Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Interview with Dagger Award Winner Ed Wright

Available at http://www.edwardwrightbooks.com/books.html and


Next up in the author interview series is Edward Wright, winner of the Dagger Debut Award, and the 2008 Barry Award.  Welcome Ed!

What kind of books do you write?
I write mystery novels. My first three – “Clea’s Moon,” “While I Disappear” (published in England as “The Silver Face”), and “Red Sky Lament” – were all set in Los Angeles in the 1940s and featured a character named John Ray Horn, who might be described as a broken-down, former B-movie cowboy actor with a talent for getting himself into trouble. My fourth book, “Damnation Falls,” was my first non-series book and in some ways the closest to my own experience. Its protagonist, Randall Wilkes, grew up in the South like me, moved to Chicago and worked as a newspaperman like me, and then returned to the South after 20 years to find out what had changed, both in his hometown and in himself. And, this being a mystery, he also gets involved in some dangerous things, including the question of who killed his onetime high school sweetheart. My next book, another contemporary tale, is called “From Blood,” and it’s the story of a troubled young woman who loses her parents to a horrific double murder, then finds out that she had been adopted as a baby and that her birth parents are two of America’s most notorious fugitives, who went underground after a deadly bombing in 1968 and never resurfaced.

Tell me about your background & what led you to fiction writing.
I grew up in Arkansas and went to school in Tennessee and Chicago, spent a few years in the Navy, and finally wound up working in the newsrooms of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. I was mostly an editor of one kind or another, working on other people’s writing. For a long time, I had no particular yen to write. But I’d always been a reader. I still remember getting certain books from relatives for Christmas when I was 10 or 11 (Mark Twain, Zane Grey) and the thrill of graduating from children’s books to bigger and better stories.

When the L.A. Times offered its staff a generous buyout in 1993, and I found to my surprise that I’d been there long enough to qualify for it, I jumped. My fiancee at the time (who’s now my patient and supportive wife, Cathy), asked, “What are you going to do now?” I actually didn’t have a plan, but I couldn’t admit that, so I said the fateful words, “I think I’d like to try writing some fiction.”

That was it. I was committed. So, without a road map, I started the journey of learning how to be a writer. I found it both fun and hard work, and along the way I wrote a lot of very unpublishable stuff. Finally, after about eight years, I was able to find a publisher for “Clea’s Moon,” and – just like people say – everything changed.

Did you query agents and traditional publishers? Did you receive an offer of representation or a book contract?
It was a long and winding road. After querying about two dozen literary agencies, I managed to find an agent who liked my very first novel. But he couldn’t sell it, so the manuscript now sits in a drawer, still unpublished. He soon left the agent business, leaving me unrepresented and back at square one.  Then I got the idea for a series set in the Forties, about a beaten-down man walking the mean streets of L.A. and Old Hollywood. Twenty chapters into it, I heard about a writing competition in England for something called the Debut Dagger, for the best unpublished mystery novel of the year. I entered, not totally sure that Americans were eligible. A few months went by, and I learned to my amazement that I had won. The award led very quickly to a London literary agent who agreed to represent me and who was able to sell not only the unfinished “Clea” but also the next one in the series to Orion Books.

How did it feel to know that you were going to be published?
I remember it taking a while to sink in. I remember Cathy and I walking around London after the Debut Dagger presentation, looking at each other and saying “Wow” a lot. When we got back to the States, my British agent hooked me up with a New York agent who sold the same two books to G.P. Putnam. Did I mention that I was amazed by the way it happened? I still am. The Debut Dagger award opened all kinds of doors for me, and I’ll always be grateful to the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain, which sponsors it. 

Your first mystery novel, “Clea’s Moon,” has just been published as an ebook. How would you describe it?
When we first meet John Ray Horn, he’s just emerged from two years in prison for assault. His marriage has dissolved. His career, which once saw him playing cowboy heroes in the movies, is just a memory. He’s now reduced to collecting debts for Joseph Mad Crow, his onetime co-star, who runs a gambling operation on the fringe of the law. So John Ray has fallen a great distance, and this jibes with my notion that the most interesting protagonists are the ones who are operating under a handicap. John Ray has lost his respectability. Unlike most fictional detectives, who carry some kind of badge and a measure of authority, he has none. When he’s called on to solve a crime – usually to help a friend or relative – he has to do so using his wits and whatever courage he can find.  Nothing’s easy for him.

In “Clea’s Moon,” he learns that his onetime stepdaughter has disappeared. His ex-wife doesn’t want him involved, but Clea, who’s now 16, is the one bright spot left over from his failed marriage, and he knows that he must do whatever he can to find her. It turns out to be a dangerous job.

Your first three novels are all mysteries that take place in Los Angeles in the years after World War II. What drew you to that period?
This must go way back with me. I can remember seeing old black-and-white movies as a kid and being fascinated by the look of them – the clothes, the cars, the way the women looked. Some of them, of course, were noirish detective stories set in L.A., and the private eyes of the Forties were very iconic characters. “The Big Sleep” must have made a major impression on me. For some reason, the scene that stuck in my mind was the one where Bogart is watching a house high up in Laurel Canyon, and the rain is coming down in buckets. He hears a shot and rushes into the house, his hat and trench coat soaked from the rain.  For years, I thought Los Angeles was a place where it rained a lot. Now that I live here, I know better. But that’s the power the movies have of creating images in the mind.

You’re a writer who’s had four novels published in the traditional way. Now you have an ebook. Does it feel different? How do you feel about digital publishing?
It does feel different. I’m a kind of ebook virgin, because for now at least, I’m still reading words on paper. But for some time now, I’ve been aware that people were reading books in a different way. I’d go to Bouchercon, the annual mystery conference, and see people with Kindles, and I’d ask them how the gizmo worked and why they liked to read that way. One woman told me that ebook readers have very strong opinions, and that once they discover a writer they like, they want to see all his or her books available electronically. Since none of mine were at the time, I made a mental note to make sure my novels got out there as ebooks. Now that’s happening. The exact shape of the future may be hazy, but it’s clear that ebooks will play a big role in how we read.

What factors influenced your decision to sign with Untreed Reads?
My agent told me that they were an energetic publishing house that tries hard to get books out there and to make readers aware. My experience with them so far has shown that to be true.

What’s next?
“From Blood,” which I described earlier, comes out in November. After that, I’ll be working on a book that takes me back to L.A. and the Forties once again. Despite my journalism background, I’ve never done a book set mainly at a newspaper. This time I will.