Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Second Girl, by David Swinson

It doesn’t mean much to me when a writer signs a deal with a major publisher. The publisher typically has dreams of a best-seller and I don’t generally care for best sellers. I’m happy for the writer, as I’m in favor of anything that gets a writer paid and doesn’t involve potential prison time. I’m just not likely to read the book.

Hold that thought.

I first became aware of David Swinson at Bouchercon in Long Beach, where I saw him on a panel and made a note that this guy has more on the ball than most. I hadn’t got around to reading his first book, A Detailed Man, by the time I got to Raleigh last year, where I saw him on another panel just as educational and thought-provoking, but did score an advanced reader’s copy of The Second Girl. The big publishers—in this case Mulholland—don’t fool around. They held events at Bouchercon a full eight months before the book was to drop. They expected big things.

Much as it pains me to agree with a large publisher, they were right to think so. The Second Girl is a hell of a book.

Frank Marr is a former Washington DC cop with a problem. Several, actually, but the one that keeps him jumping in his new job as private investigator is his cocaine habit. PI work doesn’t pay enough to keep Frank in the quantity and quality of drugs to which he’d like to become accustomed so he rips off drug dealers to make up the difference. It’s on one of these covert raids he discovers a teen-aged girl chained in a bathroom. Marr’s a drug abuser and kind of an asshole, but he’s not a bad person. He rescues the girl while concocting a story about how he came across her that won’t incriminate him.

Bad luck for Frank: now he’s a hero. Another family with a missing daughter hears the story and begs him to help them. He doesn’t want to but can’t help himself and agrees. Actually, he can’t help himself from helping himself, as what he has to do to get the second girl back draws on all his expertise—legitimate and otherwise—and shows him in concrete ways where his life has gone off the rails.

Swinson has an economical style that tells Marr’s story without apology or self-justification. He’s the kind of anti-hero that could require a book of its own to do justice. A good guy with many bad habits and tendencies, he wavers and often does as much as his conscience demands, only to find his conscience has been only temporarily satisfied and wants more. The internal and external struggles compete without a hint of melodrama.

I’m also not much for awards discussions, but if The Second Girl doesn’t receive substantial notice at awards time next year, it’s prima facie evidence the various bodies are even more clueless than I suspected. This is a substantial and relevant book that is still entertaining, and David Swinson is a writer to whom we should all pay much attention in the coming years.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Twenty Questions With David Swinson

David Swinson did all the usual stuff before he became a cop: attended Cal State as a film major; booked and promoted punk rock and alternative music in Long Beach CA: started a Wednesday night evening of conversation and spoken word at Bogart’s with luminaries such as Hunter S. Thompson, Dr. Timothy Leary, John Waters and Jim Carroll; developed and co-produced the spoken-word compilation Sound Bites from the Counter Culture for Atlantic Records; and, with Timothy Leary and friend Bill Stankey, conceived the film Roadside Prophets.

Then he spent sixteen years as a DC cop where, after working his way up the ranks to Detective, he received numerous awards including the department’s prestigious Detective of the Year Award for 2003; Meritorious Service Medals for significant, outstanding and sustained achievements; Achievement Medals of Honor for a significant case investigation and several Department of Justice, United States Attorney’s Annual Law Enforcement Awards for significant case investigations.

And then he turned to writing, so fuck him. Leave some juice for the rest of us, okay?

I might have left it there had I not met him at Bouchercon and scored a copy of his new book, The Second Girl. In addition to being as unassuming a person as one is likely to meet, he’s written a book that was as good as anything I read last year, or so far in 2016. (I’ll have more on The Second Girl next time.)

As you’d expect, what he has to say is worth listening to, so here you go.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Second Girl.
David Swinson: It’s about, Frank Marr, an ex-cop who was forced into early retirement because of a drug addiction. The department had to keep the addiction quiet because defense attorneys would have a field day if they found out. Marr worked some big cases as a narcotics detective. Now he works as a PI, but that is still not enough to feed his habit so he targets the homes of drug dealers for their stash. During the course of one of these burglaries he runs into something he can’t walk away from, and that is what propels the story.

