Sunday, June 29, 2008

Q & A with Michael Wiley

We interview the winner of the PWA best first PI novel contest Michael Wiley...

Q: What makes Joe Kozmarski different from other PIs?
He’s not so different. But I like to think he’s very good at being who he is. I’m a big fan of classic hardboiled detectives, and when I decided to write a PI novel I wanted my guy to play in that line. Joe Kozmarski is a forty-three year old Polish-American ex-cop working in present-day Chicago. He has an ex-wife and a current lover. His eleven year old nephew lives with him. He has high standards for himself and he constantly fails to live up to them. He’s a man of 2008 and a detective of the 1930s.

Difference for the sake of difference doesn’t make for an interesting character. Not that there’s anything wrong with difference. It just isn’t necessary, even in a character-driven genre like the first-person PI novel. If a PI is well written, he or she will be fresh, interesting, funny, real. That’s what I’m aiming for.

Q: What are your thoughts on the psycho sidekick in PI novels?
Okay, so that’s how Joe Kozmarski is different. He doesn’t have a psycho sidekick.
Like the well-written, truly “different” PI, the well-written psycho sidekick can be a lot of fun, and I admire anyone who writes a character well. Pike in the early Elvis Cole books is hard to beat. But a psycho sidekick can become an excuse for failing to face what’s dark and troubling in a PI, and that’s no good. So I prefer the troubled and troubling PI, the one who might do something totally unexpected and hurt someone irrevocably, especially himself.

Q: Do you do a lot of research?
Writing PI novels gives me a reason to research really interesting things. I get to go to gun ranges and strip clubs, churches and courthouses, all in the name of work. Best, I get to read other PI novels to see how others are doing what I like to do. Yes, I do a lot of research.

Q: Why did you choose to write about a PI?
For me, the better question is, Why doesn’t everyone write about PIs? A lot of the great stories are murder mysteries, even when we call them something else. Even Hamlet. But unlike Hamlet, the PI gets to carry a gun, deal with sexy people, and sometimes take home a paycheck. Think of what Hamlet might have been like if he’d gotten to carry a Glock. Ophelia still would have died, but she and Hamlet would have had a steamy sex scene first and she, not he, would have killed her father. Just for starters.

Q: What’s next for you and Joe?
I’m working on the second Joe Kozmarski mystery now. It’s called The Bad Kitty Lounge and it involves a dead nun with an inconvenient past and an indiscreet tattoo. It’s set a month after The Last Striptease and involves the same cast of good guys and a bunch of new bad guys.

Q: How do you promote your books?
I go on the road to independent bookstores and conventions (from Israel to Alaska with The Last Striptease). I send letters to newspapers and magazines where I have connections. I talk on the radio and TV when I can convince someone to talk with me. I e-mail friends and acquaintances, present and past. I haven’t resorted to putting on a costume or doing embarrassing stunts. Yet.

Q: Do you have any favorite Sons of Spade yourself?
Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, Bill Smith, the early Elvis Cole – Anyone who does the job well.

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’ve never been good at calling horse races. But we’ve been living in a time of anxiety and so I figure the time is right for writing and reading PI novels since they register anxiety and work through it – or laugh at it – better than anything else on the pop fiction shelf. The writers I’m excited about reading in the coming generation will capture the new global fears in local ways (as Hammett did in the 1930s and beyond). They’ll be young and dark and hilarious.

Q: Martyn Waites came up with the following question: Do you think that there is still space in the PI genre for it to expand and grow, or is it just a collection of stylistic tics left over from the last century?
I figure the PI novel has a place in the world as long as we remain interested in sex and death and the possibility that an underpaid man or woman, with or without a psycho sidekick, can look at a bloody mess while blinking a little less often than most of us do.

Q: What questions should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?Where can I get a copy of your books? At your independent book seller and anywhere else fine books are sold.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

>> His eleven year old nephew lives with him. He has high standards for himself and he constantly fails to live up to them. He’s a man of 2008 and a detective of the 1930s.>>

That right there is whats wrong with P.I. novels today