Thursday 31 March 2011

Tom Piccirilli interview: Nightjack

Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He's won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de L'imagination. He blogs at The Cold Spot.

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

A noir-dark fantasy about 4 escaped mental patients suffering from multiple personality disorder. One of their 187 alternate personalities may have committed a rape/murder on the ward.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I was interested in doing a crossover novel steeped in the noir tradition but also with the added oddity of (possibly) being a fantasy, where my protagonist can see and interact with the various alternate personalities, including gods, historical figures, private eyes, gunslingers, sorcereresses, and the recently dead.

Who designed your cover?

The brilliant artist Caniglia illustrated and designed the cover with a couple of small bits of advice from me.

How much difference does a good cover make?

In traditional publishing a hell of a lot.  I'm still trying to figure out how important it is in ebook releases.

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

Do not, under any circumstances, become a fucking writer.

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

I dig classic noir and neo-noir where the hero is struggling to retain some semblance of his honor but is pushed beyond endurance down the wrong path by fear, failure, heartache, the love of the wrong woman, or simply the whim of fate.

Who's your favourite living writer?

All my heroes are dead.

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

The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme.  It's my favorite book.  A haunting, hilarious, fantasy of sorts, literary, bizarre, honest, bitter, and beautiful.

Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Anthony Neil Smith interview: Choke On Your Lies

Choke On Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Anthony Neil Smith doesn't do author bios. The longest one I could find is his Typepad profile,which says, simply : I eat too much. Truth is, Neil's writing is a piquant sauce for the literary palate. His latest novel, Choke On Your Lies, is a sophisticated tale of robot pens, swinger clubs, blackmail and murder, and it's packed full of pulpy goodness.

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

A raunchy twist on the Nero Wolfe mysteries, featuring a 300+ pound genius woman, Octavia, and her friend Mick, poet-heart-on-his-sleeve, in Minneapolis.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I had always loved the Nero Wolfe books because of the detective’s charisma in spite of his irritability and rudeness. He didn’t like people very much. So when I saw an episode of Dr. Phil featuring mean fat women, I had a lightbulb moment. I happen to find larger women attractive, and sought to create a woman that could both shame and titillate you all at once. The mystery side of it is more about discovering who Mick and Octavia really are, and just being a part of their world, than the main feature.

How much difference does an editor make?

Makes a world of difference.  I have two great writer friends who see my first drafts and make comments, and of course, my unnamed literary agent, also a novelist, who forces me to think about my vision of the book, the word choices, the style, the motivation for all of this, even more than I would on my own. I love what a good editor can do for you, and as editor for PLOTS WITH GUNS, I understand that it takes a certain sort of approach to make sure you’re pushing the writer to be his or her best without “taking over” their story or style.  I wouldn’t dream of posting something that hasn’t had some sort of scrutiny from people I trust.

Who designed your cover?

I did the text and layout, but the photo is from photographer J.R. Bohnenblust, featuring model Erin Zerbe. If I do more Octavia novels, Erin has said she’d be glad to appear on more covers, and I think that is just perfect.

How important is a book's central character?

That’s the whole ball game to me. I need a character who makes me care about his or her journey. I tell my students that plot can be boiled down to “What the main character desperately wants, and how he goes about trying to get it.”  In the case of Octavia, I resort to my old “trying to make you sympathetic for someone who is pretty awful” routine.  And by awful, I mean her demeanor. She has gained wealth and power and can fiercely loyal, but also very mean to those she’s closest to.  Something about those characters appeal to me.  On the opposite end, the narrator Mick is so worried about his image and how others think of him that he is almost laughably ineffectual, but Octavia always has his back. A weird relationship of awful people that works.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The joke, of course, is to say “having written it already.” But I really think I enjoy the process of writing the first draft once I’m absolutely sure it’s a novel. Plenty of them start well but die by page 50, sometimes even over page 100. But when the rhythm is there, the voice is there, and I know I can’t stop, I love it. I love marking off the day’s pages on my calendar. I love the anticipation of getting back into that world the next day.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

Since marketing is kind of slimy (I mean, so many Kindleboards warn against BSP, and people get annoyed with ads on Twitter and repetitive cries for sales), I enjoy being able to think up things that play off that sliminess, like a chain letter, or aggressive tweets, or blog tours that do more than just talk about me me me and the book X 3.  I want to PLAY. So that’s fun.

What was the last good eBook you read?

