One Bite at a Time




Thursday, October 29, 2015

Twenty Questions With John Hegenberger



John Hegenberger has published Cross Examinations and two non-fiction books about collecting movie memorabilia and comic books. He's also sold a dozen stories to Galaxy, Amazing and other science fiction anthologies. He earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature and has worked as an advertising and marketing manager at IBM, AT&T, and Exxon.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Spyfall.

John Hegenberger: Spyfall is an adventure story of a Los Angeles private eye in 1959 who gets hooked up with a couple of well-known personalities, Walt Disney and Ian Fleming, to stop a deadly nuclear threat.

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.)
JH: I came to the idea by thinking about all the great television shows I used to watch as a kid and what would happen if the characters were to team up. In other words, what if someone like Mike Hammer were to visit 77 Sunset Strip in order to work with Sky King to help stop something from happening to Joe Friday?

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Spyfall, start to finish?
JH: Spyfall took about eight months to write. It's part of a series, so a lot of the background material and character development is already established. Nonetheless, I thought it was important to be able to take my time and get this done right.

OBAAT: Where did Stan Wade come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
JH: Stan Wade is just a guy with a familiar-sounding name. He's a lot younger than me; just starting out in the business still struggling to figure out if he can make it in this profession. He has a lot of help from his friends and he has a lot of luck. He also has an adventurous spirit which carries him to areas and events that he probably should avoid.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Spyfall set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
JH: The setting is all important for this series of novels. I fell in love with the year 1959. And it's not just the time that is important… it's also the setting. It seems to me that the majority of great private investigators worked out of Los Angeles at one era or another.

OBAAT: How did Spyfall come to be published?
JH: I wrote some science fiction starting in the ‘70s. I had a couple of nonfiction books published in the late ‘80s and lots of articles and a newspaper column. Spyfall is published by Black Opal Books and, as with most authors, it was simply a case of travelling each day to the marketplace where dreams are bought and sold, hopefully taking my place among the sellers.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
JH: I like to read stories that surprise me and gave me a chuckle. Favorite authors right now include: Craig Johnson, Dick Lochte, Mark Coggins, and Paul Kemprecos.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
JH: Quite a number of years back, it occurred to me that if you were a writer, you could work anywhere. That's all I needed.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
JH: My writing is based more on my reading experiences. They’ve prepared me to be a crime writer. I keep coming back to the puzzles and whodunits in the mysteries of crime writing.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
JH: Making stuff up. Nothing pleases me more than to have an entire story figured out and then at the last moment recognize that there's another whole aspect of the story which I haven't spent any time on at all. It's an opportunity to jump in with a nifty new twist.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
JH: I have no idea who has influenced me the most, because hundreds have influenced me a lot.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
JH: Yes. I have to outline, mostly because I want to know who done it and I want to know where I can stick in some clever or exciting stuff and have it make sense. However, during the writing process, I probably re-re-outline three times at least.

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?
JH:  Never throw anything away. Everything has a place; you just have to figure out where it is in the overall process. Beyond that, just sit down and see what you’ve typed and how you can make it better.

OBAAT: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
JH: Naturally when I listen to music it’s from around 1959. I don't have a theme for Stan Wade, but now that you mention it, I guess I'll go see if I can find one. Thanks for the tip.

OBAAT: As a writer, what’s your favorite time management tip?
JH: This sort of goes back to the question about my process. I get a lot more done when I write out everything first. Once I've scribbled out the content, I type it, which is basically a second draft. Then when I do the edits, I'm already at the third draft, which keeps it fresh and saves a heck of a lot of time.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
JH: Have fun! If it's not fun, it's not worth doing. If you're writing and it's not fun, maybe you shouldn't be writing, but don’t let the bastards grind you down.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
JH: For me, story events and setting are key. The other aspects come after that organically, depending on the events of the tale or the place and time that it’s taking place.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
JH: I keep coming back to most of that works by Stuart Kaminsky.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
JH: Reading TV, comics, and OTR.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
JH: I'm wrapping up volume five of the Stan Wade series. Then it's on to a western and the third book in my Tripleye, science-fiction series, and finally a new novel in the Elliot Cross series. I expect to have all that done in the next nine months, so I can move on to Stan Wade #6.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bouchercon 2015: Day Three

Still more Bouchercon. I promise to finish my 2015 recap before the 2016 conference.

SATURDAY OCTOBER 10

8:30 Special Event: inside the mind and work of Dashiell Hammett: a conversation with his granddaughter and biographer.

