12 posts categorized "More Talk, Less Hock"

More Talk, Less Hock, Audiobook Edition: John McLain

John 2aOnce in a blue moon — or really it's so infrequent it's more like a plaid one — I like to swing the spotlight away from myself here and do a Q&A. This seemed like a good time for it because I already had some Q's lined up for my partner in an exciting new venture: John McLain, narrator of the just-released Double-A Western Detective Agency audiobook. (The audiobook can be found here on Amazon, BTW. You can also listen to it via Audible. Click here if you want to give Audible a try but haven't signed up for it yet.)

John did a great job bringing Big Red and Old Red to life. (If you don't believe me, scroll down to the end of this post to hear a preview.) How'd he get into the narrating game? And what's his secret for reading 75,000-ish words out loud in, like, 30 different voices without losing his danged mind? Read on for the A's.... 

Me: How did you get started as an audiobook narrator? 

John: Well, I spent most of my early career in radio broadcasting as a personality and producer, back in the day when it was really personality-driven. It was a wonderful creative endeavor, and it always felt very, very natural to me. But after 15 years or so, radio started becoming more scripted — more plastic if you will — and it just wasn’t very satisfying anymore. So I began seeking something new. It was then that I discovered the musical theatre. I was in love, but I needed to find a way to make a living. So I began to study voice acting, thinking that I would land in the commercial voiceover world — but then a chance meeting with the legendary Patrick Fraley led to my discovery of audiobooks. Here at last was a medium where I could use my production skills, as well as my newfound love of acting. It’s like doing a play, only I get to play every role! So I studied with Pat, took my fresh demo to New York, and the rest is history. Two-hundred titles later, I probably love it even more now than I did when I first began.

Me: You've narrated all kinds of books. Looking over your audiobook credits I see mysteries, thrillers, horror and non-fiction. And a lot of Westerns! Was that a genre you wanted to get into from the beginning? Or did you just kind of drift into it because, as a narrator, you've got an affinity for it? 

John: I’ll say that if I had my way, yes, I’d do a lot more Westerns, mainly because that’s my favorite genre to read for enjoyment. But I knew at the beginning of my career that it wasn’t realistic to expect to just tell my favorite types of stories all the time. One other thing I’ll say, though, is that I’ve learned to appreciate a lot of genres that I wouldn’t normally read, which I think has helped to make me a better, more versatile performer. But yes, Westerns are definitely number one for me, and I certainly wouldn’t mind narrating a lot more of them. Campfire storytelling at its finest!

Me: Who are your favorite Western authors?  

Zane GreyJohn: Louis L’Amour is my absolute favorite. When I was a boy, my grandfather was seldom without a L’Amour paperback by his favorite chair. When he’d finish a stack, he’d pass them to me. When he passed away, I received his entire collection, and I cherish them. So aside from being a wonderful writer, I’ll always have a very special, personal connection to his work. I also love the legendary Zane Grey, and have been fortunate to have narrated a handful of his titles. I also enjoy William Johnstone, or Jim Thompson if I’m in the mood for something darker. And one other comes to mind -- one that I’ve only recently discovered. An author with a gift for developing wonderfully rich characters and snappy comedic wit. You probably know of him. His name is Steve Hockensmith!

Me: Hockensmith...Hockensmith...Hockensmith. You're right — rings a bell. He does the "Holmes on the Range" series, doesn't he? Speaking of which, how would you describe your approach to the latest "Holmes on the Range" novel? Did it take you a while to get a handle on Big Red and Old Red, or did the characters and vibe come to you easily?

John: A wonderful thing sometimes occurs when working one-on-one with an author. It’s a sort of connection; or, stated differently, we “get” each other. This novel was one of those moments. I knew almost right away what you were trying to accomplish with Old Red and Big Red. Unfortunately, I can’t really explain how this “thing” happens. It just does, organically, and it’s so wonderful for an actor. As a rule, I approach any new set of characters that I meet exactly like I would in the theatre. What are their attitudes? Life experiences? What might they look like? And on and on. And depending on the “connection” that I tried to describe above, a voice begins to take shape in my head. And that’s when the fun starts, because I can then really inhabit that character through how he or she communicates verbally, and in some cases, even non-verbally. Plus, in the case of a comedic work like this one, I can really sink my teeth into how these two brothers interact with one another. You are a wonderful writing partner for me as a narrator, because your characters are so well developed. It makes my job in bringing your story to life easy. It’s very freeing as a performer. So, thanks for that -- because it doesn’t always happen that way.

Burton2aMe: Thank you, John! I could tell you got it right away. Sometimes when I hear narrators trying to do Western-y, "cowboy" voices it makes me cringe because they lay it on so thick. They end up sounding like they're trying to do a Burton Gilliam imitation. That didn't rear its ugly head with you for a second. Did you grow up in the West?

John: Well…sorta. I hail from central Oklahoma, and yes, I grew up in a rural setting. There were cattle and horses, and plenty of room to run and play, ride bikes, shoot, or whatever. And plenty of chores, too. Most weekends were consumed with various work around our place. We grew enough food just for us to eat, and then Grandma put up what was left over. To me, it was idyllic. I remember many nights camping out in the back part of the pasture, and staring up at the stars. I dreamed a thousand adventures out there. In fact, in real life I have a legit Okie drawl, but a lot of that was trained-out during my radio days. But it’s a really handy tool to have as a storyteller. And even today, one of my very favorite things for my wife and I to do is catch a good rodeo.

Me: Wow — it does sound idyllic. And like the perfect prep for narrating a "Holmes on the Range" novel years later. What's your process like when recording? Do you have to pace yourself? I tried to read a story of mine once for a podcast and it drove me crazy. After recording for a few hours and only getting about half-way through, I started to lose my voice — and my sanity — so I quit. How do you keep from burning out on a project? 

John: Audiobook narration is a marathon, not a sprint, and so yes, pacing myself is very important. Honestly, though, my brain wears out long before my voice does. I have considerable vocal endurance, built-up from years of singing in the theatre, doing long radio shows, and now from audiobooks. But there’s a real danger there — I have to be very careful to monitor my mind’s ability to stay in the story. This can be hard to do, especially for a narrator like me who records at home. In my studio, I wear all the hats — along with being “the talent,” I’m also the recording engineer and the director. As such, I must remain very aware of my performance as it’s happening. Am I still fully immersed in the story? Because the moment I drop out of the "suspension of disbelief," so will the listener — and this is absolutely unacceptable. Not only does it destroy the listener’s experience, I believe it also dishonors the author’s art. Every book is different, of course, but if I detect that I’m only 99% in the author’s world, it’s time to call it a day. In terms of burnout prevention, that’s a simple matter of loving what you do, combined with the understanding that you won’t love every book that you are cast to do. That’s all part of the job. But every book, whether I like it or not, carries the same responsibility for me as the storyteller: honor the material with the best possible performance I have in me. This is a covenant between the author, the listener, and myself that I take very, very seriously.

Me: It shows! So what's up next for you?

John: It’s hard to say! One of the fun things about this job is that you never know what’s coming along. Might be a biography, or a chilling crime novel, or a non-fiction book about some topic I’m totally unfamiliar with. Many audio publishers are preparing their summer releases, and are in the process of casting them. Of course, as I mentioned before, I’m always hoping that a new Western (or a classic one!) will ride into the studio. But whatever it is, I’ll accept it with gratitude, and I’ll keep telling stories as long as folks want to keep hearing them.

Click on the file below to get a taste of John's work on The Double-A Western Detective Agency.


More Talk, Less Hock: SA Sidor

I think I met Steven Sidor about 12 years ago and I think it was at a Bouchercon mystery convention and I think we were both scoring free drinks at a Minotaur Books party because I know (it's nice to be certain about something in this crazy world) that we were both writing for Minotaur back then. Something else I know: Steven's books were very different from mine -- dark psychological thrillers rather than goofy historical mysteries. And something else I know: That difference didn't matter, because Steven and I were instantly simpatico.  

SA Sidor by Jamie HowardMaybe it was because we were both young-ish writers (at the time) with young (no -ish about it) children and a similarly relaxed approach to marketing and touring (i.e., we didn't do much). Or maybe it was because we were both Midwestern nerds who were a little surprised to find themselves doing grown-up things like selling books and hobnobbing at a publisher's party. Maybe it was because we almost have the same first name. Maybe it was the free drinks. Whatever the reason, we hit it off, and although we only crossed paths once after that we stayed in touch over the years. So when Steven asked me if I'd take a look at the new novel he was working on -- a salute to monster movies, pulp fiction and spaghetti Westerns called Los Mummies -- my response was (A) but of course, my fine fellow, and (B) "Los Mummies"?!? Let me at it!

