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Friday, September 4, 2015

ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK

MYSTERY GRANDMASTER
LAWRENCE BLOCK
Interviewed by
Paul Bishop
Lawrence Block collects writing honors and awards like his hitman character Keller collects stamps – here a few there a few, until the set is complete. Unlike Keller and his stamps, Block doesn’t have to bid for his prizes via auction. He has earned each and every one of them by doing what he does best – writing.
 
After almost a hundred novels, an uncountable – ever increasing – number of short stories, and cherished collections of writing advice and lore, Block can also lay claim to being the respected grand patriarch of the mystery genre. He has not only inspired several generations of writers (myself included), but continues to be a vitalizing force in the literary world through his association with Hard Case Crime, his forays into self-publishing, his embracing and understanding of the ever widening world of e-books, and keeping his work relevant by fearlessly mastering modern publishing’s obsession with branding, platform building, and marketing.
 
His latest book, The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes, is due to be released by Hard Case Crime on September 22nd, sporting a stunning cover by the late Glen Orbik. Ever affable, Block has willingly stepped into the glare of the interrogation room’s bright lights…
 
Your longevity in an ever fickle literary marketplace is quite a coup. In your early days as a writer, you wrote for specific markets to put food on the table. Later in your career, did you still consciously target your work for specific markets, or write by your instincts, knowing there would always be a favorable reception for your work?
 
Sometime in the mid-1960s I found my voice as a writer, and since then I’ve written what I wanted to write. Now I’ve always written books in the hope people will read what I write, so I can’t claim to have written exclusively for myself. Then again, if it’s just for oneself, why bother to write it down?
 
You’ve put lie to the cliché of teaching old dogs new tricks. How have you stayed on the cutting edge with your current incursions into self-publishing, your recognition of the importance of e-books, and your successful marketing ventures?
 
Well, thank you, but I’m not sure how cutting-edge I am. I’ve been lucky enough to be open to new things – some of them, anyway. As far as self-publishing is concerned, my first venture was in 1985, with Write For Your Life; I had developed an interactional seminar for writers and wanted to see it available in book form. And it looked to be a perfect candidate for self-publishing, as I could sell it at the seminar and piggyback my advertising with the seminar promotion. Plus – a major advantage of self-publishing – I could have copies in hand in a couple of months rather than wait a year and a half. So I printed 5000 copies (there was no Print On Demand option then) and we sold them all. So that predisposed me in favor of publishing my own work when circumstances were right for it.
 
As for e-books, a fellow at HarperCollins was a big e-book fan back in the early 90s, and incorporated a visit to an e-book factory into my book-tour visit to Cleveland. I knew they had a chance to amount to something when I learned they’d tested an e-Reader at a senior center and found a high level of acceptance; seniors appreciated the backlit screen, the ability to make the type any size they wanted, etc. If a new technology won acceptance among the people you’d think would most resist it, I had to figure it had a future. 
 
E-book sales figures kept increasing, but it was hard to tell if they would ever amount to anything. And then Kindle came along, and with it the opportunity to publish one’s own backlist titles, and, well, one thing led to another, didn’t it?
 
In what ways has your fiction writing mirrored your life, or is there no comparison?
 
I don’t know that it has. I suspect the later work reflects a more mature worldview, but as far as the facts of my life are concerned, I’m not sure I’ve mined them much. There are certain parallels, I suppose. I stopped drinking a few years before Matthew Scudder did, for example. But that may be the only thing his life and my life have in common. And Bernie Rhodenbarr’s life of crime was inspired by my own fantasy of what I might do, having hit a low point in my career and being cut out for nothing else. Maybe I could be a burglar, I thought.
 
Having written so many books, both series and standalones, do you still find new plots and characters popping up in your head demanding to be put on the page?
 
Hardly ever. Ideas do occur, and I think them through and decide the hell with them. The new book, The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes, is very much the exception. In May of 2014, my wife and I were in a taxi en route to JFK, where we were to board a flight for two weeks in Belgium. Hard Case’s edition of Borderline had just been published after having been mercifully out of print for half a century. And, incredibly, it was getting excellent reviews, a far better reception than I could have hoped for.
 
“You know,” I said to Lynne, “it might be fun to write something like that again. Something straightforward and hard-charging and pulpy. That might be fun.”
 
“It might,” she said.
 
And fifteen, twenty seconds later, I straightened up in my seat and said, “I’ve got an idea.”
 
Yeah, just like that. Now ideas come around all the time, and most of them find their way to Idea Heaven, and that’s the end of it. But this stayed in my mind and I found myself thinking about it for the next two weeks, and it grew and developed, and when we got back to New York I used Airbnb to book an apartment on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and I took a train there the second week in July and came home four weeks later with the book written.
 
Will we be treated to more Lawrence Block from Hard Case Crime or – as The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons was such a success – in a new self-publishing venture?
 
Oh, lord, I dunno. I think my next project will be an updating of Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. It was my first book for fiction writers, and it’s still going strong almost forty years after I wrote it, but it needs updating and needs new material and, all in all, needs several weeks of concentrated effort. I’m not sure how I’ll want to publish it, but that’s not something I need to know until the work is done, and I’m not sure when I’ll get to it.
 
And will there be more novels? Maybe, maybe not. I feel complete as far as all my series characters are concerned. But I may find something I want to write, and may decide I’ve got the time and energy for it. Time will tell. It generally does.
 ********
My thanks to Lawrence Block for his time and thoughtful answers. Now go buy The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
 
TO READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES CLICK HERE
 
THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES
 
In the depths of her blue eyes, He glimpsed – murder…
 
Cashed out from the NYPD after 24 years, Doak Miller operates as a private eye in steamy small-town Florida, doing jobs for the local police. Like posing as a hit man and wearing a wire to incriminate a local wife who’s looking to get rid of her husband. But when he sees the wife, when he looks into her deep blue eyes...
 
He falls – and falls hard. Soon he’s working with her, against his employer, plotting a devious plan that could get her free from her husband and put millions in her bank account. But can they do it without landing in jail? And once he’s kindled his taste for killing...will he be able to stop at one?
 
 
 
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as an expert in deception and interrogation. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.

THE HARD CASE CRIME/LAWRENCE BLOCK CONNECTION

 
HARD CASE CRIME EDITOR
CHARLES ARDAI
Interviewed by
Paul Bishop
On September 22nd, Hard Case Crime, in conjunction with Titan Books, will publish the latest novel by the mystery
genre’s most honored writer, Lawrence Block. THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES is a tightly wound, nasty, noir thriller just waiting to put a bullet in your brain. The sordid tale centers on an ex-New York cop private-eyeing it in Florida, who is bewitched by a local femme fatale with a plan to quickly become a widow. The book has been characterized as James M. Cain on Viagra. If you are unsure what that means, your noir education is sadly incomplete.
 
This is far from the first time Hard Case Crime and Lawrence Block have conspired together.  In fact, their relationship is as tightly intertwined as THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES and her hooked ex-cop.
 
Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai has professed both his admiration for Block as a writer and as a friend. With the publication of THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES, the eleventh collaboration between Block and Hard Case Crime, Ardai has agreed to face the bright lights and rubber hoses of the interrogation room…

Can we start by getting a little background on the guy who turned Hard Case Crime into the imprint of choice for hardboiled/noir fans?

Yes, of course. What would you like to know?

What was your initial vision for Hard Case Crime and how has it expanded as the imprint gained traction and impact?

When Max and I cooked up this crazy scheme, it was like a pair of heisters in a Donald Westlake novel – or a Lawrence Block novel, for that matter. We met in a bar and talked over drinks in a dark corner, dreaming up plans and thinking about the impossibility of pulling them off. And then we went and did it. 

Our original vision was that we wanted to publish new books and republish undeservedly forgotten old ones of the sort we loved to read when we were younger: slim, tight, high-velocity crime stories without an ounce of fat or a wasted page, with lots of sex appeal both in the prose and on the painted covers, and with a low enough cover price that they could be impulse buys, cheap entertainment like a movie ticket. That mission hasn’t changed, though the cover price has gone up (much like the price of a movie ticket has). But some things have changed.

