Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview with, JOHN RECTOR 1/01/11

I couldn't think of any better way to kick off 2011 than with a interview with red hot debut author John Rector. John's debut novel "THE COLD KISS" was followed up with "THE GROVE" , both hitting shelves in 2010 to high praise. Be on the lookout for a third novel coming your way in the near future. It is my pleasure to introduce Mr. John Rector. Welcome John.

1) Your first book published was "The Cold Kiss", but your first book written & second published was "The Grove" . Can you explain the path or process that led to it happening this way?

JR: I wrote The Grove in the summer of 2006 and signed on with my agent that fall. He shopped the book around New York in early 2007, and while we got a lot of great feedback, we didn’t get any offers. So, I went back to work and wrote The Cold Kiss. That one was picked up by Tor/Forge in the summer of 2009, and later that year by Simon and Schuster UK as the first book in a three book deal.

2) "The Cold Kiss" has now been released in the U.K. Was it as well received there as was in the U.S.?

-- JR: I think so, but I’m not over there so it’s hard to get a feel for how it’s doing. I’ve had a lot of nice letters from readers in the UK, and wonderful reviews in places like The Irish Independent, and The SUN. I do know that everyone at Simon and Schuster has been fantastic, and my editor has championed the book from day one. It’s been a great experience, and I’m hoping to get over there this year.

3) "The Cold Kiss" has been optioned for a feature film. Has there been any movement that you can share with us?

--JR: It has been optioned and there’s a director and screenwriter attached, so I’ve got my fingers crossed. Beyond that there’s not much I can share.

4) "The Grove" was the first novel you wrote and was released as an E-book on Amazon and became a best seller there, and has subsequently been published by the Amazon Encore Imprint. Why did you chose to go that direction with "The Grove" and were you satisfied with how it worked out?

-- JR: I released The Grove on the Kindle right around the time Tor/Forge made an offer to publish The Cold Kiss, and the only reason I did it was to try and build an audience. I thought if I could sell a few hundred copies on my own, maybe those readers would turn around and pick up The Cold Kiss once it was released.

Turns out, The Grove did better than I thought it would. It hit #1 on all the horror, hard boiled, and mystery lists and stayed there for several weeks. Eventually Amazon noticed, and in January of 2010 I got a call from an editor at their Amazon Encore imprint asking if they could re-publish the novel. I jumped at the chance, and The Grove was re-released in November 2010.

I’ve been very happy with how things have worked out with that book.

5) I saw where you almost didn't write "The Cold Kiss" because it was dark as was "The Grove". So tell me, what's wrong with writing dark material, especially if you're good at it as you are?

JR: -- There’s nothing wrong with writing dark material, but I tend to gravitate toward endings where everyone loses and usually dies. The Grove was downright happy compared to what I’d written before, and when the comments came back that it was too dark, I started to rethink my approach.

The reason I stopped writing The Cold Kiss seventy pages in was because I saw where it was heading. I couldn’t think of a way to pull my characters out of the suffocating, claustrophobic nose-dive they were taking, and the last thing I wanted to do was write another book I wouldn’t be able to sell. I wanted to learn from my experience with The Grove, but all I ended up doing was second guessing myself.

Luckily, my wife is much smarter than I am. She read the first few chapters, loved them, and told me she needed to know what happened next. So, I kept going.

6)Can you thank your wife for us on behalf of all your readers, in regards to "The Cold Kiss".

JR:-- Sure, thanks.

7) Nebraska has given us two terrific crime fiction writers in yourself and Sean Doolittle. Are there others that you know of who we might be on the lookout for in the future?

JR: -- Not that I’m aware of, but you never know who’s out there. I know Alex Kava lives here, but that’s about it. Nebraska has a surprisingly strong art/music/lit scene. You’d never guess that coming from a state most people can’t find on a map.

8) You just finished up your first book tour for "The Cold Kiss". What were some of your impressions from that tour and some things you'll be looking to do for "The Grove" book tour coming up?

