Last week, we lost a dear friend of mine and a member of the Writing to be Read author family, Tom Johnson. Tom was a multi-genre writer for most of his life, mostly pulp fiction in the traditions of the classics, but in recent years, he dedicated himself to children’s fiction, with the intentions of creating stories for today’s children which reflect old fashioned values and morals in the traditions of the stories his mother read to him as a child. Tom took part in Round 2 of my “Ask the Authors” blog series, (which will become a published book by WordCrafter Press soon), and I interviewed Tom about his children’s stories back in 2018. He had some great things to say about writing for children that may be relevant here, since the Writing to be Read theme for November is young adult and children’s fiction. With that in mind, I’m reprinting that interview in part here, (you can read the full interview here), as we remember our friend and fellow author. Tom may be gone, but his wisdom lives on. This is what writing for children meant to him.
Kaye: Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.
Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.
Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?
Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.
Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?
Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.
Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?
Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.
Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?
Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.
Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.
Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”
Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?
Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.
Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?
Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.
The stories that we hear and read in childhood often stick with us into our later years. Even though Tom wrote other fiction through the years, as he grew older, it was the stories that his mother read to him as a child that inspired him. That’s what writing children’s fiction is all about.
Tom’s other works included pulp, crime and science fiction stories right up there with the best, and many may be familiar with his promotions for them on Facebook. His covers seem to reach out and grab your attention. He published over eighty books during the span of his career. In that previous interview, Tom claimed that Alien Skies was born from his most unusual inspiration and the Guns of the Black Ghost was written as a homage to Walter Gibson’s The Shadow radio drama. You can read my review of Pangaea: Eden’s Planet here.
Writing was a big part of Tom’s life. It was important to him. But, Tom was more than just a talented and dedicated writer. He was also a loved life partner to his lovely wife Ginger. She was supportive of his writing, and I believe she edited some, or perhaps all of his work. With Ginger at his side, Tom lived a life doing what he loved – bringing his characters to life.
Tom, farewell. You will live on through the plethora of books and stories you’ve left us with, but you will still be greatly missed.
Are you a Tom Johnson fan? If so, feel free to leave a few words in the comments telling us what Tom meant to you, or share a memory, or just tell me which of his books is your favorite. Thank you all for joining me in saying good-bye.
My guest today is a talented author, whom I happen to know personally. He was a part of my M.F.A. cohort at Western State Colorado University, and I had the privilege of , being present for his reading from his thesis novel, which was released this past year and fit in with this month’s Crime Fiction genre theme for review, Rose City. A P.I. by day, it’s no surprise that he writes crime fiction. What was a surprise to me was his talent for writing noir with true craftsmanship, which is why I invited him to join me here. Please help me welcome noir author, Michael Pool.
Kaye: Would you share briefly your writer’s journey? How did you get to where you are today?
Michael: A lot of writing, haha. I’ve been writing fiction since my very early twenties, however, I did take about 5 years in my late twenties where I barely wrote at all. In my 30’s I finally decided to take it more serious and began focusing on building a career through longer works. Prior to that, I’d mostly written short fiction. Though I still enjoy short stories, these days I mostly write novels, with a recent focus on detective fiction.
Kaye: Noir fiction takes a look at the darker side of human behaviors and generally features corruption and loose, (or lack of), morals. Why is it your chosen genre?
Michael: Well, I guess first I would say that it’s not my chosen genre. These days I definitely gravitate toward detective novels.
It’s a sub-genre that I have written in quite a lot, however. I would put Texas Two-Step as more of a pure crime novel, although it fits the Elmore Leonard vision of noir to a large degree. Rose City is a Southern Gothic Mystery.
However, I am attracted to noir stories because I like seeing the world through the eyes of an anti-hero. No matter the criminal, they are always the star of their own movie, and always see themselves as the justified “good guy.” What noir does really well is show that there is enough dirt to go around, and thus it turns notions of good and evil on their heads, leaving the reader with the distinct understanding that there are no good and bad people, only good and bad choices.
All of us are always teetering on the edge of destroying ourselves through our shortcomings and noir is all about that process, making it entertaining, if horrifying, to read.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge in writing noir for you?
Michael: I’m not sure I see it as challenging. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and I consider the down and out to be my people in so many ways. I love capturing the world from the view of men and women with their backs against the wall, many of whom have just enough ruthlessness in them to cause catastrophic damage in the pursuit of (often) vein goals which are not necessarily good for them.
Kaye: What is the most fun about writing noir?
Michael: I always joke that I’m a bit of a dark and stormy person, so I like that noir’s tone allows lots of room for that darkness and allows for a lot of intense, violent, complicated conflicts to arise in the narrative.
