Oct. 29 2008 12:00 AM

Writers to share stories, secrets to success

Last week, a group of novice writers getting ready for National Novel Writing Month in November attentively listened to the advice of three children’s authors on how to get a book published during a panel discussion at Schuler Books in the Eastwood Towne Center. One piece of uniform advice, other than “write,” was to attend book signings and listen to other authors.

Aspiring writers will have plenty of chances to do that this week, when three up-andcoming mystery writers roll into town to discuss their latest work and the job of writing. Chicago authors Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover, and Jim Proebstle, of Deer Park, Ill., will discuss the art of writing from a decidingly different viewpoint than children’s authors. In these writers’ books, people are killed, abducted and slapped around. There are no rhyming schemes, only heart-thumping action.

Sakey’s latest book explores what happens when luck seems to shine on a young couple, as they discover a cache of money with no obvious owner. The young couple plans to use the cash to pay for in-vitro fertilization but soon discovers the money is ill gotten and some nasty people will do anything to get it. “I wanted to write a story the readers could relate to themselves,” Sakey said. “There are shades of gray in the story, but the couple refers to themselves as ‘Good People,’ which becomes the title of the book.” Although Sakey’s books have received critical acclaim and his first two books were optioned for movies, he says, “I still feel like a rank amateur.”

Sakey has a typical writer’s day. He spends his mornings working on business, giving interviews and marketing his book. In the afternoons, he writes, working toward a weekly goal of 5,000 words.


He also puts in time researching. Some of the work is hands-on, riding with local cops, but for “Good People” he went online, where he found chat rooms dedicated to infertility issues that provided the emotional content he needed to make his book realistic. Although he enjoys doing research, he is also wary of the time it can take. “I’m a proponent of forward motion when it comes to writing,” he said. Another writer in perpetual motion is Chercover, Sakey’s friend and fellow mystery writer. The Canadian native writes a series featuring a tough Chicago private detective. Chercover, who was once a private investigator, is comfortable around the environment that brings believability to his character Ray Dudgeon. Chercover’s books lean on the nasty, violent side, and his detective often finds himself on the wrong side of a fist or other blunt and sharp objects.

In his latest book, “Trigger City,” Dudgeon investigates a shooting death that appears to be the work of a deranged killer. However, the detective soon learns of an immense cover up involving a federal military contractor.

Chercover recently received the coveted Shamus Award for his first book, “Big City, Bad Blood,” and his followup seems to be avoiding the sophomore slump; The New York Times reviewed “Trigger City” favorably last week. But he’s still learning how to accept success. “I’m getting requests for blurbs,” he said, then asking, “Who the hell am I?” Back when he was “secretly” writing, Chercover said he would go to book signings to listen to authors.

Unlike many authors, Chercover enjoys book signing and events. “At the end of the day, I’m a book geek and they help me reconnect,” he said. His bottom line: “Writing sure beats working for a living.”

Proebstle, a member of the 1965 Michigan State University National Championship Football Team, worked as a successful management consultant prior to taking on his new career. Like Chercover, he got his start as one of those “secret writers.”

“If there was a writing workshop or event in the Chicago area, I was at it,” he said. For his first book, “In the Absence of Honor,” Proebstle chose a setting and subject far from the big city, but just as mysterious and deadly.

For his inspiration, he looked to a Minnesota Indian reservation and the Indian casino industry. “The story is about land, wealth and power,” he said. Proebstle said his family has vacationed near the reservation where the book is set since he was a little boy, and reservation life has always fascinated him. It is often difficult for an outsider to write about reservation life, but Proebstle has done it well. He said he has received excellent feedback from American Indians, and he is proud to have his book for sale at “Birchbark Books,” a bookstore in Minneapolis started by preeminent Indian writer Louise Erdrich.

The former Spartan tight end said he approached writing much as he did his athletic career and eventually his business.

“You learn in athletics that it is a constant stream of making mistakes,” he said. “You correct them and move on.”

Sean Chercover & Marcus Sakey

7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 Schuler Books & Music, 1982 Grand River Ave., Okemos FREE (517) 349-8840 www.schulerbooks.com

Jim Proebstle

7:30 p.m. Oct. 30 Schuler Books & Music, 1982 Grand River Ave., Okemos FREE (517) 349-8840 www.schulerbooks.com