Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Q & A with Zoë Sharp

We interview British writer Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox thrillers.

Q: What makes Charlie Fox different from other (unofficial) PIs?
A: There are quite a few ex-military main characters out there, but not many female ex-military main characters, so that's the main difference to begin with. After leaving the military under a cloud, she's now working in the close-protection industry, which is another career option for thriller protagonists that has not been widely over-used.
Also, women with the ability to kill in the right (or wrong) circumstances, are not common. Male heroes in crime fiction are expected to be able to shoot the bad guys, shrug it off, and go to the bar at the end of the day. Charlie feels every kill, but she does it anyway, because the alternative is so much worse. As she points out in FOURTH DAY, "I've saved more than I've taken."

Q: How did you come up with the character of Charlie Fox?
A: Charlie was hanging around in the back of my mind for a long time before I wrote the first book, KILLER INSTINCT. She arrived almost fully formed, with her traumatic back story, her love of motorcycles, and her difficult relationship with her distant parents. I think the roots lay in the thrillers I read growing up - the old-fashioned tough-guy books where the role of female characters was usually to fall over and twist their ankles and require rescuing by the hero. I wanted to read about a heroine who could do her own rescuing, and Charlie was the result.
But, the idea for Charlie might have gone no further, had I not received death-threat letters in the course of my work as a photojournalist. That started me really thinking about how someone with Charlie's background, mindset, and training would react to being put under direct threat.

Q: What's next for you and Charlie Fox?
A: FOURTH DAY is just out in the UK from Allison & Busby, and will be published in the States by Pegasus next year. Meanwhile, Busted Flush Press in the States has just begun publishing four of the earlier books which were never available over there, and have been out of print for a while in the UK, starting with KILLER INSTINCT in May, RIOT ACT in July, then HARD KNOCKS towards the end of the year, and ROAD KILL during early 2011. I've already delivered the follow-up book to FOURTH DAY, which sees Charlie tasked with guarding a young woman who is targeted for kidnap among the rich and powerful on Long Island.

Q: How much of your work is inspired by your daily life?
A: Well, I don't work as a bodyguard, so if you're talking about actual daily life, almost nothing... I still work as a photographer, some of which involves hanging out of moving vehicles, taking low-angle action shots of other vehicles, so maybe we have the same relaxed attitude to danger!
But inevitably, when you write a first-person protagonist, she's going to take on something of your personality and thought patterns. Like Charlie, I have a love of motorcycling, and I used to shoot in competition, so there are some vague similarities, I suppose. Actually, why lie? It's entirely autobiographical... ;-]

Q: What would a soundtrack to your latest novel be like?
A: I listen to music all the time when I'm writing, a mix of all kinds of things. Nothing creates the right mood for me faster than putting on an atmospheric track. And FOURTH DAY is partly about Charlie's search for redemption, so it needs soul-searching music to suit. Nickelback, Snow Patrol, Counting Crows, Sarah McLachlan, Stone Sour, Linkin Park, Staind, Evanescence, Audioslave, Pink, AC/DC. My iPod is on permanent shuffle and has about 5500 tracks uploaded so far, but those are the ones that stand out.

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'm still influenced by Robert B Parker's beautifully sparse, cut-down prose. I think Lee Child's style is wonderful. Very informative, descriptive without for a moment being flowery, and very, very smooth. And Ken Bruen, whose unique style is almost prose poetry, and darker than a damaged soul.

