Thursday, October 2, 2014

Best Reads, August and September

September hit the ground running with some personal business that could not wait, so here are my best reads for both August and September. (Because I know, deep down, you were disappointed when I skipped the August recounting.)

Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell. As good as I’d hoped. Woodrell has the gift of underplaying everything in such a manner it increases the effect. His writing has a backwoods poetry that distills the personalities of the characters and defines the good and bad of the clannishness found in this part of the Ozarks. (“working in the hot fields from can to can’t;” “nobody thought he’d live to see noon until he did.” Both of those are on the same page.) Writes female characters as well or better than any male writer I’ve read, and better than a lot of women. The ending is perfect, and leaves an opening for what could be a wonderful sequel, should Woodrell feel so inclined. The kind of book I wished was longer. Not because it seemed to be in any way incomplete, but because I didn’t want to stop reading.

Difficult Men, Brett Martin. This one got its own review several weeks ago. It’s worth a second mention.

The Way of the Warrior 1, Bernard Schaffer. A brief, quasi-memoir from a retired Philadelphia area cop that is not what one might expect. Schaffer is not an advocate of the increasing police “us versus them” mindset, and makes some compelling arguments for how policing and community relations can be improved. A quick and worthy read.

The Right Madness, James Crumley. I almost took this off the list because I read it a month ago and didn’t remember the story. I read a review and remembered what it was that moved me to put it on the list in the first place. Crumley’s books aren’t really about the plot, as he tends to get carried away and lets things circle back onto each other until the reader is left scratching his head. Doesn’t matter. Crumley’s plots are primarily scaffolds on which to hang the characters, dialog, and writing, all three of which are in fine fettle here.

Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. Chandler’s masterpiece, at least until I re-read The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye. My favorite of the three is almost always the one freshest in my mind.


Crime Always Pays, Declan Burke. A more detailed review is coming. For now, imagine Elmore Leonard telling a story devised by Donald Westlake, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much fun this is. Burke has as much or more range as anyone currently writing in the genre.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Creatures, Crime, and Creativity

The Second (hopefully annual) Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference will take place October 10 – 12 at the Hunt Valley Inn, north of Baltimore.

Unlike many conferences, C3 is not limited to a single genre. Readers and writers of mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal will all find something to interest them. Meals are included as part of the conference activities, allowing readers to sit among the authors and ask whatever they want in a casual setting, as well as allowing authors to chat with their peers in different genres.

Among those featured to appear are:

Best-selling romantic suspense, paranormal, and dark fantasy writer Rebecca York.



NY Times bestselling thriller author and screenwriter John Gilstrap.





Shamus, Nero, and Lefty award winning mystery writer Brad Parks.




NYT Best-Selling urban fantasy and contemporary erotic romance writer C.J. Ellisson.




I wasn’t able to go last year, as C3 and Bouchercon ran on consecutive weeks and my work schedule would not permit it. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since, as I’m familiar with primary organizer Austin Camacho’s organizational and entrepreneurial skills and like the idea of getting in more or less on the ground floor of something I think will be a staple of the conference season for years to come.


For more information, go to the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity web site.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Twenty Questions With Rick Ollerman

Rick Ollerman was born in Minneapolis but moved to more humid pastures in Florida when he got out of school. He made his first dollar from writing when he sent a question into a crossword magazine as a very young boy. Later he went on to hold world records for various large skydives, has appeared in a photo spread in Life magazine, another in The National Enquirer, can be seen on an inspirational poster shown during the opening credits of a popular TV show, and has been interviewed on CNN. He was also an extra in the film Purple Rain where he had a full screen shot a little more than nine minutes in. His writing has appeared in technical and sporting magazines and he has edited, proofread, and written numerous introductions for many books. He's never found a crossword magazine that pays more than that first dollar and in the meantime lives in northern New Hampshire with his wife, two children and two Golden Retrievers.
 
Rick was also the editor at Stark House when Grind Joint was published, providing good advice and patience with a newbie above and beyond what anyone could expect. Not too many editors would pack their families in the van and drive from New Hampshire to Pittsburgh to be there when an author broke his launch cherry, as Rick did for me, and for that I will always be grateful.

