Thursday, May 26, 2022

Colin Conway, the Brain Behind The 509

 Colin Conway is a force of nature, though you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Author, editor, publisher, not to mention a list of side hustles I can’t kee straight. Writes not only police procedurals and dark crime stories, but his own unique brand of cozies. Top that off with his easy-going personality and you’ve got someone you’d do well to seek out at a conference. I’m lucky to be able to call him friend.


Colin’s newest effort is an anthology titled Back Road Bobby and His Friends, the tired of a series of anthologies set in Colin’s 509 uniuverse. I could explain to you what the 509 is, but we’d all rather hear it from Colin, so…


One Bite at a Time: Before we get into talking about the book itself, it’s billed as “509 Crime

Anthology.” What’s the deal with the 509?


Colin Conway: Hi, Dana! Thank you for having me on OBAAT.

The 509 area code covers two-thirds of Washington State, essentially everything east of the Cascade Mountains. Of the twenty-one counties served, Spokane County is the largest with a population just over 500,000.

On the west side of the mountain range, there are five area codes for cities like Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. That region gets hyped due to its professional sports, Starbucks, and Microsoft but we’ve got four seasons and a better quality of life.

My flagship series is the 509 Crime Stories. Most novels occur in the Spokane Police Department, but I’ve also featured the Spokane County and Whitman County Sheriff’s Offices.


OBAAT: Back Road Bobby and His Friends is the third 509 anthology, following The Eviction of Hope, (in which I was delighted to participate), and A Bag of Dick’s. Catch us up on the premises and themes of them all. Are they related other than by the 509 universe?


CC: Each anthology had a central premise to which the authors were required to adhere.

In The Eviction of Hope, the residents of a low-income apartment were being evicted to make way for a condominium redevelopment. The contributing authors wrote stories from different residents’ perspectives—each of whom waited until the last day(s) to leave the building. The collection turned out fantastic.

In A Bag of Dick’s, a detective from my flagship series gave a drug addict an opportunity to wipe his slate clean. Unfortunately, the addict couldn’t keep a secret and told everyone he knew about the break. The anthology was based upon the childhood game of telephone—where one person tells another something, and the phrase gets passed around a room until the original intent is lost. A Bag of Dick’s resulted in a wild bunch of stories.  

Back Road Bobby and His Friends centered around a legendary driver on his deathbed. The stories included feature tales of some who want to pay their respects to the man while others seek a taste of revenge before he dies.

Initially, the only connection I planned with the anthologies was setting them in my 509 universe. However, some authors used a few of my reoccurring characters in The Eviction of Hope, so it tightened the link. In both the second and third anthologies, I used (with permission) a couple of characters created by Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts, the Peanut Butter & Jelly of Crime Fiction. That added another layer of depth to the series.

With A Bag of Dick’s, I added a prologue to set the anthology in motion. It worked so well that I did it again with Back Road Bobby. However, an epilogue was needed to provide a proper conclusion in that third collection.

Each anthology reads like a book rather than a collection of short stories.


OBAAT: Who are the writers in Back Road Bobby?


CC: In alphabetical order – Trey R. Barker, Eric Beetner, Nikki Dolson, Spencer Fleury, Greg Levin, Rob Pierce, Kevin R. Tipple, Gabriel Valjan, Susan Wingate, TG Wolff, Frank Zafiro, and Dave Zeltserman.

I mention this in the Back Road Bobby introduction, but I look at anthologies like a short story buffet. We don’t have to connect with everything we read, but hopefully, there’s something we do like. That’s when we go back for seconds by reading more works from that selected author.


OBAAT: You supplied several pages of guidelines for The Eviction of Hope: characters we could use (as well as sketches to tell us what kinds of people they were), dates and settings, things we couldn’t do, such as kill off a character someone else might be using. How much information did the Back Road Bobby writers receive?


CC: I provided a three-page treatment for the Back Road Bobby anthology. Not only did I have the collection to think about, but I needed to consider the 509 Crime Stories. I couldn’t have a major character killed off or a vital location permanently destroyed.

The contributing authors were given ‘bumper rails’ about what they could and couldn’t do. I even specified what day the anthology took place—last Friday in May, which was sunny and mildly warm.

This might sound restrictive to someone who hasn’t participated, but once those rails are in place, you’d be amazed at what an author can create.

My favorite guideline for the latest anthology was that every author had to create a character with a nickname that had to appear in the story title. This was the ‘and His Friends’ portion of the anthology.

For example, Frank Zafiro shared “The Escape of Jimmy the Saint,” and Dave Zeltersman offered “Robbing Banks with Gator Wilson.”



OBAAT: That nickname bit is outstanding. I remember being a little surprised when I got the guidelines for The Eviction of Hope, but they actually turned out to be helpful by restricting me a lktitle. Then hardest things for me to overcome is staring at a blank page or screen. You spred me that. Given the restrctions you gave the authors, what kinds of stories can readers expect to find in Back Road Bobby?


CC: This anthology centered around Hardy Fry, a legendary driver who is not expected to make it through the weekend. Every story featured a driver from Hardy’s lineage—either directly or trained by someone Hardy taught. As you can imagine, there are some car chases—Spencer Fleury took it to a delightful extreme with “Larry the Bag Man.”

Nikki Dolson and Gabriel Valjan shared a couple of beautifully told stories among some hard-hitting tales from authors like Eric Beetner and Greg Levin.

This collection has so much variety that readers will easily find something in the buffet to enjoy!


OBAAT: Tell us a little about Original Ink Press.


CC: Original Ink Press is the imprint I created. I’m an independently published author by choice. I love that decision for a variety of reasons which I don’t need to go into here. Creating OIP added a layer of professionalism to my craft.



OBAAT: You, in conjunction with your frequent co-author Frank Zafiro, put out more books than I can keep up with while editing anthologies, posting a blog, and doing all your own marketing. How do you keep up such a pace?


CC: Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

I also get up every morning at 4:30 to start writing. I average 1,500 words a day, and I can do better than that on the weekends. I don’t give myself any breaks for holidays or birthdays either. Even when I travel, I wake up early to write.

Thank you for mentioning my blog, by the way. I didn’t do much with it for years, and it withered. Recently, I realized there was an opportunity to share additional long-form ideas that would never make it into a book. These thoughts weren’t a good fit for the temporary world of social media. This year I set a goal of writing one blog post a week. It has turned out to be a wonderful experience and a way for me to take a quick break from the books. I only write the blog posts at night so that it won’t impact my routine.



OBAAT: What’s next?


CC: In June, the fourth John Cutler book will come out. Cutler’s Cases is a collection of short stories. The final tale sets up the fifth book which is written and in the publication chute.

The Only Death That Matters is the seventh book in the 509 Crime Stories, and it will drop in late August. The eighth book in that series is also finished and going through edits now.

And in the Cozy Up series, I’m working on the sixth book with plans for the seventh and eighth to follow quickly.

Recently, Frank Zafiro and I started discussions for the sixth book in the Charlie-316 series. We’ll outline it soon, but the writing won’t begin until early 2023.

Thanks for the chance to chat, Dana! I genuinely appreciate it.

Thursday, May 19, 2022


 It has been my good fortune of late to have several friends nominated for – and sometimes win – significant awards. (Or maybe it’s their good fortune. None of these folks won dick before they knew me. Coincidence? You decide.) I was also a judge for a national award this year, so awards have been on my mind.


Last week The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched the classic movie The Hustler. (More on that to come.) In looking at the trivia in IMDB, I saw that George C. Scott declined his nomination for Best Supporting Actor, saying that actors should not be in competition with each other except when auditioning for the same part. I knew Scott refused his Oscar for Patton, but was unaware he had already established his opposition to the entire idea of awards.


What does George C. Scott have to do with writing awards? Bear with me. I promise to be brief.


Working with the other members of the committee I served on was a pleasure. I knew them at least a little before we began, and I now feel closer to all of them. It was also supremely flattering to have been asked to serve.


I requested the Best First Novel committee, to avoid having to pass judgment on friend’s books. I figured the odds of me knowing a first timer were slim, and I was right. I recognized a couple of names, but no one I knew entered the competition.


I still found the process to be unpleasant, at least as far as making my decisions went. This is no reflection on the books submitted. I was a lot more uncomfortable than I thought I’d be in passing judgment on the books of strangers.


I should have known. I stopped doing anything other than positive reviews years ago. Once I understood how much goes into completing a novel, then the challenges of finding a publisher, marketing, getting reviews, and all the other things that exist in the penumbra of a book, I wasn’t about to make things harder for anyone.


I’m not against the concept of awards. I have two Shamus nominations myself, so I appreciate the sense of validation that comes through public recognition by one’s peers. I’ll always be grateful to PWA for the nominations. Should I ever win one, I will accept graciously and gratefully.


That doesn’t mean I’m any less uncomfortable with making the evaluation myself. I understand someone has to do it, and I applaud those who carve out the time and energy to make fair and reasoned decisions. It takes a special kind of care, skill, and mindset to be a good and conscientious award judge. I just don’t appear to be one of them.


Congratulations to everyone who makes a short list. It’s harder every year to rise above the crowd as more books get published and online marketing becomes more sophisticated. Enjoy the moment, whether you win or not. I have nothing but fond memories of the Shamus dinners I’ve attended, and I lost both years I received nominations. No one will applaud louder than I for this year’s winners.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Who is the Intended Audience?

 Last week The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched Mel Brooks’s classic Young Frankenstein. We own a boxed set of his movies and dip into it when we’re stuck for something to watch, or have been in a slump picking films we like.


The point of this post is that Young Frankenstein was not our first choice that night. The plan was to watch The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a 1994 Australian flick about two gay drag performers (Guy Pearce, Hugo Wearing) and a transgender woman (Terrence Stamp) traveling across Australia with their cabaret act. The film had generally good reviews, it struck us as quirky enough to be fun, and we both wanted to see Guy Pearce in the role, as our primary experience with him is as Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential.