Kaye: Rose City was your thesis project in your M.F.A. program, but it is also the companion novel to Texas Two-Step. Can you tell me a little about both books and explain how they are related?
Michael: Both books are set in the fictional East Texas locale, Teller County. They are related only by their setting and a shared villain in common. Without giving too much away, there is a villain who skates on consequences in Texas Two-Step that may finally get his in Rose City.
Interestingly, Rose City was written first, as a graduate school thesis. For whatever reason, Texas Two-Step was published first. They can be read in any order.
Texas Two-Step is a “One last crime” story involving a couple of jam-band obsessed Denver pot growers who, after getting pushed out of the market by legal marijuana, have one last big crop to sell, and turn to an old but reckless associate down in Texas to move the harvest. They soon find themselves tangled up with real, violent criminals in a cat-and-mouse game where everyone involved has an agenda, and a rogue Texas Ranger is on their trail, desperate to nail their associate. It’s a multiple point-of-view book with lots of humor and a satisfying climax.
Rose City is a “prodical son returns” story where the protagonist, Cole Quick, has left Teller County 14 years earlier after being robbed of a stash of fronted cocaine, taking with him his local debutante girlfriend, whose family all but disowned her as a result. The book picks up 6 months after her untimely death from breast cancer. Cole returns to Teller County for his estranged, abusive father’s funeral, and soon finds himself caught up in his old debt, as well as tasked with proving an old friends death was murder, rather than a vicious murder-suicide. To get back out of town alive, he has to take on the entire crooked town’s structure and bring it down to rubble.
Rose City was the first full novel I had ever written. And, honestly, it was a mess for a long time. Five years of good edits have turned it into a really great novel. It’s emotional, suspenseful, and moves forward at a non-stop pace. It deals with themes of racism, classism, corruption, abuse, and self-destruction in a way that is compassionate but takes a hard eye to the reality these kinds of problems crop up in.
Kaye: In Rose City, Cole Quick has a dark past that he thought he left behind. But a trip back to his home town finds him down and out, and vulnerable. There’s a lot more going on than he is aware of in his old stomping grounds, and almost without realizing what’s happening, he’s swept up into it, and it becomes a matter of survival for him to discover what really happened to his best friend, Jimmy. Are noir protagonists all average guys who get swept up by circumstance and have to fight their way out?
Michael: I don’t think noir protagonists are all average guys. In fact a whole bunch of them are anything but, they’re self-destructive fringe characters living by their own moral codes, and bound for trouble of their own making.
But all of my characters tend to be average men and women caught in extraordinary scenarios. I’m not much for thrillers with superhuman protagonists, and my writing tends to put a lot of focus on everyday people and their relationships, with the understanding that crime and total destruction are always in the peripheral of our lives, whether we believe it or not. I use crime as a lens to explore the human condition, because it’s an integral part of the human experience. We live in societies with rules, both good and arbitrary, and we all find ourselves running up against those in some ways. But some men and women won’t just accept things the way they are, and that to me is the kind of person who will make a good protagonist.
Kaye: You are the founder and editor-in-chief of Crime Syndicate Magazine. Can you tell me about that? What was your motivation to start it? What can readers find there? What are your goals for it in the future?
Michael: I put Crime Syndicate down about a year ago, just didn’t have time for it anymore. Crime Syndicate did focus a lot on short noir fiction, and there are some incredibly good stories in the three issues I put out. I’m happy to have had the experience, but I’m a writer at heart, not an editor.
Kaye: Noir characters are always flawed in some way. How flawed should a noir character be?
Michael: The important thing is not how flawed, it’s more that their flaw be something that will drive them to make decisions that are not necessarily good for them, and in fact the best noir characters have a flaw that is in direct opposition to their needs, causing a sense of inner conflict that will drive the story to a dark ending.
Kaye: If you could have lunch with any noir author, alive or dead, who would it be? Why?
Michael: I suppose a Dashiel Hammett or Ross MacDonald. Neither are really “noir” authors. I’d put them both more as hardboiled detective writers. But both have been major influences on my writing. I work as a private investigator, and in Hammett I get a very clear sense that he knows the work (which makes sense, because he was a Pinkerton at one time). With McDonald, I love the way he uses the detective as a lens to look at family dynamics and the effects changing social issues and dynamics have on families. It’s something I naturally do in my own writing, and I’d love to pick his brain about process.
Kaye: You are a Jiu-jitsu instructor. Are any of your characters skilled in martial arts?
Michael: Not really, for some reason! I am working on a modern pulp P.I. series (I’m calling it Gonzo P.I. as a style), and that character, Rick Malone, does have some jiu-jitsu experience, which he puts to good use from time to time. But in a lot of ways Rick is also a broken man and an outcast, so he’s still very far from the superhuman or hyper-capable protagonists I was talking about earlier. I love jiu-jitsu, and of course it does show up from time to time in my action scenes!
Kaye: In addition to book length works, you also write short fiction. Your works have been included in several anthologies. Which do you prefer? Why?
Michael: As I mentioned, I mostly write novels now. I prefer them because there is a market for them, haha. No, honestly, I agree with readers on why they prefer novels, and particularly series. When you fall in love with a protagonist you want to spend more time with that protagonist as a reader, and as a writer, I feel the same way. It can be hard to spend a year at a time on the same project, but the end result is more satisfying and makes it much further out into the universe.
Kaye: What parts of you, do your readers get to see in your characters?
Michael: Compassionate but conflicted and flawed characters in my books all have a big piece of me in them. I’m highly emotional, and have had plenty of dark experiences in my personal life. Those experiences crop up in less-than-direct ways in my writing, but anytime you reach an emotional moment in one of my books, you’re definitely interacting with the deepest parts of me as a writer and human being. To me that is a vital part of why I write in the first place.
Kaye: Your books feature intricate storylines that are well thought out. What’s your writing process like? How do you create your plots?
Michael: I’m an outliner these days. I stray from the outline often, but I mark out plot beats in advance as much as possible, and adjust them as I go. I literally keep a beat sheet for each book to make sure I’m staying on pace and on task. I find structure to be freeing rather than limiting. To understand why story structure is so vital you have to understand why humans began to tell stories in the first place, then you can see why structure evolved the way it did, and use that information to create the ever-elusive “uniquely familiar” plot lines that resonate with readers.
Kaye: What is your greatest writing accomplishment to date?
Michael: That’s a tough one! I feel like my greatest accomplishment is just getting to where I am. I feel poised to break through to a larger audience with this next project, finally, but more than that, I feel like I’ve finally become a skilled, adept long-form fiction writer.
Kaye: What are you working on now? What’s next for Michael Pool?
Michael: Right now I’ve just finished the first book in a new P.I. series, Throwing Off Sparks, and am at work on book two, tilted Daughters of the Republic. Both feature my obsessive female East Texas P.I., “Rowdy” Riley Reeves. Riley’s origin story, “Weathering the Storm,” is slated for release as part of The Eyes of Texas anthology on 10/21/2019. Within a paragraph of starting that story I knew she would become a series character, and I’m REALLY excited to share this new series with the world, I think it brings something totally new to detective fiction.
I’m also working on a pulp P.I. novel I mentioned earlier, also the first in a series, called Catfish Quarum. It is set in Colorado and features down-and-out drug-addled P.I. Rick Malone. A second book in that series is currently in the outline stage, titled One Way Out. I have big hopes for this series, it allows me to be goofy and serious all in the same breath, and to really capture a lot of uniquely Colorado social issues and characteristics. Look for it over the next couple years. I wish that were faster, but publishing is its own complicated process, unfortunately.
I want to thank Michael for sharing with us today. I think he has helped to define noir and differentiate it from the other sub-genres of crime fiction. If you’d like to learn more about Michael or his books, you can visit his author site, or his Amazon author page.
Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress.
You just don’t see a lot of pulp magazines anymore in the classic tradition from days of old, but Awesome Tales is a modern pulp magazine pulp fans will take delight in. If your a fan of the dazzling heroes and diabolical villians of the classic pulp traditions, Awesome Tales #10 takes you on a refreshing trip down memory lane with four masterfully written contemporary tales, by four different authors, told in classic pulp form and style.
“No Virtue in Patience”, by John L. French is a futuristic pulp story with tech gangs and computer generated card tournaments. A heist of the biggest solitaire game in town, with a proize of a solid gold deck of cards.
“No Patience for Fools” by Aaron Rosenberg offers a different perspective on the solitaire tournament of the previous story. Cleverly crafted to tell the same story from the opposite side of the law, it has a surprise ending, as well.
In “Broken Doll” by Quintin Peterson, tough guy bionic P.I. Luther Kane sets out to save a one-legged streetwalker named Gypsy, and maybe his own guilt ridden self, but he learns the classic lesson all P.I.s should know the hard way: never trust anyone.
“Give Them a Corpse Part 2” by Rich Harvey is the second part of a three part story featuring the Domino Lady, a classic masked superheroine, complete with crime fighting skills and secret identity, fights against the classic villians of The Black Legion. Like all good cloak and dagger crime fighting serials, this story easily stands alone.
Every one of the stories in Awesome Tales #10 are well-crafted and entertaining. They will satisfy hardcore pulp fans and maybe even earn the genre a few new fans. I give it five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
The crime fiction genre covers a lot of ground. By definition, crime fiction involves mystery to be solved, usually who the killer is, or a quest to figure out some type of diabolical plot. Crime fiction stories involve pretty high stakes, and therefore a lot of suspense. Often there is a ticking clock to ratchet the tension even higher. And of course, there is always a crime of some sort to be solved, or prevented; some sort of wrong to be righted.
Crime fiction is a broad term which includes many sub-genres, which focus on the investigation of a crime and the apprehension of a suspect, either by law enforcement agents, as in The Numbers Killer, by my “Chatting with the Pros” author guest, Jenifer Ruff or by a tough guy P.I., as in hardboiled crime fiction such as Jim Nesbitt writes, with his tough guy P.I., Ed Earl Burch in The Best Lousy Choice and the two previous books in that series.
Hardboiled heroes are memorable. Who doesn’t know of Sam Spade or Mike Hammer and their cynical tough-guy images? They are usually down on their luck, or at least between clients. They are often heavily flawed, often self-destructive, but a ladies man none-the-less, with a love them and leave them attitude and the snappy dialog of the 1920’s. Hardboiled fiction was birthed by Carrolle John Daly and Dashielle Hammett in the 20’s, and carried on by authors such as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.
In noir crime fiction, the protagonist is usually an extremely flawed, average guy. He’s usually down and out, or perhaps on a downward spiral in a situation that seems bleak and hopeless. He’s a self-destructive hero, who ends up going against all odds to fight corruption and injustice, not because it is his job, but for strictly personal motivations, which are usually not in his own best interests. An excellent example of this is found in Rose City, by Michael Pool (See my interview with Michael next Monday, the 29th).
And of course, the classic crime fiction is pulp, such as Quintin Peterson writes in Awesome Tales #10 . From pulp, we get our classic heroes and fiendish evil villains. It’s from pulp that comic book super heroes and super villains arose, which is yet, another sub-genre of crime fiction, which has expanded with a life of its own to super colossal proportions.
We went on a hunt for crime fiction, and we found quite a bit. I learned a lot and I hope you did to. Now, I’m looking forward to August in a quest for mysteries and mystery authors. My “Chatting with the Pros” guest will be New York Times bestselling author, Gilly Macmillan. I’ll also be interviewing mystery author Gerald Darnell. And I’ll be reviewing a mystery anthology, Death Among Us, as well as a search and rescue mystery, Murder on the Horizon, by M.L. Rowland, and a paranormal cozy, Broomsticks and Burials, by Lilly Webb. I hope you’ll join me.
Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress.
My guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is bestselling author Jenifer Ruff. She’s booked as a psychological thiller author, but much of her works falls under the genre of crime fiction, as well. She has a knack for keeping the action moving and throwing in surprise twists, which is always great in crime fiction stories. I’m excited to find out what she has to share, so please join me in welcoming her to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: What elements of storytelling do you feel are specific to the crime fiction genre?
Jenifer: A well-developed and slightly flawed but likable antagonist. An interesting protagonist with clear and shocking or complex motives. A suspenseful, intricate plot with unexpected twists that involves a crime or series of crimes.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge in writing crime fiction for you?
Jenifer: The most enjoyable parts are creating the plot, the twists, the characters, and the crimes. The hardest part for me is having the patience to go back and edit and rewrite again and again until the writing is the best I can make it.
Kaye: Are there any particular crime fiction authors that you fashioned your writing style after?
Jenifer: There are too many (way too many!) excellent authors and excellent novels out there for me to pick one in particular. I learn a little from all of them. I try and read as much of everything as I can—bestsellers in literature for the two book clubs I’m in, and indie authors in the thriller genre for me. I love it when the book I’m reading sparks new ideas, but that can happen no matter what genre or what author. I do know that when I read literature, I get inspired to create all sorts of similes and metaphors and my editor usually nixes almost all of them.
Kaye: You have also written thrillers, horror and YA suspense. What are the differences in writing crime fiction from the other genres you’ve written in?
Jenifer: All my novel are dark and twisty psychological suspense thrillers with disturbed characters readers often can’t help but like. Each book involves crimes, mostly murders. Each has a different contemporary topic—terrorism, sex trafficking, social media, for examples. I think I’ve been consistent with that character-driven style no matter the story or the genre. They’re more similar than they are different, but each emphasizes certain genre elements slightly more than others.
Kaye: What kind of research do you find yourself doing for crime fiction?
Jenifer: With my Brooke Walton series, I did a lot of research about psychopaths, PTSD, and working in a Medical Examiner’s office. For Only Wrong Once, I researched ISIS, particularly their recruiting techniques, and bio-terrorism. I was a little worried about setting off alarms on the internet because of the type of research I was doing for that one. Pretty Little Girls, the book I’m finishing now, involved research and attending lectures on sex trafficking. I’ve interviewed FBI agents and had a few beta read my books to make sure I wasn’t too far off on anything.
Kaye: You write in several genres. Which genre is your favorite one to write in? Why?
Jenifer: Psychological suspense. I enjoy getting into the heads of my very flawed characters and figuring out how they might react, respond… thinking up actions that would be outrageous for me or any “normal” person, but perfectly normal for them.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Jenifer: Hike with my dogs and exercise classes – Barre, Pilates, Zumba, athletic conditioning – anything where I’m moving and sweating. If I get on a bike or elliptical it’s because I’m really into whatever book I’m reading and I want to be able to exercise and keep reading.
Kaye: Your most recent crime fiction novel is The Numbers Killer, which I reviewed last Friday. What other novels have you written that would fit into the crime fiction genre?
Jenifer: Only Wrong Once, the Brooke Walton series: Everett, Rothaker, and The Intern. And my newest, coming out soon—Pretty Little Girls.
Kaye: Can you tell us a little about The Numbers Killer?
Jenifer: It’s the first in a new series about FBI Agent and heiress, Victoria Heslin. The series will appeal to fans of A.J. Finn, Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver and Karin Slaughter. Most of my early readers have said they couldn’t put it down, which is exactly what I hope to hear.
When a key witness in an organized crime trial turns up dead in his kitchen with liar and the number two scrawled on his forehead, the FBI assumes the murder was a hit to silence him. Then the calls start coming in—more victims with similar markings and no connection to the mob.
As agents Victoria Heslin and Dante Rivera struggle to catch a break in the case, they receive a series of cryptic, personal messages from the killer, complicating the investigation. Something disturbing and frightening is underway, and anyone might be next, including the agents, unless they uncover the common denominator.
Kaye: The old adage is, ‘write what you know’. Obviously, you haven’t lived through the horrendous events featured in your crime fiction stories. In what ways do you draw off of your own experiences when writing crime fiction?
Jenifer: I write about things that might fascinate me – the abnormal and the unexpected. I really admire determined people, but when someone is determined and also misguided, things can get very interesting. I’ve created characters like that in most of my novels.
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a story you’ve ever had?
Jenifer: The idea for Only Wrong Once was inspired by a secure laboratory at my graduate school that held research samples of the most deadly diseases on the planet – small pox, bubonic plague, and Ebola, to list just a few. And also from a quote by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in 2004. She said: “And let’s remember that those charged with protecting us from attack have to be right 100 percent of the time. To inflict devastation on a massive scale, the terrorists only have to succeed once. And we know that they are trying every day.” Her powerful, frightening words inspired the book title and the theme for Only Wrong Once.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Jenifer: I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it. I sit down in front of my computer for as long as I can, as many days per week as I can. Even though I write most days, I still consider that time a luxury. I write in my house and I can’t get any writing done if I have housework to do, I’m too distracted by awareness of what needs to be cleaned. So cleaning and chores first, then I can write.
Kaye: If The Numbers Killer was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Jenifer: I’d love for Blake Lively to be Agent Victoria Heslin.
Kaye: What’s next for Jenifer Ruff? Can readers look forward to more crime fiction from you? What are you working on now?
Jenifer: The second in the Victoria Heslin series, Pretty Little Girls, is almost finished and will be published in the fall. I’m waiting on beta readers now, and next it will go out to ARC readers. In Pretty Little Girls, Agent Heslin is called to Charlotte, NC to consult on a kidnapping case, but what she discovers ends up being much, much worse. Right now, I’m busy working through ideas for the third novel in the series.
I want to thank Jenifer for joining me today and offering a glimpse into her writing process here. I reviewed her book Only Wrong Once last month when we were looking at thrillers. You can see that review here. You can find out more about Jenifer Ruff and her books at the following links:
My guest today has a background in hard hitting journalism and he writes hard-boiled crime fiction in the tradition of Dashiel Hammet, and other famed crime writers. I’m pleased to be interviewing him because he represents a great literary tradition in genre. Please help me welcome, crime fiction novelist Jim Nesbitt.
Kaye: Your writing is classified as hard-boiled fiction, but you have your own style. Can you tell me a little about your style of hard-boiled fiction?
Jim: I’ve always thought of hard-boiled crime fiction as a distinctly American art form. Rooted in realism, cynicism, violence, corruption and a dark view of the American dream, it’s also a tremendously flexible genre. It’s best practitioners — from the founding fathers, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, through Ross Macdonald, James Ellroy and the late and vastly underappreciated James Crumley — use it as a vehicle to comment on contemporary American life and politics, music, culture, the warped psychology of the hardened criminal and the suburban housewife, the tortured dance between men and women and anything else that strikes their fancy. When I decided to try my hand at fiction, I knew it would be hard-boiled crime fiction because it matches my outlook on life and my experience as a journalist as well as the freedom I saw in the books of the very best writers, not that I’m close to being in their class.
As for my style, it’s the result of years of working as a journalist who came up through the ranks at a time when long-format stories that used the narrative style and tradecraft of fiction were the rage, what I learned from reading Hammett, Chandler, Crumley, Ellroy, James Lee Burke and others and the genetics of coming from a long line of hillbilly storytellers. Every writer hopes to develop a unique voice, free from template and artifice. Few do. I write the way I talk — which is a curious mixture of film noir patter and cowboyspeak, with a little Tex-Mex thrown in. No surprise there since I spent quite a few years knocking around the West and the border between Texas and Mexico, used to own horses and am steeped in the dark movies of the 40s and 50s.
I’m also a strong believer in driving a story through snappy and hard-bitten dialogue, sharply defined characters with depth and lots of backstory and such a keen sense of place that it becomes a character unto itself. I spent a lot of time knocking around the West and the West Texas border country and my books are shot through with scenes based on what I saw out there. More than one reviewer has said my books have the soul of a classic Western, with hard-boiled and noirish trappings, and I tend to agree with them. Although they’re set in the late-80s and early 90s, they’re as much contemporary Westerns as they are hard-boiled crime novels.
Kaye: Tell me a little about your main character. Who is Ed Earl Burch?
Jim: Ed Earl’s a bit of an Everyman, a guy who has been knocked around by life. He’s a defrocked Dallas vice and homicide detective, tossed off the force for being a little too willing to beat the hell out of or shoot suspects and for being a terminal smartass who doesn’t know when to shut up. The brass also blames him for the death of his partner, which trebles the guilt he already feels.
Losing his badge robs Ed Earl of his sense of purpose and higher calling and takes away a job he’s really good at — chasing down killers. He’s a manhunter at heart, but without his badge, he retreats into a corner defined by the path from his apartment, to his ratty office and his favorite saloon, chasing down financial fugitives from the savings-and-loan bust of the mid-80s and taking on divorce cases he loathes because he’s in hock to his eyeballs.
What he isn’t is super-smart, like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He’s tough and shrewd, but dogged more than brilliant. He’s no square-jawed Jack Reacher or other action hero one step removed from a comic book or graphic novel. He’s bearded, balding and has a belly. He’s got wrecked knees, a wounded liver and an empty bank account. He’s an anti-hero who sometimes forgets to live by his personal code — and a bit of a burnout.
In THE BEST LOUSY CHOICE, he starts out as an emotional wreck, plagued by nightmares from his last misadventure captured in THE LAST SECOND CHANCE, where he was almost killed by a psychotic drug lord who believed in Aztec heart sacrifice and had Ed Earl trussed up on a stone altar to carve out his heart. He’s self-medicating with bourbon and Percodan, but finds out that when he’s working, he steadies up and the old cop reflexes return. When he gets asked to look into a suspicious barn fire that killed a prominent West Texas rancher, he leaps at the chance to be a manhunter again, unburdened by the rules and laws he had to live by as a cop. He pays a terrible price both physically and emotionally to do a job he was born to do — as he does in my other books.
Kaye: You were a journalist chasing all kinds of stories. How much of your true life experiences have found their way into your stories?
Jim: I kind of tipped my hand with my answer to your first question. The scenes in my books are based on what I saw and experienced as a journalist knocking around this great country, particularly the South, the West and West Texas. Chances are, if I’m writing about it, I’ve been there. I fell in love with the stark, harsh and beautiful land of what they call the Trans-Pecos and I used that to create a keen sense of place in all my books. It’s the perfect setting for bloody tales of revenge and redemption. During my years as a journalist, I also met cops, prosecutors, crooks and a few killers so they went into the creative pot. So did my marital misadventures, my taste for bourbon, my love of great saloons and my preference for Colt 1911 semi-automatics.
Kaye: You were a journalist for a good part of your life, and now you are an author, so it seems as if writing is a way of life for you. When did you first know that you wanted to become an author?
Jim: I come from a long line of hillbilly storytellers and remember listening to the stories my uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents told about family, friends and life experiences. As a kid, I always had my nose in a book and started writing my own little stories. When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher, Mary Bailey, took my aside and told me I was a writer. She even called my dad in to tell him the same thing and to encourage me to be a writer. That impressed dad and me, although I took a long intermediate step as a journalist before trying my hand at novels. Call it an apprenticeship that lasted decades.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge for you in writing crime fiction?
Jim: I still have a demanding day job, so finding the time to write is my biggest challenge. I’m also an older writer and don’t have quite as much energy as I did twenty or twenty-five years ago — can’t stay up until the small hours writing a novel, then turn around and put in a ten to twelve hour day at the office. Have to pace myself and carve out big blocks of time during the weekends to write Ed Earl books.
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Jim: That I’m an introvert at heart and inherently shy. I’m a big guy with presence and a bit of a showboat in a crowd, but that covers up my introverted innards.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Jim: Taking long trips on back roads to nowhere with my wife in our 1972 Cutlass Supreme ragtop and smoking a cigar and sipping bourbon while reading a good book.
Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?
Jim: The late, great James Crumley. I learned a lot about writing through reading his books — DANCING BEAR, BORDERSNAKES, THE WRONG CASE. He taught me to let it rip with frank descriptions of violence, sex, drugs and other forms of wretched excess. His characters, particularly Milo Milodragovitch, are deeply flawed anti-heroes, just like Ed Earl. He was also a man with a taste for deep whiskeys and red meat, so I think a liquid lunch with a porterhouse side dish would be a helluva lot of fun and would teach me a thing or two about writing.
Kaye: How do you build suspense in your stories?
Jim: I really don’t worry too much about building suspense. I think that’s a natural byproduct of driving the story at a relentless pace through dialogue, character and lots of action. I want the reader to think: How is Ed Earl gonna get out of this mess? Who is this new bad hombre and what kind of pain is he going to rain down on ol’ Ed Earl?
Kaye: You’re working on the next Ed Earl Burch novel, The Best Lousy Choice. What can you tell me about that story?
Jim: Dallas private eye Ed Earl Burch is an emotional wreck, living on the edge of madness, hosing down the nightmares of his last case with bourbon and Percodan, dreading the next onslaught of demons that haunt his days and nights, including a one-eyed dead man who still wants to carve out his heart and eat it.
Burch is also a walking contradiction. Steady and relentless when working a case. Tormented and unbalanced when idle. He’s deeply in debt to a shyster lawyer who forces him to take the type of case he loathes — divorce work, peephole creeping to get dirt on a wayward husband.
Work with no honor. Work that reminds him of how far he’s fallen since he lost the gold shield of a Dallas homicide detective. Work in the stark, harsh badlands of West Texas, the border country where he almost got killed and his nightmares began.
What he longs for is the clarity and sense of purpose he had when he carried that gold shield and chased killers for a living. The adrenaline spike of the showdown. Smoke ‘em or cuff ‘em. Justice served — by his .45 or a judge and jury.
When a rich rancher and war hero is killed in a suspicious barn fire, the rancher’s outlaw cousin hires Burch to investigate a death the county sheriff is reluctant to touch.
Seems a lot of folks had reason for wanting the rancher dead — the local narco who has the sheriff on his payroll; some ruthless Houston developers who want the rancher’s land; maybe his own daughter. Maybe the outlaw cousin who hired Burch.
Thrilled to be a manhunter again, Burch ignores these red flags, forgetting something he once knew by heart.
Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And it might just get you killed.
But it’s the best lousy choice Ed Earl Burch is ever going to get.
I want to thank Jim for being my guest here and sharing with us. He has shed some light on what hard-boiled fiction is all about and obviously loves his craft. You can learn more about Jim Nesbitt and his books at the links below.
https://www.amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt Amazon author page
https://www.facebook.com/edearlburchbooks Facebook author page
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14971688.Jim_Nesbitt Goodreads author page
https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-best-lousy-choice/id1468993353 Apple Books E-Book
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1132276790?ean=2940161430828 Barnes & Noble Nook E-Book
Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress.
https://twitter.com/EdEarlBurch?lang=en Twitter author page
I have the pleasure of conversing with a pleasant guest today, whose love of life shines in his eyes and his smile, author Quintin Peterson. A talented author, whose work keeps classic craft alive in modern times. He writes pulp and crime fiction in many variations, throwing new twists on the classic styles. I can’t wait for you to meet him. So, without further adeau, let’s find out what Quintin Peterson has to share.
