MysteryPeople Interview; Reed Farrel Coleman

In Blindspot, Reed Farrel Coleman takes over Robert B. Parker’s
alcoholic small town police chief Jesse Stone. He puts Stone in the
middle of a case involving the mob, revenge, and some folks from in
days as a Minor League baseball player. Reed answered some questions
through e-mail we had about the book and his approach to this
established character.

MP: I’m sure there are challenges about taking on an established
character, but what’s fun about it?

RFC: The fun is the challenge of respecting the characters and the history
of the series while carving out a piece of it for yourself. It is both
yours and not yours and that is unique.

MP: Was there an aspect about Stone that gave you an “in” to approach him?

RFC: Indeed. It was his unresolved regret over the injury that ruined his
baseball career. Dealing with unresolved regret is something we all
can relate to and gave me my in to Jesse’s spirit.

MP: I heard that Parker wrote Jesse Stone to push himself into
different territory with third person omniscient. It has also showed
off other aspects of your writing we haven’t seen often. What muscle
did you enjoy exercising the most?

RFC: I am known for my intimate first person, which is in some ways the
polar opposite to how Mr. Parker wrote Jesse. The thing I enjoyed was
trying to bring an intimacy to Jesse, but not by being as intimate as
I am used to being with my own characters. Moe Prager, for example,
wore his heart on his sleeve. Jesse barely wears his sleeve on his
sleeve. So I had to learn to reveal Jesse through his actions. It’s
made me a better writer. At least I hope it has.

MP: One thing you get to do is cover the criminals point of view. Did
you notice anything different in writing for the bad guys?

RFC: Well that is one great advantage of third person omniscient with
multiple points of view. You can, if you so choose, get into the bad
guys’ heads. But the great pleasure for me in the book was getting
into all the bad guys’ heads, not just one. I think readers will be
surprised to see how not all bad guys are the same. How even the most
cold-blooded killer can change, even grow. I believe that subplot is
my favorite piece of BLIND SPOT. Jesse is such a great character:
complex, brave, stubborn. He is a study in strengths and foibles. But
it is writing the bad guys that was the most fun.

MP: You use a reunion of Jesse’s minor league baseball team as a
starting point. What drew you to that part of his past?

RFC: See my answer to your first question. It’s his biggest vulnerability.

MP: It seems that we get to see more of your humorous side than we
normally get to. Do you think there’s something about Stone or the
series that lends itself to that?

RFC: Absolutely. Jesse is actually quite funny in a kind of wry, quietly
sarcastic way. And I like that he can see his own follies as well as
others. I believe you will only laugh along with others who laugh at
themselves.

MP: Can you tell us about your original series your launching in the spring?

RFC: The novel is titled WHERE IT HURTS and it features retired Suffolk
County (New York) cop Gus Murphy. Gus is a guy who thinks he
understands the ways of the world, but when tragedy strikes his family
he realizes he understands nothing. It is the story of Gus healing
himself as he solves the murder of a petty criminal.

 

You can find Blindspot on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Interview: Benjamin Whitmer

Today is the release of our MysteryPeople Pick Of The Month, Cry
Father. It’s Benjamin Whitmer’s follow up to his brilliant debut, Pike,
and will definitely be be seen on my year end top ten list as well as
many others. It deals with Patterson Wells, a tree cutter in disaster
areas whose grief over his dead son leads him into violent
circumstances. It is a brutal and beautiful book. Ben was kind enough
to take some questions from me on it.
MP: Pike and Cry Father seem like two twins raised differently, you see
the shared DNA, yet they both successfully achieve different things.
What do you see the main difference being?

BW: Well, Cry Father was written right on top of Pike, so it made sense
that a lot of the things I was thinking through got carried over. The
first draft was actually finished in 2010, it just took a long time to
get it published. If Adam Wilson at Gallery Books hadn’t seen
something in it (and, for that matter, if Sophie Littlefield hadn’t
suggested I send it to him) it probably wouldn’t even be published in
English. I’d pretty much decided to skip America and go straight to
France when Adam called my agent.

To me, the main difference is that Cry Father seems more open. I was
less scared to hit on the themes I was interested in. I don’t know if
they came through, but I hope so. In Pike I was more just trying to
establish a kind of tone — I’m new at this book-writing thing, and
still trying to figure out what I’m doing — and in Cry Father I felt
like I had a little more room to move.

MP: Patterson’s job as a tree cutter is both unique and a perfect
metaphor for what he’s going through. How did you choose that
profession for him?

BW: That was actually a gift given to me by one of my oldest friends,
Lucas Bogan. He’s the real deal and actually does what Patterson does.
(I should note that the similarities end right there: Patterson’s
faults are all his own.) Like you said, it seemed like the perfect job
for Patterson. And for me, I like characters who are grounded in the
work they do. It seems to me that a lot of novels skirt work. I’ve
always had a day-job and hated them all, but they consume the greatest
part of your waking hours whether or not you like it.

MP: The idea of fatherhood comes up in many forms. What did you want to
explore about it?

BW: Fatherhood’s probably never gonna be far from anything I write. I’m a
single father with two kids, and my relationship with them is the most
important thing in my life. But it’s a constant game of
second-guessing, doubt and guilt, as you understand all the things
you’ve done wrong. Not to mention all the things that you can’t
protect them from or do for them. It’s a fairly brutal crash course in
understanding how inadequate you are. Likewise, as a father with a
male child, I’m always thinking about the constructions of masculinity
that get passed down from father to son. That was a lot of what I was
trying to think through. As you can probably tell, though, I’m better
at negative examples than positive ones.

