Jun 122013
 
Burglar and PI for the crooks Junior Bender is back. This time he's hired by senior powerbroker Irwin Dressler to find out who lead the cops to raid a gangster party that resulted in the end of a young actress' carreer in the fifties. And then there's that spunky hitwoman who wants him to find her daughter.
As in the first two Bender novels there's a lot of laughs in these pages. Dressler is just a very funny character and Bender gets in some great wisecracks as does his daughter. The last few chapters stars some good action scenes, a lot of writers get in too much detail or too little in scenes like that, but Timothy gets it just right.
What makes this book so interesting to a lot of non-PI fans is the portrait drawn of fifties Hollywood and the wonderful Dorothy Lamarr, a strong woman in a time women weren't expected to be strong yet. There's a large part devoted to her past that take you back to those old days of Hollwyood that will make you nostalgic.
Funny, tragic, and even action-packed. A great read.
Feb 062013
 
As most of you know I am the founder of the Hardboiled Collective, a group of crime writers helping each other out getting noticed by readers. This week every member of our group spotlights another member on his / her blog by publishing an excerpt from a member's latest work.
It is an honor for me to feature the following (second) chapter of Timothy Hallinan's wonderful novel Little Elvises.


Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of three series, featuring overeducated Los Angeles private eye Simeon Grist, Bangkok travel writer Poke Rafferty and San Fernando Valley burglar (and private eye for crooks) Junior Bender. His newest book, LITTLE ELVISES, begins when Junior Bender is forced by a corrupt cop to solve a murder for which it's likely the cop's uncle will be arrested. The uncle, Vinnie DiGaudio, made a fortune in the sixties discovering and promoting “little Elvises” – kids off the streets of Philadelphia with a vague resemblance to Elvis Presley.

This is the second chapter of LITTLE ELVISES. The book got a starred review from Booklist, which called it “hugely, splendidly entertaining,” and a rave from Associated Press (“compelling and heart-pounding”), and was just chosen Mystery Pick of the Month by BookPage. The series has been bought for film by Lionsgate.





2
An Original Void

The month’s motel was Marge ’n Ed’s North Pole at the north end of North Hollywood. The advantage of staying at the North Pole was that even the small number of people who knew I’d lived in motels since my divorce from Kathy would never figure I’d stoop that low. The disadvantage of staying at the North Pole was everything else.

Generally speaking, motels have little to recommend them, and the North Pole had less than most. But they made me a moving target, and I could more or less control the extent to which anyone knew where I was at any given time. I’d been divorced almost three years, and the North Pole was my 34th motel, and far and away the worst of the bunch.

I’d been put into Blitzen. In an explosion of creativity, Marge ’n Ed had decided not to number the rooms. Since Clement Moore only named so many reindeer in “The Night Before Christmas,” Marge ’n Ed had pressed Rudolph into service and then come up with some names on their own. Thus, in addition to the reindeer we all know and love, we had rooms named Dydie, Witzel, Tinkie, and Doris.

Doris wasn’t actually being passed off as a reindeer. She was Marge ’n Ed’s daughter. Marge, who grew confidential as the evenings wore on and the level in the vodka bottle dropped, told me one night that Doris had fled the North Pole with someone Marge referred to as Mr. Pinkie Ring, a pinkie ring being, in Marge’s cosmology, the surest sign of a cad. And sure enough, the cad had broken Doris’s heart, but would she come home?

Not Doris. Stubborn as her father, by whom I assumed Marge meant Ed, whom I always thought of as ’n Ed. Ed was no longer with us, having departed this vale of sorrows six years earlier. It  was probably either that or somehow orchestrate a global ban on vodka, and death undoubtedly looked easier.

The string of Christmas lights that outlined the perimeter of Blitzen’s front window blinked at me in no discernible sequence, and I’d been trying to discern one for days. They sprang to life whenever anyone turned on the ceiling light, which was the only light in the room. I’d tried to pull the cord from the outlet, but Marge ’n Ed had glued it in place.

“YouTube-dot-com,” Rina said on the phone. “Y-O-U-Tube, spelled like tube. Aren’t you there yet?”

Something unpleasant happens even to the most agreeable of adolescents when they talk to adults about technology. A certain kind of grit comes into their voices, as though they’re expecting to meet an impenetrable wall of stupidity and might have to sand their way through it. Rina, who still, so far as I knew, admired at least one or two aspects of my character, was no exception. She sounded like her teeth had been wired together.

“Yes,” I said, hearing myself echo her tone. “I’ve managed somehow to enter the wonderland of video detritus and I await only the magical search term that will let me sift the chaff.”

Dad. Do you want help, or not?”

“I do,” I said, “but not in a tone of voice that says I’d better talk really slowly or he’ll get his thumb stuck in his nostril again.

“Do I sound like that?”

“A little.”

“Sorry. Okay, the interview is called ‘Vincent DiGaudio Interview.’ Have you got that?”

“Slow down,” I said. “Did you just ask me whether I can follow the idea that the Vincent DiGaudio Interview is called ‘Vincent DiGaudio Interview’?”

“Oh.” She made a clucking noise I’ve never been able to duplicate. “Sorry again.”

“Maybe I’m being touchy,” I said. “Thanks. Anything else?”

“Not on video. I’ll email you the links to the other stuff, the written stuff. There’s not much of it. He doesn’t seem to have wanted much publicity.”

“Wonder why,” I said. I figured there was no point in telling her I was going to be getting involved with a mob guy. She might worry.

She said, “But the FBI files are kind of interesting.”

“Excuse me?”

“Somebody used the Freedom of Information Act,” said my thirteen-year-old daughter, “to file for release of a stack of FBI files on the outfit’s influence in the Philadelphia music scene. Since DiGaudio’s still alive and since he never got charged, his name is blacked out, but it’s easy to tell it’s him because a lot of the memos are about Giorgio. The files are on the FBI’s site, but I’ll send you the link so you don’t have to waste time poking around.”

“The FBI site?” I said. “Giorgio?”

“Wake up, Dad. Everything’s online.”

Was I, a career criminal, going to log onto the FBI site?   “Who’s Giorgio?”

“The most pathetic of DiGaudio’s little Elvises. Really pretty, I mean fruit-salad pretty, but he couldn’t do anything. Tone deaf. He stood on the stage like his feet were nailed to the floor. But really, really pretty.”

“I don’t remember him in the paper you wrote.” I was taking a chance here, because I hadn’t actually read all of it.

“I didn’t talk about him much. He was so awful that he kind of stood alone. He wasn’t an imitation anything, really. He was an original void.”

“But pretty.”

“Yum yum yum.”

“Thanks, sweetie. I’ll check it out.”

“You can look at Giorgio on YouTube, too,” she said. “Although you might want to turn the volume way, way down.”

“Let me guess,” I said. “It’s under ‘Giorgio.’”

“Try ‘Giorgio Lucky Star.’ That was the name of his first hit. ‘Lucky Star,’ I mean. Little irony there, huh? If there was ever a lucky star, it was Giorgio. If it hadn’t been for Elvis, he’d have been delivering mail. Not that it did him much good in the long run, poor kid. Anyway, search for ‘Giorgio Lucky Star.’ Otherwise you’re going to spend the whole evening looking at Giorgio Armani.”

“Is your mom around?”

A pause I’d have probably missed if I weren’t her father.

“Um, out with Bill.”

“Remember what I told you,” I said. “Whatever you do, don’t laugh at Bill’s nose.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Bill’s nose.”

“Just, whatever happens, next time you see Bill’s nose, don’t laugh at it.”

“Daddy,” she said. “You’re terrible.” She made a kiss noise and hung up.

It was okay that I was terrible. She only called me Daddy when she liked me.

I’ve had more opportunity than most people to do things I’d regret later, and I’ve taken advantage of a great many of those opportunities. But there was nothing I regretted more than not being able to live in the same house as my daughter.

I’d wanted to stay in Donder, but it was taken.

“Donder” is a convincing name for a reindeer. “Blitzen” sounds to me like the name of some Danish Nazi collaborator, someone who committed high treason in deep snow. But Donder was occupied, so I was stuck with either Blitzen or Dydie. I chose Blitzen because it was on the second floor, which I prefer, and it had a connecting door with Prancer, which was unoccupied, so I could rent them both but leave the light off in one of them, giving me a second room to duck into in an emergency, a configuration I insist on. This little escape hatch that has probably saved me from a couple of broken legs, broken legs being a standard method of getting someone’s attention in the world of low-IQ crime. And as much as I didn’t like the name “Blitzen,”there was no way I was going to stay in Prancer. It would affect the way I thought about myself.

