Harley Mazuk’s first novel is White with Fish, Red with Murder. His first private eye story, “The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler,” resulted in his first sale, to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Jan. 2011.) EQMM has subsequently published three more of his stories, and he has sold longer fiction to Dead Guns Press and Dark Passages.
Harley was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a B.A. in English Literature from Hiram College, and studied at Elphinstone College, Bombay U. He worked in the music business in New York, then joined the Federal Government, for a 29-year run, first in IT, later as a writer and editor in corporate communications.
Now retired, Harley’s passions are his family, writing, reading, running, peace, Italian cars, and California wine. He lives with his wife, Anastasia, in Maryland, where they have raised two children.
Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
I walked over to a Walter Mosley book signing once on my lunch break in downtown Washington, D.C. There was a line around the store and out the door, and the line was mostly women, young women. I saw all those nice gals, and Mosley sitting a desk in his fedora signing his name, and I thought, “That’s for me.”
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
Well, I don’t have a line of women at my door. Yet. But I have hopes. The perks? There’s no dress code. I set my own hours. Nobody minds if I have a glass (or two) of wine at lunch. The commute is easy. I don’t have to take an annual employee satisfaction survey, nor sit through a performance review. They’re the sorts of perks you get if you’re self-employed or work from home. The demands are minimal, but I’m retired with a pension. If I had to write and publish for a living, the demands on my time, and I think the stress, would be much greater.
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
Basically traditional. When I finished the first book, I had to learn how to sell a manuscript. I researched agents, which is not as much fun as writing, and when my first 30 or 35 choices declined, I did a mass e-mailing and found an agent through that. She called me on an evening when she’d had to evacuate her Manhattan office due to Hurricane Sandy, so I believed her when she said she was enthusiastic about the book. Unfortunately, she didn’t find a publisher who shared her enthusiasm, and the manuscript came back to me. I queried publishers who accept un-agented submissions and soon had an offer. Things work out for the best perhaps. You know, I wanted to go to Dartmouth, but my guidance counselor said I might not fit in with an Ivy League crowd. I think he was right. I was happy at my little old Ohio college. Similarly, it would have been swell if my agent had landed me a deal with Alfred A. Knopf or Scribner’s, but I’m very happy with Driven Press. They’re a comfortable fit for me.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
For real? You’d probably have to ask them. But I think they’re happy that it keeps me off the streets, keeps me out of trouble.
This is for pet lovers. If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?
I have two cats. I feed them twice a day. Sometimes I keep them waiting, but it’s unintentional. I plunge into my story world when I’m writing, and it might take a while for me to get the message.
This is for plant lovers. If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?
I grew five healthy female cannabis indica plants. They are no longer with me, but that was the plan all along. I have a spathe that my wife gave me in 1989. It’s alive, but it must thrive on neglect.
In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
I usually just ignore the phone. They don’t leave messages, so I doubt if I’m missing anything. I’m the principal chef here at the Black Lizard Lounge, so when my family needs dinner, I stop for the day. And as to the boss, there is none. Yay!
What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
I still remember a Skype call I had with my principal editor, a young Australian woman. She was trying to get a point straight about the relationship between my private eye (Frank), and his secretary (Vera) in the book. Did Frank love Vera? Could he? Was he just using her? Or was it more of a friendship? “Well,” I said, “I wrote two sex scenes between Frank and Vera that I cut out of the final manuscript. I could put one back in. Perhaps it would help clarify what the relationship’s all about.”
“OK,” said the ed. “But you don’t have to put the whole scene back in. Just pick it up from the end, after they come.”
I’m still wondering if that’s typical editor jargon.
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I enjoy Facebook a great deal. It lets me have an author page https://www.facebook.com/HarleyMazukAuthor/, and I try to keep my writing-oriented posts separate from jokes, political rants, and interactions with friends. I didn’t grow up on social media, so I’m less enthused about Twitter (where I’m @fswiver), and LinkedIn, and I’m not too clear about what I could or should be doing with Pinterest. But I dabble. Google+ appeals to me, but I don’t yet have the camaraderie there that I find on Facebook. I’ve been engaging more on Goodreads lately—reviewing books by other mystery writers.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Well, I’m on a blog tour. You insanely wonderful book junkies are going to make the sales happen for me, right? This is all new for me—first book, and it’s just coming out, so I can’t tell you much yet about what works.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
Hah! Old vine zinfandel. The fruit from these 100-year-old vines makes a wonderful, concentrated red wine. Of course, too much Zin and I’d fall off the roof.
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer, even back in high school. But life happened. I took a steady job instead, ended up with a great wife (about whom I should go up on the rooftops and scream) and raised two kids. Finally, I have time to write, and being a published author, and having a novel out, that’s like my life’s dream. I wouldn’t have it any other way.