Name – Dana King
Age – 59
Where are you from – Born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Now living about halfway between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Working class background, one brother, parents still live in the same house I grew up in. Master’s degree in Trumpet Performance. Married to The Beloved Spouse. My daughter (The Sole Heir) is currently in medical school.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My most recently released book is a private eye story titled The Man in the Window. It’s the third in a series about that PI, the first of which (A Small Sacrifice) received a Shamus Award nomination.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’d written short poems and stories for my friends off and on for years. I needed a creative outlet when I pulled the plug on my music career and I sort of fell into doing the same kinds of things. People liked them, so I kept doing them. Then I discovered Raymond Chandler and wanted to do more. This has all taken place in the past twenty years or so. Never really thought about writing regularly until then.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
About the time writers whose work I enjoyed and respected started to volunteer flattering comments about my writing. That’s when I knew I wasn’t just fooling myself. (Not that I never fool myself.)
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I’d been fooling around with short stories about this Chicago-based detective, but read few short stories myself. Novels were always what interested me, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was woefully ignorant of what was involved.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
It’s still evolving, but it’s safe to say it’s hard-boiled, though I hate that term. I’m sometimes described as noir, though little of what I write is that dark. I’m more gris. (My French major daughter helped me come up with that.)
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I stink at titles. The Man in the Window is probably the third or fourth one I tried for this book. I finally did what I noticed some other writers do, and lifted a phrase from a key part of the book.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The PI series has gotten darker as it goes along. (Book Four is darker than The Man in the Window, and Book Five, which I’m working on now, is the darkest yet.) Without realizing it when I started, the message that has evolved is that there is a limit to what any person can absorb without showing the effects. The violence Nick Forte has seen and endured has damaged him in a real way. He’s not an alcoholic or drug addict, but he’s definitely not the man he was in A Small Sacrifice.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
All of it, I hope. The catch in writing crime fiction—especially detective fiction—is we’re telling stories that don’t really happen the way we tell them. It’s extremely rare for private detectives to investigate murders, for example, but the convention demands it for novels. What I strive for is a sense of verisimilitude, where I hope I never ask the reader to suspend too much disbelief. Everything that takes place, the reader should be able to think, “I can see that happening.”
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The Forte stories grew out of those short stories I wrote for my friends and several of them have carried over. His daughter, Caroline, is my daughter. Things The Sole Heir and I did when she was the same age as Caroline are the bases for virtually everything Nick and Caroline do.
Much more of this happens in my other series, based in a small, economically depressed town in Western Pennsylvania. The town itself is as close a replica of where I grew up as I can make it, and all of the people who live there are amalgams of people I knew, and still know.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
As a person? David Simon’s and Edward Burns’s The Corner, which changed how I think about inner cities, and people, dramatically. It’s easy for someone who grew up in the country as I did to see drug addicts and homeless people and gangs and think that’s all there is, which makes those areas easy not to think about. Simon and Burns humanized everyone there to show most people want the same things for their families and their kids, and no one aspires to being a junkie. By the time they realize where some bad decisions have taken them, it’s too late.
As a writer, I’d have to say the two books that have affected me most are George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, for much the same reasons those books have affected so many others.
A couple of mentors come to mind. I took a workshop with John McNally the winter of 2002. He more than anyone impressed on me I had the chops to try to do something with my writing. He was always encouraging to me, the only genre writer in the workshop, and we have remained friends, which means a lot to me. And, of course, Charlie Stella, who is more responsible than anyone for my first book contract, and whose enthusiasm for my writing in general encouraged me to submit A Small Sacrifice for Shamus consideration.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Davis Swinson’s The Second Girl. It’s an ARC I picked up at Bouchercon and I expect to do very well. He sets a hook in the first chapter there’s no getting past. Hell of a book.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
The Second Girl is only Swinson’s second book, so he qualifies. I also recently finished Sam Wiebe’s debut, Last of the Independents, which deserves all the praise it’s received.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m wrapping up the second draft of the fifth Nick Forte book this weekend. I need to finish it, and to make a few cuts to Forte #4 before getting back to Penns River.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Lots and lots. I’ve been very fortunate. One stands out: Charlie Stella, though “entity” seems to damn him with faint praise. Charlie is a force of nature. No one has ever had a stauncher supporter than I have had in Charlie. You hear this a lot, but I can never repay him. Really. I can barely keep up with the vig.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No. Not that it wouldn’t be nice not to have to do anything else. It’s more than a hobby to me, but I have no illusions about how many writers the market can support. I also understand I don’t write—or read—the kinds of books that are likely to be bestsellers, and that’s really all the big publishers look for nowadays. I’d like nothing better than to find a small publisher I can work with over a period of time and make enough to pay my conference fees. Maybe supplement my retirement income when the time comes.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Absolutely. There’s something in all of them. No book is ever perfect, but we have to call them finished at some point. I think most authors would say that.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always been a good storyteller, and good with jokes. Writing them down is, for me, a natural extension, as it gives me a chance to be more elaborate and develop things beyond what we can tell someone face-to-face.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
The principal viola of the Chicago Symphony asks Nick Forte to follow his wife. The violist dies before Forte can deliver his report, but a friend of that musician asks Forte to look into that, as he thinks the wife is responsible. By the time the story plays out, someone close to Forte dies, and the plot comes to involve terrorists, organized crime, and the orchestra itself. (Or not. Red herrings come into play, as well.)