That title eventually changed (dammit), but I'm happy to report that the book has since been published with the following blurb attached:

"Little-known fact: H. Rider Haggard and H.P. Lovecraft once stole a time machine and piloted it decades into the future, where they convinced Sergio Leone and Steven Spielberg to help them create the greatest horror-adventure-Western mash-up imaginable to human minds. Or so I’m assuming, because I just read Fury From the Tomb. Obviously, 'SA Sidor' is the pseudonym they all agreed upon so no meddlers would come after the time machine. But I'm not fooled."
–-Steve Hockensmith

It's such a fun book I decided to give it more than a blurb: I'm also hyping it here with one of my sporadic Q&A interviews. Steven and I didn't have any free drinks to get the conversation started this time, but read on and you'll see that we've got plenty to say to each other without the help.

Me: Going from dark thrillers to a book with murderous mummies, zombie banditos and giant worms feels like a pretty big change-up. How did that come about?

Steven: I like writing dark thrillers. I was actually writing one at the same time I wrote Fury From the Tomb. When I'm working on a novel, I usually have another side project going at the same time, something I write just for fun, to get the juices going, and to keep me loose. Sometimes the side project is a short story or a novella. But it's always radically different from the novel I'm working on. My last two thrillers actually had supernatural elements in them. When it came to Fury, I let go with everything I liked in pulp adventures: old tombs, curses, monsters, hopping vampires... if it popped into my head and I could fit it in the story, I put it in. When I told my agent about my side project, she asked to see it. Then she said to drop everything and WRITE THIS BOOK NOW! So I did.

Me: Hold on..."hopping vampires"? I remember them from the book, of course. They really stand out. (It's quite a compliment to them to say that they "really stand out" when a book has the aforementioned giant worms and zombie banditos. When it comes to memorable creatures and bad guys, Fury from the Tomb is packed.) Are "hopping vampires" a thing? And, if so, how did you run across them? 

FuryFromTheTomb_235Steven: My hopping vampires are connected to one of the main characters, Yong Wu, a Chinese boy who works on a train. I knew I wanted vampires on the train. I also wanted them to have a special connection to the boy. Jiangshi, or hopping vampires, come from Chinese folklore. They share some of the same attributes as run-of-the-mill vampires but also have a few unique qualities: their corpses are stiff with outstretched arms, they hop to get around, and they're usually blind but have an excellent sense of smell. Hopping vampires show up in 1980s Hong Kong horror movies. I first ran across them in Sammo Hung's Encounters of the Spooky Kind movies. While typically used for comic purposes, the Jiangshi in Fury From the Tomb have a heartbreaking story behind their monstrous turn.

Me: So let's see if I can tally up all the influences in Fury From the Tomb: 1980s Hong Kong horror movies, 1960s English horror movies (specifically, Hammer), spaghetti Westerns, H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard (or perhaps Lester Dent?), the Indiana Jones movies, maybe a wee teeny touch of The X-Files and/or Kolchak: The Night Stalker...and...and...could that be it? 

Steven: Wow, you nailed the big ones. I'd add The Wild Wild West, which was my favorite TV show as a kid. I loved the craziness of that show and how it incorporated horror, science fiction, and fantasy elements. It was an early mash-up. My bounty hunter, Rex McTroy, owes something to men's adventure writers like Warren Murphy, George G. Gilman, and Max Allan Collins. The sandworm comes directly from Dune, which I was rereading during the time I was writing FFTT. Lastly, I have to give a shout-out to Mumm-Ra. Yes, that Mumm-Ra. I watched ThunderCats (the 1980s version) with my son, and Mumm-Ra struck me as really out of place on that show. He was way too scary. But I loved him.

Me: Of course -- The Wild Wild West! That one hadn't occurred to me, but in hindsight it totally fits. I could see it being an even bigger influence as you move forward with the series, since you'll have more time to focus on the Institute for Singular Antiquities and Rom's role as a globe-trotting troubleshooter-type with a plucky partner, a la James West. (An aside for my personal Wild Wild West fun facts: As a kid I thought it had the best opening credits of any show ever, but I could never watch an episode all the way to the end because none of the stations in my town showed it and whenever I ran across it elsewhere it was right before dinner and I'd be dragged kicking and screaming from the TV. Later, when I was a young journalist just out of college, I had lunch with Robert Conrad, and he was both very nice to me and 110% as intense as you'd think from those "Knock the battery off my shoulder" commercials. Afterwards, he sent me a bottle of Tuaca, which I was too young at the time to appreciate. A few years later I was the only film critic on Earth to kinda sorta like the Wild Wild West reboot -- I have a soft spot for steampunk-y mash-ups -- and for a while my boss was getting emails saying I should be fired because I'd obviously been bribed by Warner Bros.) Hmm...where was I? Oh, yeah -- your series! Tell me about the next Institute for Singular Antiquities book. When's it coming and what's it called and how's it different?

Bob takes aimSteven: Conrad is a Chicago guy. I had relatives who knew him in passing. No comment on the Wild Wild West reboot. No wait, one comment: I like Salma Hayek. The Beast of Nightfall Lodge is the next Institute For Singular Antiquities book. At an isolated cliffside retreat, a famous explorer and big game hunter offers a staggering reward for the capture of a murderous beast haunting the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Our team of investigators accepts the challenge. Icefalls, killer werecats, mad trappers, a revivified Billy the Kid, and a ghostly white buffalo await them. So does a family who may have lost their minds and souls to the legendary Wendigo. It's The Thing meets The Revenant... but funnier. I'm taking my characters out of the desert and throwing them into a deep freeze for this second adventure. Instead of globetrotting, they're stuck (mostly) in one very scary place. Due in stores February 2019. 

Me: Your description of The Beast of Nightfall Lodge -- and your mention of your Chicago connection -- reminds me of another possible influence on the series I didn't ask about before: Doctor Who. (For those who don't know...which would be most readers: Chicago's public TV station, WTTW, showed Doctor Who early and often.) I didn't feel a huge Doctor Who vibe in Fury From the Tomb, but the set-up for the sequel sounds very Who-y. Is that bouncing around in your head, too? (BTW, I promise to stop being such an old nerd as of the next question.)

Doctor Who and crewSteven: I don't think Doctor Who is a big influence on me, not in a conscious way. I watched during the Tom Baker and Peter Davison years. I do admire the teamwork of Doctor Who and his companions. The idea of a team of heroes is central to my series. I didn't want a lone wolf protagonist. None of the heroes in Fury From the Tomb would survive without the others. They're a "family" of misfits, and they need one another and have to learn to deal with their eccentric, annoying, and sometimes dangerous character flaws. That dynamic creates tension and a kind of energy core. Now that does sound Who-y, doesn't it?

Me: There was nothing remotely Who-y about the crime novels you were putting out a few years ago. They were extremely dark and gritty -- almost bleak. I assume the new series has been keeping you busy for a while now, so I'm wondering: Is a part of you itching to turn back to the Dark Side? What happened to that thriller you were working on when you told your agent about Fury From the Tomb, for instance? 

Steven: Monsters ignite my imagination. In my dark thrillers I wrote about human monsters in a realistic mode. Now I'm writing about fantastic monsters in a speculative mode. Instead of building stories around serial killers and occultist kidnappers, I'm writing about mummies, ghouls, and Wendigos. I pull everything from the same dark well. I haven't even thought about the thriller I was working on when I stopped to write FFTT. So maybe it wasn't that good. Who knows? I approach writing organically and let my subconscious direct me as much as possible. I don't plan. I follow my instincts. My best writing always comes from a mysterious place. I don't analyze it too much. I listen to the voices I hear in my head. Those voices are characters. If I try to force them to act in a prescribed way, they break. I let them do the driving while I ride shotgun and take notes. It's not the only way to write, but I've learned it's the way that works best for me. 

Me: Hearing how much you let your subconscious take the reins makes me wonder if you outline. It sounds like you prefer a more from-the-gut approach. (I know those are both statements rather than a question, but you know what I'm getting at.)

Steven: I do not outline. When I've tried to write outlines in the past, the outlines turned out fine, but I lost the drive to write the story. It felt as though I had already written it. I do write character sketches and a loose chronology of events. I know the ending, where I want things to wind up. Whenever I get stuck in the writing process, I will skip ahead and write a later scene. Then I connect the pieces. I add layers and expand during the editing process, which is constant for me. I start each day by editing the previous day's writing. Three to five pages of new story is a good day for me. The tension of not knowing exactly what comes next is a positive pressure. I want to be surprised just like my readers do. Most days writing is ditch digging -- slow, hard work that builds over time, line by line.

Me: Speaking of what comes next, do you have anything queued up after The Beast of Nightfall Lodge? Now that you've written dark thrillers and pulpy horror-adventures, what's left on your writing bucket list? Science fiction? High fantasy? Amish romance?

Revenge of the MurdernerdsSteven: I'm hoping to continue the Institute For Singular Antiquities series. I really love these characters. I have at least two more ideas for books in the series that are growing now in an idea petri dish. Mixing genres appeals to me. I've got an erotic werewolf novel I'd like to write (no kidding, I really do). And maybe a far-out sword-and-sandal/science fiction story (Gladiators of Rome vs. The Pod People)???

Me: Final question: Any advice for aspiring writers? Mine would be "Sure you don't want to take up needlepoint?"

Steven: Final answer: Be wary of writers offering advice. There's no secret formula to writing. Study your own process and do more of what works and less of what doesn't. Turn criticism into fuel. Be ruthless with your writing time. Learn to say, "No." Be friendly. And when you're stuck and everything appears hopeless, go take a walk in nature. Thank you, Steve, for this wonderful conversation.

More Talk, Less Hock: The David Cranmer Q&A

Now-thats-entrepreneurial-spiritI am not, by nature, an entrepreneur. I'm more of a non-trepreneur. Ambition? Competitive spirit? Single-minded drive to succeed? Don't got 'em. I just like making stuff up for people.

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.)

David CCase 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?

Show me the CashDavid: 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?

The Good the Bad and the PulpyDavid: 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."

More Talk, Less Hock: The Bryon Quertermous Q&A

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.

Murder BoyAnd 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?

Is it Bryon or is it DominickBryon:
 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.
One mean bookBryon: 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."

A robot AND a monsterBryon:
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?
Franken Berry The Motion PictureBryon: 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.

More Talk, Less Hock #6: Eric Beetner

Those of you who've been loyally visiting this site from the beginning (Hi, Lee! Hi, Mom! Hi...! Hmm. That's probably about it....) might remember a semi-regular feature called "More Talk, Less Hock." It was basically an excuse for me to (A) shoot the shhhh with a writing buddy and call it an interview and (B) avoid writing a real blog post. Well, after a short hiatus (three years is "short" as hiatuses go, right?), "More Talk, Less Hock" is back.

Author photo Med-fWhy now? Thank Eric Beetner. I've kinda-sorta known Eric for a few years now. (I don't get out much, so it's hard to get beyond "kinda-sorta" knowing anyone.) He's always struck me as an interesting, intelligent, prolific and all-around nice guy. Interesting because his writing seemed like so much pulpy fun. (When you've got titles like Dig Two Graves, The Year I Died Seven Times and Stripper Pole at the End of the World on your Amazon page, I'm going to take notice.) Intelligent because he says he likes my books, which is either a sign of impeccable taste or great wisdom when it comes to buttering up other authors. Prolific because he's produced a lot of books in a short amount of time. (Duh!) And all-around nice because...well, he's really nice.

And now I can add "talented" to the list of adjectives, because I finally got around to reading one of Eric's novels: Rumrunners, a super-fun, fast-paced thriller about a family of professional getaway drivers going up against a crime syndicate in America's Heartland. The promotional copy describes it as "Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo," and if that appeals to you -- and it sure appealed to me -- you should pick up the book. As soon as I finished it, I had two thoughts. 

"Hey, I should bring back 'More Talk, Less Hock.'" 

And "Cool! I won't have to write a real blog post this month!"

On to the Q&A....

Me: How's it going?

Eric: I guess if I say, "Fine. How are you?" it's not conducive to a back and forth, huh? Things are good but I've been conflicted this week. I just released my fifth book of the year [Nine Toes In The Grave]. I want to be all proud papa and celebrate it but I fear people are going to think, "This jerk again?" I've struggled with wondering what is too prolific. This year has been an odd confluence of back projects finally catching up, shorter or co-written works and old-fashioned ass busting to get pages done. But I never know if I'm doing a disservice to my own works by putting out too many. I guess I'll find out, huh? I've also been reading about how lack of sleep is going to surely kill me sooner than later. Makes me think about slowing down. But then I stare at the old notebook of brilliant ideas and I need to get them out of my head. Do you have that thing where you have to write it down in order to get it out of your brain?

Me: I actually don't have to write something down to get it out of my brain. I have to write down everything in order to simply retain it. My brain seems to have an auto-wipe feature that clears all important information approximately once every two hours. I haven't reached the point yet where I have to pin a note to my shirt with my name and address written on it, but I assume that day is coming. But more to your point -- yeah, I also have files filled with a million (supposedly) killer plots and premises I'll probably never get to. "Where do you get your ideas?" is an amusing question to me. My question would be "How do you make them stop?!?"  I'm sorry to hear about the lack of sleep -- it's going to kill me, too -- but I assume that's the price we pay when we're not bestsellers yet we choose to stay in this crazy writing game anyway. I think you were a screenwriter first, right? When did you switch to stories and books? (I would say "switch to prose," but I don't know if it's possible to say "prose" without sounding pretentious.)

Eric: I would love to say it was a mutual parting of the ways between me and screenwriting, but it was more like I got dumped. Or more accurately, never got invited to the dance. I wrote 17 spec scripts, two episodes of TV, a pilot that never got produced and a screenplay on assignment that also never went anywhere. I sold options on four scripts but the only thing I ever saw on screen was a film I wrote and directed myself which promptly did nothing because I'm clueless about how to get it to do something other than play festivals. 

I guess I grew to realize Hollywood wasn't for me. The life of a screenwriter is very unstable, very transient. I'd always look at my favorite scripts and movies that were highly regarded, and too many of those writers still had a near-impossible time getting anything else made. Screenwriters have a short shelf life. What I wrote skewed more indie film and small potatoes for studio work. And during the 1990s was the start of the real contraction into what we have now where it's franchise or bust. There are still great films being made, don't get me wrong. I also reached a point where I had a family and responsibilities so I couldn't go mortgage my house to make another film. And the notes. Oh, the notes. For whatever reason books are still highly regarded and you don't get people offering plot changes the second they hear about what the story is. 

As a TV editor (my day job) I deal with notes all day long. So I turned to novels as a way to fulfill that creative urge and not have to be beholden to anyone. Sure an editor will change things here and there, but it's not like Hollywood where you get an idea out of your mouth and before you can draw another breath someone is asking, "Can she be a ghost?" Or whatever the new idea du jour is.

So, in short, around 2008 I burned out, got dumped by my agent, flunked out of my dream of movie making and ended up with a second prize that has been in many ways more fulfilling.

Me: When I was in my twenties, I flirted with the idea of moving to L.A. and trying to break into TV writing. I'm grateful now that I didn't bother. Hearing about experiences like yours, I know that I would've been miserable. I love good movies and television, but the process...oy. Because the stakes are so much lower in publishing, writers have a lot more freedom. Are your novels movies you would have dreamed of making? Or is there a bigger split than that for you? Like, you wanted to make small-scale indie dramas, but for some reason when you write prose you gravitate toward edgy, pulpy crime fare...?

Eric: It's weird but I didn't write that much crime in my screenplays. What I did do, which was a mistake, was write all over the place. I wrote dark comedies, serious dramas, weird cult movies, horror, crime. People like to know what they're getting, and eclectic doesn't sell. When I switched to novels I made a choice to be consistent and crime fiction was what I enjoyed reading most so I've stuck with it. No regrets.

I do sometimes look at the old scripts and think I should maybe turn one into a book. Then I get daunted by the task of transforming a story I already wrote (although so long ago they would all seem new now), so I tend to just keep with whatever is the newest, shiniest distraction in my brain.

Would I love to see a book of mine translated to screen? Of course. I have two unpublished novels that I've held back while I shop for a new agent and I think, perhaps misguidedly, that they are more Hollywood friendly than my other work. Movies and TV are still my dream goal. I like having goals out ahead of me. Even when I accomplish something, there is always more to strive for. Keeps me hungry. And frustrated, feeling like a failure, depressed -- all the ingredients for a creative life, right? I'm thinking we should start a blog all about writers insecurities. You and I could fill volumes.

Me: That's a great idea, actually. What do you think of "I Write Therefore I SUCK" for the title? Or maybe we should accentuate the positive and talk about Rumrunners for a minute. I got a big kick out of its mixture of down-to-earth Midwestern reality and high-octane action movie shenanigans. It made me think of grungy '70s chase movies like Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto. Was that the inspiration?

