Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Q & A with Tim Maleeny

Today we talk with Tim Maleeny, author of the Cape Weathers series.

Q: What makes your P.I. Cape Weathers different from other fictional private eyes?
Cape is probably more self-aware and perhaps a bit more neurotic than your typical P.I. Unlike a lot of fictional characters who don’t seem to read or go to the movies, Cape reads crime fiction, and he’s a film buff, so he’s aware of how P.I.’s are portrayed. He doesn’t think of himself as a fictional tough guy and he’s definitely not invincible, but he’s stubborn enough to get into some pretty dangerous situations. I think of Cape as that voice inside your head saying the things you wish you could say, or that alter ego that does the outrageous things we can only imagine doing in civilized society.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
I think the sidekick is a critical archetype, the other side of the coin to the P.I. In the case of Cape and his deadly companion Sally, I sometimes think of them as two aspects of the same character, sort of a conscious and subconscious balance of personalities.

I think the main difference between the P.I. and the sidekick is that the sidekick is not conflicted about his or her actions. The P.I. character is usually the most flawed, human, and empathetic of the two characters, with the kind of doubts we’d all have if faced with life or death decisions. But the sidekick has no doubts, doesn’t hesitate, and isn’t going to lose sleep over bending or breaking the rules. The sidekick provides the clarity of action the P.I character often lacks, and which we wish we all had in moments of crisis.

Real life is messy, and justice is often ambiguous if not elusive. Crime fiction appeals to us because it has a clear moral compass with characters willing to do the right thing regardless of the sacrifice, the law, or the constraints of society.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
I do a lot before I start writing. Enough to get a sense of place, language and history of the characters. Then I put the research aside and start writing as fast as I can. After the first draft I go back to the research, maybe do some more, and add texture to what I’ve written.

I think it’s possible to get lost in your research and literally forget to write, or lose the pacing of your story because you’re staying too close to reality or obsessing about procedural details. I try to never forget I’m writing fiction; I want the story to be an adventure, not a documentary.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
I write faster because I have a better sense of my own voice and that of my characters, but the actual process hasn’t changed that much. I’m still making it up as I go along, telling myself the story and hoping it all makes sense by the last page.

Q: How do you promote your book?
Sites like this are a huge help to new authors, and the independent booksellers are the most important people in the world. I’m on panels at all the major crime conferences, contribute to several websites and do what I can to spread the word, but the most important step towards finding your readers is visiting the bookstores. I’ve met some extraordinary people over the past year, both the booksellers and their customers. And librarians are great; they love books and read constantly, always on the lookout for something new. Can’t say enough nice things about librarians.

Q: What's next for you and Cape?
The second investigation, a book with the unlikely title Beating The Babushka, was just released. It involves a collision between the Russian mob and the movie business. After that, the next book to feature Cape and Sally comes out next year and is entitled Greasing The PiƱata. It takes place in Mexico and deals with the drug cartels’ involvement in U.S. politics.

I’ve also recently completed a novel called JUMP, which introduces a new set of characters. JUMP has been described as comedic noir. Not sure if that qualifies as a new sub-genre, but it seems to fit.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Loren Estleman is as good as it gets, as authentic as Ross MacDonald and as fresh and original as anyone writing today. Robert Crais is bulletproof. Lee Child knows how to strip prose better than anyone and is a master of pacing. Rick Riordan is writing one of the best PI series in recent memory with his Tres Navarre novels. Ross Thomas raised the intellectual ante by creating such smart characters and elaborate plots; he had the perfect voice for describing a long con. Robert Ferrigno has a gift for taking seemingly mundane problems and spinning them into impossible situations that lead to barely controlled mayhem. Elmore Leonard is the master of creating characters you love, even the bad guys, with an ear for dialogue I think every writer alive must envy.

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?
I don’t think those original influences ever go away, because the crime fiction community has a great sense of history, as this site so beautifully demonstrates. My own novels have been compared to Hammett, Fleming, and even pulp writers from the 30s and 40s, which I consider high praise indeed because those were my influences as a reader when I first discovered mysteries.

But those writers mentioned earlier, like Crais, Riordan, and Leonard, among others, will be the dominant influences on the next generation because they managed to fuse a classic genre with a contemporary voice. They proved that a hard-boiled drama can be infused with references to pop culture, social commentary and humor. I think that’s what is so powerful about crime fiction; it’s both timeless and immediately relevant when done right.

Q: Richard B. Schwartz came up with the following question: Crime and detective fiction is an identifiable, carefully delineated genre. What is it about that genre that enables you to discuss the kind of things that are important to you?
Crime fiction deals with eternal questions, matters of life and death. In that regard mysteries share the same ambition as Greek tragedies, Shakespearean dramas, opera, you name it. That might sound dangerously “literary”, but I think there’s a reason that mysteries are as old as storytelling.

But the other, often overlooked aspect of crime fiction is that it allows you to explore questions of the here and now. Popular culture, social commentary, politics, entertainment --- they all belong on the canvas of a well-drawn mystery. The big underlying themes of mysteries might be timeless, but the books themselves feel like they were written for you, today, no matter whom you are or where and when you’re reading them.

And most importantly, the genre acknowledges that reading should be fun, not something that feels like a chore. Mysteries both entertain and challenge the reader at the same time, and that’s what reading is all about. Books should keep you up at night turning the pages, not put you to sleep.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
OK, here’s one that might get some interesting responses:
The PI is usually the one standing up for the underdog, the person who takes on the powerful and the corrupt on behalf of the little guy. Do you have any favorite targets (or people) at which you like to take aim through your characters?

I can’t abide being lied to, so in my novels I tend to go after the hypocrisy of institutions that act above reproach but all too often are picking your pocket with one hand while patting you on the back with the other. Politicians and the media are easy targets, especially today. Dig below the surface of any major criminal enterprise and you’ll probably find someone using your tax dollars to subsidize it. I think P.I. fiction can bring some perspective on that absurdity, a society in which we’re all seemingly in on the joke and yet the same scams keep occurring. That’s a very human condition, so it seems perfect for fiction.

For more info on this author visit: www.timmaleeny.com

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