Jackie Baldwin Interview: “I see criminals as real people”

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Former criminal lawyer turned Crime Fiction Author Jackie Baldwin talks to me about her writing, her inspiration and her enduring love for Agatha Christie.

Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

Like a lot of crime novelists I grew up in an era where there was no young adult genre, so when you were 12 you were let free in the adult library. There, to my delight, I discovered crime writers like Agatha Christie and thriller writers like Alistair MacLean. Although I read quite widely across various genres, I came to enjoy crime fiction in particular as for many years I was a criminal lawyer so I knew that world. I also love that nowadays there is such diversity within the genre. Anything goes, from hardboiled to psychological thrillers to cosy mysteries. They all have something interesting to offer the reader.

What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

I always loved mystery books like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five but I think my first adult crime novel was by Agatha Christie. I read them all one after the other but can’t remember which one I started with. I remember I was always getting into trouble for reading too much as I was always desperate to keep going and find out who did it. My catchphrase was, ‘I’ll just finish the chapter.’ It used to drive my mum crazy!

How do you draw on your background as a lawyer when writing?

Well, I suppose first and foremost I see criminals as real people. I also think you have to view people who commit crimes within their entire context and not in a two dimensional way. Nobody is all good or all bad. Most of us inhabit some shade of grey. During my time as a lawyer I met very few people who made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up although there were a handful. Mostly it was people who made bad choices in difficult circumstances, were reared in a family culture of criminality, or had spiralled down into offending through drug addiction.

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Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I write in the third person but I like to focus in very closely on the internal life of my main characters at times of pressure. I’m fascinated by psychology and people’s inner life. Often that is so different from the image they present to the world. I wanted to avoid the trope of the alcoholic hard- bitten detective with a failing marriage and offer the reader something a little different so my lead character, DI Frank Farrell is a former practising RC priest who suffered a devastating mental breakdown as a young priest but recovered.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

The weird thing is that since I was published I seem to have a lot less time to read than I used to and I do love to read. On the crime front, I enjoy books by Sophie Hannah, Susie Steiner, Robert Bryndza and Peter James. All of these have influenced me to the extent that they create memorable characters who feel very real to me and have a complex inner life which is what I have tried to create in my own work. I also love science fiction, particularly Asimov and Alisdair Reynolds. The only thing I tend not to get along with is romance!

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with Sally Wainwright on a TV drama. I recently watched Happy Valley for the first time and was completely blown away. I admire her tremendously. It was so immersive. One night, I found myself screaming ‘Run!’ at the TV to the great consternation of my husband and daughter. Isn’t it infuriating when people say to you, ‘It’s just a TV show’?

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

At the moment I am nearing the end of book 2 in my DI Frank Farrell series. After that is submitted I have plans for a commercial fiction novel and then a sci-fi crime novel. It’s going to be a case of write, eat, sleep, and repeat for some time! I was late getting off the starter’s block with my writing so I feel I’m playing catch up to some extent.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year or in 2018?

Mike Craven has a new series coming out next year which I’m looking forward to as I loved his Avison Fluke one. Felicia Yap’s crime novel Yesterday sounds terrific and is out in August 2017. I’ve also just downloaded The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond which came out this month. There have been so many exciting new books released recently that I’m struggling to keep up with the ones I’ve bought so I haven’t really had time to contemplate what’s happening next year yet.

Thanks to Jackie for speaking with me, it has been fascinating. You can learn more about Jackie and her work HERE.

Taylor Leon Interview: “The key for me is always the premise”

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Taylor Leon, author of the captivating Erin Dark series, talks to me about his work and explains the influence that other writers, as well as TV and films, have on his work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime and thriller writing?

I have been writing since I was about seven and over many years have experimented in probably every genre, but thriller writing comes the most naturally to me. I have a low boredom threshold so, if I’m reading a book or watching a film it really must grip me and not let go. That is how I naturally approach my writing. I must keep myself hooked first and foremost- hopefully that will then be the same for my readers.

The key for me is always the premise, it might be a scene that I “see” first, but it always comes back to the premise. If I ‘m choosing a book to read, or a TV show to watch, then I want it scream out to me: “Wouldn’t you like to know more?” That in a nutshell is what I’m trying to achieve when I start a book. The premise must consume me and prey on my mind 24/7 before I will consider turning it into a novel.

Please tell me about the Erin Dark series. What defines your writing style?

Erin Dark became a police detective after her mother was murdered and the killer never caught. Over time however, she has become disenchanted with her day-job which she doesn’t think always provides justice. Now she also leads another secret-life with a group of vigilante witches who, quite literally, send unrepentant, evil criminals to hell. The series follows Erin as she juggles the two very different lives she leads, and the moral questions she faces.

In the first book, Dark Justice, Erin and her new partner, Detective John Cade, are investigating what at first appears to be a straightforward gangland murder but which transpires to be something bigger and more sinister. Erin needs to convince her Coven to come out of the shadows and help her save thousands of people from a planned terrorist act.

In the second book, Dark Games, Erin is on the trail of the mysterious Games-Master who has created a game for serial killers to compete with one another for a huge cash prize, by murdering specially selected victims and earning points.

In terms of style, my writing is “efficient”; I steer clear of wordy prose, and concentrate on keeping the story moving forward and the reader interested. Of course, there are some ebbs and flows, there has to be in order to build tension and unleash the unexpected twists, but the story is king and it must always march on. Strong, interesting characters are vital in making this happen!

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I write in short chapters, each one ending in a way that, hopefully makes the reader want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next.

Otherwise, I don’t consciously use any particular medium or trope. I write what I “see”. I have the premise, a brief outline of where I think the story will go (which usually changes!) and a set of rules (in a series there is a larger story arc to keep an eye on). But then I let the characters take-over. I see things through their eyes, and hear their voices in my head, and then I write it all down.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I enjoy reading all types of fiction and styles, but my three favourite writers are Cormac McCarthy, David Peace and Stephen King. I could read anything those guys write.

When I was growing up I read a lot of thrillers, especially Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. At the same time, I also read the so-called more “literary” writers (oh how I hate that term) like Isabel Allende, John Updike, Armistead Maupin and John Irving. I have always tended to veer away from nineteenth century fiction, with the exception of Charles Dickens.

Reading books to me is like watching TV. Sometimes you want a fast-thriller, other times you want something a little deeper, or maybe a comedy, and so on. I just read whatever the mood takes me.

I don’t think any single book or writer has influenced me, but my whole reading experience has shaped the way I write and subconsciously think about character, dialogue and plot.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I find novel writing such a personal and immersive business that I imagine I would find it quite hard to collaborate with anyone on a book. Hats off to those that do- one of my favourite books is The Talisman which was a collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub, and of course, James Patterson has built up an industry collaborating with other writers. For some, it clearly works- after all they don’t come much bigger or better than SK and JP!

But I would love to collaborate on a TV series. Say, contribute an episode or two to a show like Doctor Who. I actually have an outline for a Doctor Who episode that, believe me, would blow everyone’s mind, but I’m keeping it to myself for now, because you never know…

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I have three first drafts written and several outlines on the go at any one time, so it is always very exciting. My next couple of books are thrillers without a paranormal element so a slight difference from the Erin Dark series, but believe me, just as exciting. Maybe even more so! I am hoping the first one will be published in October. I am also working on my first YA novel which does have a strong sci-fi slant, and which I am really excited about. It’s different to my first four novels, but still retains the excitement and unexpected twists and turns. Then, of course, there is the third Erin Dark novel that is also in work. I can’t forget Erin, not after the way I ended Dark Games!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Besides McCarthy, Peace and King, I tend to browse and choose books as I go along. Having said that I have enjoyed the last couple of Adam Croft books, so I imagine I will keep an eye out for his next one.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just that I hope you enjoy my books as much as I enjoy creating them.

Thanks Taylor for answering my questions, it’s been awesome to hear your thoughts. You can find out more about Taylor’s work HERE.

Tom Claver Interview: “When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes”

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Tom Claver, author of the popular thriller Hider/ Seeker, discusses his fascination with detective fiction and dark films and how it influences his writing.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

My style of writing tends to be quite direct with plenty of dialogue. I think my economy with words comes from being a journalist and keeping the word count as low as possible when writing news. When I was young I had ambitions of working in films and made some shorts, which helped me gain a visual sense of storytelling. This led me to write some feature length scripts, one of which interested the BBC, but nothing came of it. Some thirty years later, I decided to re-write that particular script into Hider/Seeker, my first novel.

Why crime fiction? As a young film buff I was mad on Hitchcock although I never thought at that time of writing a novel. I was too focused on cinema and enjoyed all film genres, although thrillers excited me the most. In the 1970s while I was studying for my economics degree, I went to a creative writing class that had just been set up by Dr Rod Whitaker, an American professor from the Department of Radio, Television and Film at the Austin School of Communications in Texas. He arrived late to the first class because he’d just come off the phone from speaking to Clint Eastwood, who was going to turn his debut novel, The Eiger Sanction, into a film. After that entrance, he had my full attention. 

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I’ve had a long career in business journalism, both in print and television. One lunchtime I was browsing in a bookshop and I came across The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I realised that I had seen the Humphrey Bogart films many times, but had never read the novel. After devouring that book, I began to read other classic thrillers to see how much they varied from their film version. Books such as Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, Point Blank, by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake) and Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. This rekindled my desire to try again to write a novel as I enjoyed so much reading these books. I read books on writing and taught myself to put 90,000 words together in a comprehensive way.

I had already been writing for more than 10 years when I decided to go full-time. I just wanted to see how I would fare in an entirely different sector of the publishing industry. I think that during those years of writing part-time, I knew I was repositioning myself towards a new type of career ahead.

Please tell me about your novel, Hider/Seeker.

Hider/Seeker was published originally as an ebook in April 2015 and after three months it had broken into Amazon’s British top 100 paid ebooks. It reached No.11 in the Kindle Store and ranked No.2 in Crime Thrillers in the UK. Last year, it reached No.48 in paid ebooks on Amazon.com in the US and was No.3 there in Crime Thrillers. The paperback version is due out shortly.

The story is about Harry Bridger, who makes his living helping people disappear from their enemies by teaching them how to avoid detection in the digital age. But when he helps a woman disappear from her violent husband, little does he know he will need to find her again for his own survival. The story opens in London, but it soon shifts to Central America and there are plenty of twists and turns on the way.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative tropes you like to use in your writing and why?

That’s the whole fun of writing a thriller. Bertolt Brecht, who was a fan of thrillers, was once quoted as saying that the aesthetic quality of the detective novel is derived from the variation of its fixed elements. When reading a thriller I enjoy seeing what authors do with the built-in tropes. It’s like watching an escapologist getting out of chains while in a burning box. Every time I pick up a thriller, I think, how is the author going to pull it off this time around?

When starting a novel, I always create a hero with plenty of baggage who is reluctant to get involved in an adventure. Then I engineer it so that he has a lucky escape from death towards the end. It is the basic chassis to build any story upon. As long as I can torture the hero along the way, I’m happy because the reader needs to experience directly the dilemmas and anxieties facing the protagonist.

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What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

You’ve probably guessed that I prefer reading thrillers from an older era, partly because they are less horrific, but mainly because they have such a wonderful style of writing. I read recently Rebecca for the first time, having seen the Hitchcock film on numerous occasions and found that I enjoyed it more than the film. I’m currently reading My Cousin Rachel, also a Daphne du Maurier novel, and am totally absorbed by her clever storytelling. Similarly, I like Patricia Highsmith for those reasons. But the trouble with writing is that you can only do what you can do however much you dream of writing like your favourite author. You have to work with the material you’ve got and know your limitations. I tend to introduce humour into my thrillers as I feel it brings more realism to the characters and also helps to bring a greater contrast when things go wrong for them. I’m probably most drawn to authors such as Hammett, Chandler and Deighton because their dry wit is so appealing.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I strongly believe it is a mistake to meet your heroes, as they can never live up to your expectations. After all, it is their work that we love, not them, as they are complete strangers with their own private lives and complications. So, I don’t think I would be attracted to collaborate with anyone as writing a novel is not really a collaborative art form like filmmaking. But if I had a time machine and had a chance to work on a film script with a director, it would have to be Hitchcock, because I would be able to learn how to extract the nub of a story in such a cinematic way. He would always seek a story where he could explore its emotion rather than its detail. Daphne du Maurier didn’t like what he did to her novella, The Birds, but he had the good sense to focus on the horror she had created based largely on her descriptive writing.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Yes. I am publishing my second book, Scoop of the Year, at the end of October. It’s a suspense novel with a healthy dose of humour and is quite a departure from Hider/Seeker. It’s about a young hapless journalist called Martin who becomes jealous of the meteoric rise into television by Tom, a fellow reporter. But when he lands a scoop that would allow him to outshine his rival, he discovers his malfunctioning family gets in the way.