He has a twofer coming out from Stark House: Turnabout and Shallow Secrets, and agreed to sit for Twenty Questions. (I thought about making him answer Forty Questions, but he’s a friend.)

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Turnabout and Shallow Secrets.
Rick Ollerman:  Turnabout is a revised incarnation of the first novel I ever wrote, some years ago. I wanted to create a book that could only take place in Florida, where the Everglades played a central role, and where structurally the book leads to moving not just from scene to scene, but location to location. I think the conclusion is one of those serendipitous things where not only is it perfectly logical but also completely unexpected–without cheating. Shallow Secrets was the second book I wrote and it was done in large part much differently than Turnabout. I wanted to write in a different style that addressed any of the issues I myself had with the first book.

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.)
RO: I actually sort of like the “Where do you get your ideas?” question because I think I’ve been coming up with an answer. A writer observes everything, and then, being creative, they ask themselves, “What if?” For instance, in my third book (which comes out next year), I had read FBI documentation that stalking is the only real predictor we have of murder. That’s the observation. The “what if” is, what if you’re a person qualified to recognize the signs, and the target is someone you care about? What do you do? (More “what if.”) If you go to the cops, you make yourself known to them and it likely escalates the problem. If something happens to the stalker, the victim’s co-workers already know something strange is up. In other words, once you raise that flag trying to protect your loved one, there’s no hiding. But you can’t take it down again, either. The rest grows deeper from there.

Turnabout’s “what if” had to do with the early days of the Internet, and the question is, how do you track crooked money when the transactions occur over the Internet? Turn the computer off and the evidence is gone. Today, of course, we have tools that let us do this much better, but back then….

Shallow Secrets was a cop, implicated by a killer who he had let crash in his house. He hadn’t known he was a killer at the time, and when evidence is found in his home later, he’s stigmatized by the wrong color brush. What can he do to redeem himself in light of the fact that not all the murders had been solved? Nothing. He walks away. So years later, when a killing takes place up north, he gets pulled into it by the accused by way of a female reporter. The question is if these later crimes can exonerate him from the earlier ones.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Turnabout and Shallow Secrets, start to finish?
RO: Turnabout took about ten months, and then later the first third was rewritten. Shallow Secrets was about the same, excluding the computer problem that ate the ending and required the last half to be rewritten. Gee, that was fun.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
RO: When I first wrote Turnabout, there was interest from several publishers. One said it was publishable but she didn’t care for the main character. This was back in the day when every protagonist had to be an alcoholic Vietnam vet who had inadvertently run over a baby carriage in the line of duty. What I wanted to do, which I think works better now, is to take an ordinary guy, throw extraordinary circumstances at him, and at the end let him go back to his normal life. Yes, this violates the rule that the main character must be changed by his experiences, but this seemed more natural to me at the time. From a publishing perspective, it was probably a mistake, though a publisher did ask for the manuscript to be FedExed to their office. And then they lost it. And I moved on.

Shallow Secrets was written in large part as an answer to things I thought I could have done better in Turnabout. The style and pacing are faster, the main character gets to suffer some torment, but the real thing is that it’s not a rehash of the first book. No matter what, I didn’t want to write the same book twice.

To me, the only question I ask of a reader is simply this: Would you read another book by this same author? It’s my job to make that answer a “yes,” preferably with an exclamation point. This is why we’re putting these two separate books together in one volume. If you answer “yes” to my question, there’s another book right there. A reader won’t have to wait until next year for another book, you know, by that writer they’ve forgotten by now.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Turnabout and Shallow Secrets set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
RO: Both books are set in Florida. Turnabout is my “Florida book:” it can only take place in Florida. It’s been said that Southern California was like another character for Ross Macdonald and that was my goal. Shallow Secrets is also set in Florida, but in the northern part, where there are bubbas and crackers and, of course, the undercurrent of potential violence often present in some backwoods communities. Both books take place in the past, since they were written some years back, and in the case of Turnabout, the Internet was a baby technology. In Shallow Secrets, a key suspenseful scene would have had to be rewritten to be something else if cell phones had been available.

OBAAT: How did Turnabout and Shallow Secrets come to be published?
RO: Like I said earlier, Turnabout had some positive movement but I let it go. I thought rather than push a book that had already been written, the key would be to just write another book. Then another. Then another. Eventually, persistence, experience and luck should come together with whatever amount of talent I can throw in and good things would happen. But then I got sick, starting with a botched procedure on my back that not only had me bedridden for eight months, but has left me with some chronic conditions that I may be fighting the rest of my life. In any case, after reading a number of manuscripts for Stark House Press and not finding a lot there that was ready to be seriously considered, I sent the publisher Turnabout and he said he wanted to publish it. So there. I asked a bookseller who recently read Turnabout if he’d “read another book by that author.” He said yes (and he’d already started the second book). But I told him that’s good, because that first book will be the worst one I ever write. The books should, in theory, continue to improve with each one. How’s that for a plan?

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
RO: It sounds like a cliché, but I read absolutely everything. I am a happy subscriber to the Library of America but I still buy graphic novel comic collections from the Silver Age, from when I was a kid. I read a lot of Irish crime fiction and I think Declan Hughes is the clearest heir to Raymond Chandler that I can think of. James Lee Burke is the undisputed master of style and when his books come out each July I’m first in line. I like spy fiction, paperback original authors like Peter Rabe (The Box is brilliant), but I write a lot of introductions for books and that requires a lot of reading by and about those authors. That’s very time consuming. Other than the Steig Larssson trilogy, the whole Scandinavian wave has managed to thus far pass me by.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
RO: Randy Wayne White’s first two books were brilliant, evocative portraits of life in southern Florida. This was before he started writing bestsellers. I find many authors write a couple of tremendous books and then fall into the “book a year” trap and seem to maybe not try to keep the magic going. I love Charles Dickens and Harlan Ellison (especially his essays), because they have voices that seem to be cabled directly into my brain. Films are an inspiration, too, though mostly classic ones. How much fun is it to have Hitchcock rip out your heart and shred it in Vertigo and watch it over and over again, seeing how he does it. I want the reader to feel something on an emotional level, and that’s what these guys do. Most of my violence takes place off screen, so to speak. Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon was big for me, too. (He ate the painting? He ate the painting?) And Lawrence Block’s earlier, pre-T.J. Matthew Scudder novels. And Westlake’s Parker books, and and and….

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
RO: I wrote the bulk of these books when I lived in Florida so I’m not really sure I knew where my pants were. As far as outlining goes, I think it would be a terrific help in the writing process, save a lot of time in working out the puzzles of the plot, and helping to set up the best possible ending. That being said, I can’t do it at all. If I outline it’s as if I’d already written the book and the energy of the story disappears.

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?
RO: So yes, I edit as I go. I can’t do the “just get it on paper, you can fix it later” thing. You end up writing sub-standard stuff, and then you end up building on that sub-standard stuff; eventually you realize your whole manuscript is sub-standard stuff. And I don’t want to write a lousy book, but, um, I just did. Much easier to edit as you go, then go back and reread and edit again for voice, tightening up, fixing the things you thought you could fool the reader with and finally admitting to yourself that leaving those would be a bad thing to do.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
RO: Observe everything. Ask “what if” questions. This can get you a plot. For your characters, when you have the premise, you can ask yourself, “Now who is the most interesting kind of person I can put in this situation? And what will make it hard/difficult/seemingly impossible for him to get through it?”

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
RO: I’d have to ask my wife.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
RO: In this business, money is a happy accident. You write for yourself, you write for others to appreciate, you don’t write for the measly hourly wage your advance works out to be. A good review tells you you made a connection, and that’s the best you can hope for. You can control the quality of your work, you can’t control who will give you a big check for it.

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?
RO: I think it would depend on how much writing I’d already turned out. I’m not ready to be done yet, but when my teeth and hair fall out, I may have a different answer.

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.
RO: As a general rule, I think indie publishing works best for a writer like Barry Eisler, who turned down a big pile of money to do his books himself. He already has his audience and now he can keep all of his profits. An unknown may break out here and there, but there are so many indie books coming out, just being lost in the sheer volume would be a tough row to hoe. I like the small press option. I really think that there are huge opportunities for small presses that turn out the books their target readers like. In other words, no one buys a book from Random House because it’s from Random House, but people can and do buy books from their favorite small presses based on that fact alone. Being published by the Big Five could be nice, but as one now prominent author once told me, he was signed with six other guys, none of them got any publicity, and the publisher was just seeing if anyone would stick. They don’t develop new voices like they used to, and if your sales fall, you can become a hot potato in a hurry. So Option Two is the best place to start, I think, but everyone dreams of bestsellerdom at some point. I think the key is not to chase it.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
RO: Sparkling water or ginger ale so it looks like I drink when I really don’t.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?
RO: Give me a 6-4-3 double play any day. Football can be fun, but it seems tailor-made for body painting fanatics.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
RO: Oh my God, did that really happen?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?
RO: No, you fool, but I made you think so when I wrote it.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

RO: An introduction for some books by Ed Gorman, followed by one for W. R. Burnett, then one for Frank Kane. After that, it’s back to the first draft of the next book, where I’m going to add another character and turn a tragic relationship into a no-win love triangle. That should make things a bit more nasty and allow me to do a new and better ending.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Ten Books That Stuck With Me - Honorable Mention

Today I follow up with the ten books that stuck with me, but not quite as much as in the first list.

The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe. Non-fiction not only can be uplifting and fun, it should be, when possible. Astronauts have been built into American demigods, and this book shows how and why without breaking down the men who earned every accolade that came their way, though maybe not in the manner in which they were delivered.

Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut. Only a genius could tell such a horrific story in such a superficially lighthearted manner. The downside is, some people won’t get it. So it goes.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller. The greatest satire since Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

Double Deuce, Robert B. Parker. Not the best of the Spensers, but the one where I first fully understood what Parker was doing with the Spenser-Hawk bond.

Nobody’s Fool, Richard Russo. Empire Falls is a better book, but this was my first exposure to Russo and how well he captures the kind of town I grew up in.

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. Nothing fancy. Tell the story and get out. This book should be taught in MFA courses.

The Book of Ralph, John McNally. Showed me there are many ways to hold together a novel-length book.

A Widow for One Year, John Irving. I read it at a good time to resonate with me, and it has the most satisfying ending I’ve ever read. No man writes female characters better.

Hombre, Elmore Leonard. Pretty close to a perfect novel. No need to gild the lily when you have great characters and a great story. Just tell it.

The Onion Field, Joseph Wambaugh. Apart from being a beautifully written and researched ode to two wronged men, it should be mandatory reading for some who wonder how police practices evolve.


I’m supposed to tag ten people now, but I’m so late to the party, just about anyone I might tag has already done this. So, if you’re so inclined, feel free to post such a list to your blog or Facebook, and let us know in the comments.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Ten Books That Stuck With Me

A meme has been going around for a month or so, writers challenging other writers to name the ten books that have stuck with them over the years. I was tagged at least twice (by Debbie Meighan and Minerva Koenig and possibly someone else, but I don’t remember who, or even if, for sure), but some urgent family business had me otherwise occupied and I’m only now getting time.

I’m happy with this list of ten, but, the more I thought about it, the more books seemed worth of mention, so, on Monday, I’ll add a post with the ten Honorable Mentions. So, to Debbie and Minerva, (and whoever you are, I do feel badly about forgetting), here are the ten books that have stuck with me over the years.

The Call of the Wild, Jack London. I lost track of how many times I read this book. I can still remember some scenes and lines after at least 45 years. (“Dat Spitz, him fight lak hell.” “Dat Buck, him fight lak two hells.”) The first book I remember taking me someplace other than where I sat to read it, every time.