MP: There is always a lot of talk about the violence in your books, but
you use very little dramatic embellishment on it. How do you try to
treat it when writing?

BW: I think violence can reveal character just as surely as sex, love,
parenthood, or anything else. I try to write violence in a way that
people feel it. I don’t know if I succeed, but I don’t want anyone to
skim a violent scene. I want it to be ugly and heartsick. And in the
same way, to show that it’s attractive, too. It’s a balancing act. I’m
never gonna write it the way everybody wants it written, because it’s
such a touchy subject for people. But the attraction and repulsion has
to be there, I feel.

We’re more conflicted about violence than anything in this country.
Even sex. We’ll expel a kid from school for a fistfight, but there
hasn’t been a single year in my lifetime where we haven’t been bombing
the hell out of somebody and gloating about it. And we won’t even get
into what we’ll put up with from our police, like in Ferguson. I’m not
a pacifist, but the separation between what we tell ourselves we
believe and how we actually behave is so wide that I wonder that
folks’ heads don’t just start exploding from the cognitive dissonance
of it all.

MP: Many of the characters in Cry Father talk about freedom. Do you
think that’s what they are really looking for or is it something else?

BW: I think it’s a question they’re asking themselves. It’s a question I’m
always thinking about, anyways. I believe in freedom, the real
tangible kind. And I’d argue that we have less of it, in the real
tangible sense, than any of us would like to think. Most of freedom in
this country is just talk, and that disturbs me. When you’ve got more
people in prison than any other country in the world and every move
you make is legislated, I don’t know how the hell you can talk about
freedom with a straight face. I know that’s not a real popular
opinion, and we’re supposed to believe freedom is some kind of
metaphysical quality that we receive by virtue of being able to vote
once every four years, but I have trouble buying that.

Still I’ve also been around long enough to see how people get
destroyed by freedom. And I’ve come close myself at points in my life.
So I don’t know. For me freedom is a question, not an answer. I think
my characters are as lost in the question as I am. I think a lot of
people are right now.

MP: Can you tell us what your next book is and please promise it won’t
take four years before we get to read it?

BW: I have two in mind, actually. One is a jailbreak novel which I’m
really enjoying. I can’t promise it won’t take four years to get it
published, but I can say that it’s about half done and I should be
finished within the next year. I’m also working on a proposal for a
non-fiction book about one of my best friends, Paul Schenck, who was
killed by the police after a shootout last year. I’m not sure anybody
will want it – or either one of them, I guess – but I’m hoping so.

 

You can find Cry Father on our shelves now and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant’s latest book featuring post-war Fort Worth private eye Dutch Curridge, Spirit Trap, involves theft and the murder of a family, with members of a western swing band as suspects. Tim will be joining us with Ben Rheder and Reavis Wortham for our Lone Star Mystery authors panel this Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm on BookPeople’s second floor. Tim was kind enough to answer some questions beforehand.


MysteryPeople: Music always plays a big part in the book and this time, Dutch has to deal with a lot of them in this mystery. Being one yourself, what did you want to get a across about a band?

Tim Bryant: There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into Spirit Trap. I experienced it, in some ways, as I would if I were reading it. Still, I brought my history in music to it. I would have to say what came out of that was the dichotomy that, if you look at a band from the outside, it appears very much as a family, a unit that works together. Seen from the inside out, though, it’s made up of a bunch of individuals, each of whom will have their own motives and may see what they’re doing in completely different ways. Both of those things can be useful in writing about life, especially when you’re talking about mystery.

MP: Dutch’s voice is so unique and it carries the book. How did you develop it?

TB: There’s a lot of myself in Dutch, so I didn’t have to invent him from whole cloth. Obviously, we share a dark and rather twisted sense of humor. There’s also a good bit of my grandfather in him, and  people that I remember from my grandfather’s era, men who hung around him. I have an ear for how those kinds of people talk. Not just what they say, but how they say it. I had written a series of short stories with a character called Cold Eye Huffington. Cold Eye was a good bit like Dutch, although he was set in New Orleans. The very first story I ever wrote with Dutch as a character was published in REAL literary magazine, and his voice was pretty much fully formed from the beginning.

MP: Which came first to write about, Dutch or Fort Worth?

TB: After the Cold Eye stories, I wanted to develop a Texas character, because I do consider myself to be a Texas writer. Of course, with Cold Eye, I had the whole New Orleans music scene as a backdrop, and I very much wanted to keep music in the picture. It’s something I know well and enjoy writing about, and there’s endless fodder for storylines. So, looking at Texas, and being a huge fan of both western swing music and jazz, Fort Worth became the obvious setting for Dutch. Fort Worth has such a rich music history, and a lot of people aren’t aware of just how rich it is. I mean, Bob Wills and Milton Brown are both  associated with Fort Worth, but so is Ornette Coleman. Plus, I knew that Dutch would be a little guy going up against bigger foes, and Fort Worth, always being in the shadow of Dallas, fit into that psychology.

MP: One of the things I Iike best about Dutch is his sense of humor. How important is humor in a story when you’re dealing with somber subject matter?

