Barry Crowther has made his home in San Clemente Southern California. Originally from Manchester England. He has had short stories published. Missing is his first novel on the Kindle eBook platform. He continues to work and write on the follow-up novel in the San Clemente sun with his three daughters, wife and chocolate lab Coney.
Can you sum up Missing in no more than 25 words?
A crime mystery with plenty of twists and a very dark angle. Contemporary in the setting and style. Located in Manchester, UK.
What was your motivation for writing it?
I was really a horror writer for many years and had a couple of literary pieces published. It was while I was considering writing a novel length work that I read a book about crime fiction being a good route to moving from Horror to mainstream-fiction as the Horror genre was very difficult to penetrate with so many authors already established. This was 1999.
The book on novel writing was interesting. It had chapters for different genres of crime fiction: cozy, procedural, etc and when it got to Hard Boiled it more or less said that outside the USA hard-boiled crime fiction didn't exist? It even had the line 'and you can take that to the bank motherfucker.'
Right! This is what I needed: a challenge. I embarked on a hard-boiled crime mystery based in the North West of England. It had plenty of violence, porn, bad language, abduction, torture, you name it I threw the lot in. After many rewrites I eventually worked out all the kinks and it became the first in the Matt Spears series - Missing.
How long did it take you to write?
Too bloody long! Only kidding, it took me around three years to get the whole deal done. I work for myself and have three kids (young women now) plus a dog. I know, I know, excuses.
How much difference does an editor make?
To me, a world of difference. It's virtually impossible to review your own novel-length work when it's complete. The human brain cannot compile such huge quantities of data so things slip through. Even after an edit I do one more myself and I still find errors the editor should have picked up on.
One of the most obvious examples of the importance of editing is when you see a bloated self-conscious tome from a (usually good) big name author. They have such a level of import to the publisher (or more the publisher's sales figures) that the editor was either too scared or didn't want to upset the Big Name that the work gets through virtually unedited. I could name a few examples but I guess everyone has seen this and it's total crap.
I notice Harlan Coben is re-releasing his early work - very early work. I just hope it's been edited, I have the originals. This kind of marketing decision is a huge mistake - but will probably make the publisher a lot of money!!
How important is a good title?
Right now I can't tell. I've had two short titles (single words) out on the Kindle. One sells like it's the last great crime novel and the other one I can't give it away. Personally, I think this could be a cover design issue. Back to the literal drawing board for the low volume novella. The books are very different though in their idea and style. It could be several factors impacting the second book's sales, then again it could just be the title??
I think that Stieg Larsson's "The Girl..." titles are really good. They tie together nicely. The Swedish title for Dragon Tattoo was the "The Man who Hated Women." That doesn't have the same ring, nor is it as snappy a title. I often wonder if they had left the title the same would it have impacted book sales.
How important is a book's central character?
Matt was almost an after thought. I could have put anyone in the story initially. Now it's written and he's developed, it's his own story (probably based on some reflection of my own ideal self - or some other psychobabble). I like spending time with him though.
For me at least, the plot was the central device in the first of the series. In Horror fiction, texture is everything, you had to feel creeped out by the piece by the end. In mystery fiction plot is the driving factor. Character is great but if you have a lot of interesting characters running around and chatting then it doesn't really qualify as a work of mystery fiction. There has to be some form of puzzle.
What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?
Write at least five minutes each day. It's great advice because we all have five minutes. The trick though is that it never stops at five minutes once you start. I keep the five minute promise each day and always end up with anywhere from 500 to 1500 words and when I look up from my Mac blinking it's time for tea.
I am an avid Jiu Jitsu practitioner. We have an expression 'time on the mat'. This means that regardless of someone's grade (white belt, etc.) they could be lethal - if they have enough time on the mat. It's the same thing with writing. Write enough words every day and you can't help but improve. It won't turn you into the next Stephen King but you'll improve, it's just the way it works.
What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?
There's no such thing as a free lunch.
What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?
