Wednesday, April 7, 2010

SEAN CHERCOVER Interview 4/7/10

Sean Chercover is the author of two terrific novels, BIG CITY BAD BLOOD his debut, and the followup TRIGGER CITY. Both feature P.I. Ray Dudgeon. Sean has homes in both Toronto and Chicago and is one of the nicest guys is the mystery world. It was a real pleasure to do this interview with one of my favorite authors, I give you Mr. Sean Chercover.

1) Over the years you've worked as a truck driver, waiter, nightclub magician, car-jockey, encyclopedia salesman, bodyguard, private investigator, TV writer & editor, and as a security consultant. That's a pretty varied list of life experiences. How important were those past experiences in becoming the writer you are today?

If I'd had a totally different set of jobs, I'd have become a different person, and a different writer. But I have no way of knowing just how different. But whatever you do, any writer is helped by having a deep well of life experience from which to draw. I always wanted to write, but when I was younger, I had far less to write about.

2) Chicago was just named #10 on the "Most Miserable City" list. What are your feelings when you see something like that?

I think people who sit around making lists that rank cities by their level of "miserableness" have far too much time on their hands. I love Chicago, but your mileage may vary.

3)You spent time as a private investigator in both New Orleans & Chicago. How were they different & which was tougher to work in?

Enormously different - I can't even begin to list the ways, or this would be the longest answer in history. New Orleans was tougher to work in, by far.

4) You attended the "American Security Training Institute". What all do you learn there & what does it qualify you to do?

The school was licensed by the State of Illinois to conduct state-mandated training and testing for employment in the security sector. The first step is the basic security course, which allows you to work as unarmed security. Then the advanced course, which gets you your "blue card", qualifying you to work as a private detective, bodyguard, or security consultant. And there were specific courses in various martial arts techniques, mostly Aikido-based, and some weapons such as the kubotan and the MagLight. And firearms training. Classroom work focused on legal rights and responsibilities, and there was both classroom and practical training in the nuts-and-bolts stuff of being a private detective or a bodyguard - surveillance, skip-tracing, assessing and responding to security threats, and so on and so forth.

5)Both "Big City, Bad Blood" and "Trigger City" were set in Chicago, any chance we might see Ray in Toronto at some point?

Doubt it. Chicago is a major supporting character in the Ray Dudgeon books, and I'll probably keep him there. He could take a case that brings him briefly to Toronto some day, but I have nothing planned.

6)When you were growing up you spent some time in the summers in Georgia. What are some of your memories of those times and your impressions of the South?

My mom is from Atlanta, and I've spent a lot of time in Georgia. Many of my childhood memories of summer are of trips to Georgia. I also briefly lived in South Carolina (one semester at USC - go Gamecocks!) and of course I lived in New Orleans for a while. My feelings about the South are extremely complicated. Mostly love, but I despise racism and religious arrogance and xenophobia and cronyism, and the South is not without those things.

But the thing is, neither is anywhere else. As far as I know, Boston is the most racially segregated city in America, and Chicago has plenty of its own sins in this regard. The South has to haul around its sad history of slavery and Jim Crow, but I think many people from the Northern States are in denial about their own history, and often adopt a morally superior attitude, which is nuts.
Like I said, it's complicated.

7) Do you have an all-time favorite literary P.I.?

I don't tend to rank the things I love, so no, I don't have an all-time favorite. I love Matt Scudder and Philip Marlowe and Jack Taylor and Easy Rawlins and Elvis Cole and Dave Robichaux (I know, he's a cop, but to me he still counts) and Mike Hammer and Alex McKnight and Amos Walker and the Continental Op and ... the list goes on.

8) Did your background in security & investigative work help pave the way for you to become a mystery writer?

Without a doubt. That's the reason I went into the business. Call it research-gone-mad. Didn't teach me how to write, but it provided valuable grist for the mill, as my grandmother used to say.

9) Do you have a Ernie Banks bobble head on your desk?

Yes, I do. Although, his head is gone - just a stretched spring rising from his neck. He stands next to my Incredible Hulk bobble head.

10) How close are we to seeing the next Ray Dudgeon novel coming out and anything else you can tell us about?