Rumrunners-cover-01-fEric: Yeah, I loved some of those old car movies growing up. First career I ever really wanted was to be a stunt man. Really, I was intrigued by the old school liquor smugglers and thought it would make a good multi-generational story. I set this one in the Midwest, as I often do, because I like the small-time crooks. I like stories set off the beaten path, and you get guys who are bigger in their mind than in reality and that makes an interesting dynamic to me. I was born in Iowa but spent a relatively short time there, yet it's influenced my life tremendously. I like the way Midwesterners are humble and taciturn. I like the economy of words and the work ethic of farm life. The characters are fun to write that way.

Much the same I way, I have to think, that Old Red and Big Red were fun for you to write for the juicy way they spoke. I still get such a kick out of those books of yours because on every page, in nearly every paragraph I encountered a way of speaking that was new and exciting to me. A voice different from my own life, which is why I read in the first place.

Me: Thank you, kind sir. And speaking of the juicy language of the Old West, I think I read somewhere that you have a Western in your future. If that's right, how did that come about? The genre is near and dear to my heart, so it's been exciting to see small press and indie writers try their hand at it recently even as the big publishers abandon it.

Eric: David Cranmer at Beat To A Pulp is a flag bearer for the Western and he developed a character called The Lawyer who appeared first in his Cash Laramie stories. The Lawyer was spun off, and David envisioned a series of novellas featuring the vengeance-minded former litigator. Wayne Dundee wrote the first novella and David asked me to come aboard and I didn't hesitate.

I think any fan of crime fiction would do well to explore Westerns. Most are essentially crime and noir stories set against a backdrop that gets them shoved onto a different shelf, which is a shame. I just read, for example, Bill Crider's Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante, and those are kick-ass crime stories that just happen to take place on horseback.

Seven_Men_from_NowI took influence from my favorite Western films –- the collaborations between Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher. I put myself in that headspace and wrote the first one, Six Guns at Sundown, and I'm due to start the next one soon. They are just as pulpy and action-packed as my crime novels so I hope people will give them a shot.

It's hard to get readers to follow you if you go too far afield, isn't it? Did you get much crossover reading for Cadaver In Chief? Horror satire doesn't sound like the same readership as the Holmes books or your new series, but I think if a writer is good, I'll follow them anywhere.

I was surprised at how many people went along with my post apocalyptic cannibals and strippers novella, Stripper Pole at the End of the World. It has become one of my best-reviewed books. 

Really, this is all evidence that I am a whore and will say yes to almost anything. I mean, here I am chatting with you. What depths won't I plumb? This year is the first time I've said no to a project because I am genuinely too busy. It made me sick to turn it down. I still feel guilty. But at some point the work is going to suffer and/or people will just get so damn sick of me.

Me: I couldn't agree more about Westerns. Most of them are crime stories that just happen to take place on the American frontier of the late 1800s. It makes me sad that crime fiction fans go gaga over film noir but have no idea about hard-bitten gems like Boetticher's The Tall T or Anthony Mann's Man of the West. It's the damn cowboy hats. Most people these days see them and immediately run in the opposite direction. So it's great that guys like you and David are flying the flag. I've been itching to not only bring back the Holmes on the Range series but try my hand at some more Western-y spinoffs, as well. I just haven't had time. (I'm a very slow writer. Dammit.) If/when I get around to it, it will indeed be interesting to see how many readers from my newer series follow me back to the Old West. Cadaver in Chief was an interesting experiment along those lines. A failed experiment, I could say, because it's sold horribly. Zombies turn off some readers as quickly as cowboy hats, apparently. On the other hand, I'm really proud of that thing -- in some ways it's the most me thing I've ever written -- and it opened doors that could be leading to very cool stuff. So I'm still hoping it finds its audience one day. That's one of the great things about the new era of self-publishing that we're in. It's not like I have to worry about Cadaver in Chief going out of print. When people are ready for it, it'll be there for them. Speaking of which, how do you feel about indie/self-publishing? It seems like something you have a lot of experience with but wouldn't mind leaving behind, perhaps. I have mixed feelings about it myself -- those feelings being fascination, excitement and terror.

Eric: Yes, I hold out hope for a bigger publishing deal someday, but that's not meant to diminish any of the indies I deal with. I like the looser vibe, the flexibility, the speed they move compared to the glacial pace of traditional publishing. But everyone wants the chance to see what they are capable of with a bigger marketing budget, access to library sales, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviews, larger magazine coverage, etc. There is a good chance my numbers wouldn't change. I just want to know, you know?

I am fine being a small-press guy if that's my lot in life. This is not my primary income. Not even close. I can write and publish with the freedom in knowing it's not how I feed my family, as much as I'd love to do it full time. So I can take advantage of all the benefits of a smaller, more nimble publishing company. Plus, the relationship is more personal. It feels more punk rock to me, too. My whole aesthetic was shaped in my teens when the barriers between the art I loved and the fan base was broken down. I have a very DIY mentality and I think it's really exciting that publishing has embraced that in the last decade.

Indie publishers are like indie rock labels. You want to have a reading for you book? Do it yourself. Set it up. Don't let them tell you no. Don't let the gatekeepers keep you out of the whole game, even if they won't let you play on their field.

So I have loved working with virtually all of the indie presses I've worked with. The teams at 280 Steps, Down & Out, Beat To A Pulp and All Due Respect are good, hard-working, intelligent people who have a passion for books and they saw something in my work that made them put forth tremendous effort for very little profit. And I thank them for that.

Even if I can place a book with a bigger publisher someday I can't ever see myself abandoning the small-press world. I look at Joe Lansdale, who still puts out limited editions, weird novellas and other works on small presses while having his bigger deals. I aspire to that someday. I never want to stop paying back the imprints who have taken a chance on me as I get going. But the fact that my "getting going" phase has now lasted 13 books gets a little tiresome. There are the one-in-a-million breakouts like The Martian who transcend the indie or self-published world, but that's not a career plan.

I've avoided straight-up self-publishing original works. The self-pubbed stuff of mine are re-releases of older books or print versions of things only available as books. I sort of know now from experience what I can expect to sell, and I know I need that imprint and the people working on my book's behalf. I simply don't have the time it takes or the marketing savvy to be a true self-published author. It's a hell of a lot of work. I look at someone like Brett Battles and he's very successful but he works his ass off at it. He's putting out a ton of material, working those promo levers, doing the diligence with his editor and that's all out of his own pocket. It's a skill I don't posses, nor do I have the funds. I respect the hell out of that in other authors. I just know it's not me right now.

The market is so flooded that it's become so difficult to get noticed, as it always has in publishing. There was a brief window where people felt as if e-books would be an instant passport to sales, but that's worked its way through the market and we're left with the same truth about publishing as always -- you have to work really hard to get noticed. 

Steve-martin (1)I always go back to a quote I've seen attributed to Steve Martin about how to find success in a field where so many people want to be successful: Be undeniably good. That's what I strive for. Even in my small niche genre, I want to be good enough that people can't deny it. I feel like I'm fulfilling that promise a little bit. Being tenacious enough and just being present in the conversation so it gets to the point that readers will have to at least take a look at what I'm doing so they can satisfy their curiosity about who the hell this name is they keep hearing. I may only be getting there a handful of readers at a time, but it's building.

I'm ranting a bit on this one but I'll leave it with this valuable lesson I learned. When I was in a band people did not care for us, generally. We were weird, loud, not for everyone. I remember one specific show where the crowd literally turned their backs on us. They could not have cared less. I looked out and saw what appeared to be not one person paying attention. I got really frustrated for a second, then I said to myself, "Screw it. Play the best damn show you can manage. Play because you love it. Play the way you'd want someone to play." I did that and after the show as I sat, all sweaty and depressed by our sad merch table, two guys came out of the darkness and said how much they loved the show. They bought CDs and compared us to bands I loved. They got it. They were hanging in the back and I couldn't see them, but I was so glad I didn't give up and play a crappy show. I've taken that to heart in all my creative endeavors because I have yet to achieve true success at anything I do. But I do my best to go out and perform, write, edit, whatever to the best of my ability and even if I only reach one or two people with each outing, that's something I can live with and be proud of. To make that small connection is enough of a charge to keep me going.

More Talk, Less Hock: Wild West Bunch Special Edition

Bob-fI've always had a soft spot for Westerns, but for a while there, they scared me. I hate to admit it, but when the Holmes on the Range series kicked off six years ago, I didn't want to be seen as a Western writer. I hate to admit it because (A) it was cowardly and (B) it was dumb.

Westerns haven't been hip or hot since the Johnson administration, yes. The genre's been declared dead more times than Jason Voorhees, yes. The Holmes on the Range books are mysteries first and foremost, yes. But most of them are Westerns, too, and it was silly -- and ultimately pointless -- to pretend otherwise.

(Essay for another day: I also didn't want to be seen as a writer of Sherlockian pastiches. Silly2 x pointless3 = ridiculous unto infinity.)

