'The Woman From Prague': How To Crowdsource An Interview On Social Media When You're Tired Of Writing Promotional Posts
When the editors here sent out the call for July pitches, I asked if I could write a column to coincide with the release of my latest novel (The Woman from Prague, available today!!!). I always write something for LitReactor when I've got a new book out because I've been writing for this site since its inception, and it played a very big roll in my journey, and generally the editors will let me write whatever the hell I want.
But when I sat down to actually write something, I drew a big, frustrating blank. Mostly because I've written so many guest posts gearing up for this release, I felt like I had nothing left in the tank.
Then, I got an idea: A crowdsourced interview! Let my friends do the work for me. I put out a call on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, inviting people to ask the questions that I would answer here. Given some of the goons I'm friends with I thought it might be a little risky. I was pleasantly surprised to field a lot of smart, thoughtful questions.
Until Kelby Losack chimed in, that is.
Anyway. A little about the book: The Woman from Prague. The fourth Ash McKenna novel. My stab at writing a spy novel. You don't have to read the first three to understand it. You can if you want. I'm not the boss of you. It's my first book in hardcover. It got a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and it got picked as one of the best reads of the summer by both PW and The Boston Globe. LitHub called it a must-read for July. And James Grady, who wrote Six Days of the Condor, which was one of my sources of inspiration, gave me a really nice blurb.
I'm touring a bit, too! Tonight at The Mysterious Bookshop, Thursday at the Staten Island Barnes & Noble, then Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale (July 20), Powell's in Portland (July 24), BookPeople in Austin (July 26), and Murder by the Book in Houston (July 27). For those last two events, I'll be rolling with Jordan Harper (She Rides Shotgun) and Bill Loehfelm (The Devil's Muse). You can find more info about these events here.
I hope people have as much fun reading The Woman from Prague as I had writing it. Check out the interview and then maybe get the book? Or read the book first and then come back and read this. Either way! Again, I'm not the boss of you.
Knowing that being a husband and father means so much to you, can you talk about how that has directly affected your writing? (Marjorie Tucker)
It’s made me more optimistic, and more open to embracing happy endings. I’m just a big mush now.
Does social media change what you write and does having such an immediate "relationship" with readers change who you write for? Is it better or worse to know what we think? (Marjorie Tucker)
I don’t really think social media has changed anything I write. I do, for the most part, like having a direct line to people who are reading my stuff. I say “for the most part” because social media can also be a big timesuck. But from an ego standpoint? It’s nice for filling up the tank every now and again.
What is the worst piece of writing advice that you ever got? (Marjorie Tucker)
That’s tough. If it’s bad advice I put it out of my head. Anyone who tells you there’s only one way to do something right is full of shit, I guess. You do what works for you. Like, some people tell you that you HAVE to write every day. I don’t write every day. Sometimes I go whole days without writing! I find the time where I can. This is my fourth novel. It seems to be working.
Did you find it easier to sell an adult-themed series, or were you ever pressured to make the protagonist younger or even turn it YA? (Dino Parenti)
Never came up. It was always adult crime fiction, even though Ash is a bit on the younger side (mid-20s). Which I think is too old for YA anyway.
Since you work in both publishing and writing, does your experience on one side effect the other? (Dan Malmon)
Definitely. I can divorce myself from what’s on the page to look at what I’m writing from a publishing and marketing perspective, which can sometimes be helpful. It also helps me to understand some of the behind-the-scenes stuff a little more. You’d have to ask my publisher whether that makes me more or less of a pain in the ass.
Do you think kids' reading should be censored, or should they be allowed to read whatever strikes their fancy at whatever age it does? (Erin Mitchell)
I don’t know that I have a good answer for this one yet because my daughter is only 2, so I haven’t had to address it. I still curse around her and don’t care too much if she repeats me because they’re just words, so I guess that brushes up against the way I’m leaning?
If you could have dinner with any three storytellers living or dead, who would join you at the table? (Erin Mitchell)
William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Johnny Cash.
How do you pick the cities where the Ash books are set? (Rachel Kramer Bussel)
Places I visited that I really liked and wanted to write about. Portland and Prague are both a lot of fun. The hippie commune in book three isn’t technically a real place, but it’s based on a real place.
How do you feel about run-on sentences? (Keenan Powell)
How has your experience in journalism and politics affected your fiction writing? Did that sentence make you want to die? (Maggy Van Kempen)
It did not! It’s a good question. Journalism taught me to write fast, write accurately, and write on deadline. And it taught me to not be too precious about what’s on the page. Sometimes stuff you love has to get cut. As for the politics—yeah, I think most of what I write tends to be informed by my experience in politics. That’s probably only going to get worse.
