Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Book Review: Sinner Man

Posted by admin under book reviews

Book: Sinner Man

Author: Lawrence Block

ISBN: 9781785650017

Price: $9.95 (paperback) (also available in hardcover, e-book and audio)

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Synopsis: To escape punishment for a murder  he didn’t mean to commit, insurance man Don Barshter has to take on a new identity: Nathaniel Crowley, ferocious up-and-comer in the Buffalo, New York mob. But can he find safety in the skin of another man … a worse man … a sinner man?

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts:  The story behind the novel is as interesting as the novel itself: this was the first crime novel Block wrote. It was published under a pseudonym and then forgotten for fifty years. The author conducted an extensive search for the book he vaguely remembered writing but not publishing, and now that it’s found Hard Case Crime has brought it out in a handsome hardcover as well as affordable paperback and ebook editions.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Block’s work, whether he’s writing hard-boiled crime / noir, as here or the more cozy mysteries featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr or anything in between. This book has everything the fans of Block’s noir work have come to expect: a lead character you want to like but can’t approve of; a female lead who is more than capable of holding her own despite, or perhaps because of, the men who use her; and dialogue that’s rich in patter and short on soliloquies.

Also as expected of Block when he’s written full-on noir like this: the book gets off to a hot, fast start (with the accidental murder the synopsis describes), slows down for some character building in the middle (as Barshter/Crowley becomes a part of the mob scene), then punches into high gear in the final pages with an intensity that really leaves you wondering who, if anyone, will come out of this thing alive.

I’ll be clear: Donald Barshter isn’t likeable even before he accidentally murders his wife and decides to go on the run rather than face justice. He’s even less likeable as he worms his way into a situation in which the reader knows, if not Don/Nate himself, that he’s in over his head. But that doesn’t stop you from wanting to know how it all turns out, wanting to know if in fact the law from back home will catch up to our “sinner man” or not. There were a few times throughout the book when I thought “Block could end it here, and I’d be satisfied.” But the author teases out the exact moment the other shoe will drop several times, and never in exactly the same way — building the suspense to a low rolling boil.

This is one of Block’s books that I could easily see Alfred Hitchcock adapting back in the day, if he’d been aware of the story. I pictured Tippi Hedren as Anne several times while reading.

And of course, because it’s a Hard Case Crime book, there’s a cover by Michael Koelsch that would be equally at home on Double Indemnity.

I’m definitely glad this lost early novel of Block’s was found and brought back into print. It’s a fun, suspenseful ride even if you don’t like the main character.

 

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A couple of folks have asked, so I’m finally putting together my wrap-up post for 2016: what I wrote, what was published, and what I read.

 

WRITING

Not much to report on this front. 2016 was not my most consistent year for creating new content. I didn’t blog much, and I didn’t really track how much writing I was doing, other than knowing that there were a majority of months where I didn’t write or edit at all. I finished a couple of stories, including “Chasing May” which sold to the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys from Hadrosaur Productions. I sent out a few attempts at getting reprints sold, as well, but not much came of that. (Admittedly, I didn’t make the strongest effort I could possibly have made.)

 

PUBLISHING

2016 saw the release of three anthologies with my work included:

  • “Threshold” appeared in One Thousand Words For War from CBAY Books
  • “Stress Cracks” appeared in Galactic Games from Baen (My first professional-rate story sale!)
  • “Yeti” appeared in Robbed of Sleep, Volume 4 from Troy Blackford.

I also sold one story, the aforementioned “Chasing May,” which releases in just a few weeks from this writing.

 

READING

I set myself a variety of reading challenges in 2016. I managed to complete a few of them.

On Goodreads, I challenged myself to read 100 books. I read 105.

Here’s the breakdown of what I read:

  • Fiction: 97 books
    • 4 anthologies
      • 1 noir
      • 2 horror
      • 1 fantasy
    • 1 single-author collection (1 urban fantasy)
    • 17 graphic novels
      • 11 super-hero
      • 4 YA adventure
      • 1 YA comedy
      • 1 comic strip collection
    • 12 magazines (all issues of Lightspeed magazine)
    • 43 novels
      • 1 crime
      • 1 mystery
      • 1 noir
      • 1  Fantasy
      • 1 historical fiction
      • 1  historical fantasy
      • 2  historical romance
      • 3  historical urban fantasy
      • 3  alternate history
      • 3 horror
      • 1 literary
      • 4  pulp adventure
      • 2 science fiction
      • 13 urban fantasy
      • 1 YA urban fantasy
      • 1 YA science fiction
    • 8 novellas
      • 2 horror
      • 3 fantasy
      • 1 science fiction
      • 1 urban fantasy
      • 1 mystery
    • 1 picture book
    • 1 playscript
    • 10 short stories published as stand-alone ebooks
      • 4 urban fantasy
      • 3 mystery
      • 1 modern romance
      • 1 thriller
      • 1 historical fantasy
  • Non-Fiction: 8 books
    • 5 Memoir/biography
    • 2 History
    • 1 Writing Advice

Other Book Stats:

# of Authors/Editors: 86 (including graphic novel artists); 34 of these were female authors. (I didn’t do a good job of tracking other sub-group metrics, such as writers of color, queer writers, etc. I’m going to make a better effort this year.)

Shortest Book Read: 20 pages (Forbid the Sea by Seanan McGuire)

Longest Book Read: 496 (Feedback by Mira Grant)

(Interesting that the shortest and longest read were by the same author, albeit one under a pen-name.)

Total # of pages read: 24064

Average # of pages per book: 229

Format Summary:

  • 4 audiobooks
  • 28 ebooks (5 Nook, 23 Kindle)
  • 73 print
    • 17 hardcovers
    • 56 softcovers

 

On my Livejournal, I challenged myself to read 365 short stories (1 per day, basically), but I only managed 198 this year. I did not read as many anthologies or single-author collections cover-to-cover as I have in previous years.

Those 198 stories appeared in:

  • 5 Magazines
    • Asimov’s
    • Cemetary Dance
    • Daily Science Fiction
    • Disturbed Digest
    • Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
    • Lightspeed Magazine
    • One Story
    • One Teen Story
    • The Dark
    • The Strand
    • Three Slices
    • Unbound
  • 10 Anthologies
    • Candle in the Attic
    • Clockwork Phoenix 5
    • Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop
    • Dark and Dangerous Things III
    • Ghost in the Cogs
    • In Sunlight or in Shadow (Stories based on the paintings of Edward Hopper)
    • Robbed of Sleep Vol 4
    • Shattered Shields
  • 1 Single-Author Collection
    • Two Tales of the Iron Druid by Kevin Hearne
  • 8 Stand-alone (self-pubbed or publisher-pubbed in e-format)
    • Seanan McGuire (mostly from her website)
    • Jordan L. Hawk (email newsletter)
    • Lawrence Block (purchased in e-format via Amazon)

Those 198 stories were written by 166 different authors. 82 of those were women (again, didn’t do a good job of tracking any other author-identifying metrics). The work was published by 26 different editors, roughly (there were a few for whom I’m not sure who the editor was / who to credit).

 

So there you have it: my writing, publishing and reading, by the numbers, for 2016. (I was going to include other media consumed, like music, movies, and television, but I didn’t do as good of a job compiling those numbers in 2016. Oh well!)

 

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Yesterday I posted about my writing accomplishments in January. Today’s post is about my reading.

I set myself several reading challenges each year, and I’ll write about this year’s challenges in an upcoming post. (I also need to write up a post about how I did with my reading challenges for 2016, but first I have to find the word doc in which I crunched all those numbers…) For now, here’s a look at the two I do every year, and how I’m progressing:

BOOKS

I set myself an annual goal over on Goodreads of 100 books. I track books the same way GR does, so self-published short stories in ebook format count, as do magazines if I read the entire issue and not just a story or two. January’s books read were:

  1. Locke and Key Vol 1.: Welcome To Lovecraft, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while, and finally got around to it because my nephew Brandon forced it into my hands during a December visit. I’m glad he did. Really enjoyed the set-up, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series soon.
  2. Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rhumba #3) by Daniel Jose Older.  I love urban fantasy. If you love urban fantasy, and you’re not reading Older’s NYC-set story of ghosts, magic, and political machinations … well, why not? This third book closes out the Rhumba series, but I’m sure Older isn’t done with these characters or this world. And his writing has a musicality to it I can’t remember feeling with anything else I’ve read.
  3. Lily, by Michael Thomas Ford, with illustrations by Staven Andersen.  Classic fairy-tale tropes (Baba Yaga, hidden villages, a girl with a power she doesn’t understand, adults who try to suppress that power) come together in a modern setting. Some types of stories stay true no matter when they’re set, and Ford does a great job of balancing the fantastical with modern realities. And Andersen’s illustrations are disturbing and beautiful at the same time.
  4. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. McGuire publishes a lot of stand-alone short stories from her various fictional series worlds on her website and her Patreon page. This one details how two secondary characters from the October Daye series, Patrick and Dianda, first met. It takes place prior to book one of the series but is probably best read after book 9. And what a meet-cute it is.
  5. Lightspeed Magazine #80 (January, 2017), edited by John Joseph Adams. I’m the proofreader for the Kindle ebook edition of Lightspeed, so it’s the one magazine I read front-to-back every month. The eight stories and one novella in each issue also account for 9 of the short stories I read every month. (See below for brief thoughts on those.)
  6. Lumberjanes Volume 5: Band Together, by Shannon Waters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Carolyn Nowak.  My good friends Kay Holt and Bart Leib introduced me to the Lumberjanes collected volumes on a visit to Boston last year, and I’ve eagerly awaited each new volume (since I don’t buy individual monthly comics anymore for a variety of reasons). I love the characters, the mystery, and the pacing. I have to admit that the change to the art in the run of issues collected here didn’t quite work for me: some of the characters barely looked like themselves for me. The art’s not bad, it just took some getting used to. But the story is a lot of fun.
  7. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire. Another short story in McGuire’s October Daye universe, this time telling a tale of romance and secrets involving everyone’s favorite sea-witch, The Luideag. I know, I know: “romance” and “the Luideag” are not words one expects to hear in the same sentence. Best read after book five of the October Daye series.
  8. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. A new novella from McGuire that doesn’t seem to connect to any of her other existing series (although I can see it connecting to her novel Sparrow Hill Road in some ways). There’s some great world-building around a main character whose voice clicked with me right away, making me want to know more about her and the characters around her. A very satisfying “done in one” story.

So: eight books read in January, and Goodreads tells me that means I’m “on track” for my yearly goal.

SHORT STORIES

I also set myself a goal each year of reading 365 short stories: 1 per day, theoretically, although it doesn’t always work out quite that way. (366 in leap years, of course)

I didn’t quite hit the “one per day” goal in January, but here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too:

The first 9 stories come from the January 2017 issue of Lightspeed Magazine. The first 8 are available to read for free on the magazine’s website, while the 9th story is only available as part of the ebook edition.

  1. Rate of Change by James S.A. Corey. A look at a future where brain/spinal transplants have become the norm — how does that affect our basic humanity.
  2. The Whole Crew Hates Me by Adam-Troy Castro. First person narrative about why the title of the story may be true. As soon as I finished reading it, I thought “man, this would make a fantastic acting monologue!” Great, is-he-paranoid-or-not voice.
  3. Tracker by Mary Rosenblum. Intriguing future (?) world where seeming gods control the weather, population, etc., and the title character is trapped in the middle of a power struggle.
  4. Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer. What happens when your husband is replaced by an alien intelligence just as you’re getting ready to divorce him. There’s a bit of comedy and tragedy mixed together here.
  5. Seven Salt Tears by Kat Howard. Another moving, very personal story from Howard, this one about how childhood stories involving the ocean impact a woman’s life.
  6. Daddy Long-Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford. I read this one years ago, was completely creeped out by it, and am happy to say the reread was just as creepy. Urban legend about a boy whose brain is infested by a spider.
  7. The West Topeka Triangle by Jeremiah Tolbert. This one really brought back middle school memories, even though I didn’t grow up anywhere near Kansas nor in any urban setting. I love that lingering question as to whether anything supernatural is really happening, a tone Tolbert expertly keeps up throughout the story.
  8. Nine by Kima Jones. Fantasy trappings on a real-world setting: Tanner, Jessie and Flo run a motel for blacks moving west after the Civil War, but even the three proprietors are running from something that seems destined to catch up with them. Heart-breaking and full of love at the same time.
  9. Awakening by Judith Berman. Aleya wakes in a dungeon full of corpses, unsure how she got there. This story takes more twists than a D&D campaign, and each one is layered brilliantly onto the previous. It kept me guessing throughout as to how it would end.
  10. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, a really cute story about how Patrick and Dianda met. It has the feel of a screwball rom-com.
  11. Stage of Fools by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) A story of Tybalt, the King of Cats, during his days in London, long before Toby Daye was even born. The first of three connected stories about how Tybalt re-opened his court after a long period of being alone.
  12. The Voice of Lions by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) The second connected story about Tybalt reopening his court in London, with some interesting political intrigue thrown in.
  13. Lunching with the Sphinxes by Richard Bowes. (from Grendelsong magazine, issue #2). A story set in Bowes’ Big Arena (NYC) future-history. Political intrigue from the perspective of a person who never thought she’d be a politician. I’d not read this when it first came out, but it seems a bit prescient in light of recent political events here in the US.
  14. Singing Wings by Keffy R.M. Kehrli. (from Fireside magazine #27). Aduaa is about to go through her species’ natural transformation, which means saying goodbye to those she’ll no longer be able to interact with. Kehrli really sucker-punches you with a depth of emotion we all recognize when life forces us to move on.
  15. Bones at the Door by John Wiswell (from Fireside magazine #27). Mandy starts discovering animal bones left at her front door, which leads to life changes she never could have expected. Eerie and disturbing.
  16. The Closest Thing To Animals by Sofia Samatar (from Fireside magazine #27). The narrator discloses a history of  her failing relationships in a city closed off from the rest of the world due to a plague that doesn’t kill. Great world-building, interesting story structure.
  17. The Acts of Hares by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page). The third of the connected Tybalt stories, this one about how he finally finds that last reason to re-open his court to other cats, putting him further on the road to being the Tybalt we know in the current Toby Daye books.
  18. Beks and the Second Note by Bruce Arthurs. (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine). Appearances are deceiving and not every case is as simple as it seems, as Detective Beks discovers investing a case of a good gun-carrying citizen killing a bank robber.
  19. Whatever It Takes by Lawrence Block (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine)  An old, previously-unpublished Block tale of a group of cops trying to get a man to turn informant against a big time, almost-untouchable gangster, and the lengths to which they’ll go. The dialogue-heavy story structure makes it an even more fun read.
  20. Through This House by Seanan McGuire (from the anthology Home Improvement: Undead Edition). Another story set in McGuire’s Toby Daye universe, but in modern times compared to the others read this month. Toby, May, Quentin and Danny must figure out how to reopen the sealed fairie Knowe of Goldengreen before it kills them. It’s  bit of a haunted house adventure, with all the creeping shadows and jump-scares one would expect.
  21. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, this one is set prior to the first novel of the Toby Daye series and doesn’t involve Toby herself. But it’s a great love story, slowly and carefully told.

