As an author whose readers are age 10 and above, Marilyn Gould's writing dictum is to "look for the problems, and there's a story."
In "Golden Daffodils," it's a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy learning to adjust to a mainstream elementary school, and in the sequel, "The Twelfth of June," it's the pressures of growing up.
In the Newport Beach author's latest book, "Graffiti Wipeout" (Allied Crafts Press; $6.95), her main character is Elgar, a 13-year-old boy whose job is to paint out the graffiti that keeps cropping up on the walls of the Los Angeles garment district factory building where he lives with his custodian father and seamstress mother.
His antagonist is a young tagger named RISK, who seems to plaster the building with new graffiti even before Elgar's paint has dried. When Elgar meets Morgan, the "kooky" daughter of a senator who lives in a Bunker Hill Towers penthouse, they set a trap to catch the illusive RISK.
For Gould, writing about the growing problem of graffiti was a natural.
"I think it's a major problem and if you travel you find it throughout the world," she said, noting that "there are different attitudes about graffiti. In one respect, it's vandalism and destruction of property. In another, it expresses discontent in the inner cities among people who are also looking for attention. And some people feel it's an art form."
Characters in "Graffiti Wipeout" represent all three attitudes about the subject. The book, however, takes neither a pro- nor anti-graffiti stance.
"I tried to be real objective about it," said Gould, adding that, although she is writing for enjoyment and suspense, "all the facts (about graffiti) are in there."
In writing fiction for children, she said, "I usually try to tackle a rather serious problem, but I try to stay light and humorous with it. I think if kids aren't enjoying reading, they're not going to get to the point."
Gould, a former Los Angeles-area elementary and high school teacher who began writing full time after moving to Newport Beach in 1975, wrote a teacher's guide to accompany "Graffiti Wipeout."
The guide, which comes with the book on request, offers suggestions for classroom discussions of graffiti and the destruction of property and for finding ways for young people to express themselves in more positive ways. It also offers related projects in social studies, language, drama, art and literature. For more information, call Gould at (714) 759-8156.
The author, who speaks frequently to groups of schoolchildren, believes her teaching background has been a benefit in writing children's books.
"Liking and being around children helps to know their interests and dialogue, and knowing more about the contemporary child, I think, helps," said Gould, who has six grandchildren.
The author, who has written four nonfiction recreational books for children, has another novel, "Friends True and Periwinkle Blue," due out from Avon in November. It's about three young Ohio girls during World War II who "become immersed in an adult problem they have difficulty solving."
It is, Gould added with a laugh, "a really a complicated plot."
Last year, Fullerton author Bentley Little won the Horror Writers of America's prestigious Bram Stoker Award for his first novel, "The Revelation." And this year his second novel, "The Mailman," was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in the novel category.
But when it came to publishing his new novel, "Death Instinct," Little says he was forced to use a pseudonym: Phillip Emmons. The novel, a mainstream thriller about a Phoenix serial killer, was published under New American Library's Signet imprint.
"Basically, they blackmailed me into it," said Little, 30, who works as technical writer for the city of Costa Mesa.
Little said his editor at New American Library (NAL) told him his second novel hadn't sold well enough and that he'd be on bookstore computers as having a poor sales track record under his real name.
"The reason it made my so angry is I feel as a writer it's my job to write the book and it's their job to market and distribute it," Little said. "I don't think I should be punished for their inability to do their job."
The deal he was offered, Little said, was that if "Death Instinct" were published under his real name it would be given only a 5,000 copy first printing and would be published as an Onyx paperback, which, he said, "is the low man on the totem pole in the NAL hierarchy."
"The other option was if I used a fake name they would print between 80,000 and 100,000 copies, and I would be given prominent placement in the Signet catalogue. When I got that in writing from them I agreed to it," said Little, explaining that Signet "is where Stephen King and the biggies" are published in paperback.
Despite the potential for larger sales with "Death Instinct" being published under the Signet imprint, the experience has left a sour taste in Little's mouth.
"Rather than saying this is a good book by a new author, I wish they would have said this is a breakthrough book by an award-winning cult writer," he said.
And if "Death Instinct" by the pseudonymous Phillip Emmons sells well, will Little keep the pen name?
"Nope; this is a one-time deal," he said.
Indeed, Little said he's no longer with New American Library, which had first refusal rights for his next novel.
"They told me they wanted me to do a police procedural novel (so) I purposely wrote an overtly supernatural novel to get away from them," said Little, who went on to sell the as-yet-untitled new novel to Zebra.