Dana King Interview with Karen Treanor, NewMysteryReader.com
NMR: Why did you choose to write crime fictionóor did crime fiction choose you? Do you write in any other genres?
DK: I guess I chose it, though crime fiction was so much ingrained into me I doubt I had much choice. My first stories were Mickey Spillane knockoffs written for friends. Everyone liked the character, so I wrote a few more, then got serious and realized I preferred the freedom a novel provided.
I doubt Iíll write anything other than crime, except maybe for a short piece. The means of telling a story through crime suits me, and a crime story has the benefit of telling you when itís done, instead of just choosing a point where youíre not going to write anymore, which is a problem I have with a lot of ďliteraryĒ fiction.
NMR: What is it about crime novels that makes them so consistently popular?
DK: Part of it is what I mentioned before, the endings. Crime stories build to their endings. In some other forms the denouements drag on and on until you wish the people would die if you werenít afraid the author would then start to tell about their children.
There is also the amusement park effect. People ride roller coasters so they can be scared while knowing in the backs of their minds nothing will happen to them. Crime fiction serves some of that same purpose.
Last, but certainly not least, there is a lot of damn fine crime written nowadays. Crime fiction is flexible enough to get into personal, emotional, and social issues. People can read and enjoy the story while taking away something to think about. Good crime fiction is not just empty calories for the mind.
NMR: Thereís a trend for crime novels and television shows to delve ever more deeply into the goriest details of death and dying and murderers. Any comment?
DK: I have no time for torture porn, or for seeing the mechanics (or even the sensitive side) of serial killers. Youíve read WILD BILL; Iím no prude when it comes to violence. Still, make your point and move on. Violence is a means to an end. I try to show enough to let the reader know what kind of person weíre dealing with, and itís results are horrible, sometimes as much to the perpetrator as to the victim. When violence is the end, where do you go from there? Sure, theyíll catch the guy. So what? Everyone is still dead. Even fictional people should die for reasons other than the author needed a prop.
NMR: What is your biggest inspiration to write, and which other writers have influenced you?
DK: I like to write. That may disappoint some people who look for some loftier goal, but I enjoy crafting the stories and putting together the dialog and some background for the characters. I have a personality that needs a project. I used to be a musician and practicing every day provided that. Now writing does.
Everything I read shapes how I write a little, even if itís to show me what not to do. Four stand out. Raymond Chandler for his use of the language. Elmore Leonard, for making every effort to cut out the bits people donít read by turning them into dialog that not only advances the story but characterizes the speaker. Ed McBain, for not being afraid to deviate from the story so long as where you go is either interesting or entertaining, and also for dropping a little authorial whimsy into his narrative. Lately Iíve added George V. Higgins, for showing how well-written dialog can carry a story much more than anyone else Iíd read had ever tried, including Leonard.
NMR: How do you develop plots and characters and locations for your books? Are you a methodical writer or do you get an idea and just run for the goal posts?
DK: Methodical, though not as much as I was. I used to write thirty page treatments before Iíd start a book. Now I sketch an outline that may be as sparse as one sentence for a chapter, and may only go a few chapters ahead of where I am at the time. I need to know what happens before I can be creative in describing it. I always know the ending when I start. It may change a little, but I need to have an idea of where Iím going so I can map a good route.
Locations are pretty easy; I always write about places Iíve lived, or spent a lot of time. For characters, I often cast them as a personality type I need to fill a role. Once theyíre in and I feel more comfortable with them, I allow their quirks to shape the story.
NMR: What is your working schedule? Do you write for a specific time? Where do you writeóin an office or other special place?
DK: For first drafts I write one page each weekday, two pages each on Saturday and Sunday. Revisions usually have either a pre-set time (an hour or two), or, knowing what needs to be done, a target page or chapter. I can go longer if Iím on a roll, but I canít stop until I hit the target. Iíd say Iím good for that over 95% of the time. Sometime life intervenes.
I take the summer off. I may sketch outlines or proofread something or write a flash piece, but mostly I recharge the creative batteries. In writing season, I try to write every day, except major holidays.
Where do I write? A small extra bedroom has been converted into my office. Everything I need is there, and it overlooks a small wooded area behind my townhouse. Even though I have a laptop, I rarely write anywhere else.
NMR: After 9/11 there was some talk that the hijackers got their idea from a Tom Clancy novel. True or not, it brings up the question of the writerís moral responsibility, if any. Any comments?
DK: Anyone who blames Tom Clancy for 9/11 needs to get out more. Flying airplanes into buildings is essentially a kamikaze mission; itís been done before.
I donít want to say writers have no moral responsibility, but itís a stretch. The ideas for crimes are out there. Asking a criminal where he gets the ideas for his crimes is like asking a writer where he gets his ideas for books: youíre tripping over them all the time. The trick is to find and use the ideas that you can best execute, whether youíre a writer or a criminal.
That being said, if a writer goes into too much accurate detail about how to build a device or circumvent a security system, I still wouldnít say heís responsible for the crime, but he should rethink his methods. No writer forces someone to commit a crime, but we also shouldnít make it too easy for those who are already thinking along those lines.
NMR: Do you have any advice for new writers?
DK: Probably nothing they havenít heard before. Write a lot. Read a lot. Learn to read like a writer. I went to grad school for music, and the best advice I ever got was in a chamber music interpretations class. Ben Zander was the teacher, and he told us we had made a commitment to be musicians. This meant we could never listen to music purely for entertainment again. Yes, we could enjoy itóshould enjoy itóbut part of our brain always had to listen for the craft. How did the musician build this phrase? Where did she breathe? What makes this performance differentóor betteróthan that? Which of methods do I have the talent to pull off? Writers have to learn to read like that.
NMR: What do you do to decompress between writing projects?
DK: Reading, watching baseball or hockey. My daughter is a junior in college, so i try to leave large swaths of time open in case her schedule lightens up and we get to do something together.
NMR: You killed off some of the major characters in Wild Bill, but can we expect to see any of the other players in that drama appearing in a future production? Can you tell us about future projects?
DK: Iím trying to work Mad Shea into the WIP, which is also set in Chicago. If I donít get her into this one, Iíll get her into another one. She will definitely appear in a short story collection Charlie Stella has asked me to write with him.
I hope to get two books out in 2012, both of which are already written. Theyíre part of a series that takes place in a small, fictional town in Western Pennsylvania, based on three small cities I grew up in and near. The first should be out in March, and takes a different, small town look at the premise behind Strangers on a Train. The second will be out in the fall and is about the ancillary problems that can follow a casino into a small town when all the powers that be think about is the revenue stream. That one leans a little more on my interest in organized crime.
NMR: Are there questions about your characters or yourself which nobody ever asks? Hereís a chance to answer them.
DK: There is one question no one has asked, and Iím delighted they havenít, which is, ďWhat made you think anyone else would want to read this dreck?Ē This may seem to be non-responsive, but Iím amazed and sometimes fascinated by the questions interviewers have come up with. Iím with me all day, so thereís not too much about me I find interesting. To have my writing spark such interest in other writers is flattering and exciting. So remember, when I keep inflicting these stories on an unsuspecting public , itís your fault.
Readers who want to keep up with Dana Kingís activities can visit his website at danaking.blogspot.com.
You can read the review of Wild
Bill on the NewMysteryReader.com website: