Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dave White talks BAD BEAT with Rob Hart and Alex Segura

By Alex Segura

What happens when you get two crime writers talking about comic books? They start brainstorming crossovers of their own. At least that’s what happened earlier this year when I got a bite with fellow novelist (and Polis Books author) Rob Hart. Aside from being friends, we were also fans of each other’s work. I dug Rob’s debut Ash McKenna novel, New Yorked, and Rob said a few nice things about my first Pete Fernandez book, Silent City.

The idea seemed almost too good to be true: a story that featured both our series stars, set before both debuts and timed to hit in advance of the Polis reissue of Silent City and Rob’s second Ash novel, City of Rose. We ran the idea by Polis head honcho Jason Pinter and we were set. The theoretical story would also feature teases for both Silent City and New Yorked, serving as a teaser trailer for our debuts.

Now we just had to write the damn thing. A little crime caper that would eventually become Bad Beat.

Collaboration is always where things get interesting. Everyone, in theory, likes the idea of working with another creative person. But the fact is, writing is a solitary and personal thing, at least when it comes to novels and prose. Luckily, Rob and I both come from a journalistic background. I’ve also written a bunch of comics - we were used to getting feedback and adapting to hit a larger goal. We’re also both kind of workaholics. The ideas flowed easily and the writing happened fast, creating a final product that was unique and gave a fair share of screen time to both Ash and Pete, allowing readers a peek into their lives before New Yorked and Silent City. Most importantly, aside from making the work good, was that the story counted - it’s an essential and important chapter in Ash and Pete’s lives - and made for a tasty appetizer to fans that might be interested in reading their ongoing adventures.

Bad Beat is a dark, dirty short pulled from the New Jersey gutters that features backroom deals, old friends, kidnapping and the dark side of college football - all told through the prism of Ash and Pete’s first meeting. I guess “first” implies there’ll be more…

We wrangled fellow Polis author Dave White (pre-order An Empty Hell!) to serve as DSD’s own James Lipton for a quick interview with Rob and I. Hope you enjoy.

Dave: So, how did the idea for Bad Beat come around?

Alex: It was pretty organic. Rob and I had dinner and were talking shop, which veered into comic books. We both grew up reading comics and I work in the industry, too. We were going on about how cool crossovers were, and we wondered aloud why that didn't happen much with mysteries. Then we started theorizing about having our characters interact and it grew from there. We pitched Jason Pinter, our publisher at Polis Books, on the idea and away we went.

Rob: I sort of assumed it wouldn't happen! Alex and I are both pretty busy with our day jobs, and most things sound good over a couple of drinks (I'm sure I had a couple of drinks). But it turned out, we're pretty simpatico on a lot of things, in terms of process, and keeping our egos in check. That helped keep things moving.

Having already read Silent City and New Yorked, it strikes me that Ash McKenna and Pete Fernandez are very different protagonists.  Did their differences help or hinder the story coming together?

Rob: The difference between Ash and Pete is what makes it work. If they were too similar, there wouldn't be anything for them to do. It'd be two tough guys posturing the whole time, or two quieter guys unwilling to make a bold move. Ash likes to hit things. Pete likes to think things through. They compliment each other well.

Alex: I think it helped. They provide contrast to each other. We'll get into the timeline of it all later, but when you see Pete in this story, he's very different. Kind of proto-Pete in relation to Silent City and its sequel, Down the Darkest Street. So, having Ash, who's more of a bruiser and less emo than Pete really helped propel the story, and hopefully it worked the other way, too. I had a fun time writing Ash - and it really did have the same feel as those older Marvel comics, where the heroes meet, disagree/fight, then join forces against a common enemy. Plus football.

Where in the chronology of your two books does Bad Beat come into play?  Was it more difficult getting into your characters' mindsets at that point in their lives?

Alex: The story happens before our first novels - Silent City for me, New Yorked for Rob. So, it serves as a prequel. You meet Pete before he moves back to Miami - and you get a sense for how bad things have gotten for him.

I liked zooming out a bit and writing an earlier version of Pete - I wrote a short story that ran in Crimespree Magazine called "Quarters for the Meter" that happened shortly after Pete returned, involving Pete, his best friend Mike and a robbery, but it was fun to really explore the world he lived in prior to Silent City. I felt like there was a lot of room to play that I hadn't expected.

