By J. N. Duncan
I would like to welcome John Lutz to this month’s THE BIG THRILL. He is the author of more than forty novels and over 200 short stories and articles, covering many crime fiction sub-genres, including: political suspense, private eye novels, urban suspense, humor, occult, crime caper, police procedural, espionage, historical, futuristic, amateur detective, and thriller. His novels and short fiction have been translated into almost every language and adapted for almost every medium. He is a past president of both Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America and a winner of the Edgar award. His story, SWF SEEKS SAME was made into the hit movie SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, and his latest novel, TWIST, hits the shelves this month. Now then, let’s get to the good stuff.
This is the latest book in your series of Frank Quinn novels. Can you give us a little low-down on Frank and what makes him tick? What has made you want to write so many stories involving this character?
Quinn is a composite of some older cops I’ve known, corruptible in small ways, but incorruptible in large. Not disinterested in legalities, but more interested in justice.
You have been heavily involved in the crime-fiction-writer’s community over the years, including heading up the Mystery Writers of America and winning a number of prestigious awards. Has being in the forefront and out on the public stage as it were to so many of your peers had any effect on your writing, positive and/or negative?
If anything it’s been positive. It’s been a pleasure knowing so many others who seem obsessive about writing. The similarly afflicted.
You have written across a number of styles, from novels to short stories to film. How has writing in these various formats affected your writing?
It all becomes more or less the same thing. There are variations, and sometimes important ones, but the same 26 letters to work with. More and more, as I’m working I tend to envision scenes I’m writing in novels as I would scenes in movies.
Can you give us the twitter version (140 characters or less) of your latest novel, TWIST?
What? Where? When? Why? Who? Wow!
You have been tracking down demented killers in some form or another for over two decades. What keeps it fresh for you? Do you ever get to the point of struggling with a “been-there-done-that” feeling?
Not really. The dramatic structure of a serial killer investigation, real or fictional, is the sort that will support a lot of interesting stories. Possibly that’s because we know so little about serial killers.
What advice would you like to give to those aspiring crime fiction writers out there to bring something fresh to the table for readers?
Write, write, write some more. Gradually your personal style will emerge and you’ll have something fresh to contribute. It’s like learning to dance with cut-out cardboard footprints on the carpet, and then learning to dance.
You get to sit down for dinner with any writer past or present to talk writing for a few hours. Who would you choose, and perhaps more importantly, where would you have dinner?
If we’re going to discuss writing, my choice would be the legendary s-f writer Barry N. Malzberg, and we do exactly that a few times every year. Any diner would do.
If given the chance, would you take a “re-do” on any of your prior works? If so, why?
I really wouldn’t change anything. I never dropped anything in the mail – snail or electronic – until in my mind it was as finished as I could make it. Often revising something back to its original form is what would tip me off that I had gotten all I could out of what I had to work with.
You’re working your local bookstore and a customer brings TWIST up to you and asks, “Why should I choose this book over any of the others I see there on the Mystery shelf?” What would you tell them?
If they all might be pretty much the same to you, you might as well buy the one you already have in your hand.
Writers are greatly influenced by other writers for many reasons. Can you give us three books/authors that have had a significant impact on you as a writer?
Joseph Conrad, with his crystalline clarity. Raymond Chandler, making noir poetic.Ernest Hemingway, demonstrating the effectiveness of what isn’t written.
Frank Quinn has retired or attempted to on a number of occasions by the sound of things. Family is bringing him in this time with TWIST. Is there more in store for him down the road or do you worry he might finally come after you and end these shenanigans?
Oh, he might get sick of me one of these days and tell me he and I are finished. But I don’t see that happening for quite a while. And where’s he going to go?
Can you speak a bit on the crime writer’s organizations out there today? Many writers, I’m sure wonder about involving themselves in or committing to such a group.
I think writers’ organizations are good things for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is that it’s reassuring to realize there are more people like you out there. They not only provide good company, but you can steal their ideas. Also, you can tell yourself that if he (she) can do it, so can you. You know you can write as well as she (he) can, and your printed out manuscripts look pretty much the same from across the room. Perseverance and luck might actually get you somewhere.
Writing about demented killers requires a certain mindset, in my opinion, at least in order to do it on a regular basis. What inspires/motivates you to keep writing in a genre that has such a dark and morbid element to it?
I don’t think all the literary ore has been extracted from that mine. And it’s such a big, evil world out there. One of the good things is, there’s plenty to write about.
And finally, how about something completely irrelevant, useless, and/or inconsequential that readers might like to know about you?
I have the damnedest birthmark.
John Lutz is the author of over forty-five novels and 200 short stories. He is the recipient of the Edgar and Shamus awards, and is a past president of Private Eye Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America. His work has been translated into most languages and adapted for film.
To learn more about John, please visit his website.