Thursday, September 28, 2006

Q&A: JON L. BREEN, PT 1

Today and tomorrow, we hear from Jon L. Breen, winner of two Edgars, two Anthonys, a Macavity, an American Mystery Award, and an American Crime Writers League Award for his critical and nonfiction work. He has had seven novels and around a hundred short stories published.

His latest novel, the mystery Eye of God (Perseverance Press), is about the Orange County, California private eye firm of Hasp and Carpenter:

Things are going well for the partnership until Norm Carpenter, widely regarded as the brains of the outfit, tells Al Hasp that he has become a born-again Christian and intends to leave the firm. Al convinces him to work on one last case, for televangelist and faith healer Vincent Majors, who is looking for a traitor in his organization. Al believes Majors is a transparent phony and is sure exposure to him will bring Norm to his senses.

"To everyone I tell about this book," Breen says, "I emphasize that it is neither a religious nor an anti-religious novel, but one in which evangelical Christians are taken seriously as fully-developed characters, neither saints nor buffoons, which I don’t think happens much outside of the Christian market. The book is a private eye novel, a fairly clued puzzle, and I hope an entertaining experience for a wide range of readers."

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PART ONE.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
Thanks to my weird combination of bone-idle laziness and an equally deep-seated sense of duty and responsibility, I work best with deadlines. If I turn out 1000 words of fiction in a day (book reviews and articles don’t count), I allow myself to do the sudoku in the morning paper.

ARE YOU AN "OUTLINE" OR "MAKE IT UP AS YOU GO" WRITER?
I’ll write the first few chapters without knowing exactly where the story is going, then work out the eventual solution but not every detail of how I’m going to get there. I rarely work from a detailed outline unless in collaboration.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING ANYONE SAID ABOUT YOUR BOOKS?
Because of my inherent modesty, it’s difficult for me to toot my own horn. But I should mention that the New York Times once compared me to Shakespeare. No, really. Their reviewer at the time, Newgate Callendar, likened Rachel Hennings and Stu Wellman in my 1984 novel The Gathering Place to Beatrice and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing.

My 1988 novel Touch of the Past got great notices in Britain, the London Times’s weekend reviewer praising its “high, glowing literacy” and the weekday reviewer finding it “full of good writing and nostalgic period detail,” while Julian Symons in The Independent said it “goes down as smoothly as a White Lady or Whisky Sour.”

WHAT IS THE WORST THING ANYONE SAID ABOUT YOUR BOOKS?
I’m not sure, but it was probably said by an anonymous scribe for either Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly, both of which fine publications have been tough on me over the years. Kirkus, of course, holds everybody to a rigorous standard, but PW usually has softball reviews. Aside from print reviews, a work colleague once told me the trouble with my books was that the people were too nice.

HOW MANY BOOKS DO YOU READ A MONTH?
As book review columnist for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Mystery Scene and an occasional reviewer (non-political) for The Weekly Standard, I probably average about 15 books a month.

AS A READER, WHAT MAKES A BOOK INTRIGUING TO YOU? (WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?)
For review, I select books I expect to enjoy, either because I know the author’s work already, the author’s reputation suggests it is worth trying, or something about the background or plot interests me. Publicity hype is much less likely to attract me than reading a few paragraphs for a sense of the style.

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Come back tomorrow for the second half of our Q&A with author and reviewer Jon L. Breen. Find out more about Eye of God at Perseverance Press. Find his bibliography at the Internet Book List.

Related link: Q&A: JON L. BREEN, PT 2

More mystery and thriller novelists:
Q&A: SANDRA BROWN (Ricochet)
Q&A: COLLEEN COBLE (Fire Dancer)
Q&A: CORNELIA READ (A Field of Darkness)
Q&A: T.L. HINES (Waking Lazarus)
Q&A: TASHA ALEXANDER (And Only to Deceive)

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