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James Lee Burke interview
|SHOTS: You worked at a
number of other jobs. You were a newspaper reporter, a social worker in
south central L.A. how did those experiences contribute to your
development as a writer?
JLB: Well, I think the work a person does outside of his art is a relative matter. The story is there in any human situation. Its a matter of recognition. A person can indicate that he has all kinds of exotic and romantic experience, but sometimes the more grandiose the experience, the less contributive it is to a person's art. It was Dr. Johnson, I believe, who said that the strength of a nation is in its yeomen. I just know that I met some of the bravest, most hard-working and loyal people in my life in some of those early jobs.
SHOTS: And you continued writing throughout this time. After Half of Paradise came To the Bright and Shining Sun and Lay Down My Sword And Shield, then Two for Texas, The Convict and then The Lost Get-Back Boogie. How were those books received and how do you feel about them now in the light of Hyperion's republication of them?
JLB: It's wonderful to see the books resurrected, to see them have another life. My earlier work did well enough. The hard period was between Lay Down My Sword And Shield and The Lost Get-Back Boogie and The Convict. It was being out of hardback for so many years that was difficult. I don't know how many novels I wrote during this thirteen-year period. I literally collected hundreds of rejection slips. The Lost Get-Back Boogie was under continuous submission for nine years. It received 108 rejections in New York.
SHOTS: Did you ever feel like quitting?
JLB: No. Never. I couldn't imagine not writing.
SHOTS:Ever get discouraged?
JLB: (Laughing) Well, yeah, I got discouraged. It gets discouraging when people reject your work for thirteen years.
SHOTS:With The Neon Rain, you created the character and began the series of books that's gained you your widest readership and greatest success as a writer. Where did Dave Robicheaux come from?
JLB: During this period when I couldnt sell in hardback in New York, I w rote two unpublished novels. One dealt with the search for the Holy Grail in modern times and the other dealt with a young Cajun prizefighter. Those books contained many of the characters and elements that eventually became the series.
SHOTS:With the third Dave Robicheaux novel Black Cherry Blues, you won an Edgar. What effect did that book have on your career?
JLB: It was my breakthrough novel. It enabled me to become a full-time writer.
SHOTS:Were you surprised to discover that you were a mystery writer? Is that what you set out to do with those books?
JLB: Well, I never thought of my books as essentially changing directions. The themes have always remained the same: I've always written about the same people, the same situations. The only fundamental change is the use of a first-person narrator who was a sometimes police officer. But otherwise, there's very little difference from the earlier work. The series and the earlier work are one story.
James Lee Burke's latest novel is BITTERROOT, published by Orion
John Baker on Urban Renewal
classic detective story is based on a simple formula that introduces the
detective and presents the crime before proceeding through the
investigation to a solution and the apprehension of the criminal. When
Dashiell Hammett came along in the nineteen-twenties and thirties he
used the same formula for his short stories and later the novels, Red
Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and The
Thin Man. Unlike the heroes that had gone before, however, Hammetts
leading characters had many of the same problems that normal people face
each day. They were insomniac, they had debts and worried about sickness
and ageing and all that paperwork mounting back at the office. The
fundamental difference in the formula for the classic story and the
hard-boiled story were in setting and resolution. In the earlier novels
the city or town or village had an air of romance about it. There was no
attempt to make it a real place or to reflect the reality of urban life.
But with Hammett the city was depicted as a sore. Its modernity was seen
as empty, its institutions were corrupt and its solutions were
destructive and often led to death. So much for the backdrop. But the
really revolutionary change that Hammett brought to the art of detective
fiction was in the resolution of the narrative. Before, it had been
enough to determine who the guilty person was, to unmask the criminal.
In hard-boiled fiction the detective has another task. He still has to
reveal who did the deed, but he also has to define his own moral
position. And in defining that moral position this newer version of the
detective has to reject the values and ideals of the society in which we
live. He has to seek out a position where a new set of ethics and values
challenge the existing order.
