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Interview with the author on the occasion of publishing of Two Miles of Darkness

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Upper trails at Rattlesnake Ledge, Fall 2015

Q: You just came out with Two Miles of Darkness. What are your thoughts?
A:  It’s been almost two years since Monica’s Sister. My goal is to write one book a year, but the schedule got some sand in the gears thanks to some extended talks with a publisher which, in the end, didn’t pan out. My thinking was to get some more Thomas Black novels out, and to that end I’ve written three in a row. I’m almost done with Jackson Street, the next Black.
Q: When will Jackson Street be out?
A: It depends on how long my copyediting and the rest of the production
work takes. I’m shooting for next summer.

Q: What do you think makes Thomas Black different from other hard-boiled
characters?
A: I’m not sure he’s really hardboiled. He gets into a lot of trouble, but
I think there’s a certain amount of his own stupidity to blame for that.
I’d say what sets Black apart are his compassionate views of the people
around him and his self-deprecating humor. Black doesn’t drink and
doesn’t have much of a social life, either. Other than that, it’s the
voice. In detective fiction it’s always the voice. You either like it or
you don’t. My job is to make you like it. Or at least to write in a
voice I like and hope that others like it, too.
Q: Black seems to take a lot of physical punishment.
A: A number of people have commented on that. It wasn’t something I noticed
at first, but it’s true. The fact is, people who get into the
predicaments he finds himself in, end up getting hurt. I try to make
those injuries as realistic as possible, which means there will be some
recovery time.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
A: When I started The Rainy City, I didn’t have a model for Thomas. As I
wrote, Black evolved more or less into a better, stronger, less profane
and slightly less funny version of myself. But I think the key is his willingness to poke fun at himself. My basic
models, characters I read and admired, were Travis McGee, Phillip
Marlow, and Lew Archer, who oddly enough, I steered away from right
away. Archer is much more circumspect about his private life than Black
will ever be. I couldn’t pull off keeping that much distance. Nor can I
go the other route and delve into his personal life like a hagiographer,
the way some authors do. He’s married. He’s got a dog. He rides a bike.
You know him by listening to him talk and following his line of thought.
He’s got compassion for the characters around him.
That’s important.
Q: And he’s funny. Which is something none of your models were.
A: Yes. The majority of my readers comment on the humor in the books. I
don’t always see it myself, although I do a lot of laughing while I’m writing them.
Q: What are you thoughts on the ebook revolution?
A: Things are certainly changing quickly. I remember not too long ago when
B&N and Borders came in and ran all the independent bookstores out of
business. Within a short drive from my home seventeen small bookstores
disappeared. It was a tragedy, and not just for readers, but for a lot of
intelligent and very hard working store owners. Many of these stores
promoted my work heavily, hand-selling my books. B&N and Borders did
neither. I thought it was bad for writers, especially writers at
my level, who previously had a lively regional following.
Now Amazon has come along with ebooks and their massive website and the
opportunity for authors to publish novels without a big New York house
behind them, and they’re destroying Barnes and Noble and whatever other
bookstores are left. So the world of publishing has done another one-eighty.
Who knows what’s going to come along in ten or fifteen years that will
turn Amazon into a relic? On the other hand, it may become the Coca-Cola
of our times and last a hundred years.
Q: You’re now publishing yourself on Amazon?
A: Amazon and other platforms, including a line of trade paperbacks. The best thing about the ebook revolution is that the stigma of
self-publishing has vanished. My profits are down, but my satisfaction is up. I’m not saying I’ll never publish traditionally again, but
the circumstances are going to have to be much different from what they are now.Q: Why do you write in this genre: mysteries, thrillers?
A: It’s hard for me to quantify the appeal of the detective story and in
particular, the private eye novel. It has enough predictability to assure the reader she
won’t be disappointed by a series of left turns somewhere in the middle
wherein the author sits down and begins navel-gazing. By their very
nature, the stories have to move along at a brisk pace. The basic format
was developed a long time ago, and it’s flexible enough that one can plug
in almost any type of background and make it work. There’s a little of
the old west in it, too, that American concept of the lone cowboy
seeking to reap justice for the little guy. Also, in a first-person narrative there’s an intimacy between the author and reader
you can’t get any other way.

Q: What’s next for you and Thomas?
A: Two Miles of Darkness works itself around a suicide theme, as did
Monica’s Sister. I find myself going back to the theme of suicide, which
is an odd place to be for a murder-mystery author. Probably because my
brother committed suicide when I was fairly young. I’ve been thinking
about penning a memoir where I could maybe exorcise the theme once and
for all. Also, I have a rather long novel, the beginning of a series,
that is about three-quarters finished. It gave me some problems, so I set
it aside two years ago. I may pick it up and see where it goes. And of
course, there will be more Black novels in the future.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I’m retired from the Seattle Fire Department, so I have more time than I
used to. I spend a lot of time outdoors, biking,
hiking, and cross-country skiing. I raced bicycles when I was
younger and I’m still involved in what most people would call radical
fitness activities. But my real love is books and writing. My favorite
trip? A walk to the library after dinner.


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