I’m going to start blogging book reviews and author interviews for MysteryPeople. I thought I’d introduce myself to you in this piece. The above graphic I found on Facebook sums me up.
I was an early reader, plowing through the Encyclopedia Brown and Three Investigator books as a happily literate lad. I wrote about loving reading and sharing favorite books in this memoir piece promoting literacy for a newspaper special section.
I was a newspaper reporter for more than ten years after concluding it was a safer, better career path than my ideal, dream job – book reviewer for the New York Times. Ironically, a few years ago, I interviewed an author, Patrick Anderson, who is the Washington Post‘s thriller book reviewer and told him I coveted his job.
While a journalist I began writing book reviews and interviewing authors for newspaper publication. When I left journalism to work in special education – so I could have a more direct, positive impact on society – I continued writing memoir pieces and book reviews and, more so than both, conducting author interviews. Some of the books I review I request, some I’m sent unsolicited but they turn out to be great, and occasionally I’ll be sent a clunker. I publish them at Blogcritics and Newsvine.
For several years after that career change, I organized an online reading challenge to get others to read more, shooting for 50 books a year, sort of like the 40 book challenge some schools, including mine, have for students. In 2001 I collected most of my reviews and interviews here.
I moved to Austin about 4 1/2 years ago and quickly become a patron of BookPeople. In addition to attending book signings, I participated in both of their mystery book discussion groups, 7% Solution Book Club and Hard Word Book Club. MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery and I often overlapped, interviewing some of the same authors around the same time (Scott for the MysteryPeople blog, me for the two online sites I write for).
We’ve decided to join forces so I will sometimes be interviewing, for the MysteryPeople blog, authors who are coming to do book signings at BookPeople and other authors we’re interested in. Most of my interviews are with mystery authors, while others are usually with the authors of books related to the news media and memoirs. I read at least 50 books a year and do at least 25 interviews.
I’ve had a sweet gig interviewing most of my favorite authors and being able to ask them whatever I want. I feel lucky just to be able to share thoughts with them. I try to pick questions that are not identical to those everyone else asks, e.g. “What is your writing routine”. Indeed, one of my favorite compliments from an author was this: “You ask unusual questions. I like that.”
My new association with MysteryPeople makes a sweet gig even sweeter.
I want to end by telling you about my five favorite mystery writers, all of whom I have been lucky enough to interview. They are: Craig Johnson, with his fascinating Longmire series (which some of you may know better as a tv series). His characters just get increasingly interesting over time, as opposed to some series where the author, after a while, spins his wheels.
Michael Connelly, especially his Harry Bosch series. I first crossed paths with Michael at a journalism convention in Southern California, where I grew up. This was after the publication of his first novel. The workshop he put on was packed because everyone wanted to know the answer to the same question: How did he, a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, write a popular, award-winning crime novel. He had no magic bullet to share; rather, he said, he did it by writing, in addition to his newspaper job, during hours he would normally be sleeping. I still remember his smile as he shared that he made up some cop lingo for the books (in addition to the lingo he picked up) and, later, heard cops using his phrases.
Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman family series. She does an impressive job writing what I call comic capers, sort of in the style of the late great Donald Westlake. The characters are funny, the plots are full of twists and her footnotes alone will crack you up. I have interviewed and promoted her with each of her books and was lucky enough to meet her in person when she spoke at BookPeople earlier this summer.
Ace Atkins, author of the Quinn Colson series about an Army Ranger who is now a county sheriff in Mississippi. Atkins was picked by the Robert Parker estate to continue the popular and entertaining Spenser series after Parker’s death. I’m impressed that Atkins has proved himself quite capable of writing two very different book series with neither suffering for his work on the other.
Lastly, Kate Atkinson, author of a series of fascinating books about private investigator Jackson Brodie. Atkinson, the only Brit in my top five, is less of a pure crime writer than some others I’ve mentioned as her books veer at times into other genres. In her books she will write multiple plotlines which, on the surface, appear to have no connections but somehow they all end up connecting by way of some surprising plot twists. Stephen King, in 2004, called her book, Case Histories, “not just the best novel I’ve read this year, but the best mystery of the decade.” Her Jackson Brodie novels were made into a PBS series called Case Histories. She honored me by including my interview with her in the paperback version of Started Early, Took The Dog. I have always wanted to be a novelist – for now, being included in the back of a book will have to do.
Runner-ups:; Robert Crais, Ian Rankin, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.