Friday, January 20, 2012

Tim Hallinan Revisited

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar and Macavity-nominated author of the traditionally-published Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers (most recently, The Queen of Patpong) and the Junior Bender mysteries, which are ebook originals. Earlier this year, he conceived and edited a volume of original short stories by twenty first-rate mystery writers, Shaken: Stories for Japan, with every penny of the $3.99 price going to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. He lives in Santa Monica and Southeast Asia, and will be featured in the book, The Mystery Writers, with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and others, scheduled to be released in March 2012.

Tim, why did you decide to go the indie route with your new ebook series?

The real answer is that the money we were offered by the publishers we approached wasn't very good. I looked at the offers and thought, “I'd rather own the books.” And I'd already put up some of my Simeon Grist series from the Twelfth Century—sorry, the 1990s—and people were actually buying a few hundred copies each month. I figured if those books were selling, new ones would sell even better. And they have.

In fact the first one, Crashed, sold so well that we got a substantially bigger offer for Little Elvises and reprint rights to Crashed. After a life spent lingering outside publishers' doors in the hope someone would offer me a glass of lukewarm water, it was kind of nice to say no.

What inspired your Junior Bender series?

While I was trying to finish the third Poke Rafferty book, Breathing Water, I kept hearing this voice in my ear, trying to tell me a story in the first person, and every time I listened, it entertained me. I finally put Breathing Water aside for five weeks and let Junior tell me the story of Crashed, which is the fastest I've ever written a book. I put the first draft in a drawer, gave a couple of additional months to Breathing Water, and then edited Crashed and went straight to work on Little Elvises.

Part of the appeal was Junior himself; he's a burglar with a moral code who works as a private eye for crooks. In one sense, he's just a middle-class guy who's unhappily divorced and loves his teenage daughter more than anything in the world, and in another, he's risking his life trying to help clients who will not be good enemies if he fails, and he's trying to catch people who are crazy enough to commit crimes against criminals. He's at risk no matter how things come out.

Tell us more about your ebooks.

Well, they're the funniest books I've ever written, and that counts as something for me, because laughing, for me, is right up there with eating. They're meant to be funny and thrilling at the same time, and I'm not the best judge, but the reviews are 99.5% 5-star (only one 4-star in the batch), so that must mean something.

I've always loved to write crooks, and Junior gives me the chance to fill entire books with them. In Crashed, the main crook is Trey Annunziato, a beautiful woman in her early thirties who runs the biggest crime family in the San Fernando Valley and is trying to take everything legal because she's looked at the techniques the government has developed in the war on terror, and she knows that when the cops get back to catching criminals, criminals won't stand a chance.

And in Little Elvises, we meet an old-time, mobbed up Philadelphia record producer who took handsome Philly kids and turned them into pallid imitations of Elvis, plus the oldest still-dangerous gangster in the world, who is based on a very real person who was the California pointman for the Chicago Jewish mob. (One of Capone's guys said, “If it wasn't for the Jews, we'd still be hiding money in mattresses.”) This man, whom I won't name, who was for about 40 years the most powerful person in the state. No contest. Half the banks in Southern California were originally opened to launder money.

How well have your ebooks sold so far? Are you pleased with the results?

They've done okay, The reviews have been great and it's a few thousand dollars every month. I'd like them to do better, but I just HATE promoting myself. I can't drop in on every online conversation in the world and say, “Speaking of the economy, my book Little Elvises takes an offbeat look at the underground economy.” It makes me wince when I see other writers do it, and I won't.

I also loathe Twitter, which is undoubtedly hurting me. I've got like a thousand followers and I have no idea what to say to them.

How have you promoted your ebooks?

Well, that's sort of the issue. I really haven't, other than blogs like this one. I accidentally did a very successful promotion for Little Elvises. I had two covers and couldn't make up my mind, so I put them on Facebook and asked people to choose. And did they ever. And then I did the same thing on my website and in my almost-nearly-sort-of-monthly newsletter, and literally 800 people stopped their lives long enough to cast votes. So I gave away a bunch of the e-books, and that was the promotion. And Little Elvises really took off in its first week out.

My primary promo device is the newsletter. My website is loaded with information for beginning writers – it's about 80% of the site, and people have been writing to thank me or ask questions for years and years. And I also get a surprising amount of fan mail. All those people are on my newsletter mailing list now—about 6,000 of them—and I see a sales jump every time I send one out.

I work hard to make the newsletter more than just a plug – each has a theme and got reviews of good books and nice images, and nobody unsubscribes, which is saying something. Anybody who wants it can e-mail me at

What advice do you offer writers contemplating the indie route?

Pretty much the same advice I have for everyone. Write the book you want to read and when you're finished, make it better. Proof-read everything ten times.This book is supposed to be you at your best, so you don't want it to be riddled with dumb mistakes.

And do a better job with promotion than I do.

Thanks, Tim. You  can visit Tim at his web/blog site:, my site/blog/Finish Your Novel  area. He's also on Facebook: 
and Twitter: TimHallinan on Twitter.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Tim. It's great to have you join us here.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Thanks, Jean -- and I appreciate the invitation. Will go on Facebook and talk about it later tonight.

M.M. Gornell said...

Great interview, and Tim, you are to be applauded--loudly! So great hearing what a success story! Looking forward to being on blog tour with you.


john M. Daniel said...

Good to get to know you better, Tim. Makes me want to read your work. Little Elvises is high on my TBR list. Carry on!

Anne K. Albert said...

The thing that keeps me going, Tim, is what my editor says about promotion. She says it's a marathon, not a sprint. Each little bit does help...or so I keep telling myself. ;-)

See you in November for the Mystery We Write Blog Tour! said...

I am partial to Junior Bender because, quite frankly, he makes for a lousy thief, and I hate thieves.

Jackie King said...

Hi Tim, I've seen your comments on DL and really enjoyed this interview. Hope to get to know you even better on this tour.
Jackie King

jrlindermuth said...

I'm already a fan of Poke and family. So I guess I'll be adding Little Elvises to the TBR list.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Hi, all, and thanks for being so nice and putting up with me. Jean asks the kind of questions every writer (well, this writer, anyway) dreams of.

Earl Staggs said...

Great interview, Jean and Tim. The world has certainly changed for writers these last few years. It is exciting, albeit a little scary, that we have new paths to follow and finally have some control over our work.

Morgan Mandel said...

You're obviously doing something right, Tim, to get where you are today.

I'm always happy to see another author go indie. I have many friends who are still going the traditional route, but I love the freedom of being my own boss.

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Indie writers are uniting more and more, and have great success. It shows we writers know more about what the public wants than those publishers who continue to turn down good books from us!
Thanks for a good interview

Beth Anderson said...

Gosh, I have both your Shaken and Little Elvises on my Kindle, just waiting for some downtime so I can get them read. I'm really looking forward to that. What a talented AND smart guy you are!

Timothy Hallinan said...

Gosh, I should show up here more often -- nicest people on the web. Thanks to M.M. for the applause (which I can use), John for putting LITTLE ELVISES on his TBR lists, Anne for the reminder about the hateful marathon of promotion (the only thing I like is bookstore events), to Jinx for the slur on Junior's abilities (it wasn't HIS fault the place was full of Rottweilers), to Jackie for opening her own blog to my blather later this year, to John for being an all-around good guy and popping up so often, to Earl for suggesting a really difficult blog topic that's got me tied in knots, to Morgan and Velda for slogging beside me/leading the way as we attempt to climb Mount Indy (although Poke is still in paper, thanks to Soho), and to Beth for having such interesting titles on her Kindle and also for being so nice.

And to Jean, who throws a great party.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome back, Tim. It's great to have you return for another visit.