It is also a book that freed me as a writer because I would always get so bogged down with proper procedure as well as putting a bit too much of me into the characters. Marr is nothing like me, and even though he does have a bit of a code, he is not bound by having to follow certain procedure.

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.)
DS: Right after I retired in 2011, and while still trying to get A Detailed Man published. I had a basic Frank Marr character in my head, but he was an actual burglar, not an ex-cop. He stayed with me for a while, and the more he developed the more I thought it would be stronger if he was an actual retired cop who committed burglaries, but only burglaries that he could justify in his head as necessity (for his habit) and because they were bad people. The story developed after the character.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Second Girl, start to finish?
DS: I like to work things out in my head, and then on paper for a while. That took almost one year for The Second Girl. After that I wrote it fairly quick, about nine months.

OBAAT: Where did Frank Marr come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
DS: Like I said, Frank Marr came into my head several years ago, but undeveloped. I loved the idea of an unrepentant, non-complaining good bad man or bad good man. I am a man of procedure, and rules. Everything is either right or wrong for me. Marr is nothing like that. He allowed me to break free from all that, and run a bit wild.

OBAAT: You were a D.C. cop and worked in the part of town where much of the book takes place. How much of what you did and saw there is in the book?
DS: There are no actual cases that I worked that are in the book. The crimes that occur at certain locations are based on the times I worked: 90s through 2010. I did try to stay true to the neighborhoods as they are today. The crime is not as rampant in most of the neighborhoods anymore, but the drugs are still there. Much of what I experienced as a detective, through debriefing defendants, interviewing witnesses, and interrogating suspects is what brought this to life. It is an accumulation of years of that kind of stuff, not based on anyone in particular or like I said, any case or event.

OBAAT: Frank Marr is as clearly delineated an antihero as I can remember. His heart is in the right place despite his best efforts to deny it. His life is in an inherently unstable state that has to either get better or worse. Are we going to see more of him?
DS: I’m working my way through book two now. We’ll see how the first book is received. Hopefully well enough that there will be a third book. I’d like to see how far I can take him.

OBAAT: How did The Second Girl come to be published?
DS: Cool story, actually. I finished the book a couple of weeks before Bouchercon 2015, in Long Beach. My incredible agent, Jane Gelfman, sent it to Josh Kendall, the editorial director at Mulholland Books. When I got to Bouchercon, Jane called me and told me that Josh Kendall was also there, and to feel free to introduce yourself to him if you see him. He found me first. After a panel I participated in. He introduced himself, and I said, “I know who you are.” In a friendly way, though, but I’m sure it came across like, ‘I’ve been stalking you.’ Well, he wasn’t scared away, and we chatted for a bit. He said he’s only halfway through The Second Girl, but really liking it. Apparently, both Chris Holm and Matthew Quirk, who are also on Mulholland, were talking me up to him. Chris and Matthew had not even read the book yet, but they know my background and love for music so they thought Josh and I would get along. We got together for drinks later that night at an Irish pub, and talked for about three hours over good scotch. I didn’t even talk about my book. We talked about our daughters, relationships, but mostly music. He kept telling me that Mulholland was like a big family, and all I could think is “Man, I want to be a part of that family.” I may have even told him that. Actually, I think I did. A few days later, when I was back home, Jane called and told me the Josh made an offer. She knew it would be a great home for me as an author so they worked out the deal. When it was done, I had a nice phone conversation with Josh, and he admitted that he was worried after we met because he had not finished the book yet, and he might have to reject it if it doesn’t follow through. Fortunately, it did. I’ve accomplished a few things in my life, but nothing has ever worked out as naturally as this did.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
DS: I go through phases, but I love character driven fiction, like Tana French, and Marilynn Anderson, and enlightening non-fiction, like Scott Stossel’s, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. When it’s something I want to read more than once, then it is something meaningful. Those are the books that find a comfortable place on my bookshelf so I can pick them up again when I need inspiration or just want to smell the pages.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
DS: It wasn’t something I decided to do. It is something I always thought I was or rather, would be. I always loved to write. I wrote my first book when I was seventeen, and my first devastating rejection came a few months after. I continued, though, and always had hope that I would be a published writer one day.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
DS:  When you surprise yourself, but mostly when the book is done.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
DS: There are so many artists who have had a great influence on my life. I’ve always been a fan of Nick Cave, and also the movies he wrote screenplays for, and composed the music for – The Proposition and Lawless. As far as a book, I would have to say Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was my greatest influence. I also spent a few years in Stockholm, Sweden in my teens, and got into Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. They are the mother/father of all police procedure. What I like most about their books is not only that it encompasses a ten-year span in the life of one detective, but it also captures all that is going on politically and socially in Stockholm at the time. Stockholm is just as much a character as Beck. I can’t go without mentioning Dickens because I grew up reading him. His character are so real and wonderful, and a lot of what he wrote is based on his life experiences.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
DS: I never outline, but I take a lot of notes. The pages for the notes are probably longer than the book. Everything is mapped out in my head before I start, but as you well know, things always change when it takes on a life of its own. Pants are important. It keeps my ass from sticking to my leather chair.

