One Bite at a Time




Thursday, February 27, 2014

Information Leak (Don’t Tell The White House)

This news isn’t breaking; it’s not even damaged much. Some of it will break soon, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The audio book of Grind Joint is complete and awaiting final approval by the powers that be at ACX. Based on their most recent communication, it should be available at Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes next week or the week after. Mike Dennis did a hell of a job with what is not the easiest book to read aloud if you’re not a native speaker of Western Pennsylvanian. I’m not sure of the price at this time, but it’s not going to be an arm and a leg; I draw the line at “or.”

Speaking of Grind Joint—and what else have I done without surcease for the past several months?—the e-book will release next week. Exact date TBD, but I plan to finish the formatting and post it to Amazon over the weekend, if not before. I do know the cost of this one: $3.99. That’s right; four bucks. I promised I wouldn’t be like one of those big publishers and charge damn near as much for the e-book as for the real thing, and I haven’t. And if I ever get a contract from a big publisher that wants to do that, I’ll tell them I forbid it. (Unless they pay me a lot of money in advance, in which case you’re on your own, dear and valued readers.)

The successor to Grind Joint is complete. Resurrection Mall is the counterpoint to the casino in Grind Joint, a religious-themed shopping center with a church as the anchor. It is hoped this will revitalize the decaying downtown area of Penns River. We’ll see.

Speaking of Resurrection Mall, that manuscript isn’t destined to sit on my hard drive until I get a bug up my ass and do something with it. I signed a deal to be represented by Bob Mecoy earlier this month, and the manuscript went directly to him, which frees me up for another couple of projects:

1. Right now I’m working on a chapter in a progressive novel called The Bank Job, where each of over fifteen writers contributes a chapter. It’s a multi-POV story, and that’s all I’ll say about it, except that I’m delighted to have been asked, considering the company I’m keeping. (Eric Beetner, Les Edgerton, Nik Korpon, Terrence McCauley, Tom O’Mara, Charles Salzberg, and about a dozen others who were willing to risk their reputations by allowing my name in the credits.) The plan is to have the book ready by Bouchercon in November.

2. The fourth Penns River book (working title PR4—I’m not wasting any of my limited creativity on a title I’m going to ditch) is undergoing final outline revisions. I’ll start on it as soon as my chapter for The Bank Job is finished. Doc and the cops have to solve what appears to be a random homicide while dealing with a new drug boss and a federal consent decree that mandated more female cops in Penns River.

Updates as they become relevant.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Recently Watched Movies, February 2014

A mixed bag of movies the past few weeks. Ran the gamut from historically great to god awful and everything in between.

The Place Beyond the Pines. Sufficient material here for three good movies, none of which got made. All had promise, none were fully developed, and the whole didn’t hold together because of it. John McNally teaches his students the concept of having too much story for the container; this is a good example.

Get Shorty. Again. I’m not going to say any more than I have to, if that. This has become the official “This is How We Spend Dana’s Birthday” movie. Yay, me.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. I’d wanted to see this for years, as I’m a Jimmy Breslin fan, and it stars Jerry Orbach and Robert DeNiro. Turned it off after twenty minutes. Too stupid for a 58-year-old man to spend two of his remaining hours watching.

Deceptive Practices. A memoir—of sorts—of Ricky Jay, probably the greatest living practitioner of the art of sleight of hand. More of a documentary than a show of his skills, there is still enough here to drop your jaw half a dozen times. The respect and affection Jay shows for his mentors is palpable, and takes the film to another level. (For an extended look at Jay’s skills, search YouTube for Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants.)

Bosch. Saw the pilot as part of an Amazon Prime test drive and liked it. Titus Welliver is perfectly cast. Now let’s hope they make the rest of them.

Jack Reacher. Saw the first half hour visiting my parents a few months ago and it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Figured what the hell, watched the whole thing and liked it quite a bit. The ending cheats, but Tom Cruise pulls it off, once you get past the fact he’s not 6’6” and 250 pounds.