Other than your own masterful BYE BYE BABY? I was really surprised by Nigel Bird’s DIRTY OLD TOWN. Very strong voice, very literary in quality. I’ve read a lot of good eBook indie writers like Wendig and Holm and Plank, so I’m just naming the most recent excellent find.

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

I’d be all over SAMARITAN by Richard Price, which I always swing back to when I’m at the beginning of a new project. His way with prose embarrasses me and makes me work harder because it is so fucking smooth.

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

Lots of those, but THE REAL COOL KILLERS by Chester Himes has one of the most gonzo openings I’ve ever seen--white guy in a balck nightclub gets his arm chopped off and it goes flying across the club. Dark humor, fearless. Love it.

Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

I’ve written a couple of scripts with Victor Gischler, one of which, PULP BOY, is currently under option. The filmmaker has been working hard to get that made for the past few years, and we’re rooting for him.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Constantly. I love good stylists of all sorts--minimalist, maximalists, surreal, magic realism, dirty realism, and I do like good nonfiction science books.

Choke On Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Tony Black interview: Truth Lies Bleeding

Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black

Amazon UK, Amazon US

Tony Black is an award-winning journalist who has written for most of the UK's national newspapers. He is the author of Paying for It, Gutted, Loss and Long Time Dead.

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

An Edinburgh-set police thriller exploring the murder of a young mother and the disappearance of her baby daughter.

How much difference does an editor make?

To a new author an editor makes all the difference; an editor can make an unpublishable novel publishable. I have been spared many blushes by excellent editors. As my writing has progressed I've needed an editor less, but another person's perspective can be very useful to any author. I'd never publish in any format without professional editing.

How much difference does a good cover make?

All the difference -- it's a cliche that you shouldn't judge the book by the cover, but everybody does. It's an artform; for too long major publishers have relied on tried and tested shots from Getty images -- the eBook packagers are pushing the boat out, however, and we're seeing some real creativity in these covers. 

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

Exclamation marks are like laughing at your own jokes!

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

Don't leave the publicity to your publisher -- do all you can yourself.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The actual writing; I don't get much out of planning, or plotting, or editing ... I like the aspect of carving out the words. Making the sentences come together and sing.

What aspects of marketing your books do you enjoy? 

The actual events. Meeting the public is always rewarding because how else are you going to really know what people think? Writing is a lonely profession and it's one of the few opportunities writers actually have to meet the people buying their product.

What are you reading now?

I've just finished a book but next on my list is Ray Banks' California.

What's your view on eBook pricing?

There is some overpricing, but maybe that's balanced out by underpricing. These things always find their own level though so we're probably going to see them meet in the middle in future.

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

I do, very regularly. I am a big fan of William McIlvanney's work and I regularly read his novels. The Kiln and Weekend are works of genius; nobody has the ability to dissect society like McIlvanney -- he sees beyond all the lazy axioms people live their lives by and exposes the rotten crap beneath.

Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black

Amazon UK, Amazon US

Monday 28 March 2011

Iain Rowan interview: Nowhere To Go

Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan 
Amazon UK Amazon US Smashwords

Eleven stories of murder, obsession, fear and--sometimes--redemption. Featuring stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's, Ellery Queen's, and more, Nowhere To Go is a collection of Iain Rowan's best short crime stories.

Iain's short fiction has been reprinted in Year's Best anthologies, won a Derringer Award, been voted into readers' top ten of the year, and been the basis for a novel shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger award.

What was your motivation for writing Nowhere To Go?

I love reading short stories, and I love writing them.  It's not practice for novels, a set of writers’ training wheels; it's a form in its own right. Each story in the collection has come about because an idea, an image, a character or a phrase has wandered into mind and hung around long enough to end up being worth writing about.

It's always felt a shame to see a story that I'm proud of go out (particularly in print) and then a month later disappear into history, never to be read again. Putting together a collection like NOWHERE TO GO and publishing it as an e-book is a way of pulling those stories back from the ether, and leaving them on a virtual shelf so that new readers can find them, and – I hope - enjoy them. The buzz you get from the occasional email from a stranger telling you they enjoyed a story - now that's a reason to write.

What do you look for in a good book?

Voice. Voice is what does it for me, what makes a book with flaws worth persisting with, and what turns a good book, into a brilliant one.

Other than that, I want it all. I have little time for the ever-revolving argument that genre books have all the pace and plot, and literary novels all the character and good writing. A good book has it all, and I don't care what the publisher decides to put on the cover, or which shelves the bookseller decides to stack it on.