The next novel is a stand-alone thriller that I'm very excited about. Don't have a pub date yet. Ray's on vacation.

11) You once wrote & sold a screenplay called "Scared Money" to Gannaway Pictures. Has there been any recent movement on that or is still buried?

That screenplay is deader than dead. The production company went under and I own the property again, but it would take a massive rewrite to bring it up-to-date, since it was based in the world of professional poker, which has changed radically since the late-90's, when I wrote the thing. Maybe I'll dust it off one day, but right now I've got other stories to tell.

12) Have options been picked up on either Big City, Bad Blood or Trigger City? I could see both being made into films, but especially "Trigger City".

Fox TV Entertainment optioned BCBB, but the executive producer took ill and the project stalled, then he passed away, and the option lapsed. But while it was at FOX, an independent producer took an interest in the property, and we just signed a new deal with her, which I'm absolutely thrilled about.

13)When you were in the "Big Easy", what were your favorite hangouts & restaurants to visit?.... Didn't it break your heart to see the damage Katrina did to it?

God, where to begin? If I start on restaurants, we'll be at this all week, so let's just stick with a few bars. Back in the day, you could often find me at The Maple Leaf Bar, Tipitina's, Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl, The Lion's Den, Jean Lafitte's, Napoleon House, Tujague's, The Old Absinthe House, Le Bon Temps Roule, The Funky Butt, The Sazerac Bar, Igor's, Checkpoint Charlie's, Snug Harbor... I spent a lot of time in bars. I know I'm forgetting some of my hangouts, and I some of those I named are gone.

Yes, it broke my heart to see what Katrina did to New Orleans. Part of my next novel is set there.

14)With 2 books behind you, have you found a comfortable place and a peace as a writer, or do you still have some unfulfilled ambitions?

Comfort? Peace? I know not, these words you use. Actually, that's not totally true. I learned a great deal writing the first two books, and while I wouldn't use the word 'peace', I've certainly become a more confident storyteller. But I definitely have unfulfilled ambitions, and many improvements to work on.

15) When your out on book tours or doing promotional work, what are your favorite cities to visit?

New York, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Portland, Seattle... I mostly love visiting independent mystery bookstores. That's where you find people who truly love the genre, where you connect with the community. And, while I miss the time away from family, I love driving the highways of America, and seeing places I would otherwise neglect to visit.

16) Chicago provides alot of great opportunities to catch some really great music. Are you a music fan and if so who do you enjoy listening to? Does music have any role in your writing process?

Music is a huge part of my life, and I listen all the time. Everything from The Clash to Duke Ellington, Burning Spear to Lurrie Bell, Black Stalin to the Stones to Beau Jocque to Keith Jarrett. You'll find a lot of music referenced in my first two books, and I often listen while writing. I sometimes create play lists in iTunes that reflect the mood of whatever I'm writing at the time.

17) Are you a prolific reader and who do you enjoy reading?

I'm always reading. I think any writer worth a damn must also be a prolific reader. Sometimes I meet aspiring writers who say they don't actually like reading much. They will never make it.

I'm going to demur on listing names of writers I enjoy reading. I know I'll leave out some of my favorites, and some of my friends, and I'll feel guilty later.

18) What writers have been particularly helpful along the way?

God, the crime fiction community is so incredibly supportive. A few who've given me a hand-up include Ken Bruen, Robert Crais, Sara Paretsky, Lee Child, Andrew Gross, Steve Hamilton, Libby Hellmann...

19) Are you a film fan and have you gotten to attend the "Toronto Film Festival"?

I am, and I have, many times, on and off since I was a teenager. I also covered the festival for a website, for a couple of years during the dot-com boom. It was fun to go with press credentials, hit the parties and so on. It's a terrific festival, and I recommend it.

20) What are some of your all time favorite mystery films?

Off the top of my head: Chinatown. Fargo. Angel Heart. The Maltese Falcon. The Big Sleep. The Conversation. The Usual Suspects. Se7ven. Blue Velvet. The Third Man. Rear Window. Vertigo. North By Northwest. The Thin Man. Laura. Gosford Park. Blade Runner. Twilight. Murder, My Sweet... I could go on for hours.