JR: -- Having the chance to travel around the country and talk with readers and booksellers was a great experience. The people in the crime/thriller genre are incredibly generous and supportive. I met a lot of great people and made some good friends. I can’t wait to go out again, but not for The Grove. I’ve had enough of airports and hotel rooms for a while.

9) I know you attended Bouchercon in Indy & S.F and just took in your first Noir Con in Philly, what were some memorable moments from those and are the big conventions something you'll want to keep doing?

JR: -- I’ll keep going as long as they keep publishing my novels. It’s fun to see everyone, almost like a class reunion, except these are people you actually want to see again. It’s nice to catch up.

As far as memorable moments go, Thriller fest in 2009 is the one that sticks out in my mind. I’d just signed my first contract a couple weeks earlier, and I got invited to the Tor/Forge offices in the flatiron building to meet my editor and the team that was working on the book. It was the first time the reality of becoming a published novelist hit me, and I’ll never forget it.

10) Did you meet any writers at those events that left you kinda star struck?

JR_-- All but a few of my favorite authors are dead, so I don’t get star struck too often. The closest I’ve come was when I met Sara Gran after the Mulholland panel at Bouchercon in San Francisco. I’d gone to meet Daniel Woodrell and ask him to sign a book, and as I was talking to him I heard Megan Abbott introducing Sara Gran to someone behind me. I turned and immediately stumbled over my words telling her how much I loved her books. She probably thought I was some psycho to be avoided, but that’s okay. Come Closer was a huge influence when I wrote The Grove, and she’s one of the very few contemporary writers whose books I’ll buy the day they come out.

11) Can you express what it felt like to walk into that first book store and see your book on the shelves for the first time?

JR:-- The first time I saw The Cold Kiss on the shelf I had just enough time to snap a couple pictures before being dragged off to the kids section by my four year old daughter who’d noticed a big, looming cardboard cutout of Harold and the Purple Crayon. In my house, Harold’s books are infinitely cooler than daddy’s books.

The experience that really got to me was walking around NYC with my wife and my editor the week after the book came out. We spent a day visiting various bookstores and signing stock. It’s one thing to see your book in your local Barnes and Noble, but it’s something completely different to go into Greenwich Village and see it featured on the front shelf at Partners & Crime. That was cool.

12) When are we gonna get you down to St. Louis for a Noir @ Bar because you should know that no writers career can be considered a success until he's made an appearance there? Really !!

JR:--I’ve heard the stories about what goes on down there and I’m a little intimidated, but if that’s what it takes, count me in. Once I get an invite, I’ll bet there.

13) Was being a writer something you always dreamed of from an early age or did you just drift that way?

JR:-- English was my worst subject in High School, and I avoided it during my time in college. I never once dreamed of being a writer until I sat down and decided to give it a try. I was always an avid reader, though, and that was enough for me.

14) What writers do you read and do you think you're voice was shaped by some of those you read?

JR: --Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Stephen King, Ira Levin, Ross Macdonald, and Walter Mosely had the biggest influence on my style and voice. There are others, but these are the biggies.

15) The Cold Kiss" is a wonderful crime Noir novel that feels like it's set in the 70's but really it would feel at home in the 30's-50's as well. That is saying alot really. I think you & Megan Abbott would fit right in with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, or Dorothy B. Hughes. What are your thoughts on that?

JR:-- The Cold Kiss is fundamentally about the choices people make, and if the book does translate to different time periods, I’m guessing that’s why. It’s basically a locked room story in that you have an eclectic group of characters trapped together in one isolated location, no modern technology, surrounded by endless snow. When you strip a story down to just characters interacting with one another like that, the period it takes place becomes somewhat irrelevant.

But for the record, The Cold Kiss takes place in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. There is a brief mention of a cell phone in there somewhere.

16) Where are you at in regards to Book 3?

JR: --Finished, thank God. I’ll have edits soon, but for now I can focus on something else.

17) You've said that Book 4 was "screaming to get out" and "will be your darkest yet". That has to have your readers just about salivating. Does it have a working title yet & can you share any more light on it other than it starts with a kidnapping?

JR:-- Sorry, can’t talk about it. I’m being superstitious about this one.

