I'm not a writer because writing's easy for me. I'm in it for the hot chicks and big checks! (Memo to self: So, wait...why are you still doing this?)
Writing is actually so un-easy for me the old Thomas Mann quote hits pretty close to home: "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Even something as seemingly simple as a frickin' blog post is a real pain in the arse to do. I mean, it's like, 'Here I am staring at the damn screen not knowing what to say again. ARGH!!! Why didn't I take up knitting?'"
(I added all the stuff after "more difficult than it is for other people," BTW. But I have the feeling ol' Tom would've shared my pain if he'd had to do self promotion via social media.)
This year, I've tried to simplify things for myself by sticking to one goal: I'm finally going to write a sixth "Holmes on the Range" novel. (Well, I suppose I really have two goals: I'm finally going to write a sixth "Holmes on the Range" novel and I need to remind people about it every now and then so someone will actually read the thing when it's ready. Hence this frickin' blog post. ARGH!!!) I'd hoped to write a new "Holmes on the Range" short story for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as a sort of warm-up for the novel, but I didn't get to it before the end of 2016, so now it's tabled.
But here's the miraculous thing: Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer are already back in the pages of EQMM, and I didn't have to lift a finger to get them there. All the finger-lifting (and fingers-hitting-keyboard) came courtesy of Jonathan Turner, who included the Amlingmeyers in his spot-on Sherlockian pastiche "The Adventure of the Disguised Passenger." Jonathan knows and understands my heroes so well I even wrote a tribute of sorts to him a few years ago, and it was amazing (and a little frightening) to see how well he'd captured Big Red's voice in a section of his story. (Why frightening? I'm replaceable!)
Check out the January/February issue of EQMM for "The Adventure of the Disguised Passenger" -- and a bit of a sneak preview of my upcoming "Holmes on the Range" novel. (Jonathan's story takes place a year after the last HOTR book, World's Greatest Sleuth!, so it offers readers a peek at the Amlingmeyers' future.)
Now -- back to the hot chicks and big checks!
I guess it's easy to see why I'm not giving James Patterson a run for his (boatloads of) money.
I'm trying to change that, though. Not in a "Jimmy P. better watch his back!" kind of way. More like "I want to keep making stuff up for people and then sell it to enough of them directly to justify avoiding the headaches of traditional publishing." Which isn't exactly pithy, but it is a business plan several writers I respect are making a go of these days.
One of the things that's always given me the creative heebie-jeebies is the idea of "writing for the market": looking at what's hot and churning out a sexy variation that'll get agents and editors and suits enthused. Ick. (There's my non-trepreneurial spirit shining through again.) So I've been particularly inspired by people who've used the new tools technology has given us — easily formatted and released ebooks, print-on-demand paperbacks, web marketing, etc. — to pursue their own idiosyncratic literary visions. They're entrepreneurs who keep their love of genre entrepre-pure! (Oof. Sorry. I thought "non-trepreneur" worked pretty well, and that encouraged me to take it too far.)
Case in point: writer David Cranmer, the editorial one-man-band behind publishing house BEAT to a PULP. David puts out hard-hitting crime fiction, offbeat SF and fantasy and action-packed Westerns (such as Blood Moon, the latest from friend-of-the-blog Eric Beetner). I wanted to know why David decided to become an indie entrepreneur and how that's worked out for him so far. So, you know...I asked him. And he answered me. Et voila — a Q&A!
Me: I'm curious about how someone becomes an indie publishing mogul. Is it as simple as "I was a writer and I didn't see enough outlets for the kind of stuff I like, so I created one"? Or is it more like "My friends and I have so many fun, wild ideas someone had to start publishing them...so I became that someone"? I guess this is sort of a chicken-or-egg origin question: Which came first, the writer or the publisher?
David: I was a mogul at birth — stamped with independent publisher across my forehead and the rest was easy-peasy natural, Steve.
