“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Irish Crime Fiction: Ghetto Chic?

Two not entirely unrelated mails popped into ye olde inboxe yesterday, the first from Norm ‘Salman of Knowledge’ Price - yes, that's 'Salman' of Knowledge - to let me know that Barbara Fister (right) has established a new interweb yokeybus dedicated to Scandinavian Crime Fiction in English; the second was from Damien Seaman, to ask this: “You ever worry this kind of approach (i.e., a crime fiction blog with an Irish focus) can serve to ghettoise Irish crime fiction, or create false expectations as though ‘Irish crime’ were a genre in its own right?”
  The first thing here is to wish Barbara the best of luck with her latest endeavour, and here’s hoping it’s as successful as the Crime Carnival.
  The second thing to say is that I can only wish that Crime Always Pays was popular enough to influence opinion to the extent that it could ‘ghettoise’ Irish crime fiction. Sadly, it falls a long way short of that particular mark. Besides, one joy of Irish crime writing is its diversity.
  The main reason I set up Crime Always Pays a year and a half ago was to promote my new novel THE BIG O, on the basis that I hadn’t a red cent to promote it in the traditional way. I’d also been writing for some other Irish blogs, now sadly defunct, and I loved blogging. On top of that, I believed there were a number of authors coming through who were saying interesting things about contemporary Ireland, and that no other blog or website was covering these writers in a cohesive way. And so CAP was born.
  As it happens, and as the months went by, I was gobsmacked at the number of writers out there who were writing quality crime fiction that could very loosely be described as ‘Irish’. Every week seemed to turn up a new gem, but each new find only confirmed what was almost immediately apparent: that there was nothing homogenous about ‘Irish crime fiction’.
  For example, the three most high-profile authors at the time – John Connolly, Ken Bruen and Colin Bateman – could hardly write more different kinds of stories if they tried, with settings that included Maine, Galway / London and Belfast, respectively. Adrian McKinty’s novels were also set in the U.S., albeit with a more Northern Irish flavour. Eoin Colfer’s crime capers are about a pre-teen evil genius. Tana French, who was actually born in the U.S., arrived with a police procedural set very firmly in Dublin. Declan Hughes goes the private eye route and uses the Chandler / Macdonald model to get under the skin of modern Ireland. Brian McGilloway appeared with a police procedural set in rural Donegal. Gene Kerrigan’s gritty noirs are set in urban Dublin. Ruth Dudley Edwards writes comedy crime that are set wherever the mood takes her. Arlene Hunt riffs on the male / female private eye duo. Ingrid Black takes an ex-FBI agent and plonks her down in Dublin. KT McCaffrey has his amateur sleuth Emma Boylan work as an investigate reporter. Benjamin Black’s amateur sleuth is a pathologist in 1950’s Dublin. Cora Harrison’s Mara is a Brehon judge of the 16th century based in the wild Burren of Ireland’s west. Sam Millar writes darker-than-dark noir set in Northern Ireland. Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant is about a private eye skeleton. Stephen Leather writes balls-out thrillers. Aifric Campbell, Julie Parsons, Paul Charles, Garbhan Downey, DB Shan … the list goes on and on, and the only thing the writers have in common is how different their novels are. And that’s without factoring in the diaspora. Michael Haskins, for example, calls his protagonist ‘Mad’ Mick Murphy, a man who is as Irish as red hair despite his Florida Keys setting. By the same token, John McFetridge is Canadian-Irish, although you’d never know about the Irish element from reading his Toronto-based novels. And then there are the more literary offerings that utilise crime narratives. Gerard Donovan’s JULIUS WINSOME, David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER and Eoin McNamee’s 12:23, set in Maine, Belfast and Paris respectively, are only three of the most recent novels that engage with the tropes of crime fiction.
  If someone can draw a straight line between all of those novels, then he / she is a better man / woman than I. The only thing the writers have in common is that they are to one degree or another Irish. There is no ‘Tartan noir’ movement, and neither can Irish crime fiction be characterised by a particular tone, say, as you could argue Scandinavian crime can.
  It’s possible that I have done certain writers a disservice by calling them Irish crime writers, and if that’s the case I can only apologise. The intention was always to draw attention to their books, not to cram them into some pigeonhole to suit a theory of mine. And hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Peace, out.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Norn Iron In The Soul

