Thursday, October 16, 2008
Q & A with Thomas B. Cavanagh
Q: What makes Mike Garrity different from other PIs?
In some respects Mike Garrity is a relative of many other literary PIs: he’s an ex-cop, drinks too much, has two ex-wives, has a pretty cynical view of life, and complains about his gold handicap. But the main thing that sets Mike apart is a terminal brain tumor he has affectionately named “Bob”. Writing a character with a death sentence was a challenge, but Mike’s slow journey from grim acceptance to fighting to live comprises the character arc through the novel. Although the specter of Death follows Mike around, the novel is actually pretty funny. Really, it is.
Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
If done well, it can serve its purpose. The psycho sidekick is justice unleashed with no societal restrictions and the PI, with his (her) own code of ethics, can be the voice of reason. Or he (she) can be the judge that unleashes said justice. The risk, of course, is degenerating into cliché. The closest I come to a psycho sidekick in Head Games is Bob the brain tumor, who really isn’t a character. But Mike imagines him with a petulant personality. In the sequel, Prodigal Son, Mike does enlist a partner, but I don’t want to dwell too much on the partner or else inadvertently reveal some plot surprises. Let’s just say that a sidekick can be effective at doling out justice without necessarily being a psycho.
Q: Why did you set your book partly in the music business?
I live in Orlando and spent some time working in kids’ television for Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. I saw the pop culture production machine up close. With Central Florida being the home (at one time, anyway) of several boy bands, it seemed like a natural fit for an ex-Orlando cop. In Head Games there is a scene where, in the background, a staffer for the boy band sits at a conference table and autographs a stack of 8x10 group photos of the band, forging each member’s signature with a different color pen. I witnessed that exact event once while working on a television program featuring The New Kids on the Block. I didn’t have to do very much research.
Q: How did you get published?
My first novel (Murderland) was published by a small press as the result of many mailings and a refusal to take “no” for an answer. I was able to land an agent at Writers House for Head Games on the strength of a cold query and the first few chapters. My agent placed the book at St. Martin’s (Thomas Dunne Books) and they asked me to write a sequel, Prodigal Son, which was released in July. Among the accolades that Head Games has received is a starred review in Library Journal, selection as a Killer Book by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, the Florida Book Award in Popular Fiction, and a Shamus nomination for Best Hardcover (we’ll find out the winner on 10/10/08 in Baltimore).
Q: What’s next for you and Mike?
Excellent question. I’m not exactly sure. Alas, Mike Garrity may have run his course. The publisher has indicated that they will not be able to continue with a third book. Unless someone else shows an overwhelming desire to pick up the character, I will move on to another character and another story. I have a few ideas percolating.
Q: How do you promote your books?
The usual stuff: signings, reviews, e-mails, interviews like this one ;-). I usually do a series of signings around Florida. I’ll be at Bouchercon in October, moderating a panel and sitting on another. I will be speaking and signing at the big Miami Book Fair in November. Because Head Games won the Florida Book Award and was a Shamus finalist, that offers some of the best promotion possible because other people go to great lengths to promote on my behalf. And my reviews have been great, which always helps.
Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I am very traditional in my tastes. I like the same guys everyone else likes. They’re popular for a reason, right? Speaking of psycho sidekicks, I’ll mention Myron Bolitar by Harlan Coben. I’m a big Coben fan. Seeing my book on the new releases shelf next to his latest was a kick. I don’t have any cool, obscure recommendations, although I wish I did. I will say that I am thrilled to be in the same company as William Lashner, Michael Koryta, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Declan Hughes—my fellow Best Hardcover Shamus nominees. Heady company, indeed.
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 that way?
In reviews I have been favorably compared to Hiaasen, Westlake, John D. MacDonald, Peter Abrahams, Michael Connelly, and Robert Parker. For reviewers, at least as they try to get a handle on me, they seem to be the genre’s cultural touchstones.
Q: Raymond Benson came up with the following question: Would you want to be a PI yourself?
No, I don’t think so. While it seems glamorous in books, movies, and on television, the reality is a workaday world of people just trying to make a living. There aren’t many blonde bombshells with missing husbands or stolen krugerrands. More likely your day will be spent serving subpoenas, videotaping worker’s comp cheats, and doing skip traces.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Where can I buy your books? They are available through all Internet retailers or for order through your local bookshop. :-)