You know you're reading a great book when it can keep you on the edge of your seat but also have you laughing out loud at the same time. This was my experience with Timothy Hallinan's novel Crashed. Please Welcome to Blood Rose Books:
If there was one author you could co-write a novel with (they can be alive or dead) who would you choose and why?
I'd be too intimidated to write with any of my favorites, but if I were magically courageous and self-confident, I'd say William Gibson. He has an original and prescient take on the present day—he was the first, I think, to realize that branding has replaced reality in many areas of life—and his language is so clean and essential.
You have been a very busy man with your Junior Bender series, releasing 4 novels in less than 2 years. Did you have the stories and series preplanned or laid out in your head? Why did you decide to release the books so closely together? (Not that I am complaining about it.)
I actually wrote the first three Juniors over a period of two years, at the same
time I was writing three Poke Rafferty books, Breathing Water, The Queen of Patpong, and The Fear Artist. My publisher at the time, HarperCollins, didn't want them and my contract was exclusive, so I self-published the first two Juniors, Crashed and Little Elvises as ebooks, and I had just put The Fame Thief up on Amazon when my editor at Soho, the great Juliet Grames, asked why Soho wasn't publishing them. I said maybe it was because they didn't publish novels set in the United States, and Juliet said, “We'll make an exception.”
I insisted that they be published fast because I was already writing the fourth at the time, and if they'd gone out on the usual one-per-year schedule, it would have been five years before Herbie's Game appeared in print. So four books came out in about 19 months. I'm now happily at work on the fifth book, King Maybe.
But no, I did no pre-planning at all, neither for the series as a whole nor for the individual books. I just wrote them as they arrived in my fore-brain, the way I write everything. I'm completely incapable of outlining or doing much of any kind of planning ahead, about writing, at least. I never actually know what a book is about until I'm writing it.
If you go to many popular or well-known author website, they mainly state that they will not read manuscripts and often just refer people to their agents, but you have section on your website to help would be-authors. In 2012 you spearheaded “Making a Story” where you and other authors described how they went about from turning an idea into a plot for a novel. Why did you decide to write this book? Was there an author that really helped you along the way when you were just starting out?
I had a miserable time with my first novel. I wrote three absolute dogs before I figured out anything at all. (Raymond Chandler famously said about his own learning curve, “It took me six months to get his hat off.”) Many writers were very generous with guidance and advice, and I just wanted to pay it forward. For about five years I taught a college-level class about how to finish a novel, and that's what the material on my site came from. It's been used by more than 1000 writers who emailed me to tell me so, and a couple of them not only finished their books but also went on to sell more copies than I do.
The Twenty-One Writers series will eventually deal with plotting, character, setting, getting out of trouble, and a bunch of other practical writing issues. Each book is a collection of essays by writers whose work I admire, just talking about how they approach the issue under discussion. As of now, Making Story: Twenty-One Writers on How They Plot is still the only book, and that's my fault because I got snowed under with my own writing. But it's a terrific collection, I think, and it's really cheap as an ebook on Amazon.
What do you think are the key elements to writing a thriller/mystery novel? How do you think your novels stand out from the ever increasing crowd?
The most important thing to me in any kind of book is character. As far as I'm concerned, we read to meet characters, whatever the story or genre might be. To me, plot is what characters do, dialogue is what characters say, setting is the interaction between place and character, action arises from conflict between (and within) character, etc. Almost the only thing I think about when I'm writing is being true to the characters. Although I also frequently visualize someone sitting across the table from me and imagine that I'm trying to hold that person's attention as I tell the story, mainly as a way to avoid bogging down.
And I have no idea whether my books stand out from the crowd. I'd be the last person to answer that question.
What do you think would be the hardest or most challenging genre to write a novel in and why?
