One Bite at a Time

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lonesome Dove

We watched Lonesome Dove as part of this summer’s Western research and loved it just as much as ever. I know everything that’s going to happen and most of the lines and it still moves me just as much. Lonesome Dove also serves as a valuable tool for keeping awards in perspective. The Emmy for mini-series that year went to War and Remembrance. Which do people remember now?

The re-viewing resonated so well with me I re-read the book. William Wittliff did as fine a job adapting Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-winning novel as any screen- or teleplay I’ve ever seen,
creating a program that surpasses the source material. (More on that later.) The casting was spot on and the performances are true to the characters. Reading the book, I hear words attributed to Gus or Woodrow or Clara in the voices of Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and Anjelica Houston more often than not. Dish’s mustache is exactly as described.

Virtually all of the dialog comes verbatim from the book and most of Wittliff’s additions come from internal monologs McMurtry wrote. Wittliff also knew not to do too slavish an adaptation. The character of Wilbarger does not appear, though he plays a small yet key role in the novel. Some of Jake’s experiences with the Suggs brothers and Frog Lip are condensed. (Editor’s Note: It occurs to me those who have not read the book or seen the TV show will not know who those people are. Sucks to be you. It’s your own fault. They’ve only been available 30 years now. Get busy.)

Simon Wincer was also an inspired choice for director. An Australian who’d never done a Western (he went on to do Quigley Down Under and three episodes of Comanche Moon), Wincer took an outsider’s look at America’s most unique and beloved genre. Some of the stereotypical camera shots are missing (some had to be thanks to shooting locations that required angles calculated to make things look appropriate, such as having New Mexico fill in for Nebraska), Wincer also appreciated how to show scopes of size, most notably when Gus trails through the Llano Estacado in search or Lori and Blue Duck, and when pursued by the Kiowas Blue Duck sends back to kill him.

Few, if any, television shows or films have attempted to show such a breadth and depth of any period, from human relationships that transcend time to the hardships unique to the American frontier and the types of people it attracted and spawned. In that it also emulates the book, which shows how an epic story need deal with only a year and a relative handful of people to be successful. The catch is, though the book won its big award and the series did not, the series is better.

To some this will seem like apostasy, but the book has significant flaws. Not in the most important elements of story and characters but in the writing itself. Lonesome Dove, for all its brilliance, badly needed an editor.

First, it’s too long; judicious cuts would take nothing away. About a quarter of the book is backstory. McMurtry works it in as he goes, but at times becomes so enthralled with the past lives of characters he seems to forget shit is happening right now in the reader’s experience and it would be nice to get back to it. He invests four pages examining Pea Eye’s thoughts on women, which would be okay except that Pea Eye doesn’t really have any. Worse, Pea Eye is a spear-carrier for much of the book. He’s needed, and Gus and Call depend on him as a reliable hand, but he’s there to perform functions, not to enhance the experience. This is not an isolated example. At some point just about every character has at least one extended reminiscence—in the case of Dish’s feelings for Lorena more than one—that does little or nothing other than slow things down.

I hear you. “But it’s such beautiful writing.” Much of the time it is. There are also too frequent examples of amateurish mistakes that would get a lesser-known writer tossed before an agent finished the first page. Repeated words in sentences. (“’A ladies man like me can hardly be expected to resist such a passel of ladies.” In the teleplay the line is, “A ladies man like me can hardly be expected to resist such a passel of beauties.” Much better.) Unclear speech attributions. Word order in sentences. (“’Newt Dobbs,’ Augustus said, after a pause.” Why not, “After a pause Augustus said, “Newt Dobbs?” Or an action to describe the pause. Something before he speaks though, so we don’t have to go back and add the pause retroactively.)

Point of view flits from character to character like a bee through a field of clover. McMurtry’s good enough to pull this off the overwhelming majority of the time, but there are still occasions when one wonders whose head we’re in, and why? I’m not here to question his talent nor the magnitude of the accomplishment, but that’s sloppy work. The book and his readers deserved better.


So, on balance, this is the rare situation where I prefer the visual medium to the book. Wittliff and Wincer knew what to keep, what to get rid of, and what to change to create a masterpiece from a brilliant book with significant flaws. If you’re among the handful referred to above who have experienced neither, get the DVDs. You’ll never be sorry.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Conversation With Elaine Ash, Author of Bestseller Metrics

Elaine Ash is a highly-regarded editor and author, though you won’t know her as an author because she writes under a pseudonym. (I know what it is and could tell you, but then Elaine would kill us both, hopefully before her alter ego really fucked us up. I’ve read some of her stuff and she don’t play.)

Her newest work was written with her editor’s hat on, an exploration of not how to write a bestseller, but of what bestsellers have in common, regardless of genre. I could explain it to you, as the book is a quick and easy to understand read; it’s the exercises that will take time. That said, why should I? She’s here and can do it better than I could hope to.

One Bite at a Time: There are few things I hate more than someone asking me to come up with elevator pitches, but let’s start with your hundred-word description of Bestseller Metrics.

Elaine Ash: Bestseller Metrics shows how to structure a novel like a bestseller. Wobbly structure holds back the majority of unpublished manuscripts that I see as an editor. For those writing a first novel of 100,000 words or less, this book shows step-by-step how to structure all genres--mystery, chicklit, horror, fantasy, thrillers, science fiction and more. There are diagrams and drawings to make it clear and visual. A series of simple-to-do tests reveal what your writers' group can't or won't tell you. If you can count to ten you know all the math necessary to understand it.

OBAAT: Ninety-six words. Well done.

There are a million books on how to write, the vast majority of them written by people one has never heard of, which leads me to wonder why they aren’t famous, they know so much about writing. You took a different approach, breaking down successful books to look for the common elements. What gave you the idea to do this kind of analysis?

EA: I have my writer clients to thank. Doctors show patients x-rays. Mechanics present diagnostic tests. I do it with metrics. If you want to write a bestseller, why not look at other bestsellers to figure out how it was done? There's an order to telling a story in a novel, and it's rarely discussed, let alone taught. In order to convince my clients of the changes needed to sell their stories, I looked into the metrics of books by million-selling authors past and present. Agents and publishers responded enthusiastically to the results.

OBAAT: You hooked me in Chapter One with your concept of Imaginary Memory (IM). It’s the kind of idea I sometimes say relates to genius, as it’s something that’s lying right out there in the open for anyone to see, yet as soon as someone points it out it’s so obvious your eyes hurt. (At least mine did.) Where did you get this insight?

