Painting it Black: Bouchercon 2013

On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.
On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.

Albany is a quaint city, with rolling hills (I swear I was always walking uphill, even on the way back), historic buildings and friendly people who say, “Absolutely,” when you ask them for a favor. Into this bucolic atmosphere descended thousands of crime fiction writers, publishers, booksellers, and fans like a plague of dark, drunken, philosophical rats from September 19th – 22nd. I can say this because I was one of the them attending this year’s Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference.

Debate went into high gear during the New Noir panel. Moderator Reed Farrel Coleman introduced the idea that there are now two different kinds of noir fiction. One is traditional that relies more on mood and psychology. The newer form relies on violence and shock value. It was probably the most engaging discussion at the conference, with Duane Swierczynski defending the new form along with Jason Starr admitting that his works tend to fall into this category. The discussion wrapped up with a few jokes about Reed’s age and a quip from Hilary Davidson that would make any femme fatale proud.

Les Edgerton’s Pulp Fiction, Baby! panel also discussed playing on the dark and moody side of the street. As happened last year, Les had the best line of the year: “Paint your character black and the light will shine through.”

Josh Stalling talked about how he enjoyed hiding real ideas and social commentary in pulp fiction. He also cited James Crumley’s Dancing Bear and the original Winnie The Pooh as the books most influential in his process. When asked which Pooh character he relates the most with, he answered, “I’m always Eeyore.”

The Shameless Dead Cats & Bad Girls panel hosted by Laura Lippman dealt with taboos in crime fiction. Megan Abbott cited Gone Girl as proof that the mainstream has embraced the type of dark fiction that was more marginalized in the past.

0921131611Discussion of what is taboo in noir fiction was the theme amongst most panels at Bouchercon. Taking advantage of that, David Corbett turned his I Go To Extremes panel into a drinking game with the words, “noir,” “taboo,” “transgressive,” and “Tarantino.” Unfortunately for David, he forgot Todd Robinson, Glenn Gray, and I were in attendance. We’re three guys known for being loud and opinionated even when we’re sober.

The panels definitely covered a lot outside the question of what has become taboo.

I learned more about Austin author Mark Pryor at The Liar’s panel, where they played a game with the audience to guess when Mark was telling a lie, the truth, or a half-truth.

At the WW2 and Sons panel, Martin Limon spoke about how the culture clash he witnessed as a GI stationed in Korea between the locals and the US military lead to writing the Sueno & Bascome series.

In a discussion about writing unreliable narrators, Megan Abbott talked about how she believes noir protagonists will always be unreliable, since they are always attempting to justify their actions. Laura Lippman agreed, adding that the

y are also trying to convince the reader that they would have done the same.

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With party hosts, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tom Schreck, and Jon and Ruth Jordan.

You couldn’t let this group of dark, philosophical rats go without a night of revelry. On the first night of the con, authors Reed Farrell Coleman, Tom Schreck and Crimespree magazine’s Jon and Ruth Jordan threw a spectacular party. The Franklin Towers Bar was all shook up with classic rock n’ roll covers flowing from the stage, with Johnny Rebel And The Jail House Rockers at the helm. It was overwhelming to see such a who’s who in crime fiction. The place was so packed, even the sidewalk outside was crowded.

I would love to share more details, but it might be a little too risqué for the blogosphere.

I hung on until the bitter end, so I was able to see every dark nook and cranny of this year’s Buchercon. I went to the annual Dead Dog Dinner with those left over on Sunday night. Then, the next morning, it was breakfast and sightseeing with author RJ Ellory and bloggers Ali Karim and Peter Rozovsky before we had to catch our trains.

I don’t know if we attendees ever answered the question about whether or not we’ve gone too far in noir fiction. Maybe we have.

Will we push it further? Absolutely.

To Outline or Not to Outline, That Is the Question – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

We’ve had the fun and privilege of hosting a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He came through Austin in January while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of having him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for a few weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.

This is his final post for us. Thank you to RJ for his contributions, they’ve been great to read and to share.

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I am often asked whether or not I write an outline or a synopsis for the novels I write.  To date, the answer has always been, ‘No, no outline, no synopsis’, and I think that will always be the answer.  Writing a novel – for me – seems to be a spontaneous and organic thing, constantly changing, constantly in flux, and in this way I seem to be able to surprise myself with the twists and turns that a plot can take, even as I write it.  I can change my mind.  I can change the ending.  The guilty party in A Quiet Belief In Angels became someone else entirely merely fifteen pages from the end of the book.

However, there are two constants for me; two things I always establish before I begin a novel.  The time and place, just as one concept, is vitally important.  A Depression era-set serial killer novel is going to be an entirely different novel from a Washington-based contemporary political conspiracy.  So the era and locale is vital.  But, even more important for me, is the mood and atmosphere with which I want to imbue a story.  How do I want the reader to feel when they are reading the book?  How do I want them to remember the book long after they have finished it?

With Saints of New York I wanted to create a very definite feeling: a sense of bleak desperation, a feeling of darkness, a sense of constant and imminent foreboding.  I remembered films from the seventies – ‘Klute’, ‘Serpico’, ‘The French Connection’, and then more recent releases such as ‘8mm’, ‘The Pledge’, ‘The Flock’ and ‘Seven’, and it was that kind of depth, that kind of disillusioned and defeated realism that I wanted to convey.  Of course, I didn’t wish to depress the reader, but merely to take a step away from conventional plots, to leave behind central characters who seem to always get it right, to make guesses and giant leaps of assumption, and always be vindicated in their hunches.  The world is flawed.  The people who inhabit the world are also flawed – both criminals and cops.  They make mistakes, they screw things up, they get it wrong.  It does not always work out well for the protagonist; the antagonist does not always get his comeuppance.  This is what I wanted the book to be about – the simple truth, the simple reality, the frustration of real police work.

