Author Interview with Jeff Markowitz

Jeff Markowitz is the author of the Cassie O’Malley Mysteries, an amateur sleuth series set deep in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Jeff is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America. He loves to write early in the morning. “You can usually find me at my computer at 5:30 in the morning,” he says, “plotting someone’s murder.”

Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?

It took me thirteen years to write my first manuscript. Twenty-seven years if you count the re-writes. Of all the things that I’ve written, The Last Bodhisattva is probably my favorite. But it will never be published.

I began writing the book in 1975, at the age of 23, and wrote on-and-off for thirteen years, completing it (for the first time) in 1988. Believing I had a publishable novel (and knowing nothing about agents, or publishers, or, frankly, anything at all about the book business), I bought a Writer’s Handbook and began sending out queries. I spent the next year collecting rejections. Actually, I considered it a promising sign when I received a rejection. Mostly, my queries went unanswered. I tucked the manuscript away in a file cabinet and went about my life.

Every few years, for the next fourteen years, I pulled the manuscript out of the cabinet and did a re-write. The last time I attempted a re-write, I had just turned fifty and I was having a very hard time relating to the character that I had first written nearly three decades earlier. I did a complete re-write, framing the story as a memoir. Satisfied that I had successfully finished the story, I put the manuscript back in the file cabinet where it will remain.

But that final re-write did something I hadn’t anticipated. It motivated me to start writing again. I had an idea, something about putting a character on a back road in the New Jersey Pine Barrens in the hour before the sun comes up. Five months later, I had finished the first draft of a murder mystery. Six years later, I’ve authored three Cassie O’Malley Mysteries. So I guess I was supposed to be a mystery writer. My latest book, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder, was released in October by Five Star.

Do you think an author is born or made?

I think that story tellers are born, but authors are made. There’s a line in The Gates of the Forest. It’s the last line of a Hasidic parable that Elie Wiesel recounts as a preface to his novel The Gates of the Forest. “God made man because he loves stories.”

I think man is born to tell stories. It is part of who we are, part of what makes us human. But there’s a pretty big jump from telling a good story to writing a publishable book. Being an author is hard work. In that sense, I definitely think that authors are made.

What is the first book you remember reading?

The first book that really motivated me to be a reader was And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss. The funny thing, in the context of your previous question, it’s the tale of a young boy’s penchant for making up stories.

What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?

Beyond some of the obvious things like a love of the written word and a fondness for whiskey, I have found authors to be extraordinarily generous with their time and their talent. Authors seem to take genuine pleasure in helping aspiring authors on the path to publication.

How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?

I don’t. And if someone else does, I hope that they’ll share their secret with me.

What is the theme of your latest book?

Holidays are murder.

How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?

If you’ve ever been to a shopping mall during the Christmas season, you understand the urge to kill.