Thursday, July 31, 2014

Noir at the Ballroom

By Steve Weddle

Thanks to the efforts of Ed Aymar and others, the inaugural DC Noir at the Bar was a fabulous success. People showed. Drinks were gedrunkened. Stories were read. People were met. Book were sold.

The event was held at the Wonderland Ballroom on Kenyon which, as it happens, is rather a steep hike from Dupont Circle.

I read "Purple Hulls," a short from COUNTRY HARDBALL.

Also reading were these talented folks:

Nik Korpon

Ed Aymar

Tara Laskowski

Alan Orloff

Art Taylor

Meredith Cole

Thomas Kauffman

Michael Underwood

Ben Sorenson did a fabulous job videoing the readings, and you can find the complete list here.

Here is Ed Aymar -- aka EA Aymar -- reading a delightful story in which the narrator encourages his mistress to kill herself. Ed is the author of I'LL SLEEP WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, available through Black Opal Books.






And here's the link for my reading of "Purple Hulls." This is the link.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Holy Grail of Holy Grails

A Guest Post by Jeri Westerson

Are we ready to choose wisely? We just can’t get away from the Holy Grail. It’s stuck in our minds in popular culture. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Monty Python and the Holy Grail/Spamalot. The Da Vinci Code.

But what is it exactly? We think of it as the one thing, the cup of Christ, from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, instituting the sacrament of communion, “this is my blood...” But is it? Was it? Where do these legends clash?

We must go back much further to Celtic legends, the stories in Irish and Welsh lore, and examine what they considered their own holy of holies. In these legends are figures drawn to cauldrons, bowls, vessels, and sacred wells. Water—which was in abundance on the British Isles—was still considered sacred, especially in special ponds, wells, and lakes. Arthur gets his sword Excalibur fixed after he breaks it from the Lady of the Lake, a spirit living in the waters (and there are all sorts of demons and sprites of a watery nature in Celtic mythology). So please keep in mind about these holy vessels before we proceed.

Then there is the legend of Joseph of Aramathea. If you will remember, he was the good Pharisee who went to see Jesus and ask him some theological questions. He was so taken with him that he offered his tomb for Jesus’ hasty Sabbath burial. But before that, it was said that he saved some of Jesus’s sweat and blood in a cup, later said to be the same cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. After the Resurrection, Joseph was instructed by the Apostle Phillip to evangelize the Britons (how he knew they existed is a question for another day), and so Joseph set out on a perilous journey to England. Weary of travel, he stuck his staff onto shore and it immediately sprouted, and by that he knew he had “made it.” He was further clued in by the angel Gabriel directing him to build a church there. Where he stuck his staff was Glastonbury Tor. If you look at it today, you will notice that it isn’t close to water. But in days gone by, it was surrounded by water, and it was known by an even older legendary name; the Isle of Avalon.

Now we’re getting back to King Arthur, because Avalon is a holy island or perhaps a metaphor for Heaven. Tolkien called his Avalon the Grey Havens, the place where an aging Bilbo and worn out Frodo go to end their days, a Middle Earth version of Sun City for Wizarding folk.

Joseph is said to have cast the grail into a pond for safekeeping as he died and the church was built in Glastonbury (the Glastonbury thorn tree, which grows nowhere else, is said to have come from Joseph’s sprouting staff).

Meanwhile, in the twelfth century, Marie de Champagne, the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, asked her court poet Chretian de Troyes to add to the Arthurian legends that were already well known, and create a love triangle, and thus Lancelot was born. This tale of tragic lovers was a very popular theme in games of courtly love, but Chretian also wrote an epic poem called Perceval le Gallois, a grail keeper. But this was not the grail of Joseph of Aramathea, but a more Celtic “grail,” something not holy but just as wondrous; a silver salver—a big silver plate. Parsifal showed up in later Arthurian stories, depicted as a naïve nobleman’s son on his way to Camelot to become a knight of the Round Table.

In the thirteenth century, the German poet and knight Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote his own epic poem Parzifal, where the “grail” is a precious stone fallen from Heaven. And it is here that the heroic acts of chivalry inspired by true love start to get confused with the tales of Joseph’s Christian grail, the Templar Knights of the Holy Land confused with King Arthur’s knights, and soon everyone assumes that Templars, who are supposed to be guarding a horde of treasure, are also guarding the Holy Grail. Not the silver salver, the stone, the vessel, or a grand bowl, but now the cup of Christ that contained his blood collected while he died on the cross.

So the question is, was there ever such a thing as the Holy Grail? Could there have been now that we know the history of it? Well, that only makes it grand fodder for the many tales told about it...including my own in Cup of Blood, where my disgraced knight turned detective, Crispin Guest, encounters his own Templars who are supposed to be guarding the Holy Grail, which is now missing. Along with his search for the grail, Crispin gets tangled in papal politics, old loves returned, old friends turned rivals, a pesky cutpurse, and murder.

Jeri Westerson involves her detective Crispin Guest with all sorts of relics in her Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series. The latest, Cup of Blood, is available now from Amazon. Read an excerpt, see a series book trailer, and look up her discussion guides on her website www.JeriWesterson.com.

Monday, July 28, 2014

And the Damage Done


By Kevin Lynn Helmick


Do Some Damage; what a great title for a group of crime writers. When Brian offered this Monday slot to me I went looking and was kinda like, whoa, ‘There’s some damn good writers here.’ So with a short notice and super tight deadline, I asked, ‘do ya have a subject, something you want me to write about?’

I crossed my fingers, held my breath and hoped to fuck it wouldn’t be, Amazon vs Hatchette, trad vs self, or any of that kind of bitchy over written bullshit going around. I’m just not into that.

I was a little relieved when he replied, ‘whatever you want, introduce yourself to the group, and your new book.’

A little relieved I say and, a little worried.

Now I have my second least favorite topic, me, and about 48 hours to write it. I don’t really like writing about myself. It’s weird, and boring for me, but I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity either, no way. So here I am, Kevin Helmick, nice to see you all and thanks for stopping by.

Some of the writers and readers here I’m familiar with, and some others I’m just now discovering, which is good. But I thought I’d talk a little about crime fiction, and get around to me and my new novel in a minute.

Good? Good. Stick around, leave some comments. I’d love to hear from you sitting there reading this.

As a writer myself I’ve always felt a little intimidated by “crime novelist.” They seem so sure of themselves, disciplined in structure and plot, like they really know what they’re doing. And all that goddamn research, wow. Most of them are experts on several necessary nuts and bolts aspects of what they do. Some are even historians in almost everything from fashion, to firearms of any given period.

That’s not me. I know a little about a lot, and not a lot on anything. I’m more of a seat of the pants guy, usually. I do the research needed, when I think it’s needed.

My crimes written are petty in scope, but spiritually heavy in consequence. No elaborate heist, (love those) and no complex political theater (don’t like those so much.) Looking back over my work, in my mind I think most of my work is dealing with the damage done, dealing with a shitty hand.

Clovis Point, Sebastian Cross, Heartland Gothic, DrivingAlone, are all the novels I’ve penned so far, and most are “cross road” and “aftermath” stories. Some just “road” stories too, of people in a fix usually of their own doing, running to or away from something.

I tend to migrate more toward “literary” stuff in my reading, but I love a good crime novel. My favorite writers fall in the many sub-genres that crime fiction can create, where the crimes are attributes of the characters and not the whole story. I mean, we all commit crimes throughout our lives, some bigger than others, some against God, some against nature, some against each other, and mostly from selfish motivations whether it be self-defense or self-gain. And some, well, some people are just fuck ups and bad shit happens to them eventually anyway. Not quite as tragic as when it happens to good people who don’t deserve it. Those are usually the crimes you’ll find in my fiction, tragedy by coincidence, or association. Sometimes those can be more horrifying than anything.

Somebody told me once, ‘don’t break more than one law at a time, and you’ll be alright.” If you think about it, and have ever gotten yourself arrested for something, there was probably several other charges that went along with it, or at least led to it. Those can be bargaining chips in court, but best to avoid it altogether if possible. Humor and legal advice aside, that’s pretty good I think, and food for good story line. Shit keeps piling up and soon enough, if in it, you’re gonna sink or get out of it. Either some is going to stick on ya.

