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 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 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...

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