Closer to the truth, around late 2007 I began submitting my short stories to online independent magazines and was accepted by a few and rejected by others. I should have been vetoed by all because those first scratches were atrocious. Over the next year several of these magazines where I had placed pieces suddenly closed shop and I said to my wife, Denise (a.k.a. Little d), that if I did it — online publishing — I'd be in it for the long haul. That coupled with the fact of the places I was aware, they catered to crime fiction almost exclusively but I wanted to branch out and do Westerns, science fiction and what I like to call WTF fiction. My charmer said she could build the site if I wanted to go in that direction, and so we did. Frustrated writer came first with the BEAT to a PULP publisher trailing shortly behind, and we've been in business for eight years.
Me: How has the branching out gone? The Westerns, SF and WTF? Has it been a challenge finding and marketing to those audiences?
David: Westerns, WTF and our crime novels have been much easier to market than the sci-fi. I was already part of the crime and mystery community and word of mouth — which is essential — came in generous heaps from my peers and a few generous legends wheeling higher up in the sky. You can have ads on all the social networking sites and have your books in the bricks and mortars but unless there's a vibe reverberating throughout the community it's going to be an uphill battle. An example (and he's probably already forgotten this because he does many kind things for everyone) from a few years back, Lawrence Block on Twitter said he was off to read some Cash Laramie (one of our Western series), and the very next day saw an immediate surge in those sales. The science fiction has been a tougher nut to crack. IMHO BEAT to a PULP has published some incredibly imaginative books in that genre, yet the needle barely registers. I chalk it up to being the stranger in a strange land (he says, trying to fit in). I just continue to do what I can, learning from each experience: slow down and take time to publish quality, send out to contacts who'll strike a spark, and then run naked through the virtual streets screaming praise.
Me: That's a bummer about the science fiction, especially since, from what I've read, it seems like the SF community has really embraced indie writers and publishers. I get the feeling that there's a healthy, though largely under the radar, audience for indie-produced Westerns, too. Do you know who's buying your Western series, such as the Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles books and "The Lawyer"? Is it people from the crime fiction community giving Westerns a shot because of the BEAT to a PULP connection, or is it traditional Western fans who are perhaps branching out to indies because New York publishers have been moving away from the genre?
David: Crime and mystery readers embraced the Western books, in particular the Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles series. Those cats love noir, and our early forays into the Old West landscape dipped heavily into that well, and having respected crime writers like Heath Lowrance and Eric Beetner scribble for us only added to that success. Traditional Western readers came on board when they saw Wayne D. Dundee and Nik Morton also writing for the brand, both being well regarded within the Western, and crime, genres.
Me: When I first started writing my "Holmes on the Range" series, I didn't embrace the idea that they're mystery-Westerns. I was like, "They're historical mysteries that just happen to be set in the Old West." Which seems really silly in hindsight. But there seemed to be such a stigma against Westerns I was reluctant to fly the flag. A lot of readers — particularly women — told me "I hate Westerns but I love your books." I think maybe it's a generational thing. Baby boomers grew up in a time when there were tons of Western movies and TV shows and books, many of them fairly formulaic. So I can understand burning out on them. And for Gen Xers and Millennials, Westerns have always been passe. Grandpa stuff. Have you run up against those attitudes? Or are the noir readers you've cultivated actually pretty open to Westerns as long as they feel it has the right edge?
David: Noir readers have been very enthusiastic about our Westerns because in part they appreciate that admixture of Sergio Leone cool edge factor with the social justice narrative. Films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West are just as popular with traditional Western and crime aficionados, and, also, current Millennials. One of the reasons, I'm assuming, films like The Hateful Eight and Bone Tomahawk get green lighted is because they're not the classic (and, to me, stale) standard "Cowboys vs. Indians" or some range war conflict that's been done to death. But, admittedly, like you, I also was unsure if my Cash Laramie, a.k.a. the outlaw marshal, would be successful and hedged my bets with the noir crowd — that opened the door.
Me: It's great that we live in a time when there's a door to be opened — the opportunity for anyone to start telling whatever stories they want and maybe, just maybe, find an audience. What advice would you have for writers or would-be publishers who set out to do that?
David: For writers, I'd say take your time before submitting your work. Write, polish, rewrite, and then send it to someone who will serve up a healthy dose of constructive criticism. Rework your piece, forget about it for three months, and then take another look with fresh eyes. Too many new writers make the mistake (I certainly did) of thinking they have something the world has been longing for, and it may even get published, but editors worth their chops will realize when it's only half-baked.
And for publishers, diversify wherever possible, or keep your day job. It's time-consuming and can be a financial drain. I launched BEAT to a PULP in 2008 and still have freelance/contractor jobs on the side to keep money coming in...one minute the books may be floating you and the next they're not. Stick to your dreams but be smart about it.
Me: That seems like a good note to end on! So I'll just hit you with one final bonus-round question. If you could pick just one book to represent your sensibility, what would it be? It could be one you've published or one you read that has influenced you over the years. Any genre. What's the holy grail for you? The "That's what I'm talkin' about!"?
David: Tough question. I have so many I could point to...books by Thomas Paine, Marcus du Sautoy, Larry McMurtry, Agatha Christie, etc. Ten years ago, I would have told you The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. Today? Hmm. Let’s go with Herzog by Saul Bellow because I return so often to the title character in his futile existence, yet he spins beautiful prose in these convoluted letters that he’ll never send, balanced with a hectic personal life, and that last line that ties it all together: "At this time he had no messages for anyone. Nothing. Not a single word."
I've been revisiting a series by a favorite author of mine recently. It had been a while since I'd read it, so it's been interesting to return to the books and see if they stand up. I'm happy to report that they do.
The "Holmes on the Range" series is actually good!
Or World's Greatest Sleuth! and On the Wrong Track are, anyway. I haven't gotten to The Black Dove and The Crack in the Lens yet. But I have high hopes.
I'm going through novels #2-#5 in the series to (A) get them ready for re-publishing and (B) get myself ready to write novel #6. What I've learned (or simply remembered) so far:
It's not just the original novels I'm revisiting as I rev up to revive the series, by the way. I've also been checking back in with all the things that inspired the series in the first place. I've been reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout and Agatha Christie. I've been watching Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and The Thin Man and Westerns and The (original!) Avengers.
Here's hoping the fun continues even after the brain cells start frying again.
Repeat after me: Be funny. Be clever. Be funny. Be clever...
Or maybe I should say, "Celebrate, a select few! The day 60% of you have been waiting for has finally arrived!" Because according to my exhaustive research -- O.K., it was one lousy poll a long time ago -- that's how many of you have been coming to this website looking for a specific bit of news.
"What specific bit of news is that?" I hear you ask. (I have really good hearing.) It's this: The "Holmes on the Range" series is back!
Well, will be back. Soon. Ish. Provided you're willing to define "in about a year" as "Soon. Ish." Here's the deal.
Once upon a time, Minotaur Books pulled the plug on the series. They could do that because they were the publisher and publishers get to do stuff like that no matter how much it bums the rest of us out. But there was a way to bring back our mystery-solving cowboy heroes, Big Red and Old Red. It just required lots of patience.
Once the original books had been out long enough, I could start asking Minotaur to give me back the rights. So I did. And they said no. So I asked again. And they said no. So I asked again. And they said yes...to one book. So I asked again. And they said yes...to three more books. And I stopped asking.
All four sequels to Holmes on the Range -- On the Wrong Track, The Black Dove, The Crack in the Lens and World's Greatest Sleuth! -- belong to me now. My plan: reissue them, then write a fifth sequel. Then a sixth. Then a seventh. Then a ninth. (The eighth sequel is always a letdown, don't you think? I figure I'll skip it.)
Long story short (or is it too late for that?): The new-and-improved edition of World's Greatest Sleuth! went on sale a few days ago, and the rest of the original books will start popping up in redesigned packaging between now and the end of the year. Once that's done, it's on to Holmes on the Range #6, which will come out (and this is one of the great things about self-publishing) whenever the heck I finish it.
Tease #1: Subscribers to my e-newsletter got this news over the weekend, and they already know what the sixth novel is going to be called.
Tease #2 (or maybe it's more of a Taunt): I gave away a bunch of free books to e-newsletter subscribers, too. So, you know...hint hint.
Something I didn't tell the e-newsletter crowd (because I can only make those e-newsletters so long before none of the crowd will read them): The fantabulous new cover for World's Greatest Sleuth! was supplied by the equally fantabulous folks at Alchemy Book Covers and Design, and I'll be sharing more of their fantabulous work in the fantabulous (hopefully) weeks ahead.
So stay tuned, 60% of you! As for the other 40% -- well, I'd love it if you stuck around, too. This self-publishing thing is gonna be tricky, and if it's gonna work I'll need as close to 100% of you as I can get....
To most Americans, they're a one-hit wonder. For me, they've been a nearly lifelong obsession. And now, 33 years after I discovered the English band Madness, they've become even more to me: They're role models.
Most visitors to this site might -- might -- know Madness from their early '80s hit "Our House." You know. That peppy pop ditty about the guys with a house in the middle of their street? It was the band's one and only top 40 moment stateside, but they were major hitmakers back in the U.K. Although I liked "Our House," it was a different Madness single -- the euphoric "Wings of a Dove" -- that sent me scurrying to the local Camelot after I caught the giddy video on MTV.
Tracking down the band's back catalog was actually a big challenge for a kid growing up in rural West Virginia. But that was part of the appeal. No Def Leppard or Duran Duran for me. That stuff was for the other kids. I wanted to be unique! I wanted a challenge! I wanted to blow countless hours scouring cut-out bins for obscure imports!
But my devotion wasn't simply a pose or being a completist. The band's songs really did speak to me in a way that most other pop music didn't. Which was a little ironic given that the lyrics were often so profoundly, inscrutably English I wasn't quite sure what Suggs, the lead singer, was going on about. It took about 1,000 listens to my favorite Madness song, the cheerfully anarchic "House of Fun," before I realized it wasn't an ode to reaching the drinking age and buying yourself a beer.
Yet even without always understanding the meaning, I deeply felt the mood. The best Madness songs were sweet pop chocolate coating a gooey center of sadness. They weren't afraid to be silly -- sometimes very silly -- but they weren't afraid to be wistful and melancholy either.
That was an appealing combination for a kid who was trying to smile through his own isolation and dejection. So Madness and I bonded. Or I bonded with Madness, anyway. And I stayed loyal to that bond even as the band traveled the now-familiar pop-act trajectory: fading chart fortunes, lineup changes, a breakup, an abortive reunion, a successful reunion, a hiatus, another reunion, another shakeup, etc.
For a diehard fan, I'm actually pretty damn lucky. The last three decades would've been a lot more frustrating if I'd been a Dexys Midnight Runners fanatic. (Don't laugh: It could've happened. I actually kind of like that band.) Though Madness haven't had a hit single in Britain so far this century -- their last top 10 song came out in 1999 -- they still tour constantly. They even come to the West Coast from time to time, and I've seen my heroes live twice. As transcendent as those concert experiences were, what's even more important to me is knowing that new Madness music is on its way. And it usually is...at its own slow pace.
Back in the band's '80s heyday, they wrote more than one song about record label pressure to churn out another chart-topper. But these days they're in no hurry. In the last 17 years they've put out three (soon to be four) albums of new material. And the most recent ones all have one thing in common: no record label. Starting with the ambitious, critically praised "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" in 2009, Madness has been releasing its albums on its own.
Is it a coincidence that the band went its own way and promptly produced a classic? Well...yes. Because they were still going their own way when they released the tepid, uninspired (to this loyal listener) followup, "Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da." But hey -- even mediocre new Madness is still new Madness, and I'm grateful that the band has the freedom to record and release what they want, when they want.
Today I pre-ordered the double album special edition of the band's latest, "Can't Touch Us Now." Because dammit -- that's the kind of fan I am. And you know what? I'm not going to sell out any stadiums anytime soon, but I like to think I have some fans like that, too. Which is why I recently took steps to give myself the kind of creative freedom Madness has.
Where will those steps take me? Places old, places new, places scary, places fun...and I hope you'll be stepping along with me the whole way.
There are certain moments a writer dreads. Reading an email that begins "Thank you for your submission, but...." Seeing a one-star review pop up on Amazon. Finding one of your own books in the remainder bin — or, even worse, realizing you're not in the damn Barnes & Noble in any way whatsoever.
I've been through them all. More than once. More than twice. More than...well, lots. And for a long, long time, I let each experience mark me. I'd see the rejection, the bad review, the nothing where my books ought to be, and I'd feel the rubber stamp smacking into my forehead.
Back when I used to go to mystery conventions like Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, it would happen, too. I'd muff some conversation, screw up an inscription, notice that Writer X was signing waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more books than me, and I'd feel it.
It got really bad a while back when I found myself, for the first time in years, without a book contract. Money got tight. Mickey Rourke's cheeks after his fourth facelift tight. So tight my wife started to give me a running countdown to doom.
Her: "We have six months before we run out of money."
Her: "We have five months before we run out of money."
Her: "We have four months before we run out of money."
Her: "You got a royalty check today."
Her: "Yeah. Yippee. We have five months before we run out of money."
It got so that every bag of groceries I bought, every round of drinks I picked up, every book or movie I treated myself to — each one was simply another step closer to an empty bank account, foreclosure, disaster.
Eventually, I reached the moment every professional writer really dreads. The moment you realize you can't be a professional writer anymore. Not of the "make up fun crap in your pajamas all day" variety, anyway. It was time to go back to a day job.
Of course, Fate being the perverted biyatch she is, the second I landed a 9-to-5 gig, contracts started flying at me. Suddenly I had three series to write...and no time to write them. So a "Tarot Mystery" was a little late. Then a "Nick and Tesla" book was really late. Then another "Tarot Mystery" was reeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaalllllllllllly late. I was a pro again, as I'd defined it, but I was stressed out and burned out and disappointed in myself for letting my editors down. And you know what?
I'd reached the ultimate FAIL, in fact: Writing was making me unhappy. It had been for a long time, I realized. Because how can you be happy with that FAIL FAIL FAIL constantly whacking you in the face?
And who was doing the whacking? Not editors, not agents, not snarky reviewers, not even Fate.
It was me.
I'd sold X books and X + Y stories and I'd been a finalist for X - Z awards and I had X x X readers who like my stuff. And, yeah, O.K., I had to have a day job. But it was a stable one I actually liked. Which meant I didn't need book contracts to feed my family anymore. Yet somehow I was still a failure?
Nope. That kind of thinking was a FAIL right there. It was time to knock it off.
The countdown to financial doom has been aborted. I have the freedom to write whatever I want. There are people out there who've been patiently waiting for me to do something with that freedom. And I'm done judging myself.
My new slogan: MAKE WRITING FUN AGAIN. Which makes me happy.
There are certain words I can never remember how to spell. Hors d'oeuvre. Conscientious. Liaison. Floccinaucinihilipilification. Quertermous. Bryon.
A certain writer I know has the misfortune of having not one but two of those tricky words in his name. Tough break for you, Conscientious Liaison! Maybe that's why you've never sold a book. Time to try a pen name, methinks.
And then there's good old Bryon Quertermous, who hasn't let a spell check-befuddling name stand in his way. He's been active on the crime fiction scene for years, first as a short story writer and fanboy/gadfly, later as an editor, and most recently as an author. His first novel, Murder Boy, tells the story of Dominick Prince, a wannabe writer who takes extreme measures (kidnapping is extreme, right?) when a teacher flunks him because his crime fiction isn't literary enough. Hilarity ensues. And murder. A recently published followup, Riot Load, found Prince stumbling into a wild, hyper-violent sperm heist.
And for this alone, Bryon Quertermous, I shall love you forever: You made it possible for me to type the words "a wild, hyper-violent sperm heist."
The perpetually bumbling, flummoxed, neurotic Prince is one of the most interesting and unique crime fiction protagonists I've run across in a long, long time. Not just because he's so obviously a reflection of the author. Because he's a warts-and-all, fun house mirror reflection -- warped, distorted and portrayed with what feels like a relentless self-loathing. Which is what led me to my first question when I got the chance to engage Byron...dammit! Engage Bryon in an email Q&A.
Me: Having just finished reading Riot Load, I've got to ask...how ya feelin', buddy?
Bryon: I'm feeling great, now. But back in my late twenties I was awful. I was awful inside and awful outside. I was broke and wandering and confused as a writer and as a person. I'd made a lot of questionable life choices and botched some really great opportunities folks had given me. I'd tried writing a couple of novels glamorizing this time in my life but they failed miserably. It wasn't until I had the perspective that only comes with age that I was able to look back and really lay into that version of me. I was very, very lucky to survive that time in my life relatively unscathed and have a great life now. Dominic got the raw end of that life and his bad choices have awful consequences for himself and for everyone he comes into contact with.
Me: Dominic definitely takes a beating -- both literally and metaphorically -- in Riot Load. It makes for a really interesting mix of wackiness and tragedy. Is that what you were aiming for? Or do you not think about your intent so much when you get started? There's an almost stream-of-consciousness vibe to the book that gives me the feeling you're a "pantser" who writes straight from the gut. Or maybe you're just good at faking it.
Bryon: I think using the word intentional for anything involving this book is trouble. It's the unintentional second book in a series I had no idea I was writing when I started the first book. But once I had really gone all in with the stream-of-consciousness, anything-can-happen vibe in the first book, I wanted to push that even further with the second book. I ran into trouble about halfway through when I kept trying to force it to be a caper novel and it really had no interest in being a caper novel. I was chatting with a friend at the same time I was working my way through some of Elmore Leonard's early books I had missed. We were talking about 52 Pick-Up and she mentioned that she liked how mean it was. And it is mean. And that's what was missing from Riot Load early on. While I would never call it anything close to realistic, I could see this character developing on his own away from the very obvious avatar he had been for me in the first book and I was seeing some effects of the awful things that had happened to him. He was still an idiot and still made bad decisions, but he was also getting meaner and once I decided to go along with that, the book rolled and I had a riot with it.
As far as the mix of wackiness and tragedy, that's just how I operate. I can't commit to any one emotional state for too long or I start to roll my eyes. Stuff that is too tragic seems melodramatic to me and stuff that is too wacky seems ridiculous to me. While the actions and storyline may be absurd, the emotions in this book are real and these are some very confused and unhappy people, so there was going to be tragedy.
Me: Is it safe to assume a third book in the series is on its way? It doesn't feel like Dominick's done changing...or f-ing up.
Bryon: Yes. I'm writing the final book in the trilogy right now. It's called Trigger Switch, and I've been pitching it as Dominick's transition from Dortmunder to Parker. I had originally planned on being done with the character after the second book, but by the time I wrote the ending of Riot Load I knew I needed one more book to complete his transformation.
Me: It's interesting that a character who started out being a variation on you has strayed so far from the original model. Is that just storytelling at work? You went where the muses took you, and Dominick had to be altered by the journey? Or is the shift a reflection of a change in your own self image and how you see yourself as a writer?
Bryon: I think, at his core, Dominick still has a lot of me in him, but as the books have progressed and my storytelling sense has progressed and my life has progressed he's gone from being a reflection of me at certain points in my life to being an outlet for the parts of me I'm less enamored of, like my anger and my temper. One of the key moments in my life happened during the writing of this book and that was losing a job I saw as my dream job. I was an editor for the new crime fiction imprint of a respected publisher and had a lot of freedom to pursue my passions in publishing and travel and have a voice in the industry, all while working from home. It was amazing and then it was ripped away from me. That bred a lot of anger and bitterness in me about the publishing industry, about art, about writing, and about my life. Meanwhile my obsession with social media was feeding into this anger by loading me up with nothing but bad news and national horrors. So I was in a foul mood while I wrote a lot of this book and instead of pushing that away, I embraced it and used it. Obviously I can't imagine doing that for a long-running series without burning out and losing the magic of what makes this weird mess work and I'm already itching to work on something that I can paint with more subtle tones and a little more slow burning.