Over at the ever-illuminating Detectives Beyond Borders, Peter Rozovsky hosts a debate on ‘the great post-Troubles Northern Irish novel’, which I unfortunately missed out on because I was away from the desk all day yesterday and on the proverbial batter last night. It’s a dirty job, etc. The general gist of the conversation is that said novel has yet to be written, with Adrian McKinty observing that, when it is, it’s more likely to be written by a woman than a man on the basis that they’re more pragmatic and clear-sighted when it comes to de-romanticizing. Koff. Anyhoos, no one mentioned David Park’s THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER, which is a very brave stab at writing ‘the great post-Troubles Northern Irish novel’, using as it does the model of the South African truth and reconciliation forum in a Northern Irish context. Lamented last week by Boyd Tonkin in The Independent on the basis that it didn’t make the Booker Prize long-list, THE TRUTH COMMISSIONER takes a look at the Troubles from a variety of perspectives, including that of the British establishment, and is well worth reading if it’s a fictional take on the post-Troubles landscape you’re after.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reed Farrel Coleman: Rebel Without A Pause

David Thompson of the Busted Flush Press gets in touch to give us a sneak preview of their forthcoming reprint of THE JAMES DEANS, the cover art of which is only sumptuous (it also features a foreword from Michael Connelly). It follows on from their reprint of WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE, about which George Pelecanos had this to say:
“Reed Farrel Coleman is one of the more original voices to emerge from the crime fiction field in the last ten years. For the uninitiated, WALKING THE PERFECT SQUARE is the place to start.” – George Pelecanos
  Which is very nice indeed. I read THE JAMES DEANS last year, in Croatia, on a day of lowering skies and fine mist that made it pointless to go sight-seeing, and yet was perfect for sitting out on a veranda on a swing-seat with coffee, cigarettes and strong reading to hand. I read it in the proverbial one sitting, and put it down a little dazed. I meant to write it up for the blog when I got back from Croatia, but on the couple of tries I made, it seemed beyond me.
  It’s a Moe Prager novel, a private eye story set in 1983. Prager is an ex-NYPD cop turned private eye, albeit of the reluctant variety. The plot, which begins with the murder of a young political intern, has plenty of twists and turns, and the style is pleasingly aware of, without being deferential to, its sense of history and its place in the lineage of Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald et al.
  All of which would have made THE JAMES DEANS eminently readable. What made it compulsive, however, was the voice of Moe Prager. This was Coleman’s third novel, I think, and yet he had slipped inside the skin of his character in a way that is very difficult to achieve and impossible to fake. It’s not that Moe is gratifyingly human, although he is, because there are no superhuman feats of endurance and / or soaking up of punishment. It’s not that he is the vulnerable Everyman, doing his best in shitty circumstances, because he is, and there’s very little by way of artificial Eureka! moments and savant-like puzzle-solving. For me, what made Moe Prager such a compelling character was his realism. It’s a difficult thing to describe, and perhaps I was identifying too much with the character, but Coleman has the ability to synchronise Prager’s heartbeat with your own, so that you pulse and twitch and shudder as he does.
  Yes, THE JAMES DEANS is a crime fiction novel, and a superb example of same, and a terrific private eye tale that was nominated for the Edgar and Gumshoe awards. But Moe Prager could just as easily have been an accountant, or an Alaskan park ranger, or a road-sweeper, and his story would have been a fascinating one. At the end of the day, novels are about people and the consequences of how they live their lives. Some writers can make you feel that they have inhabited their characters to a degree associated with demonic possession, but Reed Farrel Coleman’s gift is to graft that sensation onto the reader, so that he or she feels they’re wearing the character like skin.
  In the interests of openness, transparency and accountability, I should mention that Reed Farrel Coleman was gracious enough to read and blurb THE BIG O, and in very generous terms too, simply on the basis that we had a mutual friend in Ken Bruen. At the time I thought it was a lovely gesture, and indicative of how hospitable the crime fiction community is; but what made his blurb so powerful to yours truly was that, after reading THE JAMES DEANS, I already knew he was so far ahead of the posse that there was no favour he could require of me in return.
  A nice guy, then, and a terrific writer, one of the finest of his generation. If you haven’t read THE JAMES DEANS yet, do yourself a favour and do so. It’s how books are supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Integrity? Now There’s A Novel Idea

This really should have been the publishing story of the week. The guy, Tao Lin, has balls of steel if you skim the headline, with the gist of the story running thusly:
Shameless self-promotion or the future of the publishing industry? A young novelist is selling shares in his next book, to allow him to quit work and concentrate on his writing.
  You have to love his chutzpah, right? The little guy taking on the might of the conglomerates and kicking out the parameters until the paradigm shifts. Except then you read the actual piece, and you get this:
The 25-year-old says he likes the idea of a group of capitalists having a financial interest in his sales.
  “If anyone buys shares they will have concrete motivation to promote me and that also will increase sales,” he wrote.
  “If people buy shares I will probably, I think, make even more money than if I had not sold shares of my royalties.”
  Why does this story put me in mind of a POW tunnelling back into Colditz?
  Here’s a radical idea, you lazy, precious piece of corporate putty – get a job, write your novel at night (or early in the morning, if you prefer), save your moolah and self-publish. That way you retain the rights and maybe even a shred of dignity. Peace, out.

