An Interview with ‘Murder Off the Page’ Author, Cone Lehane

9781250317926_91e7cMurder Off The Page is the third book to feature Raymond Ambler, crime fiction curator for the New York Public Library. When his buddy, bartender McNulty, gets pinned with a murder rap, he aims to clear him and gets caught up in the victim’s daouble life. This a wonderful series that is not overtly violent but has a less than cozy feel. His characters have lived in feel and the story always gives us an interesting view of New York. Con was kind enough to take some questions from us. Lehane was kind enough to take a few questions from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

 

 


Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to put McNulty in jeopardy?

Con Lehane: McNulty was there at the beginning of the story but I didn’t know what would happen to him, and I didn’t know he had a past with Shannon until deep into the first draft. I may have had a vague idea that he’d be in trouble. The truth is I didn’t know where this story was going when I began. For a while, I was working on two drafts at the same time, two beginnings to the story; one was called The Librarian and the Damaged Girl; the other working title was McNulty’s Story. The first first-draft began in the house next to the lagoon on Long Island that Ambler visits in chapter five in the final version. The dying woman has summoned Ambler and asks him to find the daughter she abandoned years before. The second first-draft had to do with a woman with risky habits who frequents the Library Tavern and whom McNulty is smitten by. I knew he’d run off with her. I didn’t know he’d become a suspect in a murder.

SM: The murder victim is very intriguing. How did you go about constructing her?

CL: As I noted above, I had two ideas in mind when I began the book. The first I mentioned above is Ambler searching for a dying woman’s estranged daughter. The other idea came from a news story in New York some time back of a young woman doctor who died of a cocaine overdose in Chelsea, a hip section of Manhattan. She was an ophthalmologist, I think, with a husband and a couple of kids in Long Island who came into the city to party by herself. Her story kind of haunted me. I ended up with the dying woman’s missing daughter becoming this woman with two lives, a kind of victim of impulses she didn’t understand and couldn’t control.

SM: Cosgrove gets a lot of page time in the book. What do you enjoy about him as a character?

CL: Some of my favorite books are European police procedurals, especially Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret stories, but also Nicholas Freeling’s Van der Valk series, and the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and a bunch of others. I didn’t feel confident trying my own police procedural because I didn’t know enough about police work, and I wasn’t really interested in the nuts-and-bolts, CSI, stuff of how police investigate. So I came up with Cosgrove—intentionally—as my mini-police procedural. I like writing in his voice, and he’s played an increasingly prominent role as the series progressed. He’s a smart guy and knows what he’s doing. I didn’t want him to be a dumb cop foil for Ambler. But he’s different in how he sees the world because he is a cop—different from Ambler and different from me—and I like that.

SM: Ambler is a character who has been through a lot of life even before the series started.  What does a character like that allow you as an author?

CL: I wanted Ambler to have lived enough to have been wrong enough times to be careful about judging others for the mistakes they make. I didn’t want a hero wearing the white hat against the bad guys wearing black hats but Ambler to have some darkness in his life as well.

SM: As an author, what has made Raymond Ambler a character worth returning to?

CL: In some ways, I think I return to Ambler to discover more about him. The same is true with the other characters. I write these stories to find out what’s going to happen, in the same way readers read them to find out what’s going to happen. Most of the time, changes take place in Ambler’s life as he’s looking into what’s going on much more dramatically in the lives of others who are victims or perpetrators of murders.


Murder Off The Page is available for purchase now at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Communing with Chandler: Ace Atkins Discusses L.A. and ‘Angel Eyes’

9780525536826_fc5abAce Atkins returns to Spenser with Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes, this time taking the Boston private eye to Los Angeles, searching for a missing starlet.
Ace will be at BookPeople November 18th at 7PM to sign and discuss the book. We got a hold of him ahead of time to talk about the book and its City Of Angels setting.

Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to take Spenser back to L.A.?
Ace Atkins: When I was hired by the Parker estate and Mr. Parker’s longtime editor – almost ten years ago – one of the very first projects I wanted to write was an L.A. Spenser book. However, my editor at the time felt I needed to keep Spenser very Boston-centric for the first novels I’d write. I think it was a wise move. But after the seventh novel, I figured it was time to reunite Spenser with some series favorites like Chollo and Bobby Horse. I know Parker always had fun taking Spenser to the West Coast. I think it was his way of communing with Chandler.

SM: He gets to meet up with characters that he’s encountered before in the town. Which one was the most fun to write for?

AA: Definitely Chollo. Chollo has often been described as the Mexican Hawk. But I always saw him as much more. There is a certain feel of the Old West – classic Westerns – when Spenser and Chollo join forces.
SM: I thought the story looked at the town’s relationship with women. What did you want to explore with that aspect?

AA: Yes! That was absolutely the genesis of this whole book. Originally it had been set on take on the Harvey Weinstein story. But as it evolved more was coming out about the NXIVM cult and the story was so damn bizarre that I had to include it. For those who didn’t follow the NXIVM trial, it was a sex cult that was supposed to be about female empowerment.
AA: Sixkill has really come into his own in this book. What do you enjoy about him as a writer?
It’s funny, Scott. I had tried my best to stay away from Sixkill. He was introduced in Parker’s last novel as a replacement for Hawk (long story dealing with TV/film contracts and legal ownership of character). When I wrote my first Spenser, Lullaby, I purposely didn’t read Sixkill. I went back to the earlier novels for inspiration. But by the time I got around to it, I saw what Parker was doing. He had created an apprentice for Spenser and someone to carry on Spenser’s legacy. Obviously that hit home with me, and Sixkill has been a big part of the expansing Parkerverse since.
I hope readers will see that he has his own world, ecosystem, in Los Angeles that could be – and has been off-page — a flourishing and exciting saga.
SM: Susan always seems to be a character that even Parker had incorporating into the story at times, but she takes on a significant role in Angel Eyes?
AA: I think most criticism of Spenser and Susan has been due to the fact that Susan is often just Spenser’s sounding board. But in the very best novels – like Ceremony – she is a key player and wonderful strong character. When I thought adding the cult angle to the novel, I knew it was going to be a strong Spenser/Susan storyline. Which I think make the best Spenser books. Their relationship is core to the series.
SM: There are a few passages, particularly one with Spenser telling us about how he feels about the town that feels very much in the mood of Chandler. There’s even some reversals and reveals that reminded me of him. Do you feel the city has that effect on writers?
Absolutely! It’s the American Dream Factory. I love writing about Los Angeles because of what it means to the American psyche. Let’s face it, there would be no Spenser without Chandler. Spenser is the modern, east coast Marlowe. So, not surprisingly, he always feels very at home in Hollywood. It’s good for the character and good for the writer to return to where it all started. Plenty of inspiration for this book and more stories to come.

Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes is available for purchase at BookPeople in-store and online now. And don’t forget to join us on November 18th at 7PM when Ace Atkins returns to BookPeople to read from and sign Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes.

“As a Voice Speaking Intimately to Me” – An Interview with James Sallis

9781641290807_0d283Like James Lee Burke, Daniel Woodrell, and Reed Farrel Coleman, James Sallis’ work shows the literary merit of crime fiction. His latest, Sarah Jane, focuses on a woman who becomes sheriff after her boss has been murdered. The novel is less about the mystery than her life and it’s ups and downs in the Ozarks and Middle Eastern battlefields. Mr. Sallis was kind enough to take some questions about the book and writing in general from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

Scott Montgomery: How did the character of Sarah Jane come to you?

James Sallis: As a voice speaking intimately to me – those first lines of the book, up to “I didn’t do all the things people say I did, not all of them.” So I have to start thinking: What things did she not do?  And what did she do?  And who is this?  At which point I knew I had a novel.  Oddly enough, whereas generally the novels gather from a visual image, both those with female first-person characters, Sarah Jane and Others of My Kind, began with that voice in my ear.

SM: My take on the book is that it’s the study of a survivor. What did you want to say about someone who has been through so much?

JS: Haven’t we all?  But beyond that, I was thinking quite a lot about what I call the biographic folly, where the biographer picks something from childhood and uses that as a tracer bullet for the subject’s entire life.  Yet it seems to me that, as we go through, over, under and around our lives, we are many different people, that our lives are labile, not scripted.

I worked for many years in hospitals with severely injured, ill and dying patients, first adult, then chiefly children and newborns.  This experience confirmed my innate liberalism and my sense of humanity, of the immense suffering that’s so constant in our lives, that every one of us is engaged from moment to moment in pitched battles of which few others are aware.

SM: One thing I’ve enjoyed about your books like this, is rural characters who never come off as caricatures and carry themselves with dignity. What should people not aware of those areas be aware about the people who populate them?

JS: I bid, as a footnote might suggest.  Or as Martin Amis said: All writing is a war against cliche.  It’s our job as serious writers to scratch away cheap veneer and show the fine aged wood beneath.

SM: You are a writer who has never been afraid to have a protagonist of different gender or race than your own. Do you feel there is something you need to keep in mind when doing that?

JS: Swim upstream.  Imagine yourself into that other life.  Push. We’re trapped forever within our own skulls, but the arts are a bridge from that, cracks in the wall, letting us catch glimpses of  how the world appears to others, of how they live in this world we share.

SM: SOHO is also reprinting your Lew Griffin series. What’s best about the books being back in circulation for you?

JS: These were the books in which a short-story writer and poet learned – taught himself – to write novels.  There’s really not much else like them. And them may not be the best pronoun.  I’ve often suggested that the six are one long novel, a sense confirmed as, decades after their writing, I reread all six in a couple of weeks.

SM: Do you see it as a challenge writing characters like Sarah Jane and Lew Griffin as opposed to Driver, who is in very brief moments a challenge?

JS: I certainly hope so, or I’m not doing my work.  One of the first and last things I tell students is that, should they be serious writers, it will never get easier, they’ll never be satisfied.  That their reach will always be far out ahead of their grasp, always.


Sarah Jane is available for purchase at BookPeople now in-store and online at bookpeople.com.

“You’re Still Stuck In The Same Pond,” An Interview with ‘Dry County’ Author, Jake Hinkson

9781643132235_9f910Our Pick Of The Month, Dry County, has been getting a lot of notice. The violent domino effect of a preacher dealing with a blackmail predicment over Easter weekend, gives a dark comic look at faith and small town life. It’s author, Jake Hinkson, was kind enough to take some questions from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

 

 

 


Scott Montgomery: While Weatherford is a hypocritical preacher, he doesn’t fall into the stereotype of one. How did you approach him?

Jake Hinkson: With all due respect to Sinclair Lewis, I wanted to go beyond the Elmer Gantry model of the hard-drinking, womanizing, hypocritical preacher. I really see Weatherford as a conflicted man, first and foremost. He wants to be one kind of man, but he’s actually another kind of man, and he’s tortured by the contradiction, and he’s desperate not to have anyone find out. I tried to focus on that aspect rather than just saying, “Here he is being a hypocrite.” We’re all contradictory, every one of us. In some ways, the book is about him having to face who he really is, what he really believes. That’s when things start getting scary.

SM: How did 2016 Easter weekend become the time for the story?

JH: The book actually started with the Easter weekend idea. I’ve always been fascinated with Black Saturday because if Jesus died on Friday and rose on Sunday, then he was dead on Saturday. What was that day like? Mankind had killed god, and on that day it all seemed pretty bleak. I thought, “You know, that would be a good setting for a story about religious doubt.” I started the book in late 2014, and as the election came and went, I thought, “I should set it during the 2016 election.” It seemed like the natural thing to do.

SM: What prompted the use of multiple points of view?

JH: Originally, I thought the book was just going to be told from the point of view of Weatherford and Brian, alternating between the two of them. But as I began to write, it became apparent that the book would work better if these other voices came into the mix. Where it really came together was the voice of Penny Weatherford, the preacher’s wife. She’s kind of the secret center of the narrative. She snuck up on me, and hopefully she’ll sneak up on the reader. Alternating between all these voices was a lot of fun.

SM: By traveling through these characters you get a strong sense of this town and its different social stratas. What did you want to explore about small town society?

JH: Maybe my favorite detective series is Walter Mosely’s Easy Rollins books, at least the first five or so, and one thing I love about them is the way they reveal the co-mingling of the high and low stratas of Los Angeles society. (You find this a lot in Chandler, of course, though I think Mosely, at his best, does it better.) Well, what’s true for the big city is no less true for the small town. You may be a big fish in a small pond, but you’re still stuck in the same pond.

The other thing I’ll say about this is that a small town is a complex organism. Class, gender, politics, religion (and so much more) go into it. And yet even to this day—even with all we know of the opioid epidemic and the fifty-plus year shrinking of the middle class, particularly in rural communities—the popular idea of small towns is still wrapped up in this heartland myth. There’s something uniquely American about that disjunction, between the way we are and the way we insist on seeing ourselves.

SM: In the past you’ve mentioned  Flannery O’Connor as an influence. What do you hope to apply to your own writing from her?

JH: Influence isn’t really a matter of making a decision about how you’ll be influenced. Your influences choose you, rather than the other way around. So, I don’t see it as trying to apply something from O’Connor to my own work. I’m not Flannery O’Connor and her beliefs are not my beliefs and her style is not my style. But she’s the writer who taught me that you can write about small towns in the South. I didn’t know that when I was starting out. She taught me that you can write about internal religious conflicts and that you can make those internal conflicts explode into the real world. I didn’t know that either until I’d read her. Until I read O’Connor, I thought I was going to do straight detective fiction. I wanted to be the Robert B. Parker of Arkansas. O’Connor showed me you could write about religiously tormented antiheroes or downright villains if you wanted to. She didn’t really teach me to write like her as much as she gave me permission to write like me.

SMDry County has my favorite last line of the year. Were you knowingly writing toward it or did it simply come to you at the end of the book?

JH: I’m so happy you like it. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about the end of the book, and it’s deeply gratifying because it’s my favorite ending of anything I’ve ever written. I think I knew what that last scene was going to be about halfway through writing the book, which, when I hit upon it, really energized me. The last line came about in the writing. I knew I had it as soon as I wrote it.


Jake Hinkson’s Dry County is available for purchase now through BookPeople in-store and online now.

Interview with “The Dead Beat Scroll” Author, Mark Coggins

9781643960319In The Dead Beat Scroll, Mark Coggins’ private detective, August Riordan, returns to San Fransico to find his former partner Chris Duckworth murdered. His search for justice takes him through the city dealing with sugar daddies, a Chinatown gang boss, and an original Jack Kerouac manuscript. Once again, Coggins delivers a great traditional private eye tale using one of the most classic cities that is often at it’s best when it unabashedly leans into the classic tropes. Mark will be joining Heather Harper Ellet and L.A. Chandlar for our Place & Crime Panel at BookPeople on October 28th, but he took a few questions earlier from us about the book, the genre, and the town it takes place.


Scott Montgomery: With August trying to find his partner’s killer and it tied to a rare artifact, how aware were you that you were in the beginning that you were wadding into Maltese Falcon territory?

Mark Coggins: It was a conscious decision to make a hat tip or three to Hammett in general and The Maltese Falcon in particular. Riordan’s apartment has always been the one that Hammett lived in when he wrote the Falcon and the same one that Hammett placed Spade in for the story. In addition, Riordan’s office is in the Flood Building, which is where the Pinkerton Detective agency had its office in the 1920s when Hammett worked there. I never make an explicit reference to the Hammett connections in the books, but they are there for the savvy reader to pick up on if he or she is familiar with Hammett’s San Francisco.

By the way, you can read more about Hammett’s apartment at 891 Post Street in this essay I have on my website.

SM: How difficult a decision was it to kill off one of your main supporting characters in the series?

MC: It was pretty damn difficult. Chris Duckworth was Riordan’s sidekick for five of the seven books, and many readers found his personality and the byplay between Riordan and him to be one of the most entertaining aspects to the novels. Although Riordan and Duckworth are estranged at the time of Duckworth’s death, I hope that Riordan’s regard for Duckworth and the real grief he experiences come across in the book. I found the process of writing the final scene in the novel—which is a celebration of life for Duckworth—to be particularly poignant. I hope some of that poignancy is transmitted in the text.

SM: How did the Kerouac scroll come to you as the MacGuffin?

MC: Jack Kerouac stayed with Neal and Carolyn Cassady at 29 Russell Street on San Francisco’s Russian Hill for six months in 1952. Neal was the model for the character of Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s most famous work, On the Road.

In addition to Road, Kerouac worked on the novels Doctor Sax and Visions of Cody during his stay. He lived in the attic, writing on a desk made from a sheet of plywood. In The Beat Generation in San Francisco, Bill Morgan catalogs the other attic furnishings, “There was a bed on the floor and a typewriter, paper, Dexedrine, a radio, bongo drums, and a tape recorder for the new spontaneous prose style he was developing.”

I first learned Kerouac had been on Russian Hill when I lived there myself in the mid-90s. A friend pointed out the Russell Street house on a walk in the neighborhood and related its unique place in San Francisco literary history. Later, after I finished my fourth novel, Runoff, I remembered the house and began to toy with the idea of plotting my next book around another Kerouac scroll that is discovered when the Russell house is demolished.

But fate in the form of a trip to Buenos Aires intervened, and I was inspired to write instead about the bizarre story of Evita Perón’s “afterlife” in my novel, The Big Wake-Up. Next came No Hard Feelings, which sent Riordan away from San Francisco to a kind of exile in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Palm Springs.

In contemplating how to bring him back to the City by the Bay, I hit on the idea of Riordan being summoned by his old administrative assistant, Gretchen Sabatini, to help locate Duckworth, who has gone missing after taking on a case involving a murderous polyamorous family. I then decided to resurrect the Kerouac manuscript as the MacGuffin that brings the family to town and threw in the Chinatown gang that Riordan mixed it up with in Runoff for good measure.

SM: One thing that is quintessential about the series is your great use of San Francisco. How much has the town changed since The Immortal Game?

MC: The topography of downtown San Francisco, where a lot of the story takes place, has actually changed very little even from the time of The Maltese Falcon. But in the time since The Immortal Game was published in 1999, the influence of big tech has been the catalyst for some major upheaval, if less topographical than socioeconomic.

Although the namesake of the building is fictionalized in The Dead Beat Scroll, Riordan visits the tallest skyscraper in the city, Salesforce Tower. This was built in 2018 for the cloud computer company of the same name. That’s an example of a “topographical” change. But in addition, Twitter, Google, Facebook, AirBnB and Uber (for example) all have a major presence in the city—often snapping up office space that was previously dedicated to other industries—whereas in 1999 the center of gravity for tech was tilted south, toward the Peninsula cities of Palo Alto and Mountain View.

The socioeconomic impact of this has been to bring a lot of well-paid tech workers into the city and to drive out a lot of the folks in lower paying professions, including teachers, artists and musicians. This has resulted in skyrocketing rents, increased homelessness and an arguably less diverse and culturally rich town.

Even the traffic on the streets has increased considerably. I do a lot of street photography in San Francisco and one day I positioned myself at the top of a downtown parking structure to take photos of the people on the street below. Literally every other car that passed had an Uber or a Lyft sticker on it. They are continually orbiting downtown to pick up passengers. Throw in the private buses that companies like Facebook and Google hire to ferry their workers to and from work, the electric scooters the techies ride for “the last mile” and you’ve got nerd gridlock.

I confess I’m part of the problem because I worked in the tech industry for years.

SM: How did you come to the idea of using a photo of the location that each chapter takes place in?

MC: Originally, I was using photography to document street scenes I wanted to describe in my books. Then I hit upon the idea of including the photos I was taking in the books. Later I began to alter the plot of my books to have an excuse to include photos I liked that I had taken without reference to a particular scene.

SM: What I love about the August Riordan series is that there are throwbacks to the traditional private eye tale. Why is that still a vital genre to you as writer?

MC: I’ve introduced Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton to much younger readers and to a person they have enjoyed them. There’s still something magical and fresh in the writing. And if an acclaimed modern author like Megan Abbott can say this in response to a question I asked her about Chandler:

“I think he will always be my biggest influence in terms of style. The way, to him, mood mattered above all. Sights, scents, colors, pressures in the air, the way sound can travel. The way it can feel like everything around you is part of you, part of your own longing or fear or trepidation. That if you can strike a mood, it’s far more than a mood. It’s a world you’ve given your reader.”

…then I’m certain the genre still has a lot of gas.


Catch Mark Coggins at BookPeople on October 28th at 7PM. He’ll be here with L. A. Chandlar and Heather Harper Ellet where they’ll each discuss and sign their latest titles. Books are available for purchase now in-store and online and BookPeople.

“It’s the Only Fun I Have”: An Interview with Martin Limón

9781641290388_93d6f

Martin Limón’s latest to feature George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, two Army CID cops stationed in seventies South Korea, is titled G.I. Confidential. The two investigate a group of bank-robbing soldiers as well as a general on the DMZ who procured prostitutes for a meeting. With the help of a reporter they uncover something more sinister and get a target put on their backs for several to shoot at.
Mr. Limón was kind enough to take some time to be interrogated by Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

Scott Montgomery: Did the idea of bank robbing GIs come from your military experience or author’s imagination?

Martin Limón: Imagination.  Because suddenly it dawned on me that I’d never heard of bank robbery committed by American GIs in Korea—and back in those days there were very few bank robberies committed in the country at all.  The elements needed for a successful bank heist just didn’t exist. Very few people, other than the wealthy, owned a car. And in order for a crook to make his getaway, a la Bonnie and Clyde, he needed wheels.  And there was total gun control. Only the military and the police were armed. So the occasional bank robbery was virtually always an inside job. Embezzlement rather than armed robbery. But GIs had access to vehicles and they had access to arms.  So good old American know-how made it possible for these guys (fictionally) to get away with their crime spree.

SM: How do you go about creating a criminal as dark and believable as the main robber they are closing in on?

ML: Years ago, I briefly worked for a guy who was Armenian.  He talked to me about their genocide and diaspora and since he was older than me he sometimes counseled me about reaching my personal goals.  The small business he owned was moderately successful but his real dream in life was to paint. He tried to sell those paintings or get them exhibited but hit a brick wall everywhere he went.  He was very smart and very kind but he had a dark side. In despair, I believe, he killed himself in a single-victim car crash. So in building my villain, I started with this good person I once knew, made him younger, enlisted him in the army, and gave him a burning desire to build up a nest egg of $5,000, a lot of money for a GI in the early 70s.  And I set him to work.

SM: You have a second plot that deals with a general bringing in prostitutes for his men.  Was the character influenced by an officer you heard of?

ML: Not specifically, no.  But some of the senior ROK Army officers were known to throw lavish entertainments, often including beautiful kisaeng, young women similar to Japanese geisha.  I started there and made it even more sordid.  By the way, the women wouldn’t be for his “men.”  That is, the enlisted men. They would be strictly for the senior officers and their invited guests, often American military brass.  And since I was never amongst their exalted rank, I could only imagine what the partying must’ve been like.

SM: Two newspapers play a part in the story.  The army’s Stars and Stripes and the Overseas Weekly.  What did you want to examine about how things were covered?

MLThe Stripes, as we used to call it, was an officially sanctioned Department of Defense publication.  Therefore, more staid and largely without an opinion of its own. The Overseas Weekly, however, was a newspaper owned and operated privately, with a very pro-GI point of view.  It covered Vietnam and the rest of the Far East from, I believe, 1966 until going out of business in 1975.  Gaudy tabloid headlines were interspersed with plenty of photos of pinup girls in bikinis, so the GIs called it the Oversexed Weekly.  They did real journalism, however, and exposed graft and corruption and outright stupidity in the military that really stuck in the craw of those officers with stars on their shoulders.

SM: Katie is a wonderful character to team up with Sueño and Bascom.  How did you go about constructing her?

ML: The late Ann Bryan Mariano was the main reporter for the Overseas Weekly in Vietnam.  I never knew her, of course, but I located her papers which are archived at the State Historical Society of Missouri and managed to borrow some microfilm with many years worth of editions of the Overseas  Weekly.   I had her in mind, along with the other truly intrepid female reporters in Vietnam when I created Katie Byrd Worthington.  I don’t suppose visiting Austin and Houston last year hurt either; since you’ll notice she’s from Fort Worth. She has the frontier spirit and, unlike me, never gets fooled by anyone.

SM: I’ve noticed more humor in the last few books and you allow more time with Bascom and Sueño to bulls#!t and banter.  Are you having more fun with these characters?

ML: Yes.  It’s the only fun I have.  Other than that, I’m a pathetic old shut-in.  But when I’m with George and Ernie, I’m a real boulevardier.  A man-about-town. I was gratified to run into a woman last year who told me that my books made her laugh out loud.  I thanked her for her compliment but also asked if she had considered seeking out a mental health professional.


G.I. Confidential is available for purchase now in-store and online at BookPeople

The Resilience, the Art, the Humor: An Interview with ‘The Pearl Dagger’ Author, L.A. Chandlar

9781496713452 The Pearl Dagger, L.A. Chandlar’s third Art Deco mystery features Lane Sanders, an agent for mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who with an intrepid reporter and Irish cop, who is also her lover, take on corruption, often connected to the Red Scroll Society. A racket with pinball machines leads her to England the Society, Tolkien, and secrets from their past.

L.A. will be at BookPeople, along with Mark Coggins and Heather Harper Ellet, on October 28th at 7PM to discuss her books, but Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery, got to chat for a bit with Chandlar before her event to discuss her series and the setting.

 


Scott Montgomery: Which came first for the series, the character of Lane or LaGuardia era New York?

L.A. Chandlar: La Guardia himself actually came first to the scene! When I was about to move to New York City, I was flying there to sign a lease on 9/11. So, obviously, the move didn’t happen that fateful day. However, I moved two weeks later. Around that time, I happened to pick up a biography about New York’s 99th mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. I saw some striking similarities of my own time in a broken and hurting New York, with the era of the Thirties. But it was the way the city handled adversity that floored me. I knew a lot about the Depression era, but what I didn’t know was the resilience, the art, and the humor that was the backbone of New York, just like in my own day. When I started to read about Fiorello, I immediately thought that he was so over-the-top adventurous, funny, daring and the ultimate underdog (being 5’2” and a double minority, half-Jewish and half-Italian)…he would be a fantastic character in a historical novel. So he came first to the table and then the era.

That time is often pigeon-holed into being solely about the Depression. But there was so much more going on than the soup lines. The most favored of all Art Deco buildings, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center…all were built after the stock market crash. I love that beauty out of adversity theme. And women were holding much more prominent positions in the work force, way before the Rosie the Riveters hit the scene. That’s where Lane Sanders, my protagonist and aide to the mayor, comes into play. I wanted to show another side to the 1930s story and I tell it first person through Lane’s eyes. I gave it a lot of thought about writing it first or third person. But one of my main objectives in these stories is to help the reader experience the city and the time. There is something immersive when you read first person. Even if you’re not like Lane, a female in her mid-twenties, you can’t help but put yourself in her shoes when you’re reading it.

SM: Was there anything you had to keep in mind when Lane went over to England?

LAC: Well, the biggest thing was that Europe was ramping up to the second World War much faster than we were. Plus, they were still healing from WWI in ways that America never had to. I have intentionally kept my books solidly in the 1930s so that I can tell that story and not suddenly leap into WWII, of which there are many books. So I had to have enough of both wars in the story in England so that it was an honest view of it, but also not delve right into the serious preparations they were already making for WWII. The oddest thing was the cameo of Winston Churchill. I love having cameos because they give you a holistic sense of a time period, of what other things were going on, who the movers and shakers were, and who wasn’t yet a mover and shaker. At the time, Churchill felt he was in a “political wilderness” in his own words. And he most definitely could have been in the circles where Lane operated. As well as the PM and the head of Scotland Yard (who also have really fun roles in The Pearl Dagger).

SM: How did the use of Orson Welles’ Voodoo MacBeth make it into the story?

I always have a piece of art in the background of all my books. It’s a way to highlight the era and the way art is such a powerful force in our own lives. So I’ve done a lot of research into art in the Thirties, and I happened to just come across Voodoo Macbeth. Orson Welles worked with the Federal Works Project then, and they did all kinds of art programs and were the force behind many of our highest esteemed artists such as Jackson Pollock and DeKooning. Welles put together the first all-black theater cast with both professional and amateur actors from the US and a few from England. They wanted to do Macbeth and set the stage in Haiti where they took the three witches and had a single witch doctor for the role. I personally hadn’t known about this play, and the way the articles described it, it was pure magic. It was sold out for weeks and toured the country. It was extremely successful. It’s one of those seminal events that I would do anything to go back in time to witness it. And in the Thirties. Far before any significant race relations and civil rights were tackled well. But this is what art can do. Outside the theater there were race riots. People were brought together. Each community, the black community, the white community, and the Shakespearean purists, all thought it’d be doomed to failure. And all of them were wrong. Each community loved it. This is one of those brilliant experiences that I wanted to bring to today’s readers. To experience it.

SM: You also embrace the attitude and style of pulp fiction of that era. Are there any authors from that period you consider as influences?

LAC: That’s another way I love to help readers really experience an era and a city, to get a feel for what life was like. Lane loves to read, so I have her reading big novels of the day. In my first book, The Silver Gun, she reads Gone with the Wind, which was billed as a romance novel. I read all the books Lane reads, and yes, there are quite a few authors of that time period that influenced me in different ways. For one, Tolkien of course, but she hasn’t read The Hobbit yet, because it comes out fall of 1937, but Tolkien influences Lane and myself. I love his sense of journey, friendship and also of spontaneity and the freak nature and mystery of life (like the intriguing Tom Bombadil). I’m still a little freaked out by Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and the actual back cover description. But one of the authors who influenced me a lot, is Karen Blixen, whom Lane will read in the next book. The movie Out of Africa was such a soaring, beautiful film when I was growing up. And I loved Blixen’s daring personality. The love of beauty, the romance of adventure, and the idea of doing for what others say you can’t do has always struck a chord with me.

SM: Who are some historical figures you’d like to see Lane meet in future books?

I want her to have more interaction with the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she meets in prior novels. Albert Einstein made an appearance earlier, too, and it’d be fun for her to need to chat with him about the scientific side of a mystery. Amelia Earhart for sure – she disappears in July of 1937 which is coming up fast in Lane’s time frame. She and Lane would be interesting together. I’d also like to get James Stewart to come over to Aunt Evelyn’s one day. I always liked him a lot.

SM: What do you hope to convey about LaGuardia through the books?

LAR: La Guardia was known as The People’s Mayor. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to write about a real politician, who had foibles and flaws, yet was full of integrity and tried so hard to do what was right for the little guy. His energy and his zeal for life is actually the backbone of the entire series. Everything is reflective of that. But I have a lot of his real efforts and real life publicity stunts that have a lot of panache because they’re so funny and so enjoyable. His world was just as corrupt or more so than ours today, so I would love readers to know that real people can make a difference. When Fiorello died, President Truman wrote Fio’s wife a telegram. It said, “He was as incorruptible as the sun.” Can you only imagine that today?


Be sure to join us on October 28th at 7PM when Chandlar stops by BookPeople with Mark Coggins and Heather Harper Ellet in tow, for their panel-style discussion with Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery. The Pearl Dagger can be found in-store at BookPeople and is available for purchase online now.