I interviewed James Phoenix, author of the Fenway Burke.
Q: What makes Fenway Burke different from all other hardboiled detectives?
A: Fenway’s a feminist...He is the very first happily man in the genre. His wife is a true partner, highly accomplished and independent and they have a beautiful baby girl they dote over.
He’s capable of tenderness, deep love and true commitment...But is also capable of punching a hole through a brick wall with either hand and will never hesitate to use violence when necessary or expedient.
I give full credit to Robert B. Parker for the start of the feminist evolution of the genre...If you take a look at all the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and company and including early Parker, you’re going to find hard drinking chain smoking loners with fedoras pulled down tightly over their eyes, to whom all women are either broads or dames...Parker’s hero Spenser was no exception in his premiere 1973 novel the Godwulf Transcript.
Spenser is drunk most of the time, antagonistic and is sleeping with both his attractive client and unbeknown to her, her daughter as well. He’s a real charmer.
But by Parker’s fifth or sixth novel was see a real change in Spenser...Though he never marries, he is in an exclusive relationship with a highly accomplished woman. He backs off on the booze as well, keeping himself in top shape. He knows what wine to order with what dish, is well read and even cooks gourmet. He’s a gentleman...But a gentleman with a real edge.
Fenway is cut out of the very same mold, but has taken the feminist evolution to the next level.
Parker took some heat on this and so have I...(Though to this point the reviews of Frame Up have been universally thumbs up.)
But my attitude is the same as Fenway’s...He doesn’t need to be a chauvinist to be a tough guy...He is a tough guy.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: I am not Fenway Burke, but it’s a very safe statement to say, that I have a lot of Fenway Burke in me. It’s no coincidence that he’s a 6’3” blue eyed blonde and comes in at a very solid 220...He also knows how to handle himself, sports a full well trimmed beard and comes complete with a gold loop ear ring.
I have never in my life ever bullied anybody...Never, and I’m not going all butch on you here, but I can introduce you to any number of follows who will tell you without hesitation, that if you’re going to tug on somebody whiskers, I am a very poor choice. Of course I’m an old guy now, coming into the literary world very late in life, but it’s still not a swell plan to try to push me around.
When I see a hardboiled detective writer posing on a jacket cover wearing a broad rimmed fedora, it makes me smile...It’s a nine out of ten shot, that guy’s never broken anybody’s nose in his life...I have...a number of times.
Writing Fenway comes very easily to me.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole e-book revolution?
A: I’m not a Luddite. Anything that makes it easier for people to read, I see as a step in the right direction. They’re selling more e-books now than hard cover, and though I must admit, I first felt I could never get the same feel from an e-book that I could actually turning a page,at this point, I’m very much on board.
A: Here’s a prediction for you: Within one year, someone’s going to come out with a perfectly serviceable e-book for around the same price as a hard cover volume, around thirty dollars or so...And when that finally happens, the only books that will be printed on paper will be printed on demand. And within one year of that, publishers and book clubs will be giving e-books away with some kind of tie in for people to download their books.
Q: What’s next for you and Fenway?
A: Volume # 2 in the Fenway Burke series, Loose Ends, is complete and comes in at around 375 pages, half again as long as Frame Up. It’s scheduled to drop around this time next year. I’m 200 odd pages into Kestrel, # 3 in the series, which is scheduled to drop the year after that. There are excerpts from all three of these volumes on my site, www.jamesphoenixnovels.com .
There’s a second series in the works as well, Gallo & Flaco.Gallo is in many ways, Fenway’s opposite number, a former Boston Police detective who leaves town under a cloud when a huge stash of cocaine under his watch to be used as evidence disappears without a trace...They can prove nothing, but suddenly Gallo resigns, is seen driving around in a red Ferrari and relocates to Chicago.
He’s a rogue...A genuine rogue, and comes with major substance abuse issues, and four ex-wives with a high priced call girl as his primary love interest, but he’s a likable rogue, non-the less.
I’m not what you’d call the breath of springtime, at sixty-five, but I lift weights and run anywhere from three to ten miles seven days a week, don’t drink and watch what I eat. So unless I get run over by a bus, I expect to be around for a while.
My plan is to release twenty Fenway novels and twenty Gallo novels before they shovel the dirt on me...We’ll see just how that all pans out, but for the very first time in in my life I life, I’m doing something I really love to do.
I’d do it for free if I had to, but it looks like I won’t.
Q: How do you promote your work?
A: It took me fourteen years and exactly five hundred eight rejections, but finally through my agent, I had eight offers of publication and thought I was out of the woods.
Nope...Publishers do a great job of putting books on the shelf, but as far as promotion goes, it’s pretty much left up to the author.
I had never promoted a book in my life. After an exhaustive search, I signed with Kelley & Hall, who have a very long list of author’s they’ve worked with to get the word out.
