New York City native Marshall Karp is not one of those authors who knew they wanted to write books from a young age. The first few decades of Karp’s professional life were spent climbing the ranks at an advertising agency. But once he reached the top, Karp realized he wanted to do more with his life than participate in the corporate American rat race.
Karp then moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote and produced television comedies for the stars and even wrote a feature film loosely based on his own life. Those years spent in LA largely influenced what came next: Karp’s career as an author. While Karp didn’t get his start as an author until middle age, he went on to write several bestsellers and has even co-authored a series of books with James Patterson.
The influence of Karp’s career trajectory is clear to see in The Rabbit Factory, the first book in his bestselling and critically-acclaimed Lomax and Biggs mystery series. We recently had the chance to speak with Karp ourselves about The Rabbit Factory, his thoughts on making major career changes, and more in a recent interview—continue reading to find out what he had to say!
You’ve had a fascinating transition from advertising executive to #1 New York Times bestselling author. Will you share a bit about that?
The transition was simple—assuming that you’re flexible enough to categorize a full-blown, alcohol-induced, psychotic episode as “simple.” I was 39. I had gone from junior copywriter to a high-paying job as Creative Director of a major ad agency. I was at the top of the corporate ladder. But I was miserable. I remember the night of my midlife meltdown. “Is this all there is?” I screamed at myself in the bathroom mirror. The next morning I woke up with a new purpose. Get out of the rat race, hole up in my house in the woods a hundred miles from the city, and write murder mysteries. I had no idea how to get there. All I knew is that I wanted to start at the bottom of a new ladder, and I was looking forward to the climb. I certainly never could have guessed that I would wind up at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, that I would work with James Patterson, or that my books would be praised by giants of the genre like David Baldacci, Donald Westlake, and Michael Connelly.
The quora.com piece you wrote was a big moment for you. Share a bit about it and what you learned by writing and sharing it.
The question on Quora was this: What is the single insight that most changed your life? My answer talked about the monumental career shift that I described above. My insight was this… I was in college when I decided to go into advertising. It worked out well. But as I got to midlife I couldn’t continue to live the dream of the 19-year-old me. The adult me had to find a new path. I was floored by how that simple logic resonated with people. The post was viewed more than 1.3 million times. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about finding the next right path, and I’ve been posting my experience on LinkedIn in the hopes of helping others who are looking to pivot.
Before we move on to Lomax and Biggs, I’d love to hear more about your experience writing with James Patterson. How did that get started, and what was it like?
On July 3, 2009, my phone rang. “Hello, Marshall. It’s Jim Patterson.” I had known Jim since our advertising agency days. By the time he called me, he had a string of #1 bestsellers to his credit. “You want to write a book with me?” he asked. There are a lot of highlights in my 20-year journey to becoming a bestselling author. But if I have to single out one memorable moment, it would be that phone call. It changed my career. Getting to partner with, and learn from, a New York Times bestselling author like Jim brought me a huge new readership and changed my life. By the way, a few years later I got another milestone phone call. “Hello, Marshall. It’s Jim. Congratulations. Your book is #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.” I don’t remember how I responded. But I will never forget how I felt.
Now, let’s talk The Rabbit Factory, the book that started it all. What do you want readers to know about this book before diving in to the series?
I’ve gotten thousands of emails and 5-star reviews from readers, so rather than self-promote, let me share the one thing I hear consistently. “The Rabbit Factory is a riveting mystery filled with all the twists, turns, and wow-I-didn’t-see-that-coming moments they look for in the genre. But I was pleasantly surprised that some of the characters are so genuinely funny.” Murder and laughter don’t naturally go together, but I’ve always seen the humor in life, no matter what the situation. When you’re as big a pain in the ass as I can be, and you marry someone who is willing to stick around for decades because you can always make her laugh, you realize that being funny is a quality that people appreciate. So it’s only natural that some of the characters in my books are funny. James Patterson said once, “Marshall Karp is the only author I know who can get big laughs out of murdering someone.” With all due respect to James, that’s not 100 percent accurate. Murder isn’t funny. But the way people cope with it is. Especially cops. It’s a slippery slope for some authors, but I’m happy to follow in the path of Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich, and Donald Westlake.
The Rabbit Factory
And for that matter, what would you like to share about the Lomax and Biggs Mystery series?
I believe that the popularity of the series stems from the characters. Working in the TV business, I learned people watch the same shows week after week because they enjoy the predictable emotional experience they get from spending time with characters they know and love. I work hard to give readers all the suspense and drama they expect in a mystery. But I know characters drive the series.
Tell us more about your central characters, Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. How did you first discover them, and how have they evolved throughout the series?
I’m a character writer. For me the essence of comedy, tragedy, and character development (in fiction and in real life) is conflict. Mike Lomax is starting his life over after his wife dies, and he has to deal with a meddling father. Terry Biggs has his heart set on a second career as a stand-up comic. My goal was to create characters who resonate in such a way that you feel you know them, you relate to them, maybe you even are them. Mike and Terry are smart dedicated cops, but they are also real people with real lives. Before I wrote a single page of The Rabbit Factory, I wrote 20-page bibles on each of them: their childhoods, their hopes, dreams, achievements, and screwups. I got to know and understand them. I believe that readers connect with Lomax and Biggs, enough to read a whole series of books, because these two Hollywood detectives spend a good chunk of their day chasing serial killers and because they are three-dimensional human beings who live complicated lives just like the rest of us.
Tell us about the kind of research you do when you’re writing.
My books are fiction, but I am obsessed with making sure they have the ring of truth. I’ll give you an example. The morgue in my second Lomax and Biggs book Bloodthirsty is nothing like the stark, sterile glass-walled morgues you see on TV. It’s more like something out of Edgar Allen Poe—a dark, dank basement where the air was ripe with the smell of disinfectant, formaldehyde and decomposing humanity. That’s because I spent three hours in the LA County Morgue, where on that blistering hot morning in July there were 129 cadavers lying on gurneys, wrapped in sheets, their heads and feet sticking out at either end. I dig into the dark recesses of my brain to discover what twisted thoughts lurk therein, but I want the products of my imagination to live in a world that is authentic.
I’ve been told that my Lomax and Biggs books are so Hollywood-centric you can practically smell the BS. That’s because I spent several years working in the TV business in LA. My NYPD Red series is steeped in the lore and culture of New York, where I was born and have lived most of my life. I’m just as obsessive about my cops. One of my favorite reviews of all time is from Lt. Maureen Mulcahy, Office of the Chief of Crime Control Strategies, NYPD (Ret). “Marshall Karp writes with the kind of attention to the details of law enforcement that distinguishes a great book from a good one—a rare find.” Feedback like that makes every bit of the time I take to capture that ring of truth worthwhile.
NYPD Red 7: The Murder Sorority
And finally, is there anything else you’d like readers to know that I haven’t touched on here?
Yes. I created the NYPD Red series and produced the first six books with James Patterson. I took over the series starting with NYPD Red 7: The Murder Sorority. Some people naturally wondered if the books would be as good without Patterson’s involvement. I’m gratified that not only did the critics call NYPD Red 7 “the best yet in the series,” but that fans made it a bestseller, and keep asking me to hurry up and finish writing NYPD Red 8. I am grateful to all of my readers for supporting my life of crime.