The great thing about crime fiction is that there's an inevitable structure: a question is asked at the very beginning and the story eventually answers it. I think it's kind of funny that a question mark is shaped like a fish hook, because properly used, it really does hook the reader and drag him/her across 100,000 words or so. But the fact that there's a mystery at the center of the book does NOT mean that the story doesn't explore the characters in adventurous and original ways.
Having said all that, I think literary fiction would be hard for me because I've grown accustomed to the story momentum a good unanswered question provides.
In your Poke Rafferty series, it seems that Poke is always getting into trouble trying to write his travel books (but that's really point of his books), have you had any Looking for Trouble
experiences in your travels or the time that you lived in Thailand?
Yes, but in Cambodia. When I was writing the first Poke, A Nail Through the Heart, I went to Phnom Penh to try to meet Vann Nath, an artist who lived through the worst of the Khmer Rouge world and then put it into absolutely horrifying paintings. I talked to a bunch of people about arranging an introduction, and one day my car (I had a car and driver because I didn't have time to get lost all a hundred times a day) was pulled over by four heavyweights in a black SUV. Each of them stood at one of the doors of my car, and it was impossible for me not to notice that my driver, whom I'd always assumed to be working with the police, was both shaking and pouring sweat. There was a very sharp exchange in Khmer. The four men left, one of them slugging the driver's door as he walked away, and my driver says, “We not look for Vann Nath now.”
Junior is very much the anti-hero, he is a burglar and private eye for other criminals, what do you think is the appeal of writing your protagonist as an anti-hero? Do you think that this give Junior a unique skills set and contacts to work with?
For many crime fiction writers, including me, crooks are the most fun. They can say what they think, they don't have to be politically correct, and it's kind of exhilarating to write a character who's improvising his or her moral code on the fly. The first things that came to me when I began to write Junior were his regret over his divorce and his love of his daughter. The next thing was his mentor, Herbie Mott, and Herbie's rules. A lot of Herbie's rules are about not getting caught, but a couple of them are moral, in a way, the best of them being, “Learn to spot the one thing in the room the victim couldn't live without. And don't take it.”
So those things made a kind of triangular base for Junior's moral code. It's elastic compared to mine and (probably) yours, but carved in stone as far as he's concerned.
I know that I wondered this when I was reading the first book in your Junior Bender series, Crashed, is Thistle based on any star in particular or a few of the child stars out there?
There have been so many, for decades and decades, both boys and girls. Stardom is hard on kids. I didn't choose a real model for Thistle's character, but for a physical image, I used either of the Olson twins, who—for all I know—live on wheat-grass juice and orange peel, but who for years featured on a kind of I just put down the needle and came into the light and it hurts look, which made them irresistible to Manhattan paparazzi, who were all after the shot in which they looked the wettest.
Do you have any information on upcoming works or events that you are able to share?
More than you want. The sixth Poke Rafferty, For the Dead, comes out on November 4, and I think it's a good one. I just finished the seventh Poke, The Hot Countries, and it's too recent for me to have an opinion, but if it stinks it won't be because it's not ambitious. And I'm now writing the fifth Junior Bender, King Maybe, another Hollywood showbiz story, and it has the potential to be very good if I don't screw it up.
What is one book (other than one of your own) that you think everyone should read?
Oh, boy. For the very patient, I'd say a good translation (Robert Fitzgerald's, maybe), of Homer's The Odyssey, the root story, more or less, of the warrior trying to get home while the gods aren't looking. So much of storytelling begins here, and the world it depicts is so fresh, so clean, with beaches that have never borne a footprint and new islands always just over the horizon. The ragged right-hand margin might look forbidding to those who don't read poetry, but just ignore it and read a few pages. If it captures you, keep going. You'll hear its echoes through a lifetime of reading.
I just want to thank Tim for taking the time to answer to be part of my Blogoversary. You should read Tim's novel if you like adventure along with satire and humor. Tim has very nicely supplied two giveaways (INT) to go along with his interviews, So fill out the rafflecopter information below.