Thursday, September 18, 2014


Crime series: They tend to revolve around cops, private eyes, journalists or medical examiners… Possibly sundry, similar fields of illicit investigation.

My most-noted series focuses on novelist/screenwriter Hector Lassiter. The question I’m frequently confronted with at readings or book events is, “Why write about a writer?”

(My new novel Forever's Just Pretend actually doubles down, featuring not just Hector, but fellow author Brinke Devlin...)

A number of factors drove my decision to use an author to center my series of literary thrillers.

Partly, I wagered that I could pump up the language and dialogue a couple of extra notches if my central guy was a man who makes his living with words. Writers, on the whole, tend not to talk like other people. Sometimes that’s probably conscious on their part—call it a kind of performance art. But hang around enough of them and you’ll see: as a breed, we tend to use words differently.

There was also the fact that in the typical crime series, when your protagonist is a cop or a private eye, you expect that fella to pretty much tell a story in straight-up fashion.

But when a storyteller is telling you the story?

Then all bets are off.

A fiction writer might well trump fact for effect, and maybe he’ll do that nearly every damned time. He’ll possibly bend events in tricky ways to tell a richer story. In short, it seemed to me that a particularly gifted storyteller would, perhaps paradoxically, be the most untrustworthy of narrators: mysteries within a so-called “mystery.”

Now couple that possibility with the reputation that Hector Lassiter has earned in his universe for using his life as fodder for his fiction (Hector is best known as “The man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives”), and there’s some built-in latitude to let the story go a good bit deeper than the average mystery ever dares go.

As his years pile up across his body of “fictional” work, at some point, Hector Lassiter ceases hiding behind fictive personas, and in fact uses himself as his own character, by name.

I wish I could claim that notion was original to me—candidly, it’s an homage.

Back in the early 1990s, I took a stab at writing a series using a then-contemporary reporter turned crime novelist (since released as a series of eBook exclusives as the “Chris Lyon Series," consisting of Parts Unknown, Carnival Noir, Cabal and Angels of Darkness, to date. With their 1990s settings, they now read as inadvertent historical fiction, after a fact).

That series was a kind of forerunner to the Hector Lassiter novels I see now, and it in fact introduced characters I later brought over into Hector’s novels, including Irish cop James Hanrahan. (Chris returns the favor, cropping up in the concluding pages of Print the Legend, and a still-to-be-published Lassiter.)

But after writing several of those manuscripts about that other journalist/writer, I began to steep myself in the sublime works of novelist James Sallis.

I was most enthralled by Sallis’ Lew Griffin series and immersed myself in those books. I loved the notion that Griffin, among other trades and professions, was also a crime novelist.

As Sallis’ series unfolds, things begin to blur and even the titles of Sallis’ novels, and those of Lew Griffin’s, converge in vexing and evocative ways.

Because of Sallis’ Griffin series, I became enthralled with the notion of taking my original concept of crime novelist as hero and pushing it backward in time. Hector Lassiter became for me, a writer who would begin as an aspiring literary author, then move through all those “–isms” that shaped 20th century literature, eventually resulting in postmodernism and meta fiction.

Through Hector’s journey as a fiction writer, it became my plan to explore 20th Century pop culture as a driver of history and art.

In a dizzying development, I ended up appearing at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Arizona with James Sallis one February 2011 evening—a surreal and humbling experience for me and one I’m grateful to Mr. Sallis and Poisoned Pen for making possible.

At one point, there was even a video of our resulting discussion online. Hopefully, it will one day reappear, if only for the purpose of archiving and extending Mr. Sallis’ end of our conversation.

With that man, with that author, every exchange ends up being a kind of life and/or writing lesson.

And, being such an accomplished author, Prof. Sallis surely uses the words as so few do.

My earlier, in-depth interview with James Sallis can be found in ROGUE MALES: Hardcover/Paperback

The first five novels in the Hector Lassiter series—One True Sentence, Forever's Just Pretend and Toros & Torsos—are newly available from Betimes Books. (Ordering information below)

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

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