Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Q & A with Ingrid Thoft

Making waves with her new novel and a Shamus Award Ingrid Thoft was a natural to interview for me...

Q: What makes Fina Ludlow different from other hardboiled characters? 
I think that the need to maintain and manage Fina’s various personal relationships sets her apart.  Although she is fiercely independent and very headstrong, she isn’t a lone wolf.  Fina has friends and a mentor, as well as a complicated family life.  Even though she spends her days tailing potential perpetrators and meeting with unsavory characters, she also attends family dinners and cheers on her young nephews at their soccer games.  The issues with which she struggles are universal:  How can she be true to herself, but also be a good daughter, sister, and friend?  How much should she sacrifice to be a part of a particular family or group?  Fina isn’t a P.I. because she’s alone in the world and free to flout society’s expectations and conventions; she’s a P.I. because she’s good at it and loves the work, but she has to do it within the context of a dominating family and a social network.

Q: How did you come up with the character? 
I wanted to create a strong, funny and flawed female protagonist who would push the limits and do all the things I’m too well-mannered to do!  What sets Fina apart, as I mentioned above, is also what makes her a fun character to write.  Like so many readers, I was fascinated by the Lisbeth Salander character in the Stieg Larsson books.  She is strong, brash, and violent and operates outside of society's norms.  That character was born of abuse and neglect and didn’t have a “normal” family.  I wondered what would happen if you created a character who was also strong minded and independent, but came from a domineering family unit and had to operate within the bounds of that family.  If you have nothing holding you back and nothing to lose—like Lisbeth Salander—your actions can be extreme.  But if you're trying to operate within a family system and maintain your standing in that family, you have more to lose, and the stakes can be quite high.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I’m a fan of anything that gets people reading, and if people are more apt to read on an electronic device, than that’s what they should do.  I do worry at times that since the epublishing process is so quick, readers forget that it still takes the same amount of time to write the book.  It may show up on your device instantly, but there was nothing instant about it from the writer’s perspective!
Personally, I prefer physical books to ebooks, although I’ve been known to use a device when I travel to lighten the load. I’m one of those people who loves bookstores and physical books.  I like being able to pull a book off a shelf and examine it.  The tactile experience of flipping through the pages or admiring the cover art is part of the whole experience for me.  I also miss being able to see what other people are reading!  It was fun to scope out other people’s choices at the airport!

Q: What's next for you and Fina?
I’m answering these questions having just sent a first draft of book #3 to my early readers so the next thing for me is probably a nap!  I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, but have a short break before I go on tour for IDENTITY.  I was on the road last year for LOYALTY, and it was an amazing experience.  I love meeting readers and visiting bookstores, which are like little oases sprinkled across the country.  Once I’m back from tour, I’ll turn my attention to book #4 in the series, but I’m not ready to go there just yet!
I can’t say too much about book #3 at this point, but Fina tackles a new complicated case that is fraught with difficult questions.  There will be fallout from the actions she took in her personal relationships, and she’ll continue to pay a price for the choices she made in LOYALTY.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
Read, read, read!  I love to read, and I’m so lucky that my work and hobby overlap.  It sounds trite, but I also love spending time with family and friends.  Travel is a central theme in my life, both to relaxing spots like Hawaii, but also to more far flung locations like Eastern Europe, Vietnam, China, and Australia.  I like to eat good food—Seattle has a fantastic restaurant scene—and fortunately, I like to exercise also!  Movies and TV also make me happy, and my interests are eclectic; I always try to see the Oscar nominees, but I’m just as likely to watch “Top Chef,” “Longmire,” and “Nashville.”

Q: How do you promote your work? 
I’m fortunate to have a wonderful publishing team at Putnam who do a tremendous amount to support my novels.  I also work hard to get the word out, particularly through social media.  I have always characterized myself as “a lurker and a liker” on Facebook and other sites, so it’s been an adjustment to be more proactive.  I do love the ability to interact directly with readers, however; it’s fascinating to learn people’s perspectives and interpretations of characters and storylines that I’ve created.  When something has been in your own head for so long, it’s amazing and a little startling to hear it discussed by readers!  The other thing that helps with promotion is keeping in mind that everyone is a potential reader, and you are your own best promotion when you go out in the world on a daily basis.  I’ve had the most amazing conversations with unlikely people in random places about a shared love of certain books and characters.  You never know who your next reader might be.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like? 
When I’m not reading mysteries and thrillers, I tend to gravitate toward contemporary fiction.  I also enjoy some nonfiction, particularly things related to social behavior, because I’m fascinated by humans and how they live.  I’m generally not drawn to historical fiction or science fiction, but have been known to dip into those genres if someone I trust makes a strong recommendation.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike? 
The sidekick is important in relation to the main character.  Winning combinations of protagonist and sidekick happen when the chemistry and balance between the two is just right.  Both Hawk and Joe Pike provide excellent foils to their leading men; the extremes in their behavior allow Spenser and Elvis to stay above the fray, but still get things done.  In my books, I consider both Milloy and Cristian to be sidekicks of a sort.  The difference, however, is that those two are more measured and risk averse than Fina, so the roles are reversed.  Also, sidekicks often stand in for the reader; they voice the questions and desires that crop up for the reader.

