Interview with Nelson DeMille

An Interview With Nelson DeMille About His New Book, The Cuban Affair

With his new novel, The Cuban Affair, Nelson Demille has written a new stand-alone novel with a new character, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a former Army combat veteran who is now a charter boat captain

As the title suggests this new novel is about a trip to Cuba. MacCormick is hired to help people get to Cuba to find $60 million hidden there.

Nelson, who has also written under the pen names, Jack Cannon, Kurt Ladner, Ellen Kay and Brad Matthews, has written a number of series along with some stand-alone books

Nelson agreed to let me interview him via email. The final two questions in the interview are from Barry Lancet, who I recently interviewed here

Scott: Why did you decide to write a standalone, one with a new main character? Is it related to being with a new publisher?

Nelson: I had two reasons for writing a standalone with a new character.  The first was to give my readers a break from John Corey, and the second was to give me a break from John Corey.  I like John – he pays the bills – but I didn’t want us to get tired of each other.  Also, my new publisher, Simon & Schuster, wanted to start fresh, and I agreed.  Corey may be coming back, but not for my book after The Cuban Affair.

Scott: When you do a standalone versus a series book, do you risk losing those who preferred earlier series and protagonist?

Nelson: Good question.  In most cases, when a bestselling author deviates from his bestselling protagonist there is a drop-off in sales.  Readers start to link the author with the series character, especially if the author hasn’t done much else.  In my case, though, I began my career with successful standalones and I hope that readers who’ve read those standalones will trust me to give them a great read.

Scott: Can you talk about how you did research for this book, including with the Yale Educational Trip?

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Nelson: I do a lot of research for all my books, which is why I don’t write a book a year.  I tend to do most of my research as I’m writing because you don’t know what you need to know until you need to know it.  My preliminary research on The Cuban Affair consisted of reading the Lonely Planet guide to Cuba.  Then I went to Cuba in October 2015 and took notes and pictures and spoke to Cubans.  Research almost always gives me ideas for the plot and storyline and even ideas about the characters.  The truth that you discover is always stranger and more interesting than anything you can imagine.

Scott: Were you planning a book involving Cuba when you made that trip?

Nelson: If the IRS is asking, then yes, this was a tax deductible research trip, not a vacation.  Actually, I was thinking about a book set in Cuba and, coincidentally, I received a travel brochure from Yale in the mail, and I took this as a sign that Cuba should be the topic for my next book.

Scott: What do you think of the changes Trump is making to reverse some of the changes made under Obama?

Nelson: I will stick my neck out and say that Trump was right to reverse some of the easing of travel restrictions that Obama made.  Obama, I believe, did the right thing in easing the restrictions that he could without Congressional approval, but he didn’t get much in return from the Castro regime in regard to human rights for the Cuban people.  This is a complex issue, and somewhere between the hardliners and the people who want to normalize relations is a fine line that has to be walked carefully and slowly.  Ultimately, the Cuban people have to solve their own problems.  They, more than Americans, have the most to gain – and the most to lose.

Scott: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Nelson: I hope the reader comes away with an understanding of the long and complex historical connections between Cuba and America.  As it stands now, our relations with Cuba are a Cold War legacy, and a sort of time-warp that needs to come into the 21st Century.  Generals are often accused of fighting the last war, but diplomats have even longer historical memories that impede their future thinking.

Barry/Scott: You have a new lead character for The Cuban Affair, which is great, but speaking of great characters, are you ever going to bring back Sam “Haul Ass” Hollis from The Charm School, and can we expect a fourth outing from Paul Brenner?

Nelson: Interesting question.  My writing career has spanned almost 40 years and some of my past characters are starting to age a bit.  Colonel Sam Hollis would be pushing 70 by now and Paul Brenner may be a bit older.  Both characters were unique to their time periods and might now be irrelevant or too old for a new adventure set in the present.  John Corey too is getting on in years.  Chronology is always a problem for a writer who creates a series character.  Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for instance, was about 103 years old when he (and she) died in 1976, according to the New York Times.  But…it’s possible to bring these guys back in a period piece, or maybe a prequel.

Barry/Scott: Your writing school spans 39 years and counting.  You’ve bucked the industry standard of a book a year, kept up the quality of your work, and seem to be going as strong as ever.  What writing or other practices have allowed you to sustain your career?

Nelson: I like this question.  Yes, I refuse to pump out a book a year like crap through a goose.  A good book takes a long time to write.  Up to about the 1980s, most novelists published a book every two or three years, and often longer than that.  What changed was that the publishing industry realized that a book a year could be profitable, and a lot of bestselling authors were willing to accommodate that for their own bottom line. Manuscripts used to be logistically difficult to produce on manual and even electric typewriters with carbon paper or photostatted copies, not to mention white out fluid, cut and paste, and having to retype entire pages and chapters.  Research, too, took a long time.  The computer and word processing changed all that and sped up the process of producing a clean manuscript and doing the research instantly online.  None of that improved the quality of the writing, or the thought and imagination required to tell a good story.  In fact, technology may have had the opposite effect.  Spell check is great, but if the words are wrong, it doesn’t matter if they’re spelled right.

I write the first two or three drafts of my manuscripts in long hand with a #1 pencil on legal pads.  This slows the process and allows me to think as I write.  Then I do two or three drafts on the computer.  Also, I still do most of my research by traveling, doing interviews, and wading through books.  Too many writers are hooked on Wikipedia and it shows.  With books, you have serendipitous discoveries that you won’t get in a Wiki article.

I try to balance my life and writing, and I try to live some of the life experiences that I write about.  If you’re locked in a writing room all day trying to churn out a book a year you can’t observe the human condition and you start to lose touch with the evolving language and the rapidly-changing social and political conditions that should inform contemporary fiction.

Bottom line, it takes me 16-20 months to produce a completed manuscript.  Each book, I hope, is as polished and as good as it can be for me and for the reader.

What I never want to see from an editor (or a reader) is that, perhaps apocryphal, note “Your novel is both good and original; unfortunately, what is good is not original, and what is original is not good.”

Interview with Eric Storey

Erik Storey has done it again:  He’s written a book with so much action and excitement that one doesn’t need coffee or caffeine to stay alert – this book’s got enough adrenaline to make such things unnecessary.

Erik let me interview for his first book, Nothing Short of Dying, which was published on this blog  Along with others I was shocked that his debut novel could be so good, so exciting, so tight.

The same is true for his second book about Clyde Barr, A Promise to Killwho was well developed in the first book and further developed here.  Clyde has a rough back story, which includes time in other countries and three continents helping fight injustice but often getting hurt in the process. All his life Clyde has followed his own code of honor, one that has gotten him hurt often, both physically and emotionally.

That continues to be the case with the new book as Clyde wants to help the residents of a town in the grips of a biker gang.

Erik was kind enough to let me interview him again by email

Scott Butki: How did this story idea develop?

Erik Storey: My editor and I swapped ideas over numerous emails and calls. We eventually came up with the basics for the plot, and with the location I’d already chosen, we thought we had a pretty solid idea for a book. Then, all I had to do was spend months writing the thing.

Scott: For your first book I asked in an interview which came first, characters or plot and you said it was location that came first. Was that also the case for this one?

Image result for erik storeyErik: Location, or place, came first. The Northern Ute Reservation isn’t far from where Clyde was last seen, and I really wanted to set a novel in that area. I grew up near there, and it’s a place rarely talked about, even in towns that border it. Like most reservations, it’s a foreign land to most folks.

I also wanted to twist the old Western plot line of the wandering-hero-comes-to-town-and-saves-it by having Clyde come into town to help, but realizing the people there are more resilient and tougher than himself. He assists, but in the end it is the people that live there that come out on top.

Scott: You write, at one point, that your protagonist , Clyde Barr, is just looking for a place of peace and quiet. Why is that so hard for him to find?