The French Connection. Yes, I watched it again, on the Blu-Ray The Beloved Spouse bought me for Christmas. Stayed up until 2:15 AM watching the extra features. I’ve seen it enough times close enough together to spot a few holes, and I don’t care. It’s easy to forget how The French Connection changed crime movies—I was 15 when it came out, so I wasn’t fully aware then—but a lot of the old movies don’t hold up after the changes it wrought.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Twenty Questions With Gerard Brennan

Gerard Brennan came to my attention through his essay, “The Truth Commissioners” in Declan Burke’s comprehensive examination of Irish crime fiction, Down These Green Streets. His contribution to the Fight Card series (Welcome to the Octagon) hooked me on his fiction, and The Point reeled me him. His sequel to The Point—Breaking Pointhas recently been released, and Gerard was kind enough to take a break from his PhD studies to play Twenty Questions.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Breaking Point.

Gerard Brennan: I like to think of it as belonging to the same sub-genre as the movie Pineapple Express and other slacker-type flicks and TV shows. Notice I didn't mention books? Yeah, me too. Because I can't think of a novel or novella that attempts the same. Could well be down to a deficit in my reading, though.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

GB: I wanted to revisit the characters from The Point. I'd spent a hell of a lot of time with them as I honed my craft. The original version of The Point was the first big project I completed, years and years ago. It was a novel attempt, then, rather than a novella. But I wasn't happy with it and left it alone until I'd written two actual novels. Then I was able to go back and spot the problems. About 25K words worth of problems.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Breaking Point, start to finish?

GB: I've learned to love outlining and I wrote an outline for this novella two years ago. Then I put it to one side as other writing projects came along. When I finally got around to writing it again I liked the new characters but hated the plot I'd laid out for them. So I reworked about 80% of the story and started again. The outline took a day to fix (mostly on the bus journey to and from my then full-time job), the writing took a month.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

GB: I could tell you that, or I could encourage you to download the Kindle version of The Point for free. Go on... (Editor’s Note: Really, go ahead. We’ll wait. We’re here today because of how much I liked The Point, and it’s a quick read.)

OBAAT: In what time and place is Breaking Point set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

GB: It's set today, in and around the small village I've lived in for the last nine years. Until now I've kept my writing off my own doorstep by about 30 miles (I'd mostly been writing about Belfast and/or Warrenpoint after I'd moving away). I don't know how important the exact setting will be to most readers, but for me it certainly informed some character motivations. And it made me feel a little uncomfortable in parts. That's probably a good thing for a writer.

OBAAT: How did Breaking Point come to be published?

GB: The Point originally saw a small paperback release in 2011. Unfortunately, that publisher folded. Fortunately, I'd hooked up with Blasted Heath who published my novels, Wee Rockets and Fireproof as ebooks after The Point came out. They'd done such a great job finding me an audience that I was delighted when they agreed to reissue The Point last year. When I pitched The Point to them, I also pitched Breaking Point and a third part to the series.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

GB: I read everything. Books, magazines, food labels. But to narrow it down, I dip into each genre to lesser and greater extents. Right now, crime fiction is the top of the greater extent table. And Northern Irish crime fiction is a particular passion as my blog, Crime Scene NI, would suggest. I tend to gravitate towards books that build believable (and sometimes likeable) bad guys. Something like a certain Dana King manages in Grind Joint. (Editor blushes, draws circle in dirt with toe.)

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

GB: Ken Bruen, Colin Bateman and Eoin McNamee. Three very different writers, and each taught me something different but equally profound. There are many other influences, but those are the first three I think of every time.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

GB: I used to fly by the seat of my pants until I figured out that it took me a lot longer to take off that way. Like a trip to the airport, if I don't prepare and convince myself I've covered all angles I end up acting too antsy to even gain permission to board the plane. I think this analogy has gone far enough. Pulling out of the tailspin now. I mean now.

