Thursday, 30 June 2011

Jochem Vandersteen interview: Tough As Leather

Tough As Leather by Jochem Vandersteen


Jochem Vandersteen has been writing about Noah Milano for a couple of years now. He's the author of the full-length novel White Knight Syndrome and also the webmaster of the site that spotlights the fictional P.I. at Sons of Spade  and can be reached at jvdsteen@hotmail.com.

Can you sum up Tough As Leather in no more than 25 words?

This short story collection, with introductions by other authors gives us a glance at how the son of a mobster tries to make an honest living as a security specialist.

How important is a good title?

I think it’s pretty important. Next to the cover it’s the first thing the potential buyer sees. If it’s a hit he will read what the book is about if it’s a miss he won’t.

How important is a book's central character?

For me it’s probably the most important. I love a good recurring character and put a lot of time in thinking about who I wanted my main protagonist Noah Milano to be.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

My strength is to keep the action moving. I’m a big believer in Elmore Leonard’s philosophy of leaving out the parts
readers skip. My weakness is that maybe sometimes I move the story so fast I lose readers who like long descriptions of places and want everything that happens to be written down.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I love series characters and especially the hardboiled kind.

What are you reading now?

Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder, the first Conway Sax novel. It’s a wonderful hardboiled tale with a character that fits in the shamus-mould but is truly unique.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane. It’s the perfect modern PI-novel.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I think it should be priced lower than ‘paper’ books because they cost less to make. I tried to go for a $0.99 price but with added taxes and stuff it now costs $3.44. Still a nice low price.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

I think it’s great that everyone can publish stuff easily. It brings great possibilities to please niche groups of readers, like for instance PI lovers. It IS hard now to get noticed between all new ebooks. I hope the endorsements by well-known PI writers help.


Tough As Leather by Jochem Vandersteen

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Gordon Brown interview: Falling

Falling by Gordon Brown
£3.19/$5.17


Gordon Brown was born and lives in Glasgow, having spent twenty-five years in the sales and marketing world, working on everything from alcohol to global charities and from TV to lingerie. Married with two children he has been writing for twenty years and Falling was his first novel.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

Falling is a crime thriller set in Glasgow where, hunted by a vicious criminal gang, three innocents have a choice - run, die or fight back.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I was inspired by the story of a man in the nineteen twenties who, having lost all his money in the depression, tried to kill himself by jumping from a skyscraper.  He survived and fifty years later wondered what would have happened if he had died instead of surviving. He set out on a journey and discovered that his life had impacted on a far wider range of people than he would have thought possible. As such I started my book with one line – ‘Falling is the last thing I wanted to do’, and only a rough idea of a plot. Everything else flowed from that point.

How long did it take you to write?

I run my own marketing consultancy and was working at STV as Marketing Director on a contract in 2008. When the contract concluded in June I gave myself until the kids went back to school to write a book. I set myself a target of 1500 words a day and worked on it through the summer. I finished it the day before the school term started – roughly three months.

How much difference does an editor make?

One word answer – massive. It becomes almost impossible to read your own work in an objective manner. I find an editor helps on everything from the smallest typo to identifying plot holes. You also need someone to make suggestions and give guidance and encouragement where required (and to slap you on the wrist at times). Fledgling Press were a great help with my first two books.

Who designed your cover?

It was the result of a bet. One day I was chatting to Richard Bissland, the owner of 999, one of the UK’s largest design agencies. It was the month before I started writing the book and I told him of my plans. He looked at me and uttered that dismissive phrase -  ‘Aye right!’ I told him I was serious and he promised that if I got an offer from a publisher, he would have his agency do my book cover design for free. I think he thought his cash was safe but when I received an offer from Fledgling Press he kept his word. I worked with Sean, one of the designers, to create the cover.

How much difference does a good cover make?

Night and day if you’re relying on impulse purchases in shops. Good design draws people in. The big question is will the ‘art of book cover design’ decline as we move to eBooks?

How important is a good title?

I’m not sure on this. If I think of the books I buy the title doesn’t influence me as much as the author, reviews, cover, word of mouth etc.