There’s a plot for ya.

Me, I like the kind of crime stories that nobody sees coming, not so much urban crime stories. I live near Chicago, so hearing about 80 murders over this last 4th of July weekend only got a, grunt from me. That’s sad but the news tells about it like the damn weather, just people killing people, most of which are accidental. It’s crazy, but it doesn’t have much impact on me anymore. And drug murders too, you can see that coming miles away, and kinda falls short with me too. There are of course exceptions to all. It’s all in how its delivered.

No, the ones that interest me are the ones that creep into Mayberry on an empty box car when no one’s looking. Or, the ones birthed through oppression, depression, or religion, whatever. The ones that strike at the comfortable and seemingly content, the everyday working wives, husbands and families that have some demons boiling and building over years or even generations and finally, somebody just fucking blows somebody else, or everybody else, away, and a town, a family, a son or daughter, is left with the damage done. What are they gonna do now? That shit hangs around. Psychological crimes of the extremely fucking fed up.

There’s a title for ya.

I’m getting a little carried away, but those rural urban tales of transient killers, bodies and bloody messes found in farm houses, abusive husbands finally getting theirs with an axe, are the stories that shook my little Converses’ when I was growing up. Probably has something to do with a rural upbringing and my overly paranoid mother being a child through the depression. But that’s what gets the hair on my neck up.

Dialogue and prose too, I’m an addict for clever, realistic dialogue, and good prose, no matter what the genre, story, plot, action or lack of. None of that shit matters to me if the words just lay there. Even though a lot of crime fiction is written from the school of less is more and that’s good, I still like a nice balance of prose, story and dialogue. And I like characters I can relate to, and language I can understand. That everybody understands, and uses every day.

But as for mine, if I’m known by anybody reading this at all, it’s probably not as a “crime writer.” I’ve written 5 novels and a couple handfuls of short stories. None of which have bought me an island, by the way, and none you could really tag a specific genre on, until now. My new one, The Rain King, out last week, is in fact a crime novel, of a western noir flavor with some supernatural elements thrown in, that at the time helped me get through that mine field of cliché’ that we so often find in the traditional American Western. Ok, Maybe that’s not like, specific, genre, but close. It’s crime and it’s a western.

I had never written a western before, but I wanted to see what I could do with it. It was fun, but really hard. I’m no historian and I’m a lazy bitch for research, and again, those fucking mine fields of cliché. It really sucks to try and move about in a world that’s been so trampled on looking for something new and original. I don’t know if I pulled it off. I did my best. It’s like The Unforgiven, on acid.
3
I didn’t want it to be just another western, so it took about 3 years. I had given up on it so many times I lost count. I had written 2 books during that same period. Driving Alone, a southern gothic novella which Spinetingler was gracious enough to nominate for the best novella award,(it didn’t win, but still cool) about 8 or 10 short stories that can be found here and there, and Summerfield, another novel, which I’m still working on and don’t want to talk about.

Also, Driving Alone was rereleased earlier this year as part of a collection of my short stories. So I’m pleased with that and will probably make it available again as a stand-alone novella later on.

But I kept coming back to The Rain King now and then and finding things I thought worth pursuing. Also, past a certain point, I hate giving up on a story. I guess I don’t like the idea of it beating me. So I finished it, it’s done, behind me, or ahead of me, depending on how you look at it, and I thought it turned out good, so I’m spending a few weeks promoting it.

It’s poetically odd, dark, a little weird, and I took a lot of chances with style that may not please some of the more grizzled vets of the craft, but I like that about it. Playing it safe bores the shit out of me. I like to think of it as, experimental, very modern. It’s fiction with some real characters in there moving about in an alternate history. I’m not sure at this point what damage I’ve done. It’s been out a week and it’s selling a few, jumping up the amazon ranking (which I have no idea what that means or how it works) and has picked up a couple good reviews so far. That’s always nice to see.

They tell me there’s not a big demand for westerns right now and that’s ok. I assure you it’s not, Lonesome Dove or Dances with Wolves. Those books are terrific, but The Rain King is not that.