EA: Ha! I like the way you said that. When I kept seeing manuscripts with the same problems from hardworking writers who were taking classes, attending writers groups and revising over and over without seeing a different result from the buying market, I knew there had to be a blind spot. I finally figured it was like this: A writer uses all of his/her imagination while crafting a novel, and when it comes time to read over the draft, imagination doesn’t quit. It fills in pictures and details, weaving memories into a seamless and satisfying read for the writer. By the end, the writer feels like he’s just watched a good movie—unaware that IM has edited the movie all the way through—smoothing over missing descriptions, fleshing out skimpy plot points and more. The complete story he thought he read isn’t necessarily the one on the page. Then I asked the question, “What would turn IM off? What kind of test could point to what’s missing?

OBAAT: What I might like best about the book is how you never tell the reader what to do as a writer. I’ve read several books that propose to tell how to write the breakout novel, and all I ever thought of while reading them was this guy wanted to teach me how to write a book I wouldn’t read myself. There was a subtle formula there. What I see in your work is not “Here’s what to do?” but “Here’s what to look for in what you’ve done.” You need the author to have written at least a draft first before you get to work. To me, this helps the author in keeping her own vision of the book and looks for weaknesses and rough edges instead of trying to shoehorn it into someone else’s idea of what will sell. And let’s face it, no one really knows what will sell.

Have I inferred something you didn’t intend, or do I have that about right?

EA: I think you’re spot on. My system details the best way to present your story so another person’s brain can grasp it. I don’t care what your story is—there’s an order and a structure that will get it across more clearly and dramatically than any other way. You’re correct—I don’t interfere with a writer’s vision, I ask them to look within the story and see if certain elements are there. If they are, there’s a good chance that story is ready to market. At least you know what doesn’t need to be revised. There is power in knowing what shouldn’t be changed or touched. One thing that’s always driven me crazy is when a writers’ group clearly tells a writer that a ms needs work—which is a good thing— but nobody can pinpoint exactly what it is. This is the point where an editor should be called in. But often that's not feasible. So the writer tinkers around the edges, rewriting and revising aspects may be great already. A lot of that goes on: fixing what doesn't need to be fixed, when the basic problem is structure. I’d also like to say that you don’t need to have a finished manuscript to learn from Bestseller Metrics. Just reading the book will impart a lot.

OBAAT: The first thing I thought as I got into the book was, “Hot damn. Bill James* for writers.” I’m a seamhead, so I’m wired that way. Have you received any pushback from others who might dismiss—or even resent—trying to quantify an artistic endeavor?

EA: Not so far, knock on wood. And that "Bill James for writers" analogy really gave me hope when I was wandering the wilderness, not really sure if I was on a crazy train. Keep in mind that although the book has less than 50,000 words of text, I wrote at least 120,000 words and drew dozens of sketches and compiled tables that got thrown out. At one point, the second half of the book got thrown out (reserved, actually) because it was deemed too advanced by readers I trust.

Literary critics are used to looking at books in a certain way. Everybody thinks in terms of beginning, middle, end. But start slicing a novel into percentages and new patterns emerge. As you said earlier, everything has been sitting out in plain sight for ages. I’m just the one who decided to look at the parts mathematically. As an editor, I also knew what the numbers were revealing, and how to interpret them. (Hopefully, I'm not making myself sound like an oracle picking through chicken entrails...)

In 2016, The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of a Bestseller was published. Jody Archer and Matthew L. Jockers looked at algorithms and did a “big picture” analysis of 20,000 novels. I had a number of people contact me immediately, worried there might be a conflict or overlap. After my heart stopped thumping in time to Flight of the Bumblebee, I realized that the authors didn’t go into how numbers could benefit “small picture” applications. Here's a wacky and imperfect analogy: They looked at the whole elephant. I look at the bones giving the elephant its shape.

Finally, in my circle of several hundred people in the writing and publishing world, I’m already known as the person who invented the serial-killing-monkey genre—and it’s been successful. So once you’ve done something off the wall that’s worked, people are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. They’re willing to wait and see before they dismiss you out of hand. Getting thoughtful and favorable reviews from people such as yourself also adds a layer of Teflon.

OBAAT: The two books you broke down the most are The Big Sleep and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which shows how your evidence transcends mere genre. You also looked at books as diverse as Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Hunger Games, The Shining, Confederacy of Dunces and probably a dozen more. Aside from the fact all sold like banana splits at the beach, what made you select the books you did?

EA: I wanted to deconstruct worthy books that had huge and different readerships. Because my information transcends genre, I wanted to reach writers in every corner of the fiction universe with titles they knew and loved hard. Nothing connects the list titles except zillions of sales and most being made into movies. I felt these books were worth poring over to find out what makes them tick.

OBAAT: That’s an excellent point. The IM section alone reminded me that I have to keep that in mind, especially since I write a series, which make it important for me not only not to assume the reader knows what I’m talking about, but not to assume she’s read any of the previous books.

It occurs to me this may seem to readers all well and good in a New Agey yet analytical sort of way, sort of a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance meets Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but there’s no hook for them. Can you show us a digested example of what you’re talking about? Maybe a piece of one of the charts with a brief explanation?

EA: Sure! Let’s look at Table 2, which is the first comprehensive table in the book.

What you’re looking at here, from left to right, is the title of the book, then the author, and that middle column shows the total number of characters appearing in the first quarter of the book. As you can see, the numbers range from 25 for Kill Shot by Vice Flynn to 53 for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. That’s a pretty narrow range when you consider that those numbers seem to have nothing to do with the age, genre, or total word count of the book! Interview with the Vampire (1976) by Anne Rice is about 130,000 words long but has only 30 characters in the first quarter. Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) by Helen Fielding is 64,000 words long with 41 characters in the first quarter. How can these first-quarter character counts squeeze into such a narrow range? Answer: Our brains process stories, particularly the beginnings of stories, the same way they did in Aristotle’s time. When you start to look at these types of similarities among mega-successful books, a shiny new lightbulb goes on in terms of novel writing.

There is a caveat, however. Epics and sagas such as George R.R. Martin’s 280,000-word-plus A Game of Thrones novels, have their own rules of structure. Massive word count changes structure. Therefore, one has to be careful about applying the metrics shown here to the “literary leviathans.” My promise to the aspiring author is that if you are writing an average-sized novel of 100,000 words or less, my guidelines will help you craft a story with sound structure. Since structure is the number one challenge to most unsold manuscripts, this is good news.

