Wednesday 6 February 2019

There Might Not Be an ‘I’ in TEAM But There is a ‘Cool’ in Collaboration
A Grifter's Song

So I caught up with myself recently at the perfect place to talk about teamwork, a hockey game.

Q:  Who’s winning?

A:  They are, but we’re outnumbered.

Q: They have more players?

A: No, it’s us against them and the refs. The calls in this game are brutal so far.

Q:  Yeah, huh? Well, I wanted to ask you about collaboration. Specifically, the different writers you’ve collaborated with over the last seven years or so –

A:  Save it. I’m on a panel at Left Coast Crime about this same topic. Just sit in on that. It’ll be fun.

Q:  Well, that’s not until March, and it’s in Vancouver, so….

A:  It’s no worries. They’ve got hockey in Vancouver.

Q:  Maybe just a preview?

A:  [focused on the game] Come on! Did you see that? Obvious hooking penalty. Hey, Ref! Check your voicemail! You’ve missed several calls!

Q:  Let’s try this:  any of your co-authors like hockey?

A:  [waves a hand dismissively] I don’t think so. Even though there are perfectly good hockey teams right here in Spokane, Colin Conway is a football fan. Well, a Cleveland Browns fan. Is that still football?

Q:  Technically. I think.

A:  Well, then there you go. You know, Colin was the first writer I ever collaborated with on a novel. We wrote Some Degree of Murder way back in 2005. It was finally published in 2012, and Down and Out Books is re-issuing it in March of this year.

Q:  How was that experience?

A:  Great. Colin and I are the same wavelength, but we see things differently enough to bring our own contributions to the project. Mostly, though, I think what makes our partnership work so well is that we both subordinate our own ego to what’s best for the book. It’s a team approach. [points to the ice] Like them.

Q:  So just the one book with Colin?

A:  Oh, hell no. We’ve got Charlie-316 coming out in June of 2019. Might be my best book yet. It’s the first of a four-book arc that will be released each June.

Q:  Sounds like a good thing you’ve got going there.

A:  It is. I invited him to be part of A Grifter’s Song, too.

Q:  That’s a great segue, actually, because I wanted to ask you about that project.

A:  [stands and yells something I can’t print]

Q:  What happened?

A:  Another missed call. They just boarded our best player.

Q:  Boarded?

A:  That’s when –

Q:  Never mind. A Grifter’s Song?

A:  Oh, yeah. Well, it’s a serial novella anthology featuring a pair of grifters, Sam and Rachel. They are devoted to each other, but everyone else in the world is up for grabs. They tried to rip off the Philly mob, so they are on the run from them. Each episode has a complete story arc to it – a con that gets resolved – but there is also a meta-arc throughout the entire series.

Q:  How long will it be?

A:  Two seasons of six episodes each.

Q:  You talk about it like it’s a television show.

A:  That’s been our approach. It’s like a short run Netflix series, something like Ozark. I wrote the first episode and will write the last one, too. But in between that, ten other authors will each write an episode apiece. I’m editing.

Q:  Who are we talking about here?

Q:  And readers just buy whatever episodes they want?

A:  They can. Or they can subscribe to the season.

Q:  This is digital only, right?

A:  Just for the initial release dates. Each episode drops at the first of the month, starting with my own The Concrete Smile in January. After the season ends, the stories will be collected into a pair of paperbacks, too.

Q:  So why subscribe?

A:  Easy.  Subscribers get a price break that equates to one episode for free, automated delivery/free shipping, and a subscriber only bonus episode that takes place between the two seasons.

Q:  Where do I sign up?

A:  Down and Out Books. Eric Campbell created the subscription model and I think some other projects are going to use the same model.

Q:  When you rattled off those names, I noticed a pattern. Almost every author you’ve collaborated with has an episode of A Grifter’s Song.

A:  True. But I think it’s important that we help each other out in this community.

Q:  So you’re helping out your friends?

A:  Or they’re helping me. Probably both, really.  Look, in hockey, everyone gets excited about the goal. But most of the time, the puck does not go into the net unless a lot of people on the ice make it happen. Sure, there are spectacular players who make amazing plays once in a while, but other times, it is the assist that makes the play successful. And that’s not even counting the important things that people on and off the ice do that never make it on the score sheet.

Q:  You lost me…

A:  I’m saying a lot goes into making a book a success. Yeah, the writer does a lion’s share of the work. But so does an editor. So does a publisher, and the cover artist, and other authors who blurb, and reviewers who give an honest review, and readers who talk up the book…you see what I’m saying? These are like the coaches, athletic therapists, scouts, GM, mascots, fans…capisce?

Q:  Got it. So I noticed Jim Wilsky on the list.

A:  You did. Jim and I have written four books together in the Ania series: Blood on Blood, Queen of Diamonds, Closing the Circle, and the prequel that just came out in December, Harbinger.

Q:  You must like the guy, if you’ve written four books together.

A:  Hate him. But the guy can write.

Q:  You hate him?!

A:  No, moron. That was a joke. Jim’s awesome. But I meant it when I said he can write.

Q:  Another good experience, I take it?

A:  Absolutely. Different is some ways from working with Colin but that it was a smooth, great time was much the same. Jim has great ideas, and came up with three of the four titles.

Q:  Eric Beetner was in on A Grifter’s Song, too.

A:  Yup. That’s ‘cause he’s the hardest working man in crime fiction.

Q:  I don’t know what that means.