I went down a different trail, smashing, crashing and doing all the way. I wasn’t trying to be anybody else. In fact I did everything I could to avoid that. I wrote it for me, for the western lovers. I write for the reader too, but me first. I can’t wait to see what comes out on the page next. I think I’ve written some good stuff on occasion and I hope you’ll check it out and we can communicate through it. I think I can do better and intend to keep at it. I feel like I’m only touching the surface of something really good and deep down there, and that’s enough to keep me coming back to the well.

I’m not going to go on wasting your time here, this plenty long for a guest blog. Thanks for stopping by, thanks Brian for inviting me. Check out, The Rain King, anywhere you like to buy your books. And let me know what you think by sharing, reviewing, or just tell me here.

See ya round.

All the Best
Kevin

A contemporary Western Noir. The Rain King is the story of, George Washington Parker, a 107 year Comanche Indian, and the way he remembers his turn of the century travels through Oklahoma Territory with Ex-Confederate outlaw, Henry Faro as they pursue a genocidal preacher known as The Rain King. "The American Western redefined a shade darker. The elements of supernatural make it all the more enjoyable, and anything but traditional." Livius Nedin: Booked Podcast.

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Kevin Lynn Helmick, grew up in Fort Madison IA, and now lives in The Chain O Lakes region of North East IL.

 


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why I Unfollowed You on Twitter

So, first off let me say it is nothing personal. Here's the deal.
A few years back, I joined Twitter. Setting up the people I followed was FUN. I followed my friends, authors, artists, and musicians I liked. Then I threw in a couple people from the publishing industry because I am a writer.
It was a riot. I got on Twitter and saw what my friends and people I liked were doing.
Soon, I found myself getting emails notifying me that new people were following me on Twitter. In the spirit of camaraderie, I'd follow them back. It was easy, I just hit a button in the email and it took me right to their page and I hit "follow." Easy peasy.
But soon, I was getting so many followers that I was losing track of the Tweets from people I liked so I got a tiny bit more discriminating: Now, if they had the slightest thing in common with me (were writers, were Italian, etc.) I'd follow them back.
Pretty soon, I had followed some 34 billion other people on Twitter and yet only 50 were following me. I didn't get it. The numbers didn't add up. If I followed the people who followed me first, shouldn't I also have some 34 billion followers?
Something was fishy.
But then it struck me: People on Twitter are playing a game. A game that I obviously didn't know the rules to.
I started getting a hint of this when every few weeks I would get an email in my inbox saying "ANNOYING GUY" is following you on Twitter. I figured out that if I kept getting these emails, it meant he kept following me, then unfollowing me and then following me again. What the—?
Then, I started to get it. The game is this: follow someone so they'll follow you. Then, once they follow you, unfollow them.
And if you're totally psycho, like Annoying Guy, keep some diabolical master list of who you want to follow you and then keep following and unfollowing them for eternity. Or until they follow you back.
At first, it didn't make sense. I mean who in the heck would spend that much time and be that organized that they could do something like this? Or possibly there is a computer program, like a spam program, that does it for them? I don't know, what I do know is I think it is totally lame.
I also think it is a colossal waste of time.
And futile.
I'm not going to buy someone's book because they put out a promotional Tweet about it four times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In fact, that is pretty much a guarantee that I WON'T buy their book because I'm completely, thoroughly and utterly annoyed by them.
What will make me buy a book? I will buy a book from someone who tweets hilarious or interesting information. 
(For instance, I bought a book by The Bloggess after people tweeted about her and I found her hysterically, falling-down-crying-practically-peeing-your-pants funny.)
But the worst part of this idiotic Twitter game, was that I stopped getting on Twitter as often to avoid being bombarded by 34 billion Tweets from people I didn't know saying things I didn't care about and things I most definitely DIDN'T find to be falling-down-funny. Or informative.
I missed the lyrical Tweets from Johnette of Concrete Blonde or Tweets from my dear friends or some of my journalism cohorts. So, I decided to clean the closet.
It took me about 45 minutes but I basically deleted 33.9 billion of the people I was following. I kept a few, mainly people who I had met in person or who I had some type of relationship with other than on Twitter, say fellow Sister in Crime members, and so on.
Suddenly, I liked Twitter again.
Now, I am very careful about who I follow. I don’t “auto-follow” anyone, but if we have something in common, then, yes I will probably follow you.
But as for the rest of you trying to sell your book or your soul or whatever on Twitter: well, good luck with that.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Finding Time to Read with Audiobooks