The Kid from Tomkinsville, John R. Tunis. The first of Tunis’s Brooklyn Dodgers trilogy, with World Series and Keystone Kids. They were great and fun reads for a baseball crazy kid, read until they fell apart. Now I can look back and see how Tunis was ahead of his time for kids-oriented sports books. The star pitcher, Razzle Nugent, was an alcoholic who goes off the reservation when drunk. The slugger, Karl Case, is an asshole, who would almost certainly be a racist if there were any blacks in 1930s baseball. The team’s manager in Keystone Kids dies while drunk driving accident. In World Series, Roy Tucker, the Kid in the title, is a bystander when Case wins the series. There’s a lot more going on here than giving kids their dose of idol worship.

The Hardy Boys, Franklin W. Dixon. Can’t pick just one after all these years. I do remember going to social events with my parents and finding a stairwell at someone’s house where I could read whichever adventure I was working on. Where I cut my teeth on mysteries.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle. My first “adult” novel.

The Longest Day, Cornelius Ryan. World War II was of such scope, most histories can only hope to get to the division level. Ryan looked at the war through the other end of the telescope, from the perspectives of the individuals caught up in things beyond their control. The Last Battle and A Bridge Too Far are at least as good, but I read The Longest Day first, and its concentration on a single day (June 6, 1944) adds to its intensity. A Bridge Too Far may be the single greatest piece of non-fiction I’ve ever read.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer. The other candidate for the greatest piece of non-fiction in my experience. An object lesson for anyone who doesn’t believe that all evil needs to be victorious is the silence of good people.

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler. The book that first got me interested enough in crime fiction to consider writing it.

Big Bad City, Ed McBain. Not the first of the 87th Precinct novels I read, and not the best. Big Bad City was when I first caught on to what McBain was doing, telling stories that went beyond the crime or crimes to be solved, writing novels about people who happened to be cops, as he would put it.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins. The greatest crime fiction novel ever written.

American Tabloid, James Ellroy. I read Ellroy’s Underworld U.S.A. trilogy out of order, finishing with Tabloid, which came first. Now I’m glad I did. It’s a primer on what his style would become, for better or for worse, and a masterpiece in weaving fact and fiction so even a reader relatively well acquainted with the period has trouble distinguishing one from the other at times.

On Monday I’ll have the honorable mentions.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Twenty Questions With Ben Solomon

Ben Solomon is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society who lives and writes in Chicago, a prime location for crime fiction inspiration. His fiction and film criticism have appeared in a number of small, literary publications as well as online. His hard-boiled hero appears in the 2013 anthology, The Shamus Sampler II, with another yarn scheduled for Drag Noir, upcoming from Fox Spirit Books. Solomon has also penned regular columns and articles for Hollywood Online, The Motley Fool, and Chicago Parent magazine.

He drafted the first story for The Hard-Boiled Detective in August, 2012, which led to a second, and a third, until pretty soon he had something that had just about died out: a short story series. This led to the idea of a subscription website, and thehardboileddetective.com officially launched in February 2013. The first collection of stories from his throwback series, The Hard-Boiled Detective 1: First Series Collection was released on August 28 of this year.

Ben took time from his schedule to submit to the usual twenty questions, which are quite informative for those who may not yet know much about him.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Hard-Boiled Detective 1: First Series Collection.
Ben Solomon: You go for Black Mask? Hammett? Chandler? You might get a bang out of the original elevan stories from my ongoing, throwback crime series. My nameless detective faces murderers, blackmailers, adulterers and racketeers—and that's only the first yarn in this short story collection. You get the idea.

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.)
BS: I've got a soft spot for tough guys, especially the 1930s–1940s, Warner Brothers variety. I watched those flicks growing up, and they quickly replaced fairy tales and other bedtime stories. After reading Hammett and Chandler, it was Spillane's writing that gave me the idea and the kick in the pants—could I capture the spirit of those films and translate them into a short story? "The Hard-Boiled Detective" became my attempt to answer that question.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Hard-Boiled Detective 1: First Series Collection, start to finish?
BS: There's a bit of a convoluted route to that one.

