Stuff & Nonsense 009: The One After 909

Oh, hello there!

I've been remiss in updating this newsletter - April and May were extremely hectic months that included an apartment move, an office move, three weeks of jury duty, BEA and a bunch of other stuff. And hey, look - San Diego Comic Con is almost upon us. Yikes.

I'm going to do my best to keep this newsletter lean and mean - ideally anchored with some new content or context, plus a few links of note that have caught my over the preceding week. Yeah, let's try that.

But first, to clear the decks...


Dave White is a friend of mine. He's also published by Polis Books, who will publish two of my Pete Fernandez novels next year. With all that disclaimer stuff out of the way, I can say I'm a big fan of Dave's Jackson Donne PI series. The latest installment, Not Even Past, hit this year to solid reviews and response. It reintroduced fans to Jackson and yanked him out of early retirement. I chatted with Dave a bit about the book, his influences and more.

Dave, what are you reading these days? I'm in the middle of the massive--but amazing--new novel by Don Winslow. It's called The Cartel and is a follow-up to The Power of the Dog. Winslow is one of my all time favorite writers, and the way every book is stylistically different, but still very much Winslow blows my mind. Look for the book at the end of June.
You lucky dog. I'm looking forward to Winslow, too. Your most recent Jackson Donne novel, Not Even Past, came out recently. For someone who hasn't read the first few, how would you describe this book?
This is a tough question, because when I wrote it, I thought it was very much a book that would be hard for fans who hadn't read the series to get into. However, the consensus has been that it's very accessible. It's about my series character, Jackson Donne, finally sorting his life out. He's in his early 30s, but is about to graduate college and get married to Kate Ellison, his fiancee. But, just before finals, he gets an email with a link in it. The link sends him to a YouTube-like page, and on the screen is the the fiancee he long thought was dead. But Jeanne Baker is very much alive. That-of course-in grand crime fiction tradition, sends him spiraling. Who is Jackson Donne?
Donne is my series character. He's a former cop, who turned the NARC division he was a part of, in for skimming drugs off the top of their raids. Donne got addicted, got cleaned up and became a PI for a while. Now, like I said above, he's straightened his life out. All he wants is a nice quiet routine. Beer, pizza, and movies on a Friday night. But he'll never get that. What were some of the influences that played a part in creating the character? Robert Parker's Spenser novels were a huge influence on me. I started reading the books in late high school or early college, right when i decided I wanted to be a writer. Spenser was perfect for me, then--easy reads with some great moral dilemmas, plus they were funny. I loved buying a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and sitting with, say, Promised Land. I then discovered Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro series. The darkness and sense of place in those books, coupled with Parker really pushed what I wanted to write with Donne. But Donne wasn't Boston, so watching The Sopranos and just plain living in New Jersey helped him become a more "real" character too.
Are you a movie buff? Watch much TV? What are some of the other media you ingest that might influence your writing somewhat? I love movies, but I'd never call myself a buff. I watch what's popular--a big fan of the Marvel and Bond movies. There are a couple of noir flicks I always try to check out (highly recommend The Drop). I watch way more TV--when sports isn't on. I love Better Call Saul, Louie, and The Americans (which, this year, I am woefully behind on). But I'd say everything is an influence--from sports writing columns to comic books to movies to TV to books. There's always an interesting way to tell a story and you can pick and choose from what you're ingesting (to steal your word) and put it on the page--mother bird style (oh, eww).

You're in for a treat with The Americans. Seriously. Moving on - you took a long break from writing, right? Can you tell me a bit about that? What brought you back?
Well, I never *really* stopped writing all together. There's a messy draft of a standalone on my hard drive that I worked on after I self-published Witness to Death, and I covered basketball for the On the Banks blog--writing sports. But, you're right, I did step away. A lot went on. Three Rivers Press dropped me, and while I had a lot of success with self-publishing Witness, it was a lot of work. So, it was time for a break. And life got in the way. I got married, moved, went back to graduate school to upgrade my education degree, had a kid. That was a lot, and writing a novel was kind of the last thing on my mind. But then two things happened: Jason told me about Polis Books and wanting to re-acquire the Donne series. And I had an idea for Donne that I could just not shake. I thought it was something that would catch long time readers way off guard, could address some of the issues in New Jersey today, and basically be exciting. The idea--Jeanne never actually dying, but just going on the run--gripped me. I couldn't shake it. In fact, when Jason asked for a new Donne book, I told him I was 200 pages into one already. That was, um, true, but I scrapped those 200 pages and started over. While going to grad school. Oops. How's the publishing world changed since the last Jackson book came out?
Wow. What a question. The first Jackson Donne novel came out in September of 2007. If memory serves, the Kindle debuted in October or November of 2007. The second Donne came out in 2008. So, publishing has changed A LOT. E-books meant little or nothing to me when those first books came out. Now, it's part of the game. Small time publishers can find ways to succeed. You can write a book, put it on a website and become a bestseller all by yourself. Or not. I mean, the business of publishing changes, but the key is always writing a great book, in my opinion. And that's what I try to focus on. The other stuff just ends up giving me a panic attack. What are the ingredients of a great novel?
For me it always starts with character and voice. If you have a great character and the voice pulls you along in an easy-to-read style, you can take me anywhere. That's why I love Winslow and Parker so much. Great characters and great voice. Also, not taking the easy way out. I'm just talking thrillers, but too often writers set up great stakes only to pull the rug out from under the reader's nose--those stakes are false. Books that are willing to go all the way, and create hard answers and real trouble for the characters are the best novels.

