CRIME & COMMUNITY: MEIKE ALANA INTERVIEWS TERRY SHAMES

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover ImageTerry Shames will be back at BookPeople joining debut author S.C. Perkins (Murder Once Removed). Her latest, A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary has her hero, brought out of retirement, Jarret Creek police chief Samuel Cradddock looking for his missing friend. Our Meike Alana caught up to Terry before hand to ask her a few questions.

1. Loretta is a favorite character of mine, and I’m sure of many other fans as well. From the title I expected the book to feature Loretta—but in fact she’s actually missing and the book deals with Samuel’s search for her.  Yet despite her physical absence, Samuel and the reader learn a lot more about the character—some of which is a little surprising! Can you tell us how you came to adopt this approach?

In one of my earlier books, I tried to write a book without Loretta, and found that it fell flat. There is something elemental about her presence in the books. Like a Greek chorus in early Greek literature, she is the voice of the community,. She loves gossip, but it isn’t mean gossip, she just likes to know what everybody is up to. In that role, she’s able to give Craddock information he might not otherwise be privy to. Because she doesn’t take any guff from Samuel and has her own sharp opinions, she also lends humor to the books.

In art there is a concept called Negative Space, which can define what an observer sees on the canvas. In coming up with the idea of  Risky Undertaking, I wanted to highlight how important she is to the community by having her disappear. Samuel is trying to deal with an uproar in town over the annual Goat Rodeo, and he knows if Loretta was around she’d be just the right person to take care of the situation. Without her, things run off the rails. Other characters have to step in, and they are not successful at doing what Loretta does. In particular, she keeps the church ladies in line. Without her, they go off on a wild tear.

Dru Ann Love has a blog in which she asks authors to write a Day in the Life of a character. I did that for Loretta and it was fascinating. It’s interesting how much you learn when you concentrate on how characters spend their days when they aren’t on the page—what time they get up (Loretta is a very early riser), what they eat for breakfast (she never eats much), what they do to relax (Loretta reads romance novels). Loretta is so much of a presence, that her absence actually told us how much she defines the space around her.

2.One of the things we at MP love about your series is that the characters are so well-developed—every visit to Jarrett Creek feels like revisiting old friends. This time around we meet some new faces—can you tell us a little bit more about the characters you’ve introduced? Any maybe a little glimpse as to whether we’ll get to know them better going forward?

The characters in Jarrett Creek are as real to me as if I could walk in and visit them. Sometimes when I bring up a new character, like the Catholic priest, I’ve known all along that he was there, I just never needed him to be a presence in a book. Just like in real life, sometimes we know someone is part of our community, but we don’t actually know them. I like to either bring in these long-time, hidden, community members, or introduce new characters for recurring characters to bounce off of, because otherwise the cast of regular characters  would get stagnant. Occasionally one will take my imagination, and I know they will come back. One of those is XXX, who first showed up in The Last Death of Jack Harbin. He showed up again in my last book and will play a role in the one I’m now contemplating. Other drop-in characters will only be important to a particular story. In the prequel, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, I introduced a woman who was instrumental to the story and to Samuel’s growth. In the end, I knew she would not be in later books, and I actually cried when I had to say goodbye!

Sometimes I’m surprised by the way my minor characters push themselves into the story. For example, I had no idea that Maria and Connor were going to be at odds with each other, giving a larger role to Connor than I had envisioned. It just happened, and seemed perfect.

Not all “drop in” characters are so lovable that I want them to stay around. I liked coming up with the new Baptist preacher, but he butts heads with Samuel right away. Not a good sign for his future.

3. One of Samuel’s really admirable traits is that he’s not afraid to ask for help when he’s out of his depth, and that’s the case here. When he learns that Loretta has been visiting online dating sites (see surprising things about Loretta above!) he sees the need to explore those sites further and has to ask for help from his younger deputy. What led you to adopt that angle?

I’m afraid that I took Samuel’s need for help with on-line dating sites from my own life. I know nothing about dating sites, and a younger guy in my writing group set me straight about them. I always like to play Samuel off against Maria, and it seemed perfect for him to turn to her, as a younger person to learn something about a modern concept that he knew nothing about. And I was surprised by how conversant Connor was with the sites.

There was a particularly important scene in this book in which Samuel asks for help. In this case, Samuel is actually in a state of panic. This was a direct result of one of my readers saying that he loved that Samuel never panicked. I knew in that moment that he had to panic. What better reason for panic than to be frustrated that a close friend was in danger? And what better person to take a stern approach, and bring Samuel back into line, than his old law enforcement pal, Schoppe.