When we started, Max and I thought maybe we’d publish half a dozen or a dozen titles and be done, since no one but us would want the things. We’re now well over one hundred, with more on tap. When we started, no one had heard of us and writers weren’t sending us new manuscripts, so most of our titles were reprints of old material. Now, we’ve used up most of the reprints we set out to do, but we’ve got submissions of new books flowing in at a rate of more than one thousand per year – so most of our books these days are new ones, or at least ones that have never appeared in print before, like our discoveries by James M. Cain and Samuel Fuller and Westlake. And we’ve broadened our mandate a tiny little bit. We never did a novel with a supernatural element until Stephen King brought us JOYLAND. Before Michael Crichton’s EASY GO, we hadn’t done a novel that was more adventure than crime fiction, with archaeologists searching for a lost tomb in the sands of Egypt. I’m not saying we’ll do a lot of those – but when you’ve got Stephen King and Michael Crichton excited about working with you, you take some chances.

What was the first Lawrence Block book you read…What was it about the story or the writing that hooked you?

It’s the writing – always the writing. Larry’s plots are ingenious and marvelous and I love them, but it’s his voice that hooks you. He could write about fly fishing (and has) or stamp collecting (and has) or literally anything else on earth and make it engaging and irresistible. When he writes about crime and sex, that’s the perfect storm of voice and subject matter. But a Lawrence Block shopping list would be more entertaining than half the novels out there.

I’m pretty sure my first Block novel was a Bernie Rhodenbarr, possibly THE BURGLAR WHO PAINTED LIKE MONDRIAN, which is still one of my favorites. But long before I knew him as a novelist (or as a friend), I knew him from his brilliant short stories in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

When did you first meet Lawrence Block…Did you stalk him or was it a casual encounter?

He likes to tell the story of how the first time he met me I was dressed in a skin-tight bodysuit with my face painted silver, pretending to be a robot at a book fair on Fifth Avenue. This is true. I was an intern at ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, and we got pressed into service manning their booth. The taller intern got to be Darth Vader. I was left with robot. And no one told me you’re supposed to wear something under a skin-tight bodysuit, so it’s a miracle I didn’t get arrested, or worse. But I didn’t. And Larry was there, at the same fair, signing his latest novel. I’d contacted him to see if he would write an introduction to one of the first anthologies I’d ever edited, a crime/horror collection called GREAT TALES OF MADNESS AND THE MACABRE. He’d agreed, so I had to get him a copy of the manuscript. And it didn’t occur to me that delivering it to him silver-faced and wearing a frankly obscene bodysuit was perhaps not the best way to begin a professional relationship.

But look, we’re still working together a quarter of a century later, so who’s to say I was wrong?

How did the Hard Case Crime/Lawrence Block connection begin and then intertwine?

When I started reading Larry’s novels, I just couldn’t devour them fast enough. I hunted down copies of every single one – or at least every one I could find, back in those pre-Internet days – and loved them all. So when the time came to start Hard Case Crime, and I went to my shelves to pick out candidates to reissue, what do you think I found? Alongside all the Chandler and Graham Greene and so forth – books we couldn’t reissue because they were very much still in print – there was my collection of Block novels, some of them well and truly obscure, some out of print for years. So I picked out one of my favorites – my copy was called SWEET SLOW DEATH, but it had originally been published as MONA – and I approached Larry with the idea of making it the very first Hard Case Crime novel.  (The second would be our first original novel, and my partner Max was writing that one. I’d write our second original. But we wanted something bigger than the two of us to kick the line off.)  And happily Larry said yes, taking a chance on two knights errant on this most quixotic of quests. His only condition was that we allow him to give the book back the title it was original meant to bear: GRIFTER’S GAME. 

The rest, as they say, is history. GRIFTER’S GAME was a hit, the line continued, and each year I went back to Larry to plunder his backlist further. We did THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART, which may be my favorite con man novel of all time. Then he brought us an obscurity called LUCKY AT CARDS that had never been published under his real name (and was nearly as good a con novel as LONG GREEN HEART). Then there was A DIET OF TREACLE, about drug users in Greenwich Village, and KILLING CASTRO, about what you’d think a book called KILLING CASTRO would be about. 