Q: Steven Gore came up with the following question: Has a lot of graphic violence become necessary to the private investigator genre?
A: That depends on your definition of graphic violence. I'm prepared to be graphic if the story demands it. There's a torture scene towards the end of THIRD STRIKE that some people have told me is pretty horrifying, but a lot of it happens between the lines - the reader's brain fills in the blanks of what's happening. It's necessary to show the development and downfall of one of the major characters in the book - he realises just how far he's prepared to go in order to save someone he loves.
But graphic is very different from gratuitous. You can have a much lower level of violence described, and if it's put in purely to increase the pain-quotient or the shock-factor of the book, it's gratuitous. Violence, like anything else, has to move the story forwards. It has to play a part, or it's just self-indulgence on the part of the writer.
Charlie, when she's in a situation, is very cool and very calm about what she does, so the violence is described in a very matter-of-fact way in my books. I don't glory in it, just as Charlie doesn't glory in it. As Sean tells her in FOURTH DAY, being able to take a life when necessary is one thing - the trouble comes when you start to enjoy it. I think it may be the same for the writer!
One reviewer remarked that he found Charlie had a casual attitude to violence, but that isn't so. Casual implies that it means nothing to her, that what she is capable of under stress leaves no mark behind. That's not so. It's simply her way of dealing with a potentially lethal situation without emotion, keeping calm, almost detached. Only later will she stop to deal with the consequences of what she's had to do.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
A: That's an interesting question! How about: 'Conflict and pressure are two vital elements of any page-turning crime thriller. What do you do as a writer to put your characters under pressure, without stooping to cliche or contrivance?'
My own answer would be that I mix together internal and external stress for Charlie. In FOURTH DAY, for example, she has the internal stress of having reached a crisis point in her life, her career, and her relationship with Sean. She needs to resolve this internal conflict, and sees in Randall Bane, the charismatic leader of the cult calling itself Fourth Day, the means to do this. The only trouble is, she has to reveal more of herself than she is comfortable with, in order to achieve her aim.
The external pressure comes from the fact that Charlie has to lay herself open to physical danger as well as psychological abuse to get inside the cult's California stronghold. By the nature of her job, she puts herself in front of the people in jeopardy, regardless of whether they might be considered the bad guys by everyone else! I think FOURTH DAY presents Charlie's biggest challenge yet. By the end of it, she's really on her own, with her back to the wall.
In SECOND SHOT, I put Charlie under pressure in a slightly different way, by taking away her normal physical self-assurance. I shot her twice on the opening page, and she spends a good deal of the book on crutches. This means that she cannot fight her way out of dangerous situations, and has to rely on other means.
And in THIRD STRIKE, I asked myself what would be Charlie's worst nightmare? Probably a 'bring your parents to work' day. So, in this book she has to protect her own parents, who have never approved of her choice of profession, nor of the person she's chosen to share her life with - Sean. Trying to do her job under those circumstances is extremely difficult, and the emotional tie to her reluctant principals makes the job so much harder than normal for her.

I could go on, but you'll be relieved to hear that I won't ;-]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chinatown Angel (Chico Santana) by A.E. Roman

Chico Santana is a likable, but not perfectly sympathetic New York PI. Hired by a wannabe movie star Kirk Atlas to track down his beautiful cousin, Tiffany, he gets involved with the apparent suicide of Kirk’s maid. He finds out Kirk’s family has a lot of secrets they really don’t want to be uncovered.
While the story itself is pretty much standard fare A.E. Roman does a great job of making you care about Chico and his desire to get back with his ex and his relationships with old friends. Also, the mood of the Bronx is pretty well conveyed. There’s also the obligatory psychotic sidekick, Nicky, that might not appeal to some readers. Personally, I thought Nicky was a pretty cool addition to the Sons of Hawk.
Recommended for people who want an updated Ross McDonald.

Out Cold (Duffy Dombrowski) by Tom Schreck

Duffy Dombrowski is a social worker and unsuccesful boxer. In his third novel he’s a bit unstable, haven taken a few too many hits to the head. This makes him more open to the paranoid rants of a guy called Karl. But as they say: you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you. Uncovering the truth behind the conspiracies Karl is ranting about AND taking down villainous dog breeders Duffy has his hands full in a story that gets wilder by the chapter.
There’s a lot of laughs in the book but it manages to complement the more serious sides of the story pretty well. Think of it as a male, macho Janet Evanovich. It will also appeal to readers of J.A. Konrath’s Jack Daniels series and people who like some comedy with their mystery and have a soft spot for (farting) dogs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This Wicked World (Jimmy Boone) by Richard Lange

In this tale of L.A. noir we are introduced to a very cool protagonist, ex-con and ex-Marine Jimmy Boone now living life as a bartender. Asked by the bar's bouncer to help him out in investigating the death of a young migrant worker he gets involved with a young wannabe-gangstah, a wild young girl and some heavier baddies.
He also finds time to get romantic with an ex-cop and take care of a toothless pitbull.
Richard does a great job of bringing all characters to life, managing to make also the bad guys look like real, at times even good, people.
There's a good amount of action crime but there's also a very literary quality to this story. The comparisons made to George Pelecanos by the media aren't that far off. Good stuff!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Q & A with Steven Gore

We interviewed Steven Gore, author of Final Target...

Q: What makes Graham Gage different from other (unofficial) PIs?
His practice is international, he is understated, he’s married and he is not psychologically burdened. His character is based on the sort of people who succeed in real life investigation. I’m talking about investigators who are hired to investigate and find facts, in contrast to the type who are hired to lean on people and intimidate witnesses.
There is a constant tension as I write between what feels real to me and the expectations of the readers of the genre. The fact is that we write in the context of a genre that was developed before we arrived and unless we write something that readers can recognize as being part of that genre, it won’t resonate with them.
I hope I have found a middle ground.
I have been aiming to develop Gage into a Ross MacDonald-type character, the Lew Archer of his later novels, in which the investigator is the reader’s primary lens on the world. The difference is that MacDonald stays within Archer throughout, while I switch among characters and then slowly close in to a point where Gage is the reader’s point of view in the scene.
Also, too much real world experience makes it impossible for me to write a “tough guy” investigator for a whole book. Tough guy opponents aren’t so hard to write, because you can kill them off along the way—which is pretty much what happens to tough guys—either that or witness protection. A tough guy investigator wouldn’t survive the prologue if you applied to him the real world of laser sights and organized crime. Nobody is that tough.
I know that a reader’s suspension of disbelief is different than a former investigator’s suspension of disbelief, so I can appreciate that readers like to read about tough guys and other writers have the talent for writing them.

