Thursday, March 27, 2008

[Interview] Ed Lynskey

Ed Lynskey writes crime fiction stories and novels.

His books feature Private Investigator Frank Johnson and include the collection of short stories, Out of Town a Few Days (BooksForABuck, 2004) and the novels, The Dirt-Brown Derby (Mundania, 2006) and The Blue Cheer (Point Blank/Wildside Press, 2007).

Two more P.I. Frank Johnson titles, Pelham Fell Here (Mundania) and Troglodytes (Mundania) will be published in mid-2008 and 2009 respectively.

Lynskey is also the author of A Clear Path to Cross (Ramble House, 2008), a collection of P.I. Sharon Knowles short stories about the female private detective’s adventures; and The Quetzal Motel (Mundania, 2008), a science fiction novel featuring a family-run motel that has a pair of peculiar guests staying over, and how they rock a small town.

In this interview, Ed Lynskey talks about his concerns as a writer.

When did you start writing?

My writing long fiction seriously kicked off shortly after the Y2K scare in 2001. I’m not sure if there’s any correlation with the timing. Before the novels, I’d written short stuff like poems and stories for about twenty years and established a good “in-print” track record.

I made a bet with myself that I could evolve from writing poems and tackle something meatier like novels. To discover what venue of fiction I had any aptitude for, I wrote stories in several genres, including science fiction, literary, fantasy, horror, and mystery. Based on my sales and personal preferences, I then narrowed my scope to concentrate efforts on mystery with occasional forays into literary and science fiction. I’ve been satisfied with this approach.

Ninety-five percent of my creative fiction now is focused on mystery or crime fiction. John Lescroart has described my P.I. books as “Appalachian Noir”, though my recent settings have been rooted to Washington, D.C. and its environs.

Who is your target audience?

I try to incorporate the elements in my fiction that appeal to both male and female readers.

My motivation is pretty straightforward: to reach a broad-based readership since what I write is mainly commercial fiction.

Who has influenced you most?

I draw on different writers for different aspects I seek to fuse in my fiction.

For the noirish undertones, I admire such meisters as Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie, and Megan Abbott. The literary voice I strive for is best exemplified by Ed Gorman, Ed Dee, and Steve Hamilton. Exemplary uses of modern rural people and atmosphere are offered by J.D. Rhoades, William Kent Krueger, and Bill Crider. The perfect-pitch ears for writing dialogue include Charlie Stella, Barbara D’Amato, Anne Frasier, and Jerry Healy. For exciting courtroom drama, I read John Lescroart and Linda Fairstein. Finally, for their sheer clarity of expression I cite Bill Pronzini and John Lutz.

That’s a bunch of names, but it defines the writing models I use to create my own long narratives.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I grew up in a small town in the rural foothills of Virginia, the singlemost factor influencing my early novels in terms of setting. Almost a decade ago, we relocated to live in a Virginia suburb outside Washington, D.C. and an urban/suburban setting has seeped into my latest projects. Why? I suppose we use whatever is at hand to create the fabric of fiction.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

One thing that obsesses me is “getting it right”, and I probably over-research different aspects, especially in my four detective books. The challenge is to weave the details and “local color” into a seamless narrative -- never an easy task. I strive to avoid information dumps.

Remember Ed Deming and his quality excellence issues so big at one time? He always stressed to improve your manufacturing processes. Writing fiction is like that to me. I’m not big on reading books on how to write, but I do like to see what other authors, past and present, are doing in their crime fiction and what areas I can improve in.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

For me, this is a two-bladed question.

On the one side, there’s the challenge to write a good book. Then the other side is selling, marketing, and promoting that book. Of the two, I’d say the promotional side is by far the most challenging.

Dealing with promotions, I use a day-to-day approach and don’t set unrealistic expectations.

Do you write everyday?

I’m sure everybody has their own rituals. Mine are pretty mundane and low-keyed.

I like to get an early jump in the morning before the sun even hits the streets. I use a spare bedroom and a bare-bones computer. First drafts are the most fun -- I get on the paddlewheel of days and finish the narrative.

My revision cycles take the longest to complete. The bloodletting goes on then -- when material gets added or cut.

I can tell I’m near the end when I begin to print out the drafts in hard copy to revise. By then, I’m pretty sick of the characters and the plot. I have to let them go.

How long did it take you to write Pelham Fell Here?

My currently published title is Pelham Fell Here (out from Mundania Press in June ’08).

Researching Pelham’s history, I see it took me six years to bring out. I also recall it’s the second book I ever wrote. The publisher, Mundania Press, published the first title, The Dirt-Brown Derby in the series which has found a niche market of readers.

The biggest difficulty I encountered was having to revise Pelham to bring it up to my current level of writing. My writing has evolved, especially over the past three years, and I wasn’t happy with the original manuscript. The revision took a ton of work, but I was happier with the final product.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Pelham was a gas to write.

Creating a fictitious town called Pelham populated by characters made up from whole cloth was a liberating experience. It was like writing a biography of the town and lying through your teeth.

What sets the book apart from the others you've written?

Pelham is another title in the P.I. Frank Johnson series. What sets it apart from other P.I. books I’ve read is that the protagonist isn’t yet a professional detective. Frank gets involved in a murder and, out of necessity, is forced into the role of a detective to save his bacon.

By the end of Pelham, Frank Johnson comes to realize he’s a competent enough detective to make it into a professional career. I’d say Frank actually enjoys (if he ever cared to admit it) doing detective work and this exuberance is carried forward into the subsequent books covering his other cases.

What will your next book be about?

My work-in-progress, Skin the Game, is an urban noir set in Washington, D.C. that features a modern loan shark out to collect his money from a dodgy rocket engineer. The narrative is told from three points of view of different characters involved in the hustle.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Two things continue to amaze me, both from a personal standpoint. First, that I was ever able to sit down and write a novel. Second, that anybody wants or enjoys reading the books I’ve written. It’s been a thrilling and humbling experience.

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