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?
I hope that we’ll see more women—both writers and characters.  I often cite Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, and Laura Lippman as just a few of the writers who have influenced my work, and I imagine that they will continue to influence future generations.  Despite technological advances, a lot of investigative work still requires pounding the pavement and interacting with people so I think that older influences will still hold sway.  Even if some information can be ascertained online that doesn’t make for exciting reading.  Would you rather read a description of a computer search or a battle of wits between a P.I. and a reluctant witness?  Memorable characters are the heart of the P.I. novel whether it’s little old Miss Marple or kick ass V.I. Warshawski.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
I write in this genre because it’s the genre I love to read.  Many people say “write what you know,” but I’ve always said, “Write what you want to read.”  It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book, and as the author, you are your first reader.  If you aren’t engaged than how can you expect other readers to be?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Q & A with Earl Emerson

Earl Emerson was one of those great PI writers of the nineties that stopped putting out PI books when that genre became less popular. Luckily, Earl and his PI Thomas Black are back now, the self-published way. A good reason to have a talk with him...

Q: What makes Thomas Black different from other hardboiled characters?
A: I'd say what sets Black apart are his world view, his wry observations of the people around him, and particularly his self-deprecating humor. Black doesn't drink and doesn't have much of a social life, either. Other than that, it's the voice. He’s prone to sarcasm but isn’t easily provoked, and he doesn’t mind being the butt of a joke. I think the key is his willingness to poke fun at himself.

Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: When I started The Rainy City my basic models, more or less, were Travis McGee, Phillip Marlow, and Lew Archer, who oddly enough, I veered away from right away. Archer is much more circumspect with regard to his private life than I wanted Black to be. I just couldn't pull it off, keeping that much distance. So I tried to mold a character one of my friends would be drawn to. I had a particular friend in mind. Then, as I wrote, Black more or less evolved into a better, stronger, less profane version of myself. Funny how that works.

Q: What are you thoughts on the whole e-book revolution?
 A: Well, things are certainly changing rather quickly. The entire Internet thing has been incredible. Twenty years ago we had none of this. Now many people have almost no use for a traditional library. In some ways it's sad, but then, all change involves loss. As an author, for the first time ever, I am able to publish novels on my own. And what's even better is the stigma of self-publishing has vanished. My royalties are higher and so is my satisfaction level. I'm not saying I'll never publish traditionally again, but the circumstances will have to be very special.
I love real books, love the smell and feel of them, but in many ways I'd rather read on an electronic reading device. For one thing, you have an electronic dictionary available at the touch of a button. You can size the print to your own whims. You can buy a new book and have it available instantaneously, even when all the stores are closed. E-books may not be killing off prints books, at least not completely, but they've certainly vacuumed out the last reserves of the paperback market. When I began publishing in the Eighties, paperbacks were the mainstay. Most of my readers read me in paperback. Now, most of my readers read me electronically.

Q: What's next for you and Thomas?
A: Two Miles of Darkness dabbles with a suicide theme and probably will be published at the end of the summer or early autumn. I find myself going back to the theme of suicide. Probably because my brother committed suicide when I was nineteen. I've been thinking about taking time out to pen a memoir and maybe exorcise the theme once and for all. The idea of a memoir has been weighing on me for a while now. But if I go on and write another Black after Two Miles of Darkness, I'll have fun doing that, too. I really like writing the Blacks. So right now my plans are up in the air.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing?
 A: Right now I'm re-reading some Michael Connelly. I just finished a novel by James Salter and A Natural Woman by Carole King. I like movies, too. I've always been a film buff. Other than writing, reading, and watching movies, I spend a lot of time outdoors: cycling, hiking, and cross country skiing. I wanted to be a professional cyclist when I was younger, and I'm still very involved in what most people would call radical fitness activities.

