Tuesday 24 May 2011

Dave White interview: Witness to Death

Witness to Death by Dave White

Dave White is the two-time Shamus Award-nominated author of WHEN ONE MAN DIES and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. His work has been nominated for the Strand Critics Award, the Million Writers Award and he's a winner of the Derringer Award for Best Short Story. When not writing, he teaches English to 8th graders in New Jersey.

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

WITNESS TO DEATH is about a teacher, John Brighton, who follows his ex’s new boyfriend one night to find out if the new guy is a cheater.  Instead, John finds himself in the middle of a gunfight on the banks of the Hudson River.  Soon, he’s on the run from the police and a vicious assassin.

That’s more than 25 words, isn’t it?  Let’s just pretend I can’t count.

Would you give us a quick summary of your other novels?

Sure.  WHEN ONE MAN DIES is about New Jersey private investigator Jackson Donne.  When his good friend is killed in a hit and run, Donne looks into the case.  As he does so, he’s forced to confront the darkness in his past.

THE EVIL THAT MEN DO is the second Jackson Donne novel.  Donne’s sister asks him to talk to his mother who’s dying of Alzheimers.  She seems to be talking about a murder that happened in her past.  As Donne digs into what she’s talking about, his brother-in-law’s restaurant business is firebombed.  The two cases intertwine once Donne’s brother-in-law is kidnapped.

What were the new challenges in writing a non-PI novel?

I don’t know that it was a challenge writing a non-PI novel because it didn’t feature a PI as much as it was a challenge to write a book that didn’t feature a series character.  It took me a long time—several drafts—to figure out who each of the characters in WITNESS were.  With the Donne stories, if I didn’t know who a character was yet, I could fall back on Donne—I knew him.  This novel was much more challenging as I had to learn people—and how they’d behave in dangerous situations—over and over again. 

How is John Brighton different from Jackson Donne?

Brighton and Donne are much different.  Donne is a lot tougher and sure of himself.  He knows what he’s doing and what his job is.  Brighton is very insecure.  He’s not sure who he is in life.  Violence doesn’t come naturally to him.  Donne seems to be borne of violence; it’s in his past.  Brighton just wants to live a normal life, but dangerous situations catch up to him.  I mean, John Brighton is only a teacher.  He should be worrying about his pension and health benefits getting taken away… not his life.

How long did it take to write the book?

Oof.  I think the idea came to me in February of 2007.  I didn’t actively start writing the novel until March 2008.  I finished it and had it ready for submission in April 2010.  So, two to three years.  But, all that work—revision, plotting, rewriting, outlining, everything was totally worth it.  When I was reading the book over again before placing it on Amazon, I could see how well the book works.  All the hard work, thought, and headaches were totally worth it.

What -- if anything -- did you learn in the process?

I learned a ton.  Don’t be afraid of the big changes that come along during revision.  The plot, the characters, and even the tone of the novel all changed at some point during the writing process and it was all for the better.  That was the scary part, when I was actually writing.  The vision of the book kept changing and I had to adjust to it.

 Follow the characters; don’t try to force them into situations.  It seems like a simple idea to tell a writer, and it is, but when you’re learning all new characters it’s hard.  You think you have a handle on one character, then another does something that throws the whole book out of whack. 

And, sage advice from my agent, a novel should be novel.  There should be scenes readers haven’t seen before.  And I think this book has those scenes in spades.

How are the early sales looking?

 I don’t really have a reference point for this.  I don’t know what’s good or bad for the first week of a book.  I think the sales are pretty good.  The Kindle sales are consistent, but the Nook and Kindle UK sales fluctuate or don’t move at all.  But it’s sold more in a week than I would have expected.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I don’t know that I have a single favorite part as much as I like moments in each part of the process.  I love the inception of an idea, when things are so fresh in your mind and you just want to get them on paper.  I love when I’m revising and I can actually feel the novel getting better as I write.  I love finishing too, of course.  But I try to enjoy the process as much as possible, even when it’s frustrating.

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

Fast paced.  I love a novel that moves so fast that you don’t have time to put the book down to get a glass of water.  That’ll keep me reading.  If shocking moments are popping up before your eyes each time you pick up the book, then you’ve got me.  Writers like Duane Swierczynski or Don Winslow come to mind.  Give me substance, style and pacing and I’m in. 

Also explosions.  I love explosions. 

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

SHUTTER ISLAND.  It’s one of my favorite novels because it has a great twist at the end, but it backs that twist up with an emotional wallop.  I think the chapter after the twist is revealed is more stunning than the big twist.  I wonder how interesting it’d be to re-read that novel knowing in advance how it ends.  It’d probably be a very different experience.

Where do you find out about new books?

Two places.  Lately, Twitter has been a wonderful place to discover new writers and works other people love.  It’s a great internet spot, because if someone really loves a book, they’re going to tell you about it in 140 characters right after they’ve finished. 
And, I do like to browse Amazon look for titles, covers, or descriptions that catch my eye.  Then I’ll decide if I want to buy it.

How do you feel about reviews?

Personally, I love reviews.  Good ones, bad ones.  I just like the idea that someone’s read your book and wants to get an opinion out there about it.  I’ve been fortunate enough to get more good reviews than bad ones, so that’s helpful as well.  But I really think there’s a lot to be gleaned from a review.  You can get an idea of what works and/or doesn’t work in your book.

How do you feel about awards?

There are probably too many of them.  They’re a great ego boost, and they do give you a little more respect in the industry, but I don’t know how much they matter otherwise.  I think it’s an honor to be nominated for anything, but don’t worry too much about them after that.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Several.  I’m revising a novel about a serial killer who isn’t quite a serial killer.  I have a bunch of short stories I’ve either finished or am working on.  And I have an idea for a new PI series.  So, I have a bunch on my plate.  More ideas than I know what to do with.

Witness to Death by Dave White

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