I’ve been a fairly avid user of the social networking site Goodreads for over five years now. In that time, I’ve made many new friends and discovered countless great reads. However, in the case of James L. Thane, he’s hit both categories.
James agreed to stop by to chat his Phoenix based crime series, his influences and walking the tightrope of self promotion.
I just finished UNTIL DEATH and thought it was an excellent follow up to your first novel, NO PLACE TO DIE. Was there always a plan for a sequel?
Yes. The main protagonist of both books is a Phoenix homicide detective named Sean Richardson. In NO PLACE TO DIE, he’s going through an extremely painful situation in his personal life which is only partially resolved by the end of the book. I was anxious to know how he would continue to cope with that situation and so I decided pretty early on that I would write a sequel so that I could find out.
One of the many things that stand out in both UNTIL DEATH and NO PLACE TO DIE is the excellent pacing. They were both reads that I found difficult to put down. Do you typically plot your novel before hand or do you consider yourself a free-writer?
Thanks; I appreciate the compliment and I wish I knew exactly how I’d achieved that effect. I do not outline a book in advance; I’ve tried but it just doesn’t work for me. I get a very general idea of what I think might be an engaging plot for a book and then write a first chapter that sets it into motion. After that, I just sit down every day and see where the idea takes me next. At some point along the way, once I’ve introduced a number of characters and the story seems to be taking shape, I’ll suddenly realize how the story is likely to end and it then becomes a matter of getting from the point where I’m at in the manuscript to the ending that has suddenly occurred to me.
The pacing is something that just seems to come naturally. I’m not really conscious of it as I’m working, save for the fact that I’m trying to develop the story in a way that holds my own interest. The only problem with this method is that occasionally I’ll begin working on what seems to be a great idea but which then runs out of gas after ten or fifteen thousand words. I’ve got several stories sitting unfinished on my hard drive that I really liked but couldn’t make work.
I couldn’t help but notice the influence of Lawrence Block in your work, and on your website, you list him as a favourite writer. Detective Sean Richardson and Block’s Matt Scudder seemingly share a grounded, compassionate personality. Did you intend to approach Richardson this way or was this something that surfaced during the writing process?
I’m a huge fan of Lawrence Block and I think that his Matthew Scudder series is the best P.I. series and probably the best crime fiction series that anyone has ever written. The problem with introducing a new protagonist in a crime fiction series is trying to differentiate him or her from all of the other great protagonists that other writers have already created. A homicide detective like Sean Richardson has to have a personal as well as a professional life, but I didn’t want to create a character that was struggling with the same sorts of problems—drug addiction, PTSD or whatever—that seem to afflict so many protagonists in crime fiction. Most important, I didn’t want him to have a problem with alcohol. With the Scudder character, Lawrence Block has done that so brilliantly that anyone else attempting it seems almost sacrilegious to me.
I did want a protagonist who was caring and compassionate—a decent person at heart rather than the rouge detective that we see so often—and someone who was also a very competent detective as well. I ultimately gave him a personal problem that I hoped was reasonably unique, something that would reveal his character and create some tension by potentially compromising his ability to do the job well. As I indicated earlier, I don’t outline, but this was something that I gave a great deal of thought to before beginning NO PLACE TO DIE. I needed to have a pretty good idea of who this guy was before I put him on the scene at the opening of the book.
Detective Sean Richardson is without a doubt, a musicophile. Is this something you share with your main character?
Yes. Like any number of other writers (think Ian Rankin, John Sandford, or Peter Robinson, for example) I’ve always been a huge music fan and I especially enjoy going out to clubs and bars to listen to live music. Again, I was conscious of the fact that several other authors have created characters who love music and I really didn’t want to imitate what they were doing in this regard. I attempted to solve the problem by having Richardson enjoy a lot of musicians who work in the Phoenix metro area. While he does occasionally mention an artist who’s nationally known, most of the ones he’s listening to are the local musicians that I’m listening to.
In your bio, you note that you’ve worked a variety of jobs over the years. Have any of these experiences helped you in your writing career?
Sure, in ways both direct and indirect. They’ve exposed me to a lot of different people, places and situations, some of which I’ve loosely incorporated into my books. But, as is the case with anyone else, all of those previous experiences have helped mold me into the person I am now (for better or worse!), and at least to some extent, my writing is an expression of that.
You maintain a constant presence on the book blogging site, Goodreads. Unlike a lot of authors, you shy away from pushing your book on others, which I’m sure many find refreshing. Do you worry that you’re not getting enough exposure or would you rather folks find their own way to your work?
To be honest, this is a real dilemma. Naturally I want people to be aware of my work, but I really balk at the idea of jamming it down their throats. I even get concerned about posting an upcoming book signing on Facebook, for example, because I don’t want people to think that the only reason I’m on social media is to get them to buy my books. I hope that if people enjoy my reviews on Goodreads or my comments on Facebook or whatever, that they’ll ultimately realize that I am a writer and if they’re moved to read my books, that’s great. And if it takes them a bit of time to get to that point, that’s also fine. I’d rather have them come slowly to my books than annoy the hell out of them in the hope that they might get there faster.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve almost always got a number of books going. At the moment I’m reading Robert A. Caro’s, THE PASSAGE OF POWER, the fourth volume in his brilliant biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. I’m also working my way through the Library of America’s two-volume edition of the collected works of Raymond Chandler. I just finished Ian Rankin’s SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE, and am about to start Michael Connelly’s THE BURNING ROOM.
Working on anything new at the moment?
I’ve finished a stand-alone novel, the working title of which is PICTURE ME GONE. My publisher has the book, but we don’t have a publication date yet. I’m about halfway through the third Sean Richardson novel, which I’m calling FATAL BLOW. Otherwise, I’ve got ideas for a couple more books, but, as I suggested earlier, we’ll see if I can actually develop them into completed novels.
I want to thank James for taking the time to stop by and answer a few questions.
You can also keep up with him through his website where he maintains an active blog.
Check out my review of James’ first novel, No Place to Die.