by Deborah Harter Williams
The town, a 21st century take on Chandler’s LA,
The PI–a tough, witty, former sportswriter, survivor of lung cancer–like her author.
In 1998 Private Investigator Zenobia Moses made her debut with Zen and the Art of Murder, jumping in with a grabber first line –
“It rained the day I said good-bye to my best friend; the kind of storm that was packaged in a San Francisco-like cold front. December in Santa Monica could blow in from the Pacific like the draft from a meat locker. Perfect funeral weather.”
This was followed up two years later with Zen and the City of Angels, but at this point author, Elizabeth Cosin, parted ways with her publisher and diverted to a career as a scriptwriter in Hollywood.
“It was Zen that got me my first job,” says Cosin. “My first (and only and current) agent, Dino Carlaftes, got me an interview on a show called Buddy Faro (CBS) and the show-runner was Mark Frost (Twin Peaks). His assistant read Zen and loved it and convinced Mark to interview me. He hired me based on that interview.” I went on to write for several series over about a decade, including 24 and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I also sold a couple of pilots, including a series based on Zen and a script about a married woman leaving her NY-lawyer husband and starting over again when she discovers he was cheating on her and stealing money.
Drained by the LA scene, Cosin found a new home in Northern California wine country. For two years she lived in a vineyard, getting her energy back. “I cannot drive anywhere on any day, rain or shine, without thinking what a beautiful place it is. I pinch myself a lot living here because I’m surrounded by beauty, good friends, food, wine and there’s almost no traffic. I’ve recently started to bicycle and there probably isn’t a place in the world as suited for road biking then here. I rode about 80 miles this week alone–in November, which is crazy because you couldn’t do that back east where I’m from.”
At a low point, when she hadn’t been writing, she found inspiration. “I decided to re-read all of James Lee Burke’s books…it saved my life.” She also remembers when she was a journalist and interviewed Burke and how he encouraged her, even giving her the name of his agent. With newfound energy, Cosin took Zen out of the drawer and started up again.
“I wrote this book almost eight years ago for St. Martins. It was my first attempt to be more ‘serious’ about the character and the stories and, while I thought it worked, my editors didn’t love it. I went back to it twice–about four years ago and then again, last year and tore it all apart to do a rewrite. I also updated it a lot, to try to talk more about the world today and Zen’s place in it.”
“I was doing so many other things as a professional writer that I didn’t feel the urgency to get back to her. I didn’t stay completely away from novel writing–I have a standalone that I’ve written called Blood Matters, about a suspended LA cop who is afraid of the sight of blood. My plan is to release it next year sometime and then, hopefully, a fourth Zen book.”
Cosin’s uses her experience at screenwriting to strengthen her novel writing. “I’ll write out a scene in prose because I can’t seem to crack it in script form and vice versa…I find I enjoy the rhythms of both. I think I’m a much better novelist than screenwriter, but writing scripts has made me a better writer overall. I think my strength as a writer is dialogue and when I go off the rails, it’s in overwriting descriptions. Script writing keeps you honest because you have to write it lean-and-mean and you have to keep trimming and tightening. It’s a great practice to learn how to keep your prose simple and, I hope, powerful.”
Now Zen is back. The next chapter starts with a short story–”Zen and the Art of Getting Lost”– which covers where Zen has been since the last novel and her new state of mind.
“I used to be a believer but I’m not anymore. I lost my way in the first year of the new millennium when a desperately hard case cost me the life of a good friend and nearly my own.”
For release dates and a free sneak peek, see Elizabeth Cosin’s Facebook page or email ZenMoses@gmail[dot]com
Coming soon the new novel–Zen Justice.
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