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?
DS: I will sometimes get myself caught up with continuous editing, returning to the beginning every day. I have to force myself not to do that most of the time, but even then I go back over the last few pages I wrote, and hopefully move forward. It is a tougher process, but usually pays off because the first draft is cleaner.

OBAAT: You have a background in the music business. Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
DS: I never listen to music when I’m actually writing. I’ll usually listen to music at night when I’m thinking about the book or taking notes. I like to make playlists for the books. Music is important to me. Certain songs can really inspire me. I need a lot of inspiration because the process can be difficult for me. I have a couple of theme songs for The Second Girl; “To Lose Someone” by Taken by Trees, and “Fear is a Man’s Best Friend,” by John Cale.

OBAAT: You’ve had a career progression that sounds like a fictional character’s: concert promoter, cop, author. How’d that happen?
DS: Like I said, I’ve always considered myself a writer first. I just fell into other things along the way, mostly by accident. It’s as if one thing segued into another. A natural progression. Except for the decision to become a cop, and eventually a detective. That was a clear choice that I made after I gave all the other pursuits up.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
DS: Don’t quit. Also, once you realize how difficult it is you’ll cripple yourself so slap that thinking right out of your head.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
DS: I always come up with a character, and setting first. The character sets the tone.  I develop the story when I feel good about the character, but it rarely turns out the way it’s supposed. Usually, that’s good. Frank Marr propels the story in The Second Girl. Without him, the story means nothing.

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?
DS: Without a doubt it would be To Kill a Mockingbird. I first read that book in my teens, and have since read it more than a dozen times. Usually when I need to be inspired. To me, To Kill a Mockingbird is everything a book should be - literary, mystery, and suspense. It’s all there.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
DS: Hanging with my wife and daughter, and our dog, Buster. Being outside. Definitely a good night’s sleep. Oh, drinking wine and reading too.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
DS: I’m deep into the second Frank Marr book, Crime of Music. I really love it, and I usually don’t like anything I write. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

OBAAT: Assuming you like how The Second Girl came out, I’d say that’s good. I’ll have more to say about that next week.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Happy Anniversary to The Beloved Spouse

People sometimes ask what is my favorite age for The Sole Heir™. My answer is always the same: whatever age she is now. It’s been a treat to watch her grow and evolve. I miss the little girl all the time, but I always look forward to talking with the young woman she’s become, and I can’t wait to see what’s next with her.

Based on that it probably isn’t a great leap to deduce I’m not someone who dwells in the past. Hell, I barely dwell in the present. Any dwelling I do in either place stems in large part from an evening twelve years ago at Famous Dave’s, where I met the woman who was not yet even The Beloved Spousal Equivalent. Then she was just Corky.

