Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Q & A with David Chill

One of those guys who understand Kindle is the way to go if you want to write PI stories David Chill, author of  Post Pattern was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Q: What makes Burnside different from other hardboiled characters?
To a large extent, Burnside pays homage to a pair of my favorite fictional detectives -- Philip Marlowe and Spenser. He combines Marlowe's world-weary trek through the mean streets of Los Angeles with Spenser's erudite sophistication. My motivation to begin writing in the mystery genre was simply that I loved reading mysteries. I loved the feeling I got when I was reading a well-written, well paced mystery that dropped just enough clues to allow the reader to make an intelligent guess as to who was the villain. When the culprit was revealed, the best mysteries make you sit back and marvel at how the answer makes so much sense. In many ways , great mysteries portray how the villain can be hiding in plain sight.
Burnside's unique qualities are his background as a famous college football player at USC, one of the premier football programs in America. So he is well known -- and a respected star -- within that community. Burnside is also very well read and well spoken. He is not only street smart but he is book smart as well. He picks up seemingly unrelated tidbits of information and processes them quickly. He is able to connect the dots at a very fast rate. He is also expert at cracking wise and agitating most people he comes into contact with -- and this is very deliberate as it often gets people to reveal things they otherwise might not.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
I came up with Burnside because of my love for watching college football. While I was not good enough to play at that level, I have followed USC football closely and have studied the game. By creating Burnside, I have established an outlet to display my knowledge and love of the game. If you live outside of the states, American football may not be so familiar to you, but USC has frequently played in the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California on many a New Year's Day, so it's possible you may have seen them. I also created Burnside to be my alter ego. He is the one who can say the things I sometimes would like to say to people. Since Burnside is the tough guy who carries a gun, he is better able to handle the angry reactions of the recipients of my rapier wit.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
Regarding sidekicks for the protagonist, I really like characters such as Hawk and Joe Pike. They are the indestructible helpers that allow the hero to complete their mission. I think Hawk is a work of genius because he is similar to Spenser in some ways, yet he lives by a moral code that is shall we say, a bit more flexible. In a real world scenario it is unlikely Hawk and Spenser would be friends, but the magic of fiction allows us to see the two of them bond together and work well as a pair. And the idea of a sidekick in this genre dates back to Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in the Rex Stout mysteries. Burnside's sidekick is actually his new girlfriend Gail Pepper, and I am trying to figure out how to fit her into future mysteries. The classic PI is a loner, similar to the cowboys and secret agents in other genres, but having a sidekick allows the writer to dig a little deeper into his hero's character.
Q: What's next for you and Burnside ? Will he return?
I am in the process of finishing a second Burnside novel that will see him investigating the death of a local politician. The book will be set in the fictional Bay City, which I have borrowed from my hero Raymond Chandler. He used it in Farewell My Lovely, and is a wonderful home for wealth, sin, beautiful beaches and abject poverty. Readers who live in or have spent time in Los Angeles will recognize it as Santa Monica, California. Due to the level of corruption that Burnside uncovers, I have changed the name in the same way that the fictional Los Angeles University (LAU) in Post Pattern has been recognized by some readers as UCLA.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
The ebook revolution has completely upended the publishing industry; it is similar to what happened to the music business in the past 15 years, and what will happen to the TV business in the coming 15 years. For decades, consumers resented paying for a full album when all they wanted was one song. Music labels and retailers were unresponsive, but technology advances dramatically changed the landscape and put many of them out of business. Consumers no longer want to carry large, heavy books around when they can read the same thing on a Kindle, Nook, iPad or even a smart phone. They also didn't want to spend $25 on a book they might stop reading after chapter two. Ebooks offer a more convenient, cost effective method. The closure of so many book stores in the past few years is sad, but it is nothing more than a testament to progress. Ebooks are simply a better product, and the fact that they are also so much cheaper will continue to push this revolution further along.