The Embiggened O: Thus Spake Mr And Mrs Kirkus

You learn something new every day. For example, yesterday I learned that in Kirkus Reviews, ‘a star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors’. Which is nice, because they gave our humble offering THE BIG O a starred review, with the verdict running thusly:
Imagine Donald Westlake and his alter ego Richard Stark moving to Ireland and collaborating on a screwball noir, and you have some idea of Burke’s accomplishment.
  Which is nice, especially given last week’s unpleasantness with Publishers Weekly. In fact, it’s a hell of a lot better than nice. I know that a lot of writers say they don’t pay attention to reviews, good or bad, but as a tyro trying to break through with his second novel, I can’t afford the luxury of being that blasé. I’m still at the very early stage where, if you’ll forgive the tortured metaphor, I’m like the first amphibian to take a tentative step onto dry land, and gasping for the oxygen of publicity.
  Given that context, to be mentioned in the same breath as Donald Westlake and his doppelganger Richard Stark is fairly mind-blowing, as you might imagine.
  And given the wider context, which is that THE BIG O was originally a co-published novel in cahoots with Marsha Swan of the tiny but perfectly formed Hag’s Head Press, which in turn involved stumping up half the publishing costs, which in turn amounted to a chunk of mortgage money shortly after I’d lost the job I was working in at the time, the Kirkus review is deeply, deeply satisfying, and a vindication of the leap of faith my wife Aileen took with me at the time.
  Yes, I know I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. But the good days can be few and far between when you’re starting out as a writer, and it’d be wrong not to celebrate them when they do come along, not least because everyone who’s given THE BIG O and yours truly a little nudge along the way is entitled to share in the good karma. Happy days, people.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Future Is Orangey-Blue

“And now / The end is near / In point of fact / It’s receding into the distance …” Yep, ye olde proofe-edite on the sequel to THE BIG O is done and dusted, and I can finally put away that hammer I was using to batter myself towards the desk of a morning recently. Seriously, there’s nothing like re-reading a punchline for the eleventh time to remind you of how unfunny it was the first time.
  Still, all things considered, I’m not entirely disgusted by the story. It was fun to write, and I got to take multiple road-trips across Europe with the crew from THE BIG O before fetching up in the Greek islands for some mayhem. Hey, if you can’t get to take your annual holiday in the Greek islands on account of you’ve a little girl to worry about these days, writing a story set there is the next best thing.
  Of course, now the fun really starts. With the sequel out of the way, I can take a few months off and not worry about writing anything at all, other than the occasional review and blog post. Right? Erm, not quite …
  What is it about this disease that has you spinning a whole new set of lies in your head barely hours after you’ve put the old lies to bed? It’s not that it won’t be fun, but when you know how long, arduous and painstaking the process will be if you’re to get it right – because it never winds up on the page the way you see it in your head – you’d need to be some kind of self-destructive masochist to want to leap back into that abyss, the better to hit rock-bottom and start crawling upwards towards the light again.
  The temptation? That this time, oh yes, this time, you’ll finally get it right …
  As Beckett once said, Fail, fail again, fail better.
  Anyhoos, I have one question regarding the sequel to THE BIG O. I’d originally planned to call it THE BLUE ORANGE, as a nod to Wendy and Panos, the very friendly folk of The Orange Bar, who were incredibly hospitable when my brother and I spent a month on Ios a few years ago, and who brew the finest White Russian this side of Moscow. But during the process of writing the book, I thought it might be something of a jape to call the story CRIME ALWAYS PAYS. So now I’m a little torn, because I like both titles equally.
  Folks? A little help?