Peter Rozovsky for the win. As fine a Bouchercon event as I have ever attended. As moderator, Peter had all anyone could to want to work with. Julie Rivett is Hammett’s granddaughter, quite likely the only person at the conference who had ever met him. (She was a small child.) Richard Layman as an esteemed Hammett biographer and probably knows as much about Hammett and his work as anyone alive. Fifty minutes that flew by like fifteen. I would gladly have listened to them for an hour and a half. Rivett and Layman have done this gig before, and the three of them had chatted the previous day, though nothing too detailed was agreed upon. It showed, and in the best way. The discussion never lagged, no one fumbled for an answer, but nothing ever seemed to be rehearsed. If you’re thinking of buying any of the conference audio CDs and have any interest in Hammett, this is the recording to get.

Aside from a wealth of texture and a far better feel for Hammett as both a writer and a person, I had two major takeaways. I was unaware of Nathan Ward’s The Lost Detective, which focuses on the direct relationship of Hammett’s life as a detective to his career as a writer. Just as exciting was the news that all of the Continental Op stories will be released in a single volume sometime in 2016.

10:00 Keeping it Moving: Maintaining Pace in the Narrative

This was one of those panels that are educational as much for validation as for learning anything new. It was good to hear from successful authors that the things I use to keep my stories moving are, by and large, what they do.

Two examples: S.J. Rozan highly recommended Richard Price’s Coppers, which I had added to the reading list not two weeks earlier.

A quote from Michael Connelly (not on the panel; my apologies to whoever provided it, as it ties in perfectly with what I’m trying to do with my PI character): A good mystery doesn’t just show how the detective works on the case, but how the case works on the detective.

11:30 Lunch

Knowing we couldn’t swing a dead cat and not hit an excellent restaurant, The Beloved Spouse and I couldn’t resist going back to Clyde Cooper’s for fried chicken again, knowing they’d be closed by suppertime. I showed my willingness to experiment by getting dark meat this time.

1:00 The Mechanics of Writing Violent Fiction

The Penns River series is introducing some female cops, so getting a chance to hear Zoe Sharp and others on a panel about writing violence was not to be missed. I felt good that I’d already figured out some of what the panel had to say, though there were several things that had not occurred to me. To wit:

Zoe Sharp: The objective in a street fight is to finish as quickly as possible and protect your hands as much as possible. Your hands are vulnerable and you need them to drive, shoot, and just about everything else.

Jamie Freveletti: The safest thing to do is run. Remember, an untrained person is likely to lose the fight before they can figure out how to use the available weapons.

Taylor Stevens: Use as few words as possible so the reader can create their own movie.

John Billheimer: If you need to crash a small plane, aim between two trees. That slows you down and will leave the fuel behind when the wings come off. (Not that I can imagine ever needing to use that, but it was cool to hear him tell the story.)

2:30 Over the Border: The Canadian Crime and Mystery World

This panel marked the completion of the John McFetridge Hat Trick, as he participated as a volunteer, a moderator, and, finally, as a panelist, all in the same Bouchercon. Specific to this panel, John noted his topics are becoming darker as he does more period research. Not because he’s more interested in the darkness. He’s more interested in the reality.

The fact that Canadian crime fiction is such a relatively recent phenomenon is not for lack of crime or corruption in Canada until recently. Montreal whorehouses used to have two doors, one of which opened onto nothing but a brick wall. That’s the one the police boarded up when they had to make a raid because they were compelled to “do something.” Oh, Canada.

4:00 The Facets of “Character” That Remain in a Reader’s Psyche

An excellent panel with potential to have been extraordinary, with one tweak. The moderator was Alifair Burke, a former prosecutor. The panelists included Allison Leotta (another prosecutor), David Swinson (a cop), David Putnam (another cop), and Heather Graham (written more books than most people have read). The exchanges were informative and entertaining and everyone more than justified their place and made their character chops evident, but I couldn’t help but shake the idea that if Heather had been moderator there would have been a panel with two cops and two prosecutors, perfect for talking about how those two branches of law enforcement actually work together. Maybe next year.

Speaking of how law enforcement actually works (as opposed to how we see it on television), David Swinson pointed out cops are always looking for something they have in common with a suspect so they’ll have something to talk about with him. Getting them talking—about anything—is the key.

Dinner

Eight of us convened at the Mecca Restaurant for a last shot at a genuine Southern-cooked meal and were not disappointed. Even better than the food was the company: The Beloved Spouse, Peter Rozovsky, Jacques Filippi, Rich Goodfellow, J.D. Rhoades, Terrence McCauley and his lovely wife Rita. (Don’t be fooled by Terrence’s looks. He’s not an asshole. And that officially retires that gag.) Food and company of such high caliber even The Beloved Spouse was enticed back to the Marriott bar for a while. Unfortunately, I hit the wall at midnight, almost literally in the middle of a sentence with John Shepphird. I had to excuse myself and wandered back through the Marriott lobby, past scads off people I knew and wished I had more time to spend with, but completely worn out. I was asleep before the pillow was warm.