Q: How did you come up with the character of Graham Gage?
I spent a good deal of my career doing international cases: securities fraud, arms, sex, and drug trafficking, money laundering, political corruption, smuggling, etc. Following the advice that we write what we know, I came up with Gage.

Q: What's next for you and Gage?
The second in the Gage series, Absolute Risk, will be published in November 2010. Here is what may be the back cover text:
An FBI Agent, disgraced and dead. A Muslim economist, deported from the US and tortured. The world’s largest hedge fund, secreted off-shore. A Federal Reserve Chairman who suspects a dangerous connection among them. And private investigator Graham Gage, to whom he turns to learn the truth. From New York to Boston to Marseilles to Washington DC, Gage races to expose a economic terrorism conspiracy against the United States, his heart burdened and his work complicated by an uprising in western China in which his wife is caught, by an indecisive Acting US President under the influence of a politically powerful, but increasingly delusional evangelical minister, by ruthless and double-dealing Chinese business leaders, and by a PLA general gripping the largest army in the world with one hand, and Gage’s wife in the other.
Underlying each plot turn are questions about the vulnerability of the debt-burdened US economy, the use of mathematical financial models, market manipulation and insider trading, the use of rendition and torture, US corporate complicity in foreign corruption, and America’s commitment to its own values.
The third book, focusing on domestic political and corporate corruption with an offshore angle, will follow.

Q: How much of your work is inspired by your daily life?
It is less a matter of inspiration and more one of Gage knowing how to do certain things as an investigator because I know how to do those things. The characters and plots are entirely fictional.
I put Gage in places where I’ve worked (e.g., Final Target: Ukraine, England, Channel Islands, and Switzerland), to give the reader a sense of what it feel like for a foreigner to practice his profession outside of his home country.
Also, in real life I was hired by law firms on behalf of clients (individuals or companies) with whom I had no personal connection. For the most part, readers want that personal connection between the investigator and the victim or the person in jeopardy in the story and want to see the investigator drawn into the matter because of that connection.

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 don’t have a clue what readers will want to read in the future. In fact, it is just as likely that they will lose interest in the genre and that private investigator novels will go the way of westerns. There is no way of knowing. This was one of my concerns in making Gage a series private investigator and the reason why I developed a second series character, an ex-cop retired out due to injury.
The second series gives me a chance to work with a character who can have thoughts that Gage wouldn’t have and have inner conflicts that Gage doesn’t have.
My hope for Gage is that since he is an international private investigator, something that readers hadn’t seen much of, he might find a market.

Q: Tom Schreck came up with the following question: Describe how pathological your level of insecurity is about your writing. How many hours do you spend daily vainly trying to dispute the idea that every word you've written absolutely sucks.
I take the process seriously and there are occasions when writing is difficult, but I don’t fret over it that way. At the same time, I know that when I do my second and third drafts I will run across awful sentences and paragraphs and that even a year later I will find things I’ve written that make me cringe.
The main reason I don’t worry so much about it is that my writing about a private investigator is so much easier than my actually being one, especially working in places like the Golden Triangle or the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan and when the people on the other side of my cases were sometimes difficult and unpleasant.
Contrast two months on the road traveling from San Francisco to London, to Hong Kong, to Macao, to Chennai, to London, to Amsterdam, to Geneva searching for witnesses and for evidence, with making myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen and walking downstairs to write.
I’ll take the coffee and the search for the right noun or verb any day.
Another reason I don’t go pathological about writing is the fact that my being able to write and my being published is kind of a fluke. I didn’t think I had the talent for it and lucked out in making a connection with HarperCollins just when I was figuring out how to write the kind of book I wanted to write. A year earlier, and the book might not have gone anywhere.
Basically, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Has a lot of graphic violence become necessary to the private investigator genre?
The influence of television and movies on the books that are being published at least in the thriller side of private investigator novels, sure makes it seem so. It sometimes seems that the role that technology now plays in fictional investigation reduces the need for an exhibition of skill in certain areas. Press a keyboard button and the answer appears: the layout of building, the location of a person, a financial transaction.
It also sometimes seems, when I look at the book shelves, that more and more publishers are marketing toward readers (also television and movie watchers) who want to jump past the labor—the slogging application of investigative technique—and get right to the combat. In the end, I hope readers will continue find the meaning of the violence in mysteries and thrillers to be more important than the violent action itself.