Author interview: Chris Knopf

I met Chris Chris Knopf & CharlieKnopf at the CrimeConn conference recently, and was intrigued to find that not only is he a writer of several crime series, but is also Connecticut liaison of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and is one of the publishers at The Permanent Press, which publishes award-winning crime novels. The main protagonist of Cop Job, the sixth novel in Chris’ Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mysteries series, is an intelligent, well-read man who is a master cabinet-maker as well as an amateur sleuth. Sam has a nice way with women, and a sense of humor, too. The novel is somewhere between a crime novel and a thriller, with a little grown-up romance thrown in for good measure, and so well-paced that I found it a pleasure to read.

GC: I don’t read many “thrillers” or gritty crime novels, but I loved your book, Cop Job. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t fit neatly into any category. There’s mystery, suspense, romance and a limited amount of violence. How did you come to write this kind of book, rather than something easier to categorize?

CK: Thanks for that.  I like not being pigeon-holed in any particular genre, though most people who are heavily into mysteries would categorized the Sam books as hard-boiled, amateur sleuth.  Many years ago my creative director at the ad agency was approached by a Hollywood producer looking for movie concepts.  My boss thought it would be fun to get a roomful of copywriters together to brainstorm ideas.  Out of this I came up with Sam Acquillo, an ex-corporate burnout who discovered the body of an old lady who’d lived next door.  The setting was the Little Peconic Bay in the Hamptons, and included a potential love interest named Amanda.  That was all I had, and the partially-written script went nowhere, but about ten years later I turned it into a novel and things went from there.Cover

GC: Your main character, Sam Acquillo, reminds me a little of Spenser (from the novels by the late Robert B. Parker) or Travis McGee (John D MacDonald). They too, were resourceful private eyes with integrity and intelligence who live slightly outside the mainstream. Were these writers/characters favorites of yours?

CK: Yup.  Along with Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer.  Of those five influences, I always loved Ross MacDonald’s prose and Parker’s dialogue.   I also liked Paul Newman’s characters in The Verdict and Nobody’s Fool. Put it all together and stir in my father’s sense of humor and engineering talents, my grandfather’s toughness (a champion boxer) and, of course, my own take on things, and you get Sam Acquillo.

GC: There’s a sense of humor that infuses the book. Is that something you have to think about, or does it come naturally to you when you’re writing? Do you laugh at your own writing?

CK: It comes naturally as I’m writing, though as noted above, my father had a very sardonic wit.  I channel some of that.  And yes, I often chuckle at Sam’s humor, though usually long after I’ve written the lines when I’m getting the manuscript ready to go to the copy editor.

GC: I know you’ve written two other series, one of which uses Jackie Swaitkowski, who features in the Acquillo books, as the main protagonist.  If you had to pick one character to stick with long-term, which would it be?

CK: Sam for sure will always be with me.  Jackie, of course, as a key sidekick, will also live on though she could easily turn up again in her own book.  I’m probably going to keep Arthur Cathcart’s series as a trilogy.  But one should never say never.

GC: You’re very active in Mystery Writers of America. What are the benefits of joining an organization like that?

CK: It’s very important for mystery writers to be part of our rather robust sub-culture.  There are lots of conferences, publications, Facebook pages, etc., where we communicate.  By we, I mean other writers, commentators, fans, bloggers, etc.  It’s a great crowd, and we support each other through thick and thin.  I highly recommend joining MWA, but also International Thriller Writers (if you write thrillers), Sisters in Crime (for men and women, though the skew is obviously female) and the International Association of Crime Writers.

You can connect with Chris and his books on his website, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter

Author Interview: David Handler

3176GB6GKAL._UX250_David Handler’s writing career has taken him from journalist to writer for films and television to mystery novelist. This prolific author has produced several series of mystery novels, with different detectives in each. The first novel I happened to read was The Coal-Black Asphalt Tomb. It’s the tenth (and latest) in the Berger-Mitry series, which features a mismatched pair of detectives in a small coastal town in Connecticut. The eleventh book, The Lavender Lane Lothario, comes out in February. When David answered my questions, I was fascinated to learn how he develops his characters, and the number of tries it takes to get them right.

GC: You have one of the most unusual setups for a cozy mystery. Your two main characters are about as different as they could be: Desiree Mitry is a black policewoman and her life partner is Jewish New York City film critic, Mitch Berger. What makes the situation unusual, I think is the fact that they both live in a sweet little coastal town in Connecticut. How on earth did you come up with this mix?
DH: Strictly by accident, believe it or not. When I was writing the first book of the series, The Cold Blue Blood, my plan was that it would be about New York City film critic Mitch Berger and his landscape architect wife, Maisie, renting a cottage on Big Sister Island and finding their landlady’s estranged husband buried in the vegetable garden. The first 60 pages or so felt very blah to me so I set the project aside for several months, came back to it and decided to make Mitch a young widower who rents the cottage as a means of trying to heal himself after Maisie’s death. Right away, that gave it a lot more moral weight. When he finds the body a Major Crime Squad homicide investigator is sent to the scene. At first, I wrote him as a black male officer. The dialogue felt flat. So I tried making it a black female officer instead and, wham, sparks started flying and I suddenly realized I was writing a novel about an interracial romance.handler

GC: I like the town of Dorset, which seems like an amalgam of many little places in Connecticut (apart from its unusually high murder rate). Do you find it restricts your plot opportunities to be in one location?
DH: No, not at all, because what I’m mostly doing is studying people. If you study people then you never seem to run out of ideas. People are endlessly fascinating. My eleventh Berger-Mitry installment, “The Lavender Lane Lothario, will be coming out in February and I have many more ideas for stories to come.
GC: How do you ensure that your technical information is correct? Is it all on Google? And if so, is Google reliable?
DH: I began my career as a journalist so I’m always aiming to be as accurate as I can be. I’m grateful to friends in the profession who provide with me much of the technical detail that I use. Google can be a very valuable resource as well, but you have to be mindful of the reliability of the sites that you are choosing to use as sources. Some are less credible than others.
GC: Tell me honestly – are you a film buff like Mitch, or did you make him up out of thin air?
DH: I am totally Mitch, minus the excess blubber. Think Mitch, except sculpted, and you’ve got me. I spent my entire childhood watching old movies on late night TV and my college and young adult years haunting movie revival houses in Los Angeles and New York City. I began my career as New York cultural correspondent for the Scripps-Howard News Service, which meant I was their Broadway critic and book reviewer. I was also a syndicated television and film critic. In addition – and here’s where I depart a bit from Mitch — I actually wrote for television and films for 20 years before I gave it up to devote my time to being a full-time novelist.
I had been living in Old Lyme, which is the real life model for Dorset, for over ten years before I decided to take a crack at writing about it. I think it’s inevitable that if a writer lives in a place long enough he or she will end up wanting to write about it. That’s just how we’re wired. I had lived exclusively in big cities before I moved here, so this is foreign territory to me. In fact, I am still considered an outsider even though I’ve lived here for 30 years. That’s small town New England! Right now, I’m working on a new Stewart Hoag novel, my first in nearly 18 years. And it has been a genuine joy to write the first two Benji Golden novels, Runaway Man and Phantom Angel. I’d love to keep all three series going. That is certainly my hope.
You can connect with David via his website, Goodreads and Facebook

Author Interview: Alan Beechey

Beechey-cover-photo-192x276Like me, Alan Beechey was born in England and grew up in London, not far from where I lived, as it happens. He lives in the US now, and I met him at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, where he was giving a talk on how to write crime novels. I wanted to read one of his books immediately, because he made me laugh. I know you’re thinking it’s all about that British sense of humor, but I think you’ll find his mysteries, which take place in London, refreshing and a bit off-beat. Being a person who likes to start a series at the beginning, I read his first book, An Embarrassment of Corpses, and enjoyed it so much that I’ve got the next two sitting on my electronic To Be Read pile.
And if you want a taste of his sense of humor, you could do worse than check out his blog.