How important is a book's central character?

I’m a firm believer that the reader has to empathise with the central character. Even the most extreme of characters has to have something about them that the reader buys into. It’s not just about relating to them – you have to connect with them, feel, in some way, that you know them and believe in them. When you consider characters such as Dexter or Hanibal Lecter and how both Jeff Lindsay and Thomas Harris work them it’s not always about liking them – but they’re gripping and draw you in.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

Using an adverb means you haven’t worked hard enough to give context to what is going on at that point in the novel. Lose them where you can was the best bit of advice I was given. I find that it forces me to go back and bring more colour to the section leading up to the adverb.

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

‘If you don’t ask you don’t get.’ I used to work for a major company and when I quit and set up on my own, ten years ago now, I found this to be the greatest truism of them all. Often it’s when you least want to ask i.e. when it’s awkward, embarrassing or because you are shy/out of your depth – in all cases I still ask. I’m amazed how much business I have picked up by just asking.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

My weakness  - I want to finish everything too quickly.

My strength – tenacity to get the thing done.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

All of it. Given it’s what I do for a living Fledgling were kind enough to let me get fully involved in the whole process. For ‘Falling’ I created the strap line, had poster/mobile ads created and briefed the media companies about where I wanted stuff to appear. I undertook the PR, arranged the signings and had the web site built. But deep down I like the readings or the events. I used to hate presentations but now I get a kick out of them. Talking to a crowd is both fun and energising.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

Nightmare Blue by Gardner Dozois and George Alec Effinger. It’s the most off the wall crime thriller I have ever read. The world is invaded by an alien race that develops a drug – Nightmare Blue. One dose and you’ll die if you don’t keep taking it. The aliens are injecting political leaders and the only person who can stop them is the last private investigator on the planet – with a little help from an alien prisoner.

What makes you keep reading a book?

If I’m not conscious of the outside world then I know the book is good. But I’m not sure what the secret sauce to make this happen is. As W Somerset Maugham once said – ‘There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’

Where do you find out about new books?

I have a bank of authors I will keep a look out for and this keeps me in books for a lot of the time. Other than that it is by browsing in the bookshop and online. The strangest thing is that I find personal recommendations from friends and family rarely work.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

They should reflect the medium in the same way that music does. That means line pricing with the paper copy for new books – unless there is no paper version or the paper version has been in the market for sometime. In which case I’m a big believer in making them as affordable as possible to encourage people to read them.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

Making sure that kids keep reading. This is not a short term issue but a longer term one.  We need to encourage children to keep reading. Without readers there is no need for writers.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

eBooks. The world of self-publishing is now much more credible and accessible. As such it is a lot easier to get your work into the public domain. However it’s a new skill set to get your work to stand out from the crowd online. I think a lot of writers see eBooks as an easy option but as the market develops the marketing of the online book will be crucial.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

I like it. Choice can only be a good thing. It should give new authors access to a market that was previously closed to them.

Which author should be much better known?

Me.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Yes. I used to be a big Science Fiction fan. I love thrillers and I’m addicted to reference books. The more nonsense the reference book the better.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Fog’ by James Herbert because it changed what I read. Up until then I had been a fan of the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift – real boys own adventure stuff. My grandmother brought me ‘The Fog’ back from the library when I was 14. I never looked back.

What's the oddest question you've been asked in an interview?

Do you ever write in the nude? The answer – of course.

How do you feel about reviews?

Authors need them. You may not like what they say but people read reviews and they influence purchase. Given that most reviews are now ‘user generated’ through Amazon etc they are becoming thicker on the ground. As such their individual value may fall away but the collective value will increase. Just look at what Trip Advisor has done to the holiday world.

How do you feel about awards?

They are great if you get one and supply the oxygen of publicity. The big awards, Diamond Dagger etc, keep the public’s attention on books and this is good.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Apart from my work I am on the board of the company behind Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s first dedicated crime writing festival. Due to be held over three days in September 2012 in Stirling we are at the planning stage - but so far the reaction has been amazing. As a festival designed to celebrate Scottish Crime Writing (and beyond) we have had a tremendous level of support from authors, publishers, the local authority, commercial companies and more. Watch this space.


