Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Visit with Shane Gericke

Bestselling crime novelist Shane Gericke acquired his first typewriter at the age of seven and has been writing ever since. A newspaper editor for 25 years, he retired to write crime novels. Torn Apart, third in his Emily Thompson and Martin Benedetti cops vs. killers series, will be released this month from Pinnacle. One critic wrote: “Cross James Patterson with Joseph Wambaugh, and you get Shane Gericke.”

Shane, why did you decide to write thrillers with a female protagonist when we women are told that male characters sell more books?

I like female characters. They're allowed to be interesting in ways male characters can't. Women can be tough, tender, giggly, stern, ass-kickin', nurturing, gun-shooting and scarf-knitting--all at once. Men who giggle tenderly whilst darning socks are looked upon with great suspicion, if not outright dread, in thrillers; it rattles the stereotype of "he-man tough guy." So, I went with a female lead. Male characters probably do sell more books. But that's only relative--if a male lead sells 20 million books and a female sells 10 million, I'll happily take the latter to tell the story I want with the lead character I adore.

Please explain why your last name is pronounced "Yer-key," and has it caused problems when people ask for your novels in bookstores?

The reason is "Gericke" was "Guericke" in the old country. (In my case, Germany.).That extra "U" provided the "Yer" sound. But when the seven Guericke brothers came to America, some immigration guy decided to "Americanize" it by cutting out the "U." But the brothers kept the sound, so now it's spelled with a G and pronounced with a Y. Talk about headaches. The biggest problem is that anyone hearing "YER-kee"--on a radio show, or at a conference--looks in the Y section at the bookstore, can't find it, buys something else. Same thing searching for me online. I wonder if "John Doe" is available as a pen name . . .

Why the switch from newspaper editing to writing thriller novels? And what was the most difficult aspect of switching from journalism to fiction?

On my 25th anniversary of being a newspaper guy, I was in my mid-40s. I looked around the newsroom, a place I loved deeply for its excitement, personality and aggravation, and said to myself, "Do I really want to turn into one of those ancient, burned-out news nags with green eye shades, or should I try something else." Well, I always wanted to write thriller novels. So I left a perfectly good job where I got paid every Friday, for the stuttering mood swings of commercial book publishing. I've never regretted it--I just love this business.

Two things were tough about the switch, though. Story length was one. Newspapers run stories between 200 and 2,000 words. Novels go 100,000. I had to unclench years of compressing an entire scene into one sentence--better, one pithy phrase--and just let the words flow. Second, big-city newspapers--mine was the Chicago Sun-Times--has deadlines by which your work must be done. And more than one a day. Book deadlines are one per year. That is a temptation to let the daily writing slide in favor of distractions, as there's always "I'll get to it tomorrow." Then 300 tomorrows go by, and you have to write 100,000 in four weeks. That's when you go blind sucking caffeine to get to "The End." You need enormous self-discipline to be an effective book writer, because there's no badly dressed city editor screaming at you to turn in your story goddammit.

When did you begin writing and when and where were you first published?

I began writing in high school. The weekly newspaper in Frankfort, Illinois, where I grew up, needed someone to cover the sports teams at the high school I attended. The editor called the principal and ask who he'd recommend. I was editor of the student newspaper, so the principal recommended me. Ed--that's the editor's name, Ed Czerwinski, forever be he praised for taking a chance on me--called me. He held the interview in the town diner attached to the back end of the newspaper office--a setup I highly recommend if you're fortunate to find one!--and I said I'd love to. He said he'd pay me $30 a month. Well, I was in heaven--that was all the money I figured I'd ever need in life. Fortunately, I came to my senses. And starting covering high school sports for The Herald of Frankfort, Mokena, New Lenox. My first story and photos hit the paper in August, 1973--I was both writer and photographer--so I've been a professional writer now for . . . gawd, nearly four decades.

Which writer would you like to spend time with, past or present, and why? And who most influenced your own work?

John Sandford most influenced--and still influences--my work. He is another reformed newspaper guy, and started his "Prey" series starring Minneapolis cop Lucas Davenport exactly 20 years ago, while writing for the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. His series became a monster hit, and he left newspapers to write books full-time. His writing is a master class in description, word power and characterization . . . and cop humor. I consider him the single finest novelist working today. In fact, I wrote a tribute to him for the new Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, a collection of essays tracing the history of the thriller novel from ancient times--think, The Odyssey--to James Patterson. My piece on Sandford is the bonus essay the publisher's using to promote the book, and you can read it for free.

Tell us about your new release, Torn Apart.

A monstrous foursome of criminals called The Zodiacs--they murder without pity, sell children into sex slavery, distribute narcotics, shove knives into innocents just for laughs, the whole nine yards--is rolling into the quiet Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, where they will unleash untold mayhem and annihilation. Naperville Police Detective Emily Thompson and her four toughest pals on the force are locked and loaded and ready to attack. And they do ... but some of them won't come back alive. It's the third in my Emily Thompson series, and by far the best writing I've done yet. I'm really proud of this novel, and hope my readers agree.

Did you sell your own books or hire an agent? If an agent, how long did it take to acquire one?

To get into big-league book publishing, where I wanted to be, it's mandatory to have a literary agent. Publishers simply won't consider your work otherwise. So I sent a bunch of queries and asked a load of people for advice, and wound up in the hands of Bill Contardi at Brandt & Hochman in New York. The agency represents, among others, Scott Turow, whom I hear puts out some pretty good books :-) The process of finding an agent, let along a publisher, can take years off your life. I was fortunate in that it took me only one.

You've received some great reviews and accolade's from bestselling authors such as Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver. Which kudo means the most to you and why?

Jeff's. He's just a plain cool guy, and I love his work. I run into him from time to time at ThrillerFest and other book events around the country. We were standing in line for something and I said, "Hey, you want to have breakfast tomorrow? I need some advice." He did, we ate, he suggested a way to handle a scene I was struggling with, and then offered to write a blurb. The rest is history. Lee was the same way when I asked: so generous with his time. Big-time authors are among the most giving people in any profession, in my experience. They don't have to help--they can cite having no time, which is breathtakingly true in their cases. Yet, they do without hesitation. Tess Gerritsen, Douglas Preston, Gayle Lynds, John J. Nance, Erica Spindler, Ken Bruen, Alex Kava, John Lutz and others have so graciously offered testimonials for all three of my books. I am indebted to them.

How important is humor in thriller novels and do you use it often?

Very important. Life is both funny and tragic, leavened with large doses of "meh." So I incorporate humor whenever possible. Not jokes--death is not a joking matter. But wry, dark humor from one cop to another as the bullets fly and Life Itself is at stake? Priceless.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Two things: Read everything you can get your hands on. If you don't know what's going on in the world, how can you write about it? Particularly read in the genre in which you wish to write. Every author has a different style and approach to their stories, and you should absorb them all. Then, you can settle on your own when you begin to write. Which leads to my next piece of advice: Write. Every day. Whether a blog, dairy entry, magazine story, three pages of your new manuscript or letter to your mom, write it. All the pros write daily, and you should too. It gets you into the habit of producing words every day--commercial fiction is, at base, factory work, as you're putting out product for people to buy, and your production line needs to run smoothly. If you love to write, that shouldn't be a problem. If you don't love to write, find another business. This one will tear out your brain and stomp it flat if you aren't in love with the process. Oh, and a third piece: buy my books. I need the sales.

Thanks, Shane, for taking part in the series.

Shane's website:

He blogs with other crime novelists at: and is on Facebook, under Shane Gericke and Shane Gericke Books.


Jean Henry Mead said...

It's good to have you as a guest, Shane. I'm looking forward to reading your new novel, Torn Apart.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Great interview, Jean and Shane. You offer lots of good advice.

As for a woman protagonist, Patterson's Women's Murder Club comes to mind. More and more women are earning a place in novels and on television.

And humor? Well, you just can't live without it.

Helen Ginger said...

You can go blind sucking caffeine? And here I thought my eyesight was getting worse due to age.

Great interview. Is it just me or do others find new authors to read by learning more about them, like in this kind of interview?

Shane Gericke said...

Helen, I hope everyone finds me by reading this article! Seriously, Jean runs a fine operation here, and I was overjoyed to accept her invitation to speak with her readers. Thanks for writing. And yes, it's the caffeine causing us to squint at those fuzzy little letters. Otherwise I would be 53 and I know I'm only 22 :-)

Thanks for coming by, Mark, and appreciate the congrats. I like writing my female heroes, and hope readers do, too. If any of you are looking for another good read--besides me, of course!--check out Mark's work. He's a dandy writer as well as a helluva nice guy.

Sheila Deeth said...

What a fun interview. And now I know which letter to look you up under.