It is written in the first person from Martin’s POV and shows a positive side to envy. Martin is a luckless hero you can’t help but root for as he aims for greatness. Both the ebook and paperback will be available on Amazon from 28th October.

Thanks ever so much for your time Tom, it’s been really interesting to hear your thoughts. To find out more about Tom and his work, click HERE.

S.P. Joseph Lyons Interview: “I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember”

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Author of The DRUX Series S.P. Joseph Lyons answers my questions on his books and what’s next for his writing.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?

I’ve always enjoyed stories that move quickly and don’t drown you in detail. When I began to write professionally, I emulated this in my work. As a result, I have been described as an author who is fast-paced with intense action and emotion. I had not set out with a particular style in mind, but when I wrote about what I loved, the way I loved, my style developed itself around me.

I find that in fantasy fiction one has an endless canvas on which to express themselves. Though true love is always my favourite motivation for putting pen to paper, tragedy, revenge, and triumph can be very expressive, and when needed, very dark. Often the darker side of a character or story helps balance the tender moments of magical connection.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing darker science fiction?

I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember. In the tales we tell, we have a real opportunity to explore the many aspects of ourselves, and share parts of our heart we could never do without our own carefully crafted words. Sometimes, telling a story is the only way we can share an otherwise invisible but powerful part of what makes us who we are.

Fantasy leaves the creative door wide open. We are free to create an entire universe out of nothing at all, and manipulate that universe as we see fit. It also offers no limits or rules other than what we place on ourselves. This means that we are in full control of our entire story. For me, I needed a place where I could dig deep into the heart ablaze with love, or one twisted into a darkened nightmare, and fantasy allows me this.

Tell me all about the DRUX series. What was your inspiration?

If I had to describe the DRUX series in short, I would say it’s Lord of the Rings meets Romeo and Juliet. But for a longer description, I would tell you that it is mostly a tale of loss, overwhelming odds, and the triumph of love over those odds. A demigod is sent back into the universe as the only one who can stand against an overwhelming enemy. In an ongoing tale of impossible love and crippling obstacles, a lineage of five mortal-DRUX children stand against enemies greater than any mortal can tackle alone, and love more fiercely than anyone ever has.

When I was very young, I was taken from my family and placed in foster care. Alone, scared, and needing to survive, I began to create a safe place in my mind. It was there that the basics of what would become an eighteen book series sparkled to life. For me at the time, the only way to make sense of the tragedy around me was to create a safe place to tackle in fantasy what I could not control in reality. With many years of floating in and out of my universe, I knew I could finally take what was once very painful, and make it into something beautiful.

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I love a good tragic romance, or really anything where true love prevails despite whatever stands between them. Sci-Fi has always been a favourite, even as a child, and many journeys I have taken are through the rich and vast worlds of fantasy.

I’ve found that a strong love interest with a complex world is a great place to build upon. As I love dialogue and action driven stories, I place a lot of my focus there. But when it comes to falling in love, nothing is more exciting to write about.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with C.S. Lewis. His worlds are so immersive and his writing, though quite complex at times, has a smooth flow that pulls you right in.

Have you done any other work that you are particularly proud of?

Though I cannot speak in detail about it, I have had the opportunity to ghost-write a number of short stories and full length novels. None were in my genre so I had the great opportunity, and challenge, of weaving my craft into unfamiliar territory. I’m quite proud of how they turned out.

What’s next for the DRUX series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

The DRUX series is a six book universe that was picked up by Waldorf Publishing with the first in the series launching to the world on July 17th, 2017. Having your work recognized by a publisher is an incredible step. With the launch of the DRUX series, a sequel and prequel series are in development tentatively titled ‘The NEXUS Series’, and ‘The GUARDIAN Series’. There is a lot in this universe to share.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

As much as I would love to dive into a new book, I’m dedicating myself to fulltime writing and promoting for the next couple of years. I want to ensure I give my work the dedication it needs. I am a sucker for a classic though so may find myself slipping back into the Narnia Chronicles, or The Hobbit. I may even reread To Kill a Mockingbird.

Anything you’d like to add?

If you are interested in a fast-paced story that puts you in the shoes of our hero and takes you through intense action, passion, and emotion, I’d encourage you to pick up ‘The DEMOND of Legend’ from my website www.thedruxseries.com Nothing can stop the power of true love.

Secondly, I’d encourage anyone and everyone to chase your dreams, as cliché as it may sound. To quote Jim Carrey – “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Thanks for taking the time, it’s been great to hear more about your work.

Mark Ellis Interview: “I have always been an avid reader with a particular fondness for detective fiction”

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On this fine Sunday Mark Ellis talks me through his work, particularly the latest novel in his creative historical Crime Fiction series.  

Tell me about how the books you write. What drew you to thriller writing?

I am the author of a detective mystery series set in World War 2 London and featuring Scotland Yard detective Frank Merlin. The plan is to follow Merlin through the war with books set at six to nine month intervals between 1940 and 1945. I have written three Merlin novels so far, including the latest, Merlin At War, which is out on July 6th. I have always been an avid reader with a particular fondness for detective fiction, mysteries and whodunits. It felt natural to commence my writing career in the thriller arena. 

What was the first thriller novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

The first adult thriller I read was The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan. I couldn’t put the book down and read it in a day. Of course I was keen to find more books that would grip me in this way.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I studied law at university and became a barrister. After a short period in practice I went into business, first working for other people and then, in my thirties, for myself. With a friend I started a computer services company that grew into a multimillion pound enterprise and was eventually sold to a major American corporation. I had always had ambitions to write, and the sale of the business afforded me the time to give it a go.

Please tell me more about your books. Why do you believe that they have become so popular?

My books are detective thrillers set against what I hope is an accurate portrayal of the wartime background. My research is meticulous and I enjoy mixing real characters in with my fictional ones. Churchill, De Gaulle and Marshal Pétain are some of the historical figures that feature in my new book which is set in June 1941, just after the Battle of Crete and before Hitler’s invasion of Russia. My first book, Princes Gate, is set in January 1940, the so called ‘Phoney War’ period, and the second, Stalin’s Gold, is set in September 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain and in the early days of the Blitz. I believe some of the popularity of my books derives from the large and growing public fascination with British life during the war years.


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How did you come to create DCI Frank Merlin and why do you believe readers enjoy reading about his exploits?

My family and I spend much holiday time in Spain. When I was trying to create the hero of my series, it occurred to me to give him a slightly exotic background as the son of a Spaniard. So, his father, Javier Merino, came into being as a Spanish sailor who had settled in London and married an English shopkeeper’s daughter in the East End. Tired of mispronunciation of his name he anglicised it to Harry Merlin. Likewise his children’s names were changed and his eldest boy, Francisco Merino, became Frank Merlin. Why do readers enjoy Merlin’s exploits? I hope their enjoyment owes something to quality of plot and characterisation, but I think the wartime conditions of Britain and its capital also have much to do with it. London in the war was a dangerous place not just because of dropping bombs. Recorded crime in the war years grew massively. The blackout, the chaos of the Blitz, the booming black market and other factors contributed to the city becoming a criminal’s paradise – or in other terms, a wonderful, broad and exciting canvas for a crime fiction writer.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

One idiosyncrasy is that each chapter of my books is set on a specific day of the war. Thanks to the voluminous literature on the war as well as the wonders of the internet, I can find out the exact nature of the weather on any day, the numbers of bombs dropped or fighters in the air, and a myriad of other minor or major facts which add to the authenticity of the story.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

Favourite writers include Simenon, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, Le Carré, Christie, Alan Furst, Michael Connelly, and William Boyd. I could go on and on, there are so many wonderful thriller writers alive or dead. In terms of influence, Simenon is an author I particularly admire. I love his direct, spare and simple style and bear him in mind when I feel my prose might be becoming a little overwrought. I have too many favourite books to list but if I confine myself to recent thrillers, I absolutely loved Don Winslow’s The Cartel and I have been devouring his other books

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Of the dead authors, Simenon for reasons above. Of the living, Le Carré or Boyd as they are masters of their trade and within easy reach.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

The next project is Merlin 4, which I shall start in September, after Merlin At War has been launched in the U.K. and I take a summer break. I do have one other book idea that I have been contemplating for some time. It is a spy/detective series set in the late 17th century featuring a character based loosely on Daniel Defoe, who was a spy himself as well as a brilliant author. How I make the time for this as I continue taking Merlin through to 1945, I am not quite sure.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

I am looking forward in particular to the new books from Le Carré, Winslow and Joseph Finder.

Do you have anything to add?

Thanks for having me!

Thanks for taking the time, Mark, it’s been a pleasure.

Phil Lowery Interview: “What draws me to any kind of fiction is suspense”

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Phil Lowery, author and founder of Dragon Volt Press talks me through his writing and the books and experiences that inspired it.

Tell me about the books you publish. What drew you towards crime fiction and mystery writing?

So far, I’m only a publisher in the sense of self-publishing my own writing. I named my website Dragon Volant Press to leave some options open: blog; platform for my own writing (fiction and non-fiction); or, if it should happen to go that way, an online journal edited by me but featuring the writing of others. I suppose it could even become another news-focused/current events holler-fest and the name would still fit. The tagline for the site is “Fiction. Reflection. Fulmination.” I figured that would leave me some wiggle room. I launched only a few months ago, so things are definitely still fluid. First and foremost, though, it’s an outlet for my fiction. (The ego on him, right?)

What draws me to any kind of fiction is suspense. It’s the essence of any story, crime/mystery or otherwise. Crime and mystery fiction tends to be higher-stakes than other genres in terms of plot, but in any genre the story works only when there are plausible characters facing a significant challenge. A romance novel is a suspense novel. Suspense arises organically from the players and the situations they find themselves in. I guess that’s why, in my own reading, I tend to avoid puzzle and whodunit fiction (also techno- and international thrillers), where the characters (who are usually of the stock variety) are less important than the mechanics of the plot.

What is your background and how did you get in to publishing?

I have been a civil engineer for over 25 years. My first published fiction was in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (November 2015). EQMM has since bought another short story, but when it will see the light of day, who knows. The lead time in traditional publishing (especially short fiction, it seems) can be very long. Since I’m coming to this relatively late in life I don’t have the luxury (or the patience) to wait around for journals and magazines to have first refusal on everything I produce. Online publishing in various forms has allowed writers and artists to get their stuff out there and with any luck find an audience. It’s similar to the heyday of the pulps in the thirties and forties, where new writers could more easily catch a break; or the indie record boom of the late-seventies and eighties, where artists could go DIY and produce their own albums. The difficulty is standing out in the ever-expanding pile of mediocrity.

Tell me about the books you personally write. Where do you find your inspiration?

As a relatively new writer, the documentary evidence is still a bit thin on the ground, but a recurring theme seems to be how ordinary people react to situations gone wrong. It’s not traditional crime fiction; I prefer the ‘suspense’ category. There’s a distinct noir cast to what I write.

I recently finished the brutal process of writing my first full-length novel then editing it into oblivion. It was a necessary ordeal and I hope I’ve learned a lot from it. I salvaged a decent short story from it, at least. Now to avoid all those mistakes in the next novel, currently in progress.

My inspiration is probably too elusive to pin down in words (or maybe I’m just lazy), but I can tell you which writers of the genre I feel closest to and whose work motivates me: James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake. All of whom have written terrible books in addition to masterpieces, so I draw comfort from that, too, when my own efforts just sit there quacking like ducks (with a nod to Isaac Asimov for the borrowed phrase).

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Donald Westlake. His novel The Ax is perfect. I’ve never written a fan letter in my life but I thought it about it every time I read The Ax. I was just grateful that the book existed in my lifetime. When Westlake died I felt oddly guilty that I’d never roused myself to write and thank him for the gift. I suspect our ‘collaboration’ would have consisted of me badgering him for advice until he finally asked me to leave so he could get some work done.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I can’t write unless I feel some excitement about the story so I guess I would have to say the current novel, which is in early first draft. Also, I’ve discovered (to my annoyance) that I have a very linear brain that insists on completing the current task (at least through first draft) before it will focus on new ideas. So along the way I’ve had ideas that I identify as possible short stories or another novel, which I duly make a note of and set aside for future use. It can be weeks or even months later that I realize one or more of these story ideas are in fact part of the current story, only I’d been too dense to see it. I guess I should learn to embrace my linear brain.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I’m hopelessly ignorant of current writers. I find I’m going back in time to read the classics of the genre, mostly for pleasure (life’s too short to read crappy books) but with at least half an eye on technique. Currently on the list are Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place and Cornell Woolrich’s I Married a Dead Man (worth it for the pulpy title alone). Meanwhile I continue to inhale the Parker series. (Westlake again! This time writing as Richard Stark.)

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Anyone who’s interested can watch the sedimentary accretion of my work at www.dragonvolantpress.com, where the updates are infrequent and the site design is decidedly subpar.

Thanks you for taking the time to share this with us, it’s been fascinating.

Larry Darter Interview: “When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic”

larrydarter

This week I speak to Larry Darter, a Crime Fiction author who writes in a really original, interesting style modeled on some of my favorite authors, including the legend that is Raymond Chandler. He discusses his work, the inspiration behind it and where he hopes to himself in the future.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

I’d define my writing style as efficient, with a definite lack of a lot of lofty, eloquent language. By intent, I try to avoid the complicated or ambiguous that may lead to misinterpretations. My aim is to write in such a way that readers really engage with the characters which I think makes for a more realistic and interesting novel, particularly with regard to my chosen genre. I credit my maternal grandmother with the genesis of my interest in crime fiction. She was quite taken with the old-school, hard-boiled American detective greats, authors like Raymond Chandler, Hammett, and Ross MacDonald. You could always find those kinds of novels in her library, and I’d read them sometimes when visiting her. Soon I became as taken with it all as grandmother. Ironically when I first decided I was going to write a novel, I chose to write an Old West novel. But once I started writing I always had in mind to write crime novels. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and given my background I feel it’s the genre I’m most suited to writing.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I spent a good many years in military service, first in the U.S. Navy after high school and later as an infantry officer in the Army. After leaving the Army, I worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for a few years. My experience there provoked my interest in becoming a police officer. I worked in law enforcement for a little over 20 years, primarily in patrol and crime scene investigation. During the last four or five years before retirement, I did some freelance writing and had some success with that. Writing novels, I think, was just a natural progression from that. After retiring, I finally had the time to write full time.

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

Since I started writing crime fiction, I’ve written and published two novels, Come What May and Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair. They are really two very different books. Come What May was inspired by a true story, an actual cold case homicide that went unsolved for 23 years. The book is more a Joseph Wambaugh-like police procedural than a Raymond Chandler-style detective novel. I wanted to be as true as possible to the real story and felt the fictional version was most effectively told as a police procedural. Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair is quite a different story. It truly is more of an old school, hard-boiled American detective novel, the kind of book I really wanted to write when I decided to write crime novels. Both books are part of my current Malone Mystery Novels series. I’m presently writing the third book in the series, Cold Comfort, which will be released in November of this year. As mentioned, I define my writing style as efficient. Some might call it bare and spare. Part of that comes from my deliberate effort to follow in the footsteps of some of the old-school, hard-boiled crime novel masters I most admire, authors like Chandler, Hammett, and, Robert B. Parker.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

