Friday, January 30, 2009

Q & A with Russel D. McLean


Q: What makes McNee different from other (unofficial) PIs?
I think probably the fact that he is Scots helps a lot, and not in a cliched, "och aye" kind of way, but in a way I think reflects us as a nation - dogged and determined and yet weighed down with a kind of guilt that is inherent in our country's psyche.

Q: You published a lot of short stories in AHMM which I heard is pretty hard. How did you manage that?
I wish I could tell you, but honestly I don't know! I guess it was luck and perseverance more than anything. And paying attention to criticisms about my writing until it was the best I could possibly make it. But mostly it was a case of not giving up - - they rejected far more stories than they have ever accepted.

Q: What would a soundtrack to you novel sound like?
Probably a heady mix of Tom Waits, Jim White and Nick Cave with Bob Dylan and Alabama 3 thrown in for some good measure. Not exactly what you'd call a Scots soundtrack, but in terms of mood, these guys were all on the playlist while I was writing the sucker.

Q: What's next for you and McNee?
A second novel, LOST SISTER, which has already been bought by Thomas Dunne in the US and is waiting for a UK deal. While I don't like to talk too much about something until its finally complete, the plot centres on McNee's attempts to find a missing teenage girl. Of course, as we all know by now, nothing's ever that simple...

Q: How do you promote your books?
I wish I had a plan... but I try whatever works. So far its been done on instinct - - doing interviews, reviews, meeting booksellers, attending cons (the ones where the readers go) and the occasional bookstore signing etc. A good website doesn't hurt, and when its finished, russeldmclean.com should be looking very nice indeed. In the meantime, its got a nice design and all the info you need while my blog, www.theseayemeanstreets.blogspot.com continues to provide news and the occasional silly diversion.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
I came up reading Block's Matt Scudder series, so he counts. I came late to Ross McDonald (someone saw paralells in some of my work, so I had to seek him out) but I love the Lew Archer novels. Then we've got Easy Rawlins - Mosely is possibly one of the finest writers out there - - and And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective or Ken Bruen's brutally brilliant Jack Taylor novels. And finally, a hat tip for the future is Sean Chercover's Ray Dudgeon who, if there's any justice, is going to be around for a very long time.

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 think Hammett and Chandler will remain influences; there's a reason their books endure even now. Ross McDonald, if there's any justice, will have a resurgence (and if not, then guys like me will keep discovering second hand editions). Its hard to say until someone's had a good enough run at it. Damn good writing is what influences, and clearly we're seeing Bruen as the writer other crime writers tend to read at the moment, so I'd say he's a safe bet. And Lawrence Block's Scudder books are a master class in both respecting PI conventions and turning them on their head (although he inadvertently may have created some new conventions, too, that someone else will have to shatter someday). As to the current crop, I think here are some people who have staying power, but in the end, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Q: David Levien came up with the following question: What was your first dose of the genre?
Technically, when I grew up, the first PI novels I remember reading when I was more mature (ie, sixteen or seventeen) was Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder books (I think the first one I read was A LONG LINE OF DEAD MEN). But when I was much younger, I got a huge kick out of Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigator series and Anthomy Horrowitz's first three Diamond Brothers novels (THE FALCON'S MALTESERS, PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 2 and SOUTH BY SOUTHEAST - what fantastic titles!)


Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
What defines a private eye (or a son of spade) for you?

For me, I think its that White Knight syndrome thing that does it every time. The private investigator of fiction should have his own moral (or amoral) agenda that he relentlessly pursues. It doesn't have to be a conventional moral agenda, but its this pursuit for their own ideal of justice that often defines an investigator for me as a reader.

Or if that's been asked:

Everyone talks about getting rid of cliches from the genre... which one would you most like to save?

To which I'd say... Probably that bottle of borboun in the drawer. I have a weakness for the alcoholic/addictive screw ups of the genre. The Matt Scudders and the Jack Taylors. Yeah, if we had to save a cliche, lets make it the booze. At least it keeps things interesting for the protagonist.

An ironic thing to want to save, of course, considering McNee has no trouble with alcohol at all!

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