I want vivid characters, an interesting plot (which doesn't necessarily mean twist on turn on twist, although it can do), and a turn of phrase that does something that ordinary prose doesn't. None of which means it has to be stained purple with ornate and descriptive prose; quite the opposite at times. I like spare, restrained writing, because it's like music: the gaps are as important as the notes, what’s not said is as important as what is said.

I also like books where things blow up.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The times when you are writing first draft, and it's been a long week at work and you are tired and distracted and not in the mood, and you sit down anyway and something shifts, and you hit it like a runner does, when everything just comes easy and you feel like you could write forever.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

Thought several times about whether to pick this question, as bragging and listing flaws are equally painful.

So, to be brief: I think my biggest strength is voice. I think my biggest weakness is plotting at novel length.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

The song on that advert, what was it? I'll google a snatch of the lyric. Ah, of course, them. They supported that band I saw in Leeds once. I wonder if they're still they've split. Fancy a couple of songs off iTunes though, for old times sake. Reminds me of that party that - I wonder if those two are on Facebook. Excellent, will be good to see what difference the passing years have made, and - ha! - man, that cat *does* look like Lenin. I should send him the link to the cats that look like Hitler. Or the dogs dressed as bees. Can't find it, I know, I'll send a tweet, see if anyone else - oh hell. Time to go to work.

Apart from that, it's interesting times. A publishing industry, which is going through hard times and often responding by playing it safe, when it was always difficult to get in the door anyway.  Rising sales of e-books, which give opportunities that the traditional publishers might not, but which can raise issues of credibility, quality, and simply being seen above the rising tide.

All of which can leave writers torn. Many aspiring writers will believe that print is still what it takes to think of yourself as being really published, a proper writer, but at the same time they can be disillusioned by the slog of query, wait three months, re-query, start again, wait six months, happyhappyjoyjoy, wait for agent to send it round, wait for agent to hear back, not what the market is really looking for, can you start again. Or getting there and ending up with a cover you don't like but the focus group does, and a promotional budget that will buy two balloons with your novel's name on, a packet of biscuits, and a seven posters, but only small ones, and you start to question where all the revenue is going, because it doesn’t feel as if it is to you.

The notion of swerving round all that and getting your work into readers’ hands in just a few days is seductive. The thought - for published writers, as well as the aspiring - of the outliers who are making lots of money through e-books is also seductive. But then again, so is walking into a bookshop and seeing a stack of books with your name on it.

I think that one of the biggest problems facing many writers is reading the right way to jump. And then doing it.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

Exactly what I've written above.  Apart from the first para, that is.

It’s not just opportunities for writers, either. I can see good times ahead for smart, talented people who could put together services for writers who are going the self-pub route: an agency that offers formatting, cover design, editing, PR and publicity and rights sales in a way which doesn't just rebuild the existing tensions. Of course, there will be unscrupulous sharks circling that particular part of the ocean too. Writer beware.

We live in interesting times, where unknown care workers are read more than best-selling novelists, and where dogs get dressed as bees.

Which author should be much better known?

Not a crime writer, but my favourite novelist, and a man that can write so well that it makes you want to just give up writing and take up flying kites or something instead: Rupert Thomson.

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

I've been lucky enough to be given lots of good advice, from good people who are kind enough to take the time to give it.

But in many ways, the best advice for me comes down to this.

Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan £2.12/$2.99
Amazon UK Amazon US Smashwords

Sunday 27 March 2011

Interview with Susie Levin

Susie Levin is a native of Chicago, Illinois. Before becoming a stay-at-home mom of two boys she worked in the tobacco industry and spent time traveling both in and outside the United States. She has a passion for reading and talking about crime fiction. She hosts the Nordic/British/Irish/Euro mysteries (NBIE III) discussion at in the "mystery" forum.

Allan: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Susie. Could you tell us a little bit about NBIE.

Our group is quite diverse. We have an antique dealer, a retired English professor, a nurse, a retired attorney, someone who works with recovering addicts, an artist, a teacher for children with special needs, a woman who keeps kids out of trouble by teaching them how to play Go after school (she's also our Kindle and tech specialist), a doctor/vet/editor/Vine reviewer, writers and a retired book dealer. I'd like to name everybody because they're all so special to me.

One thing we all have in common is our love for books.  Most of us don't have friends or family who read the same kind of books we do or want to talk about them in detail like we do. They don't want to hear about how the cover of a book attracted our attention, how it feels to hold a paper book, how cool it is that Kindle opens to the page where you left off, how scared we got by something we read, what it's like to encounter a beautiful sentence, or whose book we can't wait for to come out.