I tried writing in my pyjamas the other day (can honestly say I've never attempted to write pantless). I was feeling sorry for myself after my sons decided to keep me awake for a few extra hours the night before. But then I felt like I hadn't started my day, and as a result, my brain refused to cooperate.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

GB: Editing is highly important, but my writing style allows for it to be a shorter process than most, I suspect. I don't really subscribe to the “shitty first draft” theory. That doesn't mean my drafts don't stink from time to time. I just don't assume it will until I can smell it. So I guess somewhere in between. I edit as I go, but can be ruthless with the delete key when I need to be.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

GB: Read.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

GB: Being the best family guy I can be. That might include blowing off steam at the gym quite regularly, or in a pub much less regularly. When I'm with my wife and kids I want to be there. That means taking a little time for myself as well, outside of writing or studying.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

GB: Money and reviews are still a little low on the ground. I'm not complaining. I realise I'm lucky to have what I have already, but if either were the ultimate reward, I'd be very frustrated. I'm happier to go to bed knowing that I did everything I could to either improve my writing or move the story forward in whatever project I'm currently obsessed with.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

GB: That's a tough one to answer. If I only had myself to look after, I'd tell the devil to feck off (who else would offer such a shitty deal?). But with a family... I'd have to give it some thought. My soul is less important to me than theirs are. That's kind of an easy claim for an agnostic to make, though, isn't it?

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

GB: Number 3, of course. That's the only option where you only have to worry about the writing. Everything else is taken care of for you. With less distractions, I imagine my productivity would increase (the pyjama incident reminded me that I don't like to sit on my ass all day unless it's to do something that I think is useful). But I'll take what I can get, which is why I'm happy to work at a level somewhere between number 1 and number 2. At least, I must be happy, because I'm still doing it.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

GB: Hard liquor. In moderation, it's better for my health.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

GB: Football if I'm limited to those two choices (Premiership or NFL). MMA if I want to spend less time looking at my phone.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

GB: Would you like me to introduce you to my agent? They can get you “a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores.”

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

GB: Yes, please.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

GB: A PhD in creative writing that includes working on a novel and a lot of reading for a related critical piece. I'm also working on a police procedural when I catch myself procrastinating on the PhD, or when I need a holiday from it (that one's a marathon, not a sprint). And I'm thinking about outlines for future novellas. Possibly a play. Or two.

I'm freaking out a bit now.

Check out Gerard’s excellent blog, Crime Scene NI, as well as his other novel, Wee Rockets.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Twenty Questions With Jochem Vandersteen

Jochem Vandersteen is an indefatigable proponent of the art of the private eye novel. His Sons of Spade blog is among the most complete resources on the Internet for keeping up with who’s doing what in the realm of PI fiction. No slouch as a writer himself, Jochem’ s PI, Noah Milano, is an intriguing twist on the tradition: a scion of a Mafia family who promised his dying mother he’d go straight. Having spent his formative years in apprenticeship to run the family business, Noah’s straight skills lack breadth, so he becomes a PI. He is distrusted on both sides of the law, having to build his circle of who he can trust out of those who trust him. It’s an idea I wish I had thought of.

Jochem’s newest Noah Milano story is Death Business.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Death Business.

Jochem Vandersteen: It’s my new Noah Milano novella and on sale here: http://www.amazon.com/Death-Business-Noah-Milano-Novella-ebook/dp/B00I7QW66U/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1391767744&sr=1-1

It’s the story of ex-gangster Noah Milano investigating the death of a Hollywood gossip columnist.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

JVS: I think it actually started with the title. I heard those words somewhere and thought it would make a cool title. I realized Noah’s friend and Medical Examiner Minnie was in the death business and I figured it might be a good idea to have her start the investigation that would get Noah into the usual trouble. I always like to make the most of the LA setting so decided to write about the death of a Hollywood gossip columnist. From there the characters and events took on their usual lives of their own…

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Death Business, start to finish?

