Wednesday 12 January 2011

Dancing With Myself: JOHN MCFETRIDGE interviews JOHN MCFETRIDGE

A warm welcome to John McFetridge today, someone you're likely to have come across in one of his incarnations.

In case you've never been there, the excellent team over at Do Some Damage plough a rich variety of furrows and offer more than enough food to feed the thoughts of the planet.

Here he is, interviewing himself.

John, you have three novels out now that have some of the same characters in them, but not the same main character, don’t all publishers want either series or standalones, what’s with the in between?

Yes, I didn’t set out to write a series, I really only set out to write one book, I had no plans or expectations beyond that. When ECW Press agreed to publish the book (
Dirty Sweet) they asked me if I could write another one and, of course, I said yes. Then when I set out to do that I used some of the minor characters again. And then I did that again for the next book and so on.
Looking back on it now I can claim that I’m creating a whole world with novels and short stories and even flash fictions that have some of the same characters and reference common events, but the truth is I’m really just flying by the seat of my pants with very little plan.

Your novels have a lot of crimes in them, but not much solving of the crimes. Some critics have complained that the cops just stand around and watch.

Hey, I write what I see.

Seriously, I do try to present the world as I see it and to show what the police are up against. There are lots of books and movies with rogue cops breaking all the rules to catch the bad guys, but in my experience most cops actually follow the rules. This means it can take a lot longer to catch bad guys (especially the organized crime bad guys that show up in my books) and it can be complicated, with “conspiracy to traffic in narcotics” charges that require a whole lot of collected evidence rather than ‘caught red handed,’ but that’s usually the way it is. Police work is dogged, detail-oriented work these days and the deck is stacked against them.

It’s a challenge for fiction but no one said this was going to be easy.

So, not a lot of, “Justice Served,” and “order restored” and the other things people usually say crime fiction is about?

A little. And over time (and a few novels) we’ll see most of the bad guys either caught or killed by other bad guys but as in the real world they’ll be quickly replaced.

Last year you worked on a TV show, The Bridge, how was that?

It certainly made me more understanding of the shows on TV and appreciative of the amount of work it takes to get any show made. I liked the collaboration between a lot of writers, which is necessary when you have to get thirteen scripts written in a few weeks. And I liked the collaboration between departments on the production. Our writer’s room was just down the hall from the art department and even though the show had a smaller budget than most American shows, those guys made us feel like we could write anything and they’d find a way to make it look right.

But the show only lasted for two weeks on CBS. Looking back I’m not that surprised. It started out as a very political story, The West Wing of cop shows as the exedc producer was a former head of the police union in Toronto, so it was going to be about all the internal things that get in the way of police officers doing their job. That can be very difficult material to dramatize, though, and as more and more scripts were written and more and more notes came in we were steered towards making it more of a “body of the week” murder mystery which it really wasn’t set up to be.

All 13 episodes did air in Canada and other countries (France, Germany, South Africa and Australia that I know of and I’m told many others as well).

Last year you had stories in two e-book anthologies; Discount Noir and Terminal Damage. Will you be writing more flash fiction and short stories?

Yes. I really like how quickly a flash fiction can go from idea, to story to available online. It’s also a great way to try out new characters and situations, to see which ones might be worth developing further.

I think the key to e-books isn’t so much the low price (though that’s good) or the ability to self-publish it’s the opening up of the distribution network to small presses which can allow for more niche books to be published.

Something like Discount Noir was a great experience – over 40 writers taking different aproaches to a universal setting (the bog box store). The same with Terminal Damage as all of us at the
Do Some Damage blog contributed stories that had the commoen element of the airport.

There likely would never be a big enough market for these kinds of books to make it worthwhile for someone to co-ordinate the contributions from so many people (a huge job as it was) and for a publisher to print up a few hundred (or maybe a thousand) copies and ship them to bookstores and then pay to have the ones that didn’t sell shipped back and pulped, but as e-books they work so I hope to see many more.

I think when it comes to the changes that e-books will bring to the publishing business we’re really only seeing the tip of the iceberg so far. This is a pretty exciting time to be a writer and a reader.


  1. Dirty Sweet was a terrific read and I love the fact that John writes what is real vs. what is more often presented on the page or on the screen; most crimes are not solved--fact.

    I'm also a big fan of characters moving from book to book and look forward to reading about them in John's other work.

    As for our shared interest in my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills/Toronto Bills ... we share pain, too. Much pain.

  2. Everything John said was savvy. He tosses out extremely cogent views of the writing market in general and ebooks in particular that make me feel pretty smart . . . until I remember that it was not my idea, it was John's. Dammit! John's views on the police just standing by and collecting the debris to make arrests -- and corrupt cops in general -- are ones he shares with another pretty good author, James Ellroy. I Kindle-izing his titles as we speak. (another agreement with his views on ebooks exposing authors who have in the past been denied to us bu the large chains and huge houses and under=capitalized small houses.) I think despite all the sky is falling crap John is right on in his view that it's an exciting time to be writing and marketing books.