Ad Copywriting Makes A Good Start: An Interview with David Moss

Santa Monica-based David Moss just made the leap from advertising writer to author with his debut novel This Isn’t a Game, published by Poisoned Pen Press. The book weaves the elements of traditional detective/mystery fiction with the new world of online gambling. He learned lessons along the way, and shares them here with socalwritesshowcase.

Showcase: Many incredibly successful authors, James Patterson for instance, transitioned from ad copywriting to bestselling fiction. What would you say accounts for this?

David: It’s true. Patterson, Elmore Leonard, Chris Grabenstein, Dorothy Sayers, who for many years was better known for her Guinness zoo commercials than her mysteries. Chris’s agent told him publishers like advertising people because they’re in the habit of getting right to the story. Also, in advertising you get used to borrowing the techniques of the arts. The product is the hero of the drama, the subject of the visual art, etc. After a while you want to see if you can create something that stands on its own aesthetically and wasn’t created to sell a Burrito Supreme.

Showcase: What led you to the mystery/detective genre?

David: I read an article about online casinos posting odds on the Phil Spector murder trial, and I came up with what I thought was the “perfect murder.” It wasn’t, of course, or there’s no story. I tried it as a detective novel first. Then I tried a version from the POV of the murderer centering around his choreography and execution of the murder. Finally I doubled back and re-did it with an amateur detective.

Showcase: Any tips for crafting mystery plots and characters?

David: In mysteries much of the plot unfolds through conversations. But you have to make sure characters aren’t props who exist just to advance the story. As for plot, there seem to be two factions of mystery writers: those who start with a general idea where the story is heading (“pantsers,” as in writing by the seat of your pants) and those who don’t write a word until they have a detailed outline. I’ve only written one book so I’m sure I’ll change my mind a few times, but I prefer letting the characters guide the direction of the story even though it’s probably more inefficient and you end up discarding more.

Showcase: Did This Isn’t a Game require special research?

David: Aside from losing a couple of NBA finals bets, I know nothing about gambling. My task was made easier by the fact that the novel isn’t really about gambling. It’s a murder investigation that takes place after the bet on the celebrity murder trial is placed. Still, I did a lot of research since my protagonist owns an online casino.

Showcase: What’s the most valuable thing you learned?

David: Something I’d heard a million times but which only rang true when I disregarded it – finish the book. Don’t stop and agonize over every paragraph. Don’t stop and try to assess if it’s any good or worth continuing. The time for the editorial mind to take over is after you complete a draft.

Read more about David on his website

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