In the early part of 2008, just a couple of days after Obama had been inaugurated, I had the good fortune to go to Washington with the BBC to make a feature piece about A Simple Act of ViolenceSimple Act is a tough book about a tough subject – the covert ops activities of the CIA during the war in Nicaragua, the illegal trafficking of cocaine out of Managua into Miami in CIA-chartered aircraft, those same aircraft piloted by known criminals who had been given carte blanche and exemption from prosecution by the US intelligence community, all this set against the backdrop of a contemporary Washington serial killing spree that spirals beyond anything the lead investigator, Detective Robert Miller, can envision.  During that Washington trip I had the great fortune to spend time with people from the FBI, the Washington Post, and even the lead detective on the Washington sniper case, June Boyle.  I spent four hours in a snow-covered childrens’ playground in Fairfax County, Virginia, and here she spoke of her life, her experiences, her vocation as a detective.  Towards the end of our discussion I asked her – if she could – to summarise her lifestyle, her work, her vocation – in some soundbites.  She was pensive for a while, and then said, “No two victims are created equal.  If you come from one side of the city, well your murder might be investigated by five or six detectives.  However, if you come from another side of the city, your murder could be one of five or six I am investigating alone.”  She said it was a view that had been shared by herself and the Fire Chief.  The Fire Chief said he had never put out a fire in a rich white guy’s house.  Secondly she said something that sent a chill up my spine.  “I have a work cellphone,” she told me, “and when it rings…well, every time it rings there’s a dead person at the end of it.  It could be a domestic, it could be a twelve year-old in pieces in a dumpster, it could be a serial killing victim or a hit-and-run.  Whoever it is, and whatever the reason for their death, my day starts when their day ends.”

I thought about that for a long time.  I considered the kind of effect such a job would have on your life.  Could you keep a marriage together?  Could you raise kids?  Could you go out and enjoy a ballgame, a barbecue, a weekend in the country with that kind of shadow hanging over you all the time?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

After I returned from Washington I started to think about forgotten victims.  I looked at the fact that something in the region of eight hundred and fifty-thousand Missing Persons Reports are filed each year in the USA alone.  I considered the fact that ninety-three percent of abduction victims are dead within three hours…dead before anyone even knows they’re missing.  I thought about the ones that were never found, the bodies never located, the parents never knowing what really happened to their son or daughter.  I imagined what that would do to your life.  Would you ever be able to let go, to get over it, to carry on?  I didn’t believe so.

That was where Frank Parrish came from for Saints of New York.  That simple meeting in Virginia was where Saints of New York was born – as an idea, a vague fleeting image, a feeling of the kind of story I would like to write that dealt with the obsession of one policeman to learn the truth of what had really happened to a young victim.  Why?  Because if he didn’t, no-one else would.  The victim – a teenage girl – was a nobody, someone who had fallen through the net, someone about whom no-one really cared.  Until Parrish decided to care.  Until he decided to learn the truth of her fate, no matter what it took.

And so I started writing, and – as with all books – it became consuming, something I thought about all the time, something I worked at furiously.  “Driven,” my wife calls me, and perhaps I am.  It became an important story to tell, not out of any high-minded and pretentious view that I had ‘something important to say’.  Quite the opposite.  I was humbled by it in a strange kind of way.  Writing about someone like Parrish made me all-too-aware of the fact that there are thousands of people who spend their lives in the service of others, who sacrifice personal security, stability, family, vacations – all the things we take for granted – in an effort to help others less fortunate.  ‘Forgotten victims’ was the phrase that came to mind time and again, but as I wrote the book I started to consider the ‘forgotten saviours’ even more.  These were the real Saints of New York, the real saints of any city, any neighbourhood, where such work is undertaken by self-effacing and anonymous people, people often criticized and harassed, people viewed as corrupt or self-serving, when – in reality – they were quite the opposite.

Saints of New York is not an easy read.  I didn’t want it to be, never intended it to be anything other than brutal and harsh.  All I wished was that it would convey some small part of the emotional effect I had experienced when I spent time in Washington with June Boyle from Homicide, with Brad Garrett from the FBI.  I wanted to present some small part of the reality of their lives, to get under the reader’s skin, to make them feel how I felt when I stood by the edge of an industrial lake and listened to Brad tell me of the one case that still kept him awake at night: the discovery of a thirty-gallon trash can that had floated to the surface of that same lake, the lid wired shut, and within it the dead and drowned body of a young mother and her baby boy tied together inside.  Twenty-five years of homicides, twenty-five years of seeing the very worst that human beings were capable of doing to one another, the only FBI agent to ever track a terrorist assassin out of the US into the Middle East, to bring him back, to see him charged, arraigned, tried, convicted and executed for the gun killing of two CIA agents on US soil, the agent who was assigned to the Starbucks employee murders in Georgetown…and the case that still gave him nightmares was the seemingly senseless death of a baby.

That was what I wanted to do, to tell that story, to share that viewpoint of humanity.

And I hope that is what I have achieved.

Truth be told, I care little whether people remember my name, even the name of the book, but yet – when reminded of that book six months after having read it – I would consider it the highest compliment if they were still able to recall how it made them feel.  That’s what I like about the books I read, and that’s what I am still trying to accomplish with every book I write.

So, for me, there will never be outlines or plot-charts or synopses.  For me there will be a basic idea, a time and a place, and a feeling that I am trying to evoke in the reader.  That is all.

Who Wrote ‘In Cold Blood’? – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

We’re currently hosting a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He came through Austin in January while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of having him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for a few weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.

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In mid-November, 1959, Truman Capote, renowned author of Other Voices, Other Rooms and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was struck by a newspaper article that appeared in the New York Times.  Little more than a brief squib, it outlined the brutal shotgun-slaying of a farmer, his wife, and their two children.  It reported that in the small village of Holcomb, Kansas, Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, had been found bound and murdered, the mother and daughter in their beds, the father and the son in the basement of the home.