What's next for you and Jackson? The fourth Jackson Donne novel An Empty Hell comes out next winter. And I've just written the first chapter of the fifth, as yet untitled, Jackson Donne novel. So that's about two years out. ***

A few thoughts on a few shows I've been watching:

Daredevil: I think it has really slow periods, and some of the scenes (especially in the last third of the season) drag a bit, but overall it's a great comic book adaptation and a pretty good show overall. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and it drove me to re-read a huge chunk of Daredevil comics - from Miller's first run up to the current Waid/Samnee stuff. I'm looking forward to another season.

Bloodline: I'm six episodes in and curious to see how the various plots wrap up - also wondering why it's not getting the same acclaim shows like Fargo and True Detective got. Perhaps because it was all available at once?

Mad Men: “It's the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: 'Good-bye.”

Also been keeping up with Broad City and Louie's new season.

In terms of podcasts, I've been enjoying Death, Sex and Money, Marc Maron's recent interviews with David Byrne and Kim Gordon (which spurred me to read her honest and un-rock memoir Girl in a Band...not surprisingly, I've been listening to a ton of Sonic Youth), and the new season of You Must Remember This, which focuses on Charles Manson. Oh, and this episode of Radiolab, spotlighting Cuban punks, was excellent.

Books I'm looking forward to: Winslow's The Cartel, Neely Tucker's Murder, D.C., Karolina Waclawiak's The Invaders (spotlighted recently by The L.A. Times!) and Chris Holm's The Killing Kind. Was able to snag the latter at BEA last week. But the best part was hanging with my pal Holm himself - and some other dude. Photo by the awesome Erin Mitchell!


It was Matt Bai's great New York Times Magazine piece on Gary Hart that clued me into his book on the same subject, All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid. I've always found Hart to be an interesting character - perhaps overly-penalized for being the first politician marred by sex scandal in the press, forced to live out the rest of his years grasping for some kind of recognition or elder statesman status. Hart's also interesting because he's extremely smart and forward-thinking, but forever defeated by his own ego and hubris. I'm curious to see how his protege Martin O'Malley does against Clinton, though I think whatever spoiler role he was aiming for has been stolen by Bernie Sanders.

The book itself is smart, well-researched and dogged in its examination of Hart not only as an interesting political figure, but as someone caught in the eye of a cultural storm/shift - one that saw the line between political and tabloid reporting forever obliterated.


I read a short story at Noir at the Bar: New Brunswick last month - thanks to Jen Conley for coordinating and hosting a great event.

A short interview with me on the comics I edit.

I have a sci-fi story in this anthology, co-written with my friend, Justin Aclin.

In other writing news, I'm into revisions of the third Pete Fernandez book, Dangerous Ends. I also just finished a few short story drafts - one a revision, two first passes. So, we'll see where those end up.

I share a few thoughts on collaborating with others at Do Some Damage.

Jami Attenberg on how 15 minutes of "going viral" did zilch for her book sales.

Laura Lippman reviews the new Stephen King novel, Finders Keepers.

Mike Dawson sums up my views on being vegan in this comic strip.

Loved New Tropic's look at Westchester, my hometown in Miami.

Congrats, Sarah Weinman!

How Chester Himes invented noir.

My favorite comic book coming out now is The Fade Out, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This interview with Brubaker, discussing his reasons for not working on corporate comics is a bit dusty, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Cate Dicharry chronicles her first-ever book tour.

How did I not know Luna was reuniting?

A nice "Florida crime novels" roundup.

Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels were a big blind spot for me in terms of P.I. fiction - which I'm hoping to remedy now. Started The Godwulf Manuscript this week. More TK.

PJ Harvey is your picture of the week. Go listen to Dry: