Please welcome Dana King as he discusses his novels, including his Shamus nominated book The Man in the Window!
Dangerous Lesson The Man in the Window Wild Bill
Congratulations on your Shamus Award nomination! Was this a surprise to you?
Oh, hells, yes. I submitted as a formality—the book’s out there, there’s no reason not to—and had to read the e-mail from PWA twice to be sure they meant me. Mine was the only independent nominated, which made it even more of a thrill.
Tell us a bit about your Shamus nominated book The Man in the Window.
The Man in the Window is actually last year’s book. My detective, Nick Forte, is a former musician who still has ties to the music industry, especially in the orchestral field. What starts out as a simple tail job for the divorce of a member of the Chicago Symphony turns into the murder of someone close to Forte and leads to him not only uncovering a plot against the orchestra but finding a darkness in himself he didn’t know he had.
The book that just dropped last month—A Dangerous Lesson—shows Forte another step down that dark road. He gets peripherally involved in a serial killer case and has hard decisions to make about how much of the case to take on himself when the police don’t agree with his idea for a suspect.
Where do you get your inspiration for your characters?
A lot of me is in Forte: recovering musician and former teacher who fell into a job he doesn’t love but he’s good at and takes pride in. James Ellroy once said Raymond Chandler wrote about the kind of man he wanted to be and Dashiell Hammett wrote about the kind of man he was afraid he might be. Ben Dougherty of my Penns River series is the kind of man I’d like to be; Nick Forte is the man I’m afraid I might be under the wrong circumstances. I didn’t plan it that way, but I’m comfortable with how it’s playing out.
I also base characters on people I know, sometimes pretty closely. Sonny Ng, for example, owes his existence to a long-time trumpet playing friend; Jan Rusiewicz resembles my old travel agent. Goose Satterwhite is my unapologetic tribute to Robert B. Parker’s Hawk. Other characters arose from chance encounters (Zoltan from The Man in the Window, for example) or are made up of whole cloth because I needed someone who would be likely to do something the story demands without being a cliché or stereotype.
I know this is a clichéd question, but which authors have been most influential to your writing?
This would have been an easy question five years ago: Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and Ed McBain. Lately I see bits of George V. Higgins and James Ellroy. I recently finished the outline for the next Penns River police procedural and there’s definitely a Joe Wambaugh element to how I’m planning to tell the story.
Why the private eye genre?
I discovered my love of mysteries and crime fiction in general by reading Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes as a kid. I found an old Mickey Spillane novel while helping my Dad clean the basement during my high school days and that set the hook. True confession: I started writing PIs in the first person because I lacked confidence in my grammar and figured readers would attribute any grammatical issues to the character and not the author.
How often do you write?
Every day when I’m working on a project. I’m taking most of the summer off, but I’ll be back at it the day after Labor Day with the new book. It already has a detailed outline, which I noodle with as the mood hits me, so I’ll hit the ground running.
What are some of the ways you battle writer’s block (if this happens to you)?
I don’t believe in it. I think it was Stephen King who said, “Writer’s block is what happens when you try to be a better writer than you are.” I agree with that completely. I’ve been stuck, but never blocked. There’s a definite difference.
Have you started your next book, and if so, will it be a continuation of what’s come before?
The outline is done, and, yes, it will be a continuation, but not of the Forte series. The next book takes me back to Penns River with a story about a mass shooting in a small town.
Who is your favorite character of all you’ve written?
That’s a little like asking which of your children you love best. (I have only one child, so at least that one’s easy for me.) If I had to pick one, I think it might be Madeline Shea KIimak, who was Will Hickox’s love interest in Wild Bill, the first novel I made public and still my only standalone. Mad was the first female character from whose point of view I wrote any scenes and I had to work hard to do her justice. She was well received and I got close enough to her that I brought her back in the novel I completed a few weeks ago. (I mentioned this answer to The Beloved Spouse and she said, “Damn right Mad’s your favorite. She’s a six-foot tall redhead.”)
Who is your favorite character that someone else has created?
I can’t pick just one. The two that pop most quickly to mind are both TV characters: Al Swearengen from Deadwood and Ray Donovan. (I know Swearengen was a real person, but his TV persona is very much fictional.)
In literature, I’d have to say it’s down to choosing among Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole, Declan Hughes’s Ed Loy, John McFetridge’s Eddie Dougherty, or Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy. I’m sure I’ll think of a few more five minutes after we’re done here.
Tell us a bit about your previous books, which was the most fun to write?
You spent some time on these questions, didn’t you? I don’t usually work this hard for a book.
I’d have to say Wild Bill, which is probably the least-known of all my books so far because it was the first released and is a standalone. I’d written four Forte novels and figured they were in the process of dying on the vine—self-publishing had not yet occurred to me—and thought I’d try my hand at a multiple point of view story with interlocking story lines where the reader always knew more than any one character but wouldn’t know everything till the end. It was a challenge and great fun to write.
Do you find the act of writing to be more work or more fun, or depending on the day, a bit of both?
Depends on the day. Some days it’s a true pain in the ass, especially when writing first drafts. There’s also that point about two-thirds of the way through the first draft when I know this book is an unsalvageable piece of shit and have no recollection of why I thought this would be a good idea to write on in the first place. Fortunately, I’ve learned all writers hit that wall, so I push through it.
Then there are days when I can’t type fast enough to keep up with what I’m thinking and can’t wait to get downstairs to read today’s output to The Beloved Spouse.
I general it’s far more fun than work, and I can prove it: I’m lazy by nature and I’m not making any money worth mentioning, so why else would I do it?
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
Entertainment. That said, I’d like them to be entertained and still come away with something planted in their heads they haven’t thought of before, or maybe with a new perspective to consider. That can’t be the primary focus, though. If it ever reads like preaching it won’t be entertaining and the whole house falls apart.
Literally, this week a trip to Oakmont PA with The Sole Heir to see the US Open. Later this summer a car trip with The Beloved Spouse to Yellowstone and to visit my brother’s family in Colorado.
Literarily, I start work on the next Penns River book—working title “Small Town Crime”—right after Labor Day. I’ll also be at Bouchercon in New Orleans and the Creatures, Crime, and Creativity conference in Columbia MD, so if anyone who reads this is at either of those shows, please stop by and say hi. I promise no solicitors will call.