4. Speaking of online dating sites—any interesting stories related to your research for that plot point?

A couple. I discovered that a woman I know who is happily married spent a lot of time on dating websites before she met her husband (and she didn’t meet him on a website). She told me she spent a lot of money on the sites, because they are always advertising new ways to  find someone. I was surprised. She’s adorable. I was surprised. I had no idea the sites were mining for people’s money. The other story was that the man in my writing group who clued me in about dating websites helped me understand that most young people use them these days. Who knew?

5.  One of the challenges in writing a small town setting in crime fiction is the “Cabot Cove” syndrome—at some point, a small town can’t sustain the number of murders that take place. You’ve managed to avoid that and each book feels really fresh in terms of the cases that Samuel investigates. Can you talk a little bit about how you keep things so interesting and varied? Where do some of your ideas come from?

Jarrett Creek is a small town, but it’s part of a wider web of communities, so the first crime actually did not happen in Jarrett Creek. The same was true in the fourth. In several of the books a lot of what happens involves outsiders who stir things up or who commit the crimes or are instrumental in the plot. Samuel has had to drive to Houston, Dallas, Jacksonville, San Antonio, the Hill Country, Bryan/College Station, and Burton to investigate the crimes, so this introduces new territory. In one book, some of the off-stage action takes place in San Francisco. One of the books was a prequel, which is much the same as having the action happen somewhere “different.” You can’t let things get stagnant. I couldn’t stand to do the same story again and again. I’d get bored. But these stories are about people, and people are endlessly different.

6. So a question about your writing process—how has that changed over these years as you’ve transitioned from debut author to seasoned veteran?

I wish I could say that it has changed, but with every book the process is pretty much the same. I think about what the main idea is, about the social and psychological issues in play, and I let mental pictures come. Sometimes the pictures make no sense, but I trust that they will fit somewhere. There is a scene toward the end of Risky Undertaking that I had in my mind from the beginning. It’s what I was working toward. One thing I always have to have, though, is a good first scene. It sets up the whole book. From the first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, when Samuel is on his porch and Loretta comes to visit, to this last book, “Risky Undertaking,” when two brothers are fighting, I feel like that scene puts in motion everything that follows.

7. Can you tell us what’s next for Samuel? Personally and professionally?

The next book is going to be about the biennial motorcycle rally held at the lake in Jarrett Creek. The hard part will be balancing the huge crowd of strangers with the citizens of Jarrett Creek. Also, if there is a crime committed there and Craddock is going to be responsible for finding out what happened, he’s going to have to do it in the long Fourth of July weekend. In addition, the rally hires outside security guard, and I have to figure out where those things fit in. I’ve set myself quite a task! At the same time, I’m curious as to where his relationship with Wendy will go. And even more curious to find out if Samuel is going to train his dog, Dusty, not to be a nuisance.

The Cozy Mystery as a Light Thriller by S.C. Perkins

If I asked you how you like your morning coffee or tea, would you have a specific strength you always enjoy your day-starting drink that never, ever changes? Or are there times when you mix it up, taking your normally dark-roast coffee with a splash of cream or occasionally skipping the milk and sugar in your English Breakfast for a stronger kick? If so, while it’s still your preferred morning brew at heart, a little change every now and again often makes for a new and enjoyable outlook on the drink you love. I’d like to believe the same can be said for sub-genres within the crime-fiction world, including my personal favorite, the cozy mystery.

Murder Once Removed (Ancestry Detective #1) Cover ImageWhen my own debut cozy, Murder Once Removed, came out this past March, BookPeople’s Scott Montgomery dubbed it a “light thriller,” and I couldn’t have been more delighted. Though I can respect and understand the purist’s stance that a cozy should not deviate from the elements that have traditionally defined the lighter take on mysteries, I have to admit I’m happy to see varying “strengths” of cozy mysteries on the market. And because of this, I think we might be seeing more and more cozies that could be considered light thrillers.

But before I get into why I think cozies might be going for more thrills, let’s look at what generally constitutes a cozy mystery and what aspects might give them a little more of the thriller factor.