So: 21 stories read in January, which means I’m 10 stories behind on my “read 365 stories this year” goal. But I suspect I’ll be catching up soon. One of my problems is I keep buying short story anthologies and then setting them aside for when I have time to read “the whole thing.” Which rarely seems to happen. So I’m making a sub-challenge for myself that each time I buy a new anthology, I will read at least one story the day I buy it. That might help with this a bit.

 

Clearly, between books and stories this has been a Seanan McGuire heavy month. She is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve been working towards finally reading all of the stories connected to her main novel series. So there’ll be another batch of McGuire reviews in the wrap-up post for February’s reading as well.

 

 

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Lawrence Block Returns

Posted by admin under authors, interviews

Lawrence Block,
the writer who never rests

I’m always happy to welcome previous interview subjects back to ramble on with me, but it’s always an honor when someone really well known agrees to be interviewed or re-interviewed. Today I get to welcome back the great Lawrence Block. You know him at the author of the Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matthew Scudder mysteries, among many others. He’s got a new short story collection out, so we chatted via email about it.

ANTHONY: Hard Case Crime just released the hardcover edition of CATCH AND RELEASE through special arrangement with Subterranean Press.  How closely did HCC publisher Charles Ardai work with you to choose the contents of the book?

LAWRENCE: Not at all, actually. I proposed the book to Bill Schafer, and made up a list of contents. Charles was good enough to offer his support and co-sponsorship for the book.

ANTHONY: The advertising copy for CATCH AND RELEASE says the contents are all short works that have not appeared in previous collections. When did the oldest story in the book last see print?

LAWRENCE: Well, remarkably enough, “Part of the Job” was published in Dapper in 1967—but I didn’t learn about it for over 40 years! The whole story of its publication and re-discovery is included with the story itself.

With that curious exception, these are all recent stories, all written in the present century. Thus they weren’t included in my omnibus collection, Enough Rope.

ANTHONY: What is the newest piece in the book?

LAWRENCE: Probably “See the Woman,” written a couple of years ago for the L.A. Noire anthology.

ANTHONY: CATCH AND RELEASE includes stories featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr and Matthew Scudder, correct?

LAWRENCE: Bernie’s here in “A Burglar’s-Eye View of Greed,” a newspaper op-ed piece I did for New York Newsday in 2002. Mark Lavendier published it as a deluxe limited-edition broadside, but it’s never appeared anywhere else. Matthew Scudder’s here twice, with “Mick Ballou Looks at the Blank Screen” and “One Last Night at Grogan’s.” These are the last two stories in the Scudder collection, The Night and the Music.

Catch and Release

ANTHONY: The volume also includes a play script. Was the script ever produced? (And if so, can you tell us a bit about the production?)

LAWRENCE: It’s the adaptation of a short story, and I believe it was performed a couple of times in Australia. And there have been a couple of Stateside nibbles, but so far nothing has happened—as is not unusual in the theater. It’s a natural for an amateur production—two characters, one set—so if anyone wants to stage it, all they have to do is get in touch.

ANTHONY: Are there any other Block (or pseudonymous) stories out there left to be collected, or have they finally all been un-earthed?

LAWRENCE: Well, only “Part of the Job” was unearthed; the others are all pretty recent. It would surprise me mightily if any more stories turned up from way back when, but the possibility’s hard to rule out.

ANTHONY: This is the second time Hard Case Crime has partnered with Subterranean to release a limited edition hardcover collection of yours. The STRANGE EMBRACE / 69 BARROW STREET collection is out of print now?

LAWRENCE: I believe so. The two individual titles are eVailable as eBooks from Open Road.

ANTHONY: Most of the Hard Case Crime line is mass market or trade paperback editions. Will we be seeing paperback releases for either of the Subterranean titles?

LAWRENCE: No plans that I know of for PB editions of Strange Embrace or 69 Barrow Street. As far as CATCH AND RELEASE is concerned, I retained both eBook and paperback rights, and have already self-published the eBook edition; it’s on sale even as we speak, and here’s a Kindle link.

I’ll also be bringing out a trade paperback edition any day now; it’s coming from CreateSpace, and will be widely available at Amazon and other online booksellers as well. Same format as the SubPress hardcover, same great cover art—and, since the hardcover’s essentially sold out on publication, a chance for readers to get the printed book at a reasonable price.

There an audiobook coming, too, and Dreamscape is already taking preorders in advance of a November release date. I did the narration, with an assistant from the beautiful and talented Lynne Wood Block; the play, “How Far,” needed two voices, one male, one female. And while she was at it she also voiced “Without a Body,” a brief monologue with a woman narrator.

ANTHONY: Since there’s a Scudder story in the new collection, I have to ask how filming for “A Walk Among The Tombstones” has progressed. Are they still filming, or are they in post-production now?

LAWRENCE: It’s in post-production, and I don’t know if they’ve set a release date, but I’m sure it’ll be sometime in the first half of 2014.

ANTHONY: You got to spend some time on the set. How was that?

LAWRENCE: It was fun. Liam Neeson was absolutely brilliant in the scenes I saw, and I think fans will love him as Scudder.

ANTHONY: I’m looking forward to that. Final question: What’s coming down the pike in the next few months?

LAWRENCE: A brand-new novel, the one I wrote this summer on a Holland America cruise. Don’t ask me where we went, as I barely got out of my cabin. I’m very excited about the book, and couldn’t bear to wait a year and a half for a traditional publisher to bring it out. So I’m publishing it myself, and we’ve settled on Christmas as  our release date.

Yeah, this Christmas. Christmas of 2013, which is like 90 days from now.

And, for the moment, that’s all I can tell you about it…

You can find more of Lawrence Block’s discussions of his writing on his website, his blog, his facebook and his goodreads discussion group. You can also follow him on Twitter as @LawrenceBlock.

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Wow, that title sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

With Jennifer Holliday, a 2011 highlight

It’s December 31. I am hanging out, as I do every New Years Eve, with my college friends/adopted siblings. Jon & Cindi (and their son Xavier) are hosting, as always. Scott & Margaret are here with son and daughter Jared and Morgyn. Peggy is here with her son Max. Plus there are two dogs, a cat, a rabbit. Assorted local family and friends will drop in, too. It’s always a dual celebration, as Jon’s birthday is January 1.

Typically, this is not the ideal setting for long rambling thoughts about the past year. But we’re having a lull at the moment. Three of the four kids are reading quietly. So are half of the adults. So now seems to be the time.

I’ll admit it’s been a rough year. Car problems, financial problems, lots and lots of work travel bouncing me all over the country (especially these last few months). I’ve been a real cranky-pants at times, so the first order of business is thanking everyone who has put up with that crankiness, and everyone who helped me deal with what at times felt like insurmountable problems. They are too numerous to list here: if you are among them, you know who you are and I thank you.