Next time, Sunday and parting thoughts.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Twenty Questions With Marc E. Fitch



Marc E. Fitch is the author of Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot, and the novels Old Boone Blood and Paradise Burns. His fiction has appeared in such publications as ThugLit, The Big Click, eHorror, Horror Society and Massacre. He currently lives in Harwinton, CT. He is a graduate of the Western Connecticut State University Master of Fine Arts Program and has been the recipient of the W.C.S.U. Barbara Winder Award and the Connecticut Review’s Leslie Leeds Poetry Award.

Marc lives in Harwinton, CT with his wife and four children and works in the field of mental health. (Editor’s Note: It’s nice to see a crime writers who works in the mental health fied for a change, instead of just being serviced by it.)
 
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Dirty Water.

Marc E. Fitch: Dirty Water is the story of a city imploding under the weight of its own corruption and in that desolate place, several different individuals are making moves to acquire power. A disgraced former Marine turned hitman, a corrupt district attorney, and a shady businessman that is looking to start a new underground empire.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didnt ask Where do you get your ideas?I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
MEF: I work in the psychiatric department of a hospital which is located on the 8th floor with a good view of a city that has seen better days. At night I would watch the police lights and ambulances racing all over the place and I began to develop an idea for a story that would start with that image. Then I happened to meet someone who had lost a bunch of money in a certain (ahem) Ponzi scheme and he was both miserable and furious. I thought to myself, what if this guy wanted to have the creator of that Ponzi scheme bumped off? How would that play out? It was then that I started the gears really turning for Dirty Water.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Dirty Water, start to finish?
MEF: Dirty Water probably took about two years in all. I say probably because I didnt work on it straight through. I always have multiple projects going at the same time. 2015 has been a big year for me. I have three books from three different publishers out this year: one horror novel, a nonfiction book and, of course, Dirty Water. I was working on all of them simultaneously.

OBAAT: Dirty Water is more of an ensemble piece than a book with a true protagonist around which everything revolves. Why do it this way, and how did the ideas for Nolan, Jessica, and Higgins come to you?
MEF: I have always been drawn to works that give a profound sense of place and I felt the best way to capture that was to look at the city of Dirty Water from multiple different viewpoints. I also wanted to branch out a little bit and try to flex some creative muscle - do things differently than many other crime novels. I wanted the idea of corruption to be pervasive, all encompassing, throughout the work - everybody is a part of it, everybody is a participant. That way I was able to give more of a world view, as well.   

OBAAT: In what time and place is Dirty Water set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
MEF: I often begin a work with the setting. Something about a place will draw out the creative spark in me, so setting is everything. Its probably because of my youthful obsession with Hemingway. I get my inspiration more from places than from people. The time setting of Dirty Water is present day. Im sure many readers will have no problem drawing parallels to some of the happenings in Dirty Water and present day or at least very recent history.

OBAAT: How did Dirty Water come to be published?
MEF: I originally put it out to agents, all of whom were enthusiastic and very complimentary about the novel but always told me, Im just too overwhelmed at the moment to take on anything new.Okay, finepersonally I prefer the smaller, independent presses myself but I figured I should at least make a shot at the big money. I have very little patience when it comes to trying to sell a work because Im always ready to move on to the next work and I hate playing salesman. When I came across 280 Steps I just had a good feeling about them. Sometimes you just know when a work is going to fit with a publisher.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
MEF: I read widely but that being said there are a couple writers that I can say that Im genuinely a fan of and read all their stuff: Laird Barron, James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, Jim Nisbet, Lovecraft. Duane Swierczynskis The Wheelman was actually a big inspiration for Dirty Water and Ive been following J. David Osbornes work as well. I like stories that really dig deep in to the darkness of humanity. I remember reading Ellroys The Black Dahlia for the first time and thinking - Wow, this is really plumbing the depths of evil, as the characters were digging up a mass grave in Mexico. That image stayed with me.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
MEF: Youthful stupidity. I was a bit of a Romantic thinking that I would live this Hemingway-esque life where everyone celebrated what I wrote. That didnt work out so well. Writing is a shit-ton of work but its the only work that I truly enjoy. I think if youre truly drawn to writing its not something that you can give up. During the hard times I continually tell myself that Im just going to give up and quit and put it all behind me but I really know that I couldnt. I cant not do it. I work full time and have four small children and still, no matter how busy I am, writing stories and books is always at the very forefront of my mind. Its like an addiction.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
MEF: I spent thirteen years bartending at a dive right next to the bus station, it really gives you a jaded view on life. I was with a hard-drinking, hard-drugging, rough, blue-collar, and homeless crowd. You acquire stories. You meet people that exist outside the bounds of what is considered normalcivilization. Now, working in the psychiatric department Ive drifted even further into that liminal area. Now I work with people not even within the bounds of sanity. Sometimes I think Im more comfortable in that kind of environment than at your average cocktail party talking about stocks or art or the weather or whatever it is that people talk about at cocktail parties (I dont get out much).

