Name Dana King
Where are you from Born Arnold PA USA
Raised Lower Burrell PA USA
Currently lives in Laurel MD USA
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
I grew up in a semi-rural area with a younger brother; my parents still live in the same house. I was a good but unspectacular student who played in every instrumental music ensemble our high school had and got a Bachelor’s in Music Education. Three years in an Army band got me ready for grad school at New England Conservatory, where I earned(?) a Master of Music in Trumpet. I played free-lance for a while then moved into “real” jobs: public school teacher, computer network administrator, software engineer, to my current job as a systems administrator and trainer.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
The latest latest news is that my book The Man in the Window got a Shamus Award nomination for Best Paperback Original. This came only a few weeks after I released the next book in that series, A Dangerous Lesson. It’s been a good few weeks.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I always liked to tell stories and took a creative writing class in high school. One day after my music career crapped out I got a bug to write a short story that included my trumpet playing buds as characters, and wrote it as a combination homage and satire on Mickey Spillane. That was supposed to be a one off but everyone liked it so much I wrote another for the job I had at the time, the one after that, then started thinking about writing for publication.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Some days, not even now. If I had to pick a day when I decided I was a writer as opposed to “someone who writes,” it was when Todd Robinson chose my story “Green Gables” for one of his Thuglit anthologies. I knew what kinds of writers made the cut at Thuglit and figured that even if I only reached that level once, it was something to feel good about.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Like a lot of writers, my “first” book was actually my third. The first attempt got me an agent but went nowhere. The second got me a different agent and almost landed a contract. I’m glad now it didn’t. Some of the premise was a little cute for how my taste and writing evolved.
The first book I wrote that actually saw the light of day came to me during the Jon Benet Ramsey investigation, when her parents were on every TV news show and everyone assumed they were lying. One night I had the idea, “What if they’re in a situation where they can’t tell the whole truth?” After that I stopped watching or reading anything to do with the case and started working on an outline with that premise. That book turned into A Small Sacrifice, which earned a Shamus nomination in 2014.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Yes, but I’m not sure how to describe it. Basically it’s hard-boiled, but I hate that term. Several reviewers and other writers see an Elmore Leonard element in the multi-POV stories. Some call me noir, and some of my stories are, though not many. My daughter was a French major in college and we were discussing it one day and come up with the term gris for my style. (French for “gray.”)
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Both The Man in the Window and A Dangerous Lesson had different titles right up until I published them. I wrote The Man in the Window under the title, “Mahler 2” because of the key role played by rehearsals and a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony. The Beloved Spouse convinced me that was confusing and didn’t sound anything like a mystery.
A Dangerous Lesson began life as “Abyss,” after the Nietzsche quote I used for the epigraph. That also had no resonance. In the end I took phrases from the last chapter of each book and used them as the titles.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, but they’re primarily meant to be entertaining. The Forte novels have an arc that shows how the violence he encounters wears on him and makes him far more prone to violence himself. My other series focuses on a small town in Western Pennsylvania where a thread of economic hardship is always there. Basically I want readers to be entertained, but have a different perspective on one thing or another when they’re finished.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
A Dangerous Lesson is wholly fictional, with the exception of a few character loosely based on people I know. The Man in the Window draws a lot on my experience as a musician for the characters and settings, though the only morsel of plot that can said to be based on anything has to do with rumors Herbert von Karajan was a Nazi; Helmut Obersdorfer is based somewhat on that.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
If I have to pick one book, it’s probably The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which I know doesn’t make me special. I’d read a lot of Elmore Leonard before Higgins, so I was already pretty heavily dialog oriented, but Higgins shows what can be done with dialog if you’re willing to take the chance.
I also have to give props to James Ellroy’s American Tabloid for showing what’s possible if you just don’t give a shit and write exactly whatever the hell you want. I don’t have Ellroy’s brass balls, but I am more adventurous than I used to be.
There are a couple of writers I think of as mentors in their own ways. My sole writing educational experience was a workshop conducted by John McNally in the spring of 2002 at George Washington University. John taught me how to read as critically as I listened to music, and how to see what the author was doing with an eye to how I could adapt some things to my own talents.
