Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Q & A with Seeley James

Seeley James runs an interesting site and writes about a really cool female protagonist. All good reasons to have him over for an interview...

Q: What makes Pia Sabel different from other hardboiled characters?
The common hardboiled character leans on the literary adage to “give ’em a limp or an eye patch” for sympathy. Pia defies that easy sentiment in the tradition of Batman and Ironman, she is a wealthy international soccer star with many resources and no “affected” problems. Her athletic prowess helps her run down bad guys and her wealth gives her the means to do it. But she’s not without a tragic background, pieces of which I reveal in the first three books.

Q: How did you come up with the character?  
When I was nineteen, young, naïve and single, I adopted a three year old girl and raised her. Her strength and determined attitude impressed me more than the literary heroes we read today. I wanted to tell her story in an idealized venue. But how?
Heroes are a dime a dozen and recently Hollywood turned to heroines for new material. Most of the newest offerings have little realism. In many cases, a modern heroine is a diminutive woman who fearlessly takes on massive, steroid-pumped men with her bare hands. Physics dictates a woman would not fare well in those situations. I wanted to present a heroine with a realistic background and the physical presence to make it work. Woven into that is the abject fear that battle-hardened veterans of Afghanistan tell me is ever present in real conflict. If I’ve achieved my goal, you will find a strong willed, physically capable athlete, scared to death but determined to win.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
Your question brings up two interpretations, ebooks/ereaders and independent publishing. I’ll answer them both.
I’m a hardcover fan. I love autographed first editions and have large stacks of them lying around the house. However, I find myself turning to my aging Kindle Touch more and more because of its highlighting and dictionary features. The thing makes itself useful and has been growing on me because of that fact alone. In fact, I’m considering a Nexus 7 or 10 now. (I’ve had enough of Apple’s proprietary architecture.)
The ebook revolution in publishing is a terrific development for readers. Traditional publishers have done a terrific job of bringing us high quality literature but, because of the financial pressures of big business, they’ve stuck to tried and true formulas in tried and true genres. Nothing new & different on their shelves. Amazon’s desktop publishing system has opened the doors to authors like myself who might fit into a genre but lead with a character too far from the ‘formula’ for traditional publishers. Indie authors have brought out great new products that otherwise would never have seen a bookshelf. I’m referring to originals like Hugh Howey’s WOOL or Kelly Thompson’s The Girl Who Would Be King … and The Geneva Decision.

Q: What's next for you and Sabel?
 I’m currently working on a serialized novel. My plan is to offer one full novel and one 5 part serial-novel per year. The serial is called “Trench Coats” and has funny bits strewn into a tale of deep political intrigue. I’ve just started this experiment, and will need to see the first installment develop a following before continuing, but I feel good about it and am giving it everything I’ve got. I hope readers like it. The second full novel, The Borneo Decision, is outlined and ready to spill out onto paper after I finish two of the five serials.

 Q: How do you promote your work?
 I do a lot of advertising but don’t want to continue that much longer. I believe advertising puts your title in front of readers, but ultimately, it is the recommendation of other readers that matters. If you write exceptionally well, you will win awards, but if you write a great story, people will read it and recommend it to others. With a little luck and some divine intervention, I’ve written a compelling story. So, right now I am trying to get it into people’s hands in the hopes they like it enough to recommend it.

 Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
 I read a lot of how-to-write books and other non-fiction about the craft and business. I’ve also read a lot of history and biography, but I’ve turned to thrillers in recent years and just love them. Good writers can hide a bit of humor, philosophy, and education in a good thriller. But the last ten books I’ve read are thrillers. And the next ten will be as well. Within that wide genre, I’ve discovered the great indie authors I mentioned earlier, who have pushed the genre into a dynamic shape, encompassing crime, comics, thrillers, science, and many other sub-genres. Indies are making it fun.

 Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
 I like sidekicks but find they often come from a predictable mold. Pia Sabel’s sidekick is a beautiful party girl, completely irreverent and unreliable--until the shooting starts. Then she takes out all her pain and anguish on the poor sod who unwisely tried to kill her or her boss. I’ve noticed more authors are creating characters who are loners, in the vein pioneered by Lee Child. While I love Jack Reacher, who always works alone, I think everyone needs someone to pull them out of a mess now and then.  And since mine is a heroine, and we know women can’t even go to the bathroom alone, I decided she had to have a sidekick.
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?  
Chandler, Hammett, et al did such a great job the genre is near the point at which westerns exited the public stage. Once you’ve reached a level of perfection, where do you go? I perceive a public reaction leaning that way. How do you follow Chinatown? That means the influencers today are keeping those Hammett/Chandler traditions but adding new situations and using new devices.
The most influential writer today is Lee Child. He moved us beyond the PI and into the guy who simply finds evil and kills it. The story is laid bare that way, no artificial constructs to help us get to the plot. The hero walks into a bar, observes a nukes-for-beer exchange in progress, kills the traders and all the cowardly patrons who stood idly by, and leaves. Problem solved. Clean and simple story telling. And it reads like a hardboiled crime story. That’s now, what’s next?
After 9-11 a lot of anti-terrorist writers entered the scene. The killing of Osama bin Laden did for them what the Fall of the Berlin Wall did for the spy genre. The war might not be over, but the ready-made stereo-type is receding from the public mind. I think many of those authors will convert to the Lee Child method with less terrorism and more purity of story. Pia Sabel is different but similar to Jack Reacher. When she finds wrong, she sets it right. Despite being an agnostic, she believes in the parable of the Good Samaritan -- whenever she finds someone who needs help, she drops everything to help them, even if that means beating the crap out of somebody. (I’m not sure Jesus would have approved of her body-count, but Pia will deal with that on judgment day :)
As for who will influence after Lee Child, I hope it will be Kelly Thompson. She’s a comic book fan who wrote a novel about a crime fighting heroine. While the roots are decidedly comic book, her interpretation is much deeper. She pulled some interesting background and added a funny and tragic villain. With so many Hollywood franchises evolving from comic books these days, I think she’s on to something. Check it out, The Girl Who Would Be King. But I’ll warn you: no matter what you expect, you won’t expect this story. Every page is a new experience.

Q: Why do you write in this genre? 
I love the look of faces entranced by a story—especially when it’s a story I’m telling.
I believe all great authors live with that same desire to keep people spellbound, from Dickens to Stevenson to Steinbeck to Child. Different generations respond to different stimuli. Our modern world is relatively safe from disease and war and wolves and artful dodgers, and is somewhat dull in terms of the daily adrenaline rush our ancestors endured. That means the modern reader would not believe Oliver Twist (they want to believe the foster care system is preventing such tragedies). Today’s readers want to fall out of an airplane, swim out of the raging river, disarm extortionists carrying sawed-off shotguns, race through Amsterdam and Albuquerque chasing mad bombers, and save babies tossed to crocodiles in the Nile. And so I write in the genre that modern readers find thrilling.
I want to imagine their faces staring wide-eyed while they rip through the pages. So I write thrillers.

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