John Baker's latest novel is SHOOTING IN THE DARK published by Orion
Deryn Lake, author of the John Rawlings series
Interview with Mike Stotter
|Deryn Lake is the pseudonym of
a popular historical novelist who lives in the historic 1066 town of
Battle in Sussex. Though as Dinah Lampitt she recalls that she wanted to
be a writer at a very early age. I know it sounds a bit
pretentious but it was at the age of six. Id learned to read when
I was five and shortly after, as soon as I could write, the appeal of
writing my own stories came to me very strongly. I think my father must
have realised Id got something because he bought me little red
notebooks in which to write these short stories. I used to write a
weekly short story with very bad spelling, very bad writing but it was
there. As an adult without regret, she made a bonfire of all her
early work and watched with relief as it was consigned to the flames. It
was whilst working on the now defunct London Evening News as assistant
to the fiction editor, that she felt confident enough to consider
writing a novel for possible publication. I want to go back a bit
further before I became a journo. I started to write novels when I was
about 15 or 16. They were all historical novels and they were all
absolutely appalling. I think the way to learn to write is simply to
write books. I think this is where it falls down with some of these
writers on writing courses (and believe me I dont want to sound
patronising) but they look at their work through rose-tinted spectacles.
The only way to look at your own work is through black-tinted
spectacles. See what actual crap it is and then go back to the drawing
board and start again. Believe me, I wrote six extremely bad novels long
before I believed I was capable of being published! Dinahs
big break through came in 1983 with an historical series called Sutton
Place. It was through a lucky coincidence that I was taken to
Sutton Place, which of course was the home of the late John Paul Getty,
by a relative of his. What I didnt realise was that there was a
curse on the house, the land and its occupants - a fact which has turned
out to be absolutely true! I had no concept of what I was walking into.
There Id been, practising away on these terrible gauche schoolgirl
novels for years and suddenly I was in the right place at the right
Deryn Lake's current novel is DEATH IN THE WEST WIND, published by Allison & Busby
Mike Jecks asks Why Write?
|I was recently giving a talk
at Bristol University, and one of the students asked me afterwards
whether I really enjoyed writing. It sounded and still sounds a daft
question to me. Who wouldnt want to be a writer? I started off
life with the firm determination that I was going to be an actuary, one
of those steady, stable fellows who designs pension schemes by working
out how many people are likely to die each year. It is a wonderful
career, being an actuary. I should know: my father was one and one
brother still is; I married an actuarial student,and I worked hard to be
one myself for two years. Yes, detractors say that an actuary is someone
who finds accountancy too exciting, and all the interesting people I
know who qualified almost immediately found other jobs to do which
involved nothing to do with actuarial tables, but I knew as a student
that it was the highest paid profession, and what more stimulating fact
about a job does an arrogant, callow youth need? Well, there was one
more thing I needed, which I lacked, and that was ability. After two
years at university, the Head of Department and I came to the conclusion
that City Uni and I could probably stagger through life quite happily
without each other. It was a knock, but my arrogance hadnt left me
yet, and since I liked the idea of money, cars, expense accounts and
people, I picked on a new career as a computer salesman. Wonderful. Soon
I was earning double what my friends (with degrees) could get, and life
was good. Except, to be fair, my friends tended to stay with the same
firm for a little longer than me. After thirteen years, I realised Id
had thirteen. Companies employing me tended to collapse with monotonous
regularity. Once, in desperation, I joined IBMs largest software
house, thinking my jinx couldnt harm IBM. Remember how IBM was
rocked in the early 1990s? I had to find a new career and, with my
mortgage - fast. So, I took up scribbling. I knew I loved books and
reading, and what other qualifications does an author need? The first
book was remarkably easy. I had always been fascinated by mediaeval
history, especially the period between 1300 and 1350. It was appalling.
First, the Kingdom of Jerusalem disappeared, overrun by Egyptian
Mamelukes in 1291, and in the early 1300s it became clear that there was
no possibility of firing European kings with enthusiasm for killing
heretics abroad when there were so many opportunities for bickering
among themselves. As though to cap the gloom, the Templars were accused
of the most extraordinary and, literally, unbelievable crimes. On Friday
13th October, all the Templars in France were arrested and their
property confiscated. The Order was destroyed, the Grand Master himself
being burned alive, and as though to show Gods displeasure, Europe
began to suffer in earnest. In the years immediately following disease
spread among cattle and sheep; torrential rain fell causing widespread
famine and people cut down the bodies of hanged felons to eat them.