And then a strange thing happened. Larry wrote a new book, a very sexual, very violent book about a female serial killer out to rid the world of every man she’s ever slept with, and he decided that Hard Case Crime would be the right publisher to bring it out. We were thrilled to do so, and GETTING OFF became our first ever Hard Case Crime hardcover original.  There have been others since. When the Liam Neeson movie version of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES came out, we published a paperback tie-in edition of the novel. Together with the collectible house Subterranean Press, we did a collection of Larry’s short stories, CATCH AND RELEASE, and a top-to-toe Ace Doubles-style pairing of two rare novels with lesbian themes, STRANGE EMBRACE and 69 BARROW STREET. And now we are beyond excited to get to publish a second brand-new Block novel, THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES. As a Block fan from way, way back, I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to bring a new Block novel into the world.

Now partnered with Titan Books, what does the future hold for Hard Case Crime…and can fans look forward to more offerings from the Hard Case Crime/Lawrence Block connection?

As long as Larry and I are still around and working, I imagine there will be more Block/Hard Case Crime books to look forward to.  Our next, in 2016, will be a truly rare find, the very first crime novel Larry ever wrote, which only ever got published under a fake name and of which he didn’t own a copy – he didn’t even know what title the book was published under! But after a search that lasted years and spanned the globe, one of his eagle eyed readers found a copy – and we’re honored to bring it out. We’re working on the cover painting right now. In fact, as soon as I finish typing this sentence, my next job is to audition models to play the part of the book’s femme fatale, posing in a white cashmere sweater and nothing else.

It’s a hard job, but I grit my teeth and do it. For the fans, you understand.

Thanks to Charles Ardai for making time for this interview and for continuing to keep Hard Case Crime on the cutting edge of the mystery genre.

TO READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES CLICK HERE

THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES

In the depths of her blue eyes, He glimpsed – murder…

Cashed out from the NYPD after 24 years, Doak Miller operates as a private eye in steamy small-town Florida, doing jobs for the local police. Like posing as a hit man and wearing a wire to incriminate a local wife who’s looking to get rid of her husband. But when he sees the wife, when he looks into her deep blue eyes...

He falls – and falls hard. Soon he’s working with her, against his employer, plotting a devious plan that could get her free from her husband and put millions in her bank account. But can they do it without landing in jail? And once he’s kindled his taste for killing...will he be able to stop at one?


 
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as an expert in deception and interrogation. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

THE TRUTH IS COMING ~ WRITING LIE CATCHERS

Of the fifteen books I’ve written, my latest novel, LIE CATCHERS, is the most personal and unique. Having spent thirty-five years with the LAPD and thirty years as a professional writer, I am a sturdy branch on the genealogy tree of police writers. Other cop-author branches on the tree include William Caunitz (NYPD), Joseph McNamara (San Jose PD), Sonny Grosso (NYPD), and a plethora of others (for a full list CLICK HERE). The LAPD, however, has always led the way when it comes to police writers, including such luminaries as Dallas Barnes, Kathy Bennett, Gene Roddenberry (yes, that Gene Roddenberry), and almost 100 others (CLICK HERE). LAPD, of course, was also where the heavyweight champ of police writers, Joseph Wambaugh, hung his shoulder holster.


With that kind of professional ancestry, it was pretty much a given I would also do a Wambaugh when it came to writing novels. I have written books in other genres, westerns, an Elvis-is-not–dead novel, soccer mysteries, and boxing noirs, but cop dramas have always constituted the largest part of my output.

Fey Croaker, the heroine of the five book series in which she is featured, is a unique character, but the novels themselves follow the traditional sequence of mystery or police procedurals – there’s a murder, it’s a whodunit, the quirky detective doggedly works to untangle the morass of red herrings and false clues and, eventually, slaps the cuffs on the perpetrator. This is not a bad thing, but I wanted Lie Catchers to be something more. I wanted to take the reader into a world they only thought they knew and turn them on their heads.

During my LAPD career, I spent over twenty-five years investigating sex crimes. For fifteen of those years, I ran the Operations West Bureau–Sexual Assault Detail (OWB-SAD) – a unit of thirty detectives investigating all sex crimes in an area covering twenty-five percent of the city. This extensive jurisdiction included Hollywood Area, where anything that could happen sexually usually did.

From its formation, OWB-SAD consistently maintained the highest sex crimes clearance rate and number of detective initiated arrests in the city. We were busy, but what made us far more successful than the other sex crimes details in the city was our attention to interrogations.