It’s no wonder the word “cozy” is used, and it’s a big clue, with the book having traits including:

  • a lighter tone with a slower pacing;

  • while the murder happens, it takes place off the page and the gore level is minimal;

  • the protagonist is an amateur sleuth with an interesting profession and is someone with whom the reader might like to be friends;

  • the charming small town (or fun big city) where the reader wants to visit;

  • there’s usually a little bit of romance, often with a dose of will-they-or-won’t-they banter;

  • and the cast of secondary characters who occasionally fly their oddball flags provide a sounding board for the protagonist, a sense of family and/or the voice of reason, and some comic relief.

Also, the protagonists in cozy mysteries are everyday people just like us who get to do what all of us who love mysteries wish we could:  right wrongs, save a life or two, and do it all without seeing anything too creepy, getting hurt too badly, or having the local law enforcement throwing us in jail for interfering with an investigation! We can only dream, am I right?

Anyway, when a cozy mystery veers toward a light thriller, it’s because it draws more heavily than normal on one or more of the aspects of its darker cousin, including—

  • a faster pace;

  • a mystery that involves potentially higher stakes;

  • the protagonist knowing who the villain is instead of attempting to discover whodunit, and racing against time to stop a tragedy from happening (or from happening again);

  • the threat level from the villain starts high and never seems to ease;

  • stronger language and/or a more sinister climactic event;

  • and a heroine or hero who isn’t just flawed, but also may have physical or emotional challenges that leave them more open to attack.

So, how does Murder Once Removed incorporate some thriller-like aspects? Well, without giving too much away—no spoilers here!—my genealogist protagonist, Lucy Lancaster, finds an old photograph called a daguerreotype and some journals that connects her wealthy client, Gus Halloran, to a U.S. senator. Very quickly, Lucy finds out that someone wants what she’s found and is willing to kill to get it. The threats to Lucy’s life, and those of her friends’ lives, come at a faster rate than your traditional cozy mystery.

Plus, while I chose the setting—Austin, Texas—because it’s a big city with a decidedly small-town feel, its urban status helps to set the stage for a darker feel to the narrative (which I hope is pleasantly offset by Lucy’s positive attitude, slight naivete, and doses of humor sprinkled throughout.)

As to why I think we might be seeing more of these types of lighter mysteries, I believe it’s solidly built on the precarious world we live in today. With so many tragedies and so much negativity around us, we all need some of the many optimistic qualities that the cozy mystery embodies:  good-yet-imperfect people trying to do right, warmth, friends and family, and the notion of how one person with a can-do attitude can really make a difference in the world and bring about a happy ending.

They’re also just so dang fun to read, too. And the writing from cozy authors is as well-crafted and stellar as you’ll read anywhere, making the cozy mystery not just a respite for the world-weary reader, but also a treat to enjoy.

If you happen to like the “light thriller” style of mysteries (or think you might be willing to add a dash of them into your reading lineup), here are just a few of the series I would recommend:

The Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries by Carolyn Haines

The Bibliophile mysteries by Kate Carlisle

The Noodle Shop mysteries by Vivien Chien

The Speakeasy Murders by Susanna Calkins

The White House Chef mysteries by Julie Hyzy

REVIEW OF A RISKY DEVELOPMENT FOR LORETTA SINGLETARY

When it comes to writing small town crime fiction, Terry Shames is one of the masters. With Jarret Creek Texas, protected by the brought out of retirement Chief Of Police Samuel Craddock, she has created a believable community. In her latest. A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary, a significant member of the community goes missing.

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover ImageNoticing it’s been awhile since Loretta has stopped by his house with her cinnamon rolls to gossip, Samuel goes over to her house. He finds out that she had packed as well as left dirty dishes in the sink. He soon discovers Loretta was meeting a man through a singles website. Further poking around takes Deputy Maria Trevino, and him through the darker side of online dating. They also pick up ties to the Baptists Church wanting to sponsor the goat rodeo with the Catholics.

This is self assured crime fiction writing at its most entertaining. Shames has a clean and direct style and knows her characters. She knows her readers understand the friendship between Samuel and Loretta and relies on that understanding to develop tension as Samuel grows grumpier and more concerned over her. His frustrations with the goat rodeo controversy and the shenanigans of two dim bulb brothers become obstacles that hinder the investigation. Even a tryst with his girlfriend Wendy is bittersweet, as Samuel knows it’s just a respite from getting out of bed to face his worst fears about Loretta’s fate.

A Risky Undertaking For Loretta Singletary is a prime example of Terry Shames as master craftsman. She juggles humor, suspense, character, and setting to whip up a narrative drive that keeps you reading and caring. She once again gives us a welcome return to Jarret Creek.

