Reprinted from PIONEER PRESS [Chicago Suburbs], November 8, 2001


Clueless? Not these two





Whodunit? They did: North Shore writers Brian Pinkerton, left, and Bruce Kreisman have both published mystery novels in recent months.


She told them to meet at the public library. A place full of books seemed right for this particular job.

The assignment: two authors, two books, one story.

Brian was tall, youngish looking. He reminded her of the dads she saw on the soccer sidelines every Saturday. Bruce was a few inches shorter, a quiet man of precise movements. The sort you might figure for a tax accountant, which he was.

Neither seemed the type with murder on his mind.

Hellos and handshakes. Then she led the two of them upstairs to a private study room.

Brian looked around. White walls, bright light, just a table and chairs. "This is kind of like a police interview room," he said. Was it a touch of nerves? Hard to tell.

"Don't worry, I won't cuff you to the wall," she assured them, putting her tape recorder on the table and flipping open a reporter's notebook.

This was her chance to learn how it's done from two guys who had done it - written a mystery novel.

First get their vital stats. Bruce Kreisman, age 44. Lives in: Wheeling. Schools: Niles North High School class of '75, University of Illinois, University of Michigan Law School. Family: Married; one child age 6. Work: Tax accountant by day, mystery author by night. First published novel: "Off The Bench" (Salvo Press, 200 PP., $14.95 paperback).

Brian Pinkerton, age 38. Lives in: Wilmette. Schools: New Trier East High School class of '81, University of Iowa, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. Family: Married, two children ages 1 and 3. Work: Corporate communications manager by day, mystery writer by night. First published novel: "Killing the Boss" (Writers Club Press, 407 pp. $16.95 paperback).

Kreisman is a "recovering attorney" whose 17 years of lawyering provided much of the inspiration for "Off the Bench," a story whose hero is a Chicago private investigator and recovering attorney. What starts out as a missing persons case turns into a pair of murders that could be the work of a secret group trying to bring civility and order to the courts.

Pinkerton's detective is a Chicago cop. No author-protagonist parallels to draw there. It is in the tools of storytelling where "Killing the Boss" intersects with Pinkerton's real-life in corporate communications.

The story is told exclusively through faxes, employee e-mails and memos - the tools of business communications - as well as interrogation transcripts, media reports and other documents. The reader pieces it all together to find who killed the vice president of a Chicago kitchenware company, a.k.a. "the boss from hell.

If finding whodunit ends the story, what happens, she wondered, to begin it even before the author cranks that first blank sheet into the Underwood?

Reporter: When you're writing a mystery novel, where do you start?

Pinkerton: The crime and the conflict would be the core of the piece, and the characterizations.

Kreisman: I start with the crime and the plot, but only in a loose sense.

Reporter: There are plenty of crimes to write about. Why murder?

Kreisman: Murder, of course, is the ultimate crime, and frankly there is an expectation among readers of mystery novels that there be a murder.

Pinkerton: All good mysteries begin with a murder and then work backward to try to solve it.

Reporter: Why write mysteries? Why not something else?

Kreisman: I've been a pretty avid mystery reader for a long time. I enjoy reading them and it's a fun thing to do. I like to write with humor, and mystery writing lends itself to that.

Pinkerton: I just like creating a puzzle that needs to be solved. In "Killing the Boss," you're kind of creating a Frankenstein boss out of worse case scenarios. It's cartoony in that it's so exaggerated and there's a lot of humor threaded through it.

Reporter: What's the easiest part of writing a mystery?

Kreisman: The easiest part is probably the first draft. I'm not a perfectionist the first time through. I'm just having fun with it and going with the story and sometimes it goes in directions I never anticipated.

Pinkerton: What was easy about this book, since it's made up of all these little tiny pieces, is that every piece was very short to write. I never felt like 'Oh my God, I'm starting a 50- page chapter.' It was 'I'm starting a one-page letter or a one-page fax.'

Reporter: 0K, what's the hardest part?

Pinkerton: Finding the time. There are some times when you roll right through and other times when you really need to think things through before you can even start putting words to paper. Finding that moment of isolation and peace and quiet is difficult.

Kreisman: The most difficult part is probably the fourth or fifth draft when I'm trying to get it down to a final form and everything has to fit.

Reporter: What's the biggest mistake that writers make?

Kreisman: The biggest mistake that unpublished writers make is not being attentive to detail. It's really important to think about literally every word in every sentence and whether it should be in there. People tend to overwrite when they're starting off. They learn they need to tone down their writing and get everything as compact as they can, especially in a mystery where it's important to keep up the pace.

Pinkerton: Economy of words is very important. People tend to write more than they need to and not pay attention to pacing. When I had a first draft of the novel, most of my editing was crossing out words, shortening sentences, taking out sentences.

Reporter: What is your advice to new writers?

Pinkerton: One, make a commitment to writing. There are a lot of first chapters or beginnings of books out there. Two, value feedback and don't get too attached to your every word. Three, avoid conforming to a commercial writing model at the expense of what interests you personally as an author.

Kreisman: One, pay attention to detail. Look critically at every word you write. Two, hook up with a writers' group for feedback and constructive criticism. Three, take writing seriously. It's not something you can do for an hour a week.

Reporter: What three words would you use to describe yourself.

Pinkerton: Restless, creative energy.

Kreisman: Sincere, diligent, thoughtful.

It takes diligence and creative energy to solve a crime, she thought. It made sense that the same qualities are needed to create a mystery.