Tell a Great Story: An Interview with Greg Shepard

gregWe’re celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Stark House Press this month with a discussion of hard boiled fiction with Joe Lansdale, Tim Bryant, Josh Stallings, and Stark House editors, experts, and writers Rick Ollerman and John Vorzimmer. One person who can’t make it is Greg Shepard (pictured), Stark House’s founder and publisher, who has been bringing back great genre fiction gems from the past back in print. We took some time to talk to the man about his twenty years of his great work.


1. How did Stark House Press get started?

My dad, Bill Shepard, was a magazine and newspaper editor and writer for many years. In 1998, he had the idea to start a family publishing venture. Several of my family members joined in as artists and editors. Our first book was the hardback collection, The Oracle Lips by Storm Constantine. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell as well as we had hoped. One by one, family members drifted away, leaving me with the basis for Stark House Press. My brother, Mark, still serves as our graphic designer, and my wife Cindy runs our website. I also have several friends and associates who help with writing, proofing and occasionally suggesting authors.

2. What do you see as the mission of the press?

The main goal of Stark House Press is to act as a reprint publisher, bringing back genre fiction of the past, and specializing in mysteries and noir fiction. We will occasionally promote new authors, but roughly 80% of our business will continue to focus on reprinting gems from the past.

3. Much of the crime fiction you publish are from the fifties and sixties. What do you think was quintessential about that era?

The 1950s and 60s were the golden age of the paperback, a time when all those pulp veterans and fledgling crime writers had an opportunity to expand their ideas from magazine short stories into the novel format. Fostered by the generous advances of Gold Medal Books, many of the classic mystery authors we celebrate today—John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Gil Brewer, Peter Rabe, Vin Packer—could make a living doing what they did best: tell a great story. The post-war, boom climate of the 50s also generated a lot of angst, giving rise to some very dark fiction via authors like Jim Thompson, David Goodis and David Karp. It was just a very fertile time for crime fiction.

4. While you have some of the bigger names like Gil Brewer and David Goodis, you have also brought back some lesser known authors. Who are some that you wish more readers would know of?

Douglas Sanderson, who also wrote as Malcolm Douglas and Martin Brett, is a favorite of mine. I love his lean, mean prose. I’ve been hyping Elisabeth Sanxay Holding to the point where we’ve reprinting all but two of her mysteries, but I still feel she could be better well known. And I would love to see more sales of James McKimmey, Bill S. Ballinger, Richard Wormser and John Flagg to justify more reprints of their forgotten treasures. This year we have also added a lot more women mystery authors, like Jean Potts, Bernice Carey and Dolores Hitchens, with more to come. The list of “lesser knowns” could go on and on.

5. Who is an author or book you’d like to get back into print, but haven’t yet for whatever reason?

I’d love to get David Karp back into print but have yet to track down his heirs. Same goes for Don Tracy and Robert Edmond Alter. And then there are authors like Edward S. Aarons and Marvin Albert, whose heirs doesn’t seem interested. And authors like Cornell Woolrich and Geoffrey Homes, whose agents are just charging too much for the rights.

6. Where would you like to see Stark House in the next twenty years?   

I should live so long. Seriously, if Stark House is still in business in 20 years, I hope it’s still bringing back more great authors of the past. I’d love to see a wider range of genres by then—more science-fiction, horror, fantasy, westerns—and a lot better balance of both men and women authors on our list. More anthologies as well. But other than that, I hope Stark House continues to be known for reprinting the authors who deserve another shot in print. And I hope we continue to have the resources to keep books in print, as well as making them available as e-books. But in 20 years, who knows what new changes in the publishing business will have occurred.


To hear more about Stark House Press and from the contributors and editors of their latest publication, The Best of Manhunt, join us on BookPeople’s third floor on August 31st at 2PM for a paneled discussion headed by Crime Fiction coordinator Scott Montgomery. The talk will feature Jeff Vorzimmer, Rick Ollerman, Josh Stallings, Tim Bryant and Joe Lansdale. 

An Interview with The Best of Manhunt editor John Vorzimmer

9781944520687The Best Of Manhunt is a collection of 47 stories from the famed crime fiction magazine of the fifties and sixties. Editor John Vorzimmer put it together, giving us stories by big names like Mickey Spillane and David Goodis, newcomers at the time, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake, as well as many forgotten authors that will be remembered. For a celebration of his publisher Stark House’s twentieth year and the book itself John will be part of our Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames: A Discussion Of Hard Boiled Crime on Saturday, August 31st with Rick Ollerman, Josh Stallings, Tim Bryant, and Joe Lansdale. Here we got him on his own.

 

 


  1. How did this project come about?

I’ve always been an admirer of Otto Penzler’s anthologies, especially his Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. I always hoped he would do a similar anthology of Manhunt stories. I have always thought of Manhunt as the worthy successor to Black Mask, appearing as it did the year following that venerable magazine’s demise. After six years with no Manhunt anthology coming from anybody, I asked myself a question I often do, If I don’t do it, who will?

  1. Was there any criteria of picking the stories?

There was a previous anthology of Manhunt stories, The Best From Manhunt, in the late 50s, edited by Scott & Sidney Meredith, which I used as a starting point. All the stories included in that collection are included in mine. For the rest I turned to veteran anthologist Bill Pronzini, who, not only has edited over a hundred anthologies himself, but is a big fan of Manhunt. I also relied on other experts on certain authors who appeared regularly in Manhunt and solicited them for their favorites.

  1. Why do you think Manhunt was such a quality crime fiction magazine?

Manhunt was the brainchild of publisher Archer St. John and agent Scott Meredith. Both were experts who knew the right people to make Manhunt a great publication. St. John supplied the artists and layout people to create a great looking publication while Meredith and his brother, Sydney, provided editing duties and a steady flow of great fiction from their stable of writers.

  1. Who comes the closest to being the quintessential Manhunt author?

Tough question. I think there are several. I would have to say Evan Hunter, otherwise known as Ed McBain, who contributed 48 stories over the life of the magazine. In addition I would have to include Gil Brewer and Fletcher Flora.

  1. Is there a lesser known writer in this collection you hope writers will discover?

Oh, yes. Frank E. Smith, who wrote as Jonathan Craig, comes immediately to mind, along with Robert Turner and Clark Howard. Other than a couple of books by small, independent publishers, I don’t think these writers currently have much in print.

  1. What does crime fiction from this era have over it’s contemporaries?

A question loaded with potential pitfalls. I could say these authors worked at a time in which writers weren’t constrained by the fear of offending someone or some group. What they wrote actually reflected, for better or worse, how people behaved in the 1950s.


Don’t forget to join us on August 31st at 2PM on BookPeople’s third floor for a discussion with Vorzimmer and The Best of Manhunt contributors Rick Ollerman, Josh Stallings, Tim Bryant and Joe Lansdale. And while you’re at it, order a copy of The Best of Manhunt here.

“Writing a Book Should Never Be Easy”: Scott Butki Interviews Karin Slaughter

9780062858085_d69dfWith her 19th novel Karin Slaughter continues writing fast-paced action stories with excellent plots and fascinating characters. After writing some books about Will Trent and some about Sara Linton in recent years she’s combined them, meaning both characters are in the same books. Sara is a medical examiner and Will, her boyfriend, is an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In this one Karin starts the book with a great twist, Will and Sara try to help strangers at a crime scene and he gets hurt and she gets kidnapped, becoming part of a crew that has already kidnapped another woman. Great plots and character insights follow.

I first read and interviewed Karin about 9 years ago and I was struck by the amount of violence in her books. So I asked a possibly sexist question, namely, Why so much violence? It’s a question she gets asked a lot and she has a perfectly reasonable response: If women are more often the victims of violence why shouldn’t female writers be addressing that.

Karin was kind enough to let me interview her again, by email, for her excellent new book, The Last Widow.


Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story, which starts with the big twist of Sara Linton being kidnapped?

Karin Slaughter:  When I began working on this book I knew I wanted this story to put Will and Sara in the most scary and vulnerable situation imaginable. I’ve spent so much time bringing them together that I thought it would be interesting to see what happens to them when they are forced apart. That was the seed and the rest grew from there.

S: Do you want readers to start at the beginning of your series or can they start with this book?

K: Absolutely they can start with The Last Widow. I purposely write my books in a way that readers can start with any book and be able to easily fall into the story. But if they are OCD, like me, they probably will want to begin at the beginning, anyway. My hope is that new readers will start with The Last Widow, and if they like it they’ll go back and read the other books in the series.

S: As the press release for this book notes, you often have “strong themes of female empowerment” and have an “incredible skill for holding a mirror up to society to explain what is going on in the world.”  How do you go about putting those themes in? Is that something that goes in as you write the early drafts?

K: I think it is much more organic, and really just about my life experience. I know the challenges that I and my female friends face, and I write from that experience. There are just some things that men don’t have to deal with—I’m not talking about the “known” issues like misogyny and harassment (though men can be harassed, too). There’s so much more to being a woman, and as writers, we are very good at knowing what scares other women. We know what a struggle it is to just be a woman in the world.

S: What do you hope readers will take away from this and your other books?

K: I always hope readers just have a great time reading, and find something that thrills them. I read for fun, and I know how transporting a great book can be. I try to deliver that experience every time.

S:  I see that one of your standalone novels, Pieces of Her, is going to be an 8-part Netflix adaptation? What is that like to imagine your book becoming a TV production?

K: It’s a bit surreal. I don’t really have ideas about what the characters look like and sound like as I’m writing them—they’re just there in my head. But thinking that something I created in my pajamas alone in my cabin being interpreted for the screen is bizarre. In a good way, though! The team at Made Up Stories is tops and the writer is amazing. I know that their vision for this is really well-thought out and designed to honor what I’ve put on the page. I feel like the story is in very capable hands.

S: What do you like about writing a story in this series versus standalone novels? What do you like about doing the standalones?

K: Standalone and series novels each have their own challenges; it seems like it would be easier to write a Will Trent book because I’ve known him and I’ve written about Sara from the very beginning. But the challenge is to say new things about them that aren’t surprising, like suddenly Will loves to collect civil war memorabilia, and you never knew that. I have to figure out ways to make them interesting to people. But when I’m doing a standalone the big challenge is, for example, when I did The Good Daughter, I go back and read it from the beginning and say, “O.K. is the Charlie you see at the end of this novel believable as a Charlie in the beginning?” Whatever they go through has to make sense for their personality. I don’t want someone who is very timid to be kicking butt at the end; I want her journey, for lack of a better word, to make sense. That’s sometimes more challenging in a novel because as you’re writing this character you are getting to know them as well.

S: I interviewed you once before, way back in 2010. It is great to be able to touch base with you again. In between that and this interview you wrote many more best-sellers. Is it getting easier or harder to write new books?

K: Oh yeah, I remember that! Isn’t that one of the great things about this business, you get to be a part of a kind of community, right? But writing a book should never be easy. If anything, the more I write, the harder and more challenging it gets because I learn something new with each book. If there’s an easy part, it’s that I have a lot more resources now. If I need to talk to a cop about how to commit the perfect murder, she’s not going to put me on a watch list. I hope.

S:  I read a piece where you interviewed Will Trent. Was that fun to write?

K: It was a lot of fun to write. My audio publisher is actually turning this into an audio piece which I’ll post on my website and social media. The interviewer will be my regular audio book narrator, Kathleen Early. I really hope people like the narrator they chose for Will Trent. It will be a good little test run.

S: Can you tell me about your Save the Libraries? What is it and how can people help?

K: Save the Libraries Foundation was started in 2008 when the economy went to the toilet. I am someone who has always toured libraries and I noticed that some of my favorite librarians were no longer there. They’d been asked to retire or their hours had been cut back. I noticed just in my own community that the hours were cut at the local branch and we had a lot of kids on the street that would normally be in the library. And, I thought, this is something I feel very strongly about because as a child the library was my haven. I will say part of that is because it was the only air conditioned building in town, but they had a lot of books too. I just thought, we have to do something about this; I talked to a bunch of friends of mine who are authors and we all feel this way. You can talk to Lee Child, Mike Connelly, Neil Gaiman, Laura Lippman, just a cast of any authors and they’ll tell you the libraries were probably the most important thing they had when they were growing up. We all decided, well, we need to give back. I did a fundraiser in my library system in Dekalb county and we had Kathryn Stockett and Mary Kay Andrews come in. I also partnered with the Indigo Girls to do a concert in Atlanta to raise funds. We did block grants to libraries around the country, actually around the world, because we did some in Europe and some in England. We said if you have a need, here’s some money, you know what you need, buy what you need and so far we have given away over $300,000.

S: What are you working on next?

K: I’m working on a new Sara and Will book for 2020!


You can order your copy of Karin Slaughter’s latest, The Last Widow, now.

The More You Write the More You Understand Them: An Interview with Lisa Lutz

9781984818232_b9eeb Lisa Lutz’s new thriller, The Swallows, opens like a satire on academia with Alex Witt starting work at a second tier private school receiving classes she doesn’t want. When a creative writing assignment brings attention to something known as “The Dark Room” that the boys like and the girls don’t, she teams up with a streetwise student, Gemma, to overthrow a school tradition. Lisa is able to weave her sense of humor with sense of dread and the use of multiple points of view allows her to delve into a topical subject from several angles. Lisa Lutz will be at BookPeople to discuss The Swallows August 20th at 7PM and was kind enough to take some advance questions.

 

  1. How did the idea for The Swallows come about?

I had the idea to write about a gender war, and a private school setting made the most sense. I can’t say where the germ of the idea came from (my ideas are rarely sparked by an article or real-life event). After I had the idea, I did read up on private school scandals, mostly to confirm my theory that what happens in The Swallows was entirely plausible.

I think it’s important to mention that I didn’t write it as a #MeToo book—I’d started writing it before all that gained momentum. That said, I did have to contend with my own Trump rage throughout the writing of the book. You’d think it would help, but it really didn’t.

  1. Gemma is such a great complex character. How did you go about constructing her?

Thank you. I wanted a character who was an outsider—who saw things from a slightly different perspective than the other students. Beyond that, I don’t know that I can articulate how I conceived of her—or any character, really. I just start writing and see what happens. The more you write, the more you understand them.

  1. What about this story made you go with switching the point of view with each chapter?

I think the whole subject matter is about different points of view. I wanted a balance between adults, students, males and females. I also liked being able to layer the story so that you see some situations from different POVs.

  1. I bought all the voices of the teenagers. Did you have to keep anything in mind when writing for them?

I think of it like writing character-specific dialogue for film or TV, just with more sentences. Everyone has their own rhythm, words they use more than others. Gemma’s language was pretty loose, and swearing was second nature. But Norman, for instance, was more locked down. I tend to talk when I write so I can hear the rhythm. (If I’m writing in public, this has the additional benefit of discouraging strangers from talking to me.)

      5. This is the first book since you’ve written since working in the writers room of The Deuce. Did that experience have any impact on your writing?

Not really. Writing novels and working in a writer’s room feel like entirely different jobs. I’m not a control freak in most of my life, but I really like writing my own stuff. It’s hard to cede control. It always feels good to go back to my own stuff. Also, I’m pretty uncivilized, and when you work in a room you have to at least try to be human. Some days that’s just beyond me.

      6. I recently had dinner with some of your peers and we were talking about how well you use humor in your books. What does it allow for you to do besides getting a laugh?

I always love when humor breaks the tension. I also think it makes some subjects more palatable. Also, there’s a way the girls in the book talk about things and “own the joke.” That always feels like the most powerful position. Granted, I care about jokes more than most people. “More than most people do,” I should say. I’m not a monster.

You can order a copy of The Swallows now.

The Worst Situation Possible: An Interview with Steve Cavanagh

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In Steve Cavanagh’s Thirteen, his series character, con man turned lawyer Eddie Flynn, takes on a celebrity murder case. However the true murderer, a serial killer, has gotten himself into the jury pool. Steve will be at BookPeople on August 15th at 7PM to discuss and sign Thirteen, but was kind enough to take this early examination.

 

1. Can you remember how the idea for Thirteen came about?
I had the idea when I was writing my first novel. Writers get ideas all the time, it’s figuring out which ones would make a good book, which is the tricky part. My ideas usually come from day dreaming about what would be the worst situation possible – and Thirteen, with a serial killer manipulating his way onto a jury, seemed pretty nightmarish. When I first had the idea I remember thinking I really liked it, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to write that book. Not then. I saved it, and now that I’ve written it I’m glad I waited. I needed more experience before I tackled this book.
2. Kane is a creepy and formidable antagonist. How did you go about constructing him?
Like a lot of thriller writers I spend a good deal of time finding out about bad people. Killers – what makes them tick? Why do they do these terrible things? I knew from the premise of the novel I needed a serial killer character, so I researched a lot of serial killers and decided that Kane’s psychology would come from a more unusual place. He has a rare genetic condition called congenital analgesia, which means he feels no pain. I wondered what that condition would do to someone with a troubled mind? The result is Joshua Kane.
3. This is one of those stories where the antagonist has as many if not more hurdles than the protagonist. Did that change any way you approached the novel?
This is more a two-hander than previous books. I wanted to create a well-rounded character for Kane, so I had the idea of treating him like he’s the hero in his own story. Some readers have even told me they were rooting for Kane at some points of the book. He can be very charming, after all. Ultimately, it meant balancing the book with Eddie Flynn’s perspective. Most people are behind Eddie Flynn, the con-man turned lawyer in the trial. The book then develops as a cat-and-mouse game, where only one character knows he’s even playing a game.
4. How did New York become Eddie’s stomping ground?
I love American crime fiction, so it seemed natural to set my novels there. When I came up with the character of Eddie Flynn I knew he would be a fast-talking, hard man lawyer with a big heart. He kind of is New York City. So it seemed natural to me at least to set the books in what would be Eddie’s natural habitat.
5. I enjoyed the friendship between Eddie and Harry. What makes up their bond?
Harry is Eddie’s mentor. He’s the reason Eddie quit the grift, and became a lawyer. They have a special relationship because each of them have their flaws, and they are both very aware of them and they try to help one another. Everyone needs that someone in their life who will go to hell and back for you at the drop of a hat. Eddie and Harry have that kind of relationship – and there’s no rivalry between them. Harry is an older man, and he’s trying to keep Eddie on the right path. Harry is set in his ways, and has a healthy disrespect for authority so Eddie has to keep him in check. Together, they kind of function.
6. As someone originally from Ireland who writes about the American legal system, what are the main differences that stand out?
In Ireland and the UK we have a legal aid system for criminal cases. This means if you are charged with a crime and you can’t afford a lawyer, you can apply for legal aid. If it’s granted, and it nearly always is, you can have any lawyer, from any firm, and they can’t charge you a penny. The lawyers get paid from the legal aid system. So a defendant who is broke can have the same quality of representation as a multi-millionaire. The system is constantly under attack from the government, but it really works. Also, we no longer have capital punishment. Those would be some of the big differences. 
Grab a copy of Thirteen today and be sure to join us on August 15th at 7PM to hear Steve Cavanagh chat with Chandler Baker about his latest!

Murder in the Afternoon Mixes Humor with Homicide

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Our August Murder In The Afternoon book will have the club laughing to death. In Junkyard Dogs, Craig Johnson  intended to write a somber novel about the effects of winter on the human condition. He ended up creating what many consider to be the funniest book in The Sheriff Walt Longmire series.
Walt finds himself  caught in the middle of a land dispute between the local junkyard owner and a prominent town member. When one of them is murdered, the investigation uncovers rivalries and secret romances Walt wishes  remain secret. He even has to contend with an Austin lawman  who resembles one of our book club hosts.
Junkyard Dogs is a fun read that should make for a fun discussion. To make it even more entertaining, Craig may possibly be calling in.

 

Join us on BookPeople’s third floor, Monday, August 19th, 1PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.
Buy it here!