JVS: I think about a year. There’s been time spent on editing the Shamus Sampler, writing some superhero fiction and blogs aside from that of course.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

JVS: Noah Milano is the son of a big gangster boss. When his mom got killed he promised her on her death bed he would try to find redemption for the criminal stuff he did for his dad and to make an honest living. That honest living turns out to be working as a security specialist. Minnie is his best friend since kindergarten, ever since he dealt with some bullies for her.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Death Business set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

JVS: It is set in today’s Hollywood. The setting is very important because it deals with celebrities, their secrets and our obsession with them.

OBAAT: How did Death Business come to be published?

JVS: I wrote the story, asked my pal Sean Dexter to help me out with the edits and cover and then self-published it.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

JVS: Basically I of course love the kind of stories I write, so hardboiled detectives. You can check out those favorites at my blog http://sonsofspade.blogspot.com. Some favorites are Charles Collyot, Nathan Gottlieb, Les Roberts, Robert B. Parker, Lee Child, Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Josh Stallings and Andrew Vachss. I also like occult detectives and comic books.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

JVS: Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais and Les Roberts.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

JVS: I do wear pants when I write. At least when the curtains are open. I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants. It worked for Robert B. Parker, so it should work for me.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

JVS: I try to edit every page right after writing because the work is so boring. And I have a really great editor in Sean Dexter.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

JVS: Do it for the love of writing, not the money.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

JVS: That’s not fit for print.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

JVS: The good review. There’s not enough money earned.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

JVS: That’s not an option. Writing is my life.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

JVS: I’m afraid the last one. It would be nice to make a living out of writing and with the first two options that’s not much of a choice.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

JVS: I like beer (Duvel, Corona, Guinness) and Jack Daniels.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

JVS: None of the above. I don’t follow sports.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

JVS: There’s a Swedish female volleyball team waiting around the corner needing a massage, can you come and help me out?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

JVS: Let me ask my wife.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

JVS: I am currently writing the first Vance Custer story. It’s about a true crime writer who will investigate your case if he gets the rights to the story. Really like the character so far. He’s a tad less hardboiled than Milano. And here’s a secret… I envision crime writer Ace Atkins starring as Vance when I write.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Breaking News on Grind Joint; Noir at the Bar Baltimore

Relative quiet here has masked lots of activity on the Grind Joint front. To wit:

· An audio book, read by Mike Dennis, will be available through Amazon, audible.com, and iTunes, hopefully within the next week. Mike’s done a hell of a job, making subtle differences in the accents and inflections in a book with a shit ton of speaking parts, and, best of all, lets the reader decide what’s exciting and what isn’t. I’d never worked on an audio book before, and the process was enlightening. More details will be provided as the launch approaches.

(By the way, Mike’s a fine writer his own self. His work has appeared on more than one of my year end lists, with Setup on Front Street and the short story, “The Session” standing out for me. Check him out in more detail on his blog, http://mikedennisnoir.com.)

· A lot of people have asked when the e-book for Grind Joint will be available. (All right, two people have asked; one asked twice. “A lot” can mean different things to different people.) I now have an answer: soon. By “soon,” I mean by the end of the month. Weather permitting. (I have no idea why weather would not permit the publication of an e-book, but it sounds like something I could ascribe tardiness to, as the weather is entirely out of my control, thus leaving me blameless should the date slip.) Right now I have only the formatting to do, and am waiting on a cover design to be finalized. The good news is, it’s not one of those “the e-book is damn near as expensive as the print version.” Price for Kindle will be $3.99.

Kieran Shea, Nik Korpon, and Steve Weddle hosted Baltimore’s first Noir at the Bar at Slainte on Thames Street last Sunday. Weather held down the crowd a bit, but the writers who were able to make it were worth a snowy slog: Rob Hart and Todd Robinson (both drove all the way from New York, then back that night so Todd could work a double on Monday), Merry Jones, Jon McGoran, Art Taylor, Dennis Tafoya, Jen Conley, and Jeff Alphin displayed the wide variety of what crime fiction and noir are capable of though grit and humor and a severed penis in a jar. The Godfather of N@B, Peter Rozovsky, made the trip from Philadelphia to lend his imprimatur. This was the first such slam The Beloved Spouse and I have been able to attend; it will not be the last.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Twenty Questions With Jay Stringer

I first encountered Jay Stringer on the Do Some Damage blog, where he is the regular Thursday correspondent. (I’m not sure who covers the irregular Thursdays.) I’d been a fan of Jay’s posts for quite a while, and panicked when I realized his new book, Lost City, had been released and I had yet to get around to Runaway Town. I read Runaway Town a couple of weeks ago; my enthusiastic reception can be read here.

