Gar Anthony Haywood, one of my favorite crime novelists, invited me to participate in “The Next Big Thing,” an online promotion designed to introduce readers to writers’ favorite authors. Here’s how it works.
I answer ten questions about myself and my latest work and then point you to websites where you can see how a couple of my favorite writers answer the same questions on December 19. I’m playing along because I’m eager to introduce as many readers as possible to the work of Timothy Hallinan and Patricia Smith–and because I’m ready to do anything that might help me sell a few books.
1) What is the working title of your next book?
Cliff Walk, the second novel in my series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, Rhode Island, newspaper, was published in June. The third, tentatively titled Providence Rag, will appear sometime late next year.
2) Where did the idea come from?
Cliff Walk grew out of my curiosity about why prostitution was legal in Rhode Island for two decades. It became legal more than 20 years ago when a lawyer discovered that the state’s criminal code referred to the crime only as “street walking.” Therefore, he argued, sex for money was permitted in Rhode Island as long as the transaction occurred indoors. After judges agreed, the state’s politicians made lots of speeches about the shame of it — but they didn’t get around to fixing the glitch until a couple of years ago.
Providence Rag was inspired by a real Rhode Island murder investigation in which the bad guy, the youngest serial killer in history, started slaughtering his neighbors when he was 13 years old.
3) What genre do your books fall under?
I think of the Mulligan novels as hardboiled detective stories, but the publisher markets them as thrillers. I’d like to think, however, that they are more sophisticated than that. The books I like best use the popular form of the crime novel to examine social issues in an entertaining way. Cliff Walk, for example, is both an entertaining mystery about political corruption and murder and a serious examination of sex and religion in the age of pornography.
4) What actor would you choose to play the part of your main character in a movie?
I picture my protagonist as looking and sounding like Dennis Leary, the Boston actor who starred in the TV show “Rescue Me”; but I think there would be more money in it if he were played by Matt Damon.
5) Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.
Cliff Walk: An investigative reporter trying to learn who’s getting paid off to keep prostitution legal in Rhode Island is offered free sex to lay off and threatened with a savage beating or worse if he doesn’t.
Providence Rag: Faced with releasing a convicted serial killer on a legal technicality, a community is confronted with a moral dilemma: What’s worse, faking new charges to keep the killer locked up or letting him out so he can kill again?
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m represented by Susanna Einstein of the Einstein Thompson Agency. Susanna is not only a great agent but one of the best story editors I’ve ever known.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
When I’m working on a novel, I turn out a minimum of 1,000 words a day. If I get those words written in two hours, I give myself the rest of the day off; but I make myself write 1,000 words no matter how long it takes. At that pace, I can finish the first draft of an 80,000-word crime novel in 80 days. However, never write a first draft straight through. I revise as I go, completing a novel in about six months.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Reviewers have compared my work to Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, George Pelecanos, and Robert B. Parker — which I find odd because I don’t think those writers’ styles are all that much alike. I think the most apt comparison is Dennis Lehane’s Kinsey and Gennaro detective novels.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The organized crime bosses, cops, prostitutes, priests, arsonists, lawyers, con artists, FBI agents, and corrupt politicians I got to know during my 40-year journalism career are an endless source of inspiration. But the Mulligan series as a whole was inspired by my desire to write about the demise of the newspaper business. I can’t begin to tell you what a bad thing this is for the American democracy. I hope that as readers follow the skill and dedication with which my main character, Liam Mulligan, works, they will gain a greater appreciation for what is being lost as newspapers fade into history.
10) What else about the books might pique the reader’s interest?
My fiction has won both the Edgar and Macavity Awards and been a finalist for the Anthony, Barry, and Shamus Awards. Professional book reviewers have universally praised them. For example, The Dallas Morning News, declared that my first novel, Rogue Island, “raises the bar for all books of its kind,” and Publishers Weekly called my protagonist “a masterpiece of of irreverence and street savvy.” One of the things reviewers like most about the books is the voice I tell the stories in. I find that gratifying because I work hard at it. People think they read with their eyes, but they really read with their ears. They hear the voice of the writer speaking to them from the page, and what that voice sounds like is vital to the success of any piece of writing.
You can purchase the first two Mulligan crime novels here.
Curious about what a couple of my favorite writers are doing for their Next Big Thing? Drop in at these websites next Wednesday, December 19, to find out.