Capote, at the time a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, decided that this was the story he next wanted to write about.  He left for Kansas almost immediately, taking with him as his ‘researcher and bodyguard’ Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird and lifelong friend of Capote’s.  As children they had grown up beside one another, and even in Mockingbird, the character of Dill was supposed to have been based on Capote.

So began one of the most famous and fascinating trips in literary history – the diminutive, effete, homosexual Capote, the methodical and pragmatic Lee.

But the story of how In Cold Blood came to be written is not really the subject of this little article.  That story has been covered in two recent films – Capote (with a deserved Oscar-winning performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Infamous starring Toby Jones.  The book itself is the issue at hand, and there are two very simple reasons I have chosen this book above all others.  I am of the belief that non-fiction possesses as its primary purpose the conveyance of information, whereas fiction is there not to entertain (as we are so often told), but to evoke an emotion.  Those books that continue to stay with me, regardless of how long ago I read them, are those that somehow connected and impinged on an emotional level.  I remember being quarantined at boarding school with chicken pox, aged thirteen and sleeping alone in a locked room.  Through the porthole window in the door all I could see was a black and white chequerboard-floored corridor, and what did I read while I was there?   The Shining of all things.  Half of it I didn’t understand, the other half scared me witless.  That was emotional impingement.

So we have these two elements – non-fiction conveying information, fiction evoking an emotion – and in In Cold Blood Capote does both brilliantly.

Even before you begin the book you know that the Clutter family are dead.  This is a matter of public record.  It is a fact.  And yet we begin the book with them alive.  A human, real, honest, hardworking, religiously-minded family, helping one another, helping their fellow townsfolk, the bright and talented Nancy, the father – a rock, a pillar of the earth.  Capote leads us down a road, a brilliantly constructed road, and as we travel he shows us everything we need to see to become so emotionally involved with this family, this town, these events.

The ending is inevitable, terrible and brutal.

And his protagonists – Hickock and Smith, the brief and breathtaking events of the night of November 15th, 1959, and the subsequent years they spent on Death Row.  The way that Capote draws it out, the way he shares their viewpoint with us, the way he opens up this world and shows us all the inhabitants.

A truly remarkable work.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the edges of the longstanding and unresolved question: Who wrote In Cold Blood?  Was it Capote?  Was it Lee?  Did they write it together?  And who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird?  Again, was it Capote, was it Lee, or did they conspire to produce two of the most remarkable books in modern American literature?  To Kill A Mockingbird was the only book Harper Lee ever published.  We do not know whether it is the only book she ever wrote.  It spawned a film that won an Oscar for Gregory Peck.  In Cold Blood made Capote one of the most respected and influential authors in American literary history, and yet he spent the subsequent twenty years drinking himself to death and never really published another word.  Norman Mailer wrote an article about this very issue, and he raised the question: Were they individual authors in their own right as far as these two seminal works were concerned, or did they create them together, and then keep that truth from the world?

Who knows?  I believe we will never know.  I just know that In Cold Blood, certainly for any crime author, is perhaps one of the most necessary books to read, and written in an inimitable style, and constructed so well.  A work of genius.

Though it is utterly impossible to say ‘This is my favourite book’, I believe that if I was destined to be marooned on a faraway island and could take one book and one book only, then In Cold Blood would very likely be first on the list.

A Writer’s Life – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

We’re currently hosting a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He came through Austin in January while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of having him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for a few weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.

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A writer’s life is often considered to be a life of ease.  Apparently there was a survey last year of the British public, and following on from ‘professional footballer’ as the most favoured profession, writer came second.  I think somewhere there must be a viewpoint that a writer rises late (he would have to following the quantity of alcohol consumed at last night’s lavish launch party, surrounded by adoring fellow celebrities, the red carpet rolled out, assistants and attendants on hand to cater to every whim), and while fielding telephone calls from Hollywood producers vying for movie rights, both Alan Yentob and Melvyn Bragg offering ever-increasing quantities of money to feature in a prime-time documentary, our writer would breakfast on scallops and quails’ eggs, smoke a packet of Lucky Strikes, down three cups of Blue Mountain hand-ground coffee, and then type a handful of words on his battered Underwood or Remington before retiring to the club for an afternoon of witty repartee and fine cigars with the likes of Sebastian Faulks and Ian McEwan.

Sorry to have to let you down, but a writer’s life is not quite this way.

I think it was Gideon Flowers who said that “Writing is easy…all you have to do is stare at a blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Leo Rosten said that “The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can’t help it.”

As Bennett Cerf so astutely observed: “Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire, and then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer–and if so, why?”

Of course, once you attain that lofty position of having been published at all, it then becomes a full-time job to stay there.  Writing is a competitive business, to say the least.  Apparently only two percent of books published are bestsellers.  Over eighty percent of books published in the UK sell less than five hundred copies.  The average working writer in the UK draws a salary from his writing of less than seven thousand pounds.  This, my friends, is not the level of independent income that will provide scallops and quails’ eggs for breakfast.

So why do people do it?

Russell Baker said, “The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.”  A nice idea, but – frankly – utterly untrue.  Writing is a job of work, and for those few that generate enough income from their writing that they can survive without extra-curricular activity (like a full-time job), then the discipline necessary to get out of bed and write three thousand words a day can test even the hardiest literary animals.

Terry Pratchett said that, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”  So no excuses there, I’m afraid.

Hemingway added, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way,” which implies that continuing to write requires a degree of study, continual self-education, the willingness to listen to editors and critics and see where your own work could be improved.