I'm over it now. You can call my Holmes on the Range stories Westerns, call them pastiches, even call them Wild Wild West slash fanfic for all I care. Just don't call them late for dinner. By which I mean, please read the darned things.

(Actually, I take that back. Don't call them Wild Wild West slash fanfic. I shouldn't have even thrown it out there as a joke. Oy, the Google searches that are going to start bringing people to this blog post.)

It took me too long to stand tall when it came to Westerns, but fortunately not everyone's as lily-livered as I. Western writers are a brave bunch, I think, because they've proudly stuck by a genre New York publishing started turning its yellow-streaked back on decades ago. Will the dawn of epublishing bring a brighter day for the Western? We'll see. In the meantime, as part of my ongoing (and extremely sporadic) series of Q&As, I asked 10 Western writers one question: Why write about the Old West? You'll find their answers below.

Oh, and if you're wondering how I picked the participants: These are friends or friends of friends. But though I only cite a few titles for each, most of them have published more Westerns and won more awards than I could easily list. So I didn't try. If you're a writer of Westerns yourself, don't feel badly that I left you out. Just drop in a comment telling us why you keep returning to those thrilling days of yesteryear....

Bill Crider, author of A Time for Hanging and Galveston Gunman: I grew up before the Old West was nearly as old as it is now, and I heard a lot of stories about it as a kid. I grew up in Limestone County, Texas, about 10 miles from Fort Parker, where Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted by the Comanches. People still talked about that, and school kids went on field trips to the restored fort. My grandmother used to tell me stories about Bigfoot Wallace. John Wesley Hardin taught school at Pisgah, where my grandfather was born, and killed a couple of men in Limestone County. I lived later on in Brown County, where Hardin shot a sheriff's deputy, an event that led to the hanging of his brother and two cousins.  The big movies when I grew up were Shane, High Noon and The Searchers. How could I not want to write about the Old West?  It's a part of me in too many ways to ignore.

Judy Alter, author of Cherokee Rose and Mattie: I enjoy writing about women of the Old West  because they showed such spirit and courage and optimism. Their motto was "Come Spring...." They were always sure "come Spring" things would be better, and they had some great adventures along the way. And some of them were such fascinating characters -- Libbie Custer, Jessie Benton Fremont, Lucille Mulhall, Etta Place.

Redemption, KansasJames Reasoner, author of Death Head Crossing, Longarm and the Pine Box Payoff (under the name Tabor Evans) and Trailsman: Seminole Showdown (under the name Jon Sharpe): I like to write about the Old West because the history of that era is so rich it will support any kind of story. Comedy, tragedy, romance, adventure, mystery...all of them are embodied in the Old West. Plus, for someone who grew up when I did, reading Westerns and watching them on TV and in the movies, the mythology of the genre is etched so deeply in my brain -- and in my heart -- that being able to contribute to it myself is very satisfying. Most of all, writing about the Old West is just plain fun for me, and I hope the readers enjoy it as well.

Richard Prosch, author of Devils Nest: It seems counterintuitive, but I think the West remains largely unexplored by Western genre fiction. For example, when I was growing up in Nebraska, less than a half hour from one of Jesse James' alleged hideaways and practically on top of the Ponca Trail of Tears, I never thought the characters in Westerns, on page or screen, acted like real people. Everybody was a type, and every scenario had been played out before. Eventually I found more verisimilitude in literary fiction or nonfiction, but in those venues you lose the sense of escape. Hey, if I want absolute authenticity, I'll visit my relatives. So there's got to be a balance, and I'm having fun exploring that,trying to find the authentic situations of my past in the history and challenges of the genre. Happily, I think fiction across the board is discovering that balance, maybe thanks to the demands of more sophisticated readers and writers, maybe thanks to more dedicated and vocal consumers period.

Ann Parker, author of the Silver Rush Mystery series: Why write about the West? The loooong answer is: As a young-un, I got hooked on TV westerns (Have Gun -- Will Travel, Rawhide, Bonanza, etc.), and, later on, The Wild Wild West (the TV show, not the movie) and spaghetti Westerns (think Man with No Name, Ennio Morricone music and lots of dusty scenery that definitely wasn't backlot Hollywood). However, even then it was clear to me that, no matter what the storyline, the guys had all the fun. What about the women? It just wasn't fair.

Fast forward any number of decades. I found out from my Denver-born-and-bred uncle that my grandmother had been raised in Leadville, Colo. My stunned response to this news: Leadville? What the heck is that? My uncle encouraged me to investigate this mining town's history, saying, "Ann, I know you've been thinking of writing a novel. I think you could write a novel set in Leadville."

Result: my historical mystery series set in 1880s Colorado, during the heyday of Leadville's Silver Rush, when folks came West to reinvent themselves and everyone was dying to get rich. (Hey! Just like today!) The books feature saloon owner Inez Stannert, a woman of uncertain moral compass. And yes, I make damn sure that Inez gets to have fun, just like the guys!

Scorpion trailLarry D. Sweazy, author of The Coyote Tracker and The Scorpion Trail: The westward expansion is unique to America, and in my mind, that makes Westerns as unique a genre to our country as is jazz. Writing about the West offers the chance to explore stories about redemption, reinvention, justice and the pursuit of something larger than one's self. The landscape is dangerous, hostile and unwelcoming. And then there are the people, indigenous to the land, and the seekers, the pioneers, the settlers, that offer continual conflict to explore. As amazing as the West is, there are countless stories about betrayal, greed and shame that have yet to be told.

Loren D. Estleman once told me, "Genres don't die." I believe him. But like any genre there are a range of Western novels that fall below par. There are, however, other Western novels that are still being published (by living authors) that offer some of the best writing and storytelling to be found. 

The possibilities of the West are endless. The scope of human stories, from romance to revenge, is without borders. The wide open spaces and the opportunities, good and bad, are the allure. That's why I write about the Old West. 

Edward A. Grainger (a.k.a. David Cranmer), creator of the Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles Western noir series: When I was growing up, my dad watched all the old shows like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, etc. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies were always on, and it became part of my upbringing. My dad's love for the genre was passed down to me and I do my best to make him proud.

John D. Nesbitt, author of West of Rock River and Coyote Trail: I write about the Old West because it is in my blood.

I like to reduce life to its essentials of human nature and the natural setting, so I don't do much with the technical details of firearms. Most of my stories are about a main character's experience, and my characters don't think much about make and caliber and the kind of bullet or cartridge. I put myself in the character's situation. If I am going to shoot at a deer or antelope, I have some awareness that I am using my .270, but I don't think about the brand of the rifle, the nature of its magazine, the brand of the scope and so forth.

The same goes for horses. I've had a few and have ridden a few. When I saddle a horse and climb on, I don't think about its gender. I perceive its color, so I have my character do that. He saddles a bay or a sorrel or a palomino, and he swings aboard. He doesn't think about it being a gelding.

So that's it. No phones, no computers, no helicopters, no explosions or train wrecks. No encyclopedic information. Just men and women, guns and horses, prairie flowers and wildlife, with what I hope is some thought-provoking interaction. The Old West allows me to do that.

Cotton-fPhil Dunlap, author of the Sheriff Cotton Burke Western series: I think it was ordained from the beginning. As a youth, I felt an overwhelming compulsion for two things: flying airplanes and writing Westerns. Can't say why, but these occupied my mind from when I was old enough to walk to the movies by myself. I'd always been fascinated by the old Westerns shot amongst huge boulders with narrow dusty trails winding through them. And who could deny the excitement of outlaws holed up in mountain hideouts? The way the good guys always won the shoot-out set my moral compass firmly. However, I didn't start writing about the West until I'd actually gone to Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Colorado. Once I saw, touched and smelled what the desert really was -- a world entirely different from where I grew up -- well, I was naturally hooked. Watching movies planted the seed, of course, but climbing the Superstitions, hiking the Sonoran desert, riding horseback through narrow canyons, coming face-to-face with a sleek coyote eyeing me amongst the cacti ultimately caused that seed to sprout and grow strong. And now I can't imagine doing anything else (with a special salute to Sky King, who tied it all together for me).

Elisabeth Grace Foley, author of The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories: It's such a rich, varied setting. You've got over half a century of time and thousands of miles of locations -- plains, mountains, forest, desert, remote towns and growing cities -- where you can put any kind of character and write any kind of story you like, with a wealth of historical incidents and details to provide inspiration. Beyond that, I think it has something to do with "romance" in the old-fashioned sense of the word -- to me there's always a flavor of novelty and adventure somewhere about the West, no matter what kind of story I'm writing.

Steve Hockensmith, author of On the Wrong Track and The Crack in the Lens: What they said.