CRIME FICTION FRIDAY- THE CAREFUL HUNTER BY TERRENCE P. MCCAULEY

Dark Territory (A Sheriff Aaron Mackey Western #2) Cover ImageTerrence P. McCauley is a jack of all trades genre writer. He applies great craft to his short stories whether they be prohibition era gangster, modern spy, or private eye. His latest book, Dark Territory, is a action packed western featuring his sheriff Aaron Mackey. In this short story, publisher din Shotgun Honey, he gives us an entertaining crime tale.

EVERY MURDER VICTIM CAN HAVE A STORY: SCOTT BUTKI’S INTERVIEW WITH R.G. BELSKY

As a former journalist and a fan of mysteries I’m a bit biased in favor of books about the news media written by current and former journalists. I thought I should mention that as I introduce an interview about the latest book by R.G. Belsky, Below The Fold.

Below the Fold (Clare Carlson Mystery #2) Cover ImageThat said, R.G.’s books would be great reads even if they were not based in the world he knows best, the news media.

This is the third time I have been lucky enough to interview R.G. by email, here for his novels The Kennedy Connection and Shooting for the Stars and here for Blonde Ice.

While those books had a protagonist named Gil Malloy, this new book has an intriguing protagonist named Clare Carlson, a TV news director who still has a reporter’s instincts.

As the book begins one of the news reporters wants to go against the grain and do a news piece on the murder of a woman who is homeless. While that story would often not get much media attention Clare approves a story about this woman who called herself Cinderella.

Soon there are more murders, more victims, more questions.

And with that, let’s get to the interview.

Scott Butki: How did this story come together?

R.G. Belsky: I’ve worked for many years in the media (at the NY Post, NY Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News). We in the media are frequently criticized for only focusing on sensational, high profile crimes in our coverage. Like O.J., Jon Benet, Casey Anthony etc. So I decided I wanted to write a book where a media person—Clare Carlson, news director of a New York TV station—decides to cover a murder that normally would be ignored: the death of a homeless woman on the streets of Manhattan. In this case, a seemingly insignificant death leads to links to powerful and influential figures which turned it into a sensational headline murder. But I wanted to show how every murder victim can have a story, once a journalist goes looking for it.

Scott: Which comes first for you, the characters or the plot?

R.G.: I’m very big on the importance of character. If I like the character, I’ll read a mystery novel even if the story isn’t great. But a great story won’t keep me turning the pages of a book where I don’t relate to the character or characters. So obviously I follow the same approach in writing my own mysteries. Clare Carlson, my character, comes first. I figure if I can get her right readers will follow her wherever the story leads…

Scott: In what ways is the protagonist, Clare, the news director for a New York City TV station, similar and different from you?

R.G.: Well, she’s a woman, and I’m not. I suppose there are some similarities between Clare and me. But I didn’t really create her based on me. I drew my inspiration from a lot of terrific journalistsmen and womenthat I’ve worked with in newsrooms over the years. People who became obsessed with their jobs and with breaking the big storyeven if the rest of their life suffered as a consequence. As I frequently have said, “I’ve known a lot of Clare Carlsons in my life.”

Scott:  When I last interviewed you here, you were doing a series starring Gil Malloy. Why did you switch to a series featuring Clare? Did you base Clare on people you have worked with?

R.G.: Clare was not originally meant to be a series. In 2016, the same year as the last Gil Malloy book came out, I won the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville for a manuscript about a woman journalist who is hiding long-buried secrets about a sensational missing child case that she’s been covering. It was meant to be a stand-alone book based on this one story.

But the character, Clare Carlson, worked so well I was asked by my publisher to turn it into a series. I’m sure glad, because I love writing about Clare.

Scott:  Did you decide to write about the news media in your novels as a way to draw on your knowledge and experience?

R.G.:  Absolutely. I’m a great believe in the “write what you know” approach to being a fiction author. I know a lot about newsrooms and the media, so that’s where I set all my books. Besides, if I wrote about lawyers or spies or anything else, I’d have to do a lot of research. And, believe me, I hate doing research! But seriously, I believe my media background adds an air of authenticity to my books which hopefully makes Clare more interesting to the reader.

Scott:  What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

R.G.:  That it was a good read! Fun, entertaining, thought provokingand all that kind of stuff. I write books with the idea that I want them to be like the kind of books that I like to read myself. I figure that if I like my books, other people will too. As a mystery reader, I love reading characters like Harry Bosch, Spenser and Kinsey Millhone. As a TV mystery fan, I loved The Rockford Files and Columbo. So I tried to draw on elements from all that when I created Clare Carlson. I want people to enjoy spending time with Clare.