On the writing side of things, the year was a mixed bag. I didn’t manage to complete either AMBERGRIN HALL or CHRISTMAS GHOSTS, my long-simmering novel and novella. Both are so close to completion it almost hurts, and I’ve made progress on untangling the plot knots of the first and filling in the hole in the plot of the second, but still … didn’t finish them. That is a goal for 2012. On the positive side, I sold my first genre short story, a science fiction tale for the SPACE BATTLES anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and due out mid-2012. That felt terrific. Also, it seems like this year’s sales of THE FIRFLAKE were better than last year’s. This is an guess on my part, but it feels like I had more emails and tweets telling me “I’m buying your book” this year than I did last. It might have helped that I joined Goodreads in an effort to help advertise the book, and that I spent more time posting on the book’s Facebook page.

Reading-wise, having joined Goodreads has helped me keep even better track of what I read and what I thought (although I’m still behind on writing reviews of some of what I read, and likely won’t get those done before tonight’s festivities start). I’ll wait until later this week to post my “Favorites of 2011” final list. Between office and on-line bookclubs, and writing book reviews for ICARUS and CHELSEA STATION magazines, I’ve also read a lot of authors I’d never read before as well as revisiting old favorites.

Probably the biggest accomplishment of 2011 has been the increased use of this website. I added a second short story (“Canopus,” joining “Invisible Me”), and I made the decision to start blogging regularly. When I made that decision, I had no idea I would end up developing an almost-weekly Interview feature. It’s all Anthony Garguila‘s fault. Although his didn’t end up being the first interview I ran (that honor went to author Evelyn Lafont), it was meeting him at a high school band reunion he attended with his mother that instigated the whole “interviewing creative people” thing. I’ve had the honor of interviewing up-and-coming authors like Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Linda Poitevin, Chad Helder and Christie Yant; genre pros like Jay Lake and Jeremy C. Shipp; friends Dennis Miller and Joseph Pittman; and career authors like Lawrence Block. I’ve interviewed artists (Lynn Bennett-MacKenzie), editors (Ellen Datlow), webcomics creators (Namesake, School Spirit, Cura Te Ipsum, Multiplex), actors (Brandon Tyler Russell) and musicians ranging from indy artists like Casey Stratton and Matt Lande to teen pop-rockers Burnham and Hollywood Ending. I’ve learned a lot about interviewing, and I’ve learned a lot about the creative process as it manifests in different fields.

2012 looks to get off to a good start for interviews as well. Carolyn Gray (author of A Red-Tainted Silence and Long Way Home) and actors Austin MacDonald and Sarah Desjardins and Brad and Todd Mann are all due up in January. Author Kaaron Warren, editor John Joseph Adams and singer Jennifer Holliday will be along in February.

What I’m loving about the interviews is that they’re fun. This isn’t my day job, it’s a hobby I’m enjoying quite a bit. One of the things that has helped me interview so many interesting people has been Twitter. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through that site, including but not limited to the folks named in the preceding few paragraphs, as well as Marianne Burnham, Helen MacDonald, Desiree Russell, Leigh Geraghty, Nina Diamond, Tomatito Adams, Sabrina Vourvoulias and too many others to name them all.

Bringing things full circle: despite the rough patches of the year, my health has been largely good and the travel has enabled me to spend far more time with the friends and family scattered around the country than I would have otherwise. As always, I end the year thankful for my health and for the love that continues to lift me up. Whether you’re a friend for decades or someone I’ve just gotten to know thanks to social media: thank you.

Here’s to a 2012 that is full of love, fun, health, peace and prosperity for all of us. Catch you next year!

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I had the brilliant idea a few weeks ago that it might be a nice year-end change-up to my regular interview posts to have my various nieces and nephews (both the ones related to me by blood and the ones who are kids of friends) quiz me about my writing, interviewing and reading habits. While I didn’t hear back from everyone (*cough*AlexDevinMaxA*cough*), I got a lot of good questions with only a few repetitions. Today’s post is the older batch of kids, ages 13 to 20.

niece Renee, my sister, myself, nephew Vinny

Anyone who has read THE FIRFLAKE has seen the dedication (“For Mom and Dad, who taught me how to believe, and for Buddy and Squirmy Worm, who reminded me when I forgot.”) Buddy and Squirmy Worm are our family nicknames for my nephew Vinny and niece Renee. Vinny’s questions start off today’s post, and Renee gets the lead-off tomorrow when the younger kids have their say.

VINNY (age 14): What inspired you to write?

ANTHONY: Comic books. That’s the short answer, anyway. The first stories I remember writing were all with Marvel and DC superheroes. I can remember a summer visit to the Cornelia cousins on Long Island, and using their house as the secret base in a story featuring a group of Marvel’s third-string characters (Marvel Man (now Quasar), Blue Streak, The Vamp, and someone else). I had to be in 5th or 6th grade then. I also remember being in the lunch-room at Mahopac Junior High and writing a story about Bat-Girl (the Barbara Gordon version), and trying to draw the logo they used for her in Batman Family at the time. Those stories are all long-since lost; they were all hand-written in loose-leaf binders and spiral-bound notebooks and who knows where they ended up.

VINNY: Will you ever venture into the horror genre?

That depends on what type of horror you mean. Will I ever write a slasher-flick like the Jason movies? Probably not. But the short story “Canopus” right here on the website is suspenseful-horror, and my mystery novel AMBERGRIN HALL has at least a few horrific moments (and a hint of the supernatural). And as you may remember, I’m still supposed to be co-writing a zombie novel with Aunt Nina if I ever get off my buttocks and work on it. (By the way, Vin, kudos for using the word “venture.” Haha)

LAURA (age 20): When you get a creative idea, what sparks in your mind and says “THATS IT! There needs to be a book about this!”

ANTHONY: Ah, the famous “AHA!” moment. I’m not sure I actually get those. I hear other writers talk about them, but my epiphanies are smaller. I get an idea and it’s not “OH MY GOD THIS HAS TO BE A BOOK” so much as “oh, there’s a neat idea, let’s see where it goes.” The moment a story “clicks” for me is usually well after I’ve started it, and then I get that “Oh, yeah, this works!” spark.

LAURA: Out of all of the places you have traveled to, which place gave you the most inspiration when it comes to writing?

ANTHONY: Inspiration always seems to be stronger in the places that feel like home. The scenery change can be subtle (the slightly different small towns elsewhere in northwest NJ / southern NY) or dramatic (an apartment in a city somewhere in the country), but when I’m closer to family I’m more inspired to write. Outside of NY/NJ, the places I get the most writing done are, in no particular order: Palmdale CA, Chicago IL, Portland OR, and Kenosha WI.

DANNY (age 19): How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Hire a good editor.

DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Wow, déjà vu. You want a more serious answer? Being in a local writers’ group (“The Write Direction,” and thank you Marie Collinson, Rosemary Foley and Jessie Peck-Martin!) and having a few “beta-readers” via email — folks who are looking not just at story as a whole but for clarity of language and awkward repetitive moments.

DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Yes, folks, Danny is the one who seems to have inherited my sense of humor. Or he’s bucking for a job as my editor. Alright, Dan, any OTHER questions?

DANNY: Yes. How do you stay confident with your own writing?

