Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Visit with Tim Hallinan

Tim Hallinan lives and writes in Southeast Asia six months out of the year where he set his intriguing "Poke" Rafferty thriller series in Bangkok. He's giving away three signed, hard cover copies of his soon-to-be-released fourth novel in the series, The Queen of Patpong, as well as copies of all four of his Poke Rafferty thriller novels to lucky visitors who leaves comments here.


Tim, tell us about The Queen of Patpong?

The Queen of Patpong is different from any of the other Poke Rafferty books for two reasons. First, it really focuses not on Poke but on Rose, Poke's wife, a former bar girl on the infamous Patpong Road. Second, it's structured very oddly in that it sets up a thriller in the present day and then, about a third of the way into the book, it goes back more than a dozen years to pick up Rose as a shy village girl in the last moments of the life she's known -- the moments before she learns that her father is about to sell her into prostitution. We stay with her for the central portion of the book (the longest portion) as she gradually turns into the worldly woman Poke married. This is an important book to me because it follows the path several young girls set out on every day, the path that takes them from the dusty, impoverished northeast of Thailand into the brothels and bars of Bangkok.

I'd known for some time that I wanted to write Rose's story, but I couldn't find a way to begin it until an e-mail landed in my inbox. I'm part of a small group of people who put up a little money each year to pay parents in the northeast to keep their daughters in school rather than selling them into the sex trade. A member of the group sent me a description, complete with photos, of a meeting she'd had with the grandmother of a teenage girl. The teacher had heard that the grandmother was going to accept 60,000 Thai baht (about $1500 US) from a pimp in exchange for the girl. The meeting took several hours but by the end the grandmother (who really was living in dire poverty) accepted a little less than $100 per month to keep her grand-daughter in school. One photo of the girl, sitting on a metal stool, her back as curved as the letter C, gave me the first scene of Rose's section of the book.

I was very worried about this section since it's almost all women, and women at an intimate and difficult juncture in their lives. So I'm especially happy that female reviewers have been extremely kind -- even enthusiastic -- about it.

What's the premise for your Philip "Poke" Rafferty series?

Poke writes a series of travel books called Looking for Trouble -- his first two titles were Looking for Trouble in Indonesia, and Looking for Trouble in the Philippines. They cover a lot of material that most travel guides avoid, and they're strong on street smarts. When Poke came to Thailand, it was to write a book, but the country blindsided him (as it did me), and he settled down. He fell in love with a Thai woman who calls herself Rose, who was a dancer in a go-go bar, which means she was also a prostitute. She quits to be with him, and together they adopt a little girl, an eight-year-old street child named Miaow. As a unit, they become the first family Poke's known since his father abandoned him and his mother, the year Poke went to college.

For me, the series is primarily the continuing story of a cobbled-together family that's trying to stay together no matter what. Sure, the books are thrillers, but what matters most to me is this family. I could happily write the three of them for the rest of my life. I think the oddest thing about writing them is that Miaow is the easiest character for me – I always know what she's thinking, what she'll say, what she'll do. And I never had a younger sister, I've never had a daughter, and I think it's fairly obvious that I've never been a little girl. But she's inside me, and she's always impatient to get out.

Why did you leave your native southern California to live in Thailand and Cambodia?

Actually, I split my time about 50/50 between Santa Monica and Southeast Asia, and I do most of my writing in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, because it's quieter and less distracting than Bangkok, which is probably the most distracting city in the world. I fell in love with Bangkok the first time I saw it, in 1981. It's the most cheerful big city I know. I'd washed up there by accident – I'd been on a tour of Japan with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a PBS series, and it was too cold to spend my vacation time there. So I called my travel agent, and she said, “How about Thailand?” I said, “I guess,” and that changed my life.

Your first six thrillers, set in Los Angeles and published between 1989 to 1994, were highly acclaimed by the critics. Why did you stop publishing for a decade?

Because no one was buying them. It was great to get all those reviews, but publishers' enthusiasm is directly proportional to sales, and I wasn't selling. I decided to focus on making money instead, and I'm happy to say I did – to the extent that I can now write full-time. I have to say, I missed writing, but that just made it all the sweeter when I could come back to it.