Scott: What DO you think on the true state of journalism today?

R.G.: Oh, my! We could talk for hours about this. Yes, journalism has changed dramatically since I started my career. Back in the 1980s, we used to sell a million copies a day of the New York Postand everyone got their news from newspapers or TV. Now print newspapers are shrinking or dying rapidly, and many people get their news from smart phones, tablets, and websites. But I’m not some old “get off my lawn” journalist who wants to tell you how terrible journalism is today. I spent several years recently working as a managing editor with NBC News digital coverageand discovered all the possibilities that social media opens up for journalists. I mean we still have three newspapers in New York City, but we have many, many more news websites springing up every day. Good journalism is good journalism, no matter how it is delivered to the reader.

Scott: What is it like to get blurbs and praise from such authors as Douglas Preston and Michael Koryta, and Meg Gardiner?

R.G.: Yes, I’m always blown away when someone whose work I admire likes my book! In addition to the ones you’ve mentioned, I’ve also gotten praise for the Clare Carlson series from Lee Goldberg, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Reed Farrel Coleman. I only seek author blurbs from writers whose work I really enjoy reading (I figure that way there’s a decent chance they’ll like my stuff too). A long time ago I even got an author blurb from Michael Connelly. Now if I could just figure out a way to get a copy of my next book to Stephen King….

Scott: Is it true that you helped create the famous “Headless Body in Topless Bar” headline? Tell me about how you come up with it?

R.G.: Yes, I was in the New York Post city room when the most famousor infamoustabloid headline ever was written. It involved a holdup man who murdered someone at a topless bar, then cut off the victim’s head. I didn’t write the headline, but my role in that historic journalistic moment is chronicled here.

The funny thing is I’ve worked in journalism for decades, and accomplished some pretty significant things along the way, But, if you google me, you’ll find the most prominent thing is being a part of the “Headless Body in Topless Bar” headline. Go figure!

Scott: What are you working on next?

R.G.: The third book in the Clare Carlson series, The Last Scoop, will be out in 2020. I’m just finishing up the editing on that now. In this one, Clare is on the trail of a serial killer even scarier than Son of Sam or Ted Bundy or the Zodiac. Which was interesting to do because I’ve covered Son of Sam and other serial killers so extensively over the years as a journalist. Of course, there is also ongoing drama surrounding Clare’s personal life, which I love to write about too. If you like Clare in the first two books, I think you’ll want to read this one too!

FIVE GREAT PIECES OF TEXAS CRIME FICTION

May is Texas Mystery Month. The crime fiction of MysteryPeople’s home state often has a western or rural feel, yet we have several that take place in our big city. We’re pretty open minded about who we murder here. Just like barbecue, everyone down here has their way of doing it. Here are five must reads by Texas authors, covering East to West Texas and everything in between.

The Killer Inside Me (Mulholland Classic) Cover ImageThe Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson—Still one of the most chilling books ever written. Lou Ford is a deputy of a small town in West Texas and a psychotic killer. Thompson gets into Lou’s dark mind as he deals out and covers up his crimes while looking at the society around him that doesn’t appear to be much more sane.

 

 

Big Red Tequila (Tres Navarre #1) Cover ImageBig Red Tequila by Rick Riordan—Before he created Y.A. hero Percey Jackson, Riordan he gave us Tres Nevarre, an young professor in medieval history who returns to his San Antonio home and is greeted with a murder frame. This book sets up what will become one of the funkiest and entertaining private eye series ever.

 

 

 

Mucho Mojo: A Hap and Leonard Novel (2) (Hap and Leonard Series #2) Cover ImageMucho Mojo by Joe R LansdaleThere has to be a Hap and Leonard book in here, and this second in the series is the best and introduces all the main characters and ingredients in a perfect mix. The boys uncover old history, a murder charge, and a few people gunning for them when they discover a boy’s skeleton in the basement of Leonard’s recently deceased grandfather.

 

 

The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery (Samuel Craddock Mysteries) Cover ImageThe Last Death Of Jack Harbin by Terry Shames—The second book in the series featuring Samuel Craddock has the retired chief of police looking into the murder of the town football hero who returned from Iraq a quadriplegic, only to end up murdered. The emotions ring true in this heart breaker of a novel.