OBAAT: How has Bestseller Metrics been received so far?

EA:  Enthusiastically and respectfully. I did have a few old-timers laugh out loud when I first mentioned finding mathematical patterns in novels, but they weren’t being mean. They laughed because it was so foreign to anything they’d heard before. Once people get a look at the system, it seems like they’re not only ready, but eager to dig in, they’ve been looking for something like this a long time. I have so many offers to speak and teach that it's a struggle to keep up. I’m concentrating on following users—the writers actually testing their manuscripts and taking note of what they have to say as they go along. It has to be user-friendly and it has to work. I’m sure there are improvements and adjustments I can make for the next release.

OBAAT: With this episode of heavy lifting behind you, what’s next? More fiction, or looking into what you’ve done here in more detail?

EA: Workshops, an online course, developing materials for teachers to use in classrooms, and software development. I’m in the process of sourcing textbook distributors, and nonfiction distributors. It’s a long list and I’m just one person, so it’s a long workday, everyday. I need help, so if anybody has any bright ideas and wants in on the ground floor, I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Movies

Western research and some movie passes combined with a recent week off work had given me more time to watch movies than usual. Here’s the overflow from the other day.

Monte Walsh (1970) I saw this a few years ago and liked it at least as much this time. A story that doesn’t try to be any more than what it is, an aging cowboy coming to grips with the end of an era and his place in the world, seeing his opportunities evaporate. Lee Marvin strikes the right balance of a man who understands he’s missed some chances because he realized too late his time has passed but never feels sorry for himself. The most entertaining scene is still when he breaks the bronco and ruins a town in the process—I do have to wonder where the hell everyone is while he’s wrecking the joint—but the point of the movie comes a few minutes later when he turns down a job for more money than he’s ever made because, “I ain't gonna spit on my whole life.” Nothing flashy but a first-rate film on many levels.

Lonesome Dove (1989) Okay, it’s not a movie. Sue me. I’m re-reading the book now and will write something about both media in a week or three. Suffice to say for now that the mini-series holds up as well today as it did thirty years ago.

Baby Driver (2017) Yes, we left the house again to see a movie. I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Edgar Wright was responsible for Hot Fuzz, a favorite of mine, and the trailers led me to expect an action thriller that adapted that sense of humor into a Shane Black universe. The opening sucks you in that direction with as wild a car chase as you’ll ever see (no CGI or flying cars;
all driving) and a whimsical dance sequence under the credits. About the time one gets settled in the who tone changes and the film can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. The end result is a movie that’s less than the sum of many excellent parts. (Here’s a more detailed review that I could have written myself had I the patience to actually learn to write good reviews.)

Tombstone (1993) I’ve lost track of how many
times I’ve seen this and it never disappoints. Not a great Western, but a damn good one. Kurt Russell shines as Wyatt Earp but Val Kilmer steals every scene and the movie as Doc Holliday. Historically it’s pretty close to the facts and close enough to the truth not to matter, at least for the period it describes. I’ll be surprised if I don’t watch it again. Hell, I may watch the gunfight at the O.K. Corral soon as I’m done here. (I did.)

The Wild Bunch (1969) Not just a great Western, a truly great film. Sam Peckinpah’s
magnum opus shows the opposite side of coming of life stories: seeing the end. Shocking in its day for the graphic violence, Peckinpah didn’t waste it. Even the battle of the Bloody Porch is no more bloody than scenes in a lot of movies today, but none of the violence is sanitized. It’s a painful to watch ending that still hits me after half a dozen viewings though it never veers into violence porn. I can’t recommend The Wild Bunch strongly enough, but you need to be in the right mood to watch its uncompromising and unapologetic look at outlaws whose times have passed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Movies Since Last Time

This is the summer of Western research for me, so my movie choices lean heavily in that direction. It’s also got me watching a lot more movies than usual, so I’ll add to this list next time.

3:10 to Yuma (2007) Quite a bit different from Elmore Leonard’s original story but, like Get
Shorty, the director (James Mangold) and the screenwriters (Halsted Welles, Derek Haas, and Michael Brandt) knew how much to keep along with what and how much to change to stay true to the spirit of the story. A first-rate cast is led by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale with excellent supporting work by Peter Fonda, Gretchen Mol, a frightening Ben Foster, and young Logan Lerman as Bale’s son. The easy Hollywood ending is eschewed and The Beloved Spouse™ and I debated Crowe’s final motivations afterward, but it was the kind of debate that reflected a feeling we were discussing what it was that made an actual person do something, not dismissing a character’s facile change to make a plot point. Not quite a transcendent Western in the mold of Unforgiven or The Wild Bunch, but damned good.

Wonder Woman (2017) As anyone who knows me on Facebook can attest, I don’t do comic book movies. I’ve also been recently burned by the action genre with Fate of the Furious.
Still, Wonder Woman received such buzz on multiple levels I couldn’t refuse the pleas of The Beloved Spouse™ to check it out. Yes, it’s a comic book movie, but the universe building doesn’t clank too badly and the performances are all outstanding. Gal Gadot nails Wonder Woman and Chris Pine is outstanding as Steve Trevor. (I’m still trying to decide who some of his deliveries remind me of. It’s someone I like, so it’s a compliment.) Particularly gratifying is the filmmakers’ willingness to make Trevor a valuable assistant, but only for things Wonder Woman couldn’t do herself. (Negotiating her way to and through England, getting to the front, and various bits of information she needed and could not otherwise have gotten.) None of it was remotely like, “he’s a man and she’s a woman so he has to handle this bad guy.” (Or open this jar or be smarter or whatever.)  All told, an enjoyable couple of hours with my baby. The sequel is negotiable.

The Hero (2017) Any woman past the age of 50 who claims Sam Elliott isn’t on her List™ can’t be trusted to tell the truth about anything. One of the coolest people alive, playing what
was billed as the role of a lifetime, how could we not go? Well, this’ll teach me not to be so hasty in the future. Elliott gets a few good lines, and his speech at the award ceremony made things worthwhile, but that’s about it. The move—sorry; I’m sure its auteur would want it described as a “film”—hints at several plot developments that would have been more interesting than what he chose, then follows none of them. The actors do their best, but the end result plays like someone in his 30s or early 40s who wanted to make a movie about facing one’s mortality without even having known anyone well who faced it. By the end it just didn’t pass the “So what?” test.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) Not quite sure what to make of this noir Western. There’s
nothing wrong with it, though the ending is a bit flat. That may be because I expected a little different movie. Not that I’m sure what I expected, but the film takes a while to settle into its mood and never does seem all that comfortable with it. The performances are excellent, and it’s definitely worth watching for what I expect is as close to an authentic look at the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the 20th Century as you’re likely to find. I’ve also come to appreciate it a lot more since the next movie I saw was

Nevada Smith (1966) which is exactly the kind of Western I was hoping to stay away from, a bit of formulaic tripe that is not helped by 35-year-old Steve McQueen playing what is supposed to be a 16-year-old kid with revenge on his mind. Full of holes and dubious
A 16-year-old boy?
propositions throughout, and the ending stinks. (Spoiler alert.) McQueen seriously wounds Karl Malden, the man he’s been chasing the whole movie. When Malden taunts him to “finish me off,” McQueen’s character finally takes the words of a priest to heart and spares him, with the parting words, “You’re not worth killing.” So he leaves the seriously wounded man to die in a cold stream alone in the mountains. Not that Malden’s character didn’t deserve it, but that’s what passed for compassion in the 60s. (It also didn’t help that the movie I was looking for was Tom Horn but couldn’t remember the title.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Conversation With Paul Brazill

Paul Brazill is one of the too large number of authors I know well through the Internet but have never met. What makes Paul special is that he lives in Poland, which severely limits the chances of running into him even more.

It’s my loss. Apart from being great fun and a man I’d love to tip a few glasses with, Paul’s a hell of a writer, and prolific to boot. His books include Big City Blues, Too Many Crooks, A Case Of Noir, Guns Of Brixton, The Last Laugh and Kill Me Quick! His writing has been translated into Italian, Polish, Finnish, German, and Slovene and has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including three editions of The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime.
One Bite at a Time: Paul, it’s been too long since we caught up here. What’s been up with you lately?
Paul Brazill: Writing wise, I’ve had three books published this year by the British indie publisher Near To The Knuckle. Too Many Crooks, A Case of Noir, and Big City Blues. A Case of Noir was previously published by the Italian publisher, Lite Editions. Near To The Knuckle will also publish a collection of my flash fiction later this year.

I contributed to Ryan Bracha’s latest project, The Thirteen Lives of Frank Peppercorn, which is a novel in short stories. There are lots of top writers involved.

I’ve also had a veritable cornucopia of flash fiction published online at places like Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Out Of The Gutter Online.

OBAAT: That’s great news. Congratulations. How did you get together with Near to the Knuckle? (Which is a great name for a crime publisher, by the way.)
PB: I’ve known N2TK’s Craig Douglas online for ages via the Near To The Knuckle flash
fiction website and a few other online joints. I’ve had yarns in a couple of their anthologies too. When I saw that N2TK were going to publish novellas I knew that I wanted to get on board!

OBAAT: You’re British by birth but have lived in Poland for a long time. How did that come about?
PB: In 2001 I was living in London—I’d lived there for ten years though I’m from the north east of England—and took a sabbatical from work. This included trips to Toulouse and New York and also Madrid, where I did a TEFL course. After I finished the course, I applied for a few jobs and quickly got a job teaching English here in Poland. And here I stay, though I have moved around the country a bit.

OBAAT: Did you speak Polish when you first arrived?
PB: Not a dicky bird! I applied for TEFL jobs in various places as soon as I finished the course and I got the job in Skierniewice, Poland pretty much straight away. Two weeks after that I was living in the country. My Polish isn’t much cop even now, to be honest, since I rarely have to use it. More and more people speak English to a good level.

OBAAT: I know the interest in crime fiction varies quite a bit by country in Europe. France digs it and I’ve heard there’s practically nothing going on in Germany. Is there much of a crime fiction community in Poland?
PB: I don’t know about community but crime is certainly a very popular genre—and there are lots of Polish crime writers, mostly female it seems. Poles seem to favour Nordic noir or similar. Violent and grim! There’s an international crime fiction festival in Wroclaw every year and I’ve seen a few others mentioned too. The one in Wroclaw is the only one that’s in English, I think.

OBAAT: I never get political in an interview and don’t mean to now, but it must have been something to be a Brit living on the Continent when Brexit took place. Leaving politics out of it as much as possible—sorry, I know that’s a loaded question—what did—do—you think of that?
PB: What’s that German word? Schadenfreude. The whole thing seems to have been a case of chaotic, bad improvisation. A bit like the political version of Derek Smalls’ ‘Jazz Odyssey’ in Spinal Tap.

OBAAT: You have your own niche carved out of the crime fiction community. Probably your best-known creation is Roman Dalton, werewolf detective. How did you come up with the idea for Roman?
PB: A few years ago, Katherine Tomlinson was putting together the late lamented Dark Valentine Magazine. She was looking for cross-genre stories. About that time, I was listening to Tom Waits’ song “Drunk on The Moon.” It’s very noir in its feel and of course Tom sounds like a wolf—and he was also in the film Wolfen. So I wrote a yarn about a werewolf detective called Drunk On the Moon. And a few more yarns after that. Roman Dalton is having a bit of a kip at the moment but he’ll be back.

OBAAT: Your current book, Big City Blues, has story lines and characters going every which way: a London detective, a Polish cop, and an American PI. No spoilers, obviously, but what gave you the idea of combining such disparate elements into the same book?
PB: The title is a bit of a clue. I was a big fan of the TV series Hill Street Blues—and later NYPD Blue—they usually had three stories running together at the same time. With Big City Blues, I wanted to up the ante a bit more and change location a couple of times too.

OBAAT: I loved both those shows. Actually I love NYPD Blue in the present tense, as I’ve only started watching it in the past year and I’m still working my way through it. I’ve always been drawn to stories where there’s more than one thing at a time going on, probably ever since I first read Ed McBain. Who are your go-to writers in the genre?
PB: I was first drawn to crime fiction after reading a Charles Shaar Murrey article about Elmore Leonard in the New Musical Express in the ‘80s. I got Stick and Swag from the library and never looked back. After that I mostly read American writers such as Jim Thompson, Joe Lansdale, James Lee Burke and Patricia Higsmith. Since then I’ve given a lot of crime writers a try. These days, Les Edgerton, Tony Black, Eva Dolan, Cathi Unsworth, and Ray Banks are always a pleasure, never a chore. And lesser known writers such as Martin Stanley and Ian Ayris. But there are loads of good writers out there. Far too many to mention.

OBAAT: Do see any direct influences of any of these in your writing? (refers to the authors cited in previous answer: Leonard, Thompson, Lansdale, Burke, Highsmith, Edgerton, Black, et al.)
PB: If it wasn’t for the likes Tony Black, Ray Banks, Charlie Williams, Nick Quantrill and Alan Guthrie, I would never have dabbled with writing myself. They showed me you could set things in a world that I was familiar with and turn them into interesting yarns. The humour in Charlie Williams’ Mangel books was a sure influence, as was Damon Runyon—who I should have mentioned before.

OBAAT: I want to get back to Big City Blues for a bit. With three protagonists and disparate plot elements, how do you keep them straight, or make sure none have been neglected for too long? Did you outline first? Any variance from your typical practice when working on a book?
PB: Big City Blues is very similar to most of my other books—Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, Cold London Blues—where an oddball cast of characters are thrown together and then we see what will happen. I’ve never outlined but probably should give it a shot at some time!

OBAAT: What can we expect from you next?

PB: Well, as I mentioned, Near To The Knuckle will be putting out my latest flash fiction collection over the next few months. I’m just finished a sort of companion to my ‘seaside noir’ novella Kill Me Quick! (which was published by Number 13 Press). This one’s called Hit The North! And I’ve a few other unfinished projects which I hope I can get moving on! I was thinking of writing a cozy noir about a guilt-ridden canine detective. I’d call it ‘Out, Damn Spot!’

Monday, July 3, 2017

June's Best Reads

This is the summer where I decide whether to fish or cut bait on the Western I’ve been toying with for several years now. My reading list reflects that, and likely will for the next couple of months. It’s okay. There’s no dearth of great stuff to read in this area.

Deadwood: Stories of the Black Hills, David Milch. This is the inside story book written to accompany the HBO series. In it Milch details how and why he made many of the creative decisions that made the show what it was, some of his research, and includes sections by various actors about how they played their roles and how the characters grew as the show moved on. A fascinating ‘inside baseball” look at what may have been TV’s most fascinating series, though with a melancholy ending: the closing article was written with the full expectation that the series would conclude with two two-hour movies, which we now know never happened.

Six Guns at Sundown, Eric Beetner. It’s a good thing Beetner is such a nice guy and so generous in his aid to other writers because he’s so good and so prolific it would be easy to hate him otherwise. Even so, I may give it a try. Not content to write some of the best and most concise crime fiction around, he branched out into Westerns and nailed it. All of the things one loves about his crime stories are here, including the cinematic textures that lead the reader to visual a movie scene while reading.

True Grit, Charles Portis. A re-read, and well worth it. As good as everyone who loves it says it is, a book that will survive endless readings. Portis was a treasure and should be better remembered for his other works (which include Masters of Atlantis and Dog of the South) but it’s no crime that True Grit holds the primary position. The only shame is that so many read this one and stop there.

Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the Wickedest Town in the American West, Tom Clavin. I stumbled onto this at a book event and it followed me home. Lucky me. Meticulously researched and written with a dry and appropriate wit, Dodge City captures not just the flavor of the town but gives a good, broad look at the origins of law enforcement on the American frontier circa 1870 – 1890 or so, including why there was a need for it. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Amazon Prime is through its third “season” of Bosch, their series based on Michael Connelly’s wildly successful books about LAPD homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. It’s a good show—sometimes an outstanding show—but it doesn’t quite push me over the edge of enthusiasm the way Amazon’s Goliath did earlier this year. There are definable reasons for this.

First the good stuff. The producers had the good sense to stick as much within the universe defined by Connelly’s books as possible, unlike what Netflix did with the Longmire series, which has shown wear the last couple of years. No one comes up with better stories than Michael Connelly, and his depictions of police procedure and cops’ lives are unsurpassed.

The casting and acting also express Connelly’s books well. I’ve been in the tank for Titus
Welliver even since he made his first appearance in Deadwood, no matter how badly he needed a haircut. He absorbs the role of Harry so much that when I read Connelly now I think of Welliver in my mind. It’s also nice to see Wire alumni Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick again, though Reddick plays essentially the same role as he did in The Wire, with a little more connivance. (It would be nice to see him walking around without that rebar up his ass, though.) The dynamic between Harry and his daughter (Madison Lintz) always works, and the relationship he has with his ex-wife (Sarah Clarke) is authentically awkward, as opposed to inexpertly done. The overall production values are excellent.

My lack of total enthusiasm comes, in part, from the strengths of the show: how close it relies on Connelly’s books. No one tells better stories than Michael Connelly, but he doesn’t tell them with much flair. Sometimes the books read as if he’s still too closely wedded to the ethos of his journalistic roots. The dialog rarely sings. It’s a talented corps of actors; give them things to say that take advantage of their gifts.

The other problem is Harry himself: he’s an asshole. If not for his obvious affection and concern for his daughter, he’d be an unlikeable asshole. He’s sullen, rude, and always Right, and fuck you if you disagree. That’s okay once in a while as a way to show a character with backbone, but Harry’s like that all the time. As someone pointed out to me (I wish I remember who, but I forget. Sorry.) Harry’s an asshole in the books, too, but the internal monologs help us to understand his thought processes better, so we can at least rationalize some of his more holey conduct. A visual medium loses that, so it might be of value to back off it a little.

Is Bosch a good show? Absolutely. Will I watch Season 4? No doubt. Does it reach the elite level of The Wire, The Sopranos, or Deadwood? Nope. I’d place it about even with Ray Donovan, though better in some ways and not as good in others. A good show well worth one’s time, but not to be included in the conversation when the classics are under discussion.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Good Time Was Had by All

This is going to be a difficult blog post to write, among the my hardest ever. If all blog posts required this level of gut-wrenching effort to produce, I wouldn’t fool with it. Okay. Enough. Let’s rip this Band-Aid off all at once: I’m going to say nice things about Ed Aymar. Happy?