Within a few months we’d gotten apartments in the same complex, hers fifty yards up the way from mine. (“The Annex.”) A couple of years later we moved into Castle Schadenfreude together. A few years after that we surprised everyone with a wedding right there in the
Castle. Okay, we didn’t surprise everyone; we knew. The officiant knew. No one else. My parents were visiting for Thanksgiving; The Sole Heir was off school. We connived to get them all to the house at the same time and Heather just sort of dropped in, dressed in medieval attire. We wrote or own vows, largely based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Have no doubts. We are married, in the full and legally binding sense.) For wedding guests we had heads on sticks: my brother’s family, their dog, and a couple of close friends.

(Some took the lack of an invitation personal and made their displeasure known.)

The past twelve years have been, without question, the happiest time of my life. I’ve grown up a lot and learned a lot. The most important thing I learned was a successful relationship is based less on two people who want to please each other than it is on two people who do please each other; it comes naturally. The Beloved Spouse and I spend too much time in relatively close proximity—she’s retired and I work from home—to worry about who might be stepping on whose toes. All we can really do is be ourselves and hope the other person is good with it. Looks forward to it, even. So far, so good.

We don’t have grandiose plans or memories. This year we’re looking forward to going to writers’ conferences in New Orleans and Columbia, Maryland. A car trip to see my brother’s family in Colorado via Yellowstone. No plane trips. No cruises. No expensive dinners. Time spent doing things we like to do, with each other, but also things we’d probably do if the other person weren’t there.

Our best memories are like that, too. Lying in bed trading lines from Blazing Saddles. Easing elements of Deadwood, The Big Lebowski, and Get Shorty into everyday conversations. Penguins hockey games. Working on books together. Her showing me the cards she’s working on while I mention some unusual or entertaining occurrence in either the Pirates game or one of my own cards and dice affairs. Laughing as we fall asleep and as soon as we wake up. Expending no more effort at it than in tying a shoe.

In retrospect, I’m glad I was pushing 50 when we met. I needed the time to grow into someone who can properly appreciate her.

Happy anniversary to the Beloved Spouse.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Twenty Questions With Jen Conley

Jen Conley’s Amazon bio says she “lives in New Jersey.” Weak gruel. Jen Conley is of New Jersey. She captures the essence of her natural setting as well as anyone writing today. Her new collection, Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens, gives everyone else a chance to figure out what those who have read her, or heard her read at any number of Noirs at the Bar, already knew: this is a girl who don’t pump gas.

Jen's short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crime Factory, Beat to a Pulp, Protectors, Pulp Modern, Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and many others. She has contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books and is one of editors of Shotgun Honey.

With all that going on she still found time to visit with OBAAT to talk about Cannibals. As with everything else she writes or says, it’s worth your time.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens

Jen Conley: It’s a collection of fifteen linked (loosely linked, actually) short crime stories that take place in Ocean County, New Jersey, the northern end of the Pine Barrens. It’s a large area of protected pine forest that encompasses several central and southern Jersey counties. It’s pretty desolate, for New Jersey anyway, and it makes for great crime stories.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
JC:  I’d been playing around with horror and literary for a few years until I wrote “Home Invasion,” the first story in the collection and originally published by Thuglit. It was a real turning point for me because I realized that crime was the better genre for me. I’m a pretty raw and gritty writer so it makes sense that I would feel at home in this neck of the woods. Soon I began setting most of my stories in Ocean County/The Pine Barrens with the distant goal of putting a collection together.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Cannibals, start to finish?
JC: A few years. I wanted to make sure I was happy with each and every story rather than push myself and write mediocre tales just to create a collection.