Jay was born in Walsall, West Midlands, U.K. in 1980 and currently lives in Glasgow. He has worked in the usual variety of jobs that lead to becoming a writer, including zookeeper, bookseller, and self-professed call center lackey. His work is a mixture of urban crime, mystery, and social fiction, for which he coined the phrase “social pulp fiction.” He thinks he may have been a journalist in another life, but says people tell you more secrets if you talk to them as a crime writer. Jay is dyslexic, and comes to the printed word as a second language. One day he hopes to master it. But he also likes to call himself Chief and El Jefe, so make of that what you will.

His first novel, Old Gold, was released by Thomas & Mercer in 2012; the follow-up, Runaway Town, was released in 2013. The third book in the Eoin Miller trilogy, Lost City, launched last month.

It’s been a mid-winter treat to become more familiar with Jay and his work, and I’m delighted he took the time to play Twenty Questions.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Lost City.

Jay Stringer: Lost City is the third book in the Eoin Miller trilogy. It starts out as a murder mystery being investigated from the other side—by the criminals—but it soon turns into a mess of corruption, violence and abuses of power.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

JS: As the final book of the trilogy, quite a lot of the story was already decided by the time I sat down to write. There were ideas and secrets I’d been playing with for two books already, and I had to finally answer all of the questions. Well, most of them. I’d spent the second book—Runaway Town—messing with Miller’s moral compass and leaving him a very confused place. For Lost City I needed to see what that would do to him a couple of years down the line, and also see if he could come back from it. Then you spice the story with whatever you’re picking up from the world around you: newspapers, conversations, arguments.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Lost City, start to finish?

JS: It was done in two drafts before we sent it to the publisher, then one copy edit. About ten months once it’s all added up.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

JS: It’s called the ‘Eoin Miller Trilogy’ but really it has three protagonists. It’s just that one of them gets to narrate it. Eoin Miller is a confused man in his thirties. He’s half Romanichal—the English Roma—and he’s never really figured out who he is. He tried being a cop to rebel against his family, but now he works for the other side, as a gangland detective. Veronica Gaines is Miller’s criminal boss. She’s been trying to go straight, but her family roots keep pulling her back. Laura Miller is Eoin’s ex-wife. She’s a corrupt cop. She comes from a more settled home than either Eoin or Veronica, but in some ways that seems to make her more dangerous, because she’s trying to be something, whereas they’re trying not to be something.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Lost City set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

JS: If you follow the timeline from Old Gold through to Lost City, it works out that the third book is actually set in 2015. Maybe I should have pitched it as a sci-fi novel. The setting is crucial, it’s pretty much what the whole series is about. I grew up in the Black Country, an area in the English Midlands that took its name from industry. It was said to be “black by day and red by night.” Coal mining, foundries, factories, engineering, car manufacture. Think of it as a hybrid between Detroit and the version of Harlan County depicted in Justified. Then one day it all went away. One in three children in the area is living in poverty now, and that’s only going to get worse. The Miller books are both love and hate letters to my hometown, and each of the main characters embodies the region in some way.

OBAAT: How did Lost City come to be published?

JS: It was the final book of the three-book deal we got from Thomas & Mercer. They’ve been great and very supportive of what I wanted to do with the series. When we were first shopping Old Gold around, we ran into difficulties because it was a book set in an unfashionable part of England, that starred an ethnic minority character and didn’t have any car chases or explosions. But T&M took a chance on it, and now I have three books out, I’m suspecting I should start calling this a career soon.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

JS: I like to read social fiction. Stories with a bit of heart and meat. I’ll read anything by George Pelecanos or Ray Banks. Johnny Shaw’s Big Maria blew me away recently, it’s sort of an adult version of The Goonies run through a noir filter. Steve Weddle proved us all right last year with the amazing Country Hardball, a book full of real voices and their small victories and defeats. Eva Dolan is someone worth checking out. She’s just released her debut, Long Way Home, which looks at immigration.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

JS: My biggest influences come from other fields. I love stand-up comedians like George Carlin and Mark Thomas, and I’m always learning new things from the work of Alan Moore. I like Paul Westerberg, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits, and the plays of Sean O’Casey. It’s a list full of white males, which I’m very uncomfortable about, but it’s an honest list.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

JS: Pants and trousers. I’m a Brit. I don’t outline, but I write to a three act structure and I usually have the final scene in my head when I start, so I know where I’m going.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

JS: I think a lot. I trust my brain. If it’s not coming, I’ll go for a walk or take a shower, and wait until I absolutely have to write it down. At the start of each session I loosen up by rewriting the previous day’s work. That’s a way of easing into the work but it also means I’m constantly editing, and one draft from me is really the equivalent of three or four.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

JS: Finish what you start. Then start again.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

JS: Thinking about sleeping. And listening to The Replacements.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

JS: The review. Though the money pays for the bed. A writer always like to hear about someone enjoying the work.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

JS: Nope, because I’d die of boredom.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores.

JS: I think what matters more are the relationships. Who are you going to be working with? What kind of support network do you have? Whether you’re forming your own publishing house named after your favorite kind of fish, or going to an established publisher, you need to know that you’re working with people who will support you and fight for your book to succeed. There’s also the consideration of what you’re doing with your time. If you have a full-time job, then you’re probably better suited having a publisher who can do a lot of the business work for you. If you don’t have a day job, then you’ll have more time to devote to publishing.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

JS: Bourbon. Lots of it.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

JS: Football. Real football. The football played by the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

JS: Which is you least favorite toe?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

JS: Probably one on my left foot. The third one, I think.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

JS: I’ve been living in Glasgow for seven years, and I’ve just finished a book set there, we’re readying that for submission now. I’ve started another book set in the Midlands, sort of a modern Robin Hood tale, but it’s very early in the process so things could change.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

January’s Top Reads

January was a real good month for reading. Let’s get to it.

The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett. Said by many to be Hammett’s greatest, and I see why. Loyalty, betrayal, politics, and sex interwoven in a story dated only by the colloquialisms. I think I still prefer The Maltese Falcon, but that may well be due to my greater familiarity. This will be re-read.

The Point, Gerard Brennan. A nice, vicious little noir tale of two brothers on the wrong path. One sees where it leads and wants to get off. The other can’t see that far ahead and wants company for his ride. Things go as wrong as you’d expect, but not at all in the manner you expected. Brennan nails the pace and language, and has me looking forward to the sequel. (The Point is free for the time being, so get your ass to Amazon before they change their minds.)

Hurt Machine, Reed Farrel Coleman. Moe Prager nears the end of his run, trying to decide how to tell the rest of the world about his cancer with his daughter’s wedding on the horizon and the death of his former lover’s sister to investigate. A perfect set-up for Prager to look back while trying to move forward, and the case’s complexities keep him from any easy decisions about the it, or his personal life. Prager is as human as any contemporary PI, and this is a great vehicle for him.

The Bitch, Les Edgerton. Discussed in detail a couple of weeks ago, a classic noir tale of how a bad decision made with good intentions can lead to situations with only bad choices.

Runaway Town, Jay Stringer. I wrote in depth on this last week. Social awareness and questions of loyalty, betrayal, family, and attraction work together at a level that would do Richard Price proud.

The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy. I started the Underworld USA trilogy in the middle, with The Cold Six Thousand. Big mistake. (Really, folks. Don’t do that. Start at the beginning.) I made a point of starting the LA Quartet at the outset. I’ve heard this may be the weakest book of the four; if that’s true, I can’t wait to get to the rest. Ellroy hadn’t developed his “tabloid language” yet, but primordial traces of it are here. The ending goes on a bit too long, but you’re aware you’re in the midst of something special from the beginning. Living proof that exposition can delay the start of the actual story as long as the author wants, so long as it’s engrossing in its own right.

I also read about twenty pages of one drop-dead stinking you gotta be kidding me piece of shit, but, as you all know, I believe if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything, so

Monday, February 3, 2014

Twenty Questions With Holly West

I first met Holly in Albany, talking to Peter Rozovsky at the Bouchercon bar. (Hanging near Peter is a highly recommended to meet cool people, Peter included.) Originally from a small town in Northern California, Holly moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Screenwriting. After shoving a few unproduced scripts in the proverbial desk drawer, she succumbed to her baser instincts and turned to writing crime fiction.
Holly West - Mistress of Fortune She’s the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Holly’s short stories appear in Feeding Kate: A Crime Fiction Anthology, Needle: A Magazine of Noir and Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels.
Before devoting herself to writing fiction full-time, Holly was an accomplished jewelry designer. She also served as a contributor to About.com for four years, writing about a variety of topics. Prior to that, she worked as a foreign credentials analyst and published monographs on the educational systems of Sudan, Zambia, and Afghanistan.
When Holly’s not wandering the captivating streets of 17th century London, she lives, reads, and writes in Los Angeles with her husband, Mick, and dog, Stella. She's a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, and is the Wednesday contributor to the Do Some Damage blog. (That’s right; tow posts in a row about DSD writers. I told you it ruled.)
Holly West - Mistress of Fortune Holly’s first book, Mistress of Fortune, launches today, so congratulations are in order.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Mistress of Fortune.
HW: Mistress of Fortune, my debut novel, features Isabel, Lady Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller named Mistress Ruby. Charlatans, rogues, villains, and swindlers lurk in every dark corner of the city, and Isabel concedes she is one of them. But hard experience has taught her that women have few enough advantages in this world, and her conscience does not often bother her.
Everything changes when a prominent London magistrate, Sir Edmund Godfrey, seeks her counsel and reveals his accidental involvement in a covert plot to murder the king. Shortly after his visit, her diary, the sole record of her illicit activities as a soothsayer, is stolen, and Isabel must locate it before anyone connects her to Mistress Ruby. When Sir Edmund's corpse is discovered a few days later with a page from her diary in his pocket, Isabel suspects whoever committed the murder also has her diary.
Unwilling to trust the investigation to a royal court infamous for its schemes and intrigues, she begins her own inquiry and learns that Sir Edmund's murder is only a small part of a conspiracy that leads all the way to the throne. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she realizes that her business is not the only thing at stake and if she doesn’t find Sir Edmund Godfrey's killer, not even the king will be able to save her.