Why did you decide to write the new series?

On New Year's Eve 2001, I walked through Bangkok all night long, all by myself, and as I wandered through the back streets, the little neighborhoods tourists don't see, I asked myself why no one wrote about Thai life beyond the temples and the go-go bars. Within about half an hour, I had Poke and his entire family in my head, as well as one of the two main plots of A Nail Through the Heart, which was the first book in the series. What I liked best about the character of Poke is that he's an outsider who doesn't understand the culture and who has to learn more about it for his marriage to survive – and to live through some of the situations in which he finds himself. So he doesn't have to be the guy who wrote the Wikipedia entry on Thailand. This was reassuring, because I know perfectly well that my understanding of Thai life isn't terribly deep. I went ahead and wrote the book and my agent sold it, which was like the biggest present the world had given me in years.

The quote on your website: “When you’re banging your head against the keyboard, a few kind words make a difference,” makes me wonder if you enjoy writing or whether it’s simply a job.

I'd rather write than do anything else in the world, but that doesn't mean it's always fun. Sometimes it's as much fun as removing my own appendix. When I'm writing badly, which is more often than I should probably admit, there's very little joy in the process. (I'm reminded at those times of Dorothy Parker's response when someone asked if she enjoyed writing; she said, “I enjoy having written.”) I love the fact that I've written all those books. I love the fact that I have more books to write and that publishers are waiting for them. I feel infinitely privileged to be allowed to take part in the magic of bringing new worlds into being. But there are times – and sometimes they last for weeks – when I can't write a simple declarative sentence, much less give a semblance of life to a complicated human being. And it's interesting how often it's precisely at times like those that someone writes to tell me that he or she likes my books. It picks me up every single time.

You were also a singer and songwriter, and in a band that became the bestselling-recording artists, “Bread.” Tell us about it.

I was, formally, at least, in college. In fact, I was living Bohemian, sleeping in a nightclub called The Troubadour at times, living in various rundown enclaves at others, staying up all night and polluting my system – just your usual misspent chemical youth. So I became a member of a band called The Pleasure Faire, which recorded an album for Universal International Records, and I wrote songs that were recorded by a very odd slate of artists, most of whom are long forgotten and others of whom should be.

Our album was produced by David Gates, and David formed a band with my extremely talented bandmate, Robb Royer, and a wonderful singer/songwriter named James Griffin, and that was Bread. I was sort of left out in the cold, but since I didn't play anything and both David and Jimmy could sing circles around me, the logic was obvious. But it would be dishonest to say I wasn't envious. I felt like the guy who invented Six-Up and then quit.

How do you feel about the state of the current publishing industry?

The business plan is broken, the audience is changing rapidly, many publishers are threatened by new technologies, and there is a weekly prediction of The Death of the Book. Other than that, everything's fine. With the demise of the print review, the basic pro forma marketing plan has become obsolete; some publishers are still catching up to the idea that the audience for mysteries is now mostly female; many are worried about digital theft and the end of copyright protection; and bang, here's the Kindle. Oh, and the chains are dying. Did I leave anything out?

Yes, I did: The economic downturn. In the past, sales of genre writing actually surged during these periods, but that was pre-TV and pre-online, so there's not much comfort there. I think we're looking at one of those dreadful periods that almost always produces something wonderful. These are the times when creative solutions are absolutely necessary, and I'm 100 percent sure they'll materialize. I mean, look – the Kindle, whatever else you may think of it, completely eliminates the enormous financial problem of returns; the Internet makes the market truly global (I order all the time from the Book Depository in the U.K.), and the book will survive. And, I think, thrive. Even if they are all written by James Patterson.

Advice to fledgling writers?

(a) Write the book you'd most like to read. Some people waste years trying to create a Great Novel they wouldn't read if it appeared one morning beneath their pillow; (b) Honor your writing by giving it an immovable place in your daily schedule and sticking to it; ( c) If you can't get it right, go ahead and get it wrong – but don't stop; the enemy, as someone has said, is not the bad page – it's the empty page. You can always go back and make it better; (d) Give your characters their freedom, and remember that plot is what characters do, not a box to put them in. (e) Finish your first novel even if it goes completely, spectacularly wrong; you'll learn more from the first one than from the next three combined, and you can't very well start the second until you've finished the first; (f) when you're not writing, read.

Anything you’d like to add?

It's an honor to be a writer. It's an honor to know that people read my books. As often as I've been through the process, it still amazes me. I spend a year or a year and a half shepherding a daydream, and the people at William Morrow make it into a book, and, like magic, there's something new in the world. What artists of all kinds do is make something out of nothing – they create fire by rubbing together imagination and experience. It's a magical act. Anyone who thinks he or she could write a book should give it every ounce of effort and discipline it requires. It's more than worth it.

Thanks, Tim, for taking part in the series.

Tim's web site: www.timothyhallinan.com, which includes his blog.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Visit With Robert Liparulo

Three of Robert Liparulo's novels are in various stages of development for the big screen: the film rights to Comes a Horseman were purchased by the producer of Tom Clancy’s movies; and Liparulo is penning the screenplays for Germ and Deadfall for two top producers. He's also working with the director Andrew Davis on a political thriller. His novels have been called “A brilliantly crafted thriller” and “Best of high-octane suspense.”

His bestselling young adult series, Dreamhouse Kings, debuted last year with House of Dark Shadows and Watcher in the Woods followed by Gatekeepers and  Timescape.

Robert, how difficult was it to make the transition from journalism to novels to screenplays?

Years ago, I wrote short stories, and fiction has always been my preference. When the fiction market dried up for writers whose names weren’t Ray Bradbury, John Updike, and the like, I switched to journalism, primarily magazine articles. I thought then that I’d someday get back to fiction and that my time writing nonfiction would have been a waste. But when I started writing Comes a Horseman, my first novel, I realized that writing nonfiction had taught me incredibly valuable skills, which made me a better fiction writer.

Primarily, I’d learned how to research, to find that brilliant nugget of information buried under all the stuff everyone had already heard about; all the interviews I’d done gave me an ear for authentic dialog; it taught me to write concise, tight prose; and I knew how to write every day and meet a deadline. Also, my magazine articles tended to be filled with metaphors and vignettes, which brought to life some topics that would otherwise have been dry and boring. So moving from journalism to novels wasn’t too much of a stretch. I loved that I was able to create my own worlds, to tell the stories I wanted to tell, develop interesting characters, and explore themes that interested me. Of course, journalism and fiction are two vastly different disciplines, but my heart has always beat for fiction, so I was ready.

I started out in college as a motion picture production major. I was comfortable with the screenplay format and all of its limitations, as compared to novels. With screenplays, everything has to be shown, not told, which is a good rule-of-thumb for novel writing anyway. The story is pared down to its core, with fewer digressions, backstories, and internal motivations—again, it’s a good place to start as a novelist, as well. I’m a very visual storyteller, and a lot of reviewers have commented on the fact that they could “see” my scenes as though they were watching a movie. For me, switching from writing novels to screenplays isn’t much different from reading a book, then watching a movie. It seems natural to me.

When and why did you decide to write for young adults? Tell us briefly about your Dreamhouse Kings series.

After my third novel, Deadfall came out, some schools started reading my second novel, Germ. I got a chance to speak to high-schoolers and middle-schoolers about it. I thoroughly enjoyed addressing these kids. They didn’t care a bit about the business of writing—how to get an agent, how much money you can make. But they were passionate about story—why characters did certain things, how the plot turned this way instead of that way. For them, it’s all about the love of stories, which is exactly why I wanted to be a writer.

About this time, my publisher called and asked if I’d ever consider writing for young adults. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

In the Dreamhouse Kings series, a family moves to a small town in northern California, so Dad could take a job as principal of the local middle and high school. They move into a run-down Victorian home, where they find a hidden hallway of doors. Each door leads to a portal to a different time in history. But not only can they go from the house to the past, people from the past can come through into their house. Someone does—and kidnaps Mom, taking her into some unknown place in the past. The family—primarily brothers David and Xander—begin a quest for Mom, which takes them to all sorts of dangerous and fascinating places throughout time. We slowly learn that the Kings are in the house for a very specific purpose, and they must do much more than “simply” find their mother.

