Saturday, July 31, 2010
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 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
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.
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.
How do you go about defining your characters in a new novel? Do you write brief bios of each one before you start?
Saturday, July 3, 2010
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.