Friday 30 September 2011

Portobello Book Festival

Next weekend sees the third Portobello Book Festival, which takes place in Edinburgh's seaside (photo by Andrew Girdwood). The festival is organised by a group of local enthusiasts in conjunction with Portobello Library.

Last year I participated in a sell-out event at the Town Hall with Ian Rankin, Doug Johnstone and Caroline Dunford. It's great to see the festival going from strength to strength with another stellar and diverse line-up this year.

I'll be making a couple of appearances, one to interview the very talented Doug Johnstone (and watch him drink whisky), and the other as part of a panel on publishing. From the programme:

DOUG JOHNSTONE, writer, musician and journalist, talks to Allan Guthrie about his new novel Smokeheads. This event includes a whisky tasting in collaboration with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Join MARIANNE PAGET, new writer; FRANCIS BICKMORE, Senior Editor Canongate Books; and ALLAN GUTHRIE, Literary Agent, author and editor, in a workshop about getting published.

Click here for the full programme.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Dani Amore interview: Dead Wood

Dead Wood by Dani Amore
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Dani Amore is a crime novelist living in Los Angeles, California. You can learn more about her dark, mysterious and sarcastic ways over at

Can you sum up Dead Wood in no more than 25 words?

A disgraced ex-cop turned private investigator finds himself on the trail of a hired killer who has mysterious links to his own tragic past.

What was your motivation for writing it?

A true story, actually. The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer used to drug his victims. Once they passed out, he would kill and dismember them, then have sex with their body parts.

One of his victims, however, managed to escape. He staggered into the street, completely drugged out, and flagged down a cop. Dahmer came chasing after him and convinced the cop the victim was his boyfriend, and was merely drunk.

The cop gave the victim back to Dahmer, who took him back to his apartment and butchered him.

I always wondered what that would do to a cop. To have a person come to you for help, and you hand him back to a serial killer who then kills him in the most ghastly manner possible.

I thought it would be an interesting starting point for a character in a crime novel.

How long did it take you to write?

For the first few months, I had a bunch of starts, stops, and startovers. I always seemed to get to about page 100 and then trash the whole thing.

Anyway, by the time I was ready to drink a crate of vodka and pursue my dream of bagging groceries at Publix for a living, I found my stride.

The rest of the book came pretty quickly, maybe another couple of months.

How important is a book's central character?

To me, a great character is only the beginning. It’s the relationships that character has that really makes it fun for me. In this book, I had a great time with John’s relationship with his wife, and one other woman, in particular. To me, that’s what makes a book feel complete. No matter how great a character is, if that’s all there is on the page, readers will eventually become bored.

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

The best piece of business advice I’ve ever been given is also one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given. It was told to me by my boss in advertising. He’d given me a project. He wanted it done right, but he also wanted it done fast so we could bill the client.

He handed the folder to me and said:

“Kill it and bill it.”

Words to live by, my friends.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

Finishing the first draft, driving to this little cabin I have on a small lake, building a big bonfire, and getting absolutely wrecked.

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

My ideal reader likes Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, but wishes there was a little more sex and violence on the page. They also have a good sense of humor, perhaps leaning slightly toward sarcasm. And they love reading about strong women.

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

The Big Sleep or The Great Gatsby. Maybe I’ll combine the two: The Great Big Sleeping Gatsby.

Where do you find out about new books?

My current favourite is The Babe does not disappoint.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Yes, the sequel to DEATH BY SARCASM, called MURDER WITH SARCASTIC INTENT, is just about ready. I’ve also got a Western coming out in the spring of 2012.

Dead Wood by Dani Amore
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Len Wanner interview: Dead Sharp

Dead Sharp by Len Wanner
A collection of interviews with nine Scottish crime writers

Since this is an ebook blog, first question has to be: what kind of relationship do you have with ebooks?

Nice – hit first and hit hard. Mr Guthrie, you gent, straight in there with a relationship question. Naughty. Right so, let's skip the foreplay!

My relationship with ebooks is that rarest of relationships shared by Catlic priests and their innocent flock. I believe in the redemptive power of ebooks. I believe in the spiritual rebirth of the e-published author. I believe in the e-publisher who takes a leap of faith on prodigal ebooks. And I believe in the rewards of impulsive indiscretions with that cheap and cheerful flock.

Can you sum up Dead Sharp in a paragraph?

When I started working on this collection of interviews with Scottish crime writers, I hoped it would allow writers and readers to sidestep today's marketing stampede. I've since come to think of Dead Sharp as nine sideways reflections on crime fiction, the books and everything it takes to get them written, retailed, and read.

