Sunday, January 26, 2014

Q & A with Mark Troy

I'd read a few of Mark Troy's Val Lyon stories and found out he had a cool new female character now, Ava Rome. Time to get the lowdown on that I figured...

Q: What makes Ava Rome different from other hardboiledcharacters?  
Ava believes in the Hawaiian law of the Splintered Paddle. It was the first law of Kamehameha the Great who united the Islands. The name of the law addresses an incident in his life, which might be apocryphal, but the essence of the law is that the defenseless will be protected from harm. It is no longer a statute in the state, but it is deeply ingrained in the culture of the Islands and deeply ingrained in Ava. The law does not require innocence, but merely defenselessness, and neither does Ava. She will protect anyone who is defenseless, even if this puts her in opposition with the police. 

Q: How did you come up with the character?  
I had a series with another character, Val Lyon, who, I would characterize as medium boiled. I wanted a harder character and seized on the guiding philosophy of protecting the defenseless as a way to do that. Creating a new character allowed me to develop a new backstory that is more consistent with her actions. Ava is a former MP/CID agent so she has the skills necessary to stand up to very powerful opponents. The military experience is also the source of some of the dents in her psyche. The deepest dent, however, was her failure to protect her brother when she was a teen-ager. That failure was what caused her to adopt the splintered paddle philosophy. 

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution? 
I like ebooks and the experience of reading them. I have a lot of ebooks on my iPad. So does my wife. Between us we have a huge library on our devices. We also have a huge library of print books, which require a different level of interaction than ebooks. Print books need to be shelved and displayed. Although I like ebooks for their compactness, for their potential to expand the reading experience with interactive elements, and for the instant gratification you can get from buying in online stores, the lack of a way to display them is a drawback. The books a person owns tell something about them. When you walk into a person's home and see books, you know that these people are living on a different plane than people in homes without books. The books a person displays in their home or when they are out in public give you an entre into interacting with them.  

This lack of display is also a problem for discovering new authors. Physical bookstores, in my opinion, are more egalitarian than online stores. In a bookstore, the books by new authors or lesser-known authors are shelved side-by-side with those of established and best-selling authors. Sure, stores use end-cap displays and other techniques to feature the bestsellers, but it's easy to walk past them. Online stores, such as iBooks or Amazon, tend to present books based on sales rank. iBooks is especially bad about this. It's hard to get past this feature. If a book is not already a best-seller, you need to know the author or the name of the book so you can search for it.  

Q: What's next for you and Ava? 
Ava is working on a cold case from World War II. A Japanese-American Buddhist priest died under mysterious circumstances in the Tule Lake concentration camp in California. She uncovers a serial predator who might still be active. I'm aiming for publication in 2015. After that, she will take on environmental degradation and international timber smuggling.  

I'm also planning to do more ebook short stories. I like shorts, but I think the word count required by most publications is too limiting for the detective story. A story of 5000 words is fine for amateur sleuths or stories with twist endings, but it doesn't allow enough room for the convolutions of the detective story. Detective short stories work better as novellas, but until ebooks came along, there were not many places that published novellas. The Rules, is an Ava Rome novella that is only in ebook. I'd like to do more of those. 

Q: How do you promote your work?  
Not very well, I'm afraid. I have a website— I try to do social media, but I'm not comfortable in it. I have heard publicists say that every author should have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, so I do, but reluctantly. I try to tweet a couple of times a week, but, seriously, does anybody actually read Twitter? I contribute to some of the lists, such as Short Mystery Fiction Society and DorothyL. My preferred way to promote is to attend conventions. This year, I will be at Left Coast Crime, Killer Nashville, Bouchercon and maybe a few others. I enjoy appearing on panels, but mostly, I like to hang out in the bar and talk to readers. 

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?  
I like history and historical fiction. When I was in high school, I discovered the novels of Frank Yerby. From that point on, I was hooked on epic, historical fiction. This cold case, WWII story in progress is a lot of fun to do, because there's so much history about it. However, I'm finding that I have to limit my reading or I will never get the story finished. 

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?  
Sidekicks are important in the PI novel because, although the hardboiled fictional PI is a loner, nobody is truly alone. Nobody is possessed with all of the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job in a complex world. Sidekicks help to round out the main character and provide an extra dimension to the story.  

Are Hawk and Pike psychotic? They have worldviews that are more limited, less nuanced than the main characters' and they don't hesitate to use violence when necessary, but neither they nor most sidekicks are unfeeling. As the Spenser and Elvis Cole series have gone on, Hawk and Pike have become more complex.  

What I find most interesting about these characters is the bond of loyalty and respect that connects the main character and the sidekick in spite of all the obvious differences between them. Those differences are often cultural and philosophical, and they can also be racial, linguistic, and sexual. Two other protagonist-sidekick pairs that I find interesting are Joe R. Lansdale's Hap Collins/Leonard Pine and Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise/Willie Garvin. Ava Rome's sidekick is a Japanese American named Moon Ito. Like Hap and Leonard and Spencer and Hawk, there's a racial difference between Ava and Moon. Like Modesty and Willie, there's a gender and linguistic difference. Willie Garvin speaks Cockney English; Moon Ito speaks Pidgin English. Like Joe Pike, Moon keeps his emotions under a lid 

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 willinfluence the coming generation? 
Robert Crais is surely influential in the way he has developed Joe Pike from Elvis Cole's laconic gun supplier into a complex character with a lot of baggage of his own. Another influential author is Lee Child. His character, Jack Reacher, is not technically a PI, but, in Reacher, Child has stripped the PI character to the barest of bones. He is a complete outsider and loner who enters a culture, sizes up the problem, sets things right and moves on. I think more and more PIs have to navigate multicultural landscapes and the best examples of this are S.J. Rozan's Lydia Chin/Bill Smith stories. Another writer who brings multicultural settings to life is Mercedes Lambert. Her stories featuring LA lawyer, Whitney Logan, are beautifully written, noir tales. Sadly for us, Lambert passed away leaving us only three stories, so her influence is limited. The list of influential authors should include Laura Lippman who has updated the female PI in a dowager city. 

Q: Why do you write in this genre? 
The short answer is that this genre is what I like to read most. I started writing mysteries with an amateur sleuth in mind, but soon after I began, I discovered the Shamus Awards. When I read the list of nominees/winners, I realized these were the authors I admired most and that I had read most of the books. So I abandoned the amateur sleuth and took up the PI. 

My take on the PI is that he/she is an outsider who must make sense of the culture and people in order to solve the mystery. This is different from the amateur sleuth who is usually confronted with an anomaly in a familiar milieu or the police procedural in which the protagonist works a familiar system with known rules. The PI, on the other hand, enters a strange milieu with unfamiliar rules. He/she is like an explorer in the wilderness or a traveler in a new land. As reader and writer, I feel I'm learning a lot more in the PI story. 

Ava is an outsider. Like Reacher, she grew up on Army bases so she has no strong roots anywhere. She is living and working in Hawaii, but is not Hawaiian. She's a newcomer to the Islands and the culture, like I was when I lived there. Even though she adopts its philosophy, she is still learning all its nuances. 

Finally, what I like about writing in this genre is working through ambiguity to get to a mostly satisfying conclusion. 

The Killing Question (Jack Reece) by Mark Allen

This is one dark and violent short story.
PI Jack Reece is paid a cool million to track down the monster that raped and killed the young daughter of a billionaire widow. He is also offered another 4 million dollars if he kills the monster. Jack decides to take her up on the first offer but declines the latter. But when he meets the monster he gets some serious doubt.
This is more a vigilante than PI story. There's little to none detecting done by Jack but the opening reads like a standard PI story, making the start of the story seem real familiar. When the story proceeds I soon realized this was a different kind of story. A dark tale of revenge and violence so graphic it seemed like a horror story.
I'm not a fan of explicit violence but it belonged to the story and gave it the dirty edge it needed.
Don't think this is Punisher / Executioner style vigilantism. It makes you think about the right and wrongs of playing judge, jury and executioner and the violence is so explicit it is never glorified or never makes you cheer for Jack's actions.
Jack didn't grow on me as a character yet, but there's some potential in his voice and Mark Allen know how to pace a story.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Thread of Hope (Joe Tyler) by Jeff Shelby

At first I was disappointed when this one first came out. Why wasn't Jeff writing another Noah Braddock novel? Well, let me tell you I shouldn't have been.
In this novel we meet Joe Tyler. This ex-cop has become an unlicensed investigator specializing in tracking down missing children after his own child went missing. He returns home when an old friend is in the hospital and accused of beating up a teenage girl. Investigating this he becomes involved with a missing girl, her rich dad and his dangerous female bodyguard. Also, he has to face his ex-wife and try and find out where their relationship is at now.
Joe Tyler is an interesting tough guy. A bit darker than your average Marlowe-type and his specialization and the reason he's got it makes him extra compelling.
What I enjoyed even more about this one is the writing. Very to the point, dialogue driven, hardboiled stuff. I always love it when a writer leaves out the parts people skip (as Elmore Leonard would say).

Fade Route (Burnside) by David Chill

I love the writing of Les Roberts. David Chill is influenced by his writing. So, it should be a no-brainer that I like David's work. I already enjoyed his first novel and so was pretty sure I was going to like the second his his Burnside series.
When a politician involved with charity work for the homeless is killed ex-football player and ex-cop Burnside, now a PI, investigates. What follows is a pretty solid murder mystery with a lot of suspects, reveals and some action. I liked the fact some social commentary was added (something a PI novel lends itself to very well) and liked the fictional Bay City that was a nice nod to Raymond Chandler.
The Burnside series might not be the most ground-breaking PI series, but it IS a solid one. Tight writing, good characterization and a good mystery.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jianghu (Randall Lee) by Charles Colyott

Randall Lee has become a friend of mine and I've fallen in love with his girlfriend. That means I'm eager to see how they are doing every time a new book starring them comes out.
Both aren't doing too well at the start of this one, the aftermath of the previous novel is pretty big and that seems only realistic.
The links between his own murdered child and a missing girl prompt Randall to aid an investigator who specializes in missing children. What he uncovers is such a big steaming mess of vile shit you will feel like you have to wash yourself after reading this story. Luckily Randall's sense of humor is still intact so he can guide us through this dark world without it all becoming so dark you can't finish it.
Aiding him are a serial killer who kills serial killers (and makes Dexter look like a pussy), a hacker girl and his old mentor who would have left The Karate Kid blubbering like a baby. Together they face rapists, killers and freaky sex using martial arts, knives and crazy steroids. This one is a much a horror story (without supernatural elements) as a detective story. That's no surprise though because Charles has written a lot of horror in his day.
In fact, there's several links to Charles' other fiction (like a story in Uncommon Assassins) that make this read extra interesting if you've read more by this author. Randall is part of what seems to be a regular Collyotverse.
I will be there in Randall's next one and the teaser at the ending of this novel made sure I am already counting the days until I can read it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Q & A with Jeff Shelby

I've been wanting to interview Jeff Shelby for a loooooong time, ever since I read his first Noah Braddock novel. When I was reading and loving the first Joe Tyler novel, Thread of Hope I thought this might be a good time to have the interview. And... Here it is.