Rob: Writing Ash before New Yorked was fun. Because New Yorked was about him accepting things about himself--he needed to grow up, he needed to be less of an idiot. So I got to go back to him as an immature idiot, which was a good bit of fun.

Rob, in the announcement interview on LitReactor, you talked a bit about having concerns with third person, which you eventually overcame. Were there any moments where you two really had to discuss and compromise on a story point?  How did you deal with it?

Rob: I don't think we had any big objections. We're both former journalists, so we're both used to getting edited. I think early on we promised each other there'd be no egos--the story has to win. A few times we had to look at whether something was working, but we were never far from a solution.

Alex: The only disagreement I remember was so minor it’s not really even worth a mention. The whole process was painless, which I didn’t expect - not because it was Rob, but because collaborating is like being roommates with someone, in a weird way - you get a peek under the hood that you wouldn’t normally get as friends or colleagues. But it was totally fine, and elevated both of us a bit, I think.

Both of you really get into a strong sense of place in your books.  Is the setting in Bad Beat different for either of you?  Was switching locales tricky?  

Alex: It definitely involved more research. But even writing about Miami, I find I have to double-check stuff to make sure I'm not completely off, or writing from memories that are no longer relevant. The fact that we were writing a story set in Jersey, near Rutgers, makes me wonder if Jackson Donne was around at all. Sequel, perhaps?

Rob: I had fun writing about Jersey because Jersey is the worst and it was important for me to convey that. I hope I did!

Okay, lightning round.  Rob, your second Ash McKenna book is City of Rose, and Alex, you have two books out in the next few months in Silent City and Down the Darkest Street.  Give me the elevator pitches for both, and how (if at all) they tie into Bad Beat.

Alex: In Silent City, we meet down-on-his-luck journalist Pete Fernandez. His fiancĂ©’s ditched him, his father's died and he's on the brink of unemployment. He's also drinking himself sick. When a colleague asks him to help find his missing daughter, Pete's dragged into a dark, unexplored corner of the Miami underworld that involves an urban legend known as the Silent Death - one that turns out to be much deadlier than anyone anticipated. Down the Darkest Street jumps forward, and we find Pete trying to get his life in order after the tragic events of Silent City. But just as Pete starts to create some semblance of an existence together, he finds himself forced to investigate a series of grisly murders - pitting Pete against true darkness when he's most vulnerable. Bad Beat really gets the ball rolling for both of these books and serves as a nice primer for both characters, I think. It's really smart marketing by Polis - you can pick up the story and then read the first two chapters of Silent City and New Yorked - a perfect teaser to get tapped into these two PI series.

Rob: In City of Rose, Ash has moved to Portland. He's working as a bouncer in a vegan strip club. One of the dancers tries to hire him--her daughter has gone missing. He refuses to take the job, because he's in a place where he's trying to avoid his past habits. Later that evening a guy in a chicken mask throws him in a trunk, holds a gun to his head, and tells him to stay away from the girls. That just serves to piss him off. So he takes the job and then things get bad. Because it's Ash, and he's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.

He does meet with a journalist and I was going to work in a joke about Pete and like a dummy I forgot and it's already gone to press. Sorry, Alex. :(

Alex: Dammit, Rob. I did manage to tweak something in Silent City to reference Ash - so there’s that.

Please write a 70,000 word essay on how awesome Dave White is.

Alex: No. But Dave, lemme ask you - if you could cross Jackson Donne with any other writer's protagonist, who would it be?

Rob: Yeah. Just don't say Bryon. No one needs that.

I always thought Donne would get a lot out of a long sit down with Spenser.  Kind of a "Shut up and figure out your shit" talk from an east coast master.  As a more contemporary team-up?  Donne would fall right in line with Todd Robinson's Boo and Junior, who'd essentially run roughshod over Donne so he'd have no choice but to get caught up in whatever hi jinx they'd gotten themselves into this time.  Donne follows and then tries to catch up and take the lead at the end.

Alex: Dude - I was totally setting you up to say Ash and Pete. Sigh.

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