This week, I give you another writing member of the Culver clan – Andrew Culver, son of last week’s guest, Carol. Lest you think I know everyone in the free world – I don’t, trust me – I’ve not met Andrew, nor read him, so this interview is his introduction to me, as well as to you.
I hope, as this series grows, to share all sorts of creatives with you – from readers to writers to artists and musicians. Some are friends, some are people I admire, some are strangers I’d like to get to know better. Some I will have consumed their art, some I will plan to do so, and encourage you to do the same. Regardless, I hope you’re enjoying the glimpse behind the scenes of your favorites, and those new to you, as well.
Take it away, Andrew! It’s nice to meet you!
Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?
I actually just did this, and it's "Love Dance" by Martin Denny, who released a lot of great exotica records in the fifties. It's pure kitsch and I love it. When you listen to Martin Denny you feel like you're in a bar in Honolulu in 1953 having a mai tai and you're surrounded by parrots and waterfalls.
Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?
Brainstorming the next book in my series of cocktail mysteries. It's going to take place in a Mexican cantina. There will be a lot of margaritas, really good tequila, and probably murder.
What’s your latest book about?
My latest book, MAI TAIS AND MURDER, is about a guy who moves to a small town on the California coast and lives in a houseboat. He starts going to a tiki bar on the beach and he falls in love with the bar, and he gets wrapped up in a murder that could threaten everything that he cares about. He has to keep going to the bar in order to get clues to solve this murder.
Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
I write in my house, in my writing room, with the stereo blasting and a strong cup of coffee next to me. The music has to fit the mood of the book I'm writing and it can't have lyrics for obvious reasons. Writing my last book I listened to a lot of tiki music, including the Tikiyaki Orchestra, a modern group who makes great retro exotica music.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I read all of the Hardy Boys books. They were great because the brothers were always 17 years old and I wanted their lives. They never had to work or go to school, and they just solved mysteries all the time.
What book are you reading now?
I just got an old translation of DON QUIXOTE by Charles Jarvis. It was published in 1742 and I just started it. I'm a little crazy about translations. I have three or four translations of Don Quixote and that many of Virgil and Homer. If it's in another language, I can't just trust one translation. Don Quixote is the greatest novel ever written because it has something the other great canonical novels don't have (except for TRISTRAM SHANDY): it's really, really funny. It's also very warm and human and it's about friendship, and on some level I would like to live in the fantasy world that Quixote lives in.
What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
Charles Bukowski said something like "it should come roaring out of you." I think it has to be burning inside of you first, otherwise the book won't have any urgency. Even if you're writing a cozy mystery, or a story that takes place on Mars, it has to mean something to you personally. I like to wait until I'm bursting, until the story has been percolating in me for a while and I have the major substance of it figured out before I sit down to write. I'll go for a long time talking to people about stories, characters, and locations, or making notes, or making day trips to different places in Southern California to scout locations. I will talk to my wife during the whole process and see if ideas make sense. She was a film student and she watches all the new shows on Netflix and she has a good eye for story and character, and she helps soften and round out my ideas. I will even think about the story so much that I start having dreams about it - that's when a lot of the good stuff comes out. If you're dreaming about the world of your novel, you're on the right track. I love the story that Coleridge dreamed his poem "Kubla Khan" and woke up and wrote half of it. Then a friend came over and called him away on some business, and when he returned he had forgotten the rest of the poem, so he just published it like that.
What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
Go for long walks. Exercise is the key for me to get ideas. I say just step away from the computer if it's not happening. I'm not going to sit there for two hours writing something that's terrible if I don't have any ideas. I like to go on a walk, plan the whole scene, and what needs to be communicated plot-wise, and what the atmosphere and setting are, and then come back and write it down.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for writing books that were important to me, for following my muse wherever it took me. I always like the writers or musicians who let their muse call the shots.
Andrew Culver lives in Los Angeles with his wife. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and has a Master's Degree in English. His memoir, YELLOW DAYS, and other novels are available for download on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Here's a little more about Andrew's latest novel, MAI TAIS AND MURDER:
Law school dropout Aristotle McCreadie has just inherited a bunch of money from his dad, a lawyer to the stars. Now that he can do whatever he wants, he moves to the California beach town Playa Santiago. He is determined to spend his days in a houseboat lying in the sun and drinking mai tais at the legendary tiki bar, Pirate's Cove.
But something weird is happening in this idyllic town. A wealthy old real estate mogul, and patron saint of Pirate's Cove, has just been murdered in his sprawling mansion. And whoever did it knew exactly how to dismantle the alarm system, where his cash was hidden, and where his most expensive antiques were. Now everyone in town seems to think it's no big deal and no one wants to answer Aristotle's questions about it.
Aristotle can't enjoy his mai tais when an unsolved murder is killing his buzz. Now weird things are happening at the victim's house at night, and to complicate things, a sexy local girl wants to show him all around town. Which would be great if she didn't have a boyfriend in grad school in Portland.
Why are the police so eager to pass off this crime as an isolated robbery? And why are people whispering about big real estate plans for Playa Santiago? Suddenly Aristotle gets the suspicion that this perfect little town is about to get very tacky and very crowded. Now the future of Pirate's Cove is in jeopardy, and this will mean the end of the best tiki bar, arguably, in the world. Which means that dozens of drinks with secret family recipes may be lost forever. The Pooka Pooka Bowl. The Mexican Mai Tai. The Naked Surfer Girl. All lost. And Aristotle can't let that happen.
The good thing about tiki bars is when the liquor flows, people talk. So, in the interest of justice, Aristotle must go to Pirate’s Cove to get information out of these weird and colorful locals. With each mai tai he will get closer to the truth, and he may just save this town.