Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Visit with Craig McDonald

 
Craig McDonald's novels have been called "Ingeniously plotted and executed, " by Michael Connelly. "Print the Legend is an epic masterpiece from beginning to end. I was riveted by this story of character, history and intrigue." 

His books have been referred to as "The most exciting series of crime novels currently on the market." Rogue Males was nominated for the 2010 Macavity Award and his latest, Print the Legend, is the  most intriguing of all. Was Ernest Hemingway murdered or did he commit suicide?

Copies of Craig's novels will be awarded to two lucky blog visitors who leave comments here.

Craig, why your fascination with Ernest Hemingway and do you think his death might actually have been a homicide?

Hemingway, for me, is the most important writer of the 20th Century, not necessarily in terms of what he wrote, so much as the profound and lasting effect his writing has had on the craft from about 1926 onward. He liberated the language and reinvigorated the American novel, doing more than any other writer, I think, to shake off the dead hand and non-native qualities of the European novel that dominated and distorted American letters prior to Hemingway’s arrival.

As to the circumstances of Hemingway’s death, I tend to view it as a kind of assisted suicide. If his last wife didn’t pull the trigger on Hemingway, she all but loaded and handed him the gun in terms of giving him access to weapons that had previously been locked away from the man.

Tell us about Print the Legend.

Print the Legend explores the possibility that Hemingway fell prey to a conspiracy or conspiracies tied directly to his writing, and, chiefly, to the FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover made it a priority to spy on and, really, to stalk, a number of key writers including Pearl S. Buck, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Frost, and, for many years, Ernest Hemingway. In Print the Legend, crime novelist and Hemingway friend Hector Lassiter, also a target of FBI surveillance, begins poking around the circumstances of Hemingway’s death.

What’s the difference between crime and mystery novels?

I believe the designation “mystery” places a certain obligation on the author to actually satisfy a kind of puzzle imperative and that such books are typically expected to be more plot than character driven. “Crime novels,” to my mind, are squarely focused on character and more concerned with the impulses that lead to crime, and its aftermath. I think it’s telling, too, that we — or at least publishers and book designers — attach the word “novel” behind “crime,” but you rarely see or encounter the phrase, “a mystery novel.”

How would you categorize your work and which novelist influenced your own?

I consider myself a novelist with a tendency to center books around crime(s). My first two books were published by Bleak House, which touted itself as an imprint of dark literary fiction. In terms of my novels to date, the series was very much inspired by James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series.

You have two prominent female characters in your series. Is it because you enjoy writing about women or because there are more women readers?

While I think Print the Legend offers two very strong female characters, actually the only consistently recurring major characters (to date) in the series have been Lassiter, Hemingway and Orson Welles. I think women too often tend to be props in genre efforts — and not just in the books of male authors. Conversely, a number of female authors frequently tend to use their male characters as props or as kind of romantic hitching posts. I just try to put fully realized characters on the page, male or female. The next novel, One True Sentence, introduces the only major female character to date to appear in more than one book. This particular woman is the one who really shapes Hector into the character we’ve come to know through the first three novels.

How difficult was it to acquire an agent and how important is it to a fledgling writer’s career to be represented by one?

You only get one shot at a debut novel in terms of major awards consideration — which can boost or accelerate your prominence as an author. Self-publishing undermines those advantages. And it’s virtually impossible to secure a publishing deal with any significant house without representation. As to acquiring an agent, it’s a matter of writing worthy material and stubbornly putting it out there to potential agents. There’s no secret handshake or club, though it can sometimes seem that way when you’re on the outside looking in — a perspective I was well acquainted with…for years.

Do you carefully outline your novels or do you “wing it?”

If I outlined a novel I’d never write it. I really believe that. I have a beginning, an end, and maybe a few set pieces in the middle. It’s mostly improvisation.

What’s the most important ingredient in crime novels? Character development or plot?