A:  Go to his website. Follow him on Twitter. You’ll figure it out. The guy is relentless.

Q:  You two wrote the Bricks & Cam Job series together.

A:  Yeah, though we sometimes call it The List series.

Q:  Because…?

A:  The Backlist, The Short List, The Getaway List. Notice a pattern?

Q:  I see it now. What was it like working with Eric?

A:  Fast. The man writes at Mach 70 or something. And the first draft is so clean.

Q:  Why do you think that is?

A:  He hates to edit. Which makes sense, given his day job as an editor.

Q:  Besides fast, how would you describe your work with him?

A:  Easy. Eric is quite possibly the nicest guy out there. Strong in his convictions and driven, but still nice. Funny story – for the longest time, we’d only ever corresponded via email. Something like four years of that. I used to call him the nicest guy I never met.

Q:  You’ve met, though, right?

A:  Oh, yeah. I was on his podcast, Writer Types, and he came on mine, Wrong Place, Write Crime. We finally met in person at Bouchercon in 2018.

Q:  That seems more and more common. Long distance, digital friendships, that is.

A:  It is. I’ve not met Jim in person yet. Nor Larry.

Q:  That’s Lawrence Kelter?

A:  Yeah. He and I teamed up for a couple of books.

Q:  How’d that happen?

A:  We’d crossed paths a few times with different projects, and he knew I’d done several collaborations before, so he approached me and we started talking. In my books with Jim and Eric, and Colin, too, at that point, we’d always used the format of a dual first person narrative with alternating chapters. Each of us took one of those two characters and essentially wrote our half of the book that way. But when I told Larry that, he was like, “Oh, that’s cool, but I don’t want to do it that way.”

Q:  What did he want?

A:  A straightforward first person procedural called The Last Collar.

Q:  Did it work?

A:  I was afraid it might not. With two writers penning the same character in the first person, my concern was that our different styles would bleed through and the protagonist would seem schizophrenic.

Q:  But he didn’t?

A:  No. Mocha’s voice was all his own. Some from me, some from Larry, and some from the mixing of the two. I think it worked out that way because we both heavily and mercilessly edited the book, regardless of who wrote any particular segment. There are large place of the book now where I couldn’t tell you if I wrote it or just edited.

Q:  You did the same for the other book with him?

A:  No, for Fallen City, we went with a third person, ensemble cast. There was no other way to tell the story the way it needed to be told.

Q:  Lawrence Kelter is from New York.

A:  He is.

Q:  So he’s got to be some kind of a hockey fan.

A:  You’d think so. I can’t remember if I asked him. Hopefully he’s not a Devil’s fan. [puts pitchfork fingers on top of head and wags tongue] Blah! Devils! Blah!

Q:  Wait. That’s Seinfeld.

A:  I think so. Larry would know. I think he’s a big Seinfeld guy.

Q:  What about Bonnie Paulson? She into hockey?

A:   She’s more into outdoor stuff, I’d guess. Hunting, fishing, camping. [points at a player on the ice] That guy camps, too. Right in the crease.

Q:  The…uh?

A:  The blue paint near the net. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Q:  Well, I read The Trade Off, your book with Bonnie. There’s some gutter scenes in that one.

A:  Give me a break. It’s set against human sex trafficking. There’s going to be a little bit of sex references in it.

Q:  I’m talking about a two-chapter sex scene.

A:  Exaggerate much? The sex scene isn’t two full chapters. It starts near the end of one chapter and finishes at the beginning of the next.

Q:  Well, it’s pretty graphic all the same.

A:  What’re you, the FCC? Besides, it wasn’t just sex for the sake of sex. It was important for both characters.

Q:  If you say so.

A:  I do. [smiles evilly] You want something to really freak out about? [thumbs toward self] I wrote the female character in that one, and Bonnie wrote the male.

Q:  That seems…different.

A:  I like trying different things. Maybe it sounds pretentious, but that’s how you grow your art. Writing from a female perspective in the first person is one way. The format of A Grifter’s Song is another. Trying new things is how we challenge ourselves.

Q:  Why isn’t Bonnie on the roster for A Grifter’s Song?

A:  The Trade Off was her one foray into crime fiction. She writes westerns, romance, and post-apocalyptic stuff. You should check it out.

Q:  What’s on the –  [buzzer sounds] Wait, what was that?

A:  Intermission.

Q:  So it’s half-time?

A:  Don’t make me punch you. [stands]

Q:  Where are you going?

A:  Bathroom, beer, and bopping around to say hey to other hockey friends here at the game. You wanna come along?

Q:  No, I think I’ve got enough. Just one last thing – what’s next for you?

A:  Books, books, books. A couple more installments of River City and my Kopriva series. Another season of A Grifter’s Song. A couple of projects that are still top secret that I’m contributing to. And then a few things outside the genre.

Q:  Like?

A:  A fantasy novel, for one. And a mainstream, sorta literary, musical novel.

Q:  That sounds interesting. Tell me about –

A:  I gotta go, man.

Q:  Just a few more questions.

A:  No, I gotta go, as in numero uno?

Q:  Oh, okay. Thanks for the interview, Frank

A:  Catch you further on up the road. [Exits. Rapidly]

A Grifter's Song #2


  1. Great interview and interviewee! Laughed my ass off!!

    1. Thanks, Eric! Nigel made the suggestion of the format, so I ran with it...

  2. "Do you believe in Miracles!?"