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Mysteries, thrillers, home of PI Thomas Black

It’s been a while since you’ve had a new book come out. There are multiple comments here asking about another Thomas Black as well as another Mac Fontana. What’s up?

As we speak I have a Thomas Black with a copy editor, which is the penultimate step in publishing it. It’s called Monica’s Sister. We’ve got a cover for it and we’re planning to self-publish this summer, electronically only at first. I’m not a publishing conglomerate, and I haven’t done this before so I can only give a best approximation of the time frame. I’m shooting for mid July.

Mac Fontana’s another thing entirely. I would love to write more and if I could turn out a book in a couple of weeks, I would. Unfortunately, it takes the better part of a year for me to scribble out a book. The good news is I have another Black about 90% completed and if this self-publishing venture works out, I’ll bring it out next.

Now that you’re retired from the fire department, your former day job, it seems like you should be able to write faster? Any luck with that?

Some. I think once I start publishing myself I’ll feel more impetus to set deadlines and so forth. I’ve lost a lot of time putting my backlist on e-book. I probably shouldn’t have done it in my spare time, should have set aside a few weeks and worked on the backlist exclusively. I’m not very good at juggling a lot of small projects. That’s one reason I like writing novels. One big ongoing project at all times.

You say Monica’s Sister will be coming out electronically? Will there be a paper version?

That has yet to be determined. I would love to follow in the footsteps of other mid-list authors and just simply do what they’ve done, but there are very few other writers to follow at this point. I’m looking for a process to follow but it seems I’m forced to figure out my own process. My thinking is if we put out a paper version it will be trade paperback and will come out several months, if not six months, after the electronic version.

That’s a little bit like the hardcover release and paperback release used to work?

Right. In the old days a hardcover would come out and then maybe a year later, the paperback would be published. The expensive, $25 hardcover would come out and the publisher would make their money, then a year later the paperback version would come out for maybe $4.99, or in later years $7.99. This was the version the great majority of buyers ended up with. Now, anybody with an electronic reader, a notepad, or a computer can read my latest as soon as it comes out for less than $10.

But nobody wants to read a book on a computer, surely?


You think the e-book revolution is a good thing, then?

What I think is that it’s inevitable. It’s better in a lot of ways. By self publishing, I have control over the pricing. So far I haven’t priced anything higher than $4.99, which seems fair to me for an older book. Some of my backlist are going for $1.99.

Have you tried the .99 cent route? A lot of online authors swear by that.

I have. It’s something I may experiment with again, but not for the time being.  Monica’s Sister in electronic form will be somewhere under $9.99. We haven’t come to a firm decision yet. Later, the paper version, will of necessity cost more. It’s simply not possible to bring out a paper version that inexpensively. The nice thing about Amazon and the other e-book publishing platforms is that the publisher, me in this case, can adjust the prices weekly or even daily. So right now nothing’s set in stone.

Are you happy with Monica’s Sister as a novel?

I’d have to say I’m about as happy with it as I ever am with a book at this point in the process.  At this point, I can’t really see it as a whole. All I see are the mistakes, which I try to correct as we edit.  Instead of the strong points in the novel, my head is full of all the weak points.

You sound as if you’re your own worst critic?

I have been for quite a while. In the beginning, I thought everything I wrote was golden. It was only after I got over that euphoria of hey-look-I-wrote-a-book that that I began to be a real writer. Somebody asked me recently if I was happy with these books we’re putting out electronically, old stuff I wrote years ago. I had to admit, there were very few pages I couldn’t have tinkered with. I know some authors putting their books out electronically are doing a lot of re-writing. I’m not going to do that. If they’re good, great. If they’re bad, then we’ll call them historic artifacts.

What can you say to all the readers who don’t own a Kindle or a Nook or even a notepad, who want to read you in paper?

If there’s the demand, I’ll definitely bring out a paper version later.

Why not right away?

I’m trying to do this in the most productive manner possible. It takes a year to write a book. I’m no longer getting an advance on royalties from a publisher and I have no guarantee how much I’ll be paid for my time and efforts. The bulk of my remuneration will come from the electronic versions.

Tell us a little about Monica’s Sister.

Ah. The sound bite. Can you describe your mystery in one pithy sentence that is both high concept and easy to state, something we can pitch to the movies as a sure thing? Alas, with this one, I cannot. In many ways it’s a typical Thomas Black. Kathy plays a big part in this one. Monica’s sister was originally Kathy’s friend. She hires Thomas to investigate her wealthy brother-in-law and Thomas bungles things at first. There is an unexpected death which happens right in front of Thomas and he vows to find out what’s behind the whole thing. I guess, as is the case with a lot of my private eye books, it’s really about the clash of the uber wealthy and the rest of this. I write about this a lot but get very few comments about it. I believe the people who are put off by it, simply don’t return to my books for a second read.

But there is a great interest these days in the contrast between the lives of the very wealthy and the rest of us, isn’t there? Look at the popularity of shows such as Downtown Abbey.

Downtown Abbey harkens back to an era I think we might be heading towards ourselves. The woman at the center of Monica’s Sister is a moralist and thinks about the world and her place in it, our places in it,  a great deal more carefully than I generally do. She’s an inspiration and yet she’s also something of a fool. She’s based on a couple of different people I’ve known over the past twenty years. In fact, the whole story is based on fact. The trouble with fiction is of course — and I’ve said this before many times — it has to be believable, while real life doesn’t have those kinds of limits.

Your last novel, Cape Disappointment, came out in 2009. Why they big gap in your production?

You’ll find a lot of writers in my generation quit producing somewhere along the line in the last ten years. The vagaries of publishing are beginning to stump everyone, including the big six in New York, and if I were to quit writing altogether right now, I would be joining a very large club of disillusioned and sometimes jettisoned authors. However, I love to write. In fact, I’m probably one of those people who has to write. It’s taken me a while to catch on to the technology and it’s taken the technology a while to straighten itself out, but right now, I’m thinking we may be entering into a new golden era of publishing. I know that sound cruddy to people who are still publishing with the big six, but it’s true. Movable type was nothing compared to electronic publishing and the Internet.

(To be continued)




  1. Naomi Johnson Said,

    I’m looking forward to the new book! Don’t care what format it’s in, just want it.

  2. Patte Kion Said,

    Dear Mr. Emerson,

    You have been on my favorite authors list since I read The Rainy City and I have waited most impatiently for each new Thomas Black book. I read your other books too but Thomas is my favorite. I met you years ago at a book fair, it was right after Thomas and Kathy got married and I blurted it out in front of some of your fans who hadn’t read it yet. I apologize, to you and to your fans that I spoiled it for. I look forward to your new book, Monica’s Sister coming out in print. I don’t have a Kindle or any of the e book readers so I’ll have to wait until it comes out in print. I hope it’s not too long as I have cancer and well, sooner would be better. I sympathize with authors dealing with the shift from printed books to e books and how that affects authors economically. Personally, I prefer a book I can hold, I like turning pages, I love hardbacks, I like the smell of book stores and libraries. I know, old school. And I want to thank you for the hours of pleasure reading your books has brought me. I love books set in my home town, and I love series about the same characters, I feel I get to know them as friends. I’m looking forward to Monica’s Sister.

    Thank you from an old fan.

  3. Kathleen Nelson Said,

    Patte, I feel you on the tactile “I want to feel a book in my hands” but I was too impatient. I thought I was going to have to buy a Kindle, but then I realized that there was a Kindle app on my smartphone. Do you possibly have one? I just bought it off Amazon and it was a snap! I am praying that your cancer is under control.

  4. Michele Layacan Said,

    I love your books! I’ve read them all! I’m very much looking forward to reading Monica’s Sister as soon as it’s available.

    As I was born and raised in the Seattle area it is a special treat to read books with a local flavor by an author who shares my roots!

    Go Seahawks!!!

  5. Brogan from Seattle Said,

    I have loved your stories, all the different series for many years. Bought and given them to friends who then became fans. I have always a noticed that you seem to be a “writer’s writer” …I guess meaning you craft it, work it till you get it right. Keep taking that full year or more Earl, it shows and it is worth it, hopefully for all of us. Somehow will you do a READING/ signing?? ..bring your/our iPads and sign with a sharpie? Heck prob some APP already for electronic book singing…..
    Thanks for the books, Brogan

  6. Brogan from Seattle Said,

    Of course I meant to write BOOK SIGNING…however singing works well in your case.
    And a quick google turns up several signing apps….e.g…–With the rise of the eBook and demise of the High Street bookstore, author book signings had been at risk of going into decline.
    But a new electronic book app is offering readers the chance to get their virtual books signed by their favourite authors without them having to resort to writing on the outside of their Kindle or iPad cases.
    The Autography application allows fans to have the signature of their favourite writers added to the inside page of their eBooks.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1378131/App-allows-authors-hold-eBook-signings-Kindles-iPads.html#ixzz2cCjTGwDV

  7. Diane Said,

    I am not going to guilt you like the gal with cancer…but I am at least as much of a fan. So excited to see that you have a new book out and while I would prefer pages to turn and dog-ear, I will steal my daughter’s kindle to read it!!

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