OBAAT: Among the reasons I write so few short stories is how hard it is to keep coming up with characters that can carry a story. You knock them out snowflakes: in plentiful supply, yet always different. How do you do it?
JC: I have no idea. I could always do it—I was making up horror stories as a kid—but it does take me time. I wish the snowflake analogy was true. Usually, in order for me to write a decent story there has to be something floating around my head that bothers me—something I read or an image I saw, an old memory that pops up in my brain. From there, if it’s worthy, if I keep thinking about it without forcing too much, I’ve got a story.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Cannibals set and why was this time and place chosen?
JC: It spans from the early 1960s to the present. I have a tiny universe in my head with all these characters and they’re all somewhat related to each other. Not so much by blood but by place. For example, Janine Finn briefly shows up my story “Pipe” but in my other story, “Finn’s Missing Sister,” she is the missing sister. As for the place, I grew up in the same area I’m writing about—Ocean County, New Jersey. I think I’m one of those people who has a strong tie to home, which is probably why I write about it.

OBAAT: How did Cannibals come to be published?
JC: I was at BoucherCon in North Carolina and I read at Eryk Pruitt’s Noir at the Bar in Raleigh. Eric Campbell heard me read and he approached me, introducing himself. But it wasn’t until the next day, when Ron Earl Phillips, the head editor of Shotgun Honey told me that Down and Out might be the way to go and he re-introduced me to Eric. When I returned to New Jersey, I emailed Eric about my story collection and he liked it and that was it. Working with Eric Campbell has been a breeze. A great, wonderful experience. Truly.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
JC: I tend to go for gritty fiction with a strong connection to place. I like stories about people who are working class and having a hard time going through life. I love Annie Proulx, Edward P. Jones, and Ron Rash. But I’m also partial to writers like Tessa Hadley, who writes about women living in England. (I’m an Anglophile.) I think I like certain books more than writers. For example, I loved Sue Miller’s Lost in the Forest and While I Was Gone but her other novels didn’t grab me. Overall, I do love mystery but not so much cozies. I suppose I’m one of those readers who is drawn to “women’s fiction” but the darker section of this area, like Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and The Winter Girl: A Novel by Matt Marinovich, which both came out pretty recently.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
JC:  I don’t remember not wanting to be a writer. I just didn’t tell many people because, honestly, I didn’t want to get laughed at. Still, I was writing stories when I was a kid, as a teenager, in college. I stopped in my twenties because I didn’t think I had what it would take to write. I didn’t think I was smart enough, clever enough. I hadn’t been a stand-out student. I wasn’t in the honors classes and so on, so I think when I was young, self-doubt plagued me for a few years. But the stories kept coming and after I settled down—got my teaching job, had my son and figured out motherhood—my desire to write came back like a bear. And although it took years of self-training by reading a heavy dose of literary fiction and participating in good NYC writing group run by writer Karen Heuler, I started to gain some confidence. By my late thirties, my stories were being published.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
JC: There are probably so many answers to that but I’ll give you one: from about 1993-2000 I worked at this really rough bar in Howell, NJ, on Route 9. (“Highway Nine” for Springsteen fans.) But this place was nothing out of a song. It was just…just rough and crappy, a broken down sports bar with an attached liquor store set in a brown strip mall. I remember my bar manager’s boyfriend came in one night and said to me, “I don’t know how you work here. I can’t even drink here.” I think that sums it up. I can go on for hours about the people I served but I’ll just say this: a few were good people but most were just absolutely either extremely creepy, downright frightening or just so terribly heartbreaking. I’m still mining ideas from my tour of duty there.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
JC:  I absolutely love when I complete a story and I can feel in my gut that it’s a contender.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
JC: I’m a big classic rock fan, music fan in general, so I think music has influenced tone and atmosphere for me. I also love film and great television, anything that tells a great story with style. I was obsessed with Mad Men for a while, especially the DVDs where Matthew Weiner explains the choices in scenes, etc. Every episode of Mad Men is a fantastic short story and I really listened to pretty much every single thing Matthew Weiner had to say. But mostly, I read and read and read over the years and I found that The New Yorker usually can be counted on for a good, high end story that can help with technique. Still, Thuglit has published some fantastic stories over the years. With the grittiness and strong endings—it really showed me where I could go. After reading several issues of Thuglit, I realized exactly what I wanted to do, what I could do, and what I needed to do.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
JC:  Never by the seat of my pants. I outline loosely. I wait until an idea grows in my head and when I have the arc—the beginning and ending especially—I scribble it down in this little black book I have. I need to have the arc before I write. I used to write by the seat of my pants but I found that I wasn’t finishing or if I did finish, it was forced and no good.