Which, as a necessary aside, brings us neatly to critics…

You’ve worked like a dog for a year.  You’ve sweated blood through your fingertips onto the keys of the typewriter.  You’ve written and re-written, self-edited, edited once more, and then with a huge rush of accomplishment and self-satisfaction you release your child of a book into the world…and you are met by the critics.

“I picked up this book and from front cover to back cover I couldn’t stop laughing.  One day I might even read it.” (That was from Groucho Marx, but you get the point, right?)

C.N. Bovee commented that, “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world — they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this,” while Christopher Hampton was astute enough to observe that, “Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”

Though I am nowhere near as vehement or vitriolic in my dislike of critics (and I have found, routinely, that they have actually been extraordinarily kind), it does nevertheless raise a question about criticism.  I think it is safe to say that there is criticism and there is review, and they are entirely different subjects.

Somerset Maugham was quick to point out that, “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are,” which explains why one book is loved, and another hated.  Criticism, even review, is utterly subjective.  By its nature, by its perspective, it can never be anything other.  In an attempt to edify a potential reader regarding the ‘likes’ of a book, a fair reviewer or critic is bound by the nature of the task to illuminate also the ‘dislikes’.  Sometimes a critic might be an unpublished author.  Here we sometimes encounter an attitude influenced by sour grapes.  An author – dented and disillusioned by critical slant – might be well served to appreciate Sibelius’ comment when he said, “Pay no attention to what the critics say; no statue has ever been erected to a critic.”  Also Jean Kerr who advised that when confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event, is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write “I had a fun time”? Was he ever arrested for burglary?

It is true that writing is one of the only professions where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.  But that does not mean it is an ignoble or ill-advised profession.  A philosopher once said that a culture was only as great as its dreams, and its dreams were dreamed by artists.

Telling stories is as old as speech, and no less important.

Telling stories is a tradition, a heritage, a legacy…it is the past making its way toward the future in an effort to show us those things we have failed to learn by our own experience.

Telling stories is a hope that magic can be restored to an age that has almost forgotten.

I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to be a working writer. I consider it a privilege to be able to spend my time in the business of writing, and now I have accomplished at least some small degree of success I believe it is my duty to work as hard as possible to maintain the relationship I have established with my readers.  I believe that a reader and writer have a contract.  It is very simple.  A reader is asked for a small financial contribution, and then a larger contribution of time to read the book he or she has bought.  The writer’s clause dictates that he provide entertainment, perhaps education, some degree of enlightenment, but most of all that he convey the reader to some world, some universe, some reality that the reader would otherwise never experience.  If the writer fails to do this then he is in violation of the terms of his unspoken contract.  Readers are forgiving, but only for so long.  Violate that contract two times, perhaps three, and your reader will find another writer who works harder to maintain his end of the bargain.

So, aside from the work itself, aside from the reviews, the criticisms, the spats that one has with one’s editor when he smiles, nods resignedly, and says, “Perhaps it needs a little more work, eh?”…aside from all the extraneous additions to this trade, there is only one important factor to be taken into consideration: the reader.

We write for ourselves yes, but really we write for our readers.

We write because we don’t have the nerve to rob banks, of course, but truthfully we write for our readers.

So buy books – buy as many as you can – and then read them.  Not only will it entertain you, enlighten you, enchant and edify you, it will also keep writers off the streets.

About Books and Music – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

We’re currently hosting a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He came through Austin in January while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of having him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for a few weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.

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The irony was not altogether lost on me.  Though irony – possibly – was not the right word.  Perhaps it was just another example of the way in which life can sometimes double-back, can turn suddenly and reflect itself every once in a while.  A variation of déjà vu.  An echo.

I sit in a darkened film editing suite.  The room is thick with smoke.  I am watching a rough cut of a film by Olivier Dahan, Oscar-winning director of ‘La Vie En Rose’.  On the sound system is a previously unheard soundtrack written by Bob Dylan.  It is my first trip to Paris, and there I am – somewhere in an office within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower – discussing the possibility of writing a screenplay of my book, A Quiet Belief In Angels (Seul le Silence).   What happened as a result of that meeting, the three days I spent in Paris, the screenplay, the potential film…all of this is irrelevant to the story.  What was really interesting to me about that first meeting was Robert Johnson.  Forrest Whittaker as Robert Johnson, right there on the screen ahead of me.  The whole backstory of Johnson – how he met Lucifer at the crossroads and sold his soul for the Blues.  That story.

It was a story within the film that Dahan had just made, and it was a story I’d heard before.

Backwards more than thirty years.  A seven year-old child stands in the hallway of a strange house.  His mother has just died, and he has been sent to stay with a relative.  The relative, a great aunt – has a son.  The son is a teenager, a wild guy, a rocker, and he has a room painted black with posters all over the walls – Hendrix, Joplin, Canned Heat, Jim Morrison and The Doors.  He spends his time playing records, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer.

The seven year-old – lost, confused, alone now – finds some strange comfort in the company of this wild teenager.  The teenager tells him a story and plays him a record.  ‘Robert Johnson,’ the little boy is told.  ‘He went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil for the Blues…’  And the little boy listens, and he hears something in the music that stirs something inside of him, and he knows that no other music will ever sound the same.  Perhaps more accurately, he will never be able to listen to any other style of popular music and not hear the Blues somewhere hiding within it.

Because the Blues sits behind everything.  It is a rhythm, an atmosphere, a heartbeat, a pulse, a colour, a feeling.  It isn’t just a sound.  You hear sounds with your ears.  This wasn’t just something you heard, it was something you could feel in your heart.

The fact that the seven year-old boy went on to write novels is also not part of that story.  Not directly.  The fact that the boy became a writer who was always trying to capture that feeling, that emotion, that sound with words, is perhaps more to the point.  Because they’re the same thing.  It’s the emotional connection.  The emotional impact.
I was that boy, and now I am that writer.  And I read to feel something.  I listen to Son House and Leadbelly and Muddy Waters and Charley Patton to feel something, too.  The emotion comes first, the rhythm comes second, the dancing comes last.  Music is an outburst of the soul, Delius said.

