You’ve always kept busy as a writer, both through your work in comics and novels, as well as your background in journalism, but 2016 is posed to be a particularly bountiful year for you. It kicked off in January with the digital short exclusive Bad Beat, a crossover you co-wrote with Rob Hart. The story features both your character, Pete Fernandez, and his, Ash McKenna (New Yorked, City of Rose). How’d that collaboration come about, and what was it like co-writing with someone in a purely prose setting versus the collaborative work you’ve done in comics?
It came up really organically, which was nice. Rob and I were having dinner after an event and got to talking about our mutual affection for comics, which lead us to talk about great crossover. Eventually, we latched onto the idea of doing it with our own characters in advance of our new books. By the time we were on our respective trains home, Jason Pinter at Polis Books had OK’d the idea and we were off.
I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried the idea would fizzle – mainly because Rob and I are both very busy. But the writing was seamless and easy. We brainstormed the outline and where the story fit in our respective character timelines and then split up the work. We’d each take turns writing our sections and then took passes editing the whole thing. We both have journalism backgrounds, so I think that helped in terms of letting someone else tinker with your work. The end result was a fun story – and one that I got to nod to in the reissued version of SILENT CITY, making it more “canon.”
Rob and I have similar sensibilities and work ethics and I love the Ash books, so it was really a treat to work with him. I hope we can do it again, if the stars align the right way.
The idea of crossovers is not unusual in the world of comics, your longtime playing field, but it doesn’t seem to happen often with characters in traditional prose. Why do you think that is? Are there any characters out there in the world of thrillers/mysteries you think would be particularly interesting to see team up?
ITW did a collection called FACE/OFF not long ago that involved writers crossing their series characters over with one another – that’s what got me to thinking about it. I loved the idea that at one point, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Dennis Lehane’s Pat Kenzie met. The comic fan in me was in heaven. But that was the only time I saw it happen, aside from nods and winks one author does in their books to other authors. It just seemed like an untapped opportunity. I think it’s trickier in terms of ownership, where with a comic, if you’re working for hire, you can intermingle as many characters as you like because they’re all owned by the same company. I’d love to see Tess Monaghan team up with someone, or have George Pelecanos dust off Nick Stefanos for something. Maybe they could all hang out with Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager or Block’s Scudder. How cool would that be?
You work with Archie Comics, a property that has seen a lot of interesting crossovers over the years. From KISS to the Ramones, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Punisher, even Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and the cast of Glee. A lot of interesting characters have visited the Riverdale gang. What is it about Archie that makes what many may think an unlikely property so ripe for these crossovers?
Archie is an icon and also an everyman – so the idea of his world inter-mingling with more extreme concepts like the Predator or even KISS really gets people jazzed up. It’s such a stark contrast, but it also makes sense because Archie as a concept is so malleable. He can be traditional Archie, or the more current “New Riverdale” Archie or an Archie on the run from zombies. No matter what, as long as the story is true to the character, it remains Archie, so that opens up the doors to a lot of fun story potential, I think.
Some may think the world of comics and the world of traditional prose don’t have much in common. As one who has a foot planted firmly in both worlds, what’s your take on the similarities and differences?
I think the goal is the same. When writing a comic script or a novel you’re trying to tell a good, compelling story. Character is equally important, even if you’re writing the kind of story that involves aliens or the supernatural or something very grounded and realistic. The differences are in the journey, I guess. Comics are much more collaborative – you have a team of people that jam together to create the end result – including an artist, letterer, colorist and so on. With prose, it’s your baby. You sit alone with the keyboard and start from zero. Eventually, people start to chime in, but by then you’ve created the work. While revisions take time and it changes what you started, it’s all on your shoulders.
Continuing your busy 2016, Polis Books reissued your debut novel, Silent City, in March, and is poised to release its follow-up, Down the Darkest Street, on April 12th. How’d you and Jason Pinter, publisher of Polis Books, get on each other’s radar?
I’ve known Jason for years – he’s worn many hats in the industry, from writer, publicist, editor and more, and done them all very well. So, when he announced Polis Books, I knew working with him would be ideal. We got to talking about the Pete books and it proceeded from there. But from the first conversation, I knew Jason had a plan and understood what these books needed. It was very smart, I thought, to reissue the first novel the month before the new one – that way anyone who may have missed Silent City‘s first printing in 2013 could hop aboard seamlessly. Polis gave it a reach it never had, and it really helped position the new novel. I’m constantly amazed at Jason’s publishing smarts, how much he cares about his authors and his willingness to take risks. It’s a great honor to be part of Polis and to share space with so many talented crime writers like Dave White, Patti Abbott, Rob Hart, Todd Robinson, Bryon Quertermous and more. It’s like being on a great baseball team.
Your lead character, Pete Fernandez, is described in the jacket copy as a guy who’s “making it up as it goes.” Given that he has a journalism background, as do you, do you also share his making it up as you go approach with regard to your writing process? Or do you tend to be more of a detailed outliner/plotter?
I love this question, mainly because I don’t really know where I stand on it, haha. With novels, I usually just dive in, with a rough idea of what I want the book to be about. At a certain point, I start to leave myself little notes or missives in the novel document – like, “PETE GOES TO SEE SO-AND-SO.” Eventually, those little side notes merge and become something more formal, resembling an outline. But by then, I’m plugging away at the writing, too. I always try to leave myself enough wiggle room in the outline to veer off, though. Sometimes the characters don’t agree with your plans for them, and you have to be ready to take a detour for a bit to follow them and not worry too much about what you had tabbed for Chapter 21. While this allows me some flexibility in the writing of the first draft – which, I find, to be the hardest part – it means more work on the backend. After I write a draft, I put it down for a week or two, then mark up a hard copy. I try to be as ruthless as possible, too. Then I revise and pound it into shape. Once that’s done, it’s ready to be seen by a small circle of people, like my wfie, agent and mother-in-law (a great book editor and proofreader), and you rinse and repeat for a while until you’re comfortable. Though, I can’t say you’re ever completely comfortable.
Fernandez has a tough go of it in both Silent City and Down the Darkest Street, so things obviously don’t get any easier for him from the first book to the second. But how about you? Did you find the process of writing Down the Darkest Street easier since you’d been walking around with the character awhile and had a chance to settle in with him? Or was it harder precisely because you’d grown closer to the character yet still had to put the guy through the ringer?
It was definitely faster. I wasn’t questioning everything I was doing as it was happening. And I had the confidence of having written one book, so I knew I could do it again. The challenge for me, with Down the Darkest Street, was that I had grown to really like Pete and it became harder to put him through the paces I knew he had to go through. There’s a scene in the book that was brutal for me to write, because it just wrecks the guy. I felt bad! I had to walk away from my computer for a while and get myself together. But I feel like you have to put the characters through the wringer, otherwise, who cares? I’m interested in stories that show an arc for the leads – I don’t want Pete to be the same character at the end of the book. He has to evolve.
The city of Miami obviously plays a crucial role in Fernandez’s world, and Miami is a wonderfully fertile place to set a story. Would Fernandez be the same guy in Minneapolis? Or San Diego? Or is Miami as much a part of who he is as his actual DNA from a storytelling point of view?
I don’t think he’d be the same. Not if he was born and raised elsewhere, in the same way he was born and raised in Miami. Your roots shape you, either by instilling things in you or giving you things to rebel against. I’ve talked about this a lot while discussing the book, but for me, the best PI novels feature a strong lead and a strong setting. Marlowe’s LA, Scudder’s NY, Monaghan’s Baltimore, etc. The city is as much a character as the lead. Is it exactly the Miami that we see today? Not really. It’s Miami as I see it and remember it. But that interests me, so that’s why I’m writing about it. As long as it rings true and adds to the story, I think it’s of value. While I can see Pete moving around – maybe taking on a case somewhere else or living somewhere else, each novel will have ties to Miami or bring him back to Miami. It’s at the core of the books.
Any hints about what people can look forward to from you in the second half of 2016 and beyond?
I’ll be bouncing around on tour – I have a few events in New York, Miami/South Florida, Bouchercon, Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee and the Miami Book Fair. So, it’ll be a fairly promo-heavy time. In the fall Archie Comics will release ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES, which I’m co-writing with Matt Rosenberg, art by Gisele. And sometime next year we’ll see the release of the third Pete novel, Dangerous Ends! Never a dull moment.