The entire story—less some details and where in history the Kings go—came to me in a dream when I was eleven years old.

What do you enjoy more, writing novels or screenplays? And why?

Each has its own pros and cons, but overall I like novel-writing better. I like exploring characters’ thoughts and delving into their motivations and backstories in greater detail than screenplays allow. There are those who’d argue with me, but I believe you can create a much richer tapestry with novels than you can with movies. There’s a reason most people who’ve read a book and seen the movie based on it will tell you they like the book better. It doesn’t mean the movie was bad, typically; it’s just that they enjoyed the depth of the novel and partnering with the author through their imaginations to tell the story.

I also like the control a novelist has over his story. Editors make suggestions, but in the end, it’s the author’s story, if not 100%, then 99% or 98%. Filmmaking, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort. The movie that hits the screen may be, at most, 50% of the original writer’s vision. The rest is from other writers brought into the project, the director’s interpretation, even producers’ demands for changes based on what they think the audience wants to see, what best suits the market.

Why did you decide to incorporate supernatural elements into your thriller novels?

I’ve felt nudged in that direction for the very beginning. Comes a Horseman has hints of the supernatural—things that may or may not end up being supernatural. Readers really responded to that. But at the time—and through the writing of Germ, Deadfall, and Deadlock—I wanted to stay true to what I thought of as a pure thriller story: suspense set in a solidly real world in which the events could actually happen.

When I conceived of The 13th Tribe, it was like that, a thriller set in the real world. Then I realized I could explore its theme—which is primarily vigilantism, frontier justice—even better if I stretched reality just a bit. It opened up all kinds of storytelling possibilities that I think readers will find entertaining and at the same time intriguing and thought-provoking. I’d already written the Dreamhouse Kings, which showed me just how fun a tinge of fantasy could be (through the family’s time traveling). Readers made it a bestselling series, so I knew my fans would follow me into that genre, as long as I gave them the other elements that make up a Robert Liparulo story—lots of action, adventure, and realistic characters who fight and love and have strong emotions.

It was never my intention to use the supernatural as a gimmick, as a way to circumvent quality storytelling. I strove to create a character-driven story with an interesting plot and a visual, active writing style. The supernatural element simply adds another layer, another color I could use to paint my story.

Tell us about your latest film project and your latest novel.

Right now, I have several projects inching toward production. All of my novels are with producers associated with major studios. They’re talking big budgets, which is gratifying because they’ll have the money to do it right, theoretically. But the problem with big budgets is they add layers of red tape and decision-making.

Mace Neufeld, the producer of Tom Clancy’s movies, hasn’t been happy with the scripts he’s commissioned for Comes a Horseman. Whether he’ll move forward and keep investing is scripts, I don’t know. Eric Garcia, who wrote the novel on which the film "Matchstick Man" (with Nicolas Cage) was based and the screenplay for the recent "Repo Men" (with Jude Law), is writing the script for the Dreamhouse Kings. He really gets the story and I love what he’s doing with it. Both Germ and Deadfall are in the script-writing stage, as well. I’m working on the "Deadfall" script for David Zelon at Mandalay. I’m also writing an original script for a thriller with Andrew Davis, the director of The Fugitive, The Guardian, and Holes. Phoenix Pictures will produce it. Between our schedules, it’s been slow going, but I’m totally psyched about the story. It’s an ambitious project that tackles some pressing issues at play in society today.

As far as my next novel, we’re still about eight months from the publication of The 13th Tribe, and since it’s a slight departure from the kinds of stories readers are used to from me, I don’t want to give away too much yet; I’d like it to be a surprise. I can say it takes a close look at vigilantes and how they do what a lot of us would condone or even do ourselves if we had the guts. They go after the child abusers, murderers and thieves who somehow escaped justice, whether through their own deviousness or loopholes in the law. I didn’t want to mimic what’s already been done so well with this topic—in books like Death Wish and even Batman, so I decided to explore two aspects of vigilantism that I felt have been underserved in literature: the cultural/societal conditions that could allow vigilantism to flourish—and have in specific times in history; and the feelings vigilantism stirs in people who aren’t the vigilante or the criminal, but average bystanders. How do they sort through the moral implications, especially if they become the victims of unpunished crime?