18) You've said that your first draft is just a starting point, how much time typically do you spend on edits?

JR: --I’ll keep editing books until I can’t physically look at them anymore. I’m kind of a perfectionist. When you read The Cold Kiss, you’re actually reading the manuscript I originally submitted. The only edits I had on that book were very light copy edits.

19) Does music play a role in your writing process and if so in what way?

JR:--I usually write in silence, but when I wrote The Cold Kiss I listened to a song called Playground Love by the band ‘Air’ pretty much non-stop. It’s a mesmerizing song to begin with, so I put it on a loop and let it run until it became white noise and I forgot about it.

20)How much time do spend in doing research for your books?

JR:-- It depends on the story. I’ll usually hold off on research until the first draft is done, but if a scene depends on specifics, like say the stages of decomposition a dead body would go through if left outside in the Midwest in the middle of summer, I’ll track down as much info as I can so I don’t have to do it later.

21) What kinda jobs have you done along the way and what do you currently do for a living? They say only 5% of writers write only.. do you hope to someday join that group, "give up the day job" and write full time?

JR:--I’ve had a lot of strange jobs. I spent fifteen years as a musician, so I job hopped a lot. Bar tending, telemarketing, psychic on a 1-900 psychic line, cemetery groundskeeper, gas station attendant, waiter, network engineer, graphic designer… Pretty much anything I could find that paid the bills.

As far as giving up the day job goes, I don’t know if I could. Part of me doesn’t think I’d ever leave the house. I’m not the most social person to start, and it might be worth it to keep the job just to have contact with other people. Still, it would be a nice choice to have.

22) Frank Bill?

JR:-- In his novel, Donnybrook, Frank Bill describes one of his female characters as having “a body shaped like a hunger”. That line still makes me happy. I’ll read anything he writes.

23) Do you think that E- books, blog sites, on line reviewers, are helping writers to get the work out there these days?

JR:-- The best thing you can do is get people talking about your book, so yes, I think those things are a great help. I’ve found a lot of great books after reading about them online.

I think social media can be an incredible tool, but I also think you can overdo the self-promotion thing. Reviews and interviews are great and can introduce a lot of people to your work, but when I see a writer on Facebook or Twitter posting the same post over and over, day after day, to try and get people to buy their book, my interest drops to zero. Maybe it’s just me, but I like the mystery. Books are fascinating. Writers are boring. If I’m overly aware of the person pulling the strings, it diminishes the experience.

24) When you’re not writing or working...what do you like to do for enjoyment?

JR: --I’ll hang out with my family, read... The usual stuff.

25) Do you already have a publisher for your next two books and if so whom?

JR: -- We’re ironing out the details on that as we speak. Hopefully I’ll have something to announce soon.

26) If it seems to good to be probably is. Good thing Nate & Sara never listened to that advise?

JR: --Reasonable characters that follow good advice, play by the rules, and always try to do the right thing work just fine in places like Mitford, but they definitely don’t belong in noir fiction… Unless someone is stabbing them in the throat, I guess.

27) The snow worked so well here, a perfect setting..was that the setting from the get go or did it come to you later as you wrote?

JR: --I usually start writing without knowing anything about the story. Once I meet the characters, I’ll sit back and outline what I think will happen. With The Cold Kiss, I wrote the opening scene in the diner and the snow was already present, so it became part of the book.

Final Question: "The Cold Kiss" has drawn comparisons to books such as "A Simple Plan", "The Getaway", and "No Country For Old Men". That's great company to be in, Scott Smith, Jim Thompson & Cormac McCarthy. Although there are minor similarities in their story lines, it is the ability to write great characters and great prose that sets them apart. Would you agree or disagree with that?

JR: --I totally agree. Great characters and great prose will set anyone apart.

I’ve never read The Getaway, but I did enjoy A Simple Plan when I read it years ago, and No Country for Old Men is one of my all time favorite books. The simplicity and beauty of McCarthy’s prose in that one is absolutely stunning, especially if you understand how hard it is to write that way. Any writer who can strip a story or a novel down to its bones and still create such a vivid and heartbreaking picture like he did is really something special.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 "YEAR IN REVIEW" & Random Thoughts

Top 10 FILMS of 2010 (in no particular order)
1. Winters Bone
2. Mesrine/Killer Instinct
3. Animal Kingdom
4. The Aura
5. The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo & Played With Fire
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
7. The Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
8. The Killer Inside Me
9. True Grit
10.Black Swan

Honarble Mention:
* Red Riding Trilogy, The Fighter, Stone, Leaves of Grass

Top 10 Discovery's of 2010

1. Noir@Bar (St. Louis Style)
2. Frank Bill and Matt McBride
3. Old Crow Medicine Show
4. Howard Finsters Folk Art
5. Blake Crouch
6. Knob Creek
7. John Rector
8. Jim Tully
9. Chris Offutt
10. American Pickers

Honarable Mention:
Crimefactories, "THE BEST OF WHATEVER"
P&M Presses "Switchblade series"
Mulholland Books website
Tyrus Books/Busted Flush Press merger

Top Books Read in 2010

1. The Devil by Ken Bruen
2. Desert Places & Locked Doors by Blake Crouch
3. Pike by Benjamin Whitmer
4. The Cold Kiss by John Rector
5. Think of A Number by John Verdon
6. No Heroes by Chris Offutt
7. Savages by Don Winslow
8. Don't Quit Your Day Job by Sonny Brewer
9. Innocent Monster by Reed Farrel Coleman
10. Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella

* Note..the best thing I read all year, I can't even talk about. Someday maybe !!

Others of Note:
Print the Legend by Craig McDonald
Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski
The Poachers Son by Paul Doiron

2010 Favorite TV Series

1. Sons of Anarchy
2. Boardwalk Empire
3. Breaking Bad
4. The Walking Dead
5. American Pickers
6. Bored to Death
7. East Bound and Down
8. Justified
9. Storage Wars
10. The Glades

Honorable Mention:
True Blood, Oddities, Dexter, Billy the Exterminator


2010 was a pretty good year, not a great year, but a good year. Afterall, I got to meet two of my literary heroes ( Daniel Woodrell in April & William Gay in Nov. ). Then there was good times at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, the Delta Blues Book Launch in Clarksdale,Ms. and Ebertfest. I also met Morgan Freeman and I started this website "Signs & Wonders" on Jan 3 and soon we'll celebrate 1 year. During that time I conducted 21 author interviews and man was that a treat. Each & every one was a blast to do, and I will always be grateful to those who shared their insights & time with me, ( as a matter of fact...the interviews were probably the highlight of 2010 for me personally). On the down side, my reading slipped quite bit in 2010. For the past 2 years I had read 65 + books a year, but it fell to 45 this year. I'm sure some of that has to do with this blog, but I'll make that trade and I'll bet in 2011 I'm back on pace. 2010 was also a terrible year for music in the area, especially after a super strong 2010. My only musical highlights were seeing Tom Russell,Gretchen Peters & Nanci Griffith perform together in Nashville, and catching Chris Gay, John Hammond, Blind Boys of Alabama and Loudon Wainwright III. The lowest point of 2010 was losing David Thompson and Barry Hannah. The older we get, the more people we lose and there ain't a thing we can do about it. But the spirit's of those we lost never leave us and are a constent source of comfort.

2011...Well it looks like it has lots of promise. How can we go wrong with the 2011 Bouchercon set right hear in our neck of the woods ( St. Louis, Mo ) in Sept. That alone is enough to keep a guys spirits up. In the coming days it looks like we got some great interviews coming your way as well. John Rector, Blake Crouch & Michael Lister, will all help to kick off the New Year in grand fashion. Hopefully we'll soon be finally getting that amazing interview with Guiness world record holder Martin Strel up & posted. Great things indeed. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year and I'll see you in the year ahead.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Newest Discovery & Random Thoughts 12/08/10