ANTHONY: Oh, good one. The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure any writer ever does. It’s sort of like stage fright for an actor. Helen Hayes, near the end of her long and varied career, said “I get sick with stage fright. Noel Coward threw up before every show, he got so sick. God made stage fright.” Carol Channing followed that up with “She was right about that. God made stage fright. I’ve noticed over a lifetime those that do not have stage fright, are not that good on stage.” It’s the same for me. Doesn’t matter that I’ve got had non-fiction, short fiction, and a short novel published. Every time I write something, there’s always that “oh my god, does this suck bat-guano” question lingering in the back of my head. And even after it’s been published, it’s the same. Just this month, knowing Marianne Burnham and her talented family had a copy of THE FIRFLAKE, I was constantly thinking “what if these wonderful new friends of mine, who were so excited to buy the book, end up hating it?” They didn’t hate it, but that’s beside the point.

JAKE (age 20): Are you working on a follow up to THE FIRFLAKE and/or are you going to try to go in a different direction with your writing?

ANTHONY: Yes. Don’t you love when people answer “either/or” questions that way? Seriously, THE FIRFLAKE is pretty complete unto itself. As much as I love Papa Knecht, Mama Alvarie, Engleberta and the rest, I’m pretty sure (at least right now) that their story is complete. However, I do have another, longer, Christmas novel nearing completion. Where THE FIRFLAKE is a book meant to be read by parents to children, CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is aimed straight at the middle-grade / young-adult market. It’s about sixth grader Colum McCann, who is still hurting about the unexpected death of the older brother he worshipped, and how he discovers a secret about Christmas Eve that could give him the chance to say goodbye. Beyond that, I’d say my writing is constantly headed in other directions. AMBERGRIN HALL is a college-set mystery-thriller. I just sold a science-fiction short story. I’m working on a sequence of connected fantasy and sf stories. I never know what genre I’ll be writing in next. The authors I most idolize (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Orson Card, Lawrence Block) all have the ability to write in more than one genre, and to write in more than one style.

JAKE: Is there a specific artist or genre of music that you like to listen to when you write?

ANTHONY: Generally speaking, no. In the past, I’ve gone from working in complete silence to working with only instrumental music in the background. IF I’m going the instrumental route, I tend to rotate between classical stuff like the Carmina Burana and Dvorak’s New World Symphony (both of which I’ve loved since high school, thank you Terry Wynne and Darrell Long respectively) and movie or tv soundtracks. For horror-story-moodiness, nothing beats Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack for the Francis Ford Coppola version of DRACULA. Michael Giacchino’s LOST soundtracks to seasons one through three are frequently playing as well. When I write my annual holiday poem, there’s always seasonal music playing. In a broader sense, I draw inspiration from the music I love, whether I’m writing at that moment or not. Right now, that ranges from all-time favorites like Rosanne Cash, Jennifer Holliday, Styx and Supertramp to friends like The Dalliance, Casey Stratton, Burnham and Matt Johnson.

JAKE: How would you describe your relationship with Orson Scott Card? I remember my mom telling me he posted on your Facebook wall a while ago which I thought was awesome.

ANTHONY: Over the past few years, I’ve had a chance to interact with Orson a couple of times. Some of his books would easily make any Top 25 list I might put together (particularly Ender’s Game, Lost Boys, and the whole Alvin Maker series). I’ve learned a lot about craft reading his books, and he’s graciously answered my fan-boy questions about his work and even about the Mormon religion. He’s never been anything but polite and friendly towards me, and I appreciate that from any well-known person (meeting Neil Gaiman was equally as gratifying, for instance. And Jennifer Holliday and John Glover and Ellen Datlow, as well.). Orson has made some pretty controversial statements in the recent past about homosexuality and “hating the sin but not the sinner,” (that’s not a direct quote, it should be noted) that I obviously don’t agree with – but that doesn’t detract from my love of his books and how I feel about the times we have interacted. (In fact, I think the Facebook post your mom was referencing was my quote “Gravity doesn’t care who you fall for,” which Orson liked.)

JAKE: How have your past experiences working with children influenced your writing?

ANTHONY: Immensely. You’ve been in the audience when I’ve told campfire stories. There’s no denying that some of my current style is a direct development from that experience. I also think the child and teen characters I write are more realistic because of all the actual kids and teens I am proud to call my nieces and nephews. Whether you were aware of it or not, you and your brother and the rest were the testing ground for the voice I use in a lot of my short stories. And speaking of your brother…

GABE P. (age 16): As you know, I am a high school student, and often times I find myself, along with other high school students, frustrated with teachings about writing in English class. How much of what you learned in school applies to your current writing career, and since then what has affected your writing habits and style?

ANTHONY: I had some really great English teachers in high school: Chris and Eugenia DelCampo (no relation) and PJ Burgh specifically. I learned a lot about literary analysis from them. My love of Mark Twain is all Mrs. DelCampo’s fault. My love of the theater and Shakespeare comes from the other two. I know the basics of writing an essay that I learned in high school served me well when I was writing non-fiction articles for various company newsletters and for Camping magazine. But if I’m being honest: I don’t remember actually studying creative writing in high school, at least not in any of our regular classes. Jerry Hahn and I co-wrote an adaptation of Snow White our senior year of high school that was produced as the fall play, but that’s about the only school-assignment type creative writing I remember doing. All the super-hero stuff I wrote in high school was on my own. The first creative writing classes I took were at Elmira College: Creative Writing with Professor Kerry Driscoll, a Playwriting Directed Study with Professor Jerry Whalen, a Science Fiction class with Doctor Bruce Barton in which we built our own worlds from scratch. Also, being a member of the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA) since 1982, and being in various writers’ groups over the years.

GABE P: Many writers I have seen in the past have conveyed a bit of their personalities in their writing such as Christopher Moore with his wittiness, or Oscar Wilde with his pompous disposition. If there is a characteristic of your personality that you would want your readers to take away from your writing, what would it be?

ANTHONY: Well, I hope my punny, somewhat dorky, sense of humor shines through in most of my work. But I don’t think I intentionally put a characteristic of myself out there as part of the planning for a story. Another Elmira professor of mine, Malcolm Marsden, told me that he enjoyed reading every paper I wrote because I always revealed a bit about myself and my own search for identity as I was analyzing the book or author in question. I think that’s still true. In THE FIRFLAKE, it might be Engleberta’s insecurity about being the best Watcher she can be; in AMBERGRIN HALL, there’s a bit of my quest for identity and love of folk music and the theater in Garrett and in Ezra; in “Canopus,” well… there’s a lot of me in the narrator of that story. I’m still constantly questioning who I am and where I am, and I think that comes out in my fiction.

GABE P: Do you ever find yourself unintentionally emulating an element from another writer’s work, or are you always aware of where you are drawing your influence from at a given moment?

ANTHONY: Unintentionally, all the time. I’ll reread something I wrote and think “wow, that’s a bit of Stoker / Butcher / whoever right there, isn’t it?” Sometimes, of course, that means rewriting because I don’t really want to sound like anybody else … and sometimes it gets left in because that little homage is exactly what I want. Then there are the times when yes, I am intentionally emulating a style. AMBERGRIN HALL has some intentionally Gothic moments in it that recall Stoker, Conan Doyle, Bronte. THE FIRFLAKE is one massive homage to the classic Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas specials. CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is intentionally Dickensian, and “Canopus” has a bit of Lovecraft in there.

GABE P.: I can imagine that when you read, you read pieces from genres all over the map. Is there one genre that you are particularly drawn to?

ANTHONY: I do try to be as widely-read as possible. That being said, in 2011 I’d say at least half of what I read was firmly in the science fiction and fantasy realms. Part of that is because I started writing book reviews for ICARUS: the magazine of gay speculative fiction this year, and that’s two books every quarter that need to be science fiction/fantasy/horror. But it’s also because those are the genres I’ve always loved. Take a look at my home library one of these days and most of it is genre fiction, including mysteries and pulp-adventure.