What are the best and worst aspects of writing?

The best aspect is simply being able to do what I love to do. That can be applied to any vocation, so to be more writing specific: I love creating characters, setting them in motion, and watching what they do. I can’t think of a better way to explore your own emotions, or to tackle a subject that interests you. I get to say, “What if...” and then spend months figuring out the answer. A close second is hearing from readers who enjoyed my story. It’s a great feeling to know I was able to take someone out of the hustle and bustle of life for a little while and entertain them.

I think for worst aspect, it’s a toss-up between the subjectivity of storytelling and the “business” of writing. There are so many ways to spin a tale, I think most writers are constantly asking themselves, “Is this right? Will this entertain and communicate my message in the best possible way?” It’s the infinite possibilities that keep writers guessing, and sitting down to choose one, to commit it to paper, can be both exhilarating and terrifying.

The business end of things is the least appealing to me. Contracts, marketing, publicity—these are necessary evils, but certainly not what made me want to be a storyteller. I love meeting readers and talking shop with other writers, but the rest of it I could do without.

How do you go about defining your characters in a new novel? Do you write brief bios of each one before you start?

I don’t write bios or bibles for my characters. I prefer to “know” them, to have walked in their shoes. Once I’ve decided a few basics—their gender, their occupation, for instance—I try to live their lives for a while. It’s sort of like the method approach to acting: I listen to the music they would listen to and figure out why they like it. I think their thoughts, even when they’re opinions are contrary to my own. I speak the way they would. I go to businesses where they would work and learn their trade as much as time allows. I order what they would at restaurants. Once I start writing, I usually don’t refer to character cheat sheets because I know them so well—where they went to college, what their favorite book is, as well as I know my own tastes and background.

How important are conflict and emotion in a thriller novel? And humor.

Thrillers have a rap for being plot-driven, but nowadays most are character-driven. Without sympathy for the characters, readers don’t care about their fate, which makes for a weak thriller. So most thriller writers invest a lot in character development, and that naturally drives the plot. And where there are compelling characters, you’ll have conflict and emotion. Conflict ratchets up tension, while emotion gives readers some commonality with characters who may be otherwise quirky or caught up in crazy scenarios that are completely alien to readers. Combined, they can pull a reader into a story and hold them in a state of tension that keeps the pages turning.

Good writers use humor to give readers a breather. Depending on how it’s used, it can give gruff characters more charm or tell readers, “Yeah, this is crazy stuff. I know it, you know it, let’s have fun.” Like the supernatural, it’s another color on our palette. Some writers use it sparingly, wryly—someone like Thomas Perry—and others like Carl Hiaasen seem to build their stories around laugh-out-loud situations and characters. My own writing leans toward the Thomas Perry approach to humor.

Advice to fledgling thriller and screenwriters.

Read everything you can get your hands on and finish every writing project you start. Reading exposes you to people and things outside your own little world. It helps teach you about the way other people behave and think and talk. It gives you glimmers of other places and ideas—all things you can incorporate into your own stories. On top of that, you learn what works and what doesn’t in storytelling.

“Finish things” is simple to say, but not so simple to do. Discipline is essential to all writers, but as creative people, we’re easily distracted, often by other stories we want to tell. But if we get in the habit of finishing things, then we have products to show agents, editors, and publishers when the opportunity comes up. The ability to finish is a big question people in the publishing business has for wannabe writers. They’ve seen so many people with great ideas who either can’t finish a story or can’t execute it well. Prove you can right off the bat.

Thanks for taking part in the series, Robert!

Robert's main website is robertliparulo.com.
His Dreamhouse Kings site is dreamhousekings.com.
He also has a blog of tips for new writers @ getitonthepage.com.

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: www.shanegericke.com

He blogs with other crime novelists at: www.7criminalminds.com and is on Facebook, under Shane Gericke and Shane Gericke Books.