My interest was sparked, like the small flame at the tail of the touchpaper, and at the end of that touchpaper was dynamite.  I moved on from there, found so many different stories that had all been woven from the same original strands.  It was an evolution, a progression – up through British rhythm and blues to The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Stones, and then the sound of the West Coast – The Elevators and Quicksilver, and West Texas variations like Doug Sahm, and out of the swamps came Dr. John and Professor Longhair, ‘Gris Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya’ and its strange, distorted reflection of the same things that the delta Bluesmen were saying.

All the same emotion.  All the same story, just told in very different ways.

My girl gone left me.  She left me alone.  You don’t know how it feels to have no home.  Got no money in my pocket, no shoes on my feet.  Got no food in my belly and my bed’s in the street.

It’s all humanity, the same things suffered a thousand different ways.

Music was the support, the way in which we survived our difficulties, our travails, our losses.  As Virgil Thomson said, ‘I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one.  Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music is not going to let you down.’

And even the whites had their own thing going.  They suffered the Depression, they suffered hardships, of course, and they sang and played their way through it.  European immigrants into the Maritime Provinces and the Southern Appalachian Mountains brought Old World instruments with them – the fiddle from Ireland, the banjo from West Africa, the guitar from Spain, the mandolin from Italy.  ‘Little Log Cabin in the Lane’, recorded by Fiddlin’ John Carson in the early 20s, Vernon Dalhart’s national hit, ‘Wreck of the Old ‘97’, the flipside of which was something called – not surprisingly – ‘Lonesome Road Blues’, and artists like this were followed by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers who managed to fuse hillbilly country with gospel, jazz, blues and folk music.

And without Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family the ‘The Golden Age of Country’ would never have happened.  No one would have heard of the Grand Ole Opry; Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson would have just been playing for drinks in some out-of-town juke joint or bowling alley.  And on the West Coast, had it not been for Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, we would never have discovered The Bakersfield Sound, and Merle Haggard and Buck Owens would have been packing groceries or fixing cars in a truckstop outside of Mendocino.

And from these strange unions came yet another illegitimate child – real rockabilly.  Without that unlikely collision of Hillbilly Country music and Delta Blues we would never have had Carl Perkins or Elvis or Johnny Burnette or Eddie Cochran, and without Eddie Cochran we would never have had Chuck Berry, and without Chuck Berry we would never have had The Rolling Stones.

And then the brash parents took a roadtrip, travelled further afield, and as they travelled they produced further offspring – artists like Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, Buffalo Springfield and The Eagles.  Country Rock was born.  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Canned Heat’s ‘On The Road Again’ – released in 1968, adapted by Alan Wilson from a song of the same name, recorded by Floyd Jones in 1953.  And Jones’ song, well that was an adaptation of a song called ‘Big Road Blues’, recorded in 1928 by Delta Bluesman, Tommy Johnson.  Did they know at Woodstock that they were listening to a song that was twice as old as most of the people there?  Maybe not, but it didn’t matter.  It said the same thing a different way.  It conveyed the same emotions, the same heart, and you either got it or you didn’t.

These were no accidents, no coincidences.  Serendipity perhaps, but not coincidence.  The emotion was always there, always present, always pre-eminent.  The emotion was what it was all about.  And it carried through every thread, and it walked down every road, and it passed from hand to hand, from heart to heart, from soul to soul.  It was a communication.  It was a message.  And those that heard it, really heard it, well they understood that it was not something that could be measured or quantified or given a value.  It was priceless.  The music was priceless.  It was a universal language, applicable to all, understandable by all, and as it evolved it encompassed more and more people, more and more variations on the same theme, and even those who didn’t know exactly what they were listening to still felt the rhythm inside of themselves and got up to dance.

And the seven year-old kid?  He grew up.  He grew up with music everywhere, and if there wasn’t music when he got wherever he was going, well he soon got some organised.  He even played music himself on and off, back and forth over the years – and nearly four decades later he’s still hammering away at the same chords, and singing some of the same tunes, and putting a band back on the road when all sense and sensibility says that such a thing should not be considered by an unfit man in his mid-forties.  But to hell with the rules and regulations, to hell with the conservative, the expected, the norm.  This is about life.  This is about being whoever you are.  This is about feeling something inside of yourself that you cannot exorcise without making a noise.  ‘The Renegades’ will appear somewhere, sometime, and they will play riffs invented by Bo Diddley and Paul Burlison and Mike Bloomfield and Scotty Moore.  Why?  Because they are timeless.   People might age, but the emotion stays young for ever.

And now – even when I write my fiction – I am looking for the same rhythm, that same pace, the same tensions that I find in music.  I am working on the sentences and paragraphs like they’re bars of music.  I am losing a word here and there because the phrase has one too many syllables and it doesn’t feel right.  I know when it sounds right to my ear.  I know when it looks right to my eye.  It has a tempo, a timbre, an atmosphere, a colour.  And when I write lyrics my musical heritage is all the more evident.  The girl is still leaving.  I still ain’t got no money.  The train’s pulling out of the station.  I am sleeping in the street.  This is what we do.  This is what we have to say.  This is what we sing about.  Matters of the heart.  Matters of the soul.  The business of life.

Music has always been there, always something to look forward to, always there to return to.  It is both a destination and a home; it is both a familiar friend and a new acquaintance; it is both a parent and a child.  I look back at my life, and all the important events, all the things that mattered – marriage, fatherhood, new jobs, new places and people…well, all of them were somehow connected to music.  I can say in music what I will never be able to write.  I can write in words what I will never be able to communicate with music.  It has been said that a composer composes because he cannot say what he wants in words.  I believe the corollary also, that a writer writes because he cannot yet communicate his thoughts and feelings with sounds.