Ed used his not inconsiderable (and wholly inexplicable) skill at talking people into things to get One More Page Books in Arlington to host an evening of crime fiction last Friday. Ed cobbled together a panel that consisted of Christina Kovac (The Cutaway), Sherry Harris (author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series), and Burt Solomon (Killing Willie Lincoln), then risked it all by inviting me.

A crowd of about thirty people showed up anyway and was treated to an evening that showed the uninitiated why crime fiction writers are so often described as the friendliest and most open of all writers: because they are. From Christina’s tales of gruesome dead bodies through Sherry’s cats on her book covers (there are no cats in the books) to Burt’s trials to get the proper Lincoln son on his cover, Ed led an entertaining evening that lasted well past when the good people at One More Page thought they’d be able to go home.

Regardless of who came up with the idea, having a cross-section of crime writers was inspired. Christina writes contemporary thrillers; Sherry does cozies; Burt leverages his non-fiction research skills for historical mysteries; I’m hard-boiled. The audience that appears at such an event is pre-disposed to like crime fiction. Why not give them a taste of what they already like, but in different flavors? The audience questions kept us on our toes and the chats during the signing period were just as good.

So thanks to everyone at One More Page for having me, thanks to everyone who showed up (especially those who bought every book I carried in with me), and special thanks to Christina, Sherry, and Burt for being such great co-panelists.

And, damn it, special special thanks to Ed Aymar, who was directly responsible for 75% of the events on the Resurrection Mall World Tour™. He teed me up for the moderator’s gig at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last month and invited me to read at the Noir at the Bar he set up later that evening, in addition to the event at One More Page. If one is judged by one’s friends, Ed’s can get away with anything.

One thing about him, though. He has like no back hair. None. It’s weird.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Conversation With Angel Colon

Officially, Angel Colón is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of No Happy Endings, the Blacky Jaguar series of novellas, and the upcoming short story anthology, Meat City on Fire (And Other Assorted Debacles). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He’s repped by Peter Steinberg at Foundry Literary.

Just between us, we’ve been online friends for a few years now and there are few who are more fun to trade ideas with. Read on if you doubt me.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about this Blacky Jaguar character.
Angel Colon: Blacky Jaguar is the last son of a bitch you need walking into your life. Ex-IRA, current FBI most-wanted, and all-time asshole. He's a swaggering, loudmouth, villainous prick who happens to let his conscience--what little of it there is--get the better of him on most occasions, though, there's usually an obscene amount of collateral damage left in his wake.

I like to say he's a hurricane what walks like a man.

In other words: the ideal drinking partner.

OBAAT: So how’d he get hooked up with the Cool Clux Cult?
AC: Blacky's an idiot, but he's not dumb. After his exploits in The Bronx during Fury the man knows he's working against the clock and will be behind bars before long. That said, he figures a road trip to Graceland is in order as it's been on his bucket list. Unfortunately, Blacky needs money and finds himself wrapped up in an old friend's mess against a shadowy internet cabal making life pretty damn difficult for the residents of a Tennessee town. The Cool Clux Cult is a frustrating problem for Blacky - how does he win against something he can't punch? And how does a man with a background in a heavily political movement (which is me putting the IRA lightly, I know) handle coming face to face with ideologues and modern American social justice?

OBAAT: As a fellow Down & Out author, I was tickled to death to see No Happy Endings was recently nominated for an Anthony Award for best novella. Give us some idea how proud the other nominees should be to have been included in your company.
AC: Who doesn't want to be on a slate with a story about stealing semen in the middle of a hurricane? That's some prestige money can't buy!

All jokes aside, it's insane to see No Happy Endings get enough love to even be shortlisted. I'm proud and also pretty fucking humbled that enough people thought enough of the story to include it in their lists for nomination.

That said, it is infinitely entertaining a novella about a sperm heist and Johnny Shaw's outstanding short story, “Gary's Got A Boner,” were both nominated. I think this year's B'Con may have a subtle theme.

OBAAT: Let’s talk about writing in general for a minute and the process that earned the nomination. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
AC: It's a big mix but I ultimately edit as I go and then I edit some more followed by ugly crying and more editing. Novellas are a little easier to burn through and come back to sorting out in multiple revise phases. The length is also useful as I can read the story out loud to my wife - which is sort of a tradition for Blacky - and spot where the voice is off or when I use redundant phrases.

Honestly, the hard work is constant. No Happy Endings, which earned the Anthony nomination for Best Novella this year, went through three completely different protagonists and a POV change. It took me a while to find a sweet spot that lived up to my initial "pitch" and even then what was printed was not what I originally had in mind - which is pretty fortunate!

OBAAT: I know the feeling. I was 40,000 words into my third Nick Forte novel when I realized I had a tar baby on my hands. I outlined what had been done, outlined what else needed to happen, and threw away a bunch of stuff. End result was a Shamus nomination. My current novel, Resurrection Mall¸ started out as a Forte story until I realized 50,000 words in it didn’t belong there, so I threw away almost everything and started over with it as a Penns River novel that eventually got a contract from Down & Out. At what point did you realize you had to go back to the drawing board, and what was your reaction when you decided you had no choice. Mine was, “Awwww, fuck.”
AC: It's a palpable, ragged breathing, veiny-necked anger when you have that moment of "Awwww, fuck." It happened with Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult, too. I had entire subplots in this bad boy that forced two from-the-ground-up rewrites. One bit: there was going to be a pair of teenage girls on a Bucket List style road trip—one was dying from leukemia—and  they literally latch onto Blacky in the middle of this whole mess. Ultimately, they were a distraction and had their own legs. Silver lining there is maybe that becomes its own thing. Really, that's about what keeps me sane sometimes - the idea that what I throw out isn't necessarily a wasted effort. Sometimes it's just meant to fit somewhere else.
OBAAT: You’re into novellas, as No Happy Endings and the Blacky Jaguar series all fit the form. What appeals to you most about novellas? Do you have trouble getting your stories to fit comfortably between short stories and novels?
AC: I've actually completed five novels now. One is with my agent and the other two are being retooled. What I like about the novella is the format allows me to tell stories that aren't 'aligned' with whatever the latest flavor of the month 'sure path to publishing success' may be. I can chase those random concepts that have legs longer than flash or short fiction would allow without having to pad the damn thing into oblivion.

Let's be honest, Blacky Jaguar is fun as hell and I love that people always ask for more of the character, but I truly believe I would not get that response if I made you read through 300-plus pages of the character. I think writers need to recognize that finding the right length for a project is just as important as the actual project. I can't tell you how often I read a novel that could have lost 100 pages easily or read a short that has the legs to be novella/novel length but falters.
Writers have so many options these days. Exercise them!

OBAAT: Excellent point about how Blacky—all characters, all projects—have a prime length. Too short and people feel unsatisfied. Too long and you’re trying to wring blood from a stone. (We’ve all read books—and series---where that happens.) You and I have a similar take on that. The catch is that the archetypical “best seller” has an approximate length that people expect, and one deviates from that at one’s own peril. As a fellow deviant, what are your feelings about writing books that may limit your mass appeal? More to the point, who do you write for?
AC: I write for my kids - weird answer, so let me elaborate. I write material that makes me happy and doesn't necessarily compromise my specific vision because I want my rugrats to see that this pursuit, and all the goddamn work that comes with it, is meant to be satisfying to the artist as much as to the consumer. Can I write to the market? Sure. Will I? Maybe. I can't say for certain an idea might grab me that leans heavily to the mainstream. (Hell, one or two novels I'm working on just might). That doesn't mean I'll ever sacrifice my voice, though. It took me a long damn time to be comfortable with my voice and I don't want to walk away from that.

In short - if I can be an example to my kids in that sense - it's 100% worth it. I don't want them to believe the payoff has to be money or fame. Those things are certainly nice and definitely something to strive for, but the satisfaction of creating and sharing is something that I am so happy to have had the good luck to experience.

OBAAT: Novellas have made a bit of a comeback recently as e-books, largely because production costs make it difficult for print publishers to find a good price point. Down & Out is bringing Blacky out in paperback. Was that your idea, or theirs, and how did it come about?
AC: Down & Out rocks? It's a pretty cool partnership now that Shotgun Honey and Down & Out have joined forces. That said, I've been lucky that all of my releases so far have been available in print and digital! I am that damn cool. On a more professional note, though - I think there's still something to holding a physical book no matter the length. With the way Amazon and other sellers are built, I think it's ridiculous to not offer readers an option - especially if the cost is at a minimum.

OBAAT: So I’m guessing I’ll see you in Toronto. Tell you what, if you don’t win the Anthony, first drink’s on me. If you do win, first drink’s on you. I mean, you’re celebrating and almost certainly wouldn’t have won without the OBAAT bounce, right?
AC: For sure I'm in Toronto, but I'll be on a plane when they don't call my name. Scheduling demands my ass back in the States on Sunday afternoon. My wife and kids give me a wide berth for this stuff, but being gone from Thursday is pushing it. (Also, the only other flight out would have me landing later than I need to be driving on the Jersey Turnpike than I'd enjoy). Still, we'll certainly have a drink or two and I'll bitch about something involving the current state of crime fiction politics as is required at Bouchercon.

OBAAT: We’ll just have to have that drink in advance. I’ll buy and you can pay me back after you win—with interest—in St. Petersburg.

Thanks, Angel. This was great fun. Looking forward to more from you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Conversation With Nik Korpon

Here’s Nik Korpon’s Amazon bio:
Nik Korpon is the author of The Rebellion's Last Traitor (Angry Robot 2017), Queen Of The Struggle (2018), and The Soul Standard, among others. (Editor’s note: Plus my personal favorite, Stay God, Sweet Angel.) His stories have bloodied the pages and screens of Thuglit, Needle, Out of the Gutter, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, and a bunch more. He lives in Baltimore.

That’s fine as far as the writing credits go. It’s the “He lives in Baltimore” part I take issue with. He doesn’t just live in Baltimore. He absorbs Baltimore. He squeezes the life out of Baltimore then shakes it back into existence. To say “Nik Korpon lives in Baltimore” is like saying “Batman lives in Gotham City.” Marlo Stanfield crosses the street to avoid Nik Korpon. Anyone who doubts this didn’t see Nik’s precedent-shattering performance at last month’s DC Noir at the Bar. You don’t fuck with Nik Korpon.

He’ll talk to me, though. And did.

One Bite at a Time: Let’s start with how glad I am we finally got together here. We talked about doing an interview a while ago and things never quite came together. Tell me a little about your new book, The Rebellion’s Last Traitor.
Nik Korpon: Thanks! I'm glad to be here too. The Rebellion's Last Traitor is about a former revolutionary-turned memory thief called Henraek. About ten years before the book starts, he and his best friend Walleus led the rebellion against the brutal authoritarian government party, but when it became clear that the rebellion wasn't going to succeed, Walleus went turncoat, trying to talk Henraek into coming with him. (This all happens in the first chapter so I'm not spoiling much.) Henraek flipped his shit and started a riot, which accidentally killed his wife and son. So the book starts with Henraek stealing memories for the Tathadann, and selling some on the side on the black market where they're consumed like drugs. But after one mission, he finds a memory that suggests the story he'd heard about the riot isn't quite true. The book follows him as he searches for the truth about his family. And obviously, a ton of shit goes massively wrong along the way.

OBAAT: I tend to say writers are tripping over ideas and the real challenge is to find the one we like, suits our abilities, and we feel like living with for a year. The concept for The Rebellion’s Last Traitor isn’t the kind of thing one trips over every day. Where did you come up with that one?
NK: This book has been through a ton of different iterations, but, if I'm remembering correctly, it started with wanting to write about a thief, but a thief who steals something other than money or jewels or whatever. Eventually I stumbled over the idea of stealing memories. It ended up tying in well with other themes I tend to write about: what it means to be family, relationships between fathers and sons, the idea of having a homeland, how memory intersects with our conception of ourselves. And overall, I thought it was just a cool twist on the usual mystery novel.

OBAAT: I love that concept. When everything else is taken away from us, all we have left are our memories and whatever comfort they can bring. The idea of memory theft risks the removal of much of what makes us who we are. That’s got to be the scariest part of the book, the concept of memory theft.
NK: I definitely agree. Part of it comes from reading a lot of books on Buddhism, which looks at your relationship to the concept of self and reality. That easily slips into "Well, if I'm not really happy/angry/mad/hungry, I'm just experiencing a mental reaction to certain stimuli, then what if that stimuli is just a reaction to something else," and suddenly you're living in a simulation or whatever.

OBAAT: I think of you as a crime fiction and noir guy. Is this your first foray into science fiction?
NK: Pretty much. A lot of stuff I've written crosses the genre line—I think it's called slipstream but I can't keep up with all the categories—but this is the first real sci-fi thing I've done. And technically it is sci-fi, but part of me feels weird to say that because it's definitely not hard sci-fi. The comparison I always give is think X-Files, not Star Trek.

OBAAT: We met at a Noir at the Bar event a few years ago, I think it was at Slainte in Baltimore. I mean, we knew each other online, but we met face to face there, and I always think of you when a Noir at the Bar is scheduled for DC or Baltimore. How did you get hooked up and what keeps you coming back for them?
NK: Yep, Slainte is right. That was a great reading. The weather sucked but all the readers killed it.

I ran a reading series called Last Sunday, Last Rites for three years with my buddy Pat King out of the hostel where I worked at the time. I eventually stepped away because my son was born and I was too busy, but I missed being involved in them. So Brian Lindenmuth and I started talking about setting up crime readings in Baltimore, maybe a year before we did that first Baltimore N@B, but it never came together. Then Kieran Shea hit me up because he and Steve Weddle were looking at doing an N@B in town and thought I could help find a place to do it. Kieran lives in Annapolis and OC, NJ, and Steve is in Virginia, so it made sense that I would be the one who kept doing them. I don't do as many as I'd like, but the answer's somewhere between being really busy and being kind of lazy. And also because Ed Aymar does such great ones in DC that I have a hard time keeping up.

OBAAT: Speaking of Aymar, he set up the DC Noir at the Bar event we both read at last month. You and I are also on a panel with Cristina Kovac he’s running this Friday at One More Page in Arlington, assuming he’s not a ward of the state by then. (It will be the next Friday by the time this runs. Don’t panic.) How did you get hooked up with Ed, assuming you’re allowed to tell?
NK: When I was little, Ed was famous. He was the greatest Samurai in the empire, and he was the Shogun’s decapitator—wait a sec, wrong story.

Ed came to that Noir at the Bar we were talking about earlier, at Slainte, and introduced himself. We've become good friends, in large part I think, because he pulls me into a lot of his schemes, and man does that dude hustle. He's always organizing a reading or a panel or some kind of event, and he's really generous with his time and making sure to include local readers. I'm thankful for him because I get to participate in a lot of things that I'm too lazy or busy to set up myself. 

OBAAT: The Noir at the Bar Ed pulled off last month in DC was, I think, the best I’ve been to. The quality of writing was exceptional, as was the quality of the reading. Eryk Pruitt won the machete, but you stole the show with your performance art piece that put me in mind of the Reverent D. Wayne Love from the group A3. This may be of interest primarily to those who were there, but where the fuck did you come up with that? It was the single most memorable thing I’ve seen at a Noir at the Bar event.
NK: Thanks for saying that. It was a lot of fun to do. It started after Ed told everyone he got an engraved machete as the Audience Favorite prize. Then he texted me, saying Eryk had given him a clip of his shit-talking video and we'd all better bring it. So my goal was, basically, to out-sacrilege Eryk. The whole thing was a story at first, then I thought it'd be cooler to have it be more of a performance art kind of thing, and it all went to hell from there. But I think the main thing was to be entertaining. We're lucky at N@B because many of the readers are characters and sarcastic loudmouths anyway, so the readings are interesting. But a lot of readings are quiet, navel-gazing events, and I wanted to do something off-the-wall that people would remember.

OBAAT: I know there are writers who don’t like to read in their own genre when they’re working on a book. They think they’ll fall into the other writer’s style or voice. What—and who—do you like to read, and does that ever enter into it?
NK: It doesn't bother me much anymore. I think I'd avoid reading people when I started writing books, but by this point my own voice is fairly defined (or is evolving constantly enough) so it doesn't affect me much. I guess I try to read in the genre I'm writing to sort of get my head in the game. But I do read certain authors before starting a book if I want to try to channel them. Don Winslow and Dennis Lehane are two I fall back on frequently. I'm really looking forward to having time to read their new books this summer. Tana French is another one. Her writing amazes me because she'll have nine pages of interrogation—and that's nine pages of small type and narrow margins—but they're absolutely riveting. I don't understand how she does it. Gabino Iglesias is another writer I read when looking for inspiration for the book I'm (hopefully) starting soon.

OBAAT: I need to read Winslow. I’ve been tripping over his name for a couple of years now. I’ve been in the tank for Lehane for quite a while. I’ve heard him say he writes about the people he writes about—basically the working class and criminals—because he understands them and doesn’t give a shit about the rich. Stay God, Sweet Angel revolved around characters—notably Damon—who can’t catch a break. It doesn’t sound like Henraek and Walleus exactly have the road rising to meet them, either. What attracts you to these kinds of characters and stories?
NK: Winslow is fantastic. For my money, one of the best writers working today. I was lucky to get to interview him when he was touring for The Cartel (again, thanks to Ed pulling me in) and kind of froze, so I ended up asking him about surfing and fish tacos (which, if you've read the Boone Daniels books, makes sense). But he was really nice the whole time and I think happy to get different types of questions. I'm really looking forward to the books he's doing with Michael Mann. 

I'd put Lehane in the same boat, too. What I like about Lehane is the focus on working class people, people I know and grew up with, which is probably the reason I write about who I write about. Maybe it's the class-warfare chip on my shoulder, but I don't give a shit about the rich. Rich people problems are boring. Most people have no conception of what $50,000 is really like—like, in cold, hard cash—much less millions, so there's inherently more drama is someone scrambling to find $20,000 or something because you can imagine yourself in the character. It's like that old Elmore Leonard maxim: "Never have more money than you can fit in a suitcase." And people always want to root for the underdog, the downtrodden and the dispossessed. Although I torture characters in books, I think I tend to write happy endings (relatively speaking) and if I wrote about rich people, I'd just destroy their lives and not give them any hope for redemption.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
NK: I've been writing a ton of essays and lining up interviews to promote Traitor, so that's taken up a lot of my (scant) free time. I also pitched on two really cool projects that didn't pan out but had a lot of fun with them. In between that, I've been working on a synopsis for a new thriller, which I'm really excited about since I've never written an out-and-out thriller before. Or at least my version of one. I've found that if I have a good, detailed synopsis, writing the book is a lot easier because I'm not constantly worried that it's going to fall apart at any moment and allows me more mental space to have fun with it. Which has been a good thing, because I've rewritten this story from the ground up about six or seven times. I'm pretty sure I found the right one this time.