TB: I think it’s important as a writer and a reader to have that spark of humor there in the dark, but it only works because it’s important for Dutch himself to have that humor. It’s a survival mechanism for him, as much as anything. And he’s no longer a churchgoer, but he remembers from childhood that a joke is always funnier when you’re in a place it doesn’t belong or isn’t expected. The humor just comes naturally from what’s going on. I suppose they all come from my mind as I’m writing the story, but it honestly feels as if they come from the mind of Dutch as he goes about things. That’s what makes it natural, what makes it work.

MP: For an author, what makes Dutch Curridge a character worth coming back to?

TB: The fact that I know him like a friend. I not only know what has happened to him in the three novels, but, at this point, I know the day he was born and I know the day he dies. Elvis hasn’t arrived on the scene in the books yet, but I know what he thinks about Elvis. He’s like any friend. I may need a break from him every once in a while, because he’s pretty intense in a lot of ways, but after a while, I start to hear him whispering in my ear, and I start to miss the guy.


MysteryPeople welcomes Tim Bryant, along with Reavis Wortham and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm. His latest novel, Spirit Trap, is available on BookPeople’s shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Philip Kerr


~post by Molly

Philip Kerr takes a break from his Bernie Gunther character to write Prayer, a contemporary story of an FBI agent going after religious extremists in Texas. Molly caught up with Mr. Kerr and gave him a grilling in this Q&A. Also, take the time to read Molly’s outstanding review of Prayer.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: In your new novel Prayer, there is quite a bit about not just religious people but religious theory and theology. What was your inspiration for exploring religious concepts in such detail? Where does the root of your enjoyment of religious theory lie?

PHILIP KERR: I was brought up in a very religious home. My parents were evangelical Baptists, and until the age of 14 I went to church as many as three times on a Sunday. At home we never started a meal, without speaking to Jesus. But I knew I was never going to hack it as a Christian. There was too much going on inside my head. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist; I think a more respectable intellectual position is to say that logically one cannot prove the non-existence of God any more than one can prove his existence. But God is different from most organised religion which seems like nonsense to me.  What it boils down to is this: if your truth and my truth are very different, we have to agree, logically that neither of us has a monopoly on truth. However religion doesn’t work like that. Religion says that if your truth is not the same as my truth than you are an infidel or a heretic, or an apostate, or some other pejorative beloved of religion. Which makes for a good place to start a crime novel.

MP: Some of the later scenes in Prayer can be described as, well, spooky, and much of the plot reads more like a horror story than a detective novel. Did you deliberately set out to bring in a bit of Edgar Allen Poe to your writing or did the crimes you conceived for the novel lead to that naturally?

PK: It’s meant to be Gothic, yes. Texan Gothic. Sounds good, huh? Don’t get me wrong; I love Texas. I brought my wife and kids when I was researching Prayer and we had one of the best vacations ever in Houston. We stayed at the Houstonian. We got a personal guided tour of the Johnson Space Center by a shuttle commander who likes my books. We visited Galveston. We went to Dealey Plaza. The weather was great. I hung out with the FBI, who couldn’t have been more accommodating.  I  wanted to make a standard police procedural turn into something else, in the same way that Bill Blatty did with The Exorcist. I have always loved that book. And the film. But I wondered how Blatty might have approached his story if he was writing it today. And that was my starting point.

MP: I noticed that a commonality between the Bernie Gunther novels and this new novel, set in modern day Houston, is that you draw from right-wing extremism for villains in both. What brings you to a particular fascination with the crimes perpetrated by those who are motivated by racist and anti-Semitic doctrine? And why focus on religious extremism in particular when previously you have been more concerned with the extremes of political doctrines?

PK: I think there’s just a lot of intolerance around, especially in religion. My truth is better than your truth etc. The world would be a lot better off if people just decided to let God look after his own reputation, honour, etc; if he is God he doesn’t need the help of men to fight his battles for him. Anti-Semitism I find especially baffling; surely after what happened in WWII it’s time we all agreed to let the Jews off the hook – so to speak – for what happened to Jesus. Haredim aside Jews are just ordinary folk like you or I. Let’s pick on someone else for a change.

MP: Two things struck me as particularly of the zeitgeist in the book. First, you introduced several gay characters. Second, you also spent some time on the main character’s OCD, which to me felt like part of a new awareness of mental health issues across the board. Do you feel that writing fiction set in the present day allows you to explore modern themes more easily than when saddled with the attitudes of the past in your historical fiction?

PK: It’s very liberating, yes, to write a present day story. Interestingly the gay character in the book didn’t reveal herself as gay to me, until I had to write that page. It was a big surprise, but I like it when characters take charge of their own destinies like that. The OCD thing was interesting to me because I think a lot of detectives are obsessives anyway. They have to be. Watch True Detective and tell me that those two characters are both normal regular guys; they’re not; they’re fucked up. Big time. I loved that show.

MP: Much of your book could be set in, forgive me for saying, any old southern town. Why Texas, and why, in particular, Houston? You seem interested in the history of Texas as a history of violence, particularly politicized violence, and is this a significant part of your choice of setting?

PK: Well, let me come back to my love for Texas. If you come from Scotland like I do, you’re reared on a love of the idea of Texas from a very early age. I was weaned on John Wayne films. That plus the fact that my Dad worked for an American firm, and many of his colleagues were from Texas meant I always wanted to go. When I first went to Texas I thought it would be very red neck and in fact it wasn’t like that in the least. I found Texans to be very thoughtful, courteous people. But why did I pick Texas? Simple. Everything is larger in Texas – everyone knows this. Which is probably why they have the largest churches in the world. That’s why I picked Houston.