Not many as they are very time consuming. But I do like it when I enter my work onto a forum or site that promotes fiction and I see a bump in the numbers. This is very satisfying and oddly not from a financial perspective. I very rarely look at my sales numbers but I obsess over my Amazon ranking. This is very cool. Every day I feel like a new band that's just released its first single and needs to see where it is in the charts. Roll on Top of the Pops!
What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?
Sam Millar's - On The Brinks
What are you reading now?
The absolutely amazing David Peace's RRQ (Red Riding Quartet). This seems to satisfy all angles for me. It's Northern, tough and gritty as well as being stylistically challenging. And you can take that to the bank motherfucker.
If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?
Tell No One by Harlan Coben. I've never experienced a crime novel so engaging. Funny and twistier than anything else I had read until then. The reason I would re-read it (knowing the twist) is that I would experience the book differently. It's like watching the Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects twice. You get a different perspective.
Who's your favourite living writer?
Brett Easton Ellis
From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Mind Blowingly Amazing. Not really crime, but then not really a memoir either.
What makes you keep reading a book?
Good Writing. Even if the plot's a bit obvious in the end, really great writing I can appreciate. If a book has a killer plot but the writing sucks then I will get to the end, but I will have no respect for the work. That was my main beef with the Da Vinci Code - great plot poorly executed.
What are your views on eBook pricing?
This is a great question right now. I love Indie Authors (or however you term new writers using this platform) pricing their work in electronic format to suit the reader. It gets more traction for the new writer and if the work doesn't stand up - no biggie for the reader, he's out a couple of dollars. But it's in a direct correlation to the reader as the customer and the end user and not some publishing house standard. It works for people who like to read.
Using the trad publishing price model, a few times I bought something that looked good, paid top money and it was absolute horse shit. What a nightmare, and I felt ripped off.
The Big 6 publishing house pricing model doesn't seem to fit with readers' interests in the somewhat new electronic format. These loonies don't recognize (or worse: ignore) the fact that readers know when they are being reamed. It insults the reading public's intelligence.
If I can walk into Borders or Waterstone's and buy a book in paperback or hardback, why would I pay the same price for the electronic version? There is no physical product, no distribution, no store, no acne-ravaged sales clerk. Is this not an echo of the disaster that happened in the music industry ten years ago?
I was an early adopter of music in an electronic format. So early in fact that when I wore my iPod in the gym one time some bloke thought I was having my blood pressure tested by the fancy-arm-computer thing!
Anyway, we (the early MP3 crowd) were just converting our CD's to MP3 and then saving the files to our brick-like sound machines for ease of portability. Then Apple released iTunes and the price of the tunes mirrored the price of the CD's. There was blood on the forums and people who bought the devices ranted and raved - but the Sonys and EMIs of the world laughed (more smirked) in our consumerist gadget freak faces.
They didn't laugh so much when Napster came along and the nerd freaks screwed them right back!
If the publishing industry wants to publish Snooki's memoirs, that's on them, we're cool. But for them then to charge $19.99 for the electronic version of that shit - shame on them. This will breed file sharing, which by the way, has never gone away.
What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?
Electronic Media. Including the management of social networks.
What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?
Electronic Media. Including the management of social networks.
Which author should be much better known?
Too many to mention in this interview. It's a good thing that authors can now find an audience that appreciates their work - directly ... even if it's a small audience.
Do you enjoy writing?
More than anything. I find it almost like a meditation. Even this interview was a refreshing endeavour.
How do you feel about reviews?
Mixed. I wrote a long post about a bad review on my blog once. It was just a response really and the guy (who left the bad review) was a whack job. He tracked me down and responded in kind. But it does show that people are reading and reacting to something that came out of my heart and brain. It's Art and it's all good ... even the one stars.
Do you have any other projects on the go?
I have the follow up to Missing coming along nicely. The title excites me too. I'm keeping that under my hat right now until it launches or gets close to launch. The plot is again very complex like Missing. The new title will be more than one word though, so maybe we'll find out if that has an impact on sales!
Missing by Barry Crowther