Mike Jeck's latest novel is TOURNAMENT OF BLOOD, published by Headline
from DRIVING FORCE
a short story by
Carol Anne Davies
|Ill have me some
of that, Arnie whistled as we reached the estate. For a moment I
thought he meant Shenaz, the girl he was keen on. Shed only come
to the shop with us to help carry the six packs, was walking on his
other side. Then I saw the sports car parked outside the bookies and
suddenly knew exactly what he desired. A Lamborghini. Low slung, high
speed, the shade of glossy red that supermodels slick on their
bee-stings. Even a non-mechanical guy like me knew that he was looking
at engine class. With a car like that you could go someplace, be someone
- just looking at it made my belly ache with wanting. You wouldnt
be forced to walk to the store for some overpriced cans of leg-over if
you owned a two hundred miles an hour vehicle like that. A vehicle like
that lasts an hour in an area like this. It takes that long to check
that it doesnt belong to any of the main drug dealers. After that
theres a race to see who does the breaking and driving away. But a
word in a few shell-likes brought back the news that the car belonged to
Bevan which meant that it was here to stay. You didnt mess with
Bevan. One student dropout had been stupid enough to welsh on a deal so
Bevan had sent round some of his men to kick the door down. Theyd
gone in wearing Klu Klux Klan hoods and rearranged his dental work to
scare the hell out of him. If the guy had had any savvy, hed have
put his murdered molars under his pillow and drunk whisky until he was
seeing fairies. But this stupid wee bampot let his fingers do the
walking and promptly phoned the police. Theyd turned up after a
good three days: it probably took them that long to get in the
reinforced patrol car from the army. I can identify some of the
men by their tattoos, the student had explained. Even the police
had been lenient enough to give the guy a second chance, not getting out
the Basildon Bond too quickly. Are you sure, sir? He had
been and had named names after which... Well, someone heard a muffled
scream and then Bevan had a fire burning in his flat for a full five
days despite the fact that it was the hottest July on record. And rumour
had it that an onyx nose-stud just like the one the student wore had ben
found sizzling in the grate. Anyway, I thought Arnie would now forget
all about the car. Especially as the local wags had only nicknamed him
Arnie because he was thin as an anorexic lurcher and a girl-sized five
foot three. With his little tan leather trousers and his wee tape
recorder spouting Tammy Wynette from his pocket, he was about as hard as
a Euro mountain of cream. Im going to take Shenaz away in
that, he told me as we brought my kitchen table into the living
room and deposited all of the cans on it: full preparation for a party.
In Bevans car? Youre going to take it round the block?
Christ, no. Thank God for that. I opened a can
and drank deeply. No, Im going to take it and scarper for
good, Arnie said. As I wiped the spluttered export from my shirt,
I wondered if hed been sniffing the Tippex. Either that or he was
climbing the high bit of a manic depressive phase. In the six months Id
lived here Arnie had been the most legit of all my neighbours. But hed
told me all about his earlier failed life of crime.
Carol Anne Davis's recent non-fiction title, WOMEN WHO KILL, is published by Allison & Busby
Mark Billingham, debut author of SLEEPYHEAD
Interview with Mike Stotter
novel features a police inspector with a haunted past which weve
seen in previous crime fiction. How do you think that DI Thorne differs?
For a start he doesnt have a major drink problem! Yes, of course, there are certain characteristics that Thorne shares with many cop heroes of recent crime fiction. But I think of it in the same way that cowboys always wear Stetsons and six-guns. It goes with the territory. I hope Thorne is a fully rounded character. I want the book to be character based. I want the characters, and above all, the dialogue to be believable and convincing and to come off the page. Thorne is a complex character. Yes, he has a haunted past, but he just doesnt sit and reflect on that past, he lets his past effect what he does now. Hes a doer not a moper. Also he fucks up a lot. Theres no point in reading about characters who are not flawed, I find that terribly dull, really. Human beings are flawed, they screw up, they get it wrong, and in that way, Thorne is no different from anyone else.
One of Thornes earlier cases exerts great influences throughout the story; with that in mind do you think the novel is about redemption?
Hmm - if I was to say it was about anything, Id say its about obsession. Its about the obsession of two men, one of whom happens to be a cop, the other a killer. Their two obsessions mean theyre on a collision course. Theyre going to affect each others lives in a major way. Undoubtedly the psychological aspect of the novel may upset a few people but it doesnt advocate violence. God - absolutely not!
Lots of people say theyve found it disturbing, chilling or scary - but its not blood-drenched. Its not swimming in guts and viscera.
That was a conscious decision on my part. There have been a few books recently that are so graphic and I dont believe you necessarily need to be. Would that tarnish the realism when you are trying to write? Yeah. In a way I was trying not to write about a serial killer. Without giving too much away about the book, the guy is in no sense a conventional serial killer. I had thought that perhaps, the serial killer had been done to death. That it had had its time. Then you notice that the most recent books by Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Reginald Hill all feature serial killers. These are arguably the biggest, the finest crime writers in the country. Not to mention some of the younger writers - John Connolly and Mo Hayder. I think this is because writers will always be fascinated by these characters, and so will readers. For the simple reason that ninety-nine per cent of killings happen for very dull reasons: anger, jealousy, greed. These are reasons you and I can identify with. I find it much more interesting to read about someone who kills for reasons that I cannot possible fathom or work out and that are alien to me. Its this strangeness, this otherness that I find so fascinating to write about. One of the main characters, Alison Willets, is the killers sole survivor but her story is told whilst she is in a coma.
How important was that to you and would it have been a different book if you cut that back story out?
Oh, completely. In all honestly, they were the most enjoyable parts to write. They were the easiest. Plus, this is where I was able to bring some comedy into it. I felt it was important to make Alison a woman with a good sense of humour, to make her a spunky character. She is in the most heart-breaking and tragic situation. To make her interior monologues, which break the book up, morbid and depressing and full of self- pity would have made the book feel like that. I wanted those moments to be funny and sparky. Obviously her moods go up and down enormously and its not like she doesnt get angry or become filled with rage or terror. But she is also funny. Shes by far the funniest character in the book. I found it hugely enjoyable to write those little streams of consciousness written from a womans point of view, in the first person.
|Catherine Stewart re-examines Raffles|
|The influence of the Raffles
character exceeds that of his far more famous contemporary, Sherlock
Holmes, plus such luminaries as Father Brown, Hercule Poirot and so
forth. Both directly and indirectly, the Raffles character influenced
much classic 1920s and 30s fiction, and thus what came after.
Raffles is clearly visible in Leslie Charteriss The Saint and John
Creaseys characters The Baron and The Toff, whilst slices of his
character can be observed in a man code-named 007. Gerald du Maurier,
famous thespian and father of Daphne, played him on stage. P. G.
Wodehouse wrote a play, A Gentleman of Leisure (starring Douglas
Fairbanks Snr) based on him, as did Graham Greene (snappily titled The
Return of A. J. Raffles, An Edwardian Comedy in 3 Acts Based Somewhat
Loosely on E. W. Hornungs characters in The Amateur Cracksman).
The likes of David Niven, Ronald Coleman and John Barrymore queued to
play him on the silver screen alongside the A-list actresses of the era,
such as Olivia de Havilland; even heavyweight author George Orwell
contributed the short story, Raffles & Miss Blandish, to a Raffles
anthology (The Complete Short Stories of Raffles - The Amateur
Cracksman, St. Martins Press, 1984) and he spawned a thousand
now-forgotten imitators, such as John Blue Mask Mannering
(by Anthony Morton). A radio broadcast of Raffles stories lasted an
impressive twenty years. Such was Raffles appeal that, in 1932, 23
years after his last adventure, permission was given to author Barry
Perowne to resurrect him for serialisation in Ellery Queens
Mystery Magazine, alongside the creations of Agatha Christie, Erle
Stanley Gardner and Isaac Asimov. Hints of Raffles in plot-lines and
characterisation echo down to this day on page and screen - in June 2001
the BBC screened an adaptation of the Raffles story starring bona fide
aristocrat Nigel Havers (son of Lord Robert M.O.Havers (1923-1992),
Baron of St. Edmundsbury, Lord Chancellor and Attorney General). Yet
Raffles languishes in literary obscurity and his creator is invisible.
Many people have heard of Raffles in the same way that they know Englands
pre-eminent cricket ground is Lords, yet in the same way 99% have
no idea why Lords is Lords*,. Ask them who wrote the Raffles
stories and 99% will give you a blank stare, while the other 1% will
probably plump for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So who was the originator of
this vastly influential character? His name was Ernest William Hornung,
and he was a lot more interesting than his lack of fame implies.
Mike Carlson Q&A with Harlan Coben
|DID YOU EXPECT YOUR FIRST
STAND ALONE TO BE A BREAK-THROUGH?
I was amazed at the reaction, it was shocking, and gratifying. The response was greater than I ever expected, from the first, when I submitted a rough draft to my agent, who made the sale and got a film studio to take an option immediately. WATCHING YOU PERFORM ON THE PROMOTIONAL CIRCUIT IS ALWAYS FUN.
Well, I get practice. In fact, I was in your territory, doing sports on Canadas TSN (their version of Sky Sports) as a guest talking about ice hockey as you know New Jersey, where Im from, is now the home of hockey, not Canada. Anyway, because Ive written about a sports agent, Im good for these discussions, and I always go third, so I can be a pain the neck and generate some excitement. But what can you do when youre a pro!
EXACTLY. I WROTE ONCE THAT YOUR BOOKS ARE ALWAYS CONCERNED WITH FAMILY, AND TELL NO ONE IS NO EXCEPTION
It is always recurring, but the idea for the book came from two directions. My parents died when I was young now I have three kids, and a fourth on the way, and I would have loved to have my parents see my children. And I thought, wouldnt it be worse if the children were to die, or if your loved one were to die before you could have children. And then I also love romance, old romance movies, and I was thinking, what about the guy who absolutely cant go on without the woman he loves. W
AS IT A DIFFICULT BOOK TO WRITE AFTER DOING SO MANY MYRON BOOKS?
Well, its been a strange experience. Myron is actually harder to write, but I know I can do them because Ive done them before. There were lots of hurdles. I really wanted a lot of emotional impact in the ending, and I felt I had to keep raising the level of suspense with surprise after surprise, and actually, until I wrote it I really wasnt sure about the last twist. I didnt know whether to solve the crime or have a broken reunion, whether her father would give away too much at any one moment I really wanted to build the emotional impact like a roll of fireworks. Or like that last hand coming out of the ground in Carrie!
IT IS VERY O HENRY, ESPECIALLY THE WAY IT RELATES TO THE CHARACTERS OWN EMOTIONS Yes, hes a major influence. But so are old Twilight Zone episodes, and Alfred Hitchock Presents. I think you compared it to Hitchock in your review ((I DID)), but I think thats less the suspense, because his movies dont really have twist endings, than the idea of ordinary men placed in extraordinary circumstances.
Andrew Taylor explains more about his Lydmouth series
|Lydmouth began with a mystery,
if not with a crime. Imagine a hot Sunday afternoon in the summer of
1993. Weighed down with a substantial cream tea, we were driving across
Monmouthshire to the Forest of Dean. Work was the last thing on my mind.
Yet an hour later, I had the framework for the Lydmouth Series, a
framework that has remained unchanged from then to now. Where did it
come from? It started with a casual question. A friend said, staring out
of the car window at the blue hills, Wouldnt this be a great
location for a crime novel? Yes, I said - and then
came another mystery, because I added with inexplicable certainty, but
it would have to be set in the 1950s. That fragment of
conversation was the trigger. The question collided with my own
long-held desire to write about the border country, the enigmatic and
very beautiful strip of land which isnt quite England and isnt
quite Wales. At the time I was actively casting around for a new series
and there, suddenly, it appeared. It had been under my nose all the
time. Why the 1950s? One reason was that I felt it would be refreshing
to write not just about a different time but also about a different
moral climate from our own. The 1950s are so relatively recent that we
tend to assume that they are part of the present, that people were not
so very different from ourselves in 2001. But they were different. That
generation sits uncomfortably on the fence between past and present.
Britain had won the war, more or less, and was in the slow and
inexorable process of losing the peace. We were discarding an empire and
acquiring a welfare state. The political, social and economic
certainties of the past were dissolving. The differences between then
and now werent just a matter of the externals - the dandruff, for
example, the omnipresent cigarettes, the ill-cut demob suits smelling of
sweat and the council estates jerry-built for returning heroes. There
was an even bigger difference in the psychological and moral baggage
that people carry around them. I wanted the plots of the novels to turn
as far as possible on how people thought and lived in that extraordinary
decade just after World War II. The place - Lydmouth, a town and its
hinterland - emerged simultaneously from the creative mulch. The town
belongs in the geography of the mind, but its nearest approximations in
reality are eastern Monmouthshire, the Lower Wye Valley and the Forest
of Dean. The setting is important. Crimes dont occur in a vacuum.
Even now, my fictional areas real life equivalent has a strong
sense of its own regional identity. Fifty years ago, of course, this was
much more pronounced. Following from this was the idea that, book by
book, the series could build a picture of an entire provincial society.
Certainly part of my enjoyment in writing the Lydmouth Series has come
from gradually exploring the town and its surroundings, and the people
who live there. I have never been able to subscribe to the idea that
crime fiction should restrict itself to the formulaic. Why shouldnt
a crime series at least aspire to create a picture of an entire society,
of a little world, a microcosm of the wider one? Man, Auden
wrote, is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his
past nor leave it behind. But perhaps by understanding the 1950s,
our immediate past, a little better, we might also be able to understand
a little more about the present. Two more elements arrived after we had
reached home on that Summer afternoon in 1993 and opened the wine. What
if there were two competing investigators? Not a new idea, of course,
but an effective way of investigating some of the sexual and social
tensions of the period, as well as of managing the processes of
detection. This led me to my two protagonists. Jill Francis is a
journalist, who comes from London; she sips tea on equal terms with
local grandees; shes unmarried; she instinctively sympathises with
the underdog, perhaps because she has never been one herself, and she
tempers justice with mercy.
Andrew Taylor's latest in the Lydmouth series is published by Hodder & Stoughton - DEATH'S OWN DOOR
Q&A with Rob Reuland, author of Hollowpoint
Rob, you're a Brooklyn homicide prosecutor. How do your colleagues treat
you now that you've written a novel featuring an assistant district
RR: With the same disrespect as before! We're a pretty cold crew. These are people who walk around in blood and take death penalty convictions - it's hard to have much awe for anyone or anything after you do this job for a while and see what you see. Knowing they would read it, though, kept me honest. I wanted to get it right, because I knew they would be merciless if I didn't.
Q: What do you mean "get it right"?
RR: Most of what you see and read about law enforcement gets it wrong. True crime is far less imaginative than you see on TV, for instance. It's mostly "Give up that chain, motherfu****. BANG" and that's your case. And prosecution is much less dramatic, too. There's not a lot of hand wringing over trial strategy or great moral dilemmas. It's just hard work. I'd have to say, though, that the moments of drama on trial - when a witness falls apart, summations to the jury, waiting for the verdict - are far more dramatic than in books or movies. But maybe that's because it's happening to you.
Q: How do TV shows, novels, and movies distort reality?
RR: Sometimes it's fairly benign. The better ones get it technically right, although with a certain amount of dramatic license. I can't fault them for that, since I take some license myself in Hollowpoint. But there are shows and books where you know they just have no clue how it goes on in the world. 'The public doesn't know the difference, though, so I suppose I could let it slide. And I would, except that you always get jurors who expect the trial to go down like they see on TV. That can jam you up in trial, because fiction begins to shape reality - you have to tell the jury to disregard what they see on TV, but you still have to contend with it. Jurors expect a lot more evidence than we can deliver. Like TV, where the police always carefully pick up guns by putting a pencil in the barrel, and then they find fingerprints on it. Case closed. The thing is, you can rarely lift prints off a gun. They're oily and hot and their surfaces aren't conducive to latent prints. But juries still want them. Sure science helps, but you need witnesses to win. You have to get the witness who's scared out of her mind to come forward and point the guy out. That's the hard part. Particularly in Brooklyn. With good reason. I mean if a witness wants to testify, they're usually nuts.
HOLLOWPOINT is published by Jonathan Cape