The tact is very straightforward. The work must stand by itself, but my promoters know how to put it in front of the right people. Then it works just like a Broadway Play...If you get great reviews, you run forever...If they pan you, you close in a week.
Our very first review set the tone. Amazon #1 Hall of Fame Reviewer,Harriett Klausner. She gave Frame Up, FIVE STARS.
There’s a dozen more in, ditto...The worse review we got was THREE STARS, the big kick being predictably that Fenway Burke was in a committed relationship with a woman he considered his equal...How romance just didn’t really seem to fit in this kind of a book...But even that reviewer said she very much enjoyed the work, thought it was very well plotted and how it kept her attention all the way through.
I put she in italics, because though I expected that reaction here and there, I didn’t expect it from a woman...Hope that’s not sexist of me.
There’s a memoir in the works, that not only deals with my fourteen year Grand Adventure finally reaching this point with my literary effort I call The Phoenix Project, but also a factor that had a huge impact, right from early childhood on, in every single success I’ve ever had in my life.
At the age of sixty I was given an over the top diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, Adult Attention Deficient Disorder.
I always knew I was different, but this diagnosis really filled in a lot of blanks. The psychologist was amazed I could function at all, but then almost immediately saw just how my mind worked.
They call it Hyper Focus. This isn’t the clinical term, but in my case, Crazy, Insane, Nutso, Over-the-Top, Out of his Mind, Bonkers, Screaming Hyper Focus.
The building I’m in could be burning down around my ears, but I’d never smell the smoke of feel the heat...Why? Because I’d be 10,000% focused on whatever task I was at hand.
That’s why it was possible for a guy who had never written anything in his life beyond letters to friends and family, post card and a few business brochures here and here, to ignore five hundred eight rejections and work for fourteen years with never a thought of quitting and ending up with five star reviews.
I’m working with CHADD, Children & Adults with Attention Deficient Disorder, a National Non Profit out of
They do great work and are receiving a portion of my royalties forRelentless. Landover, MD, USA
Relentless is under contract to drop in the spring of 2013 and working with CHADD, I’m being scheduled to appear on the full talk show circuit. I promote CHADD...They promote me around the memoir.
Q: What other genres do you like besides crime?
A: My background is as a seat of your pants entrepreneur. They say write what you know, so my first efforts, which didn’t end up going anywhere, were Heratio Alger stories, about guys who started out with nothing and ended up captains of industry. The genre was family saga. Just as I did later with the giants of Crime Fiction, you’ll find very few if any writers of Family Saga or historical fiction I haven’t read.
But my taste are very eclectic and I’m good for at least two to three books a week...And like my hero, Fenway Burke, for years I’ve read with a dictionary by my side.
I use it less and less now of course, but whenever I came upon a word I was not absolutely sure of, I’d look it up and add it on an alphabetized list with it’s definition.
Here’s one for you: autodidact. A few years back, I looked it up, smiled and added it to my list.
Turns out, that’s exactly what I am.
Q: What’s your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I love them. It’s a great device and gives the hero a sometimes different point of view while playing on the same team. In the first Fenway Burke novel, his sidekick, if you can call him that, is childhood pal and a giant of a man with a very shady background, called Tiny.
Tiny contracts with our hero to find the truth about a man doing life for a crime he may not have committed.
He’s a great character and a big man in organized crime. He’ll always be around throughout the entire Fenway Burke series, but another character who was also introduced in Frame Up, steps up in the second in the series, Loose Ends, as Fenway’s real side kick.
He’s an associate of Tiny’s. They call him Ax.
Ax could have had a brilliant career as a Navy Seal, had he not decided to beat the hell out of a superior officer.
He’s 6’6” with a 24 inch neck, a shaved head, a busted nose and an expert certification in hand to hand combat, small arms and demolition.
Nobody fools with Ax.
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?
A: That’s an easy one: James Phoenix...I’m way better lookin than those bums...(Only kidding, I love each and every one of those guys.)
Q: Keith Dixon came up with this following question: How do you arrive at the structure of your books?
A: There’s less than a dozen story lines in the hardboiled genre that get reworked again and again with each author putting his own personal spin on them. “Something of great value has gone missing, find it. A man is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, find the guilty and see that justice is done. Someone’s been kidnapped, rescue them. The damsel in distress, Someone’s in danger, make it go away, etc.”
I put myself in whatever rough story line I come up with and just see where events lead me, telling the story in the first person though dialogue.
In any of my books you’ll find it almost like watching a movie or a stage play. There’s minimal flowery description. You get to know the characters by what they say and that’s how the story unfolds as well.
They’re told in a blunt no nonsense masculine style, a style they tell me is tailor made for me.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Q: Where did your hero come from? Who is he...really?
he’s me. Lynn, Massachusetts