John and Dec’s Most Excellent Adventure

I’ve mentioned once or twice in passing that I’ll be heading to the good ol’ US of A for the Baltimore Bouchercon (October 9-12), flying over a week early and into Toronto to take a road-trip with one John McFetridge, he of the ‘Canadian Elmore Leonard’ fame (rough itinerary, right). The basic plan is to meet as many crime fic readers and writers as possible, and generally accumulate some stories to tell the grandkids. It may be a cliché, but it’s been an ambition of mine to drive through New England in the Fall ever since, as a young boy, I came across a book called ROBERT FROST’S COUNTRY (published as ROBERT FROST’S NEW ENGLAND in the States), which juxtaposed snippets of Frost’s poetry with superb photography. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
  It’s very early days yet in terms of planning, especially as John and I are about as organised as writers tend to be, but even before we’ve officially announced the trip, David Lampe-Wilson of Mystery on Main Street, in Brattleboro, Vermont, has signed us up for a reading event on Monday, October 5. Which is very, very nice indeed.
  I don’t want to overstate the significance of the trip, but here’s the truth – if I could somehow go back in time 25 years and tell that spotty, angsty, wannabe writer Declan Burke that he would one day be standing in a Vermont bookstore talking about books and writing, and specifically his own book, which had just been published in the U.S., and particularly in the company of a writer as fine as John McFetridge, then that poor unfortunate 14-year-old would very likely spontaneously combust in a paroxysm of joy. So it’s just as well I can’t.
  The point being, and again it’s a cliché, but the forthcoming trip to the States, to promote THE BIG O, is literally a dream come true.
  If all of that sounds embarrassingly naïve and gauche, I do apologise. But it would be dishonest to pretend to be cool about all of this. I spent my entire youth, and a goodly portion of my adulthood, striving to be cool, as most people tend to do. But now that I have the opportunity to live out a life-long dream so precious that for years I couldn’t even tell anyone about it? Screw cool.
  Anyhoos, the basic itinerary is in place – Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Brattleboro, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore. If you’re a crime fic fan and you’d like to suggest an interesting venue where John and I might find a few sympathetic ears, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re a bookstore owner, ditto. And if you’re neither, but simply want to suggest some interesting book-related diversions off the beaten track, please feel free.
  Finally, a word from Mr Frost, aka ‘stories to tell the grandkids’. And, yes, it’s another cliché …
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a road and I ––
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Long Tail Versus Tomorrow’s Garbage: Why Book Blogs Kick Traditional Media Into A Cocked Hat

The slashing of the Los Angeles Times’ books section has kick-started the old ‘death of books’ jalopy again, with traditional media commentators unsure of whether they should celebrate book-related websites and blogs as the last hope for book reviews, or wring their hands despairingly because the print media is tossing the keys of the city over the wall to the barbarians waiting at the gate.
  I haven’t been too exercised by the big ‘print vs on-line’ debate to date, mainly because I think it’s pointless arguing about the respective quality of the reviews / insights / opinions, especially when so many journalists are bloggers and vice versa. I’m a journalist myself, or at least I review for a variety of traditional media outlets, both print and radio, so when I read a traditional media commentator saying that he / she doesn’t take bloggers seriously, I tend to presume that said commentator hasn’t found the right blogs, is too lazy to go looking, or is afraid to search them out in case their argument falls apart. Either way, I don’t take it too seriously.
  It’s true that many blogs are slapdash and clumsy, and that far too many bloggers put way too much faith in their own opinion, and fail to observe the basic protocols of reviewing, as Lissa Warren notes here at The Huffington Post. But if the number of factual errors in this review of THE BIG O by Publishers Weekly is anything to go by, the traditional media can be every bit as culpable when it comes to being less than rigorous in their reviews.
  Now, I don’t want to pick on the poor unfortunate who got the basic details so badly wrong in Publishers Weekly. PW is not immune to the issues besetting traditional media right now, and it has its own problems at the moment, not least that it is in the process of restructuring. It also reviews a vast quantity of titles per issue. So I can appreciate that these things happen, and the reviewer is as entitled to his or her opinion on THE BIG O as I am when I’m reviewing a book. God knows I’ve dished out my fair share of bad reviews, and I’m not going to whinge when bad karma comes back to bite my metaphorical (albeit perfectly formed) ass.
  But there are a few essential differences between reviews published in traditional media and those on websites and blogs. For starters, when I review for traditional media, my name goes on the review. Furthermore, if I write a review undermined by basic errors in describing the plot, mistakes which then feed into my opinion of the book / play / movie, then the author / director is perfectly entitled to ask for a right-of-reply and / or and a corrections box in a subsequent issue. Beyond that, my editor is perfectly entitled query my substandard work, and issue a warning as to what is and what isn’t unacceptable. These are all basic and essential protocols. Reviewing books and movies isn’t exactly heart surgery, but it does bring with it its own responsibilities, and the reviewer has a duty of care to the author, the editor and the reader.
  The traditional media would argue that these protocols protect and enhance the business of reviewing, in theory at least. In practice, it’s highly unlikely that an author, say, will protest a review based on inaccuracies on the basis that, as with sending back a cold bowl of soup in a restaurant, the fact that it’s warm when it returns may not necessarily be a good thing. No one wants to get a reputation for being ‘difficult’, because it lessens the chances of a good review further down the line, and hugely increases the chances of getting no review at all.
  Blogs and websites, by contrast, are generally more accessible. Reviewing isn’t supposed to be a democratic process, but an author who receives a factually inaccurate review from a blog should have no problem contacting the reviewer, whose contact details are generally available on his or her homepage. And, given that bloggers are usually enthusiasts who are blogging in order to spread the word, and are reviewing for love rather than money, they are generally more amenable to offering corrections and right-to-reply. Of course, they’re often not; that all depends on the blogger in question. Speaking for myself, I can only say that if a writer (or a writer’s supporter) gets in touch with me to argue his or her point, then I am only too delighted to offer them the space to do so. It’s not just a matter of courtesy; it’s the very essence of the peer-to-peer relationship that characterises internet discourse.
  There are other issues differentiating traditional and on-line media, of course. In the context of reviewing books, the traditional media will argue that bloggers are often less stringent in their evaluation of a book than a traditional-media critic might be. I’d agree with this point, although I’d suggest that very few bloggers see themselves as critics, and more as reviewers, whereas traditional media reviewers tend to regard themselves as critics. Only a fool would rush out and buy a book on the strength of a gushingly positive review from a single blogger – or, for that matter, from a traditional media review. But if you read ten, twenty or a 120 positive reviews of a particular book across a range of blogs, you’re more likely to accept the general trend. Only a very few authors, by comparison, are afforded the luxury of that quantity of coverage in the traditional media.
  And that’s without getting into the issue of the ‘long tail’ of the internet versus ‘tomorrow’s garbage’ of the traditional media.
  In a nutshell, book blogs and websites provide information that the traditional media either does not provide, or is tardy in providing – Rob Smith’s CHILD 44, now a Booker Prize nominee but initially championed through the web, being the most recent case in point. Established and best-selling authors are almost guaranteed saturation coverage in traditional media when they publish a new book, but if it’s new, different or awkward voices you prefer, then it’s bloggers who are seeking out and celebrating such voices.
  That’s understandable, as the traditional media has bills to pay and advertisers to woo, while most bloggers operate without any financial constraints at all – or, indeed, any financial incentive. It’s this last, I think, that underpins the traditional media’s paranoia about the web in general and bloggers in particular, and fuels the time-honoured fallacy fostered by capitalism, which is that unless you can pay for it, it’s not worth anything.
  The point that they’re missing, I think, is that no one blog or website sets itself up as a champion of virtue, quality or worth. The blogosphere is something of a Borg entity, or an ant hill, in which all the individual blogs combine and interact. That runs against the grain of the adversarial nature of traditional media, in which each outlet is in competition with every other for a slice of the pie. When I first started blogging, coming from as I did from that adversarial mentality, I was shocked at the hospitality and sense of community, and even now it still has the power to surprise me, albeit pleasantly. It all sounds too hippy-dippy to be true, but true it is – without the support of far too many bloggers and on-line crime fic fans to mention here, the self-published THE BIG O would never have made it into the pages of Publishers Weekly, for good or ill. Happy days, people.

On The Ineluctable Modality Of Shamus Nominations

Via Sarah Weinman comes news of the Shamus nominees, with my evil-twin alter-ego Declan Hughes (right) up for Best Novel with THE COLOUR OF BLOOD. Nice one, evil-twin alter-ego. The full list of Best Novel nominees runneth thusly:
BEST NOVEL
Thomas Cavanagh, HEAD GAMES (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Reed Farrel Coleman, SOUL PATCH (Bleak House Books)
Declan Hughes, THE COLOR OF BLOOD (William Morrow)
Michael Koryta, A WELCOME GRAVE (Thomas Dunne/SMP)
William Lashner, A KILLER'S KISS (William Morrow)
Tough competition, for sure, and we’ll be keeping a weather-eye on yon multi-award-winning Reed Farrel Coleman in particular. The nicest part of the announcement for yours truly was that I got to hear about it last Thursday, when my evil-twin alter-ego let slip the news over a few scoops in Fitzgerald’s of Sandycove. Now Fitzgerald’s, as you may or may not know, is something of a shrine to James Joyce, being but a fried kidney’s throw from the Martello Tower of ULYSSES fame. It was, I have to say, a nice juxtaposition – Ed Loy as a latter-day Leo Bloom, perambulating the mean streets of Dublin and digging out the foibles and idiosyncrasies of his generation. What’s that? You didn’t know that ULYSSES was a murder mystery? Ah, the ineluctable modality of it all …

The Best Things In Life Are Free … Books

Consider us well and truly rocked, Amadeus. The good folk at AVON, out of HarperCollins, are this week’s generous souls offering you – yes, YOU! – free books, the tome in question being THE MOZART CONSPIRACY, Scott Mariani’s follow-up to THE ALCHEMIST’S SECRET. First, the blurb elves:
Former SAS operative Ben Hope is running for his life. Enlisted by beautiful Welsh opera star Leigh Llewellyn to investigate her brother’s mysterious death, Ben finds himself caught up in a centuries-old puzzle. The official line states that Oliver died in an accident whilst investigating Mozart’s death, but the facts don’t add up. Oliver’s research reveals that Mozart, a notable freemason, may have been killed by a shadowy and powerful splinter group of the cult. The only clues lie in an ancient letter, believed to have been written by Mozart himself. When Leigh and Ben receive video evidence of a ritual sacrifice being performed by hooded men, they realise that the sect is still in existence today…and will stop at nothing to remain a secret. Whilst researching this novel, Scott Mariani became increasingly convinced that political forces could potentially have been involved in Mozart’s death. This stunning new theory makes THE MOZART CONSPIRACY as controversial and provocative as THE DA VINCI CODE …
Lovely. To be in with a chance of winning a copy of THE MOZART CONSPIRACY, just answer the following question.
Is Scott Mariani:
(a) a great Scott?
(b) a great Scot?
(c) the next Dan Brown?
(d) the man who finally put the ‘art’ into Mozart?
(e) all of the above.
Answers via the comment box, please, leaving a contact email address (using ‘at’ rather than @ to confound the spam-munchkins) before noon on Tuesday, August 5. Et bon chance, mes amis

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Other Gorgeous George

The Philadelphia City Paper drops by – not in person, y’understand – to ask if we’d be interested in hosting some of its recent interview with Gorgeous George Pelecanos (right, pic taken by the inimitable Jon Jordan), on the occasion of the publication of his latest tome, THE TURNAROUND. Which was very nice of them, although it’ll be even nicer still if they agree to interview yours truly when I’m passing through Philly on my most excellent adventure road-trip in the company of one John McFetridge on the way to the Baltimore Bouchercon. But we’ll worry about that anon. In the spirit of brotherly love, herewith be an excerpt from said interview, the full version of which can be found here. To wit:

CP: What makes a character resonate for you? Is there a moment when you know you’ve hit upon something?
GP: “I don’t outline or anything, I just write my books. It can be kind of scary but sometimes you don’t find the character until late in the book. Historically, I’ve always hit it somewhere in the book but while you’re writing it you’re saying to yourself, ‘I don’t know who this is yet, this person is not complete.’ I’m just going to write my way through it and find the character. Eventually you do, and you go back and rewrite and change little things. That’s how it works. It can be something as little as a piece of dialogue that just comes to you and you say, ‘Wait a minute, now I know who this is.’”
CP: One of the things I’ve always been so impressed by is your ability to use space and render D.C. almost like a character. In reading the work of some of your peers, I’m struck by how important place is to the success of a book. How much of your D.C. is real and founded in the streets and how much is created in your mind?
GP: “Of course the characters are fictional and they’re sort of walking through this fictional world, but as far as the grid goes, it’s all pretty much real. I go out and check stupid things like, Is there a T in that alley behind Otis Place NW? I have to go to the alley and make sure that there is. In the historical books like Hard Revolution, if a character is walking down the street in April ‘68 in a particular week of that month, and the movie theater marquee says Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or something, it was playing in that movie theater on that day. I can guarantee you that. I don’t make shit like that up. Even where it’s crippling. In other words, [in THE TURNAROUND] when Alex walks into the diner for the first time when he’s a kid and the James Brown song is playing, and it’s June in the book — if that song was released not until September of that year, I don’t put it in there. It wouldn’t have been coming through the radio. It’s a long-winded way of saying I’m trying to leave a record.”