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
That depends what you mean by “challenging.” To me, in the writing? Or what I think readers might find challenging?
To me, the middle of the outline and the first draft are challenges. I can come up with beginnings and endings pretty well, but tying them together is a pain. Then writing the draft is difficult. Like many writers, I get about halfway through and decide the book is a piece of shit, I have no talent as a writer, and I’m a short, troll-like hunchback. I get past it, but it’s no fun while pushing through it.
For readers, I’ll be honest, I assume my readers are intelligent. Not because it requires a lot of smarts to read me, or because I’m so cool they must be smart of they read me, but, like me, they’re the kind of people who don’t like to be talked down to. I expect them to keep up without having every little thing explained to them. Everything they need to know is there. I just don’t like to draw attention to them all. “Look! Right here! It’s a clue! Pay attention!” I hate books that do that.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Just one? Wow. If you told me I could only read one writer for the rest of my life, it would probably be Elmore Leonard. What I like about him is how he never makes a big deal out of anything and lets the circumstances and characters speak for themselves. And he’s funny in an organic way, without writing jokes. Life is like that.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not at all. Both series are set in places I used to live. I go back to visit “Penns River” half a dozen times a year, to see my parents.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
All but Grind Joint were designed by The Beloved Spouse, with input and final approval from me. Grind Joint was designed by Mark Sheppard.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Honestly? Knowing what to do with it when it’s finished. Querying and submitting, or self-publishing and marketing; all are a pain in the ass. Hate it. If I ever stop writing, it will be because of what comes after the book is written.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Not so much from this one. It draw more heavily from previous research and experiences than most of my other books, so it wrote itself more than any of the others.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes. I know the secret that ties together Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Dickens, Flaubert, Wolfe; name the famous author and they all do it: finish. I’ve lost track of how many friends in writers’ groups read promising beginnings and get bogged down in perfecting the first chapter or three and never finish the book. Finish the book. Nothing else counts if you don’t.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes: Thank you. Readers give writers their two most valuable possessions: money and time. I value their time more. This may sound corny, but I am sincerely flattered when I hear someone has read one of my books. There are a million other things they could be doing, and million other books they could be reading. They gave me hours they can never have back, and the last thing I want to do is to waste them.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Probably Dick and Jane in first grade. The first books that stick in my mind as reading for pleasure are The Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, Chip Hilton (American sports books), The Call of the Wild, Tarzan, and several baseball books by John R. Tunis.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Just about anything can make me laugh in the proper context. Laughing babies will do it regardless of context. I tend to cry more when I’m happy than when I’m sad. Family things will do it, certain memories.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Hundreds. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the late physicist Richard Feynman. Quite possibly—probably—the greatest genius the United States has ever produced, and, based on everything I’ve read, a very cool guy.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
I’ve never thought about it, as I don’t plan to have a headstone. I’ll be cremated when the time comes, with my ashes sprinkled at an undisclosed location. (I know where, but I don’t think it’s legal.)
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Reading, obviously. I’m a huge seam- and puck-head, so I watch a lot of baseball and hockey, and play some simulation games of both. I also hand tools to, and reach high spots for, The Beloved Spouse when “we” have home improvement projects.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
The only shows I can think of currently on television that I watch are Longmire and Ray Donovan. The Beloved Spouse and I do go back to certain favorites every couple of years to re-watch them: Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield, The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, Generation Kill, Firefly. Justified is about to join that list.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
My favorite food is often what The Beloved Spouse cooked most recently. Honest to God. I’ve never met anyone who can take my relatively narrow taste in food (meat, starch, sugar) and find more ways to make it interesting. Outside of what she cooks, I’ve said for years I could live on bar food. Hamburgers, chicken wings, sausage.
Color? Probably blue. Anything relaxing or cheery.
Music? Everything from classical to big band jazz to R&B to country. In the course of a week I may listen to Mahler, Buddy Rich, Warren Zevon, Delbert McClinton, Beethoven, The Canadian Brass, and Tom Waits and not think much of it.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Since you specified “like to have done,” it’s easy: play trumpet in an orchestra. If someone came to me right now and said they had an orchestra gig for me but I’d have to give up writing, I might not finish the interview.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I blog twice a week at One Bite at a Time (danaking.blogspot.com). I post interviews with writers, some reviews, and comments about writing. No politics.
I’ve been a bit of a derelict about my author Facebook posts, but I promise to get better. Folks can find me there at www.facebook.com/DanaKingBooks.
Anyone whose interest has been piqued enough to want to see more about my books, please stop by my Amazon author page. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise to answer all messages.
Before I go, thank you, Fiona for the opportunity. This has been great fun, and you got me to think about several things no one has asked before. I hope you don’t mind if I steal—sorry, I mean borrow—a few of these questions for future interviews on my blog.