More Hock, Less Talk #1: ME!!!

Every now and then here at stevehockensmith.com, I'll profile a fellow writer as part of a feature I call "More Talk, Less Hock." (Regular visitors to this blog call it "Steve Didn't Have Anything to Write About Again This Week.") Today, I offer a variation. Instead of giving you less Hock, I'm serving up twice the Daily Recommended Allowance. I hope you don't O.D., Hockaholics. It's an interview with me.

A little background: Several months ago, I was asked to answer a few questions for a Q&A tied to the release of the e-anthology West Coast Crime Wave. I've got a story in the book, you see -- an old chestnut called "Fred Menace, Commie for Hire." You can pick up the antho here or here (but not here) if you wanna check it out.

The Q&A never ran, however, and I'm not the type to waste 13.4 minutes of hard work. So I'm posting my answers here.

Maybe after reading them, you'll understand why they were never used in the first place....

Interviewer X: Give us a bit of background on you as an author. When were you bitten with the writing bug? Is mystery your usual genre, or do you float between several?
Me: I've been writing since the age of 4. My first big project was the letter O. I later moved on to other letters of the alphabet and, after mastering them, words. Then came sentences. Eventually, I produced my first paragraph. After that, there was no stopping me! Except for all the things stopping me. Like being 7 and having no idea I wanted to be a writer. By 11, I had everything figured out, though. I wrote my first bit of serious genre fiction -- a Star Trek story called "A Space-Age Hitler!" -- and a mere 27 years later my first novel was published. That novel (the historical mystery Holmes on the Range) was a finalist for the Edgar, Anthony, Shamus and Dilys awards. So obviously it was terrible. Fortunately, the publishing industry is known far and wide for its magnanimity, and I was allowed to keep publishing books until I eventually produced a bestseller (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls). Now that I'm an overnight success, my goal is to stretch the inevitable failure to follow over the course of several decades, if not centuries.

X: What makes the setting of your story a unique and interesting one for crime fiction?

Me: After reading the collected works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, I came to the conclusion that no one had ever written a mystery set in post-World War II Los Angeles. To make my story even more unique, I decided to throw in a private investigator. And as if that weren't enough, I made him a tough guy with a fondness for colorful metaphors. Crazy, I know! But that's just the kind of cutting edge, experimental writer I am. 

X: Tell us a little bit about the story’s main character.

Me: Fred Menace is a tough guy with a fondness for colorful metaphors. Oh, and he's a private investigator! Also: His name is "Fred Menace," and he's the main character of my story. As if that weren't interesting enough, his initials are F and...whoops. Got carried away with the details there. I know you didn't ask me to write the guy's biography, but I just love him so much I couldn't help myself!

X: This anthology is an e-book from a new publisher.  In general, how do you as an author see the opportunities in publishing changing with the growth of e-books?

Me: Oh, man -- I've been calling them "e-books" for the last few years, but I'd just decided to switch to "ebooks" when I read your question. Now I don't know what to do. I tell you what, though: Once we figure out whether they're hyphenated or not, these damn things are going to be a gold mine.
X: Tell us what's in store for you over the next six to 12 months.

Me: Barring a breakdown in negotiations or the complete collapse of the publishing industry, I should be able to announce my next project very, very soon. My money's on the complete collapse of the publishing industry.

More Talk, Less Hock #5: Ben H. Winters

I know I'm fascinating and all, but sometimes I wonder. A whole blog? About me? Really?

Yeah, yeah, I get it -- author blogs aren't supposed to be interesting. They just exist so we can say to our publicists and agents, "See? You told me to blog, so I'm blogging. And yes -- I'm on Twitter and Facebook, too. Now would you please shut up about Google+?" So I probably shouldn't sweat it.

But sweat it I do. And when I'm feeling particularly sweaty (metaphorically speaking), that's when I drag a colleague in to class the joint up a bit. This month's dragee: Ben H. Winters.

Ben-fYou might know Ben from his popular mash-up novels Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. You might know him from his charming Edgar-nominated middle grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (or its recently released and wonderfully titled sequel The Mystery of the Missing Everything). You might know him from his new thriller Bedbugs or his plays or his columns for the Huffington Post. Or you might know him because you went to high school with him. How should I know?

All I know is this: Ben's a great writer and a great guy. How is he as an interview subject? Let's find out, shall we?

Me: Hey, man! How's it going?

B.H.W.: Hey, pretty good, thanks. I'm a little busy, as it happens, because we've got a new baby at home -- three weeks old yesterday -- and I'm working hard on a tight deadline for a brand new novel. How's by you?

Me: Oh, I'm O.K. A little behind on my sleep, but I have Netflix to blame for that, not a newborn. Speaking of which -- babies, that is, not Netflix -- congrats! How are you handling the deadline/sleep deprivation convergence?

Joe-fB.H.W.: Lots of coffee. (With apologies for the cliche, but some things become cliche because they're true). I'm lucky, though: I have good kids, and I love my work. I do a lot of counting how many weeks I have left, how many hours there are in each day, how much I feel I will get done in each hour. Then someone gets a fever, or I have to do a bunch of laundry, and I recalculate. Somehow, I forge ahead.

Me: Man, does that sound familiar. It's easier for me now that my kids are a little older -- our household has been diaper-free for a couple years now -- but juggling full-time writing with family obligations has always been a challenge. I shouldn't even call it "full-time writing." It's more like "full-time trying to write." So how do you hit your deadlines? Do you set daily or weekly word count goals for yourself, so it's a steady progression toward "The End"? Or is there an insane, coke-fueled push right before the due date?

B.H.W.: I set both word counts and hour counts, focusing more on the latter -- like, I'll go, "Tomorrow I'm going to work from 8:45 (when the kids are dropped off at school) until 10:35, when I'll go get a second cup of coffee, and then I'll work from 11 to 1:30, and then have lunch, and then go do errands for an hour and a half, and etc etc." I've found it doesn't help to say "I'm going to write 2,000 words tomorrow" unless you've budgeted the time in which that might conceivably happen.

Me: O.K., last process question. How quickly do you write? When I see other writers talk about their hourly or daily word counts, I'm always astounded...and depressed. People are cranking out 5,000 words a day, which would be a decent week for me. How about you? Do you think of yourself as a fast writer or a slow one?

B.H.W.: I do think of myself as a fast writer -- probably too fast. For many years I made my living as a transcriptionist, so I type really, really fast, to the point that when I used to share a writing space, people would hear my fingers zinging over the keys and think I was kidding, or being a jerk. But the quality of the words is what matters, of course, not the quantity. I try to do a solid 1,000 words a day, and when I say solid, I mean that when I read them the next day, I'm still happy with 500 of them.

S and S and SMMe: Do you find that the writing moves more quickly when you're working on a particular kind of project? I mean, you're a guy who's produced a psychological horror novel, two middle-grade mystery/comedies, two science fiction-tinged "mash-ups" and a ton of things for the stage. That's quite a big palette you've got to play with. What comes most easily to you, and what's more of a struggle?

B.H.W.: Well, you know, I don't generally have a harder or easier time with any particular genre or style; once I've got a bite on it, what the motives of the characters are, where the big scenes need to land, I can just fire away. In conversations about working in different genres, or in different mediums, I like to say that there are really only two kinds of writing: the good kind and the other kind. Having said that, I am at present working on a detective novel, one with a slight science-fiction "twinge," and finding it to be massively tricky, harder than anything I've done before. Hopefully that bodes well for the power and interestingness of the final product!

Me: So now you're adding an SF-flavored detective novel to your resume? Yowza, what's next? I think you've worked in every genre except...I don't know. Porn, maybe? Does that even count as a "genre"? Wait -- don't answer that. Answer this: Where did the idea for your new psychological horror novel, Bedbugs, come from? Personal experience? (Quick aside: Bedbugs is Rosemary's Baby with disgusting little bugs instead of Satan. The bugs are scarier. Publishers Weekly called the book "compelling," Booklist "chilling" and Penthouse -- yes, Penthouse -- "gripping." To see the funny and yucky book trailer, click here.)

Pillow the NovelB.H.W.: Personal experience? Oh good lord no, and bite your tongue! Really the inspiration for Bedbugs was in my affection for that kind of contemporary haunted-house style tale of suspense, where the happy young couple moves into the perfect home, and then all sorts of awful, diabolical things begin to unfold. I also love the kind of story where you are unsure from moment to moment if the haunting (or whatever) is real or the product of one person's feverish imagination. Like The Yellow Wallpaper or The Turn of the Screw or (especially) Rosemary's Baby. It seemed like bedbugs, being such a subject of horror and fascination for so many people right now, were a perfect way to update those forms of horror story.