Kaye: Tell me about your author’s journey. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you make that dream a reality?
Quintin: I began entertaining my friends and family by telling them amazing stories long before I started writing them. I obtained my first copyright when I was 13. While in high school, I was awarded a National Council of Teachers of English Writing Award, the University of Wisconsin’s Science Fiction Writing Award, and the Wisconsin Junior Academy’s Writing Achievement Award. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, I wrote and performed in two stage plays and received a Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation grant for my play project, Change. I also received a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, for playwriting.
Kaye: What is your favorite thing about writing crime fiction?
Quintin: I gave up creative writing and pursued a 30-year career in law enforcement. I rarely found justice during all the years I worked as a police officer for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. I suppose it is the reason why writing crime fiction is my dominant obsession: I find justice in my stories.
Kaye: You’ve had both short fiction and novel length works published? Which do you prefer writing? Why?
Quintin: It’s a toss-up, really. I like writing short stories for magazines and anthologies because of the word count limits, but I also like not being constrained by a word count limit for longer fiction.
Kaye: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing short fiction?
Quintin: The most challenging thing about writing short fiction is doing more with less. Writing short fiction for magazines and anthologies also afford me opportunities to experiment with genre-blending. For example, I’ve sold a cop/ghost story, a horror/mystery/noir thriller, science fiction/noir mysteries, and an Arthurian police story.
Kaye: What is the most challenging thing about writing novel length works?
Quintin: The most challenging thing about writing novel length fiction is avoiding the pitfall of being too wordy and doing less with more.
Kaye: Pulp fiction, maybe even more than other genres, must have well developed, larger than life characters. How do your characters develop for you?
Quintin: I create backstories for my characters so that I know them in order to make them seem real, and then pit them against each other in what I endeavor to make compelling stories.
Kaye: Which of your main characters is your favorite? Why?
Quintin: I have two favorite characters: Norman Blalock and Luther Kane, who are cousins and appear in each other’s stories. I like Blalock because people underestimate him. I like Kane because he is a man of action.
Kaye: Your story “Broken Doll” just came out in Awesome Tales #10. That story is a part of your Private Eye Luther Kane Mystery Series. Would you tell me a little about who Luther Kane is and what makes him a great pulp hero?
Quintin: Luther Kane is a former DC police officer, as well as a former soldier and soldier of fortune who is maimed by a landmine. The loss of his legs does not prevent him from operating upon the same principles he adhered to when he was whole. He rises from his own ashes and walks again on state-of-the-art bionic legs, a miracle of modern science. At the suggestion of his physical therapist Claire Bradley, who taught him to walk again, he takes over his late father’s business, the Intrepid Detective Agency, located atop the other family business he inherited, the Last Stop Liquor Store.
Kaye: The Voynich Gambit is book two in your Norman Blalock Mystery Series and it won the Literary Titan Book Award. Tell me a little about that series. Who is Norman Blalock, and what makes him a great pulp hero?
Quintin: In these old-fashioned heist stories, Norman Blalock is a disgraced Howard University history professor who has been working as a special police officer for the Folger Shakespeare Library for decades. No one at the library knows his background and only see him as “an old black security guard.” The first Norman Blalock Mystery is Guarding Shakespeare, followed by The Voynich Gambit. The upcoming third installment is The Shakespeare Redemption. (By the way: I worked at the Folger Shakespeare Library for almost seven years, beginning the same year I retired from the police department, and penned the first two installments while I was employed there.)
Kaye: Who is your favorite villain? Why?
Quintin: Kavitha Netram, the femme fatale Norman Blalock matches wits with in both Guarding Shakespeare and The Voynich Gambit. She returns in The Shakespeare Redemption. She is smart, sexy, and ruthless.
Kaye: What are you working on now? What can readers expect in the future from Quintin Peterson?
Quintin: Right now, I am working on The Shakespeare Redemption. I will continue to write more installments of the Norman Blalock and the Private Eye Luther Kane mysteries, as well as other noir stories. I also plan to write more science fiction and horror thrillers.
Thanks for having me, Kaye. It’s been a pleasure.
I want to thank Quintin Peterson for sharing with me. It’s been enlightening for me and I hope it has for all of you readers, too. You can find out more about Quintin and his books at the links below. (Be sure to visit his Amazon page. You’ll find a large selection of books and short fiction in a wide range of variations upon the genre. Pulp and crime fiction fans may call it a gold mine. Those unfamiliar with the genre should check it out. It’s a fun genre. )