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
MEF: Ughthats a tough one. Like I said, Ive come to regard it as sort of an addiction. I get the occasional high from selling a story or getting a book deal but, of course, they are few and far between. There is a sense of accomplishment but I rarely think about what I have written, rather Im focused on what Im going to writeso that sense of accomplishment is fleeting. But I often revert to Flannery OConnor, who said, I write to find out what I know.All my writing is a form of figuring things outnot for anyone else, but for myself.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
MEF: Hemingway was original inspiration for writing, but, that being said, Ive largely moved on. Nick Mamatas has been a great influence on both my work and my quasi-career in writing and Im certainly not alone in that. For a while it seemed like every recent book I opened had Nick listed in the acknowledgement section. Hes a great writer with a tremendous knowledge of both the craft of writing genre fiction but also the ins and outs of the industry. Oddly enough, M. Night Shyamalans films - particularly Signs and The Village - really helped push my work from literaryfiction into genre driven work in both horror and crime/noir. I liked how seriously he took his subject matter and elevated it to the point that the audience had an epiphany. I had never thought of doing that through something like horror. That had always (for me) seemed to be a literary endeavor. From there I discoveredJim Thompson and Laird Barron and havent looked back

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
MEF: I wear sweatpants but I dont outline. I write piecemeal. I never have the story fully formed in my head and that might be a weaknessI dont know. But it does make it hard to churn out novels quickly. I have the beginning and a sense of where I want it to go, but how I get there is usually a surprise even to me. I think about scenes for days and often end up with something I hadnt planned for only to be led in a completely new direction.

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?
MEF: I like to be completely happy with a chapter or section before I move on. Otherwise, it haunts me. For my novel Paradise Burns, I stopped working on it for a full year because I couldnt figure out how to link what I had already written to where I wanted it to go. Finally, something clicked and I was able to pick it up and finish it. It was always churning in the back of my mind, trying to figure out how to move the plot forward. When it finally came to me I finished it in six months.

OBAAT: Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
MEF: I work in the mornings surrounded by my four children, the oldest of whom is six. Im surrounded by chaos. I wish I had the luxury of listening to music. Right now Im listening to The Octonauts on Netflix.
                                                                    
OBAAT: As a writer, whats your favorite time management tip?
MEF: I dont have any. If you truly want to be a writer you will find the time. Time is no excuse.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
MEF: I would give the tried and true advice of read everything and learn from what you read, but I would also advise them to familiarize yourself with whatever genre you happen to be writing in. Familiarize yourself with the people and the publishers. There is a community of writers, particularly in genre fiction and you can learn so much from them. Find them on Facebook, send them an email or a message. Theyre generally happy to help and give advice.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
MEF: As I said before, setting is vital to my workits often the inspiration for my work followed by tone. I think the tone and setting of the work often do more to reflect the characters than any quirk or special feature one assigns to a character. I get tired of characters that are so unique that the average person will have little in common with them. (Editors Note: Bless you.) Youll find a work and the main character is a half-blind, former tetherball champion with a trans-sexual bouncer for a best friend and a serious case of Tourettes Syndrome. To me it all comes across as disingenuous. As being strange and different only for the sake of being strange and different. I spend little time describing my characters or giving them any kind of odd features because I want them to be representative of the average Joe or Jane and I want them to reflect their setting. Plot gets you where you have to go. Its a necessary evil in saying what you really want to say that is more than you can put in a thesis statement.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
MEF: I have a strange selection for this. I think it would either be James Ellroys American Tabloid, which really blew me away when I first read it. But then, probably everybody writing in the genre wishes they wrote that book. But also Jim Nisbets Old and Cold. That work was so intricate and genius that, so focused on every little word that I knew right then that it was a novel that I would never have the skill or patience to write. Knowing that makes me jealous, so if I could steal that book, I would.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when youre not reading or writing.
MEF: Watching horror movies but like I said, I dont have much time on my hands.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
MEF: I am working on a follow up to Dirty Water. I think there is so much more that can be done with that city and those characters. Ive started a couple different horror novels and Im waiting to see which one takes off. Im always writing short stories so I spend a lot of time with that as well. The whole idea of being a writer is to write so I never stop even as badly as I want to sometimes.