Friday, December 21, 2007

Q & A with Sean Chercover

Chicago author Sean Chercover, writer of the very well received BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD was kind enough to provide the Q to our A.
Q: What makes your P.I. Ray Dudgeon different from other fictional
private eyes?

I think every fictional P.I. is different from every other (at least, the good ones). But there are P.I. conventions that can easily devolve into cliche, and of course that's something to avoid. Ray Dudgeon is cynical, for example, but at heart he's a wounded idealist, and self-doubt is his constant companion. He's not a former cop, but a former newspaper reporter who couldn't accept the ethical compromises demanded by corporate journalism. He's well aware of his psychological problems, and he wants to become a better man, but he's afraid of introspection. And he's got a boatload of anger.

Some of what makes Ray different comes from what I learned when I worked as a P.I. In real life, you don't mouth-off to cops and criminals whenever you feel like it, or you wouldn't last long. So most of Ray's smart-ass remarks are to himself, not said out loud. In real life, you don't take a beating and then jump into bed for a romp with your girlfriend after a hot shower and a slug of bourbon, so when Ray gets in a fight, it hurts for days after. Sometimes longer. In fact, in the upcoming novel, TRIGGER CITY, Ray is still dealing with the physical damage that he sustained in BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
As a reader, I love the psycho sidekick. Hawk is my hero, as is Joe Pike, although I would argue that they aren't true psychos, they just have a system of ethics that is very different from most people. Clete Purcel is perhaps more truly psycho, and Mouse is my all-time favorite psycho sidekick.

But as much fun as they are, the downside is that having a psycho sidekick shifts the moral burden off or your P.I.

Going back to what makes Ray different, I purposely did not give him a psycho sidekick to do his moral heavy-lifting. When something bad needs to be done, Ray does it himself, and he alone must carry the moral burden of his actions. I know that this will turn off those readers who want a "pure" hero, but I'm not interesting in writing White Hats and Black Hats. I'm more interested in the messy, murky grey area in between, where real life takes place.

Ray has a friend named Gravedigger Peace. Gravedigger has a very violent past, and he's aware of his social weaknesses and chooses to live on the fringes of society. He could qualify as a psycho sidekick. But I forced Ray to take on the heavier violent action and didn't give it to Gravedigger.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?

Yes. You could count my time working as a private eye as some intensive research. These days, I spend time with cops and run questions by them regularly. Just a few weeks ago, I was given a tour of the new Chicago FBI headquarters, and I've got a couple of FBI agents who I call on regularly. It pleased me immensely when the FBI mentioned BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD on their website as a book that offers "an accurate portrayal of the Bureau".

I also use real places in my fiction. I go to the neighborhoods, eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars. That's my favorite kind of "research".

Q: What do you consider your strongest points as a writer?

Commas. I'm an artist with commas.

Seriously, I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question. And while I'm extremely grateful for the enthusiastic reaction I've gotten from reviewers and readers, it would be immodest to quote what they think is strong in my writing, so I'll just shut up now.

Q: How do you promote your books?

I have a website ( which is a great way to stay in touch with readers. I did a book tour, speaking at bookstores and libraries. I took an ad out in Crimespree magazine. I sent out extra ARCS, to augment what my publisher was doing. I go to the conferences and speak on panels. I blog with six other Chicago crime fiction authors at The Outfit ( And I've done interviews with newspapers and magazines and radio stations and blogs (like I'm doing right now). And Jon Jordan got me a television appearance in Milwaukee, which was very nice of him.

Speaking of promoting . . . BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD makes a fine Christmas gift (and the story even takes place during the holiday season) so pick up a copy before they're all gone.

How was that for promoting?

Q: What's next for you and Ray?

There's a Ray Dudgeon short story in the CHICAGO BLUES anthology (edited by Libby Hellmann) which is out now. And another Ray Dudgeon story in the KILLER YEAR anthology (edited by Lee Child) which comes out January 22. There's a Gravedigger Peace story in the HARDCORE HARDBOILED anthology (edited by Todd Robinson) which comes out May 27. And the next Ray Dudgeon novel, TRIGGER CITY, will also be out next year.

After that, who knows?

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?

Oh God, yeah. Current ones include Jack Taylor (Ken Bruen), Amos Walker (Loren Estleman), Matt Scudder (Lawrence Block), Elvis Cole (Robert Crais), Easy Rollins (Walter Mosley), Jack Keller (J.D. Rhoades), Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue (James Crumley), Lee Henry Oswald (Harry Hunsicker), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), John March (Peter Spiegelman), Dave Robicheaux (James Lee Burke) . . . the list goes on and I'm sure I'm forgetting some favorites. I'd put Jack Racher (Lee Child) on the list, even though he's not a P.I. I've got some favorite daughters too: V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky), Lydia Chin (S.J. Rozan), Tess Monaghan (Laura Lippman) are the first that spring to mind.

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?
I really don't know. Hell, I predict that the Cubs will win the World Series every year, and it never happens. I guess I'm not much of a prognosticator.

Q: Marc Coggins came up with the following question: If your PI and Sam Spade were having a drink at a bar, what would they talk about?

Oh, I should've mentioned Marc's P.I. August Riordan in my list above. Another great Son of Spade.

Okay, Spade and Dudgeon in a bar. Naturally, they'd be debating the relative merits of various brands of rum. Spade was a Bacardi drinker, back in the day, but I suspect he'd drink something else these days. Ray's favorite is Mount Gay Extra Old, but he's also partial to Appleton Estate 12-year old and El Dorado 15-year old. I imagine that they'd have to order a few of each so they could make a fair comparison.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
How long did it take you to write your current book?

My answer: Don't ask.


Anonymous said...

Guess I am a true "virgin blogger" because I had to google "what is a blog"!!The fiction gods were shining down when I clicked on this one which was exhilerating. I found old friends such as Spenser, Hawk"the master of understatement",Pike, cold as ice and Mouse, what can I add...oh, and an author I will spend my last English teacher's retirement cent on to buy his novels!What a great introduction to the answer to what is a blog!! Thank you.

JD Rhoades said...

Sean: Thanks for the shout out.

I'm totally with you on the idea of making your protagonist take the psychological consequences of his actions, without shifting them off to his golem. It's part of the reason I loved BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD so much. Cant' wait for the next one.

Anonymous said...

Does 21st Century Insurance cover a Paint Job?