And now, let’s hear from the 13 and 14 year olds…

GABE O. (age 13): When did you start writing?

ANTHONY: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Definitely by the time I was your age, but surely younger.

GABE O.: How do you beat writer’s block?

ANTHONY: With a rather large canoe paddle.

AIDAN (age 14): No, seriously, how do you cure writer’s block?

ANTHONY: It’s an ancient family recipe: salt and other spices rubbed in, and then you let the writer’s block sit and dry for a while, and then…

DANNY (age 19): I think what they mean is, what is your most helpful routine to do when you find yourself with writer’s block?

ANTHONY: Obviously, it’s to make jokes about it. Writer’s block is not so scary when you realize that everyone goes through it occasionally and the best thing to do sometimes is walk away from the project you’re blocked on and just do something else. Go for a walk. Work on a different project. Spend several hours playing Scrabble on Facebook, chatting on Twitter, etc. Or just read. At one point when I was blocked on a short story, I walked away and sat down with a book in a completely different genre and read for a little while, and that seemed to “cleanse the palette” so to speak.

EDDY (age 14): What gives you your inspiration to write?

ANTHONY: I talked early about what inspired me to become a writer. What continues to inspire me? Part of it is that I can’t imagine NOT writing something every day. Some days that urge is fulfilled by my day job (writing for the company newsletter, etc) and some days it’s fulfilled by conducting an interview with a writer, artist, singer, actor or other creative type I respect. And then some days, I’m inspired because I know you all enjoy reading what I write. Encouragement from family and friends helps me continue to enjoy writing, even if I never get published.

AIDAN: So where do you find and how do you come up with ideas for your next story/book?

ANTHONY: Everything, honestly, is capable of giving me inspiration. Sometimes it’s a physical thing: AMBERGRIN HALL has its roots in an old unused building on the Elmira College campus and “Canopus” is based in part on an island in the middle of Lake Mahopac. Sometimes it’s a person: “That Happy Kid” was based on a teenager I used to pass every day commuting home from work. Sometimes it’s a news article: my one-act play “Sneakers in the Sand” and my story “Invisible Me” were based on things I read in the newspaper. So there’s no one thing, really.

EDDY: How many books have you written/published?

ANTHONY: Perfect question to end today’s post on, Eddy! I have one book out there, THE FIRFLAKE: A Christmas Story, and folks can find it if they go up to this site’s navigation bar and click on the tab with the book’s title on it. I also have a short story coming out in the SPACE BATTLES anthology sometime in 2012, and sometime early in the year you should be able to see a music video I scripted for The Dalliance on Youtube. Hopefully, next year will see more of my fiction out there.

That was a much longer post than I expected! Tomorrow (Monday), I’ll post what the younger kids asked me.

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This week I get to interview one of my heroes. What can I say about Lawrence Block that hasn’t already been said elsewhere?

In his own words: “Lawrence Block’s novels range from the urban noir of Matthew Scudder (A Drop of the Hard Stuff) to the urbane effervescence of Bernie Rhodenbarr (The Burglar on the Prowl), while other characters include the globe-trotting insomniac Evan Tanner (Tanner on Ice) and the introspective assassin Keller (Hit and Run). He has published articles and short fiction in American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and The New York Times, and 84 of his short stories have been collected in Enough Rope. In 2004, he became executive story editor for the TV series TILT. Several of his novels have been filmed, though not terribly well. His newest bestsellers are Hit Parade, his third Keller novel (July 2006 in hardcover), and All the Flowers are Dying (April 2006 in paperback), the sixteenth Matthew Scudder novel. Larry is a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, and a past president of both MWA and the Private Eye Writers of America. He has won the Edgar and Shamus awards four times each and the Japanese Maltese Falcon award twice, as well as the Nero Wolfe and Philip Marlowe awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and, most recently, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Life Achievement from the Crime Writers Association (UK). In France, he has been proclaimed a Grand Maitre du Roman Noir and has twice been awarded the Societe 813 trophy. He has been a guest of honor at Bouchercon and at book fairs and mystery festivals in France, Germany, Australia, Italy, New Zealand and Spain, and, as if that were not enough, was presented with the key to the city of Muncie, Indiana. Larry and his wife Lynne are enthusiastic New Yorkers and relentless world travelers.”

Lawrence Block

ANTHONY: I have to admit I’ve been dragging my heels on this interview because I’ve been a bit daunted. Everyone has those folks they’re just star-struck around. I’d be equally as tongue-tied if I had the chance to interview John Glover (even after having met him twice), or Neil Gaiman, or Michael Emerson. So that got me to wondering: who gets Lawrence Block star-struck?

LAWRENCE: Hmmm. There must be someone, but I can’t come up with anyone offhand. I think age is a factor here, along with life experience. You reach a point where you don’t have heroes anymore, and no longer get star-struck. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it happens.

ANTHONY: Part of my problem was in trying to come up with questions you’ve never been asked before. And then I realized with a career like yours there probably aren’t any questions you’ve never been asked. I don’t have to be original, I just have to be interesting! Is there any single interview question you just dread hearing? And am I about to ask that question in this interview?

LAWRENCE: I don’t like hypothetical questions about my characters. “What would Bernie do if he met a werewolf?” That kind of crap. I also don’t like to be asked what I’m going to write next, because I don’t know.

ANTHONY: You’ve covered a lot of genres in your career: the light, comedic mysteries of Bernie Rhodenbarr, the more noir-ish Scudder books, Jill Emerson’s lesbian erotica and literary novels. I’d even go so far as to categorize Killing Castro as alternate history. Is there any genre you haven’t tried yet that you’d like to take a crack at?

LAWRENCE: No, I’m not really looking for new worlds to conquer—or to be conquered by.

ANTHONY: In Afterthoughts, you talk extensively about the reasons for using pen names and how your career has really moved beyond that now. Last month, you brought the “Jill Emerson” name back for Getting Off. Any chance that your other pseudonyms will make similar comebacks?

LAWRENCE: I wouldn’t think so. The others were just names of convenience. Jill has been something rather more than that, though I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. (And if this were one of those LB/JE dialogues, she wouldn’t let that last line pass without a comment.)

ANTHONY: Do you think there’s more of your early pseudonymous work still out there “undiscovered?”

LAWRENCE: Well, not undiscovered. In fact, people are forever discovering books that weren’t mine at all, convinced they’ve unearthed a previously unacknowledged pen name. Lots of luck.

But there’s old work I haven’t brought back yet, and probably will sooner or later, avarice and ego being such powerful motivators. In fact, two old books of mine, 69 Barrow Street (as Sheldon Lord) and Strange Embrace (as Ben Christopher) will be Hard Case Crime’s #69 sometime next year, produced in hard cover by Subterranean Press as a double volume, bound back to back or belly to belly, as you prefer.

ANTHONY: Getting Off is the first hardcover book from Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime imprint, and along with new work by Christa Faust and Max Allan Collins the book is the face of the HCC relaunch. Was there any extra pressure associated with that?

LAWRENCE: No, hardly that. Charles really got Getting Off, and his unqualified enthusiasm was a key factor in my decision to do the book with Hard Case. If there was pressure, it was temporal; I had to hurry it in order to be done in time for his fall list.

