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 www.traceconger.com. There they can sign up for my author newsletter and even snag some free fiction. Readers can also find me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TraceCongerAuthor) or Twitter (@TraceConger). I reply to all my emails, so shoot me a note.

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