Saturday, January 5, 2008

Q & A with Wayne Dundee

Wayne Dundee, author of the Joe Hannibal series answers our questions...
Q: What makes your PI Joe Hannibal different from other fictional private eyes?

A: Early on Hannibal was dubbed by readers and some of my peers as the "blue collar private eye". That's a fair assessment and probably the most notable distinction about Joe. This was never by specific design but rather my own middle class/blue collar background showing through in my writing. In the early short stories, Hannibal was just another sock-and-shoot wisecracking PI. As the short stories evolved into novels, however, I began to flesh Joe out more, provide more details on his background and what makes him tick. Just as I (either intentionally or, in some cases, probably unintentionally) gave him many of my perceptions and biases, I also gave him a version of my background --- raised in a rural southern Wisconsin setting and sor forth. I then made him an ex Chicago cop with a failed marriage due to a cheating wife. This gave him streets smarts and caused him to be somewhat embittered in ways that I am not. But the blue collar roots and values are still there at his core, and these make him a bit more humane and compassionate --- even in a line of work that frequently pits him against deciept and danger.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
A: It's probably on the verge of being overdone. Still, I have to say that I enjoy all of the series where it is being utilized. They're being done by some talented writers. Sidekicks for popular series protabonists are nothing new, of course --- Hawkeye and Chingachcook, Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, all of thos "comic" sidekicks in (Gabby Hayes, Pat Buttram, Frog Milhouse, etc.) in the old Western movies, and on and on. This darker, psycho (to use your term) sidekick is just a new spin. They add texture and a certain amount of suspense because you *think* you have a pretty good idea how the "hero" protagonist will react in about any situation, but you never quite know what these loose-cannon sidekicks are apt to do. I think many of us develop certain friends in our lives who do not always in ways that we consider ideal --- yet we accept them and maintain an ongoing relationship with them. I think the set-up in these series is that kind of thing writ large. It's an unexplainable bond --- the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday bright surface vs. dark surface kind of thing --- that is peculiar mainly to the male species. The only thing I object to about it, as far as the PI series we're talking about here, are a couple of instances I can think of where the "hero" protagonist cannot morally bring himself to do something but has no trouble standing by and willingly allowing his "psycho" side to do it instead. I fail to see anything moral --- and certainly nothing heroic --- in that.

Q: What would a soundtrack to your novels be like?
A: Jeez, that's a tough and unexpected question. But an interesting one ... just something I never really thought about. Let's see ... sure as hell nothing rap or hip-hop or any of the current "pop" crap they're churning out these days. Something gritty, something with some swagger to it ... but also some sentiment and heart. Flavors of Segar and Springsteen, I suppose ... maybe a little early Neil Diamond, when he was writing lonely and personal before he got caught up in big orcestrations and such ... toss in some Waylon Jennings and Montgomery Gentry, maybe a little Hank Jr. or Toby Keith. Nothing more specific --- how's that for a concoction?

Q: How do you promote your books?
A: Poorly. I never was very good on that side of things, and moving out here to rather remote west central Nebraska hasn't helped. Once initiated, I love to talk about writing about writing in general and I'm not shy about talking about my own writing ... but I always find it awkward to be the one to brook the subject. I've done book signings, newspaper and radio interviews, even a TV appearance once when the opportunity presented itself (although be assured I have a face much more suited to radio). In the past year I've started a web site ( and I'm trying to get more involved in some of the blogs out there in cyberspace ... hopefully that will help broadcast the fact that Joe Hannibal and me are both still alive and kicking. In that regard, I'll take this opportunity to thank you, Jochem, for inviting me to be part of sonsofspade.

Q: Has your writing changed much since the first novel?
A: More assured, I think. Hopefully more skilled and polished. I feel I alwasy wrote action scenes pretty good, about as good as anybody out there in my immodest opinion. But my dialogue and especially my linking narrative needed some work. I used to have the urge to wrap scenes more completely than was necessary --- Hannibal comes in, he talks to somebody or does whatever he's there to do, he finishes, he leaves, he closes the door behind him ... You see what I mean? Now I've learned to cut away sometimes simply at the point of an appropriate comment or observation that actually gives the scene all it needs. Otherwise, the main thing for me has always been characterization and local color. Hopefully I throw in a few twists and surprises along the way, but I know I'm not a partucularly clever mystery plotter. A huge *gotcha!* denouement at the end has never been the main attraction for me, either as a reader or a writer. I don't expect that to change.

Q: What's next for you and Joe Hannibal?
A: Well, readers of THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY, the latest book in the series will know that by the close of that book Joe has undergone some life-altering transitions. His two closest friends in the world have perished, his decade-old relationship with the woman in his life has crashed and burned, he has no living kin ... he is left feeling disoriented and disconnected from all that has gone before. Ready for a change. At the start of GOSHEN HOLE, the next novel in the series that I have recently finished in rough draft, that change comes in the form of his having relocated to west central Nebraska where the events of YESTERDAY concluded. (This is also where I relocated to some years back, and thus continues the trend of investing parts of my myself and my experiences in the character and the series). Out of habit Joe has taken out a PI license but instead of hanging out a shingle and commencing investigations he has started a private security patrol for business and residences around popular Lake McConaughy. It doesn't take long to discover, however, that Joe's tendancy for finding trouble (or perhaps it finding him) hasn't been lost in any of this. What starts out as a simple favor to a new quickly becomes ... well, I guess I'll leave it at that until you (hopefully) read GOSHEN HOLE when it comes out.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade?
A: I like most of the current stuff being done, and many of the series that have (unfortunately) fallen by the wayside. If a particular book or series doesn't appeal to me, I simply stop reading. But I'll make no negative comments. It's all a matter of taste, sometimes even mood. Sometimes I've gone back to books I didn't care for initially and --- in a different frame of mind, I guess --- found them quite enjoyable. I have current favorites, of course, but I don't to start mentioning them for fear of forgetting somebody. From bygone times, my three all-time favorites (and ones who have impacted the most on my own writing, although in no way the blame for any of my shortcomings) are Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, and Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm. I know that the latter two aren't "sons of Spade", strictly speaking, because they're not PIs. But the writing is very much in the same vein so I therefore submit them as fine examples of the genre.

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 fair to say that Hammett and Chandler will always continue to influence any serious practioneers of crime/detective writing. And I wouldn't leave out Spillane - excuse my admitted bias, but the guy has never gotten the critical acclaim he deserves. And as far as influence, Christ, practically the whole industry of paperback original detective books in the Fifties was built on the popularity of Spillane/Hammer. From the last quarter of the last century --- Parker and Bill Pronzini introduced personal aspects to the main character like we hadn't seen before. Andrew Vachss and James Lee Burke stand out as writers who have stretched the envelope of the genre. Nor can you forget the impact and popularity within the genre of female writers and their protagonists. And I think you'll continue to see a strong vein of "regional" detectives working in areas far removed from big city settings like LA, New York, and Miami. There are many fine writers on the horizon but right now I don't see any of them emerging as ground-breaking influences. As far as *what* they write about, it will as always be based on current trends within our culture and societies. No vein of popular fiction has captured and mirrored the diverse changes in people and places over the past century any better than mystery/detective fiction.

Q: Ronald Tierney came up with the following question: Disqualifying detective or mystery fiction, who are your favorite authors?A: Hands down, my favorite author of all time is Mark Twain. HUCKLEBERRY FINN is the greatest American novel ever written, maybe the greatest period. After that ... Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Hemingway, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Lous L'Amour, Gordon D. Shireffs, and T.V. Olson. As you can see, I haven't exactly immersed myself in the "classics". Not to say that I haven't read a few ... but you did say "favorite", right?

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: Sorry, I really can't think of anything to add. I think your range of questions cover things pretty well.

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