 

 

The Far Empty Cover ImageThe Far Empty by J. Todd Scott—A new deputy does a deadly dance with his boss, pulling several others in with them, when what could be the body of the sheriff’s missing wife is discovered. Scott, a practicing DEA agent, delivers a gritty, multi-character masterpiece on the border that puts No Country For Old Men to shame.

PEERING INTO A KALEIDOSCOPE; AND INTERVIEW WITH BLACK MOUNTAINS’ LAIRD BARRON

Black Mountain (An Isaiah Coleridge Novel #2) Cover ImageLast year Laird Barron introduced us to Isaiah Coleridge, a former mob enforcer, doing his best to go straight and be a hero in the series debut, Blood Standard. In the follow up, Black Mountain, Coleridge has set himself up as a P.I. and is hired by his old bosses to track down a vicious killer that leads to a mountain research facility and a lot of dark secrets. Laird will be here to discuss Black Mountain Thursday, May 8th at 7PM on BookPeople’s second floor. We were able to get some questions in ahead of time.

1. This is the first time you’ve taken on a series character. Did you notice any difference writing the next chapter in someone’s story?

I’ve written recurring characters in my horror stories, especially pro final girl, Jessica Mace. Her adventures are more episodic, so yes, working with Coleridge takes me into different territory. I envision the novels as chapters of his saga. Each tells a complete story, but the overarching narrative continues. There’s a certain comfort (even amidst the darkness and trauma that Coleridge endures) in returning to the familiar. It’s also intriguing to realize that if you keep digging, the “familiar” will change into something else entirely.

2. What has series character allowed you to do?

I’m pretty much doing what I’ve always done in terms of storytelling. The scale is much larger. I’m working on the third book in the series to hand in this fall. That’s roughly a quarter million words spent inside the head of one character. It allows me to peel Coleridge, his associates, and the universe he inhabits like an onion.

3. How has Isaiah changed from Blood Standard?

Coleridge went through the fire as a kid. Adversity forged him into a phenomenally strong and tough individual. He’s near the height of his powers in Blood Standard. But times are changing, as Black Mountain and its follow-up will demonstrate. All those broken bones, concussions, and impromptu blood donations have exacted a toll that becomes more apparent by the day. His shooting hand isn’t as steady. He’s lost half a step. And he’s beginning to run into younger, deadlier opponents. The other half of the equation is the idea of redemption. Is it enough for a black hat to go straight? Do current noble actions outweigh evil committed in the past?

I adore the action hero genre. I also want to write about a world where meaningful consequences exist. Where the shit a hero steps in sticks to his heel. Coleridge fulfills the role of a heroic (or anti-heroic) badass. The consequences are that he has an army-length train of baggage, he’s in decline, and the Eternal Footman is holding his coat with a big smile.

4. One of the things that makes Black Mountain an interesting read is that you think it’s one subgenre, then it turns into another, and another. On the page it looks seamless, but did you find it a challenge?

The Coleridge series fuses multiple genres because I write for myself as much as I write for the theoretical audience. It’s another case of taking something I’ve done for years (writing short fiction genre hybrids) and applying it to a novel. My protagonist doesn’t neatly fit into a checkbox and neither does his story. Translating it from my subconscious feels like peering into a kaleidoscope where the central image is crystal clear and distinct while the peripheral elements are fractured and unstable.

The only rule I’ve set for myself is that the backbone of the series is crime/mystery. Horror and weirdness lurk at the margins, but no different than the waking world. We are surrounded by unfathomable mysterious, contradictions, and wonders. Coleridge gets to rub up against that stuff too.

5. Oestryke proves to be a formidable antagonist. How did you approach him?

The Croatoan, as some mobsters have dubbed Oestryke, is a bogeyman antagonist. He’s at the epicenter of a web of mysteries, conspiracy theories, and legends. Ultimately what’s true or apocryphal in regard to the character takes a backseat to the dreadful reputation he enjoys. The less said, the better. He might be listening.

6. When we met last year, I was impressed about your film and book knowledge, even outside the genres you’re known for. How has being an avid reader and student of what you’ve read enhanced your writing?

John D. MacDonald, Robert Parker, Angela Carter, Peter Straub, Kelly Link, Roger Zelazny, and William Goldman made me a better writer. So did Charles Simic, Mark Strand, and Anne Sexton. That’s the short list; the off-the-top-of-my-head list.

If you have a writing question, the greats who came before us (and the ones who are still here, toiling, have already answered it. They even wrote it down for you. The trick is knowing what questions are important and to recognize the corresponding answers are merely representative examples.

I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I pay attention to what the best among us have done and contribute however I am able.