by
Scott D. Parker

With this new job, the time I have to read is less than it used to be, especially if I'm to maintain my writing schedule as that activity trumps reading. As always, audiobooks are my saving grace. I can say with complete honesty that I listen to more audiobooks than I read actual books. Dare I say I'm almost to to the point now where I prefer audiobooks over printed books.

I also believe this: if you don’t listen to audiobooks, you are missing out. Fundamentally, every book tells a story, even if it’s a non-fiction book about migratory patterns of birds. And what better way to experience a story than having it told to you the way our ancestors did: aurally.

As a listener, the story comes alive in ways you just can’t get when you’re reading the story in your head. The voice actors almost always do a bang-up job with their narration, providing nuance where there is only black-and-white on the page. For me, at least, these readers narrate faster than I read so I can get through a book faster than if I read it myself.

Some caveats: yes, the voices of the characters in your head are your own creation and the reader’s voice is what you’re hearing. Sometimes, they don’t match well. I’ll grant you that one. And there are times when a reader of one gender has to voice a character from the other gender and it comes out funny. Touche. Not to be sexist but men doing women voices is a shade better (note I wrote shade; not loads) than the opposite. It’s a rare women narrator who can voice men well . It’s best when either gender just reads the lines as best they can.

Experiencing a book with your ears and your imagination is a great way to “read” a book and one I’ve come to prefer. As a writer, however, there’s an underrated advantage to listening to an audiobook. You pick up an ear for pacing, one, and dialogue, for another.

Let’s take pacing. When I’m reading a physical book, most of my mental energy is focused on the book and the words and what they mean. Well, duh. But seriously, I sometimes find myself so focused on getting through the words that I don’t have time to ponder the grander meaning of the words, the prose choices, the pacing. It’s not until I go back and re-read or sit and think on the work after I’ve put down the book where these thoughts come to me.

Not so with audio. As I listen, it takes me less energy to “get” the story and, thus, I’m free to ponder all those esoteric topics that my writerly brain likes to think about. Thus, my writerly brain is more actively engaged with a story as I listen to the book without having to stop, re-read, and think on everything later. As a writer, I find this kind of give-and-take essential to making me a better writer. I can easily ask myself “what would I do next?” and then have the answer the author chose given to me. Yeah, I know most writers do this anyway when they read; I’m just saying that, for me, it’s an easier exercise when I listen rather than when I read.

Dialogue. More often than not, it’s difficult for us writers to put good dialogue in our stories. I’m referring, of course, to dialogue that really sounds like people talk. Any of us can write dialogue that sounds like a writer wrote it. That’s easy. But real dialogue, the everyday speech patterns of cops, lawyers, killers, femme fatales, you name it, that can be very difficult to come by and “sound” authentic.

With audiobooks, you get the dialogue read to you by a professional voice actor. With a paper book, tt’s the reader’s job to make the words sound real. Here’s where you can tell the gifted writer versus the regular writer. With a gifted writer and a gifted voice actor, the words and speeches of the characters roll out of the speakers and into your ears like sunshine on a warm summer day. It’s effortless. For a less-gifted writer, you can hear the wrongness with the words. Were the narrator an actor in a movie, he’d be able to get a re-write. Not so with audiobook readers. They have to read what’s on the page.

I have found that I pace my stories better and write more natural dialogue as a result of listening to audiobooks.

Am I the only one who loves audiobooks?

Note: I'm currently listening to The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg as read by the peerless Scott Brick. Man, I love the way this guy reads stories. He actually brings whimsy to the table, whether it be this story, the adventures of Isaac Bell (by Clive Cussler), or the history of Superman. Scott Brick could read the phone book and I would pay money to hear it.

Note 2: If you missed it, Russell wrote about audio plays in yesterday's post.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Audio killed the video sta... oh wait, I think I got that wrong...

By Russel D Mclean

Since coming back from the Harrogate Crime Festival (the reason I missed last week's post - I was, shall we say, tired and emotional from being in the bar), I have been laid up with a horrific cold. Its the third in a row (this apparently can happen to asthmatics and its a pain in the arse) and it really hit me for six. Or twelve, to be honest the way I was feeling.

I could barely read. I could barely write. I was just tired. Exhausted. Even watching movies was a little too much. But what I did have was a pile of audio plays reccomended to me by DSD's very own Jay Stringer.

You will know of course that myself and Jay (and Dave White) are DSD's resident geeks. So of course these audio plays were Doctor Who audio plays produced by a company called Big Finish. In the years when Doctor Who was off air, Big Finish gained an official licence to produce audio plays featuring characters from the show including many past actors who had played the Doctor. In my other life, I know one of the Big Finish scripters, but had never really had the chance to listen to them. And besides, I wasn't sure the show would work in audio.

But listening to them, I was amazed at the power of audio. Something I had long ago forgotten.

We all know audio books of course, but an audio play is something very different. The use of dialogue - and more importantly, sound - to convey a story is extremely impressive. And rather than being limiting, what it seemed to do was open up words that we could not conceive on television. The proper use of voice acting and sound could was able to convey deeply complex and bizarre stories. Of course, within the mix of plays I had, one was able to realise that when audio play is done badly it can seem stagey and unreal. It takes a clever script to make characters sound natural and not like they are describing things for the benefit of a listening audience. One of my favourite moments was the opening of a Paul McGann adventure when his Doctor has been reacting to lots of things happening while he is alone in a room. "You really do need to stop talking to yourself!" he says, and the delivery of the line evokes a very wry smile from the listener as it manages to puncture the increasingly unreal idea of someone telling himself everything that is happening.

As comics are different to movies which are different to prose which are different to poetry, so audio plays are again different from anything else and they require another way of thinking from the writer. The good audio writer is able to create situations which sound natural even when they are artificial. They rely on dialogue and sound to paint a picture. They require a whole different skill set. But when they work they can be something spectacular.

I'm going to be listening out (pun half intended) for other ewxamples of audio plays, I think, maybe even trying my hand at a few just for fun. I remember as a child listening to lots of audio plays on tape (one of my favourites was an adaptation of Kidnapped) and just hearing these plays as I lay in bed unable to do much of anything else (except cough and pathetically ask The Literary Critic to make me another hot Ribena*) reminded me of the power of audio dramas and of the fun that they can be. And I have to wonder in this age of ebooks and rising audio book sales, could it be possible that the radio play, while no longer neccesarily being on radio, could be due a comeback? Its the ideal medium for that long commute or while you're pounding the treadmill down at a the gym.

*she really has been remarkably patient as I have acted like a wimp these past few days

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Twenty Questions with Dana King

Note from Holly: I first met Dana King at Bouchercon Albany in 2013. Since then, I've gotten to know him better online and recently read A Small Sacrifice. I loved it. It's a well-crafted mystery that's reminiscent, but not derivative, of Raymond Chandler. It's biggest strength, of course, is its protagonist, Nick Forte. I'm terrible at writing reviews so please don't make me say more. Just read the book.

I'm pleased to host Dana at Do Some Damage this week. Take it away!:

I run a regular feature on my blog, One Bite at a Time, called Twenty Questions, where I get to grill authors about their newest books, and writing in general. Holly was kind enough to submit to one when Mistress of Fortune was released, before performing her due diligence on what she was getting into. When I asked about possibly pinch-hitting on Do Some Damage to promote A Small Sacrifice, Holly showed she has a long memory and thought it would be great fun to make me answer all the questions I made her answer. So, if you don’t like this, it’s her fault.

Holly West: Tell us about A Small Sacrifice.

Dana King: It’s a story about a Chicago PI named Nick Forte, who is hired by Shirley Mitchell to clear her son’s name. Doug is assumed by everyone to have killed his five-year-old son, Justin, a year ago, but the police have butchered the crime scene and there’s not enough proof for an arrest. Forte is about convinced Doug did it, too, until something happens that turns the whole investigation around.

HW: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

DK: The idea came to me when John and Patsy Ramsey were on television almost every night, talking about their daughter’s murder. Just about everyone assumed they killed the girl, and were lying, so much so “those lying” seemed to have become part of their names. (As in, “Did you see those lying Ramseys on TV last night?”) I got to wondering, what if they’re innocent, but have to lie because the truth is even worse? From that point forward, I stopped watching any interviews or reading anything about them. I wanted the story to have as little to do with the facts as possible, beyond the original germ of the idea.

HW: How long did it take to write A Small Sacrifice, start to finish?

DK: A little over a year of actual writing. I went back a couple of years later for some changes when an agent showed interest, and did a little polishing before I released it as an e-book last year. From first draft of Chapter One to final e-book file took about twelve years.

HW: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

DK: Nick Forte is a former musician, teacher, and cop, now turned private investigator. He’s a divorced father who adores his daughter and is constantly aware of the things he can’t do for her because they don’t live together anymore. This is a large part of how Shirley Mitchell is able to get him to try to prove a negative: she guilts him into it. He has trouble sustaining relationships with women because he doesn’t want to have more children, worried his daughter, Caroline, will wonder if he loves the kids he lives with more than he loves her. He’s better at doing what he has to do than he thinks he is, but the violence he encounters as this case unfolds is more than he bargained for.

HW: In what time and place is A Small Sacrifice set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

DK: Today, or recent times, in Chicago and the northern suburbs. Lake City is a stand-in for any number of affluent communities north of the city. I worked hard to make Chicago a part of the story, but, to be honest, there were a number of cities I could have picked and probably made things work just as well. I was living in Chicago at the time and loved it, so it was the logical place to set the story. Now I associate Forte so closely with Chicago, I can’t bring myself to move him, though I’ve considered it from time to time.

HW: How did A Small Sacrifice come to be published?

DK: It had an agent at one time, and seemed to be very close to a sale, but things never quite worked
out. By the time all was said and done, I had a few more Forte stories the agent wasn’t interested in, since this one didn’t; sell, and she wasn’t interested in the standalone I’d written next. I left Forte in the drawer for several years until he made a well-received guest appearance in my first contracted book, Grind Joint. I thought I’d see if people might be interested in more of him, so I published A Small Sacrifice myself, straight to e-book on Amazon.

HW: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

DK: Mostly crime fiction. Almost all of everything else I read is non-fiction, primarily history and true crime. I kept trying to broaden my fiction horizons, but found the stories I liked, those that spoke to me best about conditions in the world today, were crime stories at some level. I also like tightly-written prose, and most crime fiction writers keep things to the point. There is often an understated brand of eloquence, but it’s rare to see a crime writer write a beautiful sentence for the sake of writing a beautiful sentence. It has to serve a purpose. Good crime writers seem better at killing their darlings than a lot of mainstream or literary writers.

Favorites? Wow, so many I’ve actually created a spreadsheet to keep of track of who I want to be sure to read, so I get to them in turn. Of the big dogs, my current favorites are Robert Crais and Dennis Lehane. Tim Hallinan and Declan Hughes are great writers whose work I never miss. Charlie Stella is the Godfather of mob fiction, for good reason. Most of what I read are writers who are not quite broken out yet, people like Declan Burke, Adrian McKinty, John McFetridge. Terrence McCauley is doing great things with Depression and Prohibition-era stories. Tim O’Mara is about to become a best selling writer, if he isn’t already. Scott Phillips is a genius. There are at least twenty others in the regular rotation, and I apologize for not listing everyone.

HW: Who are your greatest influences?

DK: So far as getting me going, the usual suspects: Chandler, Leonard, McBain. George V. Higgins after I discovered The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which I think might be the greatest crime fiction novel ever written. (That, or The Maltese Falcon.) Reviewers tend to cite Leonard and Higgins—which is immensely flattering—though one reviewer said he found elements of James Ellroy, which is also flattering, as I’m a huge fan and wish I wrote more like him, Frankly, I don’t see him in my own work.