Q: How do you promote your work?
A: I don't have much of a promotional apparatus right now. I have a website, which I think points a lot of people to my e-books, but they have to Google me first. I'm not very active on it, although I'm always telling myself I will rectify that. In the past I've done extensive and not so extensive book tours for my former publisher, Ballantine Books, traveling to various bookstores in distant cities, giving interviews or speaking on the radio or TV when the publicist could arrange it, signing autographs and giving public talks. As the traditional publishing industry slid into the doldrums, these tours became less and less significant until I think, in the end, they weren't doing much good at all. And it wasn't just me. Many of my favorite venues simply disappeared. Many of my favorite authors stopped touring. It was the same everywhere.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
A: I especially like memoirs, history, and biography. One thing I don't read is sci-fi or fantasy. I can’t say why. I just don’t. I read historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell, although lately I've lost my patience for those. I don't know why. I remember avidly reading Elmore Leonard for years. I couldn't get enough of his stuff. And then one day, I found his prose disconcerting and I haven't been able to go back. Somebody who does hold up for me is Charles Willeford. I recently re-read his memoir, Something About a Soldier. He was such a brilliant writer.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
A: Very few interviewers would ask that question, but it's a trend that I find disturbing. It's too bad writers feel they have to resort to the sidekick who will kill all the enemies at the end, thus sparing our hero from getting his hands dirty. These sidekicks are actually psychotic and what people don't realize is that psychotics are not people you want to be around. Nor do they make trusted and loyal friends like they do in these books. The picture is completely skewed from reality. On top of that, if you accompany someone when they commit a murder, you're an accessory. People have gone to the chair for it. Frankly, I don't understand how certain writers can get away with it, writers who seem to revel in a "code" of behavior. I don't understand why their readers don't call them on the rampant immorality even as these same writers tout the moral code of the PI. It's a strange phenomenon, one I've never really been able to explain. On the other hand, Thomas has his friend Elmer Slezak, while not a psychopath, he’s sure trying to imitate one, sometimes to comic effect.

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: I honestly have no idea. I'm guessing TV will have a larger influence on future writers than books. But that's just my skepticism talking.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?
A: It's hard for me to quantify the appeal of the detective story. It has so many things going for it, not the least of which is enough predictability to assure the reader they won't be disappointed by a series of left turns somewhere in the middle wherein the author sits down and begins navel-gazing. The stories have to move. The basic plot format was developed a long time ago and it's flexible enough that one can plug in almost any type of story line and still make it work. There's a little of the Old West in it, too, that American concept of the lone figure grubbing around trying to reap justice for the little guy, the unsung hero. Then too, first person narrative has a lot of pluses going for it. I've known readers who said they simply couldn't read first-person, but I find those readers few and far between. Good first person writing creates an intimacy between the author and reader you can't sustain any other way.

The Disposables (Bruno Johnson) by David Putnam

There's an original twist here... The main character is not a PI although he is certainly a tough guy. In fact, he's
part criminal, part hero. Ex-cop Bruno Johnson has set up an underground railway-system for abused / neglected kids together with his girlfriend and his dad. To finance this he sometimes does jobs for a criminal.
When a cop he used to work with bullies him into going after a high-profile pyromaniac / killer his life becomes even more complicated.
The writing style reminded me a bit of Walter Mosley at times, especially his newer series work.
The author has been involved with law enforcement most of his life what gives this book an extra realistic edge. I hope most of the people Mr. Putnam had to work with were a bit nicer than the cops introduced here, though.
While the plot might have been a bit tighter or more logical at times the realism and original subject matter still makes this book a winner.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Devil May Care (Rush McKenzie) by David Housewright

It's so good to have someone in your life you can depend on. McKenzie is one of those guys for me, even if he is fictional. Every year there's an entertaining new novel coming out that never lets me down.
In this one the cop-turned-millionaire-adventurer is asked by the daughter of an old enemy to track down her missing lover. It turns out this lover might not be who he said he was and soon McKenzie is involved with a psycho badguy, the FBI and Mexican Mafia.
Besides this main plot we see how the relationship between McKenzie and his spunky lover Nina contintues in what might be the best relationship in a PI novel since Spenser & Susan.
I read this one in no time. David doesn't exactly leave out the parts people skip like Elmore Leonard but has a fun, easy to read style that has you turning the pages quickly and the tone is so perfectly mixed between light and dark you are always in the mood for more.
Looking forward to the next one next year.