This has been a year of terrific discoveries for me in the world of books. First I came across John Rector and "The Cold Kiss", Benjamin Whitmer and "Pike", John Verdon "Think Of A Number", and Chris Offutt's "No Heroes" and "The Good Brother". All terrific books and authors I will anxiously look forward to reading more of in the future. However, I am amazed that I had never read or heard of Blake Crouch. How did this oversight occur and why hasn't anyone I know been raving about this guy. Maybe I wasn't talking to the right people. I picked up Blake's debut novel "Desert Places" and the followup "Locked Doors" , at Murder and Mayhem and even introduced myself to Blake while I was there. It was Reed Farrel Coleman's recommendation that really did the trick and man am I ever grateful. I cannot wait to do a interview with Blake because I have alot of questions for him. The two Andrew Thomas books I mentioned previously read like lightening, & I couldn't and wouldn't put them down. My only disappointment was as I got closer and closer to the end of the second book, I didn't want it to end. These books really should be read back to back and they really read that way. After I finished "Desert Places", I immediately started reading "Locked Doors" and it felt like I had just paused and started the next chapter. I'd love to know if Blake wrote them as one book and then split them into two for publishing purposes. There are page turners and then there are "PAGE TURNERS". These books are well written and though some of the characters are serial killers and are truly evil people who do horrible things, he never gets too graphic in the kills or methods used. However, don't think for one second that these books aren't thrillers, they are downright scary, and you may think twice about settling in for your nice safe slumber next time. The Kite family can be summed up in 3 words "THE DEVILS REJECTS". My advise is to seek these two books out now, go over to your favorite independent mystery stores website or e-bay and purchase them both and read them in order..#1 Desert Places #2 Locked Doors and read them back to back. If you do as I ask you'll thank me later and I promise you a helluva ride.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: The next time your searching the web, go over to Mulholland Books and read Daniel Woodrell's newest non fiction piece posted there. It's outstanding and gives you some real insight to Mr. Woodrell's world that he so elegantly writes about in his books. Also, make sure you pick up the December issue of Esquire and flip to page 157 for a much overdue shout out to Daniel Woodrell. It looks like were not going to be able to keep him as our little secret much longer. It seems to me that William Gay can't be far behind and is equally deserving.

I was glad to see my buddies Jed Ayres and Scott Phillips made it to Fayetteville, Ar. recently to hear Tom Franklin read from "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter". Envious, jealous, but happy nonetheless, and thank God Jed has finally seen the light to the MECCA of the southern Gothic world, Oxford,Ms. You must go & you must take me with you. The folks at Square Books are just unbelievable nice folk & extremely well read and well versed and did I mention it's the home, or has been home, to Tom Franklin, Jack Pendarvis, Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Willie Morris, John Brandon, Ace Atkins, John Grisham, Beth Ann Fennally, and some guy named William Faulkner. Oh, and you never know who will be there, actress Joey Lauren Adams of "Chasing Amy" calls it her home and just the other day singer Tom Waits was there. After you leave Oxford head over to Clarksville and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" where he made a deal with the devil, and you might run into Morgan Freeman at the "Ground Zero Blues Club".
Whatever you do when you head down to the Delta, don't overlook a couple other really cool towns like Greenwood and Jackson.
Greenwood is home to a couple icons, Lusco's Restraunt (present since prohibition days) and the beautiful 5 Star Hotel "The Alluvian". Nearby is Turnrow Books, owned by Jaime Korngay and is a must see when in Greenwood. If you have a couple extra days on your visit, head south to Jackson.Ms and check out Lemuria Books "the jewel of Southern Ms." and spend some time with John whose a treasure trove of literary tales. If you can't tell that I'm passionate about Mississippi..then you ain't listening!

My new passion in the book collecting world is an overlooked writer from the 20's, JIM TULLY, who screams out to be rediscovered. Wait till after Christmas (so I can buy all my copies) and then track down "Circus Parade", Tully's work based on his days working the circus and carnival freak show circuit's.

Hunt down the magazine "COWBOY WAY" and read an enlightening story by one of the best living folk singer's Tom Russell on author & illustrator Tom Lea. Tom Lea lived in El Paso near Tom Russell and the two legends come together for one memorable day. Tom Lea is one of the true greats when it comes to illustrating the western way of life and penned the classic novel on bull fighting "The Brave Bulls".