Sunday, September 25, 2016
Please forgive me if I geek out here a bit. James Reasoner has been a pretty constant presence in my life for the past twenty years, even though I do not know the man. I’ve read his books for about two decades. I’ve spent a lot of time inside the wonderful adventures he brings to life. Sometimes I’ve read him without even knowing (he’s published under a variety of pen names and house names). That’s why I was thrilled to receive the chance to interview James for this latest blog entry. If there is a more prolific author currently writing, I do not know of them. As you’ll see below, Mr. Reasoner stays pretty busy. In addition to writing for others, James started Rough Edges Press a few years back. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as enjoyed hearing from James and learning a little more about his process. Without further ado…
Ryan: I'll start from the beginning. How long has writing been your full-time job?
James: Since February of 1987, so it's coming up on thirty years. There was a stretch before that, 1981-83, when I was also writing full-time, but then for the intervening four years I owned a couple of used bookstores and ran them in addition to writing.
Ryan: Does it come in waves? I mean, are there months where you think, "I better polish up the ol' resume because it's slowing down"?
James: In recent years I've had contracts lined up for quite a while in advance (the last due date on my current contract is February 2018), but there were many times in the past when we were living from contract to contract. One year I had what I called my "Longarm summer" because I wrote three Longarm novels back to back, getting a new contract for the next one as I turned them in because I didn't have anything else lined up. Then some other jobs came through and I went back to having three or four—or more—books under contract. I think it's been that way ever since.
Ryan: At this point, do you even know how many books you've authored?
James: The current work in progress is novel #340. I've also written one non-fiction book (DRAW: THE GREATEST GUNFIGHTS OF THE AMERICAN WEST).
Ryan: What is your daily routine? Do you work five days, six or seven days a week?
James: I've never been a write-every-day sort of author. I'm pretty consistent, though, about doing fifteen to twenty pages a day, five or six days a week. Sometimes, depending on where I am in a book or what my deadlines are, I can do more. For example, earlier this week I wrote 32 pages one day and 37 the next. But I was at the end of a book and trying to finish it, so that always speeds me up a little. Because I started writing back in the Seventies, long before computers, I still keep track of my output in terms of pages rather than words, although I do know that I've written more than a million words a year for eleven consecutive years now and approximately 25 million words in my career.
Ryan: Do you like the changes e-readers like Kindle have brought to the industry? Does it excite you or do you miss the old days?
James: I love the rise of e-books as both a reader and a writer. I like the adjustable fonts on my Kindle. I like being able to make notes and do some editing on the Kindle. I like being able to write whatever I want and get it out there to the readers. However, I'm what they call a hybrid writer. Most of my work still goes through traditional publishers. I have some nostalgia for the old days, but that's all it is. I wouldn't want to go back to writing on a manual typewriter (although sometimes I do miss it).
Ryan: Is there any genre you haven't written in? That might be easier than asking all the ones you have!
James: I've never written an actual science fiction novel or a literary, mainstream novel. I have parts of a few SF novels done, though, and expect to finish them eventually. Literary fiction (which I consider a genre, too) is probably not in my future.
Ryan: I love your westerns! Do you think there's enough up and coming authors to keep the genre going?
James: Oh, sure! A lot of people love to write Westerns. I don't believe they'll ever be as popular as they once were, but Westerns aren't going away, at least in my lifetime.
Ryan: Speaking of keeping going...will you ever pack it in or will you write as long as you're able?
James: I plan to keep writing as long as I can. In recent years I've started to think about slowing down a little and writing, say, half a million words a year instead of a million. I'd almost feel retired if I did that, I think.
Ryan: Any regrets about starting Rough Edges Press?
James: It's been more time-consuming than I thought it would be, but I wouldn't call that a regret. I've really enjoyed being able to publish some excellent books that might not have found a home otherwise.
Ryan: Do you prefer your own publishing to working for others?
James: As I said above, I'm a hybrid author. I've been part of the traditional publishing world for four decades and feel comfortable there. That said, I really do like the freedom of self-publishing and wouldn't want to give that up, either. If my traditional contracts went away (I hope they don't!), I'd just keep writing. At this point, what else am I going to do?
Ryan: What advice do you have for the wannabes and aspiring authors like me out there? What's one thing you know now about writing or publishing that you wish you would have known in the beginning?
James: I'd say the answer is persistence. Get the stuff written and out there, whether it's self-publishing or submitting to traditional and small press publishers. I once read that the definition of a writer is somebody who sits in a room and types for thirty years. That's pretty much the truth, although for some of us it's been considerably longer than thirty years. During my first stint as a full-time writer, though, I just didn't work hard enough at it. That's why I had to go into the bookstore business for a while. I didn't really know any better, didn't have the self-discipline to do the amount of work necessary. Everyone has their own natural pace, of course, but I think you have to push yourself in order to find it.
Ryan: Were there any authors who mentored you? How did you break into the business?
I started writing stories for my own enjoyment while I was in elementary school and continued on through college. That was when I started submitting short stories to various magazines. I never sold any and had almost given up on writing when I got married. My wife told me that if I really wanted to be a writer, I needed to work at it (see the above answer!) and so I started sending out short stories again. One of the magazines I submitted to was MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which was edited by an old writer/editor from the pulp era, Sam Merwin Jr. Sam never used traditional rejection slips, at least with me. When he sent back a story, I always got a personal note with it, scrawled on whatever scrap of paper was handy. He explained why he was rejecting the story and suggested ways to improve my writing. This went on for a while, and then I got a rejection from him saying that if I revised that particular story in line with his suggestions, he would buy it. I did, of course, and he wound up buying that story, but in the meantime he accepted another one without any revisions. I had sold one story before that, to one of the true confession magazines, but I consider my sales to MSMM to be the real start of my writing career and have always been grateful to Sam Merwin Jr. for all the advice he gave me. A couple of years after that he asked me to write some of the Mike Shayne stories in the magazine under the house-name Brett Halliday, and that was a big step in my career too. Not to mention, I love the connection with the pulp era!
I want to thank James Reasoner again for taking the time for this interview! Check out Rough Edges and Mr. Reasoner’s excellent blog! As for me, I’m going to take the above advice and get busy writing!
Monday, September 5, 2016
Thank God for Amos Walker. If you’re not familiar with Amos, he’s a P.I. who works Detroit. More than a P.I., the character embodies the term “shamus.” He’s tough as nails, dedicated, witty, and extremely capable. To say that he’s a bit cynical would be a gross understatement. In short, when it comes to private eyes in the classic vein, Loren Estleman’s creation is the real deal.
Walker first appeared in Angle Eyes, published in 1981. Since then, he’s been back in 24 other novels, and well over two dozen short stories (if my math serves me right on both counts). I just want to take a few seconds to praise Estleman and his creation. Don’t get me wrong, there are other P.I.’s I’m close to. Elvis Cole is my boy. Spenser and I are on very good terms. But, for lack of a better phrase, Loren Estleman has “kept it real” with the Walker novels. Crais and the late, great Robert Parker are two of the best. But, their heroes have gotten a bit self-reflective. Call me crazy, but I like the earlier Cole novels like The Monkey’s Raincoat and Free Fall. The multiple viewpoints of his recent efforts can serve as a distraction, at least for me. And Parker was great, but Spenser spent a lot of time discussing life and love with Susan. A bit much, for my tastes (I’ve read the first two Ace Atkins Spenser outings and they are amazing, in my opinion). Perhaps I’m just not a deep thinker. Maybe I’m just not smart enough. For whatever reason, the pulpier my detective stories are, the better! That’s where ol’ Amos comes in. Estleman doesn’t worry about all that introspective mumbo jumbo. Walker does have a philosophy and a code that comes through. But, the focus is always on the case and moving the story forward. Plain and simple, just like I like it.
I recently read 2015’s The Sundown Speech and I’m happy to report that in Walker’s 25th full-length case, he’s still going strong. Taut and lean are the order of the day. Not a lot of filler. Classic hardboiled prose and attitude. Pretty dang near flawless.
Loren Estleman has created a lot of endearing characters through the years. The Michigan native is a wonderful western author, and he has plenty of other crime novels under his belt. But, Amos is my favorite. One of the walker tales is entitled American Detective. I can’t think of a more fitting description of the character than that. I get the feeling that when Estleman gives us a Walker story, he’s not trying to break new ground or make philosophical statements regarding life and human nature. I get the impression he’s just trying to tell a darn good detective story, and he does that in spades. If you haven’t met Walker, I highly recommend you get acquainted at your earliest convenience. You’ll thank me for it.