I interviewed multi-talented Taoist and writer Charles Colyott about his Randall Lee series.
Q: What makes Randall Lee different from other hardboiled detectives?
I like to think of him as a sort of Taoist detective… His methods are intuitive, and he just sort of goes with things as they happen. He’s not a conventional detective , although along the way you see him sort of trying to be one. He’s at his best, though, when he just goes where things take him.
Q: How did you come up with the character?
It was a strange process, really. I typically write horror, dark fantasy, that sort of thing, but when I decided that I wanted to try out writing a mystery, I had no idea where to start. Then the first murder came to me.
And when I figured out what had happened to the girl I suddenly knew just the guy for the job of finding her killer. So he just appeared, really. And as I wrote I found out things about him. I’ve never had anything like that happen in any other project.
Q: What are your thoughts on the whole eBook revolution?
I think it’s a good thing. A lot of people have a lot of concerns about the amount of self published stuff, and the quality of it all… but readers are pretty good at figuring out what is good and what is crap.
For me, it’s been great… Changes has been in the works for a long time. I had an agent and did things the traditional way, and it just didn’t work. Because, while everyone said that they loved the book, no one knew how to market it. I got really bizarre comments like, “It’s too ‘oriental.'” So, eventually, I decided to put it out on my own. And the funny thing is that – so far, anyway – the readers “get” it. No one’s written me to tell me that they would have liked it better if only it had been just like something else that they had already read. They like that it’s different.
Q: What’s next for you and Randall?
Randall will be back this summer with his next adventure, Pressure Point.
As for me, Black, the first book in my dark fantasy/romance/martial arts epic series is coming out literally any day now, and I’m working to finish up the sequel to that one for later this year. I have a teen romance(?!) in the works that’s about 85% finished. And I’m doing a collaboration with Glen Krisch (Brother’s Keeper, Loss) that should be really interesting. And really twisted.
Q: How do you promote your work?
I’m still working that out, myself. I mean, I do the standard social networking and stuff, but it’s tough to know what hits and what doesn’t.
Q: What other genres besides crime do you like?
I like them all. Mostly, I like to blend them up into things that are recognizable but unique.
Q: What’s your idea about the psychotic sidekick in PI novels like Hawk and Joe Pike?
I love those guys. Bubba Rogowski, too. They get to be sort of the yin to the hero’s yang, y’know? I think a lot of detective characters operate off of a moral code that wouldn’t let them be that dark, but they need that shadow figure who will do the things that they can’t bring themselves to consider.
Q: In the last century we’ve seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, Macdonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation?
I don’t know. There’s so much talent out there now, but for me… I mean, I can still pick up something by Chandler and just be amazed by his writing. And I pretty much have a shrine to Parker set up in my house. I just started getting into Macdonald (I know, shameful) so I still have a lot of those to learn from. I guess what I’m saying is that I hope the coming generations can still take the time to learn from the masters.
Q: James Tucker came up with the following question: Have you ever been involved in a crime?
Hehe… define “involved.” And while you’re at it, define “crime.”
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Why write a PI story? For me, it’s almost a superhero story, or a Knight’s tale… there is that mythic aspect to it. You have a regular guy (or gal) who is able to do what the system can’t do. And you have that moral code that I mentioned before… Think about how many of these detectives turn down payment, and how many of them struggle to do what’s right, even at a cost. I think a lot of people don’t see this kind of stuff in the real world.
I think these stories are a way to try to reaffirm a sense of good and evil in a modern time, and to be able to tell ourselves that there are still heroes out there.