As far as that goes, I do employ figurative language to a degree, figures of speech and even occasional clichés for artistic effect. I rely a great deal on Shakespeare in my current series for a unifying theme. That starts with the titles of the novels, each of which comes from a line from one of his plays, phrases that have over time become so familiar that they literally have become sayings that repeatedly appear in our everyday speech. I strengthen that Shakespearean connection with a hero, Ben Malone, who frequently quotes Shakespeare in the novels. The purpose of that is to present Malone as a bit of a contradiction. He is tough and street-smart but at the same time an intelligent and educated man. He is a man with foibles, an insolent mouth, a bad attitude toward authority, and a part of him likes the violence he gets involved in. But he is unapologetically heroic and truly wants to help the people he meets who need it. The model for Malone is the anachronistic knight-errant with a pistol in a shoulder holster, which I see as one of the archetypes of American culture.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I’m a voracious reader, as I think most authors are. I read both fiction and non-fiction. While I have a university degree, I feel I’m more self-educated than traditionally educated. I attribute that to the non-fiction books I’ve read over the course of my life, the source from which I believe I have learned the things of most enduring value. With regard to non-fiction, I truly love reading history, biographies, and books on finance and investing. When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic. I enjoy military thrillers, crime thrillers, mysteries, westerns, historical fiction, as well as the classics by authors like Steinbeck, J.R.R Tolkien, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Crime fiction is easily the genre I read most and truly enjoy. My favorite contemporary authors are John Roswell Camp who writes as John Sandford, Lee Child, and Robert B. Parker. Not a surprise then that I feel the works of authors like Chandler, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker most influence my own writing. I deliberately use their writing styles as a template for my own.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Collaborating on a writing project isn’t a concept I find particularly appealing. I’m the guy who back in my school days absolutely hated it when a teacher or professor dictated that the class participates in a group or team project assignment. It isn’t that I can’t see the potential value of collaborating with another writer on a joint project. I’m certain I could learn a lot from working with another author, especially if I could pick any author I liked, living or dead. I’m actually not an introvert by nature, but I consider the craft of writing to be a solitary pursuit and feel I’m most creative working autonomously.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

As far as writing goes, as mentioned earlier, I’m currently writing the third book in the Malone Mystery Novels series, Cold Comfort. I’m about midway through the first draft. I’ve also outlined the fourth novel, Foregone Conclusion, which is due for release in the spring of 2018. A related project that I’m pretty excited about is the launch of my new street team initiative, Team Malone. With so many books being published these days,        visibility is the biggest challenge that authors like me who aren’t exactly household names face. The golden age of publishing when all you had to do was write a book and upload it to Amazon and then just wait for readers to discover it has long since passed. Street teams have I think become increasingly important to the successful launch of any book, and so for the first time, I’m trying to organize one. I want my books to be discovered and read, but that’s not the sum total of my desire to build a street team. I’m also looking at it as a way to more closely connect with my readers. Team Malone is still in the very early stages of development, and I’m still sorting it, but a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/725102497695722/) is in place for anyone who might be interested in checking it out and learning what a street team is all about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Yes, I’m really looking forward to the November 2017 release of the next Reacher novel by Lee Child, The Midnight Line. I’ve read every one of the books in the series and really love the Reacher character as well as Lee’s writing. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed in his last novel, Night School, which was another flashback-type story to Reacher’s former days in the Army. I think the series is a bit mature for that now and so I’m very hopeful that Lee’s upcoming novel returns us to the kind of Reacher story we fans have come to expect. In addition to the big name authors I like reading, I also read a good many first novels, and I recently discovered a very fine UK crime thriller writer by the name of Jennifer Lee Thomson. I just recently read the first book in her new series, Vile City, and it was literally the best thriller I’ve read in years. I’m not sure when it’s meant for release, but I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, Cannibal City. Jennifer is truly a special talent, and I think she has the potential to become one of those household name-type authors in the not too distant future.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ll just end things with a thank you, Hannah, for choosing to interview me. It has been both an honor and a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed reading the interviews on your site that you’ve done previously with some truly amazingly talented authors. I do hope we speak again in the future. Take care.

Thanks Larry, it’s been great to hear your thoughts and it’s always an honor for me to learn more about the lives of awesome authors. You can read more about Larry’s work HERE.