I've been wanting to interview Jeff Shelby for a loooooong time, ever since I read his first Noah Braddock novel. When I was reading and loving the first Joe Tyler novel, Thread of Hope I thought this might be a good time to have the interview. And... Here it is.
Q: What makes Joe Tyler different from other hardboiled characters?
A: I think he's different in that he holds on to hope that he'll find his daughter. We see a lot of hardboiled characters who are cynical and jaded by their experiences and Joe certainly has those things in him. But the thing that drives him, the thing that keeps him going and looking for his daughter, is hope.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: I scour the news constantly, looking for story ideas, so I'm most often reading through news that isn't so good and a lot of that has to do with missing kids. I have four kids and the idea of losing a child is something that you inherently fear as a parent, so I pay special attention to those stories. I just thought that a guy who could locate other missing kids but not his own would be a really interesting guy on the page.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
A: Well, for me, it's been great because it has allowed me to find new readers and allowed me to go back to writing full-time. The most exciting thing about the changing technology is that more books are finding more readers. E-reading devices are bringing new readers to books and making access to books simpler and more immediate. That's a great thing. I don't think traditional books will ever disappear – I think there's a place for everyone at the table.
Q: What's next for you and Joe Tyler? Will we see Noah Braddock return?
A: In Thread of Innocence, the fourth book in the Joe Tyler series, I included an author's note that stated I wasn't sure when we'd see Joe next. I've put him and his family through the ringer and I think they need a break. And this part of their lives has been told. I think there are other stories out there to tell involving Joe, but I think it might be awhile before I go back to him.
As far as Noah goes, I'm itching to write the fifth book in that series. After blowing the series up in Liquid Smoke, I wasn't exactly sure what direction I wanted to take him. Now I think I know. Drift Away was a good bridge from Liquid Smoke to get him back to San Diego and I know what I want to do with him now. Sooooo...I think we'll see Noah sometime in 2014. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.
Q: How do you promote your work?
A: Quite honestly, not very well! I'm terrible at promoting myself through social media and I gave up Twitter a year and a half ago (though I'm considering going back in 2014) and I've been lackadaisical in using my Facebook author page. My goal is to be better at it in 2014, but I think I say that every year. So I depend on the word of mouth by friends and a few announcements here and there. I'd love to be one of those promoting demons who spend so much time letting the world know about their work, but I tend to get bored with it and would much rather sit down and write books.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
A: I read everything. Romance, a little sci-fi, non-fiction, you name it. But the one I read the most besides crime fiction is young adult fiction. Some of the best stories and best writers can be found in YA. The writers there take more risks and tend to not worry about genre conventions. The two best books I read in 2013 – Winger by Andrew Smith and Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian – are both YA novels. Brilliant books that have stayed with me since the moment I read the last page.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I've always loved them, whether they are there to serve as comic relief or do some of the dirty work. As long as they aren't driving the novel – the protagonist has to do that – then I think they add a great layer to the story. Crais did a brilliant thing in letting Pike have some of his own books and it absolutely works. But when he writes an Elvis story, Pike is still the sidekick. I'm always happy to see the sidekicks, as long as they aren't crazy and over the top.
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 so hard to answer because new writers emerge all the time. I hear Don Winslow's name mentioned all the time and even though he doesn't write straight PI stuff, I think he writes incredible books that make writes say “Wow! I wanna write something like that!” The other name that immediately comes to mind is Ace Atkins. He's taken over the Spenser series and his Quinn Colson series (not a PI, but functions like one) might be the best thing out there right now. Great, great writing with great characters and smart humor. But I could throw out tons of names – Laura Lippman, Dave White, Megan Abbott, Michael Koryta, Owen Laukkanen. They don't all write straight PI stuff, but they write crime fiction and are so good at what they do.
Q: Why do you write in this genre?
A: A number of reasons. I think it's interesting to see flawed people work in a flawed world. Nothing ever works out perfectly. People often have to do bad in order to do good and the dynamics in that are really interesting to me. But the bottom line is that since I was a kid, I've loved mysteries. I love stories that roll things out slowly and unveil something to the reader that they didn't expect to find. When you show me something on the last page that I didn't see coming, that is one of the best feelings in the world as a reader. I love to try and do that in the stories I write.