This ebook revolution has allowed Indie authors like myself to self-publish without the need for agents or traditional publishers. But it also has created some difficulty for consumers to discern the good books from the not-so-good ones. The level of dishonesty in reviews is ripe for exploiting. I recently read an article that James Patterson has paid reviewers thousands of dollars to write book reviews for him. As more authors go down that path, the ability to judge what is good and what is not will become murkier. While it can be argued that bogus reviews have always been around the publishing world, there has been something of a screening process in the past. A writer first gets approved by an agent, and then by a publisher before their book makes its way to consumers. With self-publishing being so easy (not to mention free), that screening process has disappeared. The most reliable sources of what's good and what's not may have to come from the consumers themselves. Personally, when I'm considering a book to purchase, I look at Amazon's customer reviews rather than editorial reviews for that very reason. I feel it's a more honest and accurate assessment.
Q: How do you promote your work?
I chose to go exclusive with Amazon in terms of promoting Post Pattern. My reasons were fairly simple. Amazon is the largest digital publisher and they also offer KDP Select, which has been a successful tool for me because of the free days. Post Pattern launched in February 2013, and in the first two months I sold very few copies. In late April I made Post Pattern available for free for two days. I promoted it using the standard websites that promote free books, there are about 40 of them. While only 15 chose to feature Post Pattern those days, it was enough to generate 8,000 free downloads. I also began using Twitter and Facebook frequently during those days as well. I reached #21 in Amazon's overall free book list, as well as #3 in all mysteries and #1 in private investigator mysteries. But that and $5 would get me a latte at Starbucks! What happened next was interesting. Amazon began promoting Post Pattern on their site, in the area of "those who viewed the book you're looking at also viewed..." As a result, I sold hundreds of books over the next couple of weeks.
At some point this method may stop working so well. I've already noticed some of the better promotional websites for free books -- meaning those with heavier traffic -- are increasing what they charge writers to promote their books. There are still some websites that are kind enough to do this for free, but my guess is that will change over time. It didn't help matters when Amazon altered their policy on how they pay these "associates." By decreasing their payments to these websites for generating added traffic to Amazon, they are now pushing these websites to make up for this lost revenue by charging writers higher fees. Some associates have either stopped promoting free books or have limited how many free books they will promote. As such, at some point I will probably stop going with Amazon exclusively and expand to other eBook publishers.
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?
In terms of who will influence the coming generation, I am hoping it will be writers like you and me! The genre has certain formulaic qualities but they are there for a reason -- they work very well. I am hoping that the next generation builds upon what we have built upon. Keeping the basic tenets of the mystery novel, but modernizing, updating, and most likely using technology to a much greater extent.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I am a fan of great writing, so that includes mainstream fiction and non-fiction. Over the years, I have loved reading the works of novelists such as John Updike, Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Pat Conroy, as well as non-fiction authors Studs Terkel, Joan Didion, and Mike Royko . In the mystery genre, my influences have come primarily from the giants of the field, such as Raymond Chandler, Ross Thomas, Robert B. Parker and Dashiell Hammett as well as some local Los Angeles writers, Les Roberts, Gar Haywood, and of course, Robert Crais and Walter Mosley.


Dana King said...

"They also didn't want to spend $25 on a book they might stop reading after chapter two."

Money quote. I've said for years the greatest benefit of e-book is to remove the limits on size; a story no longer has to be padded to be worth selling.

David makes a great point I live by without thinking about it, but have never mentioned. For $25 dollars, the average reader needs to be pretty damn sure he or she will like the book. The ability for up and coming writers to set friendlier price points can only help.

Great interview, both the pitching and the catching.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dana King that this is a great interview on both sides. I have to admit though, that I wish I could have read Post Pattern by the pool in paperback. Of course, I am in the older generation -- but a good read like Post Pattern deserves to get a little dog-eared and wet like all of my old Nero Wolfes, Spensers and Phillip Marlowes...

Cheryl L. Ahearn