This time we had the pleasure to ask Ed Lynskey, author of the Frank Johnson series a couple of questions.
Q: What makes your P.I. Frank Johnson different from other fictional private eyes?
A: Good question. Frank doesn’t hail from New York City, Boston,San Francisco or whatever usual big city setting, so that separates him from some of the pack. But I don’t know he’s so much different than the typical private detective. They’re all
big snoops and get into scads of trouble by doing it. His books tend to move out fast with space allotted for necessary back story and introspection.
One thing I shy away from is using Chandleresque metaphors. Mine are too leaden. Frank isn’t a “lone wolf” -- he has a coterie of loyal friends. He’s ambivalent about his job and abilities, but if pushed, he bares a violent streak and always gets the job done. He’s on and off the wagon, though he doesn’t make a big noise about it.
Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
Is this a contemporary P.I. trend? I haven’t really thought on it. Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlings features the edgy, unpredictable Mouse, but is he a true psycho? Sidekicks aren’t new to crime-busting heroes, and I suppose one of the duo has to
possess the fiery or impulsive persona (i.e., a “psycho”) to differentiate him from the other guy.
Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels sound like?
A: Interesting question. I listen to jazz and bluegrass music while
I’m writing. I would’ve liked to have asked Warren Zevon to
score a soundtrack for a Frank Johnson movie.
Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
A: I had little idea how to write The Dirt-Brown Derby other than
to just write it. I’ve read and written a lot more since then. I heard or read somewhere a journeyman writer has to churn out a million words before he produces good fiction.
Boy, it sure feels as if I’ve hit and exceeded that mark. Critics have said my plots and characters have settled down, but the “old-school charm” is still present. I know I do more revision cycles now, and I believe my plots have grown more intricate. Ultimately, the reader has to decide if they like (and will buy) the novels.
Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A: I wrote and published over hundred P.I. Frank Johnson short stories in print magazines and ezines before I ever tackled writing the novels. That lengthy effort was the spadework for writing the longer P.I. fiction treatments.
The Blue Cheer (Point Blank, 2007) took a large chunk of research, some of it done via telecon and email. Frank moves to West Virginia, a new locale for him, and I wanted to get the Appalachian setting, characters, and culture down just right. My
latest, Pelham Fell Here, required some technical assistance from the state forensics lab, P.I. licensing bureau, and even an old history professor.
I suppose reading the old and present-day P.I. novels qualifies as research since I was curious to see what other writers have done. I interviewed and wrote essays on a batch of stellar P.I. writers including Dennis Lynds, Dorothy Uhnak (before her big
books), Bob Wade, Stephen Greenleaf and some others I’m sure I’ve left out. Anyway, learning and understanding the genre’s traditions from past acknowledged masters and has been important to my own development.
Q: What's next for you and Frank?
A: Pelham Fell Here (Mundania), my next P.I. Frank Johnson title
due out early next year (2008), is published out of sequence and is really the first book. An ex-MP, Frank has left the military, returned home, and finds himself in a jam. He resorts to his criminal investigation skills to find a way out and by the end, he has few employment options open to him but to pursue a P.I. career.
I’ve one more P.I. Frank Johnson title, Troglodytes, under publication contract from Mundania. Frank returns to Turkey to track down a wealthy lady’s missing husband. He’s sort of a fish out of water and relies more on his own wits since none of his
crew are around to lend him a hand.
I have a pulpy science fiction title, The Quetzal Motel, also under a Mundania contract. Quetzal, a satire on writers and the publishing business in general, was a fun change of pace for me.
My standalone Appalachian noir, Lake Charles set in the Tennessee mountains during 1979, has attracted recently some interest by a publisher. I’ll remain hopeful and continue to rub on my rabbit’s foot.
Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
A: You bet. I enjoy reading such P.I. scribes as Stephen Greenleaf,
Arthur Lyons, Walter Mosley, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, James Lee Burke, Jerry Healy, and Marcia Muller. I gravitate to the vintage stuff, too, from Bart Spicer, Raymond Chandler, and Wade Miller. That’s a bunch of name-dropping, but it constitutes a decent reading list of my tastes. I like nothing better than
cracking open a yellowed paperback and getting engrossed in a fast-paced, well-crafted tale. Charles Williams (not a P.I. but more a pulp writer) can do that for me.
Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI-writers, first
influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
A: Today’s detectives are cyber-sleuths but that’s pretty boring,
stale fare unless you jazz up what the computers can do like you see done on the C.S.I. TV shows. I expect some future detectives will remain like old-school gumshoes, doing surveillance and legwork and fitting in the Hammett-Chandler-Macdonald traditional mold.
Some other P.I.s will become more violent and in-your-face, paralleling today’s neo-noirs. Some futuristic detectives will branch off more into the science fiction realm. But we’ve seen the P.I. novel evolve so much already. Dennis Lynds and later
Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos, for instance, injected a social consciousness into the private detective book. So, who knows what new directions the latest and greatest P.I. novels will veer? It’s certainly an exciting prospect to wait and see,
Q: David Housewright, writer of the Rush McKenzie novels, came up with this question: "What do you have to say?"
A: I’m not sure I understand this question enough to offer an
intelligent response, so I better pass on it.
Q: What question should be asked every P.I. writer we interview and what would be your answer to it?
A: I sometimes wonder if I’d have the patience and grit to work as
a private detective. That’s a fair question to ask writers who create their own P.I.s in print. My answer to such a question would probably be no. The job strikes me as involving long hours and lousy pay, especially you’re your deadbeat clients stiffing you.
For more info about Ed Lynskey and Frank Johnson check out: www.thrillingdetective.com/eyes/johnson.html