For me, character development. I demand a strong character arc when I’m reading a book. And I want a series character who evolves and ages. I don’t want to read the same book over and over.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Read good books, and a range of books. And write to your passions. The key is to write material only you can write.

Thanks, Craig.

Craig's website and book trailer: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.com/

27 comments:

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

A fascinating interview, Jean. Print the Legend sounds so intriguing and one to be added to the TBR pile ~ but on the very top!

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Kathleen. I've always been fascinated with the Hemingway legend, and was born on his birthday.

Morgan Mandel said...

I agree about character development. Plot always takes second place with me. I like to delve into the feelings and reactions of my characters.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

jedidiah ayres said...

Craig's got one of the most fascinating and intricately woven sagas going now. Can't wait for Gnashville

Michele Emrath said...

Fantastic interview, Jean. And very timely for me, as I'm researching 'The Lost Generation' for my Literary Movement Series in which I'm in the middle. (That post one goes up on Tuesday at my blog.)

I also have McDonald's Toros&Torsos on my TBR shelf, and have been really interested in reading his work for a while. This interview makes me want to head straight for the bookstore!

Great separation of crime and mystery by McDonald here. I agree totally.

Write what only I can write. I like that. And it doesn't get much simpler!

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Ricky Bush said...

Hemingway's always been my go to guy in literature. Visited his boyhood home in Chicago this past spring and gained some wonderful insight into what made the man. I loved PRINT THE LEGEND and the strong characterization that Craig develops. Now, I've got to get back to finishing the book that ONLY I can write--I like that to.

Craig McDonald said...

Thanks so much, everyone, and particularly to you, Jean, for the opportunity to be here.

Kathleen: Thanks so much for stopping by and for considering giving the series a try.

Morgan: yes, I have to say the cleverest plot doesn't draw me in or keep me reading unless there are compelling characters to hook into...who make me want to take the ride.

Jed: Thanks for checking in, my friend. The book formerly known as GNASHVILLE may be a while yet. It was originally bought to be number four (but I wrote it to be the last book, and it reads like a last book). So we swapped it out, and swapped it out again for February 11's ONE TRUE SENTENCE. The curse, I suppose, of writing an entire series in advance.

Michele: I've been following and loving your LMS for some time. Very much looking forward to your take on the Lost Generation. Hope you enjoy T&T.

Ricky: Thrilled you enjoyed PTL; and yes, now you please go and write that book so I can read it.

Ann Bailey Dunn said...

That was a wonderful interview. I look forward to reading Craig McDonald's book Print the Legend. If it were not for Jean, I would never have known about this book.

le0pard13 said...

This was one great interview, and one great saga by Mr. McDonald. My good friend Corey Hart convinced me that I was missing out by not having picked this up. So, I finished my 2009 with Head Games, and I've kept right on going with the series. Thanks for this.

le0pard13 said...

I screwed up when I wrote:

"My good friend Corey Hart convinced me that..."

I MEANT to write Corey Wilde! The other guy is a co-worker. CW is a dear friend who is off-line for the moment. Sorry about that.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I enjoyed the interview. I was recently in Key West during a Hemingway look-alike contest, which I found to be fun as well as inspiring. Now I’m really intrigued by the premise of your latest novel. I’m looking forward to reading it.

pguzzo said...

Great interview. Craig is one of the better writers out there.

N. R. Williams said...

Good advice all the way around and an interesting premise for a book.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Craig McDonald said...

Ann, thanks so much for dropping by.

leO: If you have any way of getting word to Corey, please send him all my best wishes.

Jane, the thing that always gets me about the Hemingway contest, is this notion of these guys always going for elderly, post-Key West Hemingway, and putting on the big sweaters in that tropical heat. Seems the 20- or 30-something Hemingway, in Polo shirt, would be the better way to go.

Drew said...

In the middle of Print the Legend right now, having read the other two books last year. I just wanted to say that I love the way that all three of these novels weave actual historical figures and events so perfectly with fictional characters. I've been very pleased with everything I've read by McDonald and look forward to more.

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