HW: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

DK: Outline. Always. It’s not a real detailed outline, maybe a sentence or paragraph about each chapter, unless a scene grows organically in my mind before it’s time to write it, then the notes for that chapter can get pretty long. As a rule, though, it’s just enough so I know what has to happen. Everything else I make up as I type, always while wearing pants. Well, at least boxers.

HW: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

DK: My first drafts sometimes almost read like screenplays. I’m a dialog-heavy writer as it is, and if it’s flowing, I’m acting out the scene while trying to transcribe what’s going on. The next day I’ll go back and tidy things up before starting on what’s new, to get me back in the mood I was in when I left off. Once the first draft is done, I’ll let it sit for a while, then do usually three more drafts: one to add and remove things that will turn a series of chapters into a coherent story; one to add the little touches that make books fun to read; and one anal and OCD three-step process to get everything just as I want it.

HW: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

DK: Have a vision for your writing. Raymond Chandler once said, “Don't ever write anything you don't like yourself and if you do like it, don't take anyone's advice about changing it. They just don't know.” (I’ll use a Chandler quote at the drop of a hat, even if I have to drop it myself.) It’s not pessimism to note the vast majority of those who actually get a novel published—in excess of 90%--will never be more than a blip on the public consciousness, if that. Would you rather that be because you took your best shot and it didn’t work out, or because someone else told you to try something, or to do it their way, and it didn’t work, and now you’ll never know if your original idea would have? Then you can’t find out because whatever influences you accepted have changed you permanently.

HW: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

DK: Hanging with The Sole Heir, but she’s 23 now and about to start grad school, so I don’t get as much chance as I used to. Spending time with The Beloved Spouse, reading, watching the Pirates and Penguins.

HW: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

DK: Good reviews, which is good, as I’m not making much money. That’s not a complaint—I made peace with that aspect of the writing business long ago—but I guess what I mean is I get a great deal of satisfaction when I see people I respect “get” what I was going after in a book. That keeps me going, to be spoken of as a peer by those I consider to be my betters, as least as writing goes. It’s also a lot of fun, now that reviews are coming in from complete strangers. That’s immensely gratifying, to know someone has invested their most finite resource—time—and think I made it worth their while.

HW: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

DK: I was a real prick when I came up with this one, wasn’t I? Actually, I think this was suggested by a commenter on my blog, after I’d asked for suggestions.

My answer will probably appall a lot of people, but, yes, I would quit under those circumstances, though I’d have to have the agreement in writing and the money in escrow. As much as I said I enjoy writing above—and I do dearly enjoy it—it is not the defining feature of my life. There are plenty of things I’d find to do if I had the time in which to do them, which I would if I didn’t have to work. I’d miss writing, but I had to give up being a musician, too, which was the only things I ever really wanted to do, and it didn’t kill me.

HW: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

DK: I’ve tried all three, and, given my place right now, I think Option 2, though any can work given the right breaks. Option 1 works best for those who already have a foothold on the public consciousness, or are willing to work twenty hours a day on marketing. And are good at it. And write well enough for the marketing to matter. Option 3 can leave you in the cold if the big house doesn’t think you’ll be one of their breakouts, and the blemish on the record will be yours, not theirs. I think Option 2 leaves the best opportunity for a partnership with people who know the business end, though, of course, even there the match has to be right.

HW: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

DK: Beer. My favorites run in cycles. Right now it’s Bass Ale, though I’m sure Foster’s and Heineken will get their turns again. Sam Adams when I’m in the mood.

HW: Baseball or football?

DK: Baseball is the single greatest thing ever devised by the human mind.

HW: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

DK: That one.

HW: What’s the answer?

DK: “That one.” (I’m sorry, I stole that from Todd Robinson’s interview, but it’s such a good answer it ruined me for all time after I read it.)

HW: What are you working on now?

DK: Summer is when I put new work on hiatus, though I am polishing another Nick Forte novel so it’s ready for e-book formatting, or for the agent. In September I’ll start work on the edits for the fourth book in my Penns River series, currently laboring under the clever title of PR4.

And there you have it. Thank you so much, Dana, for taking the time to answer your own questions. Now you know how it feels. ;-)