Blitzen was a small, airless rectangle with dusty tinsel fringing the tops of the doors, cut-outs of snowflakes dangling from the ceiling, and fluffs of cotton glued to the top of the medicine cabinet. A pyramid of glass Christmas-tree ornaments had been glued together, and then the whole assemblage
had been glued to a red-and-green platter, which in turn had been glued to the top of the dresser. Marge ’n Ed went through a lot of glue. The carpet had been a snowy white fifteen or twenty years ago, but was now the precise color of guilt, a brownish gray like a dusty spiderweb, interrupted here and there by horrific blotches of darkness, as though aliens with pitch in their veins had bled out on it. The first
time I saw it, it struck me as a perfect picture of a guilty conscience at 3 a.m.: you’re floating along in a sort of pasteurized colorlessness, and wham, here comes a black spot that has you bolt upright and sweating in the dark.

I have a nodding acquaintance with guilty consciences.

When Andy Warhol predicted that everyone in the future would be famous for fifteen minutes, he was probably thinking about something like YouTube. What a concept: hundreds of thousands of deservedly anonymous people made shaky, blurry videotapes of their pets and their feet and each other lip-synching to horrible music, and somebody bought it for a trillion dollars. But then all this idea-free content developed a kind of mass that attracted a million or so clips that actually had some interest
value, especially to those of us who occasionally like to lift a corner of the social fabric and peer beneath it.

Vincent DiGaudio Interview popped onto my screen in the oddly saturated color, heavy toward the carrot end of the spectrum, that identifies TV film from the seventies. Since I was going to meet DiGaudio in about forty minutes, I took a good look at him. In 1975, he’d been a beefy, ethnic-looking guy with a couple of chins and a third on the way, and a plump little mouth that he kept pursing as though he had Tourette’s Syndrome and was fighting an outbreak of profanity. His eyes were the most interesting things in his face. They were long, with heavy, almost immobile lids that sloped down toward the outer corners at about a thirtydegree angle, the angle of a roof. His gaze bounced nervously
between the interviewer and the camera lens.

Vincent DiGaudio had a liar’s eyes.

As the clip began, the camera was on the interviewer, a famished woman with a tangerine-colored face, blond hair bobbed so brutally it looked like it had been cut with a broken bottle, and so much gold hanging around her neck she wouldn’t have floated in the Great Salt Lake. “. . . define your talent?” she was saying when the editor cut in.

“I don’t know if it was a talent,” DiGaudio said, and then smiled in a way that suggested that it was, indeed, a talent, and he was a deeply modest man. “I seen a vacuum, that’s all. I always think that’s the main thing, seeing in between the stuff that’s already there, like it’s a dotted line, and figuring out what
could fill in the blanks, you know?” He held his hands up, about two feet apart, presumably indicating a blank. “So you had Elvis and the other one, uh, Jerry Lee Lewis, and then you had Little Richard, and they were all like on one end, you know? Too raw, too downtown for nice kids. And then you had over on the other end, you had Pat Boone, and he was like Mr. Good Tooth, you know, like in a kids’ dental hygiene movie, there’s always this tooth that’s so white you gotta squint at it. So he was way over
there. And in the middle, I seen a lot of room for kids who were handsome like Elvis but not so, you know, so . . .”

“Talented?” the interviewer asked.

“That’s funny,” DiGaudio said solemnly. “Not so dangerous. Good-looking kids, but kids the girls could take home to meet Mom. Kids who look like they went to church.”

“Elvis went to church,” the interviewer said. 

DiGaudio’s smile this time made the interviewer sit back a couple of inches. “My kids went to a white church. Probably Catholic, since they were all Italian, but, you know, might have been some Episcopalians in there. And they didn’t sing about a man on a fuzzy tree or all that shorthand about getting—can I say getting laid?”

“You just did.”