Erik: Two reasons:

First– even in the wilderness, a place of beauty and relative quiet, Clyde can’t suppress the horrid memories and the recurring dreams of his past.

Second– No matter where he goes he encounters people. Despite the Western US’s abundance of wilderness areas, they are all full of hikers, campers, and outdoor travelers. And sometimes he doesn’t even make it to the mountains before there is someone who is in desperate need of help.

Scott: He seems stuck in a role, namely go to a new place and then become a reluctant hero, in this book’s casé helping a town invaded by a biker gang. Why does that say about Barr? Or about the nation?

Erik: Clyde’s role is the same as so many others whose stories are told around campfires. He’s the Western version of the wandering hero, the knight errant, the Ronin, or globe-trotting adventurers from the 20’s and 30’s. We love to tell and listen to these stories, because I think we all wish that in times of trouble someone would come in and help us take care of the problem, then leave without asking for anything in return.

Clyde thinks it’s important to help those that need it because he knows from personal experience how the underdog feels. He also has seen too many good people go down and promised himself that if he could do something, he would.

Clyde is a man we all wish was around during times of crisis. A man who believes it is his duty to help anyone in need, even without taking any kind of oath. He sees people on an individual level, and wants to make a difference. Because of this driving force, if he is around people he will help. And if he’s alone, he will be racked with guilt and depression. It’s a no-win situation that he thinks will be solved if he spends more time in a more remote area.

Scott: Will Clyde ever find a place of peace and quiet or would that just result in the series ending?

Erik: He might, but he would be disappointed. It was his goal for years, but it was also an excuse to travel. His real purpose was something else. When you dedicate your life to helping, you might find the lack of opportunities to do so unnerving. I would guess that Clyde would come up with an excuse to go out and look for another adventure.

Scott: How are you similar and different from Clyde? For example, do you, like him, find It hard to back away from a fight and/or injustice?

Erik: Clyde and I have a lot in common. We both share the same discomfort with the modern, technologized world, and are both more comfortable out in the middle of nowhere. We’re similar in our hatred of injustice, but that’s where we start to differ. I can’t just jump into a fight, at least not anymore. Most of us feel that rage when we see something wrong, but we know the repercussions of punching someone in the face. There is a part of us, though, that wish we could and get away with it, and that is why reading about someone like Clyde is so much fun.

As for backing down from a fight, we know that Clyde doesn’t—often to his detriment. I was similar back when I was young and dumb. I inadvertently researched quite a few fight scenes in roughneck bars, bunkhouses, logging camps, and parking lots. I’ve got kids and responsibilities now, and try to avoid all of that as much as possible.

Scott: Did you intentionally choose to not have Clyde have a military or law enforcement background? Why?

Erik: I did it intentionally for a few reasons. The first is simple. I don’t have any military or law enforcement background. Because of that, I wouldn’t be able to bring enough of the experience and knowledge to the page that I think is important in thrillers to give them a sense of realism. I do have experience in the outdoors, and hunting, so I gave him a background that uses those to enhance the stories.

Secondly, although I love the thriller genre, I think it is over-saturated with heroes who are ex-cops, cops, former Special Forces, and super spies, and I wanted Clyde to be different. He has the prerequisites that you need in these types of books: ability to fight, to shoot, and to survive—but his path to learning them was different and I hope it makes Clyde unique.

Scott: How do you go about researching your books?

Erik: I read every article and non-fiction book about the subjects I want to include in the novel, then try and visit the area I’m writing about as often as possible. Since I set my series close to home, this isn’t very hard to do. I’m also very lucky to have worked so many odd jobs and have had so many strange experiences in so many places across the West. I can simply look back on old journal entries to add fodder to the fiction.

Scott : Whats next for Clyde?

Erik: I’m deep into the writing of the third one, and am one of those writers who believe that if you talk about your work in progress the magic will disappear. So you will have to ask me that question again in a few months.

Transgeneric Masterpieces: Furthering the Genre in Lori Roy’s Let Me Die in His Footsteps

Let’s face it.  By this point, we don’t know what to expect from Lori Roy.  This talented writer leapt onto the scene in 2011 with Bent Road, an extraordinary novel about family ties, scorned lovers, and women—yes, women—and their roles in America’s past.  The only—or one of the very few—consistencies in Roy’s writing seems to be her interest in the past, not exactly a nostalgia so much as an exposure, a way of shedding light on the past as it actually was, not as how people dream it up into being.  This interest in the past, as well as an incredible gift for prose and characters, setting and atmosphere, has earned Roy two Edgar Awards, one for Best First Novel and another for Best Novel.

Roy is one of the few women to earn such an honor, and she has fought hard to do so.  Roy’s writing is stellar, her smoothly crafted sentences all pieced together carefully like an elaborate puzzle.  What connects the reader most to Roy’s writing, something that she has noted herself, is the likability of her characters. Take Annie from Let Me Die in His Footsteps as one example of her excellence in this area.  Roy has created a singular voice and character who screams past the borders of the pages into the reader’s very mind, echoing there for some time with both joy and admiration.  This, Roy says, is one of the aspects of good writing that helps create suspense for the character, and if Roy’s masterful storytelling is any clue, she’s right.

Let Me Die in His Footsteps reads almost like Southern Gothic meets magical realism, with girls seeing their future husbands in the reflections of well water, curses, and family feuds to boot.  I myself have found myself reading Let Me Die in His Footstep again and again, passing the book on to friends and family members who have found how they adore the protagonists (yes, there are multiple narrators) as much as I do.

Roy writes about women.  She writes about women who are fighting to establish a place in their world or, in the case of Annie in Let Me Die in His Footsteps, she writes about women who are trying to step outside of their set roles in society, the curses that bind them to the people they are supposed to be as opposed to who they actually are.  When I first began reading Let Me Die in His Footsteps, I felt the air catch in my throat, the way Roy tells Annie’s story, the story of her mother, the story of her aunt who may or may not be evil and cursed like Annie, all raw and real and so incredibly delightful.  This is a book you submerge yourself in, ignoring the real world for a moment in an effort to understand these characters and how their past fits into your present.

Ms. Roy’s subtext is subtle, but there’s clearly a lot to get from her writing.  She is not a woman to press her reader with over-the-top ideas or slam them with political views they may not share.  Roy is the type of writer to express her views through her characters and through their stories, as any fine writer might.   Let Me Die in His Footsteps does not rely on the familiar tropes of crime novels alone, but instead is told like a beautiful unwinding coming-of-age story that glows with warmth and reality despite its magical nature.  While enchanting and sometimes magical, Roy’s writing is also firm and gritty, and to quote another great writer of Southern Gothic literature, Flannery O’Connor once said, “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.” Ms. Roy is doing a grand job. That is without a doubt.

Interview With Meredith Lee

Shrouded Authors Dodge Terrorists & Rack Up Frequent Flyer Miles


The authors of Shrouded, the Austin writing team of Dixie Lee Evatt and Sue Meredith Cleveland, dodged terrorists, persisted even when itineraries almost fell apart, and racked up frequent flyer miles to research their debut mystery. Evatt and Cleveland write under the pen name Meredith Lee.

Mystery People Scott: Shrouded introduces Crispin Leads, a scrappy graduate student with a penchant for finding trouble in some of our favorite European cities. How did you manage the multiple locations necessary for the plot?

Sue: When we began mapping out the plot that became Shrouded, we knew it wouldn’t ring true unless we walked where the characters walked. We were ready to travel. What we didn’t count on was how the havoc of world events and family tragedy would influence our story. Our protagonist studies burial rituals. It became personal for me when I lost a fifth family member during the early days of writing this book. Numb, I planned a trip to France and Italy with friends. Ten days before my departure, terrorists flew into the World Trade Center. I thought long and hard about whether or not to cancel. I decided to step into the unknown and met my traveling companions at Boston’s Logan Airport. The terminal and our flight were nearly empty. Ghostly. Yet, as we toured France and then Italy, people embraced us and raised their glasses to America, as if we were a proxy for an injured nation. I’m sure that sense of tenderness and loss made its way into what I wrote about Italy and France. How could it not?

Dixie: Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, makes a cameo appearance in our plot, so I made it a point to include a visit to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid while in Spain. The plan seemed innocuous enough. However, a few days before I’d been in Pamplona as a visiting lecturer at the Universidad de Navarra, roaming Old Town one evening, looking for inspiration from the ghost of Papa Hemingway, I wandered into the middle of an ETA demonstration. The militant Basque separatist group set off explosives and police were chasing members through the narrow stone streets. A local woman, who could tell I was a clueless tourist, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to safety. I’ll confess I was both frightened and exhilarated by the episode. I didn’t realize its full impact until I stood before Guernica a few days later. I’d first seen the painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1970s where it lived on temporary loan because Picasso wouldn’t allow his masterpiece to hang in Spain as long as Franco ruled. Now, instead of making logistical notes (Crispin comes in that door, exits there, etc.) it was as if I was seeing the massacre of Basque innocents for the first time. Influenced by what had happened on the streets of Pamplona, I wrote pages of emotional prose. Most of this stream of consciousness found its way to the “cutting room floor.” As Carol Dawson reminds us, meaning often lingers like a shadow, cast by the words that are no longer on the page.

MPS: In what other ways did your travels influence your writing?

Sue: Two come to mind. Time. Perspective. Travel, spread out over years, took more time than writing, as did the perspective I gained by ruminating on what I’d observed about myself as I navigated other cultures. Whether I travel abroad, or to a neighboring town, it is the history of the place and people that I find riveting. The stories embody the best and worst of what the human race is capable of achieving. Often those stories are found on tombstones and in crypts.

MPS: At the end of Shrouded you give us a sneak preview of the next Crispin Leads adventure, Digging up the Dead. Am I right to assume it takes place in Egypt? If so, did Meredith Lee run into Middle East trouble while scouting location?

Dixie: Of course. I was making plans to go with a tour group to see Giza, Luxor, Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel at the same time the Bush Administration was beating the drums of war with its WMD case against Iraq. The day before I was set to fly out, every person in the tour group cancelled. I checked with a Syracuse University colleague who had worked at the State Department with Colin Powell. He assured me that as long as I didn’t linger, I would be safe. So I went, a Globus “tour group” of one. My last night in Cairo, the streets were already attracting anti-war demonstrations. Time to go home. A few days later the U.S. launched Shock and Awe.

BookPeople will host a book signing for the authors of Shrouded at 7 p.m. on November 10, 2017.  More information about Meredith Lee and Shrouded can be found at http://www.meredithlee.net.

Review Of Hardboiled, Noir, and Gold Medals by Rick Ollerman

Stark House Press keep so many of the great crime writers, particularly from the fifties and sixties paperback era, alive and well in print. Whether W.R. Burnett and Gil Brewer or even more obscure authors like Jada M Davis or Arnold Hano, they bring some of their best work for today’s readers to enjoy. Crime fiction author and expert Rick Ollerman has contributed dozens of introductions to Stark House reprints. They are much more than a few pages of praise, being highly informative and written with a personal view and opinion that often explores the genre and writing itself. Recently, most have been collected, along with new material, in Hard Boiled, Noir, and Gold Medals.

One can tell Ollerman goes through some deep reading before he writes an intro. One on Harry Whittington, “the king of the paperbacks” runs thirty pages. He finds the best possible way to connect history and critique. when writing about Peter Rabe, he deconstructs an action sequence from Murder Me For Nickels, showing how he inserts the protagonists emotional point for view of the violence, without breaking the flow of the writing. Even if you have loved these writers and books before, you will have a better understanding of why.

Ollerman comes at his subjects from fresh angles. When discussing the two lifelong friends who wrote under the successful pseudonym Wade Miller, he compares them to the two cousins who made up Ellery Queen, who shared a much more fraught collaboration. He puts Texas author Juda M. Davis on my my radar. Born into poverty so rough, his family barely noticed the depression, Davis traded most of his creative years for a lucrative career at Southwestern Bell. As well as shining a light on an author deserving an audience, also uses it as a discussion on a an artists need to create that conflicts with the need to provide for himself and his family.

Ollerman weaves new, more personal pieces through his work, giving it the feel of an educated fan sharing the books he loves with another. He will put you on the trail of new authors and maybe challenge a few of your opinions, all without spoilers. After reading Hard Boiled, Noir, And Gold Medals, Rick Ollerman will need no introduction.

Rick Ollerman will be joining Eryk Pruitt and Mike McCrary for our Hard Boiled Past & Present discussion panel on January 6th, 7PM

Q&A with Eryk Pruitt

Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon is a greasy southern mess of violence, drugs, and religion centered around the relationship of con man Jack Jordan and Summer, a couple with a Honda, dreams, and a kilo of cocaine in a hollowed out King James Bible. It continues in the tradition of Pruitt’s wild southern noir. We caught up with the man to talk about the book, his characters, and the region he writes about.

MysteryPeople Scott: The core of What We Reckon is a lovers-on-the-run tale before it explodes into something bigger. What do you like about that sub genre of crime fiction?

Eryk Pruitt: I grew up in a small town with no ironclad guarantee that one day I would leave it. I’d sit out on the highway and dream up every possibility there was to dream about how to get out, and many of those possibilities involved something illegal. I think it was natural that I’d gravitate towards stories where someone chucks everything to throw caution to the wind and take off with somebody else. Stories like Agatite by Clay Reynolds or With by Donald Harington helped scratch that itch.

I think that everybody living on the grid believes they’d be better living off it. And most folks appreciate someone who could co-pilot, that might share their dark sensibilities, or at least enable them for a while. This is why the Bonnie and Clyde story still gets told. Life is full of moments where folks zigged, but wonder what may have happened if they zagged.

Image result for eryk pruittLately, these stories have best been told by Wiley Cash, in This Dark Road to Mercy; Jordan Harper with She Rides Shotgun; and Donald Ray Pollock’s masterpiece, The Heavenly Table. I can only hope my crack at a story within the sub-genre offers enough deviation to stray from what folks might ordinarily expect. Or at least, give them a laugh…

MPS: At times I felt there was touch of Flannery O’Connor to the book, the way religion plays a part. What did you want to explore in the South’s spiritual side?

EP: A long-standing trick I’ve learned since living in the South: when dealing with repairmen of any sort, always be sure to namedrop Jesus. Every time you toss out a “…if the good Lord permits it…” or “blessed be,” a hundred dollars drops off the estimate. It’s a brotherhood, with its own decoder rings and secret handshakes. You have to learn that language and speak it, then be ready for any and all opportunity.

In What We Reckon, every character shares a dark hole inside themselves, and search constantly for a way to fill it. I think this best describes the plight of the religious person. Some people have scratched prosperous livings off nursing that need. Televangelists, cult leaders, and con artists carrying a King James Bible with a kilo of cocaine have very few degrees of separation between them.

We’re no longer surprised by the hypocrisy of Robert Tilton, David Koresh, or the Catholic pederasty. Now it’s more fun to talk about how we call pull one over on the hypocrites, instead of the other way around.

MPS: I also thought of Jim Thompson in the sense that as over the top as the plot got, I always felt grounded with the characters. How do you think you pulled that off?

EP: I feel I ask a lot from the reader when I ask them to sympathize with my characters. I treat their empathy as a very precious commodity, because once I lose it, they will put down the book. There has to be something for them to identify with, to keep them going. Hopefully, they find something inside Jack Jordan or Summer Ashton that speaks to them, and once they’ve locked in on that…we gradually increase the temperature. We slowly close the door behind them.

Both Jack and Summer have started to slip. It’s probably been happening for a while, but the frays are starting to show at the edges. While we may not believe in the things that Summer is seeing with her own two eyes, we can fully empathize that she believes them, and that is what is important. Jack may not really be coming down with every disease in the world, but he’d be the last person to know that.

MPS: Your books are soaked in southern culture. What do you want to convey about the area you grew up and live in?

EP: I love the South. I think it’s a wild, spooky, haunted, terrible, beautiful place and I’d have a hard time enjoying myself anywhere else. It’s my understanding that most folks think of the South and Southerners as a pejorative, but not me. I’m not down with the old ways, but rather what the kids call #NewSouth. A pot that melts. An all-inclusive gumbo of cultural collisions that enjoy a six-month tomato season.

That being said, the South is also a product of that disturbing past and that conflict should continue to churn out good fiction for quite a while. Themes of race and religion have only deepened and it’s been interesting to see how they’ve been dealt with in the past in Southern crime canon by William Gay, Daniel Woodrell, and Ernest J. Gaines. Since those pages have yet to be turned, it will be interesting to see how the newer guys like Greg Barth, S.A. Cosby, and Marietta Miles deal with them.

MPS: Much of the book takes place in Texas. Do find that a different kind of south?

EP: It’s my opinion that East Texas is the strangest place on earth. It’s shares the same collision of cultures enjoyed by much of the South, but in East Texas, it’s done behind the shroud of a heavy, pine curtain. All it’s “crazy” has been kept in the shadows. It’s the reason Joe Lansdale will never run out of material.

I grew up in East Texas, and went to college there. I’d fall short in any attempt to properly describe it, so my best suggestion would be to watch Eric Hueber and Andy Cope’s film Rainbow’s End, or the Carl Crum thesis “East of West.” 

MPS: What makes unsavory characters so fun to write about?

EP: It’s a pressure release to let all those inner, unchecked desires off the leash. Maybe a million dirtbag options fly through our heads at any given fork in the road (maybe they don’t for some people…who knows?), but it’s nice to live through someone else’s mistakes.

Plus, it allows us the ability to vicariously exact revenge. Even if you don’t like the kinds of people that Jack Jordan or Summer Ashton have become, you might stick around to see them get their comeuppance. Chances are, you know someone just like them and, while you were never able to give them the what-for they so truly deserved, you won’t mind turning another page to watch someone else give it to them.

But of course, I don’t find them unsavory. I’ve fallen in love with them both and only root for them.

Eryk Pruitt will be on our panel discussion, Hard Boiled Fiction Past & Present, with Mike McCrary and Rick Ollerman, November 6th, 7PM

Pick of the Month: Written in Blood

Going home again seems to be the theme for mystery protagonists lately. Tom Bouman’s Officer Henry Farell licks his wounds by returning to his rural Pennsylvania community. Last month, C.M. Wendelboe’s Hunting The Five Points Killer had Arn Anderson returning to Cheyenne to solve a series of murders. Now, John Layton introduces us to Joe “Preach” Anderson, a former Atlanta police detective now working in his North Carolina hometown in Written In Blood.

Preach got his nickname from being a prison chaplain before his career in law enforcement. Hoping to see less inhumanity on the job, he works for the police department in Creekville, a bohemian town near Chapel Hill where he grew up. As we learn through sessions with his therapist, who is also his aunt, he’s dealing with several compounded trauma’s that have affected his faith and life.

forbioWhen a local bookseller is murdered, Preach is put on the case, since it is the first homicide the department has had in a decade. On the surface Creekville is a quaint town, full of artistic oddballs, akin to Louise Penny’s Three Pines. As Preach digs deeper into the case involving some local authors and several dark crimes, one feels echoes of the underbelly of Blue Velvet’s Lumberton.

The story skillfully weaves Preach’s personal story with the unraveling of the mystery. While the plot deals with many sordid topics, Layton never forgets the human victims involved. As Preach goes deeper, we wonder how he will handle it as we also have been uncovering his vulnerabilities.

Written In Blood is a great cross between a village mystery and police procedural. Lawton has populated Creekville, especially its police department, with fully fleshed out characters, and a hero in the middle of one hell of a journey. I’m already looking forward to Preach’s next case.