Thursday, September 20, 2007

Q & A with Seth Harwood

Q: What makes Jack Palms different from other fictional private eyes?

A: Jack Palms is a washed up actor who starred in one blockbuster action movie and then destroyed his career with drugs and a bad marriage. Who else can you say that about? He's a modern guy in the sense that he tries and doesn't always pull things off with as much smoothness as, say, Sam Spade.

Q: What made you use a PI as a central character in your series?

A: It actually took me a couple books to realize that Jack could be a kind of PI for today's world. I first started with a guy who just needed to make some money and then get himself out of the trouble that brought on him. I wanted to write this kind of story--crime--because I was tired of straining to write a literary novel. I wanted to write something like what I like to read, the movies I like to watch. Something with action and some quality fighting.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?

A: I love the psycho sidekick. Dennis Lehane has a great one, and I love my guys like Junius Ponds (, Freeman Jones (the big, Samoan ex-Pro-Bowl NFL lineman) and the Czechs: Al, Niki and Vlade. Any time you've got a guy who's always going to wear something crazy enough to make a whole scene, you have to love that.

Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels sound like?

A: A soundtrack to my novels would sound exactly like:


My music comes from Madvillain, off their album Madvillainy

Q: Has your writing changed much?

A: Absolutely! For a long time all I wrote were short stories and writing crime for me is even still relatively new. In my first novel, it went one way and I was working of influences like Elmore Leonard and Robert B. Parker, and then in the second one I worked off a few different influences--I can't say which yet because I don't want to give anything away, but I was focuses a lot on shifting the ground beneath my readers' feet--and now that I'm writing my third book, things seem different all over again, like my ideas of what makes a story keep changing. And that's really exciting!

Q: What's next for you and or Jack?

A: First of all, on Palm(s) Sunday, March 16, 2008, Jack Wakes Up comes out in print from Breakneck Books. I'm planning a huge campaign called Shake 'Em Down on Amazon and a lot of my Palms Daddies and Mommas are getting really involved and excited right along with me. We're going to definitely make some waves come this spring!
More immediately, I'm finishing up with the podcast of Jack Palms II: This Is Life and after that I'll be podcasting short stories through the rest of the fall, at least. I'm working on my third Jack Palms book now and that's the main thing on my plate. With any luck, I'll start podcasting it in February or just before Jack Wakes Up comes out. Like I said, this feels like a really exciting time for me.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
John Blake (Richard Aleas), Joe Marlin (Lawrence Block), Tony Soprano, anyone Bruce Lee played, and I'm from Boston originally, so I have to go with Patrick Kenzie (Dennis Lehane), and Spenser (Robert B. Parker)

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 and in what way?

A: I think it's only a matter of time before we start to see and recognize more movies and movie characters as influences for our writing. It's just a fact of life that film and TV are parts of our world now to the extent that they influence the way we think and even create our art. I tried to avoid acknowledging this for a long time and it blocked me up. Now I'm ok with it.
For anyone who's seen the Sopranos, how can you see Tony's dilemmas and not recognize these as very much a part of our time? The fact is that the roles in our world have changed; the perfect strong lead hero guys just don't exist anymore. The relationship between internal personality (and its flaws) and the external has changed. No one's going around pulling a Gary Cooper anymore, seeming impervious to the pain and always right. People don't wear suits or suits of armor anymore. Not in what I see. And so I think guys like Tony Soprano, even Tony Montana, wind up being characters that influence who we write about, the stories we tell.

Q: Andy Straka came up with the following question... Why aren't you at your computer writing?

A: 1) I am. Aren't I writing now? Doesn't this count?
2) I already wrote my piece for the day. Even writers have to know their limits.

Q: What question should be asked every PI writer we interview and what would be your answer to it?

A: How do you know when a novel's really done? (I don't know. That's why I'd like to see what other people say.)
What's the acceptable line for violence in a book before a writer crosses over into some version of porn?
Hmmm... I'd say that crucifying a guy who's taken about 500 mushrooms about goes right to the line for me. But now that I've seen that in a book, I have to see if I can push it just a little further, don't I?

Seth Harwood is the author / podcaster of the Jack Palms adventures. Visit his site at for more info.