Thursday, February 9, 2012

Q & A with Mike Dennis

I interviewed Mike Dennis who just published Temptation Town featuring PI Jack Barnett...

Q: What makes Jack Barnett different from other (unofficial) PIs?
He wants out of the business, but keeps getting dragged back into it. After years of being short-tempered, he finally pushed the wrong guy around and wound up losing his license in LA. Fearing criminal prosecution, he split for Las Vegas in the middle of the night to assume a very low profile playing poker in a downscale casino. He's in constant need of money, so when a PI opportunity shows itself, he reluctantly takes it. Off the books, of course.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
I had thought about doing a PI series for a long time, but I wanted a character who could stand out in this very inflexible format. A couple of years ago, I saw a YouTube video of a really old TV show called Man Against Crime. It was produced all the way back in the late 1940s and the central character was a PI named Mike Barnett. He always worked alone and he never carried a gun, very much a traditional knight in shining armor. I thought about a series built around Mike Barnett's grandson, only with many flaws. After a couple of false starts, I had Temptation Town. The key was really having Jack Barnett be on the run, constantly afraid of being found by the California authorities.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole ebook revolution?
Ebooks are on their way to taking over the book business, regardless of what New York publishers say. They're pretending ebooks are just another opportunity for them to make money, when they won't allow themselves to see the long-term fatal flaws in their fundamental business model. When the big authors see how much money they're losing by staying with New York, they'll jump ship and New York will painfully make the transition from controlling the book business to controlling the print book business, a much smaller pie. Amazon is the big gun in town right now, and their crafty innovations bring more and more authors into the fold. Apple will probably enter the fray in a more serious fashion, but either way, it means ebooks will be king. It's the tide of history and it cannot be stopped. Cannot even be slowed.

Q: What's next for you and Barnett?
Next up is a short story called Hard Cash. There's a sneak preview of it in the back pages of Temptation Town. After that, I've got a Barnett novel that's in the polishing stages right now. It's called The Downtown Deal. I might add, all these Barnett works are chronological. Temptation Town is set in January, 2002. Hard Cash takes place in February, 2003, and so on. I intend to have Barnett age as the years go on, and the changing face of Las Vegas will be reflected as well.

Q: How do you promote your work?
I have a website, a Facebook page, and I'm all over the blogs. I do interviews like this one and try to get my books reviewed as often as possible on the best websites.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I think it was a good idea at first, but now the psycho-sidekick has become clichéd. It's a good device, because it allows the PI to remain pristine while the sidekick does all the illegal/crazy stuff, but I think it's been somewhat overdone.

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?
Those guys will continue to influence future generations. They set the standard, they created and perfected the genre, and we all follow their lead.

Q: Kent Westmoreland came up with the following question: What hidden secret motivates your PI to become involved in the lives of others?
Back in Barnett's past, there was Lyla. She's a tragic figure from his earlier days (the early 1990s) and is only hinted at in Temptation Town, but she clearly haunts Barnett to this day.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
What criteria did you use to choose the setting for your PI?
In my case, I chose Las Vegas. I could've chosen Key West, since I had lived there for over 15 years right before moving to Las Vegas. But I felt a Key West location would be too confining. It's a small town and I thought the constricting PI format would be difficult to pull off without veering into Margaritaville-type clichés, which I wanted to avoid at all costs. Besides, I already had a Key West series working, Key West Nocturnes, a group of standalone noir novels that reveal that island city as a true noir city.
I had only lived in Las Vegas for about three years when I started to write the series, but I had spent time in the grimy parts of town, far from the luxurious Strip, and I had walked the streets well enough to place Jack Barnett in that atmosphere. Remember, he's not from Las Vegas. He's an outsider, too, so he's constantly uncomfortable. The city is big enough to keep the series fresh for a long time. Not only that, there are a lot of outsiders, trying to get by in that bizarre town, so I felt the vibe was right.


Dana King said...

Mike's a good write; SETUP ON FRONT STREET is a helluva book. Based on what he says here, this new Vegas series sounds like something I should look into.

Excellent interview, by the way, questions and answers. These are the kinds of things I want to know when looking for something to read. Thanks.

Mike Dennis said...

Jochem, thanks for the opportunity to appear on Sons Of Spade.

Dana, thanks for the good words. You might enjoy TEMPTATION TOWN. It's a novelette in the hardboiled PI genre.

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Thanks for the article. Very interesting.