21) Chicago has several wonderful mystery writers, two who come to mind immediately are Marcus Sakey & Theresa Schwegel. Do you guys get much of a chance to get together over drinks or coffee and discuss things?

Right now I'm in Toronto, but Marcus and I talk on the phone a lot, and hang out all the time when I'm in Chicago. And I've done signings and had drinks with Theresa, who is terrific. One thing I love about the crime fiction community in Chicago is how tight and supportive it is. I really miss all those guys when I'm away.

22)"Trigger City" opens with the lines, Facts are not the truth. Listen carefully this is important. Facts can point to the truth, or can be manipulated away from it. You search for the facts that support the goal of your client..... and then a couple lines later the page closes with,... You uncover facts until your client is satisfied, send a bill, and move on. That's the job. That's your goal. Because if your goal is the truth, you'll go both broke and crazy.And if your clients goal is the truth, run away screaming,fast as you can.

What a powerful opening first page. You're hooked from then on and it's pretty much a summation of the rest of the book . Was that what you personally learned from your experience as a private investigator and did you realize as you wrote that page that you really had the reader hooked from then on?

Answ.) First of all, thank you. People have responded well to it, and I'm really glad you dug it. Yes, the sentiment was something I learned working as a PI, and I wanted to bring that to life on the page. As I wrote the page, I did realize it was a powerful hook, but you can always lose the reader later on, even if your initial hook is strong. So I didn't make any grand assumptions about it.

23) I assume every ones read "Trigger City" by now, so I have to ask you how hard was it to have to kill off Delwood Crawley, (the Truman Capote like) gossip columnist and with a blow torch ?

It was tough to kill Delwood, no doubt. He'd served me well for two books, and some of my early readers were sad to see him go. I was sad to see him go, too. He's an interesting dude, and a guy you love to hate, so it would've been nice to keep him around for future books. But killing him was the right thing to do for the story, so I went ahead and did it. And, hell, if you're gonna kill the guy off, you might as well make it a doozy. Hence, the blow torch.

24)The quote " A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves" by Edward R. Murrow. Has that ever been anymore true than right now, meaning the last 10 years or so?

From a global perspective, it has definitely been more true than now. Germany in the 1930s, to use one example of many. But here in America? I don't know. I'm sad to say, it may be more true now than ever.

25) Your books contain wonderful reoccurring characters such as Ray's love interest Jill Browning, and boyhood friend Gravedigger Peace. Were those two characters a combination of people, or based on individuals from your past, or totally out of your imagination?

Thank you. Jill came out of the ether of my imagination, while Gravedigger is a composite character, based on four friends I've had over the years, all mashed together in my imagination.

26) There's a wonderful line on page 180 in "Trigger City" where Gravedigger Peace tells how he feels about peoples intentions versus what people do. Is that your personal belief as well?

Pretty much, yes. Our actions tell who we really are, and 'good intentions' are too often used to excuse bad behavior. Sometimes genuine good intentions go awry, but intentions often lie, while actions always reveal the truth.

27) Hawk River, Alphabet Soup, govt. cover ups.... we know this a work of fiction, far from the truth are we here?

We're far closer to the truth than I'd like. But yeah, this is a work of fiction, and all similarities are completely coincidental, blah-blah-blah, etc.

28) Craig McDonald just wrote a great piece in Crimespree magazine on authors FBI files being recently released. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Rex Stout had files. If you had written "Trigger City" in that same time period, would we be wondering what was in your file?

Craig rocks, as does Crimespree magazine. Anyone who loves crime fiction should subscribe immediately.

As for my FBI file, if I'd written Trigger City back in the day, it might've attracted their attention (in a bad way), but they're a little busy these days with actual bad guys. I'm fortunate to have a couple of FBI agents who help with my research, and I'm gratified by the fact that others in the Bureau have written to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. And my first book, Big City Bad Blood, is actually mentioned on the FBI's website ( so I think I'm safe.

Final Question: When is Ray & Jill's wedding and are we all invited ?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but... Jill turned down his proposal.