Q: What makes Joe Tyler different from other hardboiled characters?
A: I think he's different in that he holds on to hope that he'll find his daughter. We see a lot of hardboiled characters who are cynical and jaded by their experiences and Joe certainly has those things in him. But the thing that drives him, the thing that keeps him going and looking for his daughter, is hope.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: I scour the news constantly, looking for story ideas, so I'm most often reading through news that isn't so good and a lot of that has to do with missing kids. I have four kids and the idea of losing a child is something that you inherently fear as a parent, so I pay special attention to those stories. I just thought that a guy who could locate other missing kids but not his own would be a really interesting guy on the page.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
A: Well, for me, it's been great because it has allowed me to find new readers and allowed me to go back to writing full-time. The most exciting thing about the changing technology is that more books are finding more readers. E-reading devices are bringing new readers to books and making access to books simpler and more immediate. That's a great thing. I don't think traditional books will ever disappear – I think there's a place for everyone at the table.

Q: What's next for you and Joe Tyler? Will we see Noah Braddock return?
A: In Thread of Innocence, the fourth book in the Joe Tyler series, I included an author's note that stated I wasn't sure when we'd see Joe next. I've put him and his family through the ringer and I think they need a break. And this part of their lives has been told. I think there are other stories out there to tell involving Joe, but I think it might be awhile before I go back to him.
As far as Noah goes, I'm itching to write the fifth book in that series. After blowing the series up in Liquid Smoke, I wasn't exactly sure what direction I wanted to take him. Now I think I know. Drift Away was a good bridge from Liquid Smoke to get him back to San Diego and I know what I want to do with him now. Sooooo...I think we'll see Noah sometime in 2014. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A: Quite honestly, not very well! I'm terrible at promoting myself through social media and I gave up Twitter a year and a half ago (though I'm considering going back in 2014) and I've been lackadaisical in using my Facebook author page. My goal is to be better at it in 2014, but I think I say that every year. So I depend on the word of mouth by friends and a few announcements here and there. I'd love to be one of those promoting demons who spend so much time letting the world know about their work, but I tend to get bored with it and would much rather sit down and write books.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
A: I read everything. Romance, a little sci-fi, non-fiction, you name it. But the one I read the most besides crime fiction is young adult fiction. Some of the best stories and best writers can be found in YA. The writers there take more risks and tend to not worry about genre conventions. The two best books I read in 2013 – Winger by Andrew Smith and Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian – are both YA novels. Brilliant books that have stayed with me since the moment I read the last page.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: I've always loved them, whether they are there to serve as comic relief or do some of the dirty work. As long as they aren't driving the novel – the protagonist has to do that – then I think they add a great layer to the story. Crais did a brilliant thing in letting Pike have some of his own books and it absolutely works. But when he writes an Elvis story, Pike is still the sidekick. I'm always happy to see the sidekicks, as long as they aren't crazy and over the top.

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?
A: That's so hard to answer because new writers emerge all the time. I hear Don Winslow's name mentioned all the time and even though he doesn't write straight PI stuff, I think he writes incredible books that make writes say “Wow! I wanna write something like that!” The other name that immediately comes to mind is Ace Atkins. He's taken over the Spenser series and his Quinn Colson series (not a PI, but functions like one) might be the best thing out there right now. Great, great writing with great characters and smart humor. But I could throw out tons of names – Laura Lippman, Dave White, Megan Abbott, Michael Koryta, Owen Laukkanen. They don't all write straight PI stuff, but they write crime fiction and are so good at what they do.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
A: A number of reasons. I think it's interesting to see flawed people work in a flawed world. Nothing ever works out perfectly. People often have to do bad in order to do good and the dynamics in that are really interesting to me. But the bottom line is that since I was a kid, I've loved mysteries. I love stories that roll things out slowly and unveil something to the reader that they didn't expect to find. When you show me something on the last page that I didn't see coming, that is one of the best feelings in the world as a reader. I love to try and do that in the stories I write.

