Thursday, July 30, 2015

Background Check On: I, the Jury (Mike Hammer) by Mickey Spillane, adapted for audio by Mike Dennis

Mike Dennis is not only a pretty good writer, he's also the producer of cool audio books. This week he's got the audio adaption coming out of Mickey Spillane's I, The Jury. I asked him all about it...

Q: Please introduce yourself to the readers
I'm Mike Dennis from Key West. I've been narrating and producing audiobooks out of my home studio down here for a couple of years now. Prior to that I was a professional musician (piano/30 years) and a professional poker player (6 years). I also wrote six novels and two novelettes, all in the crime/noir fiction genre. The two novelettes and one of my novels were in the private eye sub-genre.

Q: Tell us about the road to  get I, the Jury done as an audiobook
Last summer, while trolling Amazon one day, I was shocked to discover Mickey Spillane's I, The Jury was not available as a modern downloadable audiobook. This of course was Spillane's first novel and the introduction of Mike Hammer. They had released an audiocassette (remember those?) back in the 1980s, I think, and they were no longer available except used copies from 3rd party vendors on Amazon. Plus, it was heavily abridged. I looked at the other Hammer novels and they were all available in downloadable audio format, with the great Stacy Keach as the narrator. I looked again to be sure I hadn't made a mistake and sure enough, no audiobook for I, The Jury.

Well, I set out to locate the holder of the audio rights and eventually discovered they were in the hands of Simon & Schuster. After much painstaking work, I finally dug up the name of S&S's audiobook division chief (they don't really want you to know who these people are), and I tried calling him on the phone. After many attempts, I finally got him on the line and told him who I was and that I wanted the opportunity to narrate and produce this great Spillane novel.

Naturally, he could've easily told me to get lost. Key West? Home studio? Very little track record? Are you kidding me? Buzz off!

Instead, I told him I had prepared a brief recorded sample from I, The Jury and could I send it to him. He paused, then said, "Okay." I sent it to him immediately and then waited. And waited. And waited.

Did I say I waited?

A couple of months went by and he emailed me back and said he had sent my sample off to the audiobook production chief and she would be listening to it. So I waited again.

After another month or so, the production chief emailed me and requested a finished recording of the entire first chapter. I put it together with great care and sent it off to her.

A month or two later, she wrote back and said they wanted me to do the whole book. Naturally, I was thrilled beyond words. We agreed on the terms, I signed a contract, and I recorded the entire novel. I uploaded it to them around the middle of April. As a result, I will be the new voice of Mike Hammer.

The moral of the story is: cold querying works!

Q: Who are your favorite private eyes?
My favorite PIs are not surprising. Mike Hammer (of course), Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and James Crumley's CW Sughrue.

Q: What challenges do you encounter getting an audiobook done?
The biggest challenge for me in getting an audiobook done is maintaining a consistent sound quality throughout. It takes me many days to actually record a complete novel in "raw file" form, so I have to make sure the conditions are similar each time I sit down to record. My voice has to sound the same and if it doesn't — for example, I might be very tired or slightly congested — I can't record that day. Then in the editing and mastering phases, which I also do, I have to ensure a consistent, seamless sound through the entire novel.

Another big challenge is narrating a poorly written or poorly edited book. It is really tough going if the book is not well-written. Fortunately, of course, that problem didn't exist with I, The Jury.

Q: What is coming up next for you?
Because of my success with I, The Jury, I've cold-queried a few other big novels which I've noticed do not have modern audiobooks attached to them. I'm hoping to hit at least one of them. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Q & A with Trace Conger

It's always so much fun when I plan to interview a writer and he contacts me just before I contact him. This was one of those cases. Trace Conger tells us all about Finn Harding and hardboiled fiction...

