I have to credit Alafair Burke with sending another wonderful author my way, Ed Lynskey. Like Tim Hallinan, Ed contacted me after he read my interview with Alafair. Then I had the chance to read Ed's book The Blue Cheer. If you're like me and you enjoy great characters in your crime fiction, you have to check out The Blue Cheer. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on Pelham Fell Here which is Ed's next book starring Frank Johnson. It's actually some back story on Frank, and it just became available this month.
Ed: My writing career has evolved into two distinct segments. From college and through two decades, I wrote bushels of poems and reviews. A professor in a creative writing class I took by chance turned me on to writing poems.
I got paid in lots of contributor copies to fill up a couple foot lockers. From time to time, I see the same small press journals go up for sale on Ebay. Usually a contributor in them is famous like Sherman Alexie or Charles Bukowski. Anyway, it's nice to appear in ink next to such company.
I grew older and tireder (is that a real word?) of writing a product (poems) that few people seemed to want to read. I began to focus more on the writing of fiction - first the short stories, and then I branched into novels.
Actually now that I think about it, the first piece I ever published was a short story for a defunct literary magazine called Defying Gravity at the local community college. These days I find writing novels more of a satisfying challenge than anything else I've ever tried my hand at writing.
Ed: Style-wise, I admire a clean, crisp prose style whenever I read novels. Bill Pronzini exhibits this trait when I read his "Nameless Detective" series. A good deal of my reading in the crime fiction genre has been novels written in the golden age, say, post-World War II to 1970.
I like the better aspects to such pulp masters as Charles Williams, Gil Brewer, Ed Lacy, Wade Miller, and Day Keene. But the thing is these guys wrote in the 1950s and 1960s, and this is 2008. So, I filter their work through a modern sensibility because I'm not writing a parody or a pastiche.
I like their laconic prose, heady pace, and uncluttered dialogue. Today's books seem to go by the pound. I just don't have the time or vim to slog through 400 pages. It's also difficult to keep a narrative arc (you know the three acts: start, middle, end) even in a thriller over that length. There are exceptions, of course. Stephen Hunter does it better than most. So, shorter novels work better for me. Of course I'm finishing up a novel manuscript that runs 80K words, so go figure.
Q. You also review crime fiction. How has this part of your career affected your own crime fiction writing?
Ed: I see book reviewing as an adjunct activity to my writing fiction. I've done it for a long time for just about every genre of fiction written including literary, mainstream, and commercial titles.Q. There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the decrease in newspaper book reviews. Do you feel this is a reflection of a decrease in interest in reading or are those book reviews merely moving to a new venue?
Forced to write and think critically about other writers' novels have lent me some insight into what they do well and how they do it. Writing fair, smart reviews takes a lot of sweat and is a big responsibility. My reviewing has curtailed considerably in the past couple of years. Writing and revising my novels sap most of my best efforts.
Ed: Right, the shrinking newspaper review space is a sad commentary on our state, isn't it? I think fiction in any genre is becoming less relevant in the corporate modern world. If you look at the slick magazines (Ladies Home Journal, Esquire, Redbook and Saturday Evening Post) from fifty years ago, you'll see each issue featured four or five short stories by diverse authors. I didn't live back then, but I've seen these magazines in my research for doing retrospective articles.
Not true now. The same page space is given over to recycled articles on how to lose weight without breaking a sweat or how to satisfy your mate by popping a sex pill or how to make your hair glisten like Christmas tinsel.
Here's the encouraging thing: when I go to our library, the place is packed. I see moms checking out basketfuls of books for their children. I see these ladies stuffing their book bags with mysteries. I mean they're toting enough heavy weight in their bags to give me a hernia. When I go to writers' conferences, fans and readers stand shoulder to shoulder to see their fave writers.
So, I refuse to believe there are fewer readers nowadays. The online venues seem to be picking up the slack. I enjoy reading the different blogs discussing books. People's reactions to novels sometimes vary with mine, and I take recommendations for my reading list from the blogs.
Q. What hobbies/interests keep you busy when you aren't writing?
Ed: Well, I'm a firm believer there has to be a life outside of writing. At my doctor's advice to shed pounds (or else dire things happen), I've been briskly walking daily for a half hour. We enjoy watching Washington , D.C.'s pro baseball team, the Nationals, play games. The team management built a marvelous stadium in Southeast D.C. We're big NFL Redskin fans for autumn viewing. Besides my paying work, taking care of a cat and a yard seem to keep me active. I like reading for my leisure, too. Lately, I've been dipping into Westerns, vintage and modern titles. It's like returning to my boyhood fun.
Ed: I've read so many books in the last six months they seem to blur together in my analog brain. Megan Abbott has been doing some great noir. J.D. Rhoades writes the top-notch Jack Keller, bounty hunter, series. Jason Starr does New York City noir with flair. Kevin O'Brien writes taut thrillers.
Ed: Thanks for asking about Sharon. I created her as a counterpart to my hardboiled P.I. Frank Johnson. In other words, every now and then I tank on reading and writing noir and hardboiled fiction, you know? So rather than burn out and bail from the writing game, I wanted to work with a different series character having a softer edge.
Sharon isn't goofy or wimpy or sexy or sassy. She's just a regular person who happens to also be a smart, stubborn and tough investigator with a good heart. Her specialty is working with troubled youth in street gangs.
Her short stories have been reprinted by Ramble House who has also reprinted fiction by Bill Pronzini, James Reasoner, Ed Gorman, Gary Lovisi, Richard Lupoff, and Barry N. Malzberg.
Her collection of 20 short stories (all but one previously published) is A CLEAR PATH TO CROSS available at: http://www.ramblehouse.com/clearpath.htm
Ed: Excellent question. Right now I don't know what will become of Frank. There's one more title, TROGLODYTES, under contract to appear next year. It takes place in Cappadocia, a region in Turkey I visited while I worked there in the 1990s. Frank flies to Turkey to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy American businessman and, of course, runs into a buzz saw.
I've heard a lot of discussion on when a series should bow out. The characters parody themselves, the plots grow flaccid, and the readers get disenchanted. But I haven't written a Frank Johnson book in the last four I've done, so I feel refreshed to tackle a new title. Right now I have an outline together. I believe Frank will sever an old relationship but gain a new friend.
One thought occurring to me is several critics have told me PELHAM FELL HERE is the best title of the series. So, that's encouraging to hear. I mean it wouldn't make a lot of sense to write another Frank Johnson book if his books began slipping gears.
Q. Does Frank or Sharon embody any of your personality traits? If so, which ones? If not, what influenced the development of their characters?
Ed: H'm, interesting question. I don't really see much of me in either of my private detective characters. Maybe an outside observer might draw comparisons. Well, I guess Frank has my dry sense of humor, so that's something.
Frank and his cronies developed as characters in the sixty or so short stories I wrote featuring him before I undertook the novels. As aforementioned, Sharon evolved from her own set of short stories. The short stories were the proving ground for both my detective characters.
I really want to know (and hopefully like) my character before I crawl into 300 pages with them. By contrast, I'm writing a stand alone novel now, and it's taking a lot of time to get some traction. I'm compelled to dwell on the characters until a clear picture emerges of just who they are and how they think.
Ed: Oh, I'd use some inane and sappy ditty like: "I did the best I could."