ANTHONY: What is it like working with Charles? How does the relationship differ when you’re re-issuing an old title versus publishing something completely new?

LAWRENCE: It’s a pure pleasure. I’ve had good luck with editors over the years, esp. in that the right editors have often been linked to just the right books. Joe Pittman edited the Burglar books at Dutton, and had such a feel for them that I wasn’t surprised when he went on to write London Frog. Many fine folks have edited the Scudder novels, and John Schoenfelder was a joy to work with on A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I worked particularly closely with Charles, and showed him work as I went along, which is something I never do; it would seem to indicate a high level of trust, and it was in this instance justified.

ANTHONY: Okay, last HCC question, I promise: If Charles ever decides to bring Gabriel Hunt back for another set of books, would you consider writing one? I’d enjoy seeing your take on Gabe’s womanizing, globe-trotting, modern Indiana Jones ways.

LAWRENCE: No, I don’t think so. I like the books but I don’t want to write one.

ANTHONY: You make it clear in Afterwords that you’re not really a fan of going back and rereading your early work to prepare it for re-issue. Between HCC and the e-books, there’s a lot of older material available again, but certainly not everything. Has there been, or will there be, any kind of organized “roll-out” of older titles? You’ve come close to refusing re-issues for a few titles, I know — are there any that are on the “absolutely not” list?

LAWRENCE: The only books I know I don’t want reissued are ones I didn’t write in the first place, books that were ghostwritten under a pen name of mine. With that exception, my feeling is a paraphrase of an old T-shirt: “Publish ’em all and let the readers sort ’em out.”

ANTHONY: Okay, time for some questions about craft. (Maybe I can learn a thing or two?) You’ve said that you rarely know what you’re going to write next, hence not being able to predict when a new Rhodenbarr or Scudder or Keller book is going to come out. Does that mean you’re also a “seat of your pants” writer once you’re into a project, or do you outline heavily before beginning?

LAWRENCE: Haven’t outlined in years. How much I know about a book before I begin is variable. Sometimes quite a bit, sometimes next to nothing. And I’ve always liked a maxim I’ve heard attributed to Theodore Sturgeon: “If the writer doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, he needn’t fear that the reader will know what’s going to happen next.”

ANTHONY: Have your writing habits changed over the years, other than changing writing locales?

LAWRENCE: Oh, probably, but I’m not sure how. Very early on I’d put on a stack of records, jazz or classical, and have music playing while I wrote. Now I cannot imagine why anyone would do something like that.

ANTHONY: Do you approach the creation of a short story differently than that of a novel?

LAWRENCE: I don’t think so.

ANTHONY: What’s your self-editing procedure? Do you edit as you write, or do you put out a full draft and then go back and tear it apart?

LAWRENCE: Well, I try to get it right the first time. And when I type THE END, I mean it.

ANTHONY: Okay, this one’s a little morbid, but I have to ask. Mickey Spillane left instructions for Max Allan Collins to complete his unfinished manuscripts. You once put the finishing touches on an incomplete Cornell Woolrich mystery. How do you feel about other authors completing any work you leave behind?

LAWRENCE: Well, if I keeled over fifteen words from the end of something, I wouldn’t mind if someone supplied the fifteen words. But I would hope that any old crap lurking in the corner of my office or some back room on my hard drive will be allowed to decompose.

And I certainly hope no one comes along and writes about any of my series characters. Just because readers would like to have another book about this one or that one is no reason to pander to them. Fuck ’em, I say.

I’m quite certain Bob Parker would find a continuation of his series by other hands perfectly appalling, but the man’s dead, and the living can almost always find ways to rationalize acts that bring them money.

OTOH, who cares what the dead want? Being dead means it’s no longer any of your business. Personally, if there’s no afterlife, what do I care? And if there is, am I really going to spend it giving a rat’s ass what happens to some moldering old books down here on this godforsaken planet? What kind of an afterlife would that be?

ANTHONY: Getting Off is out in hardcover. The Matt Scudder short story collection is available. What releases do we have to look forward to in the near future?

LAWRENCE: There’ll be a new novel from Mulholland sometime next year if I ever finish the damn thing. I told you about HCC #69. I’ve got 20+ sex-fact books by John Warren Wells waiting in the wings, and might bring them out as eBooks. I’ve got two years worth of my monthly column for Linns Stamp News, enough material for a book if I think anybody might want to read it. What else? Beats me.

ANTHONY: And my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

LAWRENCE: I don’t know that I have a favorite. For many years I’ve acknowledged John O’Hara as my favorite author—so many years in fact, that I have to wonder if the statement’s still true. But all I’d suggest to anyone is that they pick up one of the books and read a few pages. Either they’ll like it or they won’t—which, come to think of it, is true of just about anything, isn’t it?

ANTHONY: Thanks again, sir!

LAWRENCE: You’re welcome!

You can find more of Lawrence Block’s discussions of his writing on his website, his blog, his facebook and his goodreads discussion group. You can also follow him on Twitter as @LawrenceBlock.

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This week, we get a bit shady with crime fiction author Joseph Pittman.

Joseph Pittman

JOSEPH PITTMAN was born in the borough of Queens and lived there for the first seven years of his life, before his family moved to Upstate New York. A graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius High School, he then went on to get his Bachelor of Science at SUNY Brockport, where he majored in communication, with a concentration in journalism. While attending Brockport, he was an editor for “The Stylus,” the school newspaper, where he had a weekly book review column.

Upon graduation, he returned to New York City, where he began his publishing career. After short stints at Putnam Children’s Books and at Viking Penguin, he landed his first editorial job at Bantam Books, where he assisted with such authors as Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Palmer, Rita Mae Brown, actress Ali MacGraw and General Norman H. Schwarzkopf. He moved to NAL as an editor and worked with authors such as Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Martha Grimes, Jeff Abbott, Joan Collins, Judith Gould, and many other best-selling and acclaimed names. His career has also taken him to the world book clubs (Doubleday Book Club), and small presses (Alyson Books). He is currently Editorial Director of the new Vantage Point imprint.

His novels include TILTING AT WINDMILLS, WHEN THE WORLD WAS SMALL, LEGEND’S END, and A CHRISTMAS WISH. His crime novels featuring Todd Gleason are LONDON FROG and CALIFORNIA SCHEMING. He’s at work on several other projects.

London Frog


ANTHONY: LONDON FROG is the first Todd Gleason crime novel. Todd is not a crime kingpin, but he’s also not completely on the side of the angels. He feels a bit Robin Hood or Bernie Rhodenbarr. Give us a little insight into his character and his moral code.

JOSEPH: Todd is complex. Yes, he feels the world owes him something, but he’s willing to work for it. Even if the work is slightly on the wrong side of the law. He never takes from those who would suffer greatly from his schemes. He’s a petty thief with champagnes tastes. Big crimes like murder he would never be involved in—unless it’s stopping them. Like in “Frog,” he stumbles upon the murder plot and does all he can to stop it—but he also wants to make his money, too. So he’s always playing both sides, working them to his advantage. Don’t call him a crook. He likes sneaky opportunist. I suppose Bernie Rhodenbarr was a bit of an inspiration. I was Lawrence Block’s editor for those books and perhaps some of Bernie rubbed off on me. The ninth book in that series, THE BURGLAR IN THE RYE, was dedicated to me—an honor I would love to pay it backward.

A: What makes the reader root for Todd despite the fact that he’s a criminal?