Q: What makes Finn Harding different from other hardboiled  characters?   
 One of the most significant differences between Finn Harding and other hardboiled characters is he’s not invincible. He’s a tough guy at times, but he also gets his ass kicked more than the archetypal hardboiled character would. When you think of Spade or Marlowe, you have this idea that they always control the room. They don’t get flustered. If they walk into a bar, they’re the toughest guy there. Finn isn’t. That's not to say he’s a coward, but he’s more real than what the genre typically presents.
 To use a more modern example, you’ve got characters like Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher (while not hardboiled characters in their own right, they do share traits of the hardboiled bloodline). You know that when these characters are surrounded by six men in an alley, they’re going to take care of business and walk out without much effort or blood loss. Not so with Finn. He might get out of the situation, but he’s going to need more than two flying fists or the butt of his .45. I like to think of Finn as a problem solver, and he’s going to use whatever he can to solve problems, but that doesn’t always mean his fists.

Q: How did you come up with the character?   
 I really liked the idea of a PI who lost his license (and by extension his livelihood and family). He’s desperate, but he’s also intelligent. With his backstory, I’ve opened the door to explore a wide range of issues. How far will he go? Who will he work with? What ethical lines will he cross or not cross? How can be protect his family given his new career choices and criminal associations.
 The Finn Harding character emerged from a conversation I had with a PI who, early in her career, admitted she’d done some illegal work for a high-paying client. She was going through a rough patch in her life and needed the money. She didn’t get caught, and once she was on her feet, she went back on the straight-and-narrow and never looked back. Her story intrigued me, and it was the basis of Finn’s backstory, with the difference being that Finn got caught, and he lost everything he’d worked for as a result.

Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution? 
It’s a strange time to be in publishing (or to be publishing). eBooks have opened up a lot of opportunities for authors, but there are still a lot of questions out there. I’ve read some reports that eBook sales have plateaued, while other reports say they’re still growing.
 As with any industry, technology enables access. There is more access for authors to publish their own work and there is more access for readers to read on a variety of platforms (tablets, phones, etc.). I strongly believe that authors should do all they can to create the best story possible and then make it available on as many platforms as necessary in order to reach readers on whatever devices they prefer to use. That means eBooks, but it also means print and audio too.

Q: What's next for you and Finn? 
I’m almost finished writing SCAR TISSUE, the second novel in the series. While THE SHADOW BROKER revealed much of Finn’s backstory, it also introduced a variety of characters, including Finn’s father Albert, who is a fan favorite. SCAR TISSUE picks up where THE SHADOW BROKER ends. It dives deeper into Albert’s past and introduces a new set of problems for everyone who survived the first book.
 I’ve also started outlining the third “Mr. Finn” novel.

Q: What do you do when you're not writing? 
When I’m not writing, I’m usually busy with my family. I have two young children, so they take up the majority of any free time I have, which is minimal to begin with. When I can escape from them, I usually spend time reading or working in my woodshop. If I’m really lucky, I might find my way onto a golf course.

Q: How do you promote your work?  
My marketing strategy has been to engage with as many readers as possible, so that means attending book fairs, signings, and book club meetings to talk about my work. I also spend a lot of time reaching out to book blogs and reviewers to build an audience. It’s a lot of work, and promotion takes away from writing, but I enjoy it.

Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?  
I love suspense. While my novels focus on crime, most of my short fiction is in the horror genre. I don’t deviate too far from the crime/suspense/mystery/horror aisles of the bookstore.

Q: What's your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?  
Sidekicks (and I hate to use that term) play an important role. They are similar, yet opposing, characters to the main character (Hawk to Spenser and Pike to Cole). On one level, they serve a specific purpose, usually to reveal something about the main character, perhaps to show us what the main character will and won’t do. For the things he/she won’t do, the sidekick is there to take over.

In THE SHADOW BROKER I introduce a character named Little Freddie. While not a sidekick (he’s one of the antagonists), he is a psychopath. He serves as a warning to Finn, the main character, of what Finn might become if he stays on the path he is on. Freddie has lost his family to a ruthless murderer and in his eyes has very little left to live for. So, he has no boundaries. He can do whatever he likes because he doesn’t fear the consequences. He doesn’t fear death. At one point in the novel, Freddie tells Finn “I’m you in five years.” They are walking a similar path, and he is a barometer to Finn who can see what could lie ahead for himself.

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 think the writers you mentioned will continue to influence writers for years to come. I just read THE BIG SLEEP again last week. To me, it’s timeless. While I think some of the references are outdated and could even be comical today, the writing holds up. These masters have written classics, and their work will be around for a long time to influence generations to come.