Falling by Gordon Brown
£3.19/$5.17

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Gary Lovisi interview: Driving Hell's Highway

Driving Hell's Highway by Gary Lovisi
£2.14/$2.99
Amazon UK, Amazon US


Gary Lovisi is a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award nominee for his crime fiction. He is the editor of HARDBOILED magazine, the toughest little crime magazine in the world. HARDBOILED recently won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for publishing the Best Short Story of 2010 by John Nesbitt. Lovisi's most recent books are ULTRA-BOILED (Ramble House) a collection of 23 of his hardest crime tales; BAD GIRLS NEED LOVE TOO (Krause Books), a fascinating compendium of sexy paperback pulp and noir cover art and blurbs, and MORE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House), new stories of the Great Detective.

Can you sum up Driving Hell's Highway in fewer than 75 words?

It's a hard crime surreal romp though darkest America with a man who has no future and can't remember -- or doesn't want to remember --- his past. It's probably better that way. He's always driving, guiding his old warwagon down the highway and along the way he meets all kinds of dangerous and very strange people, some good, some not so good. It's a wild ride!

What was your motivation for writing it?

I always wanted to write this type of 'on the road' type of book but in a crime noir package. I'm afraid it came out a bit more violent and wild than I thought it would. It starts out so nice, too. It ends up... well, rather nasty.

Who designed the cover?

The cover art was designed by the fine people at Wildside Press. This book is 1/2 of an original novel in their new Wildisde Mystery Doubles series (#4), and is backed with another fine novel, DEVIL'S PLAGUE by Michael R. Collings, so any reader will get a real bargain with this two-in-one book if they like hard crime fiction and violent goodies. Like I do.

How important is the title?   

I think the title and cover art or design are always important but not crucial to the success of a book. As an author I have little control over the cover but I do pick my titles very carefully. They have to sing to me, have some inner pull and meaning, and get attention. I have another book coming out from Wildisde which will be 1/2 of a new Mystery Double. The title on that one is VIOLENCE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION and as the title implies, it is a kicker! Two pulp crime novels of mine were HELLBENT ON HOMICIDE and BLOOD IN BROOKYLN. All fine titles, and very cool hard crime books. They were fun to write too.

 Do you enjoy writing?

I do enjoy writing, but it is a lot of work and takes time to get things right -- or just they way I want them. I wish I could do even more writing, I like hard crime but also many other genres and have written in all of them from science fiction, fantasy and horror, to westerns, and of course, a lot of non-fiction about books, authors, and cover artists. For instance I have a new Sherlock Holmes novel coming out next year. It's a very cool, very tough book, true to Holmes and Watson but really compelling. I also have two Moon Man stories coming out in the future, he's a rather quirky 1930s pulp hero, and I've completed two new stories about him that are great fun.

However, my first love is hard crime fiction and noir, and DRIVING HELL'S HIGHWAY fits that description with a vengeance. The road is open and lonely and you never know what you'll find out there. The book is available now in hard copy trade paperback from Wildside Press and through Kindle. This is my first Kindle book but I am sure that many more of my hard copy books will soon be available as e-books so be on the lookout for them.

For more news or information about me or my work take a look at my website: www.gryphonbooks.com


Driving Hell's Highway by Gary Lovisi
£2.14/$2.99
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Monday, 27 June 2011

Steve Brewer interview: Calabama


Calabama by Steve Brewer
£2.12/$2.99
Amazon UK, Amazon US


Steve Brewer is the author of CALABAMA and 17 other crime novels. The recent Hollywood comedy LONELY STREET was based on his Bubba Mabry private eye series, and his car thief novel BOOST is currently under film/TV option.


Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

CALABAMA is hillbilly noir set in far Northern California. A young wastrel, his life in a spiral, gets mixed up in a doomed kidnapping scheme.

How important is a good title?

Very important, particularly in this case. As soon as I first heard the term "Calabama," I knew I'd write a book to go under that title. "Calabama" refers to the rural, redneck interior of California, a place my protagonist, Eric Newlin, wants to escape. Eric wants the California Dream, and he ends up in a Calabama nightmare.

How long did it take you to write?

Three months to do the first draft, then another four months of rewriting and polishing. That's about standard for me.

Do you enjoy writing?

I do. I've worked as a writer since I was 18 years old, first as a newspaper/wire service reporter, then as a syndicated columnist and author. Fiction is the most fun.

What's your favorite part of the writing process?

The part at the beginning, where I'm dreaming up the story and writing the first draft. Rewriting is always a slog, though I sure seem to do a lot of it.

How much difference does an editor make? And who did your cover?

My wife Kelly Brewer is a professional editor with thirty years' experience. She's also done several of my covers, including the one for CALABAMA. I find it very handy to have such a person around the house, and suggest all you writers go find your own.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

My ideal reader loves novels that mix humor and suspense, and dark novels that push the boundaries of the genre. This reader's crime fiction favorites would mirror my own: Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake/Richard Stark, Ross Thomas, Ken Bruen, James Crumley, Mo Hayder, James Sallis, Daniel Woodrell, Patricia Highsmith, Martin Cruz Smith.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

Elmore Leonard is writing a new novel, "Raylan," featuring the U.S. marshal from the TV series "Justified." I'm a big fan of the show, and its popularity was one reason I decided to publish CALABAMA as an e-book now rather than let it bounce around New York publishing houses. Fans of "Justified" will love this book.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

I was thinking just yesterday that I should read Pete Dexter's "Paris Trout" again. One of my all-time favorites.

Do you have other projects on the go?

My agent (Doug Grad) has a couple of manuscripts, LOST VEGAS and THE BIG WINK, that he's showing around New York. I'm doing final revisions on a light-hearted mystery called A BOX OF PANDORAS.


Calabama by Steve Brewer
£2.12/$2.99
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Allan Guthrie interview: Two-Way Split

Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie
99p/99c
Amazon UK, Amazon US


Allan Guthrie is an award-winning Scottish crime writer with a bit of an eBook obsession.



Can you sum up Two-Way Split in 25 words or fewer?

A dark, slightly surreal, blackly comic ride on the coat tails of a clinically psychotic ex-concert pianist turned armed robber who's stopped taking his meds.

Why are you -- rather than your print publishers -- publishing a digital edition?

I've had a modicum of success publishing two novellas to Kindle. Bye Bye Baby made the top ten, and Killing Mum hit #25. I've had a lot more success with those than with any of my print books. And I'm having enormous fun self-publishing. I suggested to my publishers, Birlinn/Polygon, that it might make sense for me to sub-license the Kindle rights and have a go at publishing those too. They agreed. And here we are. Hopefully it's a smart move for us both but time will tell.

Just Kindle?

Yes. Birlinn will be providing digital editions in other formats.

And this applies to all your novels?

All five published novels, indeed. Some won't be available in the US and Canada, though, since those rights belong to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the sub-licensing deal is only with Birlinn.

Since you started with Two-Way Split, can we assume you're to publish them in original publication order?

No, I'm being contrary. Next up will be my prison novel, Slammer. And it won't be out right away. I think it's better to give each book a little time to breathe lest I risk inflicting a kind of literary suffocation on everybody.

Right, then. That's all clear as mud. Thanks, Al. OK, you ask this question all the time, but how much difference do you think a good cover makes?

I've seen a few shitty covers make it into the bestsellers, but you certainly increase the likelihood of impulse purchases if you have something eye-catching and professional-looking. I'd say it's a massive factor there. Less so if you're already familiar with the author or the book's been recommended by a trusted source. But  I believe you owe it to the reader to provide as good a cover as possible regardless.

How much difference does good writing make?

I've long believed that there are two types of writer: there's the kind of writer who's good with words, and the other kind who's good at telling stories. The latter type tends to be more successful since the market suggests that most people prefer to hear a good story badly written than a bad story well written. There are different types of readers, of course. Some like good stories and don't care about the writing, while others won't read beyond a cliched sentence. I'm digging myself a hole here, so I'll just wrap up by saying that good writing is subjective and its importance depends on your audience.

How important is a good title?

Two-Way Split was originally called Blithe Psychopaths, after a phrase by Charles Willeford describing a character in Miami Blues. Somewhat confusingly, it was then renamed Kiss Her Goodbye and was known by that name for quite a time. It was verbally commissioned under that title, as I recall. But when Hard Case Crime picked up my second novel, Joe Hope, we changed Kiss Her Goodbye to Two-Way Split and Joe Hope become Kiss Her Goodbye. That really was a very confusing time.

I like titles that have some kind of additional meaning. Two-Way Split works on a couple of levels, one of which the reader won't get until they're well through the book. But much as I'd like to believe that it's hugely important, I'm not sure it matters a great deal.

It certainly doesn't pay to be too attached to your titles. Foreign editions of my books tend to have quite different titles: Two-Way Split is known as Post Mortem (Germany), The Killer Inside Me (Turkey),  The Bad Day (Spain), Fifty-Fifty (France).

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

It's not who you know that's important, it's who knows you.

Also, for writers: focus on what's within your control.

(I hate aphorisms, btw).

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I'm extremely critical of my own writing, which I think is a strength and a weakness. A strength in that I end up pushing myself pretty hard. A weakness in that I keep on rewriting and rewriting. Two-Way Split is a case in point. Despite the book having been selling quite happily for years without my interference, I couldn't help but modify it again for this Kindle edition. In my ideal world, I think I'd just keep rewriting the same book forever. I need deadlines, since that's the only way I know when to stop. I've yet to write anything I can't see how to improve. One area of potential interest for me in eBooks is the fact that it's possible now to have a dynamic text. If you want to make improvements to the text, you can. That would be expensive and impractical in print, and the mere idea horrifies a lot of people, but I'm all for it.

Do you read more eBooks than print books?

I was just thinking not so long ago that I've read eBooks for years. I read between 50-100 manuscripts annually as part of my job as a literary agent, and as soon as the Sony Reader was available in the UK, I bought one to read those manuscripts on. I upgraded to the touch screen model when it came out. And I'm a Kindle addict now too. So the transition to eBooks was very easy for me. In terms of commercially available books, my purchasing habits are probably fairly even between print and digital. Maybe slightly in favour of print. But with more and more excellent work available only digitally, that's certainly changing.

The cover for Two-Way Split looks familiar. Wasn't that the one you were going to use for your planned omnibus of novellas, Three To Kill?

An eagle-eyed observation! It was indeed. The snowflakes fit Two-Way Split particularly well, though, since the book takes place in early January. So, yes, Two-Way Split mugged Three To Kill and stole its cover and seems to show no remorse for its actions whatsoever. I must strive to keep better company.

The movie adaptation of Two-Way Split has been in development for some time. How's that looking?

More promising than ever. I hate to get too excited, but things do seem to be coming together financially at last. Those are probably famous last words, but I'm optimistic, which is as rare as a cloudless sky in Scotland, as anyone who knows me -- and Scotland -- will tell you.

What's the future for publishing?

I think the outlook is excellent for readers and writers. There will be more choice, more catering to niche (or perceived niche) markets. Writers will have more control over what they write and how they sell it. They'll also be in control of their own careers. Publishers will have to take better care of their authors if they want to succeed in the new publishing landscape. For years, the only alternative authors had was vanity publishing. It's a whole different world now. Also, I imagine digital-only publishers will be in the news a lot a year from now.

Finally, if Two-Way Split was a drink, what would it be?

Double espresso. Italian roast. Dark and bitter but with a chocolatey aftertaste, addictive, and liable to make your head spin.


Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie
99p/99c
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Friday, 24 June 2011

James Henderson: Pernicious

Pernicious by James Henderson
£2.14/$2.99
Amazon UK, Amazon US

James Henderson: two-million miles safe-driving trucker. Ex-Marine. Ex-drug counselor. Father. And currently, a writer. Besides Pernicious, he's also the author of Baby Huey, a novel about the perils of drug addiction.


Can you sum up Pernicious in 25 words or fewer?

Two strong-willed African American women, Tasha Montgomery, a southern homicide detective, and Perry Davis, a gorgeous femme fatale who has killed three husbands for insurance money, engage in a dramatic battle of wits, fisticuffs and verbal assaults that culminates in a life-or-death duel.

How long did it take you to write?

It took six months to write Pernicious, and five years of rewriting and tweaking it. My agent pimped it to small and large publishers for several years, yet no one made an offer. Several years ago a small publisher in Mississippi promised to print the novel. Yet, in two years, a contract never materialized. After self-publishing another title, I decided to offer Pernicious only as an ebook.

What was your motivation for writing it?

A true-crime fanatic, I’ve always been interested in sociopaths, especially the female variety. These women often use sex as their primary weapon, either to influence men to do their evil bidding, or as a lure to entice men to their death. In Pernicious, the femme fatale, Perry, murders two of her victims during the act of intercourse.

How much difference does a good cover make?

No cover whatsoever is akin to putting your work in a shoebox under the bed. Nothing will happen there. I’ve also discovered that many people are turned off by cartoon covers. As you’ve noticed, Pernicious has a cartoon cover, and though many people have told me to change it, I love it and refuse to replace it. My opinion: sexy models gracing covers is getting a tad stale and formulaic.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

Sad to say, I struggle with description. When I see a tree that’s all I see, a tree. I also work only with primary colors, so all my trees are either red, green or blue. Thus, my novels are generally dialogue heavy. Dialogue seems easy but it is not. Or should I say interesting dialogue is not easy. Nothing bores me more than reading characters engage in a mundane, pointless conversation.

What aspects of marketing do you enjoy?

I drive a truck across the continental USA and meet new people each day. At least once a week someone tries to sell me something. Now I can spot these people before they even start my way and I avoid them, occasionally going so far as walking in the other direction.

Therefore, I do very little marketing.

Who is your favourite living writer?

Richard Price has no equal in contemporary crime fiction. Each time I read one of his novels, I think, God, I wish I could write like this. No other author I’ve read can echo the dialogue of various ethnic groups the way Richard Price does so superbly.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers today?

Ebooks afford everyone the opportunity to offer his or her literary work on the internet. Until now authors like myself had no other recourse than to wait till some publisher gave us a nod of approval. Now, with ebooks, readers decide which books are worthy of reading.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

What aggravates me is authors who claim most of what is being published today is crap, rubbish, trash. Notice not a single author has publicly cited his or her own work as horse manure. It is always the other guy’s work that stinks. To any author I say, do what you feel you must do with your work and hope for the best. But be realistic.

How do you feel about reviews?

If the review is an honest assessment of what someone feels about my work, be it good or bad, I smile and keep on trucking. A reviewer stated one of my novels had formatting issues, so I thanked her and immediately corrected the issue. What bothers me, however, is people who personalize their review, as in, “My arse started itching when I read the first three chapters, then at the halfway point I needed hemorrhoid medication, and after reading this tripe I needed surgery.”

Have you ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

Glad you asked this question. Just finished a screenplay for Pernicious and now attempting to get someone to take a look at it. Pernicious has a classic thriller component, similar to Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, in which a gorgeous seductress murders her husband. Yet in Pernicious, the femme fatale is an African American woman. Perchance the film is produced, it would be interesting to search for and cast a woman who can follow in the footsteps of Lana Turner and Barbara Stanwyck.


Pernicious by James Henderson
£2.14/$2.99
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Roger Smith interview: Dust Devils

Dust Devils by Roger Smith


Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg and now lives in Cape Town. His thrillers Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead have been published in six countries and both are in development as feature films in the US. His third book, Dust Devils, is out now on Kindle and Nook and will be published internationally in 2011.

Can you sum up Dust Devils in no more than 25 words?

When the South African State frames an ex-activist for murdering his family, his only ally is his oldest enemy: his father, a onetime CIA hitman.

What was your motivation for writing it?

With Dust Devils I set out to write a bloody, amped-up page-turner, but I wanted it to be fuelled by the things that anger me about South Africa.

When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela came to power, there was a period in South Africa where we went from being the pariah of the world, to a role-model for transformation. A giddy time. Then Mandela moved on, and the rulers of the country became ever more self-serving and corrupt, as politicians tend to do.

Apartheid is over, but a violent crime epidemic, poverty and the highest incidence of HIV/ AIDS in the world present new challenges that are left largely unaddressed. Our constitution is glowing testament to enlightenment and individual freedom, but teenage girls are sold into slave marriages in the name of tradition and some men believe that raping virgins (often children) will cure them of AIDS.  The South African commissioner of police has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison for corruption, and a trail of cover-ups leads straight to the presidency.

This is the background against which Dust Devils is set, and what I’ve written is no love letter.

Is Dust Devils being published only as an eBook?

In the US, yes. I decided it was a good book for me to test the ePub waters with. But it will be published in the UK in September by Serpent’s Tail in both print and electronic formats and it’s out in Germany in print (getting great reviews, happily) and has been bought by a number of other countries for translation.

Who designed your eBook cover?

I did. So if it sucks, I’m the one to blame!

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I’ve gone in at $3.99 with Dust Devils. I know many of the pundits will say this is too expensive, but given the “hybrid” nature of book’s publication in different territories (the mix of print and electronic) the price seems right.

I agree that eBooks should be inexpensive but I’m not sure that this bargain basement frenzy is doing authors (or readers, for that matter) a favour. When the emphasis is on price rather than content, I get worried. It’s my feeling that people are clogging their eReaders with elcheapos and freebies they won’t end up reading. But it’ll all settle down in the next year or so, I suspect.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

Getting in touch with readers and other writers via Facebook and Twitter is always a pleasure and I have a movie background, so I like making book trailers. Who knows if they help drive sales, but they’re fun to do. Here’s the one I made for Dust Devils.


How do you feel about awards?

Oh, they’re great, of course, if you don’t take them too seriously. But any recognition of one’s work is fantastic. I won the Deutscher Krimi Preis (German Crime Award) for Mixed Blood, and Wake Up Dead has been short listed for awards in Germany and a Spinetingler Award in the US. It’s also won a couple of reader-driven awards for the best first line in a novel published in 2010, which I’ve enjoyed.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Well, people who enjoy cozies and conventional mystery fare are usually shocked by my work. Readers familiar with the dark stuff  (Thompson, Stark, early Leonard) and who aren’t looking for feelgood endings will be more comfortable with my books.


Dust Devils by Roger Smith

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Chris Longmuir interview: Night Watcher

Night Watcher by Chris Longmuir
£2.82/$3.99


Chris Longmuir lives in Scotland and spends most of her time writing. ‘Night Watcher’ is her second crime novel. Her first, ‘Dead Wood’, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2009. Chris also writes short stories and historical articles which are published in the UK and the US. She is currently working on a further two crime novels.

Can you sum up Night Watcher in no more than 25 words?

It is a psychological thriller featuring two different kinds of stalker -- a woman seeking revenge, and the disturbed Night Watcher who has killed before.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I’m not sure I had any specific motivation to write this book other than the need to write, but once I started I became hooked into the psychology behind what motivates a stalker. I’m a pantster rather than a plotter and I usually start with one scene and work from there. This book actually started with the scene in chapter 11 which now forms Part Two of the novel. I wrote the book from that scene to the end, then went back and wrote the whole of Part One.

How long did it take you to write?

It took about a year, but that includes the editing process. I edit each chapter as I go along, I find that helps me to move forward to the next chapter and fixes the story firmly in my mind. Then when I have finished the first draft I go over it again, revising and rewriting, usually several times (I think my record for this was 22 revisions), before I send it out to my editors. Because I’m a pantster I work from chapter to chapter, sometimes not knowing where the next chapter will take me. I often don’t even know whodunit until near the end. I like to surprise myself as well as the reader. I find if I plan in too much detail my story becomes wooden and lifeless, so this is the method that works for me. It has its disadvantages though, because I have to be completely sure that the person whodunit doesn’t actually have an alibi for the time of the crime. To get round that problem I keep a running timeline during the writing that tells me where each character is at any given time, and if the killer does have an alibi, then that just means a bit of a rewrite. I often think it’s my characters writing the book, not me.

How much difference does an editor make?

An editor is crucial. Since becoming an e-publisher I have read a fair selection of e-books ranging from the excellent to the awful. Some e-books are definitely in need of an editor, and I’m afraid I get quite annoyed by some of the worst editing and proofing examples. It really pushes home the value of an editor. After I finished Night Watcher and revised, rewrote and edited it to the best of my ability I sent it to my two editors. Liz edits for grammar and spelling and all that kind of stuff, and believe me, she’s extremely picky. Betty edits for story line and continuity, and things that don’t make sense. When they’ve finished ripping the manuscript to bits I go through it again removing bits, rewriting bits, ad infinitum. Then it gets sent to a literary agency for the final edit and proof, although they always say my manuscripts are among the cleanest they get in. So, hopefully by the time a book has gone through this process it’s as good as it can be. All it needs then is a reader to like the story.

How important is a book's central character?

Night Watcher’s central character is Julie, who is obsessed with punishing Nicole, the woman who stole her husband and ultimately led him to his death. As part of her agenda for vengeance, she targets and plays mind games on Nicole who, of course, is then murdered. I’m not going to tell you whether Julie’s obsession would lead her to commit murder -- you’ll have to read the book to find out. But, as you can see, my central characters are not necessarily nice people, although I hope I can get the reader rooting for them. So, yes, I think a central character is crucial for the story, someone the reader can identify with and accompany through the book. I read an e-book recently where there was no central character, just a succession of characters moving the story along. There was plenty of action in the story, but it left me feeling something was missing. And, of course, that something was a central character.

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

The best piece of business advice was given to me by you, when you advised me to go into e-publishing. Although I had given some thought to e-publishing, without that advice I might have wavered on the brink of that decision for quite a long time. It was enough to give me a push and now I have two books for sale as e-books.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I like all kinds of crime fiction, although I veer towards the dark stuff. I like Val McDermid and Mo Hayder, both experts in the field of dark crime. But I also like psychological crime, the whydunits as opposed to the whodunits. Then I like a lot of the American writers. Some of my favourites are Jeffrey Deaver, Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz, and Michael Connolly.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Someone who likes a bit of mystery, a murder or two or several, who is not put off by a bit of gore, and who appreciates the psychology within the story. I don’t do literary, I prefer to write a good story and keep the pages turning, so I would advise any reader that if they are looking for a literary novel, my writing is not for them. I know that’s a strange thing for a writer who won a large literary prize for her first book to say. But I never did think that book was literary in any sense of the word. Just a cracking good read.

What was the last good eBook you read?

John Locke’s ‘Lethal People’. I’ve only just discovered him and I have the rest of his books in my Kindle waiting for me to read.

What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Rook’ by Steven James. I hadn’t read any of his books before but I’ll certainly read more. This was an excellent page turner. I won’t say anything about the book I’m reading now, because I’m not particularly enjoying it. The thing is, even though this book doesn’t appeal to me, it doesn’t mean to say it’s not good because reading is a very subjective thing, and I wouldn’t want to influence other potential readers.

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

Pillars of the Earth’, or ‘Fall of Giants’, by Ken Follett. It’s the wide historical sweep that appeals to me, plus he writes really good characters.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I’m currently writing a contemporary dark crime novel based on internet predators. I’m about a third of the way into it and I think it’s developing nicely. With this book I have a choice of three for the whodunit role, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to one of them. Maybe they’ll surprise me though, you never know. I also have a couple of other things on the back burner.



Night Watcher by Chris Longmuir
£2.82/$3.99