Thursday, November 13, 2014

Twenty Questions With Larry Matthews

Ha! I’ll bet you thought you’d be rid of me for a while, what with Bouchercon and all. No such luck. There are still readers of this blog who need servicing. (I hope using the plural was not overoptimistic, and that some of the less generate of you don’t take that “servicing” comment the wrong way.)

Fortunately for all of us, Larry Matthews has graciously consented to sit for Twenty Questions in my absence. Larry is a former broadcast journalist and recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, the DuPont-Columbia Citation, and many other national and regional awards for his investigative reporting. His memoir, I Used to Be In Radio, was praised as "a funny and moving page-turner" and "a must-read in journalism schools, especially for those who aspire to be investigative reporters."

Detonator is his latest thriller to feature investigative reporter Dave Haggard, following Butterfly Knife and Brass Knuckles. In Detonator, Haggard works to thwart a terrorist plan to blow up Nationals Park in Washington. New York Times best-selling author D.L. Wilson says of Detonator "... powerful characters, fascinating scenes, and great technical research and content." The Washington Independent Review of Books says "Detonator works...and more!"

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Detonator.
Larry Matthews: Detonator is the third Dave Haggard thriller. Dave is an investigative reporter for a public broadcasting outlet in Washington. In Detonator he investigates a plot to blow up Nationals Park during a sold out game. As usual, he barely escapes with his life.

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.)
LM: All of the Haggard thrillers start with a simple idea. Detonator is terrorism. The previous books worked around the same idea. Butterfly Knife was perversion of religion, Brass Knuckles was greed.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Detonator, start to finish?
LM:  I write in spurts. I get the idea and begin the book and write for maybe twenty thousand words and take a breather. Detonator took me about five months. When I’m writing I’m pretty fast, a habit, I assume, from over thirty years in daily journalism where there no time to stare at the ceiling waiting for lightning to strike.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
LM: Dave is a street reporter in Washington, as was I. He is a composite of people I knew and maybe even a bit of me. He sacrifices his personal life for his work, as did I and most of the journalists I knew. The books give me a chance to use my experience in the news business to offer the readers some insight into how it works. I also have several recurring characters who are Dave’s sources in law enforcement or in Congress.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Detonator set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
LM: I use Washington as a character. The city is known to everyone but not everyone knows the ins and outs of it. The time is the unspecified “now.”

OBAAT: How did Detonator come to be published?
LM:  I have published nine books with two different publishers. My current publisher, W&B Publishers, is a unit of A-Argus Better Books, which published three previous books. Like everyone else, I weigh the benefits and costs of becoming independent and self-publishing, which many authors are doing.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
LM: I read a lot of non-fiction, probably because of my news background. I am a Grisham fan. I know there are those who say his writing isn’t what it once was, but he’s a heck of a story teller. The same could be said of W.E.B. Griffin, who’s sometimes panned by other authors. Of course, John le Carre is a favorite because of the complexity of his stories.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
LM: Truth be told, I can’t remember their names. When I was a boy and a teenager I got into World War II spy and escape stories and consumed them by the dozen. They were the old twenty-five cent paperbacks and were written in spare style that left out all emotion and romance. Reviewers would no doubt pan them. I liked the straight-ahead writing and the absence of fluff. I think it influenced my writing today.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
LM: Well, yes, I do wear pants. My wife would complain if I didn’t. I am mostly a pantser but I do know where it’s going. I write the last scene first and spend the rest of my writing time getting there.

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?
LM: Like most of the writers I know who worked in daily journalism I’m not a big reviser. The daily news grind has no time for that and we become trained to crank it out the first time. I write a chapter or two, revisit it the next day and make revisions as needed, and move on. Once the book is finished I do it all again. I don’t re-draft the entire book or question whether one character has too much dialogue or another is out of position.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
LM: Write, write, write. The more you write, the better you get. Read Steven King’s book On Writing and take it to heart. He says there are no rules. He’s right. It’s all about the story. Find people who are good story tellers and hang out with them.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
LM: Reading, mostly. I also like to be outdoors, so I walk.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
LM: Well, gee, given that I’ve not made any serious money with my writing, I’ll have to say a good review. Detonator is getting some good reviews so I will be happy with that.

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?
LM: Given that I’m retired and don’t “work” the answer is no.

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.
LM: Oh boy! I’m neck deep in Option #2 and have been for several years, so that’s out. Number 1 is more interesting and challenging but deep down all authors would pick #3.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
LM: Beer.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?
LM: Baseball. Go Nats!

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
LM: Have I told you this interview comes with a free car?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?
LM:  No

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

LM: I’m working on the fourth Dave Haggard thriller. This one is called Nine Millimeter Afternoon. It’s about human trafficking.

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