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.

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