Monday, February 25, 2013

Meet Jim “Evil J.” Winter, creator of Cleveland Detective Nick Kepler

Jim Winter’s newest e-book, The Compleat Kepler, is a compilation of short PI stories he began writing around ten years ago.  It’s nice to see an author make available early work. First, it shows a degree of confidence, as a lot of writers (musicians, actors, politicians) like to walk away from their early accomplishments. It’s also nice to have these stories as reference points to see how the author has evolved and grown—or not—over time. My appreciation of the three most important early influences on me grew greatly after I read their earlier work. (Raymond Chandler’s Collected Stories, Ed McBain’s Learning to Kill, and Elmore Leonard’s The Complete Western Stories.)

The Compleat Kepler is an entertaining anthology, with a hero who finds himself in situations many fictional PIs have confronted, who devises other than expected ways to resolve them. Kepler is not an antihero; neither is he Chandler’s knight errant. The combination is intriguing, and should be enough to whet your appetite for more of Jim’s work. Road Rules made my Best Reads list for 2011; Northcoast Shakedown has been on my TBR list for too long; I need to get to it, as I know I’ll like it. How do I know? I’ve liked everything else Winter has done.

It’s my pleasure to give Jim Winter a little time to introduce himself personally to OBAAT readers.

Dana asked me, “What got you into crime fiction?” I suppose that goes to the heart of The Compleat Kepler, since all the stories served to flesh out the character of Nick Kepler. The earliest published story is “A Walk in the Rain.” The most recent is from 2009, “Love Don’t Mean a Thing.” There is another, a novella, in draft form that I’ll release in a later collection.

The first three stories in this collection were my introduction to crime fiction. I wrote “Race Card” some time in 1999, “Valentine’s Day” about a year later, and “A Walk in the Rain” in mid-2001. As you read them, you can tell I was learning. I’d written before this. What I’d written was science fiction with a fairly large cast. Many who read what I’d written expected that I would go professionally into SF.

But my SF roots are in film: Star Trek and Star Wars, Terminator and Independence Day. I didn’t want to just parrot what I’d seen on television and in the movies. I especially was disappointed with the Star Wars prequels. At the same time, I had this character of Nick Kepler around for several years. Occasionally, I would dust off an old manuscript and play around with him. By the time I decided to get serious about writing, I’d already burned out on SF.

But crime was different. Crime put people at their worst in the most dire circumstances. You don’t need a monster from the depths of the seas of Zanzibar 7. There are plenty of human monsters walking the Earth in your neighborhood today.

Also, one of my earliest influences was Robert B. Parker. Parker gets a lot of criticism leveled at him for his work from the mid-1980’s on, but those first eight or nine novels were a primer on style and plotting. Parker had a way of using minimal language for description, the way a he could find a key word describing a character and hanging it on that person until he or she had a name. From there, I went to The Maltese Falcon, and developed a deeper appreciation of the PI novel.

Even though I cut my teeth on SF, I wondered if I could handle crime fiction. Was this something I wanted a career at? Then, at the tail end of the nineties, someone brought to my attention Blue Murder, an electronic zine and press so pulpy you got splinters just typing in the URL. Blue Murder closed its doors not long after I discovered it, but there was more. There was Thrilling Detective. And there was Plots With Guns. And there was Judas. I saw these as an opportunity. So I began writing. And submitting. When I wrote “A Walk in the Rain” one rainy April night and submitted it later that week, I had no idea Neil Smith would jump on it.

That was almost twelve years ago. It’s been a helluva ride.

(Editor’s note: I agree completely with his assessment of Robert B. Parker. His early books are also on the TBR list, as a combination of pleasure and education.)

For your copies of Jim work cited here, follow the links:

The Compleat Kepler

Road Rules

Northcoast Shakedown

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