Me: I don't know if I could write a book like Bedbugs. I get freaked out enough by bugs as it is. Like, if I see a cockroach in a hotel room, forget it: I'm going to be swatting imaginary roaches out of the bed all night. (Oh, god. I just remembered the time I turned on the light and THERE REALLY WAS A CENTIPEDE IN BED WITH ME!!! ARRRRRGGGGHHH!!! Great. Now I'm not getting any sleep for the next week.) Anywho, how about you? Did you manage to creep yourself out?
B.H.W.: It's funny -- I find that whatever effect a scene is supposed to draw, whether it's visceral terror of the kind you describe, or a laugh, or even just your basic "what's-going-to-happen-next?" fiction tension, I feel it personally the first time I write it, but then feel it less and less every time I go back and rewrite it. So that by the time I'm on a final draft, I have very little reaction to it at all; I'm still fussing around and fixing it and experimenting on a technical level with making it better, but I no longer get the jolt of fear or humor or suspense that I'm intending my reader to get. At that point I'm like the chef with no sense of taste, just trusting my own abilities because I can't really test it myself anymore.

Me: I know exactly what you mean. I can really tell I've done something right if I'm going over copy edits and something I wrote makes me laugh. That'll probably be the tenth time I've read that particular line, so if I still find it funny it must be good. Given the process you describe -- "fussing and fixing and experimenting" -- it seems obvious that you'd tell aspiring writers revising is important. What other wisdom would you share?

B.H.W.: I don't know if anything I have really amounts to wisdom. Writing is, on the one hand, such a annoyingly unteachable thing, because so much of it is about intuition and imagination, learning to develop and trust these intangible, frustrating, elusive qualities. But on the other hand, I'm a strong believer in technique and craft, and in discipline and structure, and those are things that you can learn, things you can practice and develop, like muscles, over a lifetime. I don't necessarily think my imagination or my intuition have evolved all that much since I started writing -- though definitely my taste level is higher, and my interests have matured -- but I have learned, through hard work and necessity, to work harder, to stay on task, and to treat the products of my intuition and imagination with the seriousness I am arrogant enough to believe they deserve.

Me: I agree that it's almost impossible to teach writing, beyond pointing out technical or structural things a beginner might not know about. My advice to young writers is usually "Keep writing bad stuff until you're writing good stuff." Which sounds flippant, but hey -- it's what worked for me. Of course, another important bit of advice is to read read read. What books and writers influenced you?
TW-fB.H.W.: Answering this question always makes me feel like I'm in high school, trying to be into the hippest bands so other people think I'm cool. My all-time favorite author is Charles Dickens (very original, I know), who is pretty consistently delightful. And, here, I'll give you two big influences on my writing, neither of which come from the world of straight-up fiction: The graphic novel Watchmen, just in terms of the fully conceived, meticulously created alternate reality; and the songs of Tom Waits, where we learn over and over the biggest lesson of good writing, which is to use lots of detail. All the great Waits songs (and there are very few non-great) include a town name, or a color, or a kind of car, or someone's idiosyncratic nickname. He's an incredibly specific writer, and also so damn fun to listen to.

Me: Alright, last question. Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? Who?

B.H.W.: Great question. Also, who's zoomin' who? And who'll stop the rain? And, crucially, who's makin' love to your old woman, while you're out makin' love?

Ben H. Winters tackles these and other burning questions on his blog. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife and 27 children.

More Talk, Less Hock #4: Brett Battles

I'm kind of a shy person, but I don't mind schmoozing...because in my book schmoozing's not schmoozing unless a gin and tonic's involved. So bummer for me that I have to miss this week's Bouchercon mystery convention. It's usually the one and only time of the year I can fuel my schmoozing with complimentary booze. I tell you, friends -- you haven't lived till you've crashed a Berkley Prime Crime reception. Those cozy folks know how to PARTY!

Of course, it's not just the free cocktails I'll be missing. I'm also disappointed that I won't have the chance to browbeat strangers into buying my books. And how am I supposed to stock up on promotional postcards and bookmarks? I go through eight or nine of the things a week, and I'm almost out. 

Brett-fOh, and friends. It'll be sad not to see them, too. At least that one I can do something about. If I won't get the chance to chill at the con bar with a beer and buddies like Brett Battles, I'll just have to do it here. Without the beer. Or the bar. But a buddy like Brett Battles -- that I've got! In fact, I've got the real deal.

As part of my ongoing (and extremely random) series of Q&As, today I'm interviewing thriller writer extraordinaire Brett Battles. Author of the Jonathan Quinn series (which kicked off four years ago with The Cleaner), Brett is a master of "colorful locales and dizzying plot twists" with "an enviable gift for pacing and action" (Publishers Weekly). This year he's branched out with more series and a whole new approach to publishing.

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Mr. Brett Battles!

Me: Hard-hitting question #1: How ya doin', man?

B.B.: Doing fine. Well, except for my right knee. I tweaked it showing my daughter that I could still do a cartwheel. Evidently I still can, just not without consequences.

Me: I never could do cartwheels, though I've felt like trying a few times. Like when I found out I'd sold my first book. Speaking of which [WARNING: DANGEROUSLY CLUMSY TRANSITION AHEAD], how goes the publishing thing these days? It seems like you've been really busy lately.

Silenced-fB.B.: It has been an...well, let's just say eventful 2011. Bantam released The Silenced, my latest Quinn book, last May, and they will be bringing out the last book of our time together, called No Return, this coming January. In the meantime, I firmly jumped into the independent writer world. Since the end of spring, I've released three short stories, one novella and four novels. I'm hoping to have two more novels out by the end of the year. Can I revisit the "how am I doing" question? I think the technical term would be "tired."

Me: Yowza! That pace is astounding. So what do you think of the "indie writer" experience so far? Obviously, you've got to be loving the freedom to get material to readers more quickly.

B.B.: The freedom to get my stories out there as soon as they are ready is huge! Probably number one on my list of benefits for going indie. But that doesn't mean it's an easy road. Honestly, you have to look at it like you are running a small business, because, well, you are running a small business. You can't just throw stuff out there and expect people to buy it. I need to get the best covers I can made. I need to have my work proofread. I need to promote. I need to cultivate my fan base. But most of all, I need to write good books. It can be exhausting. If you run your own business, you're the first one in and the last one out. So I'm often putting in 14- or 15-hour days. Even when I'm not "working," I'm thinking about things. But I'll tell you what -- I'd much rather do this than anything else. I love to write and tell stories, so if this is what it takes to do that, I'm all in.

Me: Are you experimenting or pushing yourself in new directions in terms of your writing? Or is that hard to do when you have to pour so much energy into finding and building an audience?

Here Comes Mr. Trouble B.B.: Jonathan Quinn, the hero from my previous books, works as a body removal specialist in the world of espionage. And while I'm still working on Quinn-related material -- I've released two shorts and a long novella Quinn origin story, plus a new novel will be out next spring -- I have been doing a bit of experimenting in other areas. I've released the first of a series of middle school/tween books called Here Comes Mr. Trouble. It's a little bit fantasy, a little bit reality and a whole lot of fun. I've released Sick, the first of my Project Eden thrillers, which may the most suspenseful book I've written. It is definitely a thriller but has a slight sci-fi edge (though nothing that should scare off non-sci-fi lovers). My standalone, The Pull of Gravity, isn't a thriller at all per se, though my buddy Tim Hallinan calls it a thriller of the heart. It's more a story of love, tragedy and the search for closure. (My parents think it's the best book I've written.) Finally there's the Logan Harper series. The first book is Little Girl Gone. The second -- title TBD -- will be out sometime in October. It's perhaps the closest book to my Quinn series. Though Logan is not a spy. He's a former soldier who now works in his 80-year-old father's auto garage. Harp, his dad, is one of the main characters, and they have an interesting relationship. There's investigating and action as Logan gets pulled into helping others, something which he can't stop himself from doing. I hope to continue pushing the envelope in the future while still keeping my core fan base happy.

Me: It's easy to see you're truly excited about all these books. But there's got to be some trepidation, too. How hard was it to leave behind traditional publishing and embrace the new self-e-pubbing model?

B.B.: It's an internal struggle that's still going on...though less than when I first started. Instinctively, I know this is the future (to whatever extent people want to argue), but it's also a lot like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy's heading for the grail and comes to the Indy authorend of the tunnel only to find a deep crevasse between where he is and where he wants to be. You take that first step into nothing and hope something is there to keep you from falling. Sometimes it seems like every day is like that. But, so far, my feet have been landing on the invisible path.