I penned the first story in August of 2012, and I had such a gas writing it that I went for another. The second one proved such a blast setting down that I dove right into a third. With three in the bag, it struck me I had a going concern. Sure. So I launched the thehardboileddetective.com in February 2013, a subscription series offering three stories every month. The series is now in its 20th month. I've got 60 yarns topping 300,000 words. It figured it was about time to come out with the first book. Going by the calendar, you could say it took 12 months for the 11 stories in this collection.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
BS: None. Purposely so. The PI hero doesn't even have a name, for chrissake.

OBAAT: In what time and place is THBD1 set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
BS: The setting's a bygone era, a vanished time and place, and ranges anywhere from 1929–1959. It's crucial for establishing the patter and attitudes, the roles of men and women, the relationships between good and evil. There's more than enough evil to go around in this series, but there's a certain simplicity and innocence to it. Ain't that swell?

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
BS: As of late I've been bogged down in PI stories, and Chandler's tops for my money. I dig Stout plenty, too. My earlier influences run from Poe to Thomas Mann to Nabokov.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
BS: I wish I kept up more, but I'm hopelessly stuck in another day. I always go back to Chandler, Hammett, S.S. Van Dine, Stout and Spillane. And make that earlier Spillane, please.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
BS: I don't get it, but I write better when I'm wearing pants. Outlines are a tremendous help, and I hardly ever use them.

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?
BS: I'd call it something in between. Mostly writing first person narrative, I always need to find that voice. I could probably wing a hard-boiled adventure about dish soap once I discover the narrator's attitude and perspective.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
BS: Write your ass off and make it your own. I'm repeating myself here, but I believe it.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
BS: Sitting with my girlfriend at one elbow, a double espresso at the other, and watching the world go by.

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

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?
BS: No. That would be as good as death. I'm not ready to cash it in yet.

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.
BS: I'll stick with what's behind door number one. I've always been an on-my-own-terms kind of guy and I'm not about to change.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
BS: Beer. Maybe a nice French amber.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?
BS: Far and away baseball.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
BS: What kind of dog was Asta in Hammett's original book, The Thin Man?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?
BS: A miniature schnauzer.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

BS: Right now? More of the same, baby. I've got the next three yarns due and I'm already one week behind. I guess that means I'm right on schedule...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Twenty Questions With Austin Camacho

Austin Camacho gets around, to put it mildly. He’s the author of five novels in the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series (including The Troubleshooter, Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette) and four in the Stark and O’Brien adventure series (The Payback Assignment, The Orion Assignment, The Piranha Assignment, and this year’s The Ice Woman Assignment. His short stories have been featured in four anthologies from Wolfmont Press, including Dying in a Winter Wonderland – an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008 - and he is featured in the Edgar-nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. He is also a media specialist for the Department of Defense. America's military people know him because for more than a decade his radio and television news reports were transmitted to them daily on the American Forces Network.

In his copious free time he is the Editorial Director of Intrigue Publishing, and is among the principal organizers of the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity Conference, to be held October 10 – 12 in Hunt Valley MD.

Austin’s newest book is Beyond Blue, which features a team of unique and intriguing detectives whose only purpose is to help police officers in trouble. He (somehow) found time to not only answer Twenty Questions, but answer them well. Enjoy.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Beyond Blue.
Austin Camacho: Beyond Blue is about a privately funded detective agency whose only purpose is to help police officers who are in trouble.  The novel follows four of the agency’s cases, which overlap and intersect: An undercover officer is in danger of really being drawn into a life of crime, a crooked lawyer is destroying police careers by making arresting officers appear to have violated criminals’ rights, a cop’s wife accuses him of abusing their daughter, and a retired police detective in charge of airport security could lose his job because of drugs being smuggled in through JFK International.

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.)
AC: The idea actually came from one of my writing heroes, Warren Murphy (creator of The Destroyer series in the 1970s). He asked me to co-write the novel with him, planning a series, but his failing health prevented him from continuing.  Ultimately he asked me to write the novel solo, although I did have input from him and am happy to share the credit.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Beyond Blue, start to finish?
AC: Writing the draft, and three strong re-writes required a little over a year.  You can add a couple months for the work with the editor and proofreader.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
AC: Without sharing any spoilers, a wealthy secret benefactor asked Paul Gorman to establish the Beyond Blue agency.  After a brilliant Army career in the Military Police, Gorman retired and created a second brilliant career in civilian law enforcement. He ran three major metropolitan police forces and was consulted by just about every police chief or commissioner in the country thanks to his gift for observation and deduction.  He recruited a quirky collection of investigators to his team, including an ex-Marine Corps South Pacific Islander who could have been a sumo wrestler; a smart-mouthed, Black/Puerto Rican beauty who left the FBI with a bullet lodged near her spine, a lovely Eurasian charmer who believes she is James Bond’s daughter, and two ex-New York City police detectives: a sophisticated black man and his country-music-loving white partner.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Beyond Blue set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
AC: Beyond Blue takes place today in New York City.  It’s a wonderful chance to explore the neighborhoods and culture of my home town.  The NYPD is wonderfully diverse, allowing my detective team to help a wide variety of law enforcement officers.

OBAAT: How did Beyond Blue come to be published?
AC: The manuscript sat on the shelf for a couple years because I so wanted Mr. Murphy’s total involvement.  Ultimately he asked me to proceed so we placed the novel on Intrigue Publishing’s schedule. It was just too good an idea not to get out there.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
AC: I love mysteries (except the really cozy stuff) and thrillers. My favorite authors focus on great prose as much as, or maybe more than, great stories.  There are a lot of authors whose work I love. My current favorites would be Dennis Lehane, and Jeffrey Deaver for mystery, and John Gilstrap and Jon Land for thrillers

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
AC: I guess I’m most influenced by the classics.  In my humble opinion the perfect mystery would be written in Raymond Chandler’s prose, with a Ross MacDonald plot and Elmore Leonard characters.  I can only hope readers see those influences in my work.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
AC: I wear them, but don’t fly by them.  I am a detailed and dedicated outliner.  I admire those who can simply sit down and write and actually get somewhere.  For me to create anything worth reading I have to know the order of the important events from beginning to end.

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?
AC: Once my outline is complete I write a draft from start to finish. I never look back or edit on the go.  I simply write one scene, and then move to the next. When I reach the end I check the word count. If the manuscript is way long or short I cut or add new scenes. Then I rest the manuscript for a day or two.  When I go back I rewrite, again from the beginning straight thru to the end.  Depending on the book I may repeat this process 3 or 4 times.  On the last pass I try to challenge every verb (is there a better one for that sentence?) eliminate as many adverbs as possible and generally tighten the prose.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
AC:  Only one?  Okay, “write every day.” But if I got to offer a second bit of advice it would be to read widely, and learn to read like a writer.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
AC: I love to shoot. Whether poking holes in paper or making bottles and milk jugs explode, putting steel on target is a big kick.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
AC:  The money may be the steak and potatoes, but the good reviews are the dessert. The real reward for my work is not that someone bought my book, but that someone loved my book.

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?
AC: I don’t think I could successfully make that deal even if I wanted to. Never write again? I don’t think I could do that, and even if I did, that wouldn’t be living.

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.
AC: In a perfect universe I would choose Option Three. Not so much for the advance, but mostly because I have always wanted to at least be in the running for an Edgar award. Of course, this isn’t a perfect world and you can’t choose a Big Six publisher; they have to choose you.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
AC: Mixed. Gin and tonic is my go-to drink, but Malibu rum with pineapple juice is the summer fave.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?
AC: Baseball is a game.  Football is a sport.  And the Cowboys are the family team.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
AC: Who should be reading your books?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?
AC: If you love the Spencer novels, or enjoy books about Alex Cross you’ll want to read my Hannibal Jones novels.  If you follow the adventures of Dirk Pitt or Jack Reacher, you will really love the stories starring Morgan Stark & Felicity O’Brien.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

AC: I’ve been asked to supply a short story for an anthology called “Insidious Assassins.” But when that’s completed I’m back to plotting the second Beyond Blue novel.