David Putnam has a background in law enforcement and got some nice praise by names like Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker for his debut novel The Disposables. Of course I had to talk to this guy.
Q: What makes Bruno Johnson different from other hardboiled characters?
Bruno has more compassion than other hardboiled characters. He doesn’t do anything out of greed or self-promotion. Now, it’s all for the kids. He has drive and is highly motivated toward a legally and morally ambiguous goal. He is going against societal norms, knowing in his heart he is doing the right thing.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
I worked the streets in South Central Los Angeles and also street narcotics. Though the book is a work of fiction I drew heavily from my experiences and some of the events in the book are real to me because of it. Bruno is an amalgamation of several people I have worked with. A blending of the good and the bad, but really a bad deputy who has seen the light and has shifted to, what he believes is morally correct.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I wish I published my first book a lot sooner. The publishing industry is in the middle of a huge transition the same as the music industry went through. Ebook’s and word programs make it easy to publish a book. Last year 350 thousand self-pub books came out. The gatekeeper of old, the publisher, is fading into the background. It is getting increasingly more difficult to rise above the white noise of the masses of books out there.
The publishing industry is still finding its way. I think, personally, there has to be more give with the publishers on the ebook percentage to authors. An example of this (from what I understand, I read that this happened in a reliable blog) is that Lawrence Block, recently self-published his next “Burglar” series novel.
Q: What's next for you and Bruno?
The next Bruno book The Replacements comes out Feb 2. The publisher is very excited about it and bought it after reading the first thirty-five pages.
I am just finishing the third book in the series called, The Squandered. I also have ideas jotted down for the next two.
Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
I retired with 31 years in law enforcement. My wife and I live and work on two avocado groves with our two dogs Jax and Bandit. The groves are seasonal with most of the work coming in spring and fall—lots of work when you have 1200 trees.
I read many books every year, I write, work in the grove and chase my wife around while I’m still young enough to do it.
Q: How do you promote your work?
We promote the book wherever possible. My wife and I attend every major book conference we can. I try to get on the panels at these conferences. I arrange and attend every book signing possible. My wife is a techo-geek and she helps a great deal with a social media presence. She is also very artistic. If you noticed the cover of the book, my wife painted the side of our house with graffiti. The publisher loved it and used it. My wife makes bookmarks with a bullet shell casing attached. These are getting a lot of attention at conferences.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I read anything that is well written. I read literature and science fiction. Some excellent books outside my genre I have read recently are: The Wind up Girl, The Drown Cities, Ship Breaker, Starters, Old Man’s War and Woe to Live On. If you haven’t read any of these take a look, great stories and great writing.
I have written a scifi called Dark Lady Laughed that is touring New York publishers, as well as a young adult called Three Days of June.
Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
Psychotic is a tough description for most sidekicks. I can only think of two that fit, Clete Purcell in James Lee Burke’s series, which he is only occasionally psychotic and Mouse in Walter Mosely books. Mouse I think fits firmly into that category all the time.
The other two you mention Hawk and Pike are more foils that are needed in writing. Writing is a delicate process. The number one thing that carries the book or story is the voice, which relies heavily on motivation, action and reaction and point of view. Without getting to deep into Dave’s idea of writing here it is in brief: The main character has to be the good guy (unless its an anti-hero situation then he is still the good guy just doing heinous things that he thinks is just). So when it comes time to take care of business does the author really want to tarnish his main character with heinous actions. Hence, Mouse, Clete Percell, Joe Pike and Hawk. Second, story is not story, character is story. So a well-written book is told through action and dialogue. To make this easier it works to have a foil to talk to and explain things in dialogue and action instead of “telling” the reader what’s happening. Sorry, as you can see I’m a little outspoken when it comes to the craft of writing.
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?
I think Daniel Woodrell is an undiscovered talent, (by this I the masses). His writing craft is superior to just about anyone out there for what he is doing. Now again this is Dave on writing. I believe there are to ends of the spectrum when it comes to a successful novel. One end is the literary side, tea and crumpets and the other end is the thriller, the chocolate and popcorn. There are great writers mining both ends of this spectrum with excellent success and I read and enjoy them at both ends. That being said, I think Woodrell transcends both ends, a lot like Cormac McCarthy.
Q: Why do you write in this genre?
I write in this genre because I know it so well. I worked narcotics, and SWAT and a violent crimes task force. I have experienced first hand shooting and violent confrontations. Writing is about emotions and emotion is all about conflict.