Me: So you're Living the Indiana Jones Way. Someone ought to turn that into a self-help book. I'm with you on the e-book thing, by the way. No one can pretend it's not the future anymore...but that doesn't make it any easier to know what to do in the meantime. At least you're taking bold action, which is admirable. As you say -- that's what Indy would do. How about other writers, though? Do you run into any who still look askance at going the independent route?

B.B.: Not as much as I used to. More it's bewilderment. They're having the same should-I-or-shouldn't-I thoughts raging through their heads, and I can see it on their faces. There are some out there, I've heard, who think it's just a fad, but the writers I talk to usually say something like, "I've been meaning to look into that" or "It's all so confusing -- I don't know what to do." But more and more are saying, "So how exactly do I go about getting my book online?" I've been having a lot of impromptu telephone seminars lately.

Me: If memory serves, you were a graphic designer at E! before turning to writing full-time. Is that right? If so, I assume that's made it easier for you to get a handle on the technical who-ha. You do all your own covers and formatting, right?

B.B.: While I did work in the on air design department (motion graphics) at E! for almost seven years, I was actually executive producer, not a designer/animator. Sadly, I don't have that skill. But after working in graphics for 20 years, I do have an understanding of what works and what doesn't. Covers are so important, and I think a lot of ebooks fail because their authors settle for bad or even mediocre design (which is as good as bad). I use a couple people for my book cover designs: Jeroen ten Berge, who's been doing a lot of great covers for several authors, and my friend Robert Browne, who does covers on the side (not as a business) and has a great eye for what works. On formatting, yep, I do my own. In fact, I also do formatting for others who don't have the time or desire to do it themselves.

Me: Alright, I think we've covered e-books pretty thoroughly. Only one more question comes to mind on the subject. What do you prefer: e-books, ebooks, eBooks, EbOoKs, eebooox or something else?

B.B.: eebooox! Nice. I'd choose that but I'm guessing it would face an impossible uphill battle to win wide acceptance. So until that unlikely event happens, I'll go with either ebooks or eBooks, but I'm flexible.

[Note: I prefer "e-books," which is why this Q&A isn't consistent. Just sayin'. Cuz I'm anal.]

Me: Alright, for our last question let's go Old School non-techno interview cliche: Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced you?

ISZ B.B.: My list of favorite authors is a changing thing. It's not so much that authors fall off, but others move on. There are a few perennials: Graham Greene, Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. Greene for his haunting stories told concisely and beautifully; MacLean for exposing me to thrillers and suspense when I was a teenager; Ludlum (during his golden age, the 1970s through mid-1980s or so) for creating these great international thrillers that completely took me wherever he wanted me to go; and King for the way he tells a story and can always suck me in with just a few sentences. More recently I would add Haruki Murakami. His writing is so effortless and mesmerizing even if I seldom understand the story at the end, I will read anything he writes. And Tim Hallinan's on the list, too. His stories are so well put together, and his prose so beautiful...I tell everyone I know to read him. His stories are amazing.

To learn more about the amazing (and amazingly prolific) Brett Battles, go here.

More Talk, Less Hock #3: S.G. Browne

The first time I met S.G. "Scott" Browne, at the ZomBcon wingding in Seattle last year, he told me my little pet theories about the popularity of zombies were wrong wrong wrong. Usually, of course, I wouldn't let myself be schooled on the walking dead...or anything else. Y'all know what a pugnacious hothead I am! [Irony alert for new visitors: I am, in fact, a big wimp.] Yet I had to figure this cat knew what he was talking about. Sure, I've dabbled in matters necrotic, but Scott had a genuine classic under his belt -- Breathers, which put a refreshingly zombie-positive spin on the whole flesh-craving ghouls thing. Plus, to be honest, I'd been beginning to doubt my own thinking. Maybe Generation X's half-buried memories of certain psyche-warping marketing campaigns had nothing to do with their soft spot for the undead. So I let Scott live.  

Many months later, Scott asked if he could interview me for his blog. How could I say no? I'd started giving fellow writers the Q&A third-degree myself. So back and forth we went -- and the results can be found here. It's good stuff. So good, in fact, that I expect Ron Howard to turn it into a movie any day now. 

And what does every good (or bad) movie deserve? Why, a sequel, of course! Which is why from Browne/Hockensmith we now turn to Hockensmith/Browne: This Time It's Personal. My questions are every bit as hard-hitting as Scott's. Exactly as hard-hitting, in fact. Let's see if he can take it as well as he dishes it out.

But first -- BIO!!!

SG-fS.G. Browne is the author of Breathers: A Zombie's Lament and Fated -- dark comedies and social satires with a supernatural edge. His writing has been inspired by Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Kurt Vonnegut and the films of Charlie Kaufman and Wes Anderson, among others. When he's not making fun of humans, he enjoys taking long walks on the beach, drinking piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. He also occasionally blogs about books and movies and other random things.

Me: Where do you get your ideas?

S.G.: From the Idea Bin at my local Walgreens. Sometimes you can even get two-for-one deals. Really, I get my ideas everywhere. The Household Items aisle at Walgreens is as likely a place as any.

Me: What's your daily writing ritual?

S.G.: In an ideal world I'd wake up around 6:30 a.m., feed my cats, eat a light breakfast while watching an episode of South Park, Family Guy or Californication, meditate for 30 minutes, then write for three hours, break for some exercise and lunch, spend a couple of hours answering e-mails and posting to Facebook and Twitter, then write for another two to three hours until around 5 or 6 p.m. The rest of my night would be used for reading, watching a movie or enjoying the company of friends. In reality, I don't have a ritual. I'm all over the place. Right now I'm answering this interview when I'm supposed to be writing. I have no discipline. It amazes me that I've managed to write three novels.

Me: What's the first story you ever had published?

S.G.: I think I may have had something published in a junior high school journal, but the one I remember is "Wish You Were Here," which appeared in Redcat magazine in the Spring 2004 issue. The story was about a guy on a passenger flight who is doomed to repeat the crash of the airplane over and over. The title is both a reference to the Pink Floyd album he's listening to at the time and an ironic twist on the cliché message people send on postcards while on vacation: "Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here." The story had been rejected previously by Deathrealm for being too sophomoric. They might have been right.

Me: What started you off on the path of being a writer?

S.G.: During my sophomore year in college I was reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. While not my favorite work by either author, and not among my favorite books of all time, I became so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages that the world outside of the novel ceased to exist. And I thought: "I want to make other people feel this way."

Me: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Pants S.G.: I'm a pantser, definitely. I write the same way Indiana Jones deals with Nazis and stolen artifacts: I make it up as I go. While I may have a general idea of where I'm going, usually I just start with an idea or a concept and I start writing. Sometimes I might know where I want the story to end but I have no idea how I'm going to get there. It makes discovering the story that much more fun.

Me: What's your favorite word?

S.G.: Dude. It's the only word in the English language that you can say with 10 different inflections and mean 10 different things. And just for the record, it was my favorite word before it was popularized in all of the Bud Light commercials. Some people think the word "fudge" has the same inflective diversity but it's not even close. Plus "dude" won't offend anyone. Except maybe the father of the woman you're dating. [Full disclosure: Scott did not say "fudge." As has been noted here recently, this website tries to keep its act Cosby-clean.]

Me: What's your biggest fear?

S.G.: That I'll go to Walgreens some day and the Idea Bin will be empty.

Me: Who's your favorite author?

The auteur at work S.G.: While Chuck Palahniuk's earlier novels have been of great inspiration to me, I'd have to say that Stephen King would probably still have to rank as my favorite author. He's the reason I wanted to become a writer, and his books were instrumental in pointing me down this path.

Me: What music inspires you?

S.G.: While I don't tend to listen to music while I'm writing, the bands and artists who inspire my writing with their music and lyrics include Green Day, Sublime, the Pixies, The Doors, and The Beatles. On those occasions when I do need to block out distractions, like on an airplane in front of two guys who are on their third Jack and Coke and who keep saying "dude," I'll listen to a mix of instrumental jazz, soul, R&B, rock and surf music by bands like Morphine, Pink Floyd, The Mighty Imperials, Sugarman Three, The Red Elvises and Booker T. & the MG's.

Me: If you were a comic book superhero, what would be your superpower?

S.G.: I would be Cell Phone Eradication Man and I would remove and destroy all cell phones being used by people in movie theaters. That includes people who are texting, checking e-mail or updating their status on Facebook. If you can't disconnect for two hours, then you should have stayed home and watched something on Netflix streaming.

Author S.G. Browne's website can be found here. His novel Breathers has an official web presence here. You can friend him on Facebook by going here. You can start following him on Twitter by going here. You can hear him call a series of exciting pig races here. His Social Security number is 987-65-4320. His primary bank accounts are with Wells Fargo. His usual ATM pin code and login password is OU812.