Pam Strickler was my agent for a while. We parted amicably when I decided I wanted to take Nick Forte in a different direction. She taught me to self-edit, which may be the single greatest skill any writer can have. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t do something Pam taught me. Thanks for making me think of her. I haven’t been in touch for a long time. I need to thank her personally.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Too many to mention and risk leaving out someone deserving. I always thought that was a cop-out answer when I saw it in interviews, but now that I’m more closely integrated into the crime fiction community I see why so many do it.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
There is no more supportive group of people anywhere than crime fiction writers. Sure, there are a few jerks, but on the whole crime writers are friendly, supportive, helpful, and any other word you can think of that makes things easier in such a solitary profession.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There’s always something I’d change. The hardest part of writing a book is knowing when to quit. Even then I never “know” when to quit. I decide this will be the final draft, so make it count. Then I type THE END and walk away.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always appreciated good writing, and always admired people who told a good story, in writing or verbally. I didn’t think of it as such at the time, but when my musical career fell apart I had hours every day to fill because I no longer had to practice and just fell into writing as another way to express myself. The irony is I’m probably better at this than I ever was as a musician.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m returning to the Penns River series with a story about a mass shooting. A pair of stick-up men have started working in the area and decide to hang around, figuring the cops will be busy working on the shootings. The goal is to show how easy it can be for a small town police force that already has budget issues to be overwhelmed.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Middles. I get good ideas—big deal; all writers get good ideas—and endings come to me in close to final form fairly well. It’s how to join the two that breaks my balls.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not really. My parents still live in the town I used as the model for Penns River, so I drive around some whenever I go to visit them. I also subscribe to the local paper over the Internet and get an idea or two for anecdotes in each book there. The Forte series is set in and around Chicago, where I lived for a few years, so I stick to what I know and use the Internet to look for specific locations.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I’m glad you asked that. The Beloved Spouse designed the covers for both The Man in the Window and A Dangerous Lesson. I’m delighted with both of them.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The first draft is always the heaviest lifting. Stravinsky once said a blank sheet of music paper was the most intimidating thing in the world. Anything can happen. Everything you add limits options. Writing is like that. The actual word selection part gets easier as I near the end—of course, I outline, so I know where I’m going—but the early parts of a first draft are a pain.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I like to think I learn from everything I write—I certainly try to—but it’s often hard to say what. I think what happens is that I spend so much time wrapped up in a book that by the time I’m done whatever I’ve learned has become so much a part of me it’s hard to remember I didn’t always know it.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead.
My first choice to play Nick Forte would be Liev Schreiber. Jon Hamm would also be very good, though from a different angle.
Don Cheadle would be a great Goose.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Spend more time reading than you do actually writing, and spend more time with family, friends, and doing what brings you joy and takes you to your happy place than on either reading or writing. That doesn’t mean to only write when you feel like it, or that you shouldn’t take it seriously. It’s a discipline. It also needs to be tempered. Life is short. Enjoy it. Don’t become so focused on a single goal that your life is a disappointment if you don’t accomplish it. If you’re not 100% sure what I mean, see the movie Up.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just that I appreciate it every time someone buys or reads one of my books. You’re giving me your two most precious and finite commodities: time and money. Of the two, I appreciate your time the most. Not only is it more finite—there are always opportunities to make more money, or shift it around—but we don’t know how much we’re going to get. Thank you.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Bomb, by Les Edgerton.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Unfortunately no, but that was a long time ago.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Just about anything can make me laugh under the right circumstances. How appropriate others find that laughter is a matter for debate.
I’ll cry over fond memories of things that are no longer, or I know will not be for much longer. I also suspect I’ll shed a tear if the Pirates win the World Series again in my lifetime.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Physicist Richard Feynman. I’m not big on heroes, but he qualifies. Maybe the greatest genius this country ever produced, and from all accounts a caring and entertaining man.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
I plan to be cremated and my ashes scattered, so no headstone for me. Where I’ll ask to be scattered is still under deliberation.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I’m a serious seam head and subscribe to the Major League Baseball streaming service so I can watch well over 100 Pirates games a year. I also like to read baseball analysis books, though I have to admit some of it has gone beyond my interest.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I don’t watch much TV, at least not until the rest of the world has vetted shows for me, so I come to them late. The most current shows I’ve enjoyed are Jessica Jones, which surprised me, as I’m not into superhero stories. River was brilliant. It’s a six-week BBC series with Stellan Skaarsgard that Netflix is streaming and I can’t say enough good things about it.
The favorites I own and come back to are Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield, Band of Brothers, Generation Kill. We got the complete set of Justified last week, so I expect to start back in there soon.
For movies, I’ll stick with the ones I liked enough to buy: L.A. Confidential, The French Connection, Get Shorty, The Big Lebowski, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Blazing Saddles, The Usual Suspects, The Maltese Falcon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Foods: Meat. Beef, chicken, pork, turkey in all their combinations. Coming from Western Pennsylvania, PLA is also a staple of my diet. (Pig Lips and Assholes, a/k/a sausage. Brats, Italian sweet with peppers and onions, Italian hot for making poor boys.)
Colors: Blue, probably. Bright vivid colors.
Music: Classical (Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky), jazz (Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Don Ellis, Doc Severinsen), R&B (Tower of Power, James Brown, Delbert McClinton), country (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson), and some one-offs (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, A3, Dick Dale “King of the Surf Guitar,” Warren Zevon).
And, of course, Tom Waits.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Play trumpet in an orchestra. I’d do that now if someone offered me a job and a year to get my cops in shape.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
The blog is called One Bite at a Time, a tribute to The Beloved Spouse, who used to watch me get wrapped around the axle over how much of a book I still had to write and taught me to “eat the elephant one bite at a time.” It’s at http://danaking.blogspot.com.