By Jeff Ayers
“Stressed out” has been Lyle Deming’s default setting for years, but now the ex-cop is escaping the anxieties of police work by driving a cab in a new theme park. Nostalgia City is the ultimate retro resort, a meticulous re-creation of an entire small town from the early 1970s, complete with period cars, music, clothes, shops, restaurants, hotels—the works. But when rides are sabotaged and tourists killed, billionaire founder “Max” Maxwell drafts Lyle into investigating—unofficially. Soon he gets help from 6’2 ½ Kate Sorensen, the park’s PR director and former college basketball player. Together Lyle and Kate must unravel a story of corporate greed, conspiracy, and murder in Mark Bacon’s debut DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY.
Mark Bacon chatted with The Big Thrill.
When did you realize you wanted to write?
Writing classes in high school got me started. I took journalism and wrote for the school paper and I took creative writing and had short stories published in the high school magazine. I think I was initially attracted by the mystique of being a newspaper reporter, which eventually I was.
With your journalism background and success in writing non-fiction what prompted the change to fiction?
I’ve always liked writing, in part because it’s the hardest work I can do reasonably well—and get paid for. At this point in my life, I wanted to try something different and since I’ve always read mystery and suspense novels, crime was a natural. Mystery flash fiction came first then I thought I had enough to say to make a novel interesting. Now I’m hooked.
What sparked the idea for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY?
My inspiration for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY came from several sources.
1. I started my career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California and I covered the police beat every day. I learned how cops work and a little about how they think.
2. Later I moved into advertising and I was a copywriter in the advertising department at Knott’s Berry Farm, a large theme park just down the road from Disneyland. I saw a theme park from behind the scenes, got to know people who worked on the public side of the park, and gained an appreciation for the vast resources necessary to make everything—rides, attractions, food, etc.—work just right every time, every day. That’s really where my make-believe theme park, Nostalgia City, came from. The big difference, of course, is that Nostalgia City is a re-creation of an entire small town from the late 1960s—early 1970s.
3. The final influence—the event that helped me put it altogether—is Hot August Nights, a massive week-long celebration of classic cars and rock and roll that happens here in Reno every year. About 8,000 classic cars from all over the U.S. flood into the city and there are retro rock groups performing everywhere. You can probably see how my thought process worked from there.
What is Flash Fiction? Does thinking on such a small scale help with the longer work?
The genre of flash fiction is usually defined by length. Anything under 1,500 words qualifies and some flash fiction stories are as short as six words. Although the concept of telling a complete story in a handful of words is as old as Aesop, the name for the genre is scarcely more than twenty years old, and this literature in miniature has become mainstream. Lydia Davis and Margaret Atwood are among many well-known practitioners.
I got started writing flash fiction when a friend was using it as an exercise in a class he was teaching. I became intrigued and tried it. It’s much more difficult to write than you imagine, especially if you want to include a protagonist, a challenge and a satisfying conclusion—and do all that in exactly 100 words. I liked the genre because of the difficulties, especially my self-imposed requirement of exactly 100 words.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Honor Among Thieves
The darkened home looked empty. Pete tried the front door. Locked. Around back, he jimmied open a patio door with a credit card.
Immediately, he saw a man holding a pillowcase full of something.
“Shit. You startled me,” the man said. “First time I ever seen two guys break into the same house. I came in the window. But hey, I believe in professional courtesy. I’ve got jewelry and laptops. Rest is yours.”
Pete opened a drawer, reached inside.
“Hold it,” Pete said, pointing a revolver.
“What about professional courtesy?”
“I forgot my keys,” Pete said. “I live here.”
As to helping write longer pieces, flash fiction is a good teacher. I’ve never written a good story in exactly 100 words the first time. I learn the value of revision. There’s little room for excess modifiers, so it teaches you to write with verbs and other constructions—valuable in long fiction, too. Perhaps it’s also the influence of flash fiction that makes my novel chapters so short—no, not 100 words, but averaging about 1,200 words. I think it helps the story move faster and it takes into consideration our shorter attention spans. The value of swift-moving action and using dialog that sounds like we speak, not like we write, are two other lessons.
You have written for almost every form imaginable (ads, TV, books etc.) What form was the most difficult and the most rewarding?
I can’t remember who said it, but any writer who can start off with a blank screen (or sheet of paper) and create words that are reasonably coherent and intelligent has truly accomplished something. There are challenges and rewards with all the types of writing I’ve done from business books, to TV commercials and newspaper stories. That said, I think writing believable fiction—not literary novels mind you, just believable fiction—is the most challenging assignment.
What do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
Here are two things:
First, I wrote the type of mystery/suspense book that I like to read: many suspects, clues and mysterious components but nothing confined to a drawing room or country manor. It incorporates the elements I like in a mystery:
– a variety of interesting suspects,
– a less than James Bond-perfect protagonist,
– plenty of action (some violence but not excessive) to keep the story moving,
– a protracted chase with the protagonists on the run,
– humor, and
– a twisty-turny ending.
Second, this book was written by a baby boomer with a baby boomer as the main detective. References to the music, films, fads and social issues of the 1960s and 1970s color the book.
My protagonists, Lyle and Kate, show up again to help solve an entirely different problem at Nostalgia City.
Mark S. Bacon began his career as a Southern California newspaper reporter covering the police beat. He later wrote commercials and ads for consumer products and for Knott’s Berry Farm, the California theme park. He is the author of several business books. His best- selling title received honors and awards and was printed in three editions and four languages. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications and most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. He has taught journalism at universities in California and Nevada. His story collection, MYSTERIES AND MURDER, was published by Ether Books.
To learn more about Mark, please visit his website.