Me: Do you have specific ideas you want to move on to next? If so, do they all fall within the crime genre? I'm tormented (in a First World Problems, writer way) by all the different ideas and creative impulses I have and how they're constantly shifting. If I had a theme song, it would be "My Ever Changing Moods."
Bryon: I have one very specific project I want to work on next, the ever popular Big Commercial Novel that I think I'm finally ready to write, but I do have other ideas I want to explore in the urban fantasy and cyberpunk realms that have elements of crime fiction but also cool stuff like robots and monsters.
Me: What would be your goal for the BCN? Do you feel like you should write it because that's what crime writers do at some point, and the time might be right for you soon? Or is it more organic than that -- you had an idea you liked, you realized "This feels like a BCN," et voila? I accepted a long time ago that I don't have a BCN in me. Which is sort of a bummer but liberating, too.
Bryon: I always wanted to write a Big Commercial Novel, but my first few attempts turned out as Big Pretentious Messes instead. I kept getting too caught up in the idea of the crime novel as social novel and spending time dawdling with the book's mission to the world without remembering to work on things like characters and plotting. Also, it turns out that I'm not all that socially inclined in my writing, at least not that way. I love satire and making huge grandiose gestures of humor and sarcasm to address what I see as the problems of the world. But after this trilogy I think I've had my satirical say for the time being and I want to focus more on big emotion. Ever since I've been a parent, the idea of parental grief and surviving the loss of a child has been an obsession of mine. I think too much about it and think society as a whole thinks too much about it and our kids are suffering because instead of dealing with imaginary grief head on, parents try to protect their kids to a ridiculous degree in, I think, a selfish attempt to never have to really deal with parental grief. But I'm lucky. I have a creative outlet to address this with. So that's what I want to do with my BCN: tap into this massive shared imaginary grief of parents, or really anyone who is afraid of losing someone.
Me: Yowza -- sounds like you've got all the Big Ideas you need for a BCN. Or a BN, anyway. "Commercial" can be a tricky thing to get a bead on, especially when it comes to literature. But let's say the BCN is a BGDBS (Big God Damn Best-Seller). What would you do next? Or, to put the question another (more cliched) way: What do you hope you're doing with your writing in five, 10, 20 years?
Bryon: I think Big Novel is a great way to describe it. Bigger canvas, bigger palate, bigger expectations. And yes, commercial can be so very tricky and my interests and style have never run particularly close to the commercial center, but I want to keep trying. As far as long-term hopes go, I still hold out hopes for an old fashioned-style book-a-year career. If the next book hit it big, I have another idea in mind to immediately capitalize on that success that is the ever elusive "same but different" that readers crave. I used to think I wanted to write a long-running series, but after three books I'm already sick of these characters and ready to do something else. So I see doing more stand-alone books or trilogies in the future. I'd also really like to do movie work. I know television is the in thing now and that's where everyone is clamoring, but I adore the movies and want to write adaptations of my own stuff and adaptations of other people's stuff and even original work. I have this weird desire to take something strange, like a board game, and figure out a way to make it into something awesome. I think the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie and The Lego Movie are great examples of really good writers taking incredibly stupid ideas and making something awesome out of them. Maybe I'll be the guy who writes the first movie to win an Oscar based on a breakfast cereal.
Did I mention I have a new book out? No? Well, I do! Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown came out a few weeks ago. It's the sixth installment in the middle-grade mystery series I do with "Science Bob" Pflugfelder, and School Library Journal says it has "just the right amount of suspense, action and science to entice a wide array of readers."
Did I also mention that I have another new book out? No? Well, I do! The Wrong Wrights came out a few weeks ago. It's the first installment in the middle-grade science/adventure series I do with "Co-Writin' Chris" Kientz and "Illustrated Artistic-Lee" Nielsen, and School Library Journal says it's "a fun and action-packed exploration of aviation."
Did I also mention that I don't have another new book out? No? Well, I don't! Give the Devil His Due didn't come out a few weeks ago (though it was originally scheduled to). It's the third installment in the tarot-themed mystery series I do with "Just Lisa, Please" Falco, and School Library Journal has nothing to say about it -- but my editor's been saying "Where the hell is it, Hockensmith?"
Did I also mention that multitasking isn't one of my strong suits? No? Well, it's not! I had three projects to write last year, and only two of them got done.
Did I also mention that Give the Devil His Due is finally finished? No? Well, how could I have? I just finished it!
Did I also mention that I'm very, very tired and I'm going to bed? No? Well, I am! Good night!
Imagine that sentence with "cowboys" replaced with "certified accountants." Or "refrigerators." Or "fertilizer." That's how excited my wife sounded by "a movie about cowboys." (Sorry, certified accountants.)
And here's the thing: There aren't even any cowboys in True Grit! It's not about a cattle drive or cattle rustling or cattle anything. THERE ARE NO COWS! But for some people, unfortunately, Stetsons = cowboys = "cowboy movie" = fertilizer.
Forgive them, Louis L'Amour! They know not what they do!
I'm thinking about all this because I was talking Westerns with a book-loving buddy this week, and when I sent him a list of recommended novels I was struck by what a diverse herd it was. Yes, they're all set in the American West in the second half of the 19th century (or close to it) -- prime Western real estate. But in tone, style, message and intent they're all over the map...and sometimes they're so far out they go clear off the map altogether.
My Five Favorite Western (Not Cowboy!) Novels
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
So there are these cowboys, see, and they have to get this herd to...doh! O.K, yes -- there are cowboys in my favorite Western novel. And there are cows. Lots and lots of cows. But not only is it the most enthralling novel about cowboys and cows I've ever read, it's one of the most enthralling novels about people I've ever read. I mean, when Blue Duck kills that kid and that deputy dude I actually burst into tears. LARRY McMURTRY, YOU MADE ME CRY!!! And I love you for it.
True Grit by Charles Portis
You want to know why it's been made into a movie twice? And why both movies are really good? Because the book is bleeping great. The hero -- doggedly determined 14-year-old dynamo Mattie Ross -- is one of the most unique, funny, authentic first-person narrator's ever. For my money, the only novel that comes close, first-person genius-wise, is a little gem called --
Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
Funny, sad, silly, profound, sarcastic, sincere, light, dark. And did I mention funny? But sad? Oh, I did? Maybe my memory's not so reliable anymore. Kind of like 111-year-old Jack Crabb, the narrator of this haunting (but hilarious!) look back at the Way the West Was Won (and our innocence was lost).
Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker
Parker took the stripped down, minimalist style of an old detective novel, applied it to the Western and voila! (to use a very un-Western phrase): a classic. Parker's three sequels about deadly-but-honorable guns-for-hire Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch quickly descend into lazy self parody, but the book that kicked off the series is pure pleasure.
The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout
An old gunslinger gets ready to die...and hopes it's a good death. That's about it. There's a little action in the beginning, a little action at the end, and lots of talking in between. And it works beautifully. Swarthout also wrote The Homesman, which has a fantastic premise and an execution so sexist, wrong-headed and discursive it made me furious. But hey -- all (or most) is forgiven, Glendon. Because The Shootist still rocks.
Honorable mention: Deadwood by Pete Dexter, The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan, Cottonwood by Scott Phillips, The Thicket by Joe Lansdale, The Hanging Tree by Dorothy M. Johnson, Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer and Doc by Mary Doria Russell (though, man, does she let Wyatt Earp off the hook -- that guy was a scumbag!).
Oh, and by the way -- my wife and daughter did watch True Grit with me. And they loved it.
As the cowboys might say: Yeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaa!!!!
Big Red and Old Red
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