And I leave the last words to a writer, fittingly.  Not just a writer, but a writer for children who yet spoke to all generations.  Hans Christian Andersen said something so simple, and yet it encompassed all complexities, all truths, all fundamentals: “When words fail, music speaks.”

For me, in just five words, I think that says it all.

What makes a great novel? – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

We’re currently hosting a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He came through Austin in January while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of having him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for the next seven weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.

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I think any author possess the desire to write great novels.  I don’t think anyone – in their heart of hearts – writes because it’s a sensible choice of profession or for financial gain.   I believe it was Steinbeck who said, ‘The profession of book-writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business…’

Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Such testaments to the craft pose the question – Do you really want to be a writer — and if so, why?

There is a considered opinion that artists – anyone who creates something for the enjoyment or aesthetic appreciation of others – is composed of fifty percent ego and fifty percent insecurity.  That makes a great deal of sense to me.  You are sufficiently arrogant to consider that the rest of the world should enjoy your creation, and yet you are terrified of their rejection or dismissal!  To live with such an internal contradiction makes for a fascinating and challenging existence.
We create, we purvey our creation, we await the response.  We contend with critics.  Everyone contends with critics, no matter their walk of life.  But there seems to be something all the more penetrating about a criticism of something you have created with your own hands, your own heart, something that came from the soul.  Perhaps it is because it is taken as not only an attack on what you have created, but who you are.

Criticism seems to require no qualifications.  I have never seen such a position advertised in the newspaper.

People read books more than they read reviews.  Ultimately they care less about critics than they do the work that is being criticized.  As Christopher Hampton said, ‘Ask a working writer what he thinks about critics…you may as well ask a lamppost how it feels about dogs.’

Wendell Holmes added, “What a blessed thing it is that nature, when she invented, manufactured and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left!”, to which Jean Kerr added, “When confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event, is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write I had a fun time? Was he ever arrested for burglary?”

It is true that no statue has ever been erected to a critic.

Personally, I have no complaint with critics or reviewers.  Generally I have been treated very kindly.  I think review and criticism is all part-and-parcel of the business of creation.  To determine that criticism is unfair is to question the validity of freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, and that is an entirely different subject for an entirely different discussion.

Regardless of his or her views about whether the work should be evaluated positively or negatively, an author is perhaps the very last person who should judge the value or quality of his own work.  All they can do is evaluate their own motives for what they do.

Some of us, I imagine, write out of anger; some out of pain; some write out of prejudice or loss, some out of passion, the promise of something better, perhaps the belief that – even now – a book can be capable of changing a life.
Some of us write to remember, some to forget; some to change things, some to ensure things stay the same.
Some of us – as my editor and agent will all too easily testify – write because we cannot stop.

Renard said that “Writing is the only profession where no-one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”  Moliere said that first we write for ourselves, then we write for our friends, and lastly we write for money.  I am still writing for myself, and believe I always will be.  And the thing that drives me forward, the thing that reminds me of why I do this, and how important it is, is the reason for writing in the first place.  Because it matters.  It matters to the same degree as music, painting, dancing, sculpture, architecture, poetry, film, and all else that we create.  Is not the quality of life in a society judged by the degree to which its artists are supported and acknowledged?  Is not the society itself evaluated against the scope and substance of its artistic endeavors?

I just love to write, and though the subject matter that I want to write about takes me to the States, it is nevertheless more important to me to write something that can move someone emotionally, perhaps change a view about life, and at the same time to try and write it as beautifully as I can.  I also want to write about subjects – whether they be political conspiracies, serial killings, race relations, political assassinations or FBI and CIA investigations – that could only work in the USA.  Powerful subjects, emotive, contentious perhaps, but written with a view to engaging the emotions, the mind, the heart, the soul, and getting people to think about what they believe, what they see as the truth within our society, and perhaps to even change their preconceptions.

So what is a great novel?

Perhaps it is nothing more than a novel that challenges who we are, what we believe, and possesses the power to change our viewpoint about something, however certain that viewpoint might be.

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R. J. Ellory is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling A Quiet Belief in Angels, which was the Strand Magazine’s Thriller of the Year, nominated for the Barry Award, and a finalist for the SIBA Award. His novel A Simple Act of Violence won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award.

What Ya’ Readin For? – Guest Post by RJ Ellory

Today begins a weekly series of guest posts by bestselling crime fiction author RJ Ellory. He recently came through Austin while on tour for A Quiet Vendetta. We had the pleasure of hosting him here at the store, and will now have the pleasure of sharing a new Ellory post with you every Monday for the next seven weeks. If you haven’t checked out his thrillers yet, I highly recommend you pick one up and find out what British readers have been raving about for years.

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The best explanation of the difference between non-fiction and fiction, I feel, is that non-fiction’s primary purpose is to convey information, whereas the purpose of fiction is to evoke an emotion in the reader.

I think great books work on an emotional level.  Fear is an emotion, a very powerful emotion.  Perhaps people read thrillers and horror novels because it is a way of experiencing emotions that you ordinarily don’t experience in life, but without putting yourself directly in harm’s way.  I think, also, that it is an effort to try and better understand the aspects of the human psyche that we don’t have answers for.  The more we ourselves understand about human nature, the better we will survive.  I know we operate that way, so all reading – of whatever genre or subject – has to also come down to the fact that we are trying to understand more of ourselves and others to better our own comprehension of life, and thus improve the quality of our existence.