Mistress of Fortune is really my homage to my favorite historical period, Restoration England. It may sound cliché, but it was the book I was born to write.
OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
HW: I wanted to write something set in Restoration London (1660-85), featuring King Charles II, and came upon a Wikipedia article about Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, whose unsolved murder in 1678 was a major scandal of the time. I decided to attempt a fictional re-telling of his killing and its aftermath, solving the murder in the process.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Mistress of Fortune, start to finish?
HW: In total, it took about five years to write and get it published.
OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
HW: My protagonist, Isabel Wilde, is loosely based on Aphra Behn, a successful female playwright of the time. One of the more interesting aspects of Behn’s history is that she worked as a spy for England during her youth. As a result of her service to the Crown, she incurred a large debt that Parliament subsequently refused to pay and spent a period of time in debtor’s prison. I incorporated both of these details into Isabel Wilde’s back story and used them to explain her unusual choice of profession; determined never to return to prison and unwilling to take on the more typical roles—wife, prostitute, chambermaid—available to women at the time, she convinces a notorious London astrologer to teach her the soothsayer trade.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Mistress of Fortune set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
HW: It’s set in late 17th century London. I’ve long been enamored of Restoration London and it was important to me that I bring it to life as vividly as possible. I’m not sure I succeeded entirely, but I’m pleased with the novel as a whole. It all came together—characters, plot, and setting-- so much better than I thought it would.
OBAAT: How did Mistress of Fortune come to be published?
HW: It took two full years to get it published. After completing what I thought was the final draft in 2011, I sent out an unsuccessful round of queries to agents. A few months into that process I revised it again and got a much better response. I knew I was close but there were still no offers of representation. I considered self-publishing then and hired a professional editor. Her comment upon reading and editing the manuscript was that even though self-publishing might net me more money, if I still wanted a traditional publishing deal, Mistress of Fortune could be the book to get me one. I decided that, for good or bad, I wouldn’t self-publish this book. I would either get a traditional deal or stick it in the proverbial desk drawer and start on the next book. After incorporating her edits, I did one last submission blitz. In Fall 2012, Carina Press, the digital-first imprint of Harlequin, ran a “contest” where they promised feedback on your manuscript within a short time frame—something like 4 weeks, which in the publishing industry is lightening speed. Angela James, the executive editor at Carina Press, made an offer on Mistress of Fortune a month later.
At the time Carina made the offer, I was unagented, but three agents had the manuscript. I let them know there was an offer on the table and I needed a response as soon as possible. Liz Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates offered representation a few days later (which I accepted).
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
HW: I like hardboiled and noir crime fiction. I like flawed characters, the darker the better. Favorite authors lately are Tana French, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Lisa Lutz, Sara Gran, Hillary Davidson, Bill Loefhelm. It’s hard to name everybody I love, but these are all authors whose titles I buy, no questions asked, as soon as they’re available.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
HW: David Liss, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Truman Capote, Erik Larson, Kathleen Winsor, and of course, Judy Blume. It all started with her.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
HW: I write the most detailed outline I can. I’ll take a month to do it, if necessary, because in the end, knowing where I’m going helps to prevent writer’s block and ultimately saves time.
Unless pajamas or yoga pants count, I never wear pants when I write. In fact, I rarely wear pants at all.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
HW: After writing the outline, I write my first draft as quickly as possible. I try not to worry too much about the quality of the writing—I just want to get the story out. It makes editing that second draft kind of grueling, but ultimately, it works for me.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
HW: Don’t rush into self-publishing. Mind you---I’m totally in favor of self-publishing and will probably do it myself eventually. But Mistress of Fortune is a much better novel because I waited. As a debut author I needed to work out the kinks and having the professional help I got from editors was an important part of that process. Just keep that in mind. One thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that every author has their own path, dictated by their goals, their commitment to the work, and their patience.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
HW: Cooking.
OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
HW: The money earned.
OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?
HW: No.
OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.
HW: This is such an interesting question because my current publishing deal with Carina Press is essentially the same as option #2 (although Carina is an imprint of Harlequin, a big publisher). So, based on what I’ve explained above, it would seem that #2 would be my choice. But #2 was not my ideal (not at all), it was my choice dictated by the options available to me at the time and what my publishing goals were at the time (to be “traditionally” published). My ideal would be #3 because that was my dream from a young age and still is.
All of that said, I’m intrigued by option #1 and hope to self-publish a series (probably novellas) in just that way. I’d like to have something that belongs just to me and no one else—despite the choices I’ve made in my publishing career thus far, that’s important to me. I’m not quite ready for that yet but I’m excited about the prospect.
OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
HW: Wine
OBAAT: Baseball or football?
HW: Baseball
OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
HW: Who is your favorite Bee Gee?
OBAAT: What’s the answer?
HW: Barry, of course.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
HW: Mistress of Lies, the second novel in the Mistress of Fortune Series, is in edits now. It’ll be published by Carina Press in Fall 2014.
Many thanks to Holly, whose web site has a wealth of information on her and her books; the FAQ page is particularly entertaining and enlightening. Mistress of Fortune is available on Amazon today.