January 31-February 6: “Imagine you could reach out to any author (living or dead) and ask a single question. Who is the author? What is your question?”

Join Mike Sirota, Lisa Black, Kelli Stanley, J. H. Bográn, Richard Godwin, and Weyman Jones as they discussion this intriguing Thriller Roundtable question. Remember – readers are welcome to add their opinion!

Don’t be late!

Mike Sirota is the author of nineteen previously published novels, including Demon Shadows and The Well (from Bantam Books) and the Bicycling Through Space and Time trilogy from Ace/Berkley. Formerly an award-winning journalist, he assists aspiring and published writers as an independent editor and writing coach. Mike lives in Oceanside, California with his wife, Jacqueline.

Lisa Black is a latent fingerprint examiner in Florida and a former forensic scientist for the Cleveland coroner’s office. She is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and has testified in more than forty-five homicide trials. Evidence of Murder is her third Theresa MacLean novel.

Kelli Stanley is an award-winning author of crime fiction. She writes two critically-acclaimed crime fiction series, one set in 1940 San Francisco (featuring hardboiled female PI, Miranda Corbie), the other in first century Roman Britain (the “Roman noir” Arcturus series). Her newest novel THE CURSE-MAKER releases on February 1st. Her novels include CITY OF DRAGONS, NOX DORMIENDA, and CITY OF SECRETS (September, 2011). “Children’s Day”, a prequel to CITY OF DRAGONS, was published in the International Thriller Writers anthology FIRST THRILLS: HIGH OCTANE STORIES FROM THE HOTTEST THRILLER AUTHORS.  You can learn more about Kelli and the worlds she creates at http://www.kellistanley.com, friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist; he ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José is the author of TREASURE HUNT, the first in the series of a professional thief that goes by the handle of The Falcon. Other works include short stories, contributor to The Big Thrill magazine, co-screenwriter for two TV serials and movie reviews for Honduran newspaper La Prensa.

Richard Godwin’s novel APOSTLE RISING is being published March 10th 2011. He is widely published in magazines and anthologies, as well as being a produced playwright. His story ‘Pike N Flytrap’ is in the latest issue of Needle Magazine and his story ‘Face Off’ is in Issue #5 of Crime Factory. You can check out his writing credentials here and listen to his recent interview on The Authors Show.

Critics describe Weyman Jones‘ latest novel as “a great thriller filled with action and misdirection.” Author of three previous thrillers, he has also written written award-winning historical novels for children and a non-fiction book on computers that was republished in several languages.

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  1. In a recent interview, I was asked about the most influential author while I was growing up. I responded, quite honestly, that it was Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I read the book at least twice a year all through my middle and high school years. The well-used paperback, with beautiful black-and-white pictures from the then-new-movie, still remains in the most accessible bookshelf in my house. I like the way he developed the characters. Even the secondary ones have well-define nuisances that it is easy to tell them apart.
    Of course, I also admired his screenplays. Few people remember now that Mario wrote the script for Richard Donner’s Superman back in 1978 that remains to this day the most realistic approach, in my humble opinion, to the Man of Steel.
    So, given the opportunity to meet and ask an author, my answer would be, what else, Mario Puzo!
    There is a scene, right after Sonny Corleone is shot in the causeway, where Tom Hagen stops for a courage drink before telling his Don that he failed as consigliori and protector of Don’s heir and acting chief.
    “My wife was sleeping before she fell asleep,” Don Corleone said. “Outside my window I saw my caporegimes coming to the house and it is midnight. So, Consigliori of mine, I think you should tell your Don what everyone knows.”
    This line was lifted almost to the letter and uttered by Reuben Tishkoff on Ocean’s Thirteen (2007). I watched that movie with a bunch of youngsters, and although I laughed at it, the joke was lost on almost the entire audience. That earned me a shrug and head shake from my wife.
    The death of Don Vito Corleone triggers the final climax of the story. In preparation to the upcoming confrontation, Michael reveals to Tom the plan he had forged with Don Vito. Tom says he understands all, except why he was removed from the post of Consigliori and sent to take care of the “legal” part of the family business.
    Tom says, “Except why you wanted me out of the action. But I put on my Sicilian hat and I finally figured that too.”
    Given the chance to meet Mario Puzo, I’d ask him to explain why he sent Hagen away from the main action.
    Of course I have my humble thoughts on the matter, and I’ll explain them on a future post. But for know, what do you think?

