It's cool Steve Brewer has found the way to ebooks, because it means Bubba Mabry returns... I interviewed this writer of funny crime novels.
Q: What makes Bubba Mabry different from other (unofficial) PIs?
Most private eyes are depicted as being extremely competent. Bubba's a bumbler, regularly getting beat up by bad guys and fired by his clients. All too often, he discovers that he was only hired a dupe or as cover for some nefarious doings by his client. But he does have his pride, and that's what usually drives him to the solution of the mystery. I work within the confines of the usual private eye traditions and tropes, but I'm really writing comedy.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
Years ago, when I was still a newspaper reporter, I did an article about the old motels along Central Avenue in Albuquerque, NM. Central Avenue had been Route 66, the main road across the Southwest before the interstate highways came along, and the old motels that once catered to tourists and travelers had become residences for hookers and dope dealers and the like. I started thinking about what kind of private eye might live down there among those folks, and the answer came back: Not a very successful private eye. So I started thinking about a P.I. who's just not very good at his job, one who's easily fooled and who's not very tough.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole ebook revolution?
I love it. I've acquired the electronic rights to my entire backlist of 17 books and self-published them as e-books. And I've published five crime books directly to e-books, including PARTY DOLL, the new Bubba Mabry novella. I can sell e-books for $1.99 or $2.99 and make as much profit as I would on paperbacks/hardcovers, respectively. I still circulate manuscripts around NY (my agent is shopping one right now), but I no longer worry about rejections. I can write the book I want to write, and if nobody wants to publish it, I can take it directly to the readers. That freedom is refreshing after two decades of worrying about getting published.
Q: What's next for you and Bubba?
I've been doing standalones like LOST VEGAS, THE BIG WINK and CALABAMA the past few years, so it was nice to come back to Bubba and give him a ninth outing with PARTY DOLL. I'm taking a little break at the moment, but will write a non-Bubba crime novel next. I'm sure I'll come back to Bubba before long. He and I have a long history (the first one in the series, LONELY STREET, came out 18 years ago!), and I enjoy writing about him and his wife, newspaper reporter Felicia Quattlebaum.
Q: How do you promote your work?
Mostly on Facebook and Twitter these days, though I do love to go to mystery conferences, especially Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon. Don't do book tours anymore, partly because they're expensive and partly because it's been years since my last book-on-paper, CUTTHROAT, hit the stores. (My last publisher eliminated its mystery line not long after CUTTHROAT came out.) It's all about e-books for the moment, and social media seems the way to go.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I've been reading a lot of what's called "transgressive literature," though I hate that term: Daniel Woodrell, Denis Johnson, Donald Ray Pollock, Larry Brown and Frank Bill, among others. Many of them are still crime stories, but there's something more there, too. I'd like to try my hand at that hard-boiled style, but my readers seem to prefer my funny stuff.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I love those guys, especially Pike and Harlan Coben's Win, but it feels like it's been done a lot. Bubba's wife, Felicia, sort of fills that role in my series: She's tough and dogged and often ends up writing newspaper stories about the people involved in Bubba's investigations, though Bubba would prefer that she stop that.
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?
If the coming generation is smart, they'll pay attention to all those guys, especially Hammett. I teach crime fiction classes at the University of New Mexico, so I get to read the old guys over and over. Hard to beat 'em. Current authors like Reed Farrel Coleman and George Pelecanos are taking private eye fiction in new directions, and they'll be emulated in the future.
Q: Mike Dennis came up with the following question: What criteria did you use to choose the setting for your PI?
In the case of the Bubba books, the setting sort of chose me. I was working as a reporter in Albuquerque, and those old Route 66 motels really did kick off the series. With my other books, I tend to set them in places where I live or have spent a lot of time: New Mexico, Northern California, Las Vegas. I like to feel that I really know a place before I use it in books.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Why write private eyes at all? Aren't they sort of anachronistic in this age of electronic snooping?
I write a private eye series because I love the form -- the outsider prowling the mean streets -- and I think there's a place for those heroes in crime literature, even if my series tends toward tongue-in-cheek humor. It's getting harder to make them relevant (database searches just aren't that interesting), but creative authors will keep finding ways to use private eyes.