Every interrogation we did was videotaped, reviewed, and critiqued. We developed many different techniques, both in the box and on the streets. Our byword was the belief the interrogation room wasn’t a place, it was wherever an OWB-SAD detective happened to be – the suspect’s home or workplace, in a car, in a coffee shop, literally anywhere. This was interrogation as it had never been approached before.

For good detectives, it’s not the cases we crack that matter, it’s the ones we don’t that haunt us. I now teach week-long interrogation classes to experienced detectives at wide variety of law enforcement agencies. Invariably, several detectives in the class have an epiphany. They think back to a case where they couldn’t get to the truth and realize they could have done so if they’d had these types of techniques – which are all part of a tactical approach to interrogation.

As a novelist, I finally had my own interrogation epiphany. I realized, I’d never seen or read anything dealing with interrogation in a realistic manner. Books don’t get it right. Movies and TV certainly don’t get it right – not even the real cop shows like 48 Hours.

However, with my background and experiences, I was in a unique position to write an interrogation themed novel and make it as realistic as fiction would allow. Lie Catchers is the result.

I didn’t want Lie Catchers to be just another whodunit murder mystery. I wanted to give the reader an intimate experience – much like the world created between a detective and a suspect in the box. To accomplish that goal, I knew the third person narrative voice I’d used for the Fey Croaker novels would not work. For Lie Catchers, I had to get inside the head of one of the main characters and tell the story in the first person.


ORIGINAL COVER ART
JOSEPH HAYES
Lie Catchers features two top LAPD interrogators, Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. Telling the story from Ray Pagan’s perspective just didn’t feel right. One of Pagan’s qualities is the unusual ways in which he approaches situations. This was best experienced from the point of view of another character who would come to understand Pagan along with the reader. This put me, as the writer, inside the head of Calamity Jane Randall – a very good detective, but still a woman who doesn’t truly understand herself. To become a great detective, a great interrogator, she needs Pagan to lead her on the path to self-discovery. However, Pagan also needs Randall – for many reason, which become clear in the narrative, but most of all to save him from himself.

I didn’t want Pagan and Randall simply to be a riff on Holmes and Watson. I wanted their dynamic to be an equal partnership. Randall isn’t just there to assist and marvel at Pagan’s brilliance – a foil used to listen while Pagan explained his cleverness. Randall is her own woman with her own strengths. Yes, sometimes Pagan acts as a mentor, but I wanted there to be an equal number of times when Randall’s actions saved the day. Jane was a leader, not just a follower.

But here was the challenge. As a male, writing in the third person about a female main character like Fey Croaker was one thing. Actually getting inside Jane Randall’s head to tell the story from her perspective as a woman was entirely another.

I had been living with the characters of Pagan and Randall in my brain for quite a while before I started writing Lie Catchers. As I prepared to start tapping out words, I was surprised to find I actually knew more about Jane than I did about Pagan.

Jane was a touch more tentative, a little less self-aware, than Fey Croaker. She was no less of a detective, but her approach was much more stealthy. Fey reacts, charging into situations until she crushed them. Jane quickly assesses situations and responds – achieving her goal with a minimum of shattered glass. Interrogation is all about becoming the person the suspect needs you to be in order to confess. You can’t do that by reacting…You have to be able to respond. Jane’s style complimented the skills she needed to become a great interrogator.

Jane also needed to tell her story, her way. Unless you are a writer, you can’t understand the joy and the amazement of experiencing a fictional character completely taking over your narrative. It is as if they are an entity inside you, knowing all your secrets, each skeleton in your closet. Every day, they force you to sit down at the keyboard and then take charge of your fingers to tap out their story in staccato bursts of channeled energy. 

Through this process, Lie Catchers became something more than just a story. It became an experience. All of the interrogation techniques within the pages are as real as I could make them, but the emotions and intensity – the intimacy I wanted to establish between characters and readers – were all sparked by Jane Randall and Ray Pagan.

My name is on the cover of Lie Catchers, but it’s Randall and Pagan’s story. They are your personal guides into the continent of darkness which lies in the soul of the art of interrogation. You couldn’t be in better hands.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop spent 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was twice honored as Detective of the Year.  He continues to work privately as a deception expert. His fifteen novels include five in his LAPD Homicide Detective Fey Croaker series. His latest novel, Lie Catchers, begins a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall.