Friday, December 14, 2007

Q & A with Ronald Tierney

Ronald Tierney author of the Deets Shanahan series sat down with us to talk about private eyes and his work.

Q: What makes your PI Deets different from other fictional private eyes?
In my mind, “Deets” Shanahan was going to be a trueoriginal. Having not previously immersed myself in PI fiction, I thought about creating a kind of blue-collar,70-year-old private eye who lives and works in a citylike Indianapolis rather than New York or LA. I thought this was a first. It wasn’t, but it wasn’tstandard either, because Shanahan not only faces death as part of his job description, he feels it nipping athis heels because of the actuarial tables. This colors his life.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
This type of character allows the central character tostay relatively clean and likable while the reader andwriter are able to get some satisfaction by makingsure evildoers get what they deserve. For me, that’s vigilantism. Without judging someone else’s motives —and these are fictional characters after all —Shanahan’s character wouldn’t tolerate it. The out-of-control sidekick also adds dramatic tension. And as a writer’s tool, he can facilitate plot. His unreasonable action is believable because he’s crazy.I suspect this can come in handy.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
A lot? No. Not for the Shanahan series. Forensics plays a small role in the series. Finding out why someone is killed is more interesting to me than how. Outsmarting a suspect is more interesting than findinga hair that can be matched to DNA. Clues shouldn’t be that easy to invent. Also, the timeframe is now, which means I don’t often have to research other eras,though I have. On the other hand, now that I’m living in San Francisco, I sometimes have to research what’s going on in my hometown, Indianapolis, where the series is set. I visit from time to time and I have abrother there who helps tremendously. And of course,thank you Google.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
A little more humor, maybe. The situations aretougher, but there’s a lot of fun thrown in. I would expect my writing to have improved over the years simply because I’ve spent years writing. I certainly hope so. And I still love to write. I continued to write during the ten years no one published my work. I have several unpublished non-Shanahan manuscripts.

Q: How do you promote your books?
First, thank you for the interview. Normally, I tryto let the libraries and independent bookstores know about new books. Other than that, I haven’t been as active as I should in the process. After the next Shanahan is published, I’m writing the first book in acompletely new series for my publisher, Severn House. I’m going to approach that launch with greater intensity.

Q: What's next for you and Deets Shanahan?
I’m finishing Bloody Palms, the ninth in the Shanahan series. It should be out late spring or early summer 2008. At the moment, I see one more Shanahan beyond that.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
While I’m writing, which is most of the time, I don’t do much reading. It’s a shame. There are not onlym any American writers I haven’t read, but also many,many foreign writers now in translation. So outside ofthe usual current group — Walter Mosley, Ken Bruen,George Pelecanos among them — I have to admit that I am fond of the outsider cop premise, which is very much like the PI. In that group, I’d put Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and John Burdett.

Q: In the last century we've seen new waves ofPI-writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
That question took me out on the edge of a cliff and left me there. I don’t know what kinds of detectivenovels 20- and 30-year-olds are reading now, what they might like to read if it was available, or if they are reading detective novels at all. So I don’t know ifthere is someone out there who can influence the next generation. Maybe because we are beginning to see translations of great crime fiction from writers in all parts of the world, the next Hammett will comefrom Japan or Morocco.

Q: Thomas Keevers came up with the following question: Does alcohol stimulate your creativity?
Yes. But not while I’m sitting at the keyboard. It’s rare that I have anything other than coffee at my computer. In the evening, a glass or two of wine might lubricate the thought process enough to take me down aroad I hadn’t imagined. But, by far the most helpfulstimulant to thought for me is walking. San Francisco is a great city for walkers. Parks, hidden stairways,alleys, horrendous hills with spectacular views,fascinating neighborhoods. Walk a few blocks andyou’re in another country. I usually write at leastpart of the next morning’s work in my head while Iwalk.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer weinterview and what is your answer? Disqualifying detective or mystery fiction, who areyour favorite authors? Ian McEwan and Haruki Murakamiare two I look forward to reading.

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