But it's not for me to say I succeeded, so I'll refer you to David Corbett:

"Len Wanner is a gift to any serious writer, but especially contemporary crime writers, who see their genre not as some ghettoized backwater of the entertainment industry but the legitimate heir of the social and political novels that seem to have lost their caché in literary circles. Wanner understands that crime provides a unique and crucial perspective on the tensions not just between the individual and society but society and the state, tradition against change, wealth against poverty, conformity against liberation, as well as the ever-present corrupting influence of power. The writers he chooses to interview all share a critical eye of modernity and a commitment to literary skill. More importantly, he has that rare gift for not just putting them at ease but leading them into the thornier realms of creativity and contemplation, where the juices run dark and the questions often remain unanswered--but never unaddressed. The interviews are insightful gems, full of invention, wit and cleverness as well as the honesty and perceptiveness one expects from men and women whose job is to craft well-told tales. Wanner captures these writers at their best, lures them into unconventional terrain and obliges improvisation, with bracing results. You will have to look far and wide for any more interesting, informative and just plain engaging dialogues with writers than those Len Wanner provides here."

And yourself - who is Len Wanner?

Len Wanner was born in the alpine republic of Bavaria. Having graduated from University College Dublin and authored Dead Sharp: Scottish Crime Writers on Country and Craft, he currently lives with his lady friend in and out of the University of Edinburgh where he is patiently finishing a PhD on Scottish crime fiction and not so patiently awaiting royal patronage. In the meantime, he works as a freelance translator and editor of TheCrimeOfItAll.

Why the interest in Scottish crime fiction particularly?

Having grown up in Bavaria, I have a deep respect for any culture that celebrates masculinity by donning fetish wear.

I also have a deep respect for transgressive writing that is free of anti-intellectual bias and full of bile when it comes to the antics of the intelligentsia. There's a lot of that in Scotland. At its best, that kind of crime fiction is tempered by a self-deprecating sense of humour and tendered by a self-conscious sense of compassion. You tend to learn something about yourself while you're having a good time with those books.

But I think it's the Lederhosen/Kilt connection that got me into it.

How hard was it to choose which authors to include in the book?

As hard as Chinese arithmetic. I'd read the Paris Review Interviews, the two Badlands books by John Williams, and the two interview collections by Craig McDonald to get a sense of how your lineup can turn a short list of separate interviews into an extended conversation about a shared topic. So I had to hold off on including some of my personal favourites and well-known Scottish crime writers simply because their interviews didn't fit into the company of the final nine, never mind the space of 250 pages.

In short, I wanted to afford readers two equally rewarding reading experiences: Read one interview, go read a few of the interviewee's books, then continue accordingly with the other interviews, or read them all back to back. Either way, rather than concentrating on one area of 'Tartan Noir', you should get a comprehensive overview from these nine interviews, which is why I chose authors who would represent the diversity of sub-genres, styles, settings, themes, politics, aesthetics, and voices at work in Scotland today. Completing that overview would take another book length collection.

How much research did you do before interviewing the authors?

You're one of the interviewed authors, so perhaps you should be the judge of that. You or my legion of readers.

I'd like to think that I did the right kind of research to ask informed questions and still be intuitive in directing the interview when authors answered questions I never asked.

What research did I do? I watched every youtubed session of James Lipton having his wicked way Inside the Actors Studio. Then I gave up on linear biography questioning and discovered the art of interviewing in the afore-mentioned collections. As for the critical context, it certainly benefited my research that I've been doing a PhD on Scottish crime writing for the past three years. That and the fact that I like most of the fiction enough to read it in my spare time, so I'd read at least half their books before interviewing the nine authors.

But what really proved invaluable was reading some of the previous interviews each author had done. Sure, the odd time I found a question that was asking to be plagiarised, but more often than not I found out which questions not to ask. It pays to learn from others just how easily authors can be bored into some truly awful answers.

Putting you on the spot, but which interview was most fun?

Yours. But I won't go into it. A gentleman never tells.

What was the most surprising discovery you made during the interviews?

That everything can go wrong. Take Louise Welsh's interview: I'd read all her books and most of her previous interviews. I'd even prepared several lists of questions just in case I'd be struck down by jet lag Liptomania. Of course, I knew that doing the interview in Glasgow's college of art would test the mettle of even this man of chilled steel, but what I don't know is whether Miss Welsh put my hobo chic down to the occupational hazard of losing my way in the settings of her novels. I got there on time and in one piece, but the worse for wear after straying through a sweltering West End on the aggressive side of charming, and I'd hate to think she took my state as a comment on her work. In the end, she had the good grace to be more attentive to my questions than my grooming. My apologies for sweating on your parade, Louise.

Can you give me some tips on how to improve my interviews?

Well, as you know from having read my book, there's a short essay on interviewing in the back of Dead Sharp. That includes ten tips on how to improve anyone's interviews.

As for your interviews, I think you should always ask my favourite final question: "What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started writing?

Who would you most like to interview?

Bernard Pivot. Anyone who's watched Jimmy Lipton climax with his Proust Questionnaire knows that the man has a lot to answer for.

What's next?

The second volume of interviews with Scottish crime writers. I don't have a title yet, but I'm half way through the lineup and this much I can tell you: It's gonna be dead sharp.

Cheers, Len. Looking forward to chatting to you further next week.


Indeed, Len and myself will be 'in conversation' at a free event at Edinburgh University next Thursday, 22nd Sept. Details follow:

University of Edinburgh
Ground Floor Lecture Theatre
Hugh Robson Building
George Square
Thu 22nd Sept, 6.30pm-7.45pm

Join us for what promises to be a fun, eventful and informative evening in celebration of Scottish crime fiction as Len Wanner discusses his highly acclaimed collection of in-depth interviews with some of Tartan Noir's finest exponents, DEAD SHARP: SCOTTISH CRIME WRITERS ON COUNTRY AND CRAFT, with digital publisher, literary agent and award-winning crime novelist, Allan Guthrie.

Dead Sharp by Len Wanner
A collection of interviews with nine Scottish crime writers

Monday 12 September 2011

Jim Winter interview: Road Rules

Road Rules by Jim Winter

Jim Winter works in the medical industry as a jack of all cybertrades. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Nita, and stepson, AJ. His book, Road Rules, is out now on Amazon, BN, and Smashwords.

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

The road trip to Hell starts with a stolen car. And ends in the garden of good and evil.

What was your motivation for writing it?

It started on a dare, actually.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I love it when I finally get moving on a story and sometimes you have to tear yourself away from the keyboard. When you leave the computer grinning, you know the story’s coming along.

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

I prefer two kinds: The bleak kind, like Ken Bruen writes, and the sheer smart-ass crime fiction, like Stuart MacBride. Ken has a way of making you want to slit your wrists when you’re done with him, and then you can’t wait to take the ride again. Not to mention you can’t really tear yourself away from the poetry of his writing.

MacBride is just completely subversive, kind of like Ed McBain locked in a room with Monty Python. And the brilliance of it is MacBride has all these horrific crimes as his backdrop.

What was the last good eBook you read?

The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which is a horror novel by Dave Zeltserman. I love the way he ends it. You still don’t know if the whole thing is real or just a delusion.

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

Mystic River. It’s just this big sprawling thing that squeezes everything out of its characters and setting.

What did you do before you became a writer?

I was an IT drone for an insurance company.

How old were you when you completed your first novel?

I finished the first draft of Northcoast Shakedown when I was 36. I got to call my mother about that a couple of months before she died, so that was a happy night.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

From an author standpoint, I’ve shifted into the 99 cent camp. A few writers I know have said they sold more and made more at that price than the equally popular $2.99 price. (Mind you, that might vary between countries.) As a reader, if it’s low enough, I’m likely to take advantage of Amazon’s one-click and make an impulse buy.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

It wasn’t that long ago you knew what the rules were. You wrote a book, got an agent, and if you kept at it long enough, you got a contract. Now the rules seem to change almost weekly, and the big publishers haven’t got a clue. At least it’s not the recording industry. 12 years after Napster, and record companies still think everyone owes them a living. Publishing is at least trying. They’re falling down, but they’re trying.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

For once, I think writers truly do own their own destinies. You don’t have this expensive middle man making your work too pricey to go independent. It’s no guarantee of success, but at least writers now have control.

Which author should be much better known?

Michael Lister

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

I read science fiction, history, some nonfiction. I avoid political screeds whenever possible.

Road Rules by Jim Winter

Sunday 11 September 2011

Sample Sunday: Sonic Slammer

To mark my prison novel Slammer's release to Kindle for 99p, I thought I'd have a stab at something new. So here's me reading a wee section, with a bit of musical accompaniment ('As I Figure' by Kevin MacLeod).

Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Ray "Beast of Burden" Banks has provided ten cracking reasons to buy the book. If links could blush, this one would be scarlet.

I've also had a series of very generous reviews, for which, many thanks! Here are some of the highlights:

"Clever and engaging" -- The Crime of it All
"Cracking stuff" -- Daz's Short Book Reviews
"Mind-blowing tale" -- Midnight (Top 100 Amazon reviewer)
"Masterpiece of modern noir" -- Jay Stringer
"One of the best noir novels ever" -- Chris Rhatigan
"an amazing book" -- Heath Lowrance
"The reach and scope of the book is immense" -- Nigel Bird
"a brilliantly written, claustrophobic classic" -- Paul D Brazill
 "top-notch noir from a favourite author"-- Lauren Winters
"tense, superbly written slice of desperate life" -- Dubin
"terrific Tartan noir" -- BookRambler

Hope you like the sound of it.