The Dark (Wolf) by Dean Breckenridge

This is a nice fast-paced pulpy read. Follow Wolf, the urban problem solver is asked by millionaire Murray Fulton to find his kidnapped daughter.
Wolf is almost a Batman-style kind of guy, meeting his cop contact on rooftops, dressing in black and working above the law.
There isn't much character development here, though there are some interesting insights into Wolf's character every now and then. There IS a lot of action and twists, and those are the things I want out of a book like this. On those Wolf delivers!
I'm intrigued by Wolf and eager to find out more about him and see how he interacts with cops and crooks alike.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Protector (Trask) by Jochem Vandersteen

 PROTECTOR  a piece of flash fiction by Jochem Vandersteen

I’d done what I’d been doing for a few years now. I became the kid’s friend, got him his patch, rode around with him on my bike. I was there next to him during the court case. I made sure everyone knew he was under my protection. It’s what I do with a big group of bikers around the world.

Joshua was a good kid, eleven years old and heavily into baseball. I got a referral from the local cops, telling me he’d been abused by his baseball coach. The sonofabitch sodomized him on three separate occasions. He’d told the boy to keep quiet, or else he would kill his mother. The boy loved his mother more than anyone in the world, already having lost a father to that dreaded decease called cancer. When the kid started to shit blood he became worried enough to tell his mom and together they went to a doctor where the whole story came out.

Joshua was in bad need of a father figure and a protector, and I became just that. I ached to be more for him. I ached to be an avenger for him, to kick the shit out of that evil bastard that raped him. To send him right to the hell where he belonged. But that wasn’t the way of my group. We were protectors, not avengers.

The phone call came in the middle of the night. I’d fallen asleep behind my laptop, writing a story about the best way to maintain your bike. I’d been making my money as a freelance writer for as long as I’d been riding a bike.

Joshua’s voice was shaking, the fear clearly audible. “He’s here, Trask. The coach is here. You gotta help me.”

“Wait, what do you mean? He’s in your house?” I asked.

“Yes, he…” That’s when the line went dead.

I was as wide awake as anyone can be, adrenaline giving me an energy boost no Monster or Red Bull could ever hope to give. I didn’t even really think about calling the cops. Joshua lived very close to me and on my Harley I’d be there before any cop could. I left my trailer and jumped on my hog.

The devil himself couldn’t have ridden faster than me. I was like a missile, targeted for the kid’s home. In my hurry I almost fell off my bike when I arrived.

The door was open, the lock broken. Splinters of wood covered the floor. I ran inside.

Joshua’s mom was on the floor. On her knees, bleeding from her nose and mouth. She tried to talk to me, but the fear or the blood in her mouth prevented her from it. She just pointed to the stairs.

I understood and ran up them. I prayed the kid was okay. I felt the anger course through my veins at the thought of what that evil bastard might do to him.

The kid’s bedroom. Joshua was sitting on the floor, the coach standing in front of him, dressed in sweats. Big, fat and bald. His fist was frozen beside his temple, ready to strike.

“Asshole,” I said.

The coach turned to face me. He didn’t look happy to see me. I wouldn’t be happy to see a six foot tall guy full of tattoos in biker gear either when I was just beating up a little kid. “What the fuck?”

“Yeah. That’s right. What the fuck. What the fuck are you doing here.”

“I need to teach this little shit a lesson for telling on me. Fucking pretending he didn’t like it.”

Two steps and I was in front of him. One punch and he was on his ass.

I stood over him like he’d been standing over the kid. “You’re the one who’s going to be taught a lesson.”

“Fuck you! You hot for the kid, is that it?” I could hear from the odd way his voice sounded I’d probably broken his nose.

I time traveled like that fucking British ponce does in that TV show. Instead of in a phone booth I traveled back in time with my mind. The man who was supposed to protect, care and love me was on top of me as I was lying on my chest, bent over a chair. I could hear him breathe as clearly as if I was really there.

The coach become that man then. I was so full of hate I boiled over. My right boot connected with his nose so damned fucking hard I thought I’d kick his head from his neck.

It took two cops to peel me off him. When I was done it was clear he’d be a vegetable for the rest of his life.

I’d done what I’d sworn to do. I’d protected the kid, just more permanently then I’d at first set out to do.