Will you revise my pirate novel for me, because I don't want to do it? (Katherine Howe)
If not for the word “pirate” I would have said no. So, yes. But I get a co-writing credit and I get paid in bourbon.
Which of the iconic great writers of history do you consider overrated crap and, conversely, who are the contemporary undiscovered gems? (EA Cook)
I’m trying to get away from declaring things I don’t like crap because it’s okay for people to like different things, and I live in a big glass house. I will say I got 10 pages into The Catcher in the Rye and put it down. I could sit here all the livelong day and recommend under appreciated authors to you, so I’ll settle on this: It’s a crime more people aren’t reading Tom Spanbauer.
Did you draw on Krav Maga in writing any of the fight scenes? (Nik Korpon)
Not really! The book was mostly done when I started taking Krav. It is affecting how I write stuff going forward. It’s given me a lot to think about (some of which I talked about over at Crimespree).
Looked again at Batman Returns last week and read this passage in Roger Ebert's review:
"Looking back over both films, I think Burton has a vision here and is trying to shape it to the material, but it just won't fit. No matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don't go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes."
Do you agree with that? I've seen and read redemptive moments in a lot of noir, but is "real" noir the type where the pursuit of virtue and redemption is exposed as futile? (Chris Galletta)
This is a hard question to answer because I think both “noir” and “hardboiled” are phrases that have been so misapplied and redefined over the years that we could kill a few six-packs discussing the intricacies. That said: I’m okay with redemption at the end of noir, even if it doesn’t align with the intent of the genre. But that also goes back to the first question here, of being more open to happy endings at this point in my life. Essentially, I’m getting a bit worn out on genre conventions, and what they mean and don’t mean to a story. I just want a good story. That’s it. The story can do or be whatever the fuck it wants, as long as it’s good.
Tell us about your new tattoo…why that image? What's the backstory? (Mark Krajnak)
It’s a kraken attacking the Staten Island Ferry, because I’ve been riding those boats all my life and I love ‘em. It echoes my wedding cake a bit (the tattoo is missing me and my wife standing on the bow of the ship ready to fight the kraken…we had an awesome wedding cake).
How do you plot the books? And what is your daily routine for writing? (Richard T. Ryan)
I write an outline, then throw it out and do another outline a few days later. The idea is I’ll remember all the good stuff and forget all the bad stuff. I do this as many times as it takes to feel like I nailed the story. And I look for writing time whenever I can find it. I can’t maintain a daily routine.
Tell us more about the brilliant editor who first bought New Yorked. (Bryon Quertermous)
Your face makes me angry.
Why do fools fall in love? (Tim O’Mara)
Why do birds sing so gay? And lovers await the break of the day? Who knows. Not Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. They offer no discernable conclusions.
How or why do you think we're nerds? (Seth Harwood)
Because y’all read books. You write them, too, so you’re a double-nerd.
What kind of crabs do they serve in restaurants in coastal Maine? (Seth Harwood)
There’s more than one kind of crab?
When did you first know you wanted to become a writer, and why did you pick this particular category? (Katie Caprero)
I read Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk and thought “Holy shit, books can do this?” I was always probably going to skew toward writing but that was the book that really lit the fire. As for crime fiction, I like that it shows people at their worst moments. It's how you get the true measure of a person.
What book knocked you out of the park recently? Preferably something that surprised you, not the usual. (Dave White)
Just finished UNSUB by Meg Gardiner. I thought it was fantastic. I think it's a lot harder to write a thriller than people realize—there's a lot that goes into the mechanics of it, in keeping the reader hooked, doling out information at the right pace. I couldn't put it down. Also: Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence by Rory Miller. I read it because it was recommended by my Krav Maga instructors but it really challenged the way I write and perceive violence. I think it's a must-read for any crime fiction writer.
Were you serious when you told me that thing about Todd Robinson? Because...wow. Wait, was that told in confidence? (Nik Korpon)
That he writes erotic novels under the pen name Yolanda Bondagebabe? Yes, I told you that in confidence. Please don't tell anyone.
What were the major lessons/takeaways from each Ash book, including Prague? Major mistakes you course-corrected on the following novel? (Alex Segura)
There's always stuff I'm trying to do better. The plot of the first book was shaky, so I was mindful of that on the second. For the third, I tried to rely less on funny and gonzo stuff, and tried to dig deeper into the emotional core. For the fourth: I wanted to rely less on internal struggles and focus more on external, while really stepping up my pacing game. Each book is a learning opportunity and each new book is a chance to be better. I love New Yorked with all my heart but I truly hope it's my worst book.
Why did you choose Prague? Also, do you think the international element will attract new readers to the series? (Erik Arneson)
I loved Prague. If you're a writer and you go to Prague and you don't want to set a book there—I don't know what to say. I'd be very surprised to hear that. And—I certainly do hope people jump on with this one! I really tried to make it stand alone from the previous three. You can read any one of the Ash books out of order, but this one, more so.
I know you're gearing up to give Ash a sort of finale, but when the hell do we get a Ginny Tonic book? (Angel Colon)
My fear with Ginny is that she's a good supporting character but to make her the star of something would be too much. Like, she works better in small doses. That said, the fifth and final book in the series (tentatively titled Potter's Field) revolves very much around Ash's relationship to Ginny. That relationship really is the key to who Ash is, and who he wants to be.
Which dead writer would you want to resurrect to fist fight and why? (Ryan Leone)
Hemingway. I got nothin' against him. I don't even know that I'd win. But if I could fight and beat Hemingway I'd have bragging rights for life.
What's the value of the tribe in writing? How do relationships or friendships with other writers help or hinder you in the process? (Jay Butkowski)
Here is where I make a bunch of people angry.
It's good to have a support system in anything, but especially in a field like writing, which is very solitary and drawn out. The community is great for boosting each other's signals, and sometimes just sitting in a bar and bouncing ideas back and forth is hugely helpful. Before I get into the next bit, I want to be very clear: I met a lot of incredible people and good friends through the writing community. Overall I think it is a very good and positive thing.
That said, it can be dangerous. The signal boosting takes on an element of quid pro quo—there's less honest criticism and more effusive praise above all else, because people hope they'll get that in return when it's their turn on the dais. It turns into an echo chamber. A popular refrain in certain crime fiction circles is "publishers don't want books like ours because they're too dark and risky!" and everyone shakes their head and agrees, when I think the issue sometimes is those books aren't written to the level required to play in the major leagues. But a certain type of reasoning becomes accepted as gospel because it's less depressing.
Sometimes it's not helpful to have a bunch of people agree with you on something. It's like a bunch of guys sitting in a bar assuring each other their wives left them even though they did their best. In truth, maybe they should have spent less time in the bar, but no one wants to say it because that bar has become a safe space.
Given that you've indicated that Ash will wind up in a book or two, what drove your decision to end the series? Do you see standalones, series or some mixture in the future? (Jeffrey Marks)
I like writing Ash a lot but it's time to try something different. I don't ever want to feel bored writing him. I'm not, but I can see myself getting there. I'm not even ruling out writing him again. Maybe in the future. Right now I want to try some different stuff. Most of the ideas I have in the hopper are standalones.
What's your approach to pubic hair: natural bush, gentleman's trim, or porn star bald? (Kelby Losack)
You son of a bitch. We almost made it to the end of this thing with everyone acting like adults. To be honest I kind of expected David Osborne to be the one to throw the curveball. I'll steal Nik Korpon's answer on this: Harry Potter lightning bolt.
When or how do you figure out how to think like your protagonists? (Tim Hennessy)
I wouldn't say I think like my characters. I would say that I try my best to understand them, and their motivations, and once you do that, the battle is mostly won. We're all after the same things: love, money, approval, to better our situation. I can usually find something in my life that runs parallel to a given character's desire.
How could *anyone* like the movie Snowpiercer? (Chantelle Aimée Osman)
Because it's awesome. How could anyone not like it? Should I bring a copy out to Scottsdale? Should we get drunk and watch it and do a running commentary on Facebook Live?
Who am I kidding. Of course we are doing this.
What's your favorite bourbon and when are you sending me a bottle? (Rob Pierce)
I love good bourbon and I love trying new ones, but my crystal decanter is filled with Jim Beam. It's a solid and affordable standby. I'll buy a bottle, write your address in sharpie, and stick some stamps on it. We'll see what happens.
If you could pick anyone in the world to have coffee with, who would it be and why? Not that you care, but I always picked Alanis Morissette. (Brittany Bacinski)
You know what? I pick Alanis Morissette. Jagged Little Pill is one of my favorite albums of all time and when I was a kid I had a crush on her. (spoiler alert: still do!)
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