You can read Molly’s review of Prayer by Philip Kerr here.



Philip Kerr will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Saturday, May 10 at 4PM. You can p
re-order signed copies of Prayer now via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Q&A with Dennis Tafoya

Dennis Tafoya got the attention of both hard boiled fans and writers alike with his debut, Dope Thief, before quickly following it up with the equally emotional The Wolves Of Fairmount Park. His deeply felt novels look at family and the working poor and have drawn as many comparison to Bruce Springsteen as to Dashiell Hammett. His latest, The Poor Boy’s Game, has already been getting glowing reviews. It deals with Frannie Mullen, a disgraced US Marshal, who has to protect her dysfunctional family from her own father, a union enforcer who broke out of prison. To promote the novel, Dennis will be teaching his One Hour Mystery Class at BookPeople on Wednesday, May 1st at 6:30pm. We caught up with the man to ask a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE:  Even compared to your other books, Frannie is a truly damaged character. Is it a challenge or more freeing to write for such a flawed lead?

DENNIS TAFOYA: More freeing, definitely. I wanted to write about somebody on the right side of the law, who lived an upright life, but I saw Frannie as somebody who leans on a hard sense of right and wrong as a way to draw a line around herself. She’s trying to wall herself off from the consequences of what she sees as the bad decisions other people make out of weakness, even if that means being remote from her family and keeping friends at a distance. The Poor Boy’s Game is structured as a thriller, but I hope that the real attraction of the book is watching Frannie’s elaborate defenses break down as she is forced to come to grips with her past.

MP: The book kicks off with an intense shoot-out. How do you approach your actions passages?

DT: I spend a lot of time thinking about the action in those sequences. I want them to be exciting, but I want them to reflect the ambiguity and messiness of real life. It’s ridiculous how much research I do and how much time I spend looking at streets and intersections in real life and online. I also try to read as much as I can by people I think do that well, folks like James Dickey and Denis Johnson. In everything I write, I try to keep coming up with a way to make things new. I’m always worried about cliché and familiar language and situations.

MP: I really enjoyed your criminal characters. They reminded me of George V. Higgins characters with a darker shade. How did you approach writing them?

DT: Love Higgins! I can’t imagine a better guide to writing criminals as fully realized people. In The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Eddie himself is a bundle of contradictions, and Higgins is never afraid to show his main character as a blowhard or a guy who thinks he knows the angles when the reality is that he’s being manipulated and outmaneuvered by his friends. Writing guys like the career criminal Jimmy Coonan are a lot of fun because they’re guys you could see yourself having a beer with, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.

MP: While reading The Poor Boy’s Game, I felt it had as many cinematic influences as literary ones. Is that a fair assessment?

DT: Sure! I love crime movies, just like every crime writer I know, and I think it’s pretty clear now that there’s an interplay between page and screen that goes both ways: books become movies, and movies influence writers. I especially love the small, independent films like Frozen River or Hard Eight, films that show criminal behavior as human behavior with complex motivations. There are the big films, too, like Heat – I think it would be tough to write gunplay without a film like that coming up as a reference in your head.

MP: Broken families appear in much of your work. What draws you to that dynamic?

DT: I think we all wonder how much we’re made by our families of origin and how much by our circumstances and character. It’s a question I think we spend our whole lives thinking about, and our perspectives shift as we age. We want to believe we’re independent actors, but are we, really? Certainly, even if we’re in perfect control of our lives, For better or worse, I think the way we’re raised provides a context and a way of thinking about experience that is very hard to leave behind.

MP: You’re giving your short mystery writing class at our store on Thursday, May 1st. Can you tell those attending what to expect?

DT: I hope it will be a fast, fun introduction to writing crime fiction. We’ll do some quick readings from a number of crime classics and talk about how some of the masters like Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block have approached character, setting, plot and the other elements of fiction. And we’ll do an exercise or two, because writing is always more fun than talking about writing.


Thanks again to Dennis for answering our questions. Check out a review of The Poor Boy’s Game here on the MysteryPeople blog and be sure to stop by the store Thursday May 1st at 6:30for a free Mystery Workshop with the author.

A Conversation with Jo Nesbø

JoNesbo

~post by Chris M

Three years ago I had never heard of Jo Nesbø. I was still relatively new to crime fiction and had only really covered the essentials: Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, etc… I remember the day I cracked open my copy of The Redbreast, which was the earliest Inspector Harry Hole novel available in America at the time. I was sitting in a coffee shop on South 1st here in Austin, TX. I distinctly remember taking a sip of my coffee and burning my mouth. So I read a few pages, or so I thought, reached over and took another sip of coffee and it had gone cold. I looked at the corner of the page and quickly realized that those few pages I read were actually the first hundred.

I was enthralled. I finished The Redbreast in two days. Within a month I’d read four Harry Hole novels. By the end of that year I’d read every Nesbø novel I could get my hands on.

2011 was the year Jo Nesbø became my favorite modern crime writer, and in October of 2013 I got the chance to interview him. I remember having a slight freak out in the minutes before I was supposed to call Jo at his hotel in Vancouver, BC. I was pouring over the questions I’d written in advance, sweating, and chain smoking in a futile attempt to calm my nerves. But when I did finally connect with Mr. Nesbø the strangest thing happened; I forgot all about my pre-written questions, my nervousness faded into the empty space at the back of my mind, and my cigarette burned out without my noticing.

It was a singular experience for me, a guy who rarely gets star struck. I was all geared up to wow my favorite author with intellectual questions about art, and writing, and the deeper meanings buried within his novels, but when the time came to ask those questions I just shot from the hip. And we just talked. We talked about his characters, his writing process, his future plans, and the international success of his novels, but it wasn’t forced. We didn’t follow the typical interview protocol of posing a question, getting a response, and moving on to the next item on the agenda. It was a conversation between two people, one of whom happens to be an international and critically acclaimed writer.

When the conversation ended I quickly scrambled to my computer to plug in my digital recorder to review the interview, only to find that my batteries had died about 20 minutes into our conversation. I was crushed. Here I was, ready to transcribe every word and publish it for all to see, and now I had nothing to show. No proof that my dream-come-true had even occurred. So I present to you faithful reader, a very short version of a great conversation with Jo Nesbø.

CHRIS: Do you think there is any redemption for a Harry Hole, a man who is a career alcoholic and addict?

JO NESBØ: I think so. Harry is a haunted guy. Everything he does is for others. He spends a lot of his time trying to help other people because it is his way of repenting. He’s a police inspector because that’s something he excels at. Where he is more or less in control. Relationships are not the same for him, and he struggles with maintaining control. He has a fear that the people in his life will leave him, and I think that informs a lot of his choices.

CHRIS: In a recent NPR segment, you were interviewed while walking the streets of Oslo. Based on that interview it seems like Oslo is a little brighter than the version you write in your novels. Do you think the city is as dark as you present it, or is Harry just the type of character who requires a darker landscape?

NESBØ: The Oslo in the Harry Hole novels is a version that does and doesn’t exist. Oslo has good and bad areas, like lots of cities, but I sometimes focus on the darker aspects of Oslo. We have drugs and prostitution. You can still find working girls and junkies in Oslo, so it’s got its problems, but as a fiction writer you get to create things, so the Oslo in my books is an exploration of those darker things.

CHRIS: Olso is a city that has a bit of a sordid past in the world of music, specifically the Black Metal movement in the early 1990’s. Do you still see those extreme attitudes in present day Oslo?

NESBØ: Not really so much anymore. I think there are still those who believe in that sort of ideology, but it’s not expressed in extreme ways. For example, my band went to a recording studio to record our record and there were these black metal guys in the studio too, but they were very professional. We play a sort of pop-rock n roll and these guys look like the party guys, but it was us who ended up being the partiers! The metal guys were all very nice and respectful. Totally professional.

CHRIS: There is a rumor floating around that Martin Scorsese is going to be direction the film version of The Snowman. Is this true?

NESBØ: Well he was initially supposed to direct it, but he is so busy that he won’t be able to. He is very interested in the film. He is still going to be involved with it, but not as a director.

____________________________________________

So there you have it. A very short version of the epic conversation I had with Jo Nesbø. I would like to thank the good folks over at Random House for giving me this opportunity. If you haven’t read a Nesbø novel, come find me at BookPeople and I will make sure you leave with at least one (but probably more like 10).

MysteryPeople Q&A with Chris Pavone

Our pick of the month for March, Chris Pavone’s The Accident, has been getting rave reviews. This novel about the CIA trying to stop a damaging manuscript from getting out works on several levels. We caught up with Mr. Pavone to as him a few questions.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: What made you think the publishing world would be a great setting for a thriller?

CHRIS PAVONE: I think one of the reasons we read fiction is to become immersed in other worlds, to learn about the day-to-day lives of other people: small-town courtroom lawyers, aid workers in Africa, unlucky surgeons. Any setting can be great for a thriller if the characters are compelling, the conflict is credible, and if readers have the opportunity to learn something they want to know. And I suspect that many people who read books are at least mildly interested in the book-publishing business – the authors and editors and agents, how the whole things works. I admit that it’s not a slam-dunk setting like the Cold War in Berlin, but I hope it’s not too far afield.

MP: What did you want to get across about the industry?

CP: There’s a whole rich world behind the scenes of every book, an industry populated by people who care immensely about the written word, and have dedicated their lives to adding value to books; people who have children and mortgages, love and loss. Also that the entire industry–publishers and booksellers, reviewers and authors–is in a precarious state of uncertainty.

MP: You capture the personalities in that world spot on. Are there any people you hope don’t read it?

CP: Yes! But if I named them, they’d know it.

MP: A crux of the plot involves a woman who acquires books for film. How much influence does the film industry have on publishing today?

CP: Film adaptations are obviously important for the overall bottom line of the publishing sector; there are always book-to-screen projects on bestseller lists, and those books have a tendency to be huge. Nevertheless there are just a few handfuls of these adaptations per year, representing such a tiny proportion of the industry’s overall output that it’s never anything but an extreme long shot; certainly nothing that can rationally be relied upon. All of which is to say that the film adaptation is a bit like inheriting a fortune from a relative you didn’t know you had: it’s great if it happens to you, but there’s no way to make it happen or plan for it.

MP: What I like about your characters is that there are few who are simply “good” or “bad”, yet their objectives are perfectly clear. How do you approach writing them?

CP: One of the main characters in The Accident says, “No one is a villain in his own autobiography.” That sums up my attitude toward my fictional characters, and it might even define my entire world outlook: everyone is simply doing what they think they should, and sometimes that creates conflict with other people who are also doing what they think they should. Nearly all of the time, neither person is bad.

MP: The Expats is as much about marriage as it is espionage. The Accident looks at publishing. What makes the spy thriller a genre for you to explore other subjects you want to delve into?

CP: I wanted The Accident to be a book about ambition, about compromise and corruption. The characters are all people whose actual grown-up selves have diverged from the ideal people they were hoping to become; this is what life is. And I think that the core questions at the heart of an espionage story–Whom can I trust? For whom do I work? Why?–can also offer opportunities to heighten conflict and define tensions in a non-espionage context. In both my novels, I’ve tried to tell stories that work on two levels: as thrillers, but also as novels about universal human conflicts.

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Chris Pavone will be at BookPeople on Thurs, Mar 20 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of The Accident. Click here for more information & to pre-order a signed copy of The Accident.

MysteryPeople Q&A: REED FARREL COLEMAN

Reed Farrel Coleman’s Onion Street, is our Pick of The Month for good reason. Both well plotted and poignant, it takes Reed’s Moe Prager character and gives us his coming of age in 1968 through an involving mystery. We got a chance to ask Reed a few questions about the book, the Sixties, and Moe, for a fun and interesting MysteryPeople interview.

MysteryPeople: In the Moe series, he refers to his past, but there isn’t much detail. Were you waiting to do this book?

Reed Farrel Coleman: I never planned the books in the series. I never sat down and said, “This is going to happen then,” or “Such event will be revealed in book 7.” It’s just not my nature to write that way. I wrote the Moe books as a kind of reflection of where I was in my life and where I had been. That is not to say they are strictly autobiographical. They aren’t. I just liked seeing where I was, the world was, and what I felt like exploring at any given time. Having said all that, I knew there were only going to be nine books in the series and that next year’s The Hollow Girl would be a book that took place in the here and now. It occurred to me that I had never really explored Moe’s becoming an adult. I thought the time had come for that because I’d just watched my children pass through that stage and I was nostalgic for that time period in my own life. It was a dangerous thing to do, to tackle a prequel and the 60s because they are often done so badly. But what the hell, right?

 

MP: Onion Street and Walter Mosely’s Little Green, which also deals with the late sixties counter culture, both came out this week and other crime fiction writers of your generation like Libby Fischer Hellman (Set The Night On Fire) and Edward Wright (From Blood) have used it lately for their novels as well as Robert Redford in his new thriller. Other than it being a the time period of Moe as a young man, what prompted you to look at that era?

RFC: Well, I think most things written about the 60s focus too much on the incredible chaos of the times and not the lives of the people who actually lived through them. I lived through them as a child and as a young teen, so I tried to see that time through the eyes of my older brothers and their pals. It also made me go back and look at Brooklyn not through my world wearied eyes, but my fresh eyes. I wanted to remember Brooklyn as I first saw it, long before it became the coolest place to live. Do you know that in France when they think something is hot or chic, they call it Tres Brooklyn or very Brooklyn. That was unimaginable to me in the Brooklyn I grew up in. I wanted to look at that world.

MP: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the period?

RFC: Great question. As I was telling my kids recently, just in the first 6 months of 1968, the following events happened: the Pueblo Incident, the Tet Offensive, Apollo Missions 5 & 6, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. 6 months! Are you kidding me? Yet in spite of that, my dad got up every morning and went to manage his grocery store. My mom still shopped and cooked and sent us off to school. My brothers went to college and I went to PS 209. I played stickball after school. Life went on. That was the thing. Life went on. Not everyone wore love beads, granny glasses, bell bottoms and long hair. Life shouldn’t be reduced to cliché and neither should books.

 

MP: I thought Lids, the burnt out prodigy turned drug dealer who helps out Moe, is one of your best supporting characters. He seemed so painfully real. Was he inspired by some of the people you grew up around?

RFC: I went to high school with some totally genius kids who never seemed very happy. I mean, is anyone very happy in high school? In any case, it was easy for me to remember those kids and extrapolate a character like lids. Lids, by the way, for those of you who didn’t live through the 60s, was a term for an amount of marijuana. You bought lids, not ounces or nickel bags. Research. I swear. I was too young to know that myself back then.

 

MP: Many of the Moe books take place in recent history. What is a key thought to have when writing about a period the reader may have lived through?

RFC: As I referenced earlier, make it about the characters’ lives, not about the historical touchstones. Don’t be heavy handed in your depiction of an era. Allude to it without shoving it in your readers’ faces. In the early books I did this by having Moe make predictions about the relevant new technologies and always getting it wrong. I do it in Onion Street as well. I think I learned that lesson because I grew up reading a lot of sci-fi and many of the predictions those writers made were totally erroneous.

 

MP: Can you give a hint about what you have in store for Moe in the last book?

RFC: I’d be glad to. In The Hollow Girl, Moe is in a bad way. A woman out of Moe’s past hires him to find her missing daughter, but he’s not convinced she’s even missing. As Moe tries to pick up her trail, he confronts some hard questions about his past and about the rest of his life. I dare not say more. I can tell you I think it will be a fitting end to the series.

 

MysteryPeople Q&A: Jesse Sublett

MysteryPeople has been lucky to have a co-conspirator in Jesse Sublett. A founding member of the influential band, The Skunks, and author of the memoir Never The Same Again as well as the Martin Fender mysteries, Jesse was a guest at the launch of the store and played many of our events. At our Noir At The Bar nights he has been reading from his work in progress, Grave Digger Blues, a surreal and funny hardboiled that follows a detective and musician at the end of the world. We’re happy to have the finished book in our stores and have Jesse with us for our Noir Night Friday, April 5th with Todd Robinson and Matthew McBride. We caught up with one of the coolest and busiest guys in Austin to ask him a few questions.

MysteryPeople: What moved you to set the book at the end of the world?

Jesse Sublett: It began with the title, as is often the case. Often with song writing, too, it starts with the title. I liked the sound of it, Last Detective at the End of the World.

And actually the title originated from an event  I did at the Continental club gallery. They theme was “The End of the World as We Know It.” The curator wanted me to read a story. I have a lot of songs that deal with the end of the world, but they wanted a story, and I said I had one, even though I didn’t. So I wrote one.

I was immediately energized by the idea. Because as one of my reviewers said of Grave Digger Blues, noir And the end of the world go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I like the idea of a very stripped-down, stark setting. The world is coming to an end, so, you know, how much more stripped-down can you get? There’s no future man!

And I like the immediacy, Otherworld coming to an end, nothing works, no cell phones, no computers. Everything is on the verge of complete anarchy, there’s rats everywhere, people using generators for electricity, toxic fumes, radiation, killers everywhere.

MP: While decay, violence, and government breakdown in your apocalypse, most people don’t act that differently, like their in denial. Do you think that’s how society would act?

JS: I don’t like to really think about how things would actually be. However, there are certain people who crave anarchy, and certain people who crave normalcy even under the most far out, depraved conditions. So, on the one hand the end of the world is just another gimmick so I can write a very simple setting and not have to do too much research. On the other, having certain people continuing a sort of semblance of normal life is the kind of absurdity that appeals to me.

I mean, even now, you could freak out and say, hey the world is coming to an end, things can get much worse! Let’s all freak out! But you can’t do that or no one will want to hang around with you.

MP: From everything I’ve read of yours, including your memoir, Grave Digger Blues seems to reflect your personality the most. Is their something more freeing or personal, the less “realistic” you get?

JS: You are right on the money there, Scott. You know me, you know the way I talk, my sense of humor. I decided that my best narrative is the one that comes straight out of my twisted mind. Like a pipeline. I have dictated a lot of this novel to the Notes app on my iPhone.

I wanted this novel, and these stories, because the stories have a separate life of their own as well, to work almost like standup comedy with a punchline or a non sequitur every couple of lines of prose. Or like music with a refrain or chorus recurring constantly. I want to keep people guessing, so they’re thinking, is this guy serious or is he crazy or is this supposed to be funny or what? The answer is all the above. I get bored at readings when the writer drones on and on and it becomes possible to nod off during his or her performance. Not everybody likes my writing, but no one has gone to sleep at one of my readings yet.

MP: You play murder ballads at our Noir At The Bar events and do a Murder Ballad Monday on the first Monday at Buzz Mill coffee house. To the uninitiated, describe the genre?

JS: “Murder Ballads” is a kind of misleading name for the genre, because not all the songs are about murder, and there are a lot of songs I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole that are about murder. The interesting thing is that if you did a survey of what they often call folk music, a huge proportion of the songs are either about murder or a flood, war, or other big traumatic disaster. There are dozens of songs about the Titanic and other historical events, plus the 1927 Mississippi River flood. What binds my repertoire together is the darkness and often narrative form. You could just say they’re songs that tend to have dark subject matter and the musical style fits a certain historical framework … they’re noir, in other words. Lately I’m playing and/or learning a lot of songs from the early 1900s Delta region. That includes Son House, who wrote the classic noir song “Death Letter Blues,” a song that’s been a staple of mine for a few years now. I think this all started for me with “Don’t Push Me Around,” which I wrote and was a hit for The Skunks in 1979, a song that’s basically an homage to the James Cagney film, Public Enemy. I followed it up with a sequel called The Racket, and later, wrote my first actual murder ballad, “The Ballad of Jean Harris (You Can Get Away with Murder But You Can’t Get Away with Love).”

MP: You’re an accomplished musician, writer, and I believe a photographer as well. Is there any other artistic skill you’d like to have?

JS: Any other wishes, you mean? Hmmm. That’s a fun question. I’d better not go there. I mean, I’d better hold off on additional artistic pursuits for the time being.

 

MysteryPeople Interview: HILARY DAVIDSON

Hilary Davidson has become one of those great voices in the new generation of crime fiction. Accessible with an edge, her books, The Damage Done and The Next One To Fall, featuring travel writer Lily Moore have won a large cross section of fans. We can’t wait to see her on March 26th for the signing and discussion of her latest, Evil In All Its Disguises. Until then, here is an interview to tide you over.

MysteryPeople: How did you come to choose Acapulco for the setting?

Hilary Davidson: It was a long, strange process to find the right setting for Evil in All Its Disguises. That’s partly because the premise — a journalist going missing while on a press trip — was based on a real events. I worked for Frommer’s Travel Guides for a decade, and in May 2000, one of the editors, a woman named Claudia Kirschhoch, went missing on a press trip to Jamaica. It’s a heartbreaking story: legally, she’s been declared dead, but her body has never been found.

I didn’t want to set the book in Jamaica, because Evil is in no way a telling of Claudia Kirschhoch’s story. The book reflects certain things that happened in real life — such as the resort’s attempt to pretend there was nothing wrong, and then trying to defame the missing journalist by claiming she was using drugs and being sexually provocative — but it’s a work of fiction. I decided to move it to another Caribbean island, and chose Barbados because it’s such an amazing place, caught between the wild waters of the Atlantic and the serenity of the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately, that location didn’t work at all. I love Barbados, and my affection for the place got in the way of the writing. It was turning the book into more of a travelogue, which was the opposite of the isolated, Gothic feel I wanted.

Partway through the first draft, I stopped writing and decided to find another setting. I chose Acapulco for two main reasons: it has a very glamorous Hollywood-connected history, which appeals to Lily; and it’s a place where crime is out of control at the moment. The news stories that are in the book, like the headless bodies that turn up on the beach, and the one about a drug cartel trying to extort money from the teachers’ union, are all true. They created such an atmosphere of dread about the place. Lily is claustrophobic, and I wanted to have a sense of the walls closing in around her in this book.

MP: I was glad to see you use the travel writer culture I’ve heard you talk about. What was important for you to get across about those characters?

HD: Travel writing is a particularly strange business, because it puts you in close quarters with virtual strangers and you can’t escape each other. You learn a lot about the other journalists over the course of a few days because you’re on the road together, having all of your meals together, and basically living out of each other’s pockets. Sometimes that’s a wonderful thing — some of my closest friends are travel writers I met on the road. And sometimes you encounter characters that belong in a book. The sexual harassment of female journalists and PR people is an ongoing issue in the business, and it’s an open secret in the travel-writing community who the lecherous photographer is based on. I actually stole some of his best lines for the book.

Travel writing also makes you aware of how kind people can be. There are a couple of older journalists on Lily’s trip who drive her nuts, but who rally around her while she’s down. For better or worse, a press trip is a bit like a particularly neurotic family. The people on it tend to take care of each other if someone gets sick or needs help.

MP: The hotel that Lily finds herself in almost has the persona of a classy evil henchman. How do you approach locations as a writer?

HD: I’m so glad you saw the Hotel Cerón that way! For me, a major location like that is a lot like a character, but one without any spoken lines, so it communicates differently. It has its flashy front, with its elegant lobby and dramatic public rooms. When you get deeper inside — say, into a guestroom — you start to see that it’s worn and less polished than it seemed at first. By the time Lily gets into its hidden places, you know there’s going to be something bad waiting in the darkness. It’s also why you catch glimpses of things that aren’t supposed to be there, like the snake in the first chapter, or the nasty guard who’s watching the grounds. The hotel’s staff make both disappear quickly. The hotel wants you to see its fine furniture and flowers and framed celebrity photographs, not its seamy side. In my mind, it’s a lot like a gangster in an expensive suit who’s trying to mix with nice company and hoping you won’t notice his gun.

MP: While you put Lily through hell as usual, you also have her come closer than she ever has in coming to terms with some emotional wounds. Was that an imperative for you on the third book or did it just simply work out that way because of the plot?

HD: When I was writing the first book in the series, The Damage Done, I knew what the emotional arc of the character would be over the next two books, even though I didn’t know anything about the plots of those books. For me, it’s always been about character first and foremost, and that means going deeper into Lily’s mind and heart with each book. She isn’t a naturally introspective person. Before The Damage Done, she was quite happy to run away from her problems, rather than confront them. But Lily’s life changed dramatically in the course of that book, and that forced her to change as well. In the second book in the series, The Next One to Fall, she was struggling to pick up the pieces of her life. In Evil in All Its Disguises, she’s starting to recover from some of those wounds, but she has a lot of baggage from the past that she’s never unpacked, and she’s just starting to confront it. This is why Lily needs a break for a little while. She’s been through a lot in the past year!

MP: I noticed on a list of your favorite crime novels, you had the highly underrated The Way Some People Die by Ross MacDonald. Is there anything from that book or the Lew Archer series that you try to apply to your own work?

 HD: The Way Some People Die is a masterpiece, and I wish more people would read it. One of the ways that MacDonald’s work influences mine is the understanding that the main character is carrying around wounds from the past that could split open at any time. Don’t get me wrong: Lew Archer is a cipher compared to Lily Moore, and you have to read several books in MacDonald’s series to get a strong sense of him. But once you do, you realize that Lew Archer has been damaged, and there are hints at physical abuse in his past and a dark cloud of depression that follows him. It’s something that evolves over the course of many books, and MacDonald handles it beautifully. Archer, for all of his world-weariness, cares deeply about people. There’s a lot of pain in him, and a surprising amount of empathy. If Lew Archer met up with Detective Bruxton, I think they’d have a lot of common ground.

There’s also an intensity to MacDonald’s best work that I love. Many of his novels are set over the course of two days. That was something I did with Evil: most of the book is compressed into a 36-hour period.

MP: I know you’re working on a standalone for your next book. Can you tell us anything about it?

HD: I handed it in the week before Evil came out, so it’s very much on my mind. I can tell you that it begins with the kidnapping of a wealthy, adulterous couple, and that things go wrong very quickly… so wrong that one of the kidnappers, in the aftermath of that awful weekend, tries to piece together what really happened. I’m worried that if I say more, I’ll give away spoilers! But I’ll tell you one thing I haven’t told anyone else: the working title is Blood Always Tells.