J: I think it’s those damn dimples. No, seriously, Todd is just trying to make his way in the world and if he’s got some warped view of achieving that, well, that’s the fun of writing such a character. When it comes to describing the Gleason series, I always say that while Todd is a con man, he’s also the nicest guy in the book. Trust no one is my motto when it comes to the crime novels. But Todd is always handy with a smart-ass remark, and that helps endear him to readers. They laugh with him, not at him.

A: LONDON FROG was originally released in 2007. If I remember correctly, it got good press and was a Mystery Guild monthly selection. Vantage Point has brought it back in trade paperback format in anticipation of the sequel, CALIFORNIA SCHEMING, due out in 2012. Can you give us a hint at what to expect in the new book?

Yes, good reviews in hardcover and a Mystery Guild “editor’s choice.” That was a cool honor. As for “Scheming,” it picks up about six months after the action in “Frog.” Todd is relaxing (hiding out?) On the island of Bermuda when he is approached by an old flame, Cindy Scanlon, asking for his help. How she knew to find him there is but one mystery. It all revolves around Fast Cash, a notorious L.A. bank robber. Three million dollars is missing, so is Fast Cash, and if Todd finds the money he can help his friend…and pocket some cold hard cash. It comes out mid-January from Vantage Point Books, with the same great cover look as LONDON FROG. Pre-order it now! (the author asks nicely…)

California Scheming

A: Unlike the fantasy and SF genres, crime and mystery fiction series don’t seem to favor the “long arc,” where characters age and grow and change, concentrating instead on stand-alone mysteries in long-running series. Where do Todd’s adventures fall, and how far ahead have you plotted/planned?

J: Oh, Todd will age. He won’t like it, either. I figure each book takes place six months after the last. I’ve got solid ideas for books three and four, but we won’t be any closer to finding out what makes Todd tick. He’s got a past, for sure, as indicated at the end of LONDON FROG. Not all is as it seems. Perhaps book five will explore the whole issue of Todd’s father—the guy who left to buy cigarettes when Todd was five. There’s a backstory there, and it also helps explain why the pet frog. Toad is the keeper of many secrets.

A: And when, after CALIFORNIA SCHEMING, can we expect to see him again?

J: You’ll see Todd again in his very first short story, “The Perils of Penelope Pittson,” to be published in a volume called CRIME SQUARE, edited by Robert J. Randisi, the founder of the Private Eye Writers of America. It comes out in March 2012. The story finds Todd imaging himself as a 50s gumshoe, coming to the aid of the imperiled Penelope. The next full-length novel, THE CANNES CON will appear early 2013…but I have to finish it first. Setting is the south of France, and truthfully, I didn’t mind the research for that one at all. It all begins, though, at the Vroadway opening of a revival of ‘Can-Can’.

A: LONDON FROG. CALIFORNIA SCHEMING. THE CANNES CON. How long can you keep up these city-inspired puns?

J: You’d be surprised. I have seven titles, even if I don’t have the plots for all of them. As long as I’m having fun with the series, I’m sure the titles will come to me. I had interest from a Japanese publisher and as a way to entice them I said I would write a Gleason story set in their country. Tokyo Ruse was the title. It didn’t sell. But I’d love to write it.

A: I’m always curious about process. How do you approach a Todd Gleason adventure? Do you outline fully before starting the work?

J: I hate working from outlines—I find them very limiting. I have a general synopsis that I work from, with characters specified, but the plot unfolds as I write it. You can’t plan twists and turns, they happen as you write. And that’s the fun of it all. Once I’m into the story, I may plan the next two or three chapters ahead, just to give me a sense of where I’m going. But no, I never have a full outline. It’s all structured in my head.

A: Do you approach the Todd Gleason books differently than your other books, which are not crime fiction?

J: Same approach, in terms of outlines/synopsis/characters. But the writing of a book like TILTING AT WINDMILLS takes more time. The language is different—the tone, the energy. Those books are more poetic, while the crime fiction is very…well, snarky. There’s a looseness to the Todd Gleason series that is not present in the general fiction. But I love switching the voice—whether first person or third, sweet and heartfelt, or suspenseful and sarcastic. It’s all about getting into the main characters’ head, and then trusting your instinct.

Tilting At Windmills

A: Speaking of those other works: Your Linden Corners books are back. TILTING AT WINDMILLS is back in print from Kensington Books, and you’ve heavily revised the sequel, A CHRISTMAS WISH. Tell us a little about those books.

J: TILTING AT WINDMILLS was my first published book, done by Pocket Books. It didn’t so terribly well on first publication—at least, not the U.S. version. It was a hit in Italy! Some readers though wondered what happened after that book ended, so I wrote A WISH UPON THE WIND, a Christmas-themed sequel. Both a re set in Linden Corners, which is located in the Hudson River valley. Both revolve around this old-style windmill, which inspires the people of the town. “Windmills” is back in print with a beautiful new cover.

A Christmas Wish

A: Why “completely revise” WISH for its official commercial release? How long did that process take?

J: The publisher asked me to revise it. The original version was only 45,000 words. The published version is now closer to 70,000. I’ve added new scenes, expanded existing scenes with new descriptions and dialogue, and then also added to some of the subplots. But I think it’s pretty seamless; it’s hard to tell what’s been added. It was only about a month of rewriting to get the book into its final shape. We also agreed on a title change. So A WISH UPON THE WIND became A CHRISTMAS WISH. Booksellers do better with books when the word Christmas is in the title.

A: Are there any future Linden Corners novels planned? Or does WISH conclude Brian and Janey’s story?

J: We will revisit Linden Corners next year. Brian and Janey have had their big moment, so it’s time for some other characters in the town to take center stage. I am under contract with Kensington for another Christmas-themed book to be set in Linden Corners. Brian and Janey will play supporting roles in the book—the main character is Nora Connors Rainer, one of Gerta’s daughters. And a man named Thomas van Diver, whose family originally owned the windmill decades ago. They have both returned to Linden Corners just in time to help the town prepare for another holiday. It’s called A CHRISTMAS HOPE. Then Kensington will publish the stand-alone novel BEYOND THE STORM—new town, new characters, same dramatic tension as “Windmills.” But I think they plan to publish the next Christmas book first. That’s their decision. Fortunately, BEYOND THE STORM is already written. A CHRISTMAS HOPE is on my computer now, I’m just now getting into the writing. Not sure what comes first, finishing it…or Christmas itself.

A: And my standard final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them to read it?

J: You want me to choose my favorite child? Haha. Actually, the two books of mine we haven’t discussed are WHEN THE WORLD WAS SMALL and LEGEND’S END. “Legend’s” is a family favorite, especially my mom. She always mentions “Legend’s” as her favorite. But I think WHEN THE WORLD WAS SMALL is my personal favorite. It’s the book that took me by surprise, in terms of the writing, its themes, and the fact that it spans twenty years. Usually I like a more concentrated timeline, like with “Frog,” which takes place in a matter of weeks. “World” was a big challenge to me, and I just love the symbolism through the story. Both “World” and “Legends” are new to Kindle—and at a 2.99 price, it’s hard to beat. Sorry to play salesman at the end of this interview. But I hope readers will give me a shot—whether they like mysteries or family drama or heartfelt tales of love, my books have something for everyone.

A: They really do. I can say that, having read pretty much all of them. And you know, I’ve never known Rosemary Pittman to be wrong. (Yes, I am bucking for an invite to Christmas dinner, haha)

You can most easily find Joseph Pittman, and all of his books, on his website.

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