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?
JC: I blow through the first draft and then I go back and “decorate” as I call it. But, I need that arc in my head, solid or vague. I found that if I sort of know what I’m doing in my head, I can save myself a lot of time and headache later on. I learned from Matthew Weiner that it’s important to lie down, rest the head, and think. I follow this advice often. As you can tell, I’m one of Matthew Weiner’s superfans.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
JC: The best endings leave a sense of hope. Or, a life justified—good or bad. But in my work, I tend to write sad endings so when you do that, you have to justify it. There has to be an observation that something was learned—whether the character learned it or the reader learned it about the character.

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
JC: It depends what I’m writing. I mean, if I’ve been asked to write something for an anthology or a specific publication, then I’m going to try my hardest to impress the editor. They have a specific audience in mind so if I can impress the editor, I’ll impress the audience. When I’m on my own, though, with no publication in mind, I guess it goes back to what I’m writing. My short stories would be more for the crime fiction audience. The novel I’m working on is probably more towards women who like dark “women’s fiction.” I probably write the stories I would want to read, or maybe I write the characters I would want to read about.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
JC:  I love Annie Proulx’s advice—no one should write until they’re 50. Of course what she means is live your life, get experience, understand the cycle of life, how it all works. Take your time. Ambition is important but you still have to learn to write a good story. I’m ambitious but I’ve learned to accept that my path is the slow, long, steady one. And I might not get to where I want to be but not without trying. And trying. And trying. If I were a musician, I’d probably being playing the small bars clubs right now. But that’s okay because the small bars and clubs are cool.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
JC: I’m not sure. I think I usually get a spark for a story idea, but then I quickly find the character. Character development is a big component of my writing. I love backstory so I’m willing to spend a lot of time on my character, even if it never makes it to the pages. I did a little acting when I was in college and I learned from an excellent drama teacher that an actor should always have character backstory in their heads, even though the audience will never hear or see it. I’ve always gone with that idea. As for the rest, eventually the setting develops with the story, narrative pops up—first or third person—and tone sneaks in after that. But truthfully, this is me analyzing myself. It’s more like a swirl of ideas and me moving them into place. My brain is a circus.

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?

JC: Wow. That’s tough. If I’m being serious and writerly, I’d say The Road or Sophie’s Choice because both books hit me hard—both deal with depravity and humanity. But honestly, I wish I wrote High Fidelity. It’s just such a crackup of a novel, especially for me. Like Rob, I used to be a music snob with relationship problems that were on a consecutive loop. I’m good now, involved with a terrific, sweet, normal dude, but I was a disaster in the old days. High Fidelity is so close to my psyche, if I were a guy, I’d be Rob.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
JC:  I like going to NYC with my son. He loves the city, doesn’t complain if we walk too much, and enjoys exploring new streets, etc. It’s very rare to go to the city with someone who loves meandering around like I do. I also like hanging out with my fiancĂ©. And I like to garden, even if half of my plants die.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
JC: A very dark women’s thriller novel. A little bit of horror thrown in but I’ll see if I’m going to keep that. Bad man stuff. I said to one of my oldest friends that I was writing a novel and I could use a reader. She asked me what it was about and I said, “It’s dark, about a women who meets up with an old classmate, gets involved with him, he’s good-looking but he’s not who she thinks he is, he’s bad—”

She cut me off and said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll read that.”

So here’s hoping I can pull this off.