I first encountered Jim Winter when I read Road Rules, a speedy trip from Cleveland to Savannah with a carload of dope the guys driving don’t know is there, though it seems everyone else in the world does. I moved to Northcoast Shakedown, featuring his recurring PI character Nick Kepler, and is as well done a look at insurance scams as I’ve read.
Jim was born in Cleveland and moved to Cincinnati to, as he puts it, “marry the love of his life;” seventeen years later he met her, and the rest is history. His newest is a Kepler novella, Gypsy’s Kiss.
One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Gypsy’s Kiss.
Jim Winter: Gypsy’s Kiss is a novella that brings Nick Kepler’s story to a close. It brings back Gypsy from the story “Roofies” and has her leaving the sex trade for good. Only someone wants to get even with her for some perceived or real slight.
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.)
JW: When I wrote “Roofies,” I noticed that Gypsy had developed feelings for Nick that he either didn’t notice or chose to ignore. I hit on the idea that Gypsy would express this by asking Nick to be her final client. I wrote a short story based on the idea, but didn’t like it, so I expanded it and decided this would also be the end of the series.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write Gypsy’s Kiss, start to finish?
JW: The current version, which is a 14,000-word novella, took about three weeks to draft. I did several revisions and had it professionally edited. The final edits took about three weeks as well.
OBAAT: Where did Kepler come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
JW: I came up with Kepler in the late 1990s. I had an earlier character by that name, but could never get it to work, so I developed my freelance insurance investigator instead. Like his creator, he doesn’t really like fads very much unless it’s something that makes his life better. Like he probably jumped on iPods before most people, but he didn’t like our national obsession with oversized gas-sucking cars early in the last decade. Unlike me, I think he’s horrible with women. Not to them. He loves women. But his decisions as to which ones to be with are a bit questionable.
OBAAT: In what time and place is Gypsy’s Kiss set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
JW: Since the original novels were written and set in early 2000s Cleveland, I set this one in the spring of 2005. That keeps the events of Bad Religion recent enough to have consequences, yet it also has Nick heading to New Orleans mere months before Hurricane Katrina.
OBAAT: How did Gypsy’s Kiss come to be published?
JW: Since it’s so short, I decided this would be my last original independent offering. I’ll still do short stories for now, but with a novel passing back and forth between me and an agent, I decided it was time to end the series.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
JW: It varies. I read a lot of history and biographies. For fiction, I divide my TBR stack between crime and science fiction. (Editor’s Note: Jim did an excellent series of reviews of presidential biographies on his blog, Edged in Blue. If you’re interested in presidential history, these are well worth going back for. I know I felt bad we hadn’t had more presidents when he finished the series.)
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
JW: Stephen King was a huge influence on me for the way he creates a sense of place. His Maine does not exist, and yet many people can tell you how to get to Castle Rock better than Google can tell you how to get around your hometown.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
JW: It depends. Gypsy’s Kiss is a short, short work, so outlining really doesn’t work. For longer work, I try to outline. There’s no way to keep track of where you’re going without it.
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?
JW: I draft, and I try to power through the first draft. If I go back after getting an idea, I lose momentum. Then I let a story sit in the drawer and go off and work on something else. There was a novel I finished in the spring of last year I haven’t looked at, although I try to get back to a first draft much faster.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
JW: As soon as you finish the first story, start the next. Always have something to work on.
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?
JW: I wish I could have written Mystic River. That was the novel that gave me the push to write the novel I’m working on with an agent now.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
JW: I’m finishing up the degree I should have had when I was 22, so right now, writing sort of is my break.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
JW: I am putting the final (for now) revisions together on Holland Bay for an agent I’ve been talking to. It’s sort of The Wire meets 87th Precinct.