  2. Pioneer mystery writer James M. Cain said that “all art is redemptive.” I’d like to ask him what he meant.

    I think redemption requires a price paid to realize a moral value. In the most compelling mysteries, the conflict is not only between the characters but also inside one or more of them. Someone else, I’ve forgotten who, put it this way: “It’s not how the cop works the case but how the case works the cop.” Solving the mystery also resolves the character’s inner conflict. As the character is redeemed, the reader participates in the moral dilemma that exacts its price.

  3. There are so many literary mysteries out there–and so many authors I’d love to share a drink with–that the possibilities for this question are almost endless. I eschewed asking Homer whether he did, in fact, exist–and skipped over tea with Jane Austen (in which we would discuss why she never married). How Poe actually died would be a gruesome but fascinating conversation with the father of the mystery, and I’d like to know why Shakespeare left his wife his second-best bed. And I’d love to spend a day with Chandler … just talking.

    Instead, I’ve turned to Hammett.

    Dashiell Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Agency from 1915-1922 … an experience which became the platform for his hardboiled stories and novels, arguably among the most influential in American literature. Strike-breaking and other intimidation of labor movements was a role often undertaken by paid Pinkerton agents, and Hammett claimed that he had been offered $5000 to murder Frank Little, an IWW leader who was, in fact, lynched in Butte, Montana.

    Hammett based RED HARVEST on his knowledge or experience of Butte and the Anaconda mining strike in which Little had been involved when he was murdered. Some critics have even speculated that Hammett did not, in fact, turn down the bounty on Little, and that his guilt led him to embrace Communism later in life.

    I’d like to pour Dash a dry martini made with the finest pre-Prohibition gin, and discuss politics. I don’t believe he was involved in Little’s lynching–but did he know the men who were? What was the pivotal point for him, politically? And, perhaps most importantly … why didn’t he–or why couldn’t he–write another novel after THE THIN MAN?

  4. I have two ideas, one suggested by my sister. To Mary Shelley–where did you get the idea of using lightning/electricity to reanimate dead people?

    My second is going to be maddeningly obtuse, because it’s a current book and I don’t want to spoil the ending for those who have not yet read it. But an excellent author with an intriguing cast of characters had one of those characters kill themselves at the end of the book. I’d love to ask why? Did you want to shake up your readership? Do you want to keep the tension up by showing that no one is safe? Was this something you’d been working up to during the last couple of books in the series? Did you want to make a statement about the unforeseeable nature of suicide? Had you just gotten royally tired of this character and wanted them off your slate?

    And can we all be so wanton when we get tired of our character, when they begin to seem too utterly dull and no matter how we rack our brains, we can’t conceive of anything both fresh and dramatic ever happening to them? (Of course this can come from or lead into an author’s dark periods, when I, for example, am convinced that I can’t think of anything for my character to do or be because I’m a talentless hack and if I ever had an original thought it would die of loneliness….)

  5. Kelli, you have selected one of the most interesting thriller writers. Hammett lived a life of principle, and paid for it. I believe that is expressed in his work, and it enriches his fiction.

  6. I would ask Dostoyevsky whether he thought ‘Crime and Punishment’ is a crime novel.
    Considering he was writing before the genre became defined, I think that started to happen with Wilkie Collins, he may have had different views.
    It is undoubtedly a great work of fiction and I see it as a crime novel.
    It analyses at depth, more depth than almost anything I have ever read, a criminal’s mind and motivation and instead of being a whodunnit is a whydunnit. In many ways Raskolnikov is the best protagonist of all time, he commits an act of evil, killing his landlady and an innocent spectator, her sister, with an axe and does it for philosophical reasons, theorising that the Napoleons of history killed and got away with it. What is interesting is that he gives himself licence and then falls apart and confesses. It is almost as if he has chosen guilt before the cirme. He is also a sympathetic character, and that shows Dostoyesvky’s brilliance as an author. He himself spent years in Siberia after going through a mock execution for his part in the Petrashevsky circle.

  7. I agree, Weyman. Hammett was not only a brilliant and original writer (his sharp, spare prose influenced Hemingway, and Hemingway influenced everybody else), but a man with a strong personal code … much like his protagonists Samuel Spade and the unnamed operative for the Continental Detective Agency.

    Personally, though, he was such an enigmatic and emotionally distant figure that I’d like to be able to take his measure in person. Unlike Chandler, who was unabashedly emotional–and whom we know fairly well through his correspondence–Hammett largely remains a stoic mystery.

    Both writers, in my opinion, are equally great, though Chandler rightly credits Hammett for basically creating the hardboiled genre. It’s a tough choice … and oh, to be a fly on the wall at the occasion of their meeting (with other pulp writers) for Black Mask:


  8. When I was a kid, the author that unfettered my imagination was Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wrote the Tarzan novels, John Carter of Mars, the Earth’s Core series, and so many other exciting stories. I still own many of the original forty-cent Ace paperbacks with the Frank Frazetta cover art. I dedicated my sword & sorcery novel, The Twentieth Son of Ornon (Zebra Books, 1980) to ERB. What I would ask ERB is simple: “Who unfettered YOUR imagination? Whose stories excited YOU?”

  9. Richard, you are on safe ground when you characterize CRIME AND PUNISHMENT as a great work of fiction. My professor in an adult ed class, who seemed to me to have critically considered everything worth reading and much that’s not, said it is the greatest book ever written in any language. How would you like to have that as a jacket blurb?

  10. Yes Weyman in many ways I think ‘Crime and Punishment’ is arguably one of the greatest novels ever written. It would be a great book jacket blurb. When you consider also how Dostoyevsky changed the course of the novel it is a staggering achievement. It also contains a great detective character in Porfiry who uses psychological games to catch Raskolnikov. It’s hard to judge just how brilliant it is, since we’re reading it in translation.What Dostoyevsky does is draw us into Raskolnikov’s psyche. Nietzsche said when he read Dostoyevsky ‘at last a psychologist I can learn from’.
    Thinking of your comment about James M Cain, maybe he meant that all artists are trying to redeem something. The problem is as you point out that needs a moral structure and not all novels are moral. Maybe the best ones aren’t.

  11. I would like to ask Thomas Harris what he was thinking at the end of “Hannibal.” Not as a criticism at all, just–what were you *thinking*?

  12. ITW Roundtable Feb. 7, 2011

    Living in Key West, Ernest Hemingway had to inspire me, obviously. But his works inspired me to read more than to write, while I was still in that great American institution, high school. If Hemingway inspired me, it was to work on short stories and live an interesting, full life. I’ve tried and have had moderate success.
    James Lee Burke, especially his Dave Robicheaux series, has been a great inspiration. I first read Heaven’s Prisoners and there is a scene in the book where Dave goes outside looking for the bad guys and leaves his wife alone. I surprised myself because I was literally saying aloud, don’t go, and don’t go . . . The writing was so good, I was there in the room. I was also captured and became a fan after that book and have read everything he has written. You can’t read Burke without tasting the foods of New Orleans, feeling its heat and when he moves onto New Iberia, another parish or the bayou, your feet are wet, you are slapping at mosquitoes, and experiencing the aromas, tastes and humidity of the place.
    Robert Crais’ series on Elvis Cole and Joe Pike does the same thing for me. You read Crais, you walk the streets, and hills of Los Angeles, see the poverty and excess, and meet the people living that lifestyle. The bad guys are damn bad and the good guys seem damaged but determined, as are Cole and Pike.
    Tom Corcoran’s series is set in Key West and he is able to capture both the old Keys and the not so well liked new Keys in his writing about the daily life and trails of Alex Rutledge. He captures the atmosphere of Key West and the other islands so well. Tom is a friend and I envy his talent.
    The first writer to influence me one-on-one was the late Dennis Lynds, as master short story writer and novelist. I think Dennis’ series, written as Michael Collins, about a one-armed private eye – Dan Fortune – was a brave move forward in the mystery field. Has anyone written a successful series about a disabled PI? A PI with only one arm! Dennis not only made Fortune believable, but his series was successful in a field where readers were looking for tough guy leads! And he moved Fortune from the gritty streets of New York to the sunny, deceptive oceanfront of Santa Barbara, California.
    These writers inspire me because they are good at their craft. There is a lot of work going into their plots and characters that make their stories exciting and believable. I don’t strive to be better than these writers – or better than many writers out there – but I do want to find in my writing that nut of success in presenting a place, its people and its true atmosphere as real, something these writers do so well. They make it look easy, but you and I know better.
    Being listed anywhere with these writers is a dream of mine, and it keeps me striving to succeed and, maybe, it makes me write a little better.
    By no means is this short list the only writers I admire, read, or want to be on a list with. I look up from my desk or turn, gaze behind my chair, and see bookshelves filled with books by authors I favor and hope that one day someone will have my books on a bookshelf.

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