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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Q & A

A few questions came in during ASK ME WEDNESDAY. Thanks for the interest, folks.

Josephine asks:

Ok. How did you come to be represented by David Hale Smith, an agent who does not accept queries? A referral? Or you were already established and repped by another agent, like J. D. Rhoades was?

DHS and I worked together years ago through Write Way Publishing, a small press that brought out three of my mystery novels in the mid-90s. David was their agent and sold THE DEAD PAST and SORROW'S CROWN to Berkley for mass market paperback release. Then for about ten years afterwards I wrote horror novels and worked without an agent. When I turned my eye back towards crime fiction, most of the guys who were doing all kinds of great work in the field--Duane Swierczynski, Sean Doolittle, Victor Gischler, among others--turned out to be repped by DHS. So I contacted him and discovered he'd been keeping an eye on my career over the interim, so we started working together again.

He's the fifth agent I've had in my career and the first to ever sell something for me. The other four failed to garner any interest at all, although on my own I sold seventeen novels to the likes of Pocket Books, Leisure, and Bantam. So no, I have absolutely no advice I can give you about how to find a good agent, because it took twenty years for me to find one.

Tony Zuma asks:

W.H. Auden commented on how crime fiction follows a familiar pattern:

1) First there is peace2) Peace is shattered3) Search for wrongdoer4) Apprehension5) Punishment6) Restored Peace

Your crime novels are anything but formulaic (with the exception of the theme of revenge) and I was wondering if you can contribute your success to not following this or other established patterns in your mass market crime fiction. Are you a blank slate for every novel?

I think Auden's list is pretty accurate for my work, with the exception that none of my characters ever starts off or ends up truly at peace. And it's because I focus my energies on trying to explore that chaos of a charater's life that I think each of my novels follows its own course. Even if I do return to certain themes and plot points, it's in that confusion that I try to find exactly what sets a protagonist off on his quest and how he is stymied and suffers and may or may not eventually overcome. I don't think "blank slate" quite conveys the impetus--rather the opposite. The slate is covered over and it's how I try to weave the mess into a cohesive tale that gives the story its structure, momentum, heart, and resolution.

TT also asks: Do you prefer white or red clam sauce with linquine.

If you mean white sauce as in alfredo sauce, then I'm all about the alfredo. If you mean a garlic and butter sauce, then I've gotta go with the red clam sauce.

Keith Rawson asks:

Okay, as you know I'm a pretty big fan of your fiction and I've read just about everything of yours that's in print. And I've noticed in your novels the running themes of automobiles and dreams. So my question is, what's the deal with muscle cars and hanging with dead folks in your novels? Are you a gearhead? Do you have a vivid dream life that carries over into your writing life?

I'm about as opposite from a gearhead as you can get. I know how to start a car, where to put the gas, and maybe in a clinch I could change a tire. Other than that, I'm useless. But as a person and a writer and a 70s movie junkie I know that the Americana myth is front-loaded with on-the-road freedom and muscle car mayhem and movement. We don't just tap into what we are to find our stories, we guess at who we want to be, at what our alter-egos might be like, what they'd do in certain situations that, God willing, we never find ourselves in. So I groove on muscle cars. I can respect their power and their iconic imagery on the road and in film and in fiction. It's a way for me to bring some street value into the work. It's a way for me to dig on my own fantasies. Who doesn't want to be Steve McQueen in BULLIT? Or Peter Fonda in DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY? Or Burt Reynolds in WHITE LIGHTNING? I don't need to know shit about an engine to drop the hammer.

As for the dead folks who ride shotgun or sit in back--along with that iconic imagery comes a lot of Americana history and personal burdens. Freedom costs on the road. Who doesn't like to kick back and go for a ride and hit a righteous radio station and gun for the sun? But it's during those long lonely rides that my thoughts turn back to the folks I've lost--who might be dead or might just be distant, who might be twenty years out of reach. But they're with me in my lonely moments, and the dead and the missing are with my characters on their treks. It's a theme that reverberates with me. That sticks in my gut. So I revisit it every so often.

Anyway, in my next two novels I promise you won't get any muscle car mythos.

Stink-Eye Pete asks:

What else can you tell us about your latest "noirella" THE LAST DEEP BREATH?

It'll be another novella for Tasmaniac Publications, due out in early '10. The story follows Grey, a drifter on the search for his foster sister, who showed up for the first time in ten years with a knife in her side, then vanished without a trace. Grey winds up in Los Angeles dealing with manipulative actresses and scummy agents, hoping to find some clue as to what happened to her after she dropped out of a porn career he didn't know about.


Unknown said...

I love Bullit! And thanks for the great response. And as far as the answer to Josephine's question, this seems to be a constant with the writer's I've spoken with, most agents tend to suck and the writer ends up selling his/her own work more successfully than the so-called agent.

Quick question in regards to the Agent/publisher system? Why is this in place when so many agents are so unsuccessful in selling their client's books?

Tom Piccirilli said...

Every author probably has a sucky agent story and vice versa. Agents take on a large stable of authors and, in general, do well by some of them for some of the time depending on how the market is. But some authors slip through the cracks and write fiction that has to be bulled through, and an agent would naturally rather make an easy big sale than a hard smaller sale. None of those early four agents I had were willing to work as hard for me as I was, which is why I made the sales and they didn't. But they were still very successful people, they just sold other folks' work better than they could mine.

Anonymous said...

Tom, this might sound like a silly question but did you fire the agents after you sold the books?


Tom Piccirilli said...

You don't really fire agents, per se. You just decide not to work together anymore. That's what happened in the first three cases. In the last, I'm pretty sure she'd forgotten that she was supposed to be representing me anyhow, so there was no real need to part company.

Unknown said...

Sorry to keep harping on this, but don't you sign a service contract or something or other with an agent?

Tom Piccirilli said...

Not always. Sometimes you sign a contract, usually for a year. But you can always get out of it if you both mutually agree to part ways. If you decide you don't want the agent to rep you, he isn't going to hold you to it. And if an agent decides he doesn't want to rep you, you're not going to try to force him to do so.

Josephine Damian said...

Thanks for answering my question - just wanted to know the particulars about you and DHS.

Bob Schaller said...

Good advice and insights, as always, Tom. I love being repped because the deals I got selling my own books didn't pay much. My two agents now sell to trades and it helps me afford to keep this writing habit of mine -- and I have non-exclusive deals with both so I can work with anyone. I'm sure at some point when my recent run of luck ends they will focus on who they rep exclusively, but not being tethered yet still having an agent works for me. But as you and I talked about in Fort Collins in what must have been eons ago, it's a personal choice and what works for one may or may not work for someone else. I love reading your Tom TP!

Bob Schaller said...

And as most literate readers noted, I certainly mean with the last line, "I love reading your stuff, TP" :). Good thing your first name isn't Johnson...

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