Someone once said to me that there were two types of novels.  There were those that you read simply because some mystery was created and you had to find out what happened.  A puzzle or an unresolved questioned was presented in the opening, and there you followed a tortuous maze of clues, mis-directors and red herrings until the denouement.  The denouement was satisfying or not, but still this was not the type of book you read for the lyrical prose, the scintillating turn of phrase, the stunningly descriptive passages.  It was airport literature, and that term is not applied derogatorily.  Such novels are compelling, and the urgency with which you have to reach the end is remarkable.  You need to know what happened!  Having read such a book, however, perhaps you would be asked some weeks later whether it was a title you had encountered.  You would pause for moment.  ‘Remind me again what it was about?’ you would say, and that simple question would say all that needed to be said about the level of emotional engagement inherent in such a book.  Wonderful plots, clever twists, but not a book to change your preconceptions about life.

The second kind of novel was one where you read the book simply for the language itself, the way the author used words, the atmosphere and description.  Janette Winterson once said that there were some books she read simply ‘because of the way the words tasted in her mouth’.  That makes sense to me.  I understand precisely what she means.  Annie Proulx does that to me, as does Cormac McCarthy, as does Daniel Woodrell.

The truly great books – however – are the ones that accomplish both.

I was asked one time how I would define a ‘classic’.

I paused for a moment, and then replied, ‘A classic is a book that presents you with a narrative so compelling you can’t read it fast enough, and yet is written so beautifully you can’t read it slowly enough’.

We all know such books.  Even as we are reading them we are forcing ourselves to slow down.  Why?  Because if we don’t slow down we will finish it, and if we finish it there will be none to read tomorrow.

So what is it that these books do to us?  They become friends.  They become anchors.  Perhaps they read us, just as much as we read them.

And that raises the question, how do writers choose what to write about?  Do they in fact choose their subjects and genres, or do the subjects and genres choose the writer?

I am so often asked why all of my books are set in the USA, despite that fact that I am British.  To be honest, I think I was weaned out of infancy on American culture.  I grew up watching Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, The Streets of San Francisco, all those kinds of things.  As a musician, I was always so involved with the origins of the blues and country music, both of these American in origin.  I loved the atmosphere, the diversity of culture.  The politics fascinated me.  America is a new country compared to England, and it just seemed to me that there was so much color and life inherent in its society.  I have visited many times now, and I honestly feel like I’m going home.  At some point in the future, I believe I will move there permanently.  And I believe that as a non-American there are many things about American culture that I can look at as a spectator.  The difficulty with writing about an area with which you are very familiar with is that you tend to stop noticing things.  You take things for granted.  The odd or interesting things about the people and the area cease to be odd and interesting.  As an outsider you never lose that viewpoint of seeing things for the first time, and for me that is very important.   A great many writers are told ‘Write what you know’, and though I don’t think this is wrong, I do think it is very limiting.  I believe you should also write about the things that fascinate you.  I think in that way you have a chance to let your passion and enthusiasm for the subject come through in your prose.  I also believe that you should challenge yourself with each new book.  Take on different and varied subjects.  Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of writing things to a formula.  So here we come back to the same message.  Emotion.  It’s all about emotional engagement.  We love those books that engage us emotionally.  They become part of us.  In a way our favorite books define us.  It is the same with writing.  Great writing comes out of a passion for the subject, out of emotional engagement.  We read books, and we write books, for the same reason perhaps.

So, as the old joke goes, a waitress in a diner someplace sees someone with a book, and instead of asking, ‘What ya readin’?’, she asks ‘What ya readin’ for?’.  If ever asked such a question, your response should encompass and communicate nothing more than the message conveyed by those four words above the doorway at the Library of Thebes: Medicine For The Soul.

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R. J. Ellory is the author of eight novels, including the bestselling A Quiet Belief in Angels, which was the Strand Magazine’s Thriller of the Year, nominated for the Barry Award, and a finalist for the SIBA Award. His novel A Simple Act of Violence won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award.

Q&A with RJ ELLORY

Ellory will speak & sign 'A Quiet Vendetta' here at BookPeople on Fri, Jan 27, 7p.

RJ Ellory has earned a great following in his native England writing about the US. In some ways, his books contradict normal crime fiction. They tend to be more sweeping and episodic and, while he takes you through some rather dark and noirish territory, he doesn’t carry the cynicism many crime writers in this country do. At the same time, he captures the American as well as the human experience as well as many of our American writers.

His most recent book to come to the states is A Quiet Vendetta, where the “interrogation” of a mob enforcer, Mr. Perez, in order to find the kidnapped daughter of the Louisiana governor is interwoven with the story of Perez’s life, a story that follows the history of the mafia from the 1950s to the present. It strikes a brilliant balance between sweeping and emotional, and tight and intense. Picture the first two Godfather films with the structure of The Usual Suspects.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Mr. Ellory some questions about A Quiet Vendetta and his process


MysteryPeople: A Quiet Vendett a is a sweeping look at the history of the American Mafia in the last half of the 20th century, yet the story relies on two flawed men in a room. Which came first, the era you wanted to explore or the characters?

RJ ELLORY: Well, the emotion always come first, and that may sound like a strange answer! I don’t write a synopsis or an outline for any of my novels, but I do start with a vague idea of the kind of story I want to write, and also a very clear idea of the kind of emotional response I want to evoke in a reader. In the case of A Quiet Vendetta, the intention was to write about the worst kind of human being I could think of, and yet have the reader be sufficiently seduced by this character to even come to like them by the end of the book. I wanted to write a vast Mafia epic, something that spanned several decades and many cities, and have each city be as much a character as the individuals who drove the story forward. I wanted it be many stories within one story, and I wanted to write one chapter in third person, another in first, and alternate them back and forth. I also wanted to blur the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

MP: How did the character of Perez, a Cuban enforcer for the Italian mob, come about?

RJ: Well, very simply, I wanted to create a character who – no matter how deeply he became involved with the Mafia – would always remain an outsider, simply because he was Cuban. I also wanted to begin Perez’s story during the era of Mafia domination of the Cuban casino business. Therefore it made sense to have Perez be picked up by the Mafia in Havana coincident with Castro overthrowing Batista.

MP: What draws you to using US history as a canvas for many of your books?

RJ: I always read as a child. I was orphaned at seven and sent away to various institutions, and there was always great access to books. When I think of my childhood I think of three things: long-distance running, reading and being hungry! I started with Christie and Conan Doyle, Shakespeare and the classics, and then I found Harper Lee and Truman Capote, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Hemingway. I found a tremendous difference between English and US literature, and the rhythm and style of US prose appealed to me so much more. There was a grace and atmosphere and slow-motion style to it that really resonated.

Later on, in my early teens, the kind of TV we watched was predominantly American. I grew up with Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, all those kinds of things. Additionally, I became – and still am – a huge fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and count amongst my favourite actors such people as Stanwyck, Hepburn, Edward G. Robinson, Bogart, Bacall, Cagney, Cary Grant and James Stewart. I also loved the atmosphere, the diversity of culture presented by the US. The politics fascinated me. America is a new country compared to England, and it just seems to me that there’s so much colour and life inherent in its society.

I have visited a great number of times now, and I honestly feel like I’m going home. And I believe that as a non-American there are many things about American culture that I can look at as a spectator. The difficulty with writing about an area that you are very familiar with is that you tend to stop noticing things. You take things for granted. The odd or interesting things about the people and the area cease to be odd and interesting. As an outsider you never lose that viewpoint of seeing things for the first time, and for me that is very important. Also many writers are told to write about the things with which they are familiar. I don’t think this is wrong, but I think it is very limiting. I believe you should write about the things that fascinate you. I think in that way you have a chance to let your passion and enthusiasm for the subject come through in your prose.

I also believe that you should challenge yourself with each new book. Take on different and varied subjects. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of writing things to a formula. Someone once said to me that there were two types of novels. There were those that you read simply because some mystery was created and you had to find out what happened. The second kind of novel was one where you read the book simply for the language itself, the way the author used words, the atmosphere and description. I think that the truly great books are the ones that accomplish both. A classic, for me, is a book that presents you with narrative so compelling you can’t read it fast enough, and yet written so beautifully you can’t read it slowly enough. I think any author wants to write great novels. I don’t think anyone – in their heart of hearts – writes because it’s a sensible choice of profession, or for financial gain. I certainly don’t! I just love to write, and that love, that passion, has been there since my early twenties. First a reader, then a writer. And the range of subjects and issues and cultural differences inherent in the US draws me to it completely.

MP: Many times you use the concept of a story within a story. While at first look it seems limiting, how is it freeing for you?

RJ: Well, the last thing I would ever wish to do is write a series of novels about the same characters. That seems to me to be the most claustrophobic and limiting thing of all. I can write a historical saga, a romance, a political conspiracy, a serial killer story, anything I like, and all within the framework of a crime novel. To write a story within a story just gives me endless scope to write about whatever interests me, and I have often found that if you write about those things that fascinate you, you tend to find that others are fascinated. I think your enthusiasm for the subject matter comes through in your prose. I consider that the very worst novel you could write is the one that you believe others will enjoy, whereas the best novel you could write is the one that you yourself believe you would enjoy reading.

MP: What sets you apart from many of today’s current crime fiction writers is that you offer a deep, believable sense of hope about life and humanity, no matter how dark the tale. As somebody who survived a pretty rough early life, is this something you feel necessary to convey?

RJ: Well, I don’t really consider that I had a rough early life, to be honest. Is it worse to be orphaned and raised without parents, or to be raised in a loving close-knit family environment, only to then witness the aggressive, bitter and violent divorce of your mom and dad when you’re in your teens? I think the former is easier than the latter. As Joni Mitchell said, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’, and if you never had anything to start with, well you can’t miss it! The simple truth is that people fascinate me. The human condition fascinates me. The mind and life as a whole fascinate me. People are crazy and funny and flawed and brilliant and scary and intense and sad and apathetic and lost and focused, and everything else. No-one is perfect. No-one gets it right all the time. I have a pet hate for those crime novels where the lead investigator jumps to wild conclusions and is proven right all the time. Life is not like that. People are not like that. If they’re surviving, then they’re getting things right slightly more than fifty percent of the time. I think I have a deep and believable sense of hope about life and humanity, and I think how I write is just a reflection of my own philosophy. That’s what makes each book unique to each writer. I think that’s what makes a part of each book written somehow autobiographical, not in the story that’s written, but in the philosophy of the characters.

MP: You’ve hit several American regions during different periods. Is there a time and region you’d like to tackle that you haven’t yet?

RJ: I am doing it now! The Deep South (Mississippi), the era (the end of the Nixon administration), and a character who is a Vietnam war veteran. That gives me three areas to write about that I have not written about in detail before, and I am enjoying it thoroughly. This is for a book called The Devil and The River, due for release in the UK in 2013.

MP: You have the sense of sweep and of emotion of a literary or historical fiction writer. What keeps on bringing you back to crime fiction?

RJ: Very simply, my love and fascination for people. The thing with crime, as a genre, is that you can incorporate any sub-genre – history, politics, culture, music, homicide, blackmail, conspiracy, forensics, serial killing, the CIA, FBI, kidnapping, bank robbery, anything at all! – within that story, and it is still a crime novel. Additionally, and more importantly, confronting a regular person with the extraordinary nature of an act of violence or crime gives me opportunity to write across the entire range of human reactions and emotions, and that’s the thing that excites me the most.

As somebody who has hung out with Roger, I can attest we’ve only scratched the surface with him. So join us January 27th at 7pm for his signing and discussion of A Quiet Vendetta over a couple of beers (or wine if you prefer), and other refreshments.