We lasted twenty minutes. It’s not that we’re homophobic (as several friends and a member of the extended family can attest) or transphobic (we also have trans friends and an MTF member of the family we don’t have much to do with, but that extends to well before her transition). It was fun to watch Pearce prance around, but almost all of the humor left us flat. Reviews tell me many people found the film hilarious, and we have active and broad-based senses of humor. What did we miss?


We were not the intended audience.


Priscilla’s creative team didn’t give a fuck how late-60s cisgendered white people viewed their movie. Nor should they. (Being Americans might not have helped us much, either.) They made Priscilla for people already immersed in that culture, or had keen interest in it. In our brief viewing time, I spotted what I imagined were three inside jokes I didn’t get, probably because I lacked the background.


That’s not a bad thing. No one is tuned in to everything, and anyone who claims to be is either


So superficial they don’t know much about anything


I doubt writer-director Stephen Elliott would have a problem with us turning off his movie. I can imagine him smiling wryly and saying, “Well, you know, mate, you weren’t exactly the blokes we had in mind when we made this.” I suspect there would be no hard feelings, either way.


Why am I writing about this in my blog? Because the same holds true for writers. Even within the crime genre, I don’t read cozies. (Though Colin Conway is wearing me down.) Psychological thrillers set in suburbia don’t appeal to me. Why not?


Cozies are too unbelievable for my police-procedure, process-oriented mind. The motivations of the suburban psychological thriller villains are too internal and perverse for me. I like criminals who commit crimes for reasons other than it gets themselves off.


Does that make these kinds of books any less worthy than what I do read? Absolutely not. Does that make me wrong? No again. Everyone has their happy places. While it’s never a bad idea to expand one’s horizons, life is also too short to read books you don’t like.


This is among the reasons I so rarely read bestsellers. The books too often make accommodations to attract a sufficiently wide range of readers, thus losing whatever focus that might have made me enjoy them.


Last week I noted that Edith Wharton quotes sit near my writing desk. Two come to mind here:

Know your scope (which means you need to have one)

Have a point (ditto)


No matter what kind of book you write, your point will not appeal to everyone; the same applies to the scope. How often have you said, “Oh, I wish she’d have…? Be honest. We all do it. Once a month I’ll turn to TBS after watching something and say, “There was a good movie here. This  just wasn’t it.”


What’s my point? I don’t mind that cozy aficionados and subpsych thriller readers might not read my books. You’re not my intended audience, just as I am not the intended audience for Louise Penny and Laura Lippman. A writer who tries to write for everybody writes for nobody. You’ll do your best work when you, and those with similar tastes, are your intended audience.


I hear you asking now: “What if that audience isn’t large enough to support me as a writer?” Which leads us back to the most important piece of advice any young writer (and most older writers) ever receives:


Don’t quit your day job.


The core question is, “Do you want to write, or do you want to get rich?” True, some do both, but if that’s your hope, save yourself a lot of pain and money and play the lottery. Your odds are better.



Thursday, May 5, 2022

Surrounded in Inspiration

 Many writers have reminders or aphorisms within easy sight from their writing desks; I am no exception. Because I know some are curious about writers’ processes and habits (superstitions, even), I thought I’d pass mine along.


From left to right, with my interpretations interspersed:

From Edith Wharton’s “Five Rules for Novelists:”

·       Know your scope

o   Do less better

(A book that tries to be about too much will be about nothing. Decide in advance what ground to cover and stick to it.)


·       Lead with your characters

o   Dialog is where you learn most about your characters

(The more the characters talk, the better the reader knows them. The action is primarily important because of how it affects the characters. This is why Higgins’s description of action through characters talking about it after the fact is so effective.)


·       Create peaks and valleys

(Any trip that never changes its speed or scenery becomes either tedious or exhausting. Break things up. It will place the primary actions in better contexts and give time to show other dimensions of the characters.)


·       Have a point

(What’s the book about? Differs from “Know your scope” in that scope is how much ground to cover; the point is the reason you chose to write this particular book.)


Dennis Lehane

No one cares

(Except you. Don’t worry what others will think about a passage or a sentence. No one is going to notice it in the grand scheme of things except you.)


Wes Anderson (from the film The French Dispatch)

Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.

(This will help the prose to flow, making it easier for the reader to experience your story, as opposed to reading it.)


George V. Higgins (from The Friends of Eddie Coyle)

Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.

(Make every word count. In those opening 17 words, we learn that

·       Jackie Brown is a young man

·       He’s talking about his business, not something he does for fun

·       His business is selling guns

And we’re off to the races.)


The Sole Heir (placard purchased by her, for me)

If you were in my novel, you’d be dead by now

(If you need to have this one explained, you’re who it refers to.)


Bonus coverage: TSH also bought me a small notebook I always keep handy. The cover reads, “If I had a choice to have sex with any celebrity, living or dead, I would probably choose living.”

(You’re telling stories, not curing cancer. Don’t take any of this too seriously. Life is short. Have some fun.)