Monday 20 June 2011

Jack Bludis interview: Shadow of the Dahlia

Shadow of the Dahlia by Jack Bludis

Jack Bludis has been writing and selling for thirty-plus years. He has published more than sixty books and almost five hundred stories in a multitude of genres using fifteen to twenty by-lines. He has been a finalist for both the Shamus and Anthony Awards.

Can you sum up Shadow of the Dahlia in no more than 25 words?

It's not easy, but here goes:

Working in the shadow of the Black Dahlia murder, a PI finds the body of a former starlet and manages justice from an improbable source.

(Shadow of the Dahlia is a new edition of a novel originally published in 2004 and nominated for a Shamus for that year.)

How much difference does a good cover make?

It can be a plus or a minus, but you never know until people talk about your cover. I have received good word about the new cover of Shadow of the Dahlia from you and others.

How important is a good title?

Again, we never know, but who can resist a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

How important is a book's central character?

The central character is vital. The reader must sympathize with the lead ── empathy is even better. That character makes the reader care.

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

Stick with it. You can't fail if you don't quit. I started writing seriously in college and I've been doing it ever since. Oh, you said, "craft advice." I think it goes back to the old KISS formula. "Keep it simple, stupid."

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

I like Noirish hardboiled crime. (I say noirish, rather than "noir." For me, noir is when the protagonist is screwed. Noirish is when one of the other characters screws himself or herself.) I also like police procedurals, but I hate the emphasis of forensics. For me, too much forensics detracts from the mystery. I prefer the lone wolf type of character.

Just a side note: Readers and gun fans get bent out of shape about gun facts. Most cops I know who own only one weapon call it their "gun." Those who are into their weapons are more specific.

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

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block.  Block is the pro's pro. This book and its conclusion are priceless. It was not until long after I read the book that I learned it was puffed up from a short story whose title I don't remember.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

The impossible number of eBooks published at 99 cents in the US and whatever it is in the UK. It's difficult to find the good stuff without knowing who is reading what. I depend on recommendations from my friends to select what to read. When I write, I just put out what I like and hope someone else will like it too. I have not given up on print books, though. My editor has put a few of them out there for me, but real-paper books hardly sell for very small publishers. I am selling a few eBooks though.  

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

The same as always:  write a good book, and depend on luck, fate, karma, divine providence, or whatever ─ they may be all the same thing. It does not hurt to have friends in the publishing business.  

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

Absolutely, there are new writing techniques and ideas we should explore ── new issues, new kinds of fiction, new ways of telling a story. I also read non-fiction, mostly history or philosophy.

Do you enjoy writing?

If I didn't enjoy writing, I would not work at it six to ten hours a day on most days.

How do you feel about reviews?

I like them where it is clear that the reviewer actually read the book. I love blurbs especially where the producer of the blurb knows my work. I am particularly proud of the blurbs in Munchies and Other Tales of Guys, Gals, and Guns. They were all done by writers and critics who know and respect my work. Unfortunately not all of the blurbs made the eBook version. Neither did the cover.

How do you feel about awards?

I love nominations particularly. For me, the nomination is as important as the win. Those making the nominations have usually read the book. I believe this is why the Shamus and Edgar are such important awards.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Many, many and in many genres and subgenres, but hardboiled crime is the most important to me. I have one project that I have been working on for thirty years that I have put on the market several times with varying degrees of editorial interest.

Shadow of the Dahlia by Jack Bludis


  1. Thanks to both for a fine interview. I find I get my reading recommendations in much the same way as Jack, with this site being among my trusted sources. SHADOW OF THE DAHLIA just whisked its way onto my Kindle. I'm looking forward to reading it.

  2. That's funny. I put Killer Career up for 99 cents on Kindle. It was published first in August, 2009, so I didn't think people would want to pay more for it.

    I've found some real stinkers on Amazon, but since I've only paid for a few books that really seemed good or were written by friends, I can't complain about free ones. When I do find one I really like, it's a great feeling.

    I find characters are what make or break a story. If I don't like a character, I don't want to keep reading.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Love Lawrence Block. And 'stick with it' is the best advice of all--whether on craft, publishing--or life. Thanks for the interview.

  4. Thanks Jack, great interview! And I agree with you whether it's "craft advice" or not, the real thing for writers is Stick With It.

  5. And I'll add another thought: the first novel you write isn't always ready for public consumption. There are a lot of them out there, and they're not hard to spot. I began writing novels 20 years ago. I wrote 3 novels and threw them away. Not ready for prime time. I'm the Revision Queen. My first published novel, Absolution, won good reviews and a Best Suspense Thriller Award (2009). Yes, you have to stick with it, but like the old poker-players always said: you gotta know when to fold 'em. Those 3 novels I trashed weren't a waste. I learned how to write a novel!