Slammer is available here for 99p.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Russel D McLean interview: The Death of Ronnie Sweets

The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) by Russel D McLean

Russel D McLean has hung around the crime fiction scene for almost a decade now, working variously as an ezine editor, a reviewer, a bookseller and a general miscreant. He has written many short stories and more recently two PI novels set in the mean streets of Dundee, Scotland. Russel’s first novel, THE GOOD SON, was nominated for a Shamus award by the Private Eye writers of America.

How much difference does an editor make?

I worked with many different editors over the course of these stories depending on the market. Some of them did light edits, some did heavy. I learned the most working with Gerald So at Thrilling Detective on the story that would become LIKE A MATTER OF HONOUR; lots of bad habits were reformed on that particular story. And Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock’s really helped bring out WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR, a story that initially gave me great difficulty in writing. Basically, a good editor helps a writer refine what they’re doing. I don’t think any fiction is written in isolation. Although ultimately the voice has to be the authors, otherwise what’s the point?

Who designed your cover?

The brilliant JT Lindroos, who also designed the UK e-dition of THE GOOD SON. JT’s one of the best damn designers out there (as I’m sure you can testify, Mr Guthrie) and really seems to get to the essence of a brief, while delivering a few surprises along the way. With THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS, we started with one idea and along the way JT threw this unexpected one into the mix that finally became my preferred design.

How important is a book's central character?

I like to tell very personal stories, so while my casts can be large, my protagonist is always the focal point. In this collection, we see a character evolve and change across multiple stories. Sam Bryson started as a bit of a cypher, an excuse to tell a Chandlerian story in Dundee, and across the stories he really developed a life and a voice all of his own.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I loved Gar Anthony Haywood’s short story collection, LYRICS FOR THE BLUES. The man can write, and of course we all know I’m a sucker for a good Eye story. The Aaron Gunner stories are lyrical, affecting and really do stay with you after you’ve finished reading them.

In fact, I’ve been reading a lot of collections digitally of late (call it research). Other favourites have been Steve Hockensmith’s DEAR MR HOLMES – he’s one of the funniest and most inventive crime writers I’ve read in a while – and Zoe Sharp’s FOX FIVE. Sharp is one of those writers who deserves to be doing far better; I adored her novels and loved these shorts.

In terms of full length novels, I’d have to say the most fun I’ve recently had, electronically speaking, was with Anthony Neil Smith’s twisted little e-xclusive, CHOKE ON YOUR LIES.

(Yeah, that was more than one book – so sue me, I read a hell of a lot!)

What makes you keep reading a book?

Voice. A plot that moves – ie, characters that actually do things rather than talk about doing them (a fast-moving plot doesn’t always mean gunplay and fisticuffs). Oh, and characters who are deeply, deeply flawed. I get very irritated with perfect people.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

An apropos question, considering I’m here to push a collection of shorts…

I only started reading collections in recent years, so I’m not an expert, but there are two that I always talk about when people mention short story collections.

There’s the Megan Abbott-edited HELL OF A WOMAN (from the magnificent Busted Flush Press) which contained some of the finest and most consistent writing I’d found in a multi-author volume.

And Vicki Hendricks’s FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES was one of the most haunting and beautiful single author collections I think I’ve read in years.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I think a balance needs to be struck. To charge over £10 or $10 for an ebook is insanity. But at the same time I think a blanket 99p/99c policy is maybe equally insane. I’m experimenting with pricing on those books I have control over (some of my ebooks are controlled by publishers, others I own the rights to) and seeing if I can find a comfortable middle ground but knowing that I want to keep the books affordable. Basically, they need to be cheaper than physical books, and yet they still need to be enough that the writer is paid. Right now, the thing to remember about ebooks is this:

No one knows anything.

Of course, in publishing it was always thus.

How do you feel about anyone being able to publish?

It’s great for authors who can bring deserving works back into print, or authors who are ready to be published (and everyone knows it) but for one reason or another have no other way to get out there. It’s also great for writers of short collections. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find and continue to promote talent that otherwise might have drifted into the forgotten places.

However, some people are going to be trying to run before they can walk (ouch, what a cliché!). Some people who should never be writing are going to be pushing crap down reader’s throats and believe they have every right to do so. And some people who could mature into great writers if only they had a few suggestions, edits and nudges, are going to be unable to learn from the ego-crushing experience that I believe all writers should experience.

Because, honestly, I believe that rejection made me a better writer. And I’d cringe if some of those early attempts at novels had made it out there (at least in the state they were in then).

All of which is a rambling way of saying that the current e-model free-for-all can be both a blessing and a curse. Which maybe isn’t much of an answer, but it’s the best I got.

The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) by Russel D McLean