One of my biggest influences in Joe Lansdale, especially his Hap and Leonard series. I eat those up because they are a great combination of action, violence, and humor. I think Lansdale is one of the best writers out there, even though I wouldn’t consider him a hardboiled writer. I also credit Elmore Leonard as a key influence to me. His language is flawless and his plots are fantastic.

There are so many wonderfully talented writers out there, and I suspect coming generations will take bits and pieces from each. Maybe they’ll pull from Leonard’s dialog or Chandler’s tight prose and craft their own voice to raise the bar even higher.

Q: Why do you write in this genre?  
The criminal mind, and more specifically, the idea of why people do the things they do, has always fascinated me. Crime is also real. I don’t like to read fantasy or science fiction, because I can easily separate the fiction from reality, but crime and (certain sub-genres of) horror fester around us. We can and do experience them on a daily basis.

I don’t have to worry about a dragon devouring my town or a vampire hunting me down, but I do have to worry about the convict who escaped from the prison three miles from my home or the little girl who got snatched from the local park. These are real and they tap into or greatest fears of our own safety and the safety of our families.

On a lighter note, criminals are fun to write about. I can kill someone with a few keystrokes and I won’t go to the gas chamber (though I guess today it’s the lethal injection table). It’s a way to experience homicide without killing anyone.

Q: How can readers get ahold of you?  
It’s easiest to find me online at There they can sign up for my author newsletter and even snag some free fiction. Readers can also find me on Facebook ( or Twitter (@TraceConger). I reply to all my emails, so shoot me a note.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Safety Valve (Burnside) by David Chill

Cliff Roper, first seen in the Burnside novel "Bubble Screen" hires LA shamus Burnside to prove he didn't attempt to kill his business partner.
As always, Burnside is a comfortable guide through the mystery. There's some twists and turns, some fights and of course we  read how Burnside's relationship with the love of his life continues.
There's also a plot concerning a jewel thief. Burnside seemed just a tad bit out of character when confronting the thief. Usually he seems just a bit less gung-ho than say Spenser, Reacher or Burke. I did like the attitude I have to admit.
Every novel in this series is enjoyable and contains everything you'd expect from a solid PI series. This one is no exception.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hail Storme (Wyatt Storme) by W.L. Ripley

For me, Storme Warning, the first new book in the Wyatt Storme series was the first one I read by W.L. Ripley. I loved it, so I am happy to see the older books being reprinted. This one is the first in the series and first came out in 1993 as "Dreamsicle" after a drug that appears in the book. I must say I like the new title a lot better.
This novel tells how Vietnam veteran and ex-NFL player Wyatt Storme meets superspook Chick Easton and stumbles upon a field full of marijuana. When the local sheriff is killed Storme investigates.
This is again, Spenser-type adventure and mystery. Fast-paced, witty and All American Hero kind of writing. Just the kind of stuff I like.Ripley's newer writing is maybe just a bit tighter than this first novel, but it still reads as one impressive debut.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lullaby (Spenser) by Ace Atkins / Robert B. Parker

When I first heard that Ace Atkins would be taking over the Spenser series after Robert B. Parker's demise I was very happy. Not only would that mean I wouldn't have to miss my favorite PI but I knew the series would be in good hands, Ace being a big favorite writer of mine.
Still, it took quite some time before I got around to reading Ace's Spenser books. Why? Not sure. Maybe there was some fear of disappointment? Well, that fear was unfounded.
It is almost creepy how well Atkins writes in Robert's style. It is almost if he is channeling the writer from beyond.
Atkins makes a very smart choice in making his first Spenser novel all about protecting a young teen, bringing back memories of the best Spenser books of the past with Paul Giacomin. That, and the return of favorites like Vinnie Morris, Broz, Hawk, Rita Fiore, Susan, etc make this a solid and true Spenser read.
Atkins also does a good trick of placing Spenser in the modern world, but still making him the original, old fashioned hero we know. He might use a cellphone but only to make phone calls for instance.
One of the best Spenser novel in the past few years. Amazing, right?

Just a sidenote that Robert B. Parker was one of my biggest influences as well, you can see that in my currently free Noah Milano novelette that you can get here.