GC: When did you start writing novels, and what made you choose crime as your genre?An-Embarassment-of-Corpses-177x276
AB: I dedicated my most recent book, This Private Plot, to my late parents, and I note there that my mother started it all by giving me The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot whodunit) when I was twelve. I reconnected with the world of crime as a college student  when I read P.D. James’s Death of an Expert Witness, having heard it reviewed on the BBC. And after a couple of misguided attempts at get-rich-quick screenplays with friends, I switched my mystery-reading habit to a mystery-writing habit when I settled down to write my first novel, A Nasty Little Murder. Never heard of it? It’s crap, and it was rightly never published, despite being shunted around several British publishing houses. But it taught me what voice not to use.
GC: Do your fans love your books more for your characters and plot, or for your sense of humor?
AB: From the letters and emails I get, it’s clearly the characters, which is the way it should be. Plot and humor should flow from characters and their situations – or at least look like they do by the time you’re finished. Although I am pleased when readers note that there is, in fact, a plot, and I hope a good one. I’m writing a mystery, not a soap opera.

GC: How did you come up with the extraordinary names of your characters?

AB: I found several of them in the old four-volume London telephone directory. “Strongitharm” – presumably a contraction of “Strong in the arm” – which is the name of one of my lead characters, came from those. Ever since I was young, I’ve kept notes of good names, or words that aren’t typically names but could be – belfry, welkin, moldwarp, mormal.  The last review of This Private Plot that I posted on my blog was by the magnificently named Sue Millinocket. That’s going on the list. There are also a few bad jokes shoved in (Mark Sandys-Penza? Hoo, Watt and Eidenau? I mean, come on), including a particularly filthy one in the name of the company Oliver works for in the first book. Nobody’s noticed so far. (GC: Must go back and look…)

GC: Of all the characters in all the novels, which is your favorite?
AB: Effie. They’re called the “Oliver Swithin” mysteries, but she’s almost the co-hero. Effie Strongitharm is Oliver’s girlfriend, but also a Scotland Yard detective sergeant, who works for Oliver’s uncle. I work harder on Effie, because it’s a challenge for a male writer to create a convincing female character, especially a woman working in a sexist, male-dominated environment like the police. Her appearance, especially her unruly hair, is based on that of a much-loved girlfriend from my teenage years (who tolerates her fictional incarnation), but her character is every woman I’ve ever loved, and her insecurities are probably mine.

This-Private-Plot-cover-178x276GC: How much promotion did you have to do once your books were published? And what’s the most effective way to promote a book, in your view?
AB: How much did I do? Not enough. It’s never enough, these days. I have a blog, I contribute to other people’s blogs, I do signings and readings . . . Still not enough. I think I’m destined to be a boutique. Maybe it’s enough to have a few devoted fans. One of them even tattooed my initials on her back. (If you’re reading this, hi Rebecca!)

GC: What’s in the works? More of our hero, Oliver Swithin?
AB: I’ve started the next Oliver Swithin novel. I’ve also had a non-Swithinian short story published, one that started out as a romance, but inevitably became a mystery. But the past year has thrown up a few distractions, some good, some bad, so I don’t currently have a good chunk of writing time on my schedule. This will, of course, all change as soon as someone offers me a couple of million for the screen rights to An Embarrassment of Corpses, or the BBC decide the Swithin series is a worthy successor to “Lewis” or “Midsomer Murders.”

You can connect with Alan on Facebook, Goodreads, via his blog or through his publishers, Poisoned Pen Press

How to Make Crime Pay

Last weekend I attended the CrimeCONN conference held annually in Westport, CT. It was great fun and interesting for writers as well as readers. Among the people I met was Nina Mansfield, author of the YA mystery novel Swimming Alone. She’s written a good blog post about the conference, the beginning of which I’m re-posting below, with a link to the full post. here’s how she began:

CrimeCONN was an AMAZING CONFERENCE!!!

Seriously.

I had the honor of being on the first panel of the day, Who loves you, baby?: How to make your readers fall in love at first sight. Great openings followed by ways to keep the love alive. When I first saw the line up for the panel, I was more than a bit intimidated. Roberta Islieb (aka Lucy Burdette) has published 14 mysteries and has been short-listed for a host of mystery writing awards. Tom Straw has written numerous New York Times bestsellers under a pseudonym. But if I was the tiniest bit nervous (and I was) moderator John Valeri quickly put my fears to rest. He had fantastic questions, and he really made the panel a very enjoyable experience. You can see in the picture below just how much fun I am having!

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.

One of the major points that the panel touched upon was whether or not a body needs to drop in the first chapter. The consensus seemed to be – GC. you can read the rest here.

And my next post will be an interview with Nina about how she wrote her first YA novel.

Need a good title? Try Shakespeare..

Everyone else does, apparently, especially crime novelists. I wonder if it’s because so many of Shakespeare’s expressions sound sinister these days. Maybe it’s because there’s so much death in his plays, most of it violent. But I’m sure you can recognize a Shakespeare title without thinking twice. When I search just for Murder Most Foul on Goodreads, I gave up counting after I got to 38 books.

Here’s an article by Moira Redmond of Clothes in Books, published in the Guardian this week. And she’s only restricted herself to titles from Hamlet, so heaven knows how many others there are. All suggestions welcome.

If you’d like to read more about Moira’s blog, see my previous entry about her.

Hercule Poirot rides again…with Jeeves and Wooster

HPI read today on the BBC website that Sophie Hannah (poet and author of the Zailer and Waterhouse mystery series) has been commissioned by the author’s grandson to write a new crime novel based on Agatha Christie’s immortal (it seems) sleuth Hercule Poirot, probably best known from the television series starring David Suchet. From the comments I’ve read on the BBC’s website, reactions are mixed, and I suppose mine are too. On the one hand, it seems a shame to let the character disappear, but if the new novel doesn’t read like Agatha Christie, will it be as good? Conversely, would it be better not to attempt Christie’s style but simply use her character? Clearly the plot will have to be set in the past – there’s no way Poirot could be expected to grapple with the modern world.

A few months ago, Sebastian Faulks, (author of Birdsong, Charlotte Gray and Jeevesmany other literary novels) was commissioned by the Wodehouse estate to write a new Jeeves and Wooster novel in the style of their original author P.G. Wodehouse. Faulks has already written a hugely successful James Bond novel, Devil May Care, so this isn’t his first attempt at writing in a style other than his own. Wodehouse seems easy to copy, but in fact, his erudition and incredible knowledge of poetry, the classics and the Bible, which he uses in many a throwaway line, will no doubt render the job difficult. But I think I will give the new book, due in November, a try because I adore Wodehouse so much that any new offering is welcome. But if it doesn’t satisfy within the first chapter, I will have to abandon it. Here’s what Evelyn Waugh had to say about PGW: “Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.” Exactly. So I can’t have my memories of Wodehouse’s world sullied by an inferior copy.

Murder 203 – a Connecticut Mystery Festival

Connecticut has a mysterious secret. It’s the fourth annual Mystery Festival hosted by the Easton Library. If you read or write mysteries you won’t want to miss this fun weekend where you can meet authors and find out how to hone your craft. Even if you write in a different genre, you might find the plot structuring techniques of mystery writers helpful.

This year’s festival is to be held on Saturday April 14th and Sunday April 15th at the Trumbull Marriott Hotel. The guest of honor will be best-selling author, Michael Palmer http://www.michaelpalmerbooks.com/ whose latest novel Oath of Office is to be published by St. Martin’s Press on February 14th.

The authors currently planning to attend include Cara Black http://www.carablack.com/ who writes the Aimee Leduc mysteries, thriller writer Andrew Gross http://www.andrewgrossbooks.com/ Cleo Coyle, http://www.coffeehousemystery.com/ author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, Rosemary Harris http://www.rosemaryharris.com/index.html, Daniel Palmer http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com/ , Hilary Davidson http://www.hilarydavidson.com/Crime_Novels.html , and Edward Conlon, http://edwardconlon.com/ former cop and now crime writer.

All this for just $65 if you book before March 1. If you think you’d like to attend, you can find all the latest updates and the registration form at www.murder203.com.