I'm pretty much the resident author groupie and name-dropper. Our nurse is too. We get such a thrill when a favorite author posts. I've never been to a book signing but I have been to the last two Bouchercon World mystery conventions,  I had the best time. I've never met a warmer, more personable and humble group of people. RJ Ellory took me and another woman (we're going again in September) from NBIE, Ali Karim from Shots Magazine and Julia from Quercus publishing to lunch last year. I stared at Roger for about an hour straight before I could touch my food.

Who started the NBIE discussion, and has it been around for a while?

I started it a couple of years ago. Amazon locks up forum threads when they reach 10,000 posts. We'll be starting our 4th discussion thread soon.

How did your interest in crime fiction from the NBIE countries come about?

By accident, really. I never used to think about books from other countries, I just bought books from bestseller racks.  I think the first British book I read was by Elizabeth George. I'd never read anything like her Thomas Linley series, and from there I read Anne Perry's and M.C. Beaton's books. I read everything I could find that was similar. The stories were great and I was captivated by England's villages, houses that had been in the family for years, butlers, gardens and pubs.

This was before I knew anything about Amazon, book blogs and discussions. I just fumbled my way through Barnes & Noble. I pretty much read everything I was interested in reading that they carried and went to Borders. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell caught my eye. That was it for me. I blew through his books. I freaked when I finished the last Wallander. I was panic stricken, I didn't know what to read next. I went to the library and couldn't believe my luck. The librarian was a young man from Iceland!  He told me not to worry, that I would never run out of good books to read. He told me about Maj Sjowall & Per Whaloo, Arnalder Indridasson and more.

My kids weren't too keen on listening to me rave about books they couldn't care less about. They told me to join a book discussion online. I found Amazon and the discussion boards and haven't left my bedroom since.  I've learned so much from everyone I've met. I didn't even know the books I liked to read were called police procedurals. I was introduced to different genres and after buying tons of books I began to define my taste and branch out to reading books from other countries outside of NBIE. I like Japanese and German crime fiction a lot now too.

I think there's something distinctive about crime fiction from other countries. I think the characters have more layers, there's more detail to their personalities and the psychology that drive them. I think the humor is different, it's subtle and unexpected. Most crimes are solved while the protag is reading a book or listening to music. I think weather influences the overall tone, the books are darker and moodier. Even if it's not used for sense of place I think living where it's damp, wet and cold with little sunshine has to be depressing after a while.

Have you always been a keen reader?

No, not like I am now.

What about as a kid? Did you read much, and what titles do you remember?

I remember reading three books through choice when I was a kid. They were Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Black Beauty and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Were you an early adopter to eBooks?

No, not at all.  I had my kindle for six months before I tried it.

And how do you find it?

It was a little overwhelming at first. I'm happy using the basics: buying books, reading them, and the dictionary is great. It's so convenient to be able to look up a word without having to look for a print dictionary or go online.

Have your book buying habits changed much since you've been using a Kindle?

Yes, I buy more books.

Are you buying more print or eBooks?

Lately it seems I'm buying more Kindle books than paper.

What about your reading habits? Have they changed?

Yes, because I'm reading more books on Kindle.

What ratio of eBooks to print books do you read?

I'm not sure what the ratio would be but eBooks are in the lead right now.

Pricing seems to be a big issue among eBook readers. What's your take on it?

The pricing for eBooks isn't an issue for me, yet. But I could see why some readers might have a problem. You can get new and used books from Amazon for a penny and up, and lend them out.

What book have you read recently that you can recommend?

I read a great 'indie' book on Kindle by Saffina Desforges recently called
Sugar And Spice. It starts with a missing child... I'm afraid of spoilers so I'll just say it's hard to believe this is the author's first novel.

You're not alone in your praise. It's currently storming the Kindle charts (#4 in the UK at time of writing). You mentioned it's an "indie" novel. Do you make any distinction between purchases of books by indie authors and those backed by publishers?

Not any more, lol.

Finally, can you name a few good crime novels you'd like more people to know about?

Oh boy, there's so many. Fred Vargas's 
Have Mercy On Us All and Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands, James Thompson's Snow Angels, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest, Roslund & Hellstom's The Beast & Box 21, Sam Millar's The Darkness of Bones, Leighton Gage's Dying Gasp, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series & Val McDermid's Place of Execution.  Those are a few books I would like people to read, but there's so many more...

Thanks for taking time out to talk to me, Susie. Here's to the next 30,000 comments at NBIE.

Al, this was so much fun for me, I knew all the answers!  Thank you so much.