“Yeah, well that. My kids sang about first kisses and lucky stars, and if they sang about a sweater it was a sweater with a high school letter on it, not a sweater stretched over a big pair of—of—inappropriate body parts.” He sat back and let his right knee jiggle up and down, body language that suggested he’d
rather be anywhere else in the world. “It’s all in the book,” he said. “My book. Remember my book?”

“Of course.” The interviewer held it up for the camera. “The Philly Miracle,” she said.

“And the rest of it?” Di Gaudio demanded.

“Sorry. The Philly Miracle: How Vincent DiGaudio Reinvented Rock and Roll.

“Bet your ass,” DiGaudio said. “Whoops.”

“So your—your discoveries—were sort of Elvis with mayo?”

“We’re not getting along much, are we? My kids weren’t animals. I mean lookit what Elvis was doing on the stage. All that stuff with his, you know, his—getting the little girls all crazy.”

The interviewer shook her head. “They screamed for your boys, too.”

He made her wait a second while he stared at her. “And? I mean, what’s your point? Girls been screaming and fainting at singers since forever. But you knew if a girl fainted around one of my kids he wouldn’t take advantage of it. He’d just keep singing, or maybe get first aid or something.”

She rapped her knuckles on the book’s cover. “There were a lot of them, weren’t there?”

DiGaudio’s face darkened. “Lot of what?”

“Your kids, your singers. Some people called it the production line.”

“Yeah, well, some people can bite me. People who talk like that, they don’t know, they don’t know kids. These were crushes, not love affairs. The girls weren’t going to marry my guys, they were going to buy magazines with their pictures on the front and write the guys’ names all over everything, and fifteen minutes later they were going to get a crush on the next one. So there had to be a next one. Like junior high, but with better looking boys. Girl that age, she’s a crush machine, or at least they were back then. These days, who knows? Not much innocence around now, but that’s what my kids were. They were innocence. They were, like, dreams. They were never gonna knock the girls up, or marry them and drink too much and kick them around, or turn out to be as gay as a lamb chop, or anything like guys do in real life. They were dreams, you know? They came out, they looked great, they sang for two and a half minutes, and then they went away.”

“And they did go away. Most of them vanished without a trace. Are you still in touch with any of them?”

It didn’t seem like a rough question, but DiGaudio’s eyes bounced all over the room. He filled his cheeks with air and blew it out in an exasperated puff. “That ain’t true. Some of them, they’re still working. Frankie does lounges in Vegas. Eddie and Fabio, they tour all over the place with a pickup band, call themselves Faces of the Fifties or something like that. They’re around, some of them.”

“And Bobby? Bobby Angel?”

“Nobody knows what happened to Bobby. Somebody must of told you that, even if you didn’t bother to read the book. Bobby disappeared.”

“Do you ever think about Giorgio?”

The fat little mouth pulled in until it was as round as a carnation. “Giorgio,” he finally said. He sounded like he wanted to spit. “Giorgio was different. He didn’t like it, you know? Even when he was a big star. Didn’t think he belonged up there.”

“A lot of people agreed with him.”

DiGaudio leaned forward. “What is this, the Cheap Shot Hour? Even somebody like you, after what happened to that poor kid, even someone like you ought to think a couple times before piling on. Who are you, anyway? Some local talent on a TV station in some two-gas-station market. I mean, look at this set, looks like a bunch of second graders colored it—”

“This is obviously a sore topic for—”

“You know, I came on this show to talk about a book, to tell a story about music and Philadelphia, about when your audience was young, about a different kind of time, and what do I get? Miss Snide of 1927, with your bleeping jack-o’-lantern makeup and that lawn-mower hair—”

“So, if I can get an answer, what are your thoughts about Giorgio?”

DiGaudio reached out and covered the camera lens with his hand. There were a couple of heavily bleeped remarks, and then the screen went to black.

“My, my,” I said. “Touchy guy.” I glanced at my watch.

DiGaudio lived in Studio City, way south of Ventura Boulevard, in the richest, whitest part of the Valley. I had another thirty-five minutes, and the trip would only take fifteen. I typed in Giorgio Lucky Star.

And found myself looking at fifties black-and-white, the fuzzy kinescope that’s all we have of so much early television, just a movie camera aimed at a TV screen, the crude archival footage that the cameraman’s union insisted on. Without that clause in their contract, almost all the live television of the fifties would be radiating out into space, the laugh tracks of the long dead, provoking slack-jawed amazement among aliens sixty light years away, but completely lost here on earth.

Even viewed through pixels the size of thumbtacks, Giorgio was a beautiful kid. And Rina was right: he couldn’tdo anything.He stood there as though he’d been told he’d be shot if he moved, and mouthed his way through two minutes of prerecorded early sixties crap-rock. Since the face was everything and he wasn’t doing anything with the rest of himself anyway, the cameras pretty much stayed in closeups, just fading from one shot to another. No matter where they put the camera, he looked good. He had the same classical beauty as Presley. Like Presley, if you’d covered his face in white greasepaint and taken a still closeup, you’d have had a classical statue, a cousin of Michelangelo’s David.

But unlike the sculpted David, staring into his future with the calm certainty of someone who knows that God is holding his team’s pom-poms on the sidelines, Giorgio had the look you see in a crooked politician who’s just been asked the one question he’d been promised he wouldn’t be asked, in the athlete who’s been told he has to take the drug test he knows he’s going  to fail.

Giorgio was terrified.
May 182012
 

Junior Bender, Timothy's unique take on the PI and caper novels is back. A cool cross between Bernie Rhodenbarr and Spenser, our hero is hired to find out who killed a tabloid reporter.
Also, the owner of the hotel where Junior is staying asks him to find her missing daughter.
Together with his daughter he delves into the past of the Elvis lookalikes managed by Vincent DiGaudio and finds out there's a lot more about the music scene of the fifties than you might expect. Along the way he has to cope with his feelings for the reporter's widow and how to tell his daughter about her.
Often funny, always thrilling and surprising this is another awesome hardboiled mystery.
Mar 132012
 

Zoë Sharp

It’s my great pleasure to welcome Timothy Hallinan to Murderati for today’s Wildcard. Tim is an Edgar and Macavity nominee and writes some of the most elegant prose I’ve come across. I was honoured when he swapped e-book excerpts with me last year.

The advent of e-publishing has allowed Tim to relaunch his original Los Angeles PI Simeon Grist series, including this, the sixth and final title, THE BONE POLISHER. Booklist urged readers to “Do yourself a favor and read it!” while Mostly Murder called it “Creepy and screamingly funny.”

The book takes place in the West Hollywood of 1995, where the community is shaken by the brutal killing of an older man who was widely loved for his generosity and kindness. In a time when the police were largely indifferent to crimes against gay people, Simeon is hired to catch the murderer—and finds himself up against the most dangerous adversary of his career.

As always with Tim’s writing, I savoured his descriptions, dialogue, characterisation and turns of phrase in this book. If you haven’t discovered Timothy Hallinan yet, you’re missing a real treat.

Zoë Sharp: You wrote the Simeon Grist series in the early 1990s, and I know the order of publication was not the order in which you actually wrote the books, so tell us what happened there? And what complications arose from this, in terms of ongoing character development?

Timothy Hallinan:  Dutton bought the first book to be written, SKIN DEEP, and offered me a three-book contract about a week after I finished writing it.  The sale sort of lit me on fire and I knocked out the second, THE FOUR LAST THINGS, in about three months [Erm, he means ‘carefully and agonisingly handcrafted it’, ZS] and sent it in, having no idea how slowly publishers worked.  They preferred THE FOUR LAST THINGS and changed the order.  Then, before  FOUR LAST came out, I sent them EVERTHING BUT THE SQUEAL, and they decided they liked that better than SKIN DEEP, too, so SQUEAL came out second and SKIN DEEP third.   Funny thing is, when I read these books all this time later, SKIN DEEP is one of the best. 

Zoë Sharp: And what complications arose from that, in terms of ongoing character development?

Timothy Hallinan: I intentionally entangled Simeon in a somewhat static relationship, a long-term estrangement, because I didn't want too much development in that area, and I didn't know enough to make my other characters change from book to book.  (These books were written through imitation and sheer chutzpah.)  The only real oddity in sequence is that, in the order in which the books were published, Simeon meets in the third book a woman he's sleeping with in the first.

Zoë Sharp: Your series characters go by the highly memorable names of Simeon Grist, Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty. Where did you find such wonderful names for them?

Timothy Hallinan:  I always think they're just regular names and later ask myself what I'd been smoking.  Actually, that's only partially true; I was reading a ton of stuff on early Christianity when I started the Simeon books and named him after a favourite saint, Simeon Stylites, who spent the last 37 years of his life standing on an ancient pillar in the Syrian desert.  As if that weren't enough, he wouldn't allow any woman anywhere near his pillar.  When he got sores on his legs and the sores developed maggots, he would encourage the maggots, saying “Eat, little ones, what God has provided you,” or words to that effect.  I thought that was a little stiff, and he came to embody for me Santayana's famous definition of a fanatic as someone who redoubles his efforts when he's forgotten his aims. 

So I was being pretentious when I named Simeon and later found that most readers pronounced it “Simon” anyway.

Zoë Sharp: I particularly loved the title for this book, THE BONE POLISHER. How did that come about?

Timothy Hallinan:  When members of the Chinese diaspora, in the early days, had the misfortune to die in whatever country they had emigrated to, they were buried where they died.  A generation or two later, the now-prosperous family would pay to have the bones disinterred, cleaned, polished, and sent to China for permanent burial in The Middle Kingdom.  The specialist who did this was called a bone polisher.  In the book, the killer puts a malign twist on this,  He kills men who came to West Hollywood from small towns where they lived closeted lives, and each time he murders one, he sends evidence of his victim's “deviancy” back to the town from which he came.  (This was in 1995, when, arguably, a much higher percentage of gay people were in the closet.)  So in this case, it's the dead person's reputation that's returned—with the goal of destroying it.

Zoë Sharp: I’m always interested in the underlying theme of a book. What theme was in your mind when you wrote THE BONE POLISHER?

 

[Tim with Brett Battles, working hard …]

Timothy Hallinan: I'd been writing about a character—Simeon—for five years at that point, and he was a sort of idealized version of me: braver, more resourceful, wittier, better-looking, and much more interesting.  And I decided to see what would happen if he were actually like me, which was to say weary of the way his life was going, uncertain about his skills and abilities, and suddenly very sensibly afraid of the people he was going after.   How would those things affect his picture of who he was?  How would they affect his chosen career?  And I decided, if I was going to write about that, to put him up against someone who was really, genuinely, bone-marrow evil.  The kid—the Farm Boy—who's going after the gay men in this book is one of the worst people my imagination has ever offered up to me.  And I thought the idea of killing a victim twice—first the body and then the reputation—was worthy of someone so dreadful. 

Zoë Sharp: You mention in your preface to THE BONE POLISHER that it was written at a different time – a time when AIDS was usually a death sentence. If you were writing this book from scratch today, what differences would that make to the way you tell the story?

Timothy Hallinan:  The AIDS aspect of the book was inescapable then; it would have been impossible to write with any accuracy about that community without AIDS being a major concern.  It's still a concern, obviously, but one that millions of people are quite literally living with.  Christopher Nordine, who hires Simeon at the beginning of the book, knows he has only a short time to live, and this consciousness informs some of what he does.  These days, it's unlikely the disease would have been allowed to progress so far unchecked.

Zoë Sharp: I thoroughly enjoyed THE BONE POLISHER—the descriptions are just wonderful, like this:

‘Drive-time disk jockeys, preternaturally alert guys who couldn’t have passed for wits in a gathering of battery-powered appliances, made smutty jokes and played twenty-year-old music to ease the world into the gray disappointment of another day.’

But how hard was it to republish a novel you’d written in 1995? Inevitably you must feel that you and your writing have come a long way since then, so how much fiddling and rewriting did you do to it?

Timothy Hallinan:  I actually hated the book in retrospect.  It had failed to win me an extension on my contract, and I remembered it with no fondness at all.  In fact, I hesitated to put it up, primarily because I didn't want to have to read it.  I finally did it because I kept getting emails from Simeon's few but fanatic followers, asking where the hell it was.  And when I read it, it sort of knocked my socks off—it was much better than I'd feared it would be. 

I pretty much left it alone.  I had a couple of mistakes of fact in it, and I fixed those, but otherwise, with the exception of clarifying a few pronouns, I did virtually nothing to it.  One of my favourite descriptive passages in the book is right after the one you quoted, something about dawn coming up hard and wet, two fingers of vodka in the eastern sky.  (I haven't looked, so if that's from a different book, I'm sorry.) 

I hope my writing has come a long way.  There are few things more complicated than the smile on the face of a writer who's just heard, “But you know what?  I really like your first book best.”

Zoë Sharp: I was fascinated by the Finish Your Novel page on your website. What inspired you to produce such a comprehensive guide for would-be writers?

Timothy Hallinan:   As I said, I wrote the first ones with no idea what I was doing, and as I figured out what worked for me I began to make notes.  I knew I wanted my website to be more than “Here's me.  Buy my books,” so the first thing I wrote was the Finish Your Novel section.  It's been used by literally hundreds of writers and some of them have gone on to be published and have thanked me in their books—I get a nice thank-you in Helen Simonson's MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND, for example.

Zoë Sharp: I’m always interested in the form a writer uses to tell their story. You classify the Simeon Grist and Junior Bender novels as mysteries. Both are written in first-person, past tense. But the Poke Raffety books you describe as thrillers. These are in third-person, present tense. The choice for third-person in a thriller is entirely understandable, because you so often need to show that race against time by letting the reader know what else is going on, but why the change to present tense? And which do you enjoy more?

Timothy Hallinan:  I think of both the Simeon and Poke books as private-eye novels, and the great thing about first-person is that you encounter the mystery exactly as the detective does, whereas I think third-person works better for thrillers so you can hop on over and see what the bad guys are up to or check out how the screws are being tightened.

I went to present-tense in my first draft of the first Poke, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, as an experiment and found that I really liked it.  Past-tense implies that someone –the narrator, if no one else—lived to tell the story, whereas present tense sort of rolls by in real time.  I also think that action scenes can be written with great immediacy in present tense.

I like them both, but switching back and forth from book to book is a major pain in the ass.  Whole pages slip by in the wrong tense.

Zoë Sharp: You’re working on another Simeon Grist novel at the moment. What’s made you decide to return to that character after a break – will you age him or start where you left off? And what’s it about?

Timothy Hallinan: People have written to me for years to ask whether I was ever going to bring him back.  I decided, now that he's out of print and remaindered, that it might be fun to ask myself where fictional detectives go when the last copy of the last printing of their last book gets pulped—when they are, effectively, out of print.  So I figured it out, and Simeon now resides in a sort of limbo, along with a lot of other out-of-print detectives.  It's a relatively shabby, genre limbo; the Literary Fiction Limbo is much more upscale and has better weather.  Simeon is paralytic with boredom; his only connection to the “real” world is when someone opens one of the old, used copies of one of his books.  When that happens, Simeon can see them through the window of his Topanga house.  And one day, he's watching someone read him—looking up at the person, as it were, from the page—when his reader is murdered.  He doesn't have enough readers to spare any, and he resolves to solve the crime.  Problem is, it happened down here.  So, anyway, it's called PULPED, and I think a lot of hard-core mystery writers will just hate it, although I laughed myself stupid writing it.

Thanks for all these great questions, Zoë.  Hope I didn't rattle on too long.

Zoë Sharp: Tim, it’s always a pleasure talking to you. As well as Tim’s series books, it’s also worth mentioning that he’s also been involved in two special project. One is his contribution to BANGKOK NOIR, edted by Christopher G Moore, a collection of stories with part of the proceeds going to a charity for Bangkok’s poorest children.

The other is SHAKEN, a collection by twenty mystery writers, edited by and including Tim, who donated their work to benefit the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. Every penny of the purchase price goes to the fund.

So, 'Rati, let's hear your questions for Timothy Hallinan ...

Dec 162011
 
As I do every year I want to share with you my favorite PI-stuff of the year.

BEST PI NOVEL: 13 Million Dollar Pop by David Levien
BEST DEBUT: Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin
BEST NEW PI: Conway Sax (in Purgatory Chasm) by Steve Ulfelder
BEST ACTION SCENES: Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Honorable mentions go to Timothy Hallinan whose first novel featuring Junior Bender, Crashed, was my favorite book I read this year. It came out in 2010, so it didn't really belong on this list.

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