on the beach.
Along with Lucas, Spizer introduces a cast of memorable characters in fictional L.A. town Harbour Pointe: Mel’s slimy ex-husband Lawrence Taylor Archer, who used their young son Willie’s death as justification to cheat; sexy X-Ray, who Mel thinks of as a brother but clashes with over the diagnosis that “T-Bone” Walker suffered from C-A-D-S (Corruption, Alcohol, Drugs and Suicide); sassy and wise housekeeper Rosa, who gets in the line of fire; wise-cracking gay partner Johnnie Blake; the Ramirez brothers, (no relation to X-Ray), “T-Bone” Walker’s CIs or confidential informants, who know more than they are telling; lawyer Jeffrey Williams, who gives the profession a worse name; and “T-Bone” Walker himself, who comes alive for us through the power of his daughter Mel’s love and determination to clear him by finding the truth about his death.
The well-executed ending neatly knots loose ends in this tapestry of a memorable lady P.I. and a good cop who are indeed as white as snow.
2003's Honorary List