Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interview with the Super Fantastic Steven Steinbock

Today I am very pleased to share an interview with Steven Steinbock, President of the International Association of Crime Writers (North America).

Interview questions for Steven Steinbock:

1. You have lots of impressive street cred in the world of mystery fiction, as an editor, a critic, a blogger and so on. How did you get to be Prez of Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers? And are there (or were there) any members who felt the position of Prez ought to have gone to a published mystery novelist?

Thanks. I’m not sure about street cred, but I have been involved in crime fiction for a long time. The path that led me to become president of the North American branch of IACW is a strange one. The short version is that I helped solve a couple of issues we’d been having, and members of the board nominated me. At the time I was nominated I didn’t have any fiction published, but as far as I know, I was the only person who protested.

2. What is your most prized – not necessarily the most valuable – mystery collectible? What elusive mystery or whodunit collectible are you still looking for?

Easy. I spent an afternoon as a guest of Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain) a number of years ago. He treated me to lunch and I treated him to an interview. I brought along a small stack of books for him to sign. When he saw the first edition of Blackboard Jungle in my pile, even he was impressed. He paused for a moment of reflection before signing his name to the title page.

Another treasure: I have everything written by Jacques Futrelle, a turn-of-the-previous-century mystery writer who died aboard the Titanic. My copy of Diamond Master is signed by Futrelle. (I got him to sign it before the Titanic hit the iceberg).

3. In your opinion, is the grammar rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition (as in question #2 above) going the way of the dodo bird?

I don’t know the rule about which you are speaking. Seriously? It’s a bunko rule, designed by uninformed pedantics to criticize better writers than themselves. Shakespeare did it, didn’t he? Imagine if Prospero had said, “We are such stuff on which dreams are made.” Shakespeare probably dangled his modifiers, too, and beautifully.

4. If there were one review you could rescind/undo, what one would it be?

When I was writing for the Maine Sunday Telegram in the 1990s I reviewed a first book by a new author (no names) which I thought was badly written. I didn’t like the style. I felt the tone was wooden. Neither the characters nor the plot grabbed me. I gave it a less-than-warm review. It wasn’t a nasty review, mind you. But it would have been clear to anyone reading it that the book didn’t work for me. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times all gave the book glowing reviews. I’m not sure I’d rescind the review, but it gave me pause.

5. How has your exposure to and involvement with AudioFile changed your view of books/stories/mysteries?

Words are very aural for me. I love the sound of good writing. Pick up a book by James Lee Burke or Gary Phillips and open it to any page and you’ll find words set out like notes in a symphony, words that beg to be savoured on the palate.

I disagree with the people who think audiobooks are for lazy people, that listening is cheating. Audiobooks may not be for everyone, but something that allows me to “read” – to consume books – while I’m driving or working out is a good thing.

6. Surely you have been to many crime fiction events over the years, at locations far and wide. What was the most memorable mystery event/conference/convention you attended? What was unique/special/interesting about it?

That would have to be Bloody Words in 2010, of course. That’s where I met you, Jill! Every mystery event I go to – the Edgars, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic – is memorable. Crime writers are the nicest people on the planet. We commit murder for a living, but when we get together, you won’t find a more affable group anywhere.

7. Without fawning, there surely must be some author somewhere whom you have met who left you feeling a bit star struck, or maybe you even asked for an autograph or a photo op. Which author were you most excited about meeting and why? Ah, go ahead – fawn away…

I’ve known him now for eighteen years, but Lawrence Block still awes me a little. But like I said in response to your earlier question, crime writers are a genial bunch. Even Mary Higgins Clark is laid back and accessible.

8. Tell me about your current work in progress. I am dying to know more about the madman with the lynx and the quixotic rabbi.

It’s a mystery/suspense novel. My hero is a young, idealistic rabbi named Jake Lurie who wants to do the right thing, but isn’t sure he’s man enough. He’s also lonely. Then he meets up with his complete opposite – sort of cross between Joe Pike, Lord Falstaff, and a mountain man. His name is Santelli, and he makes it his mission to educate Jake in the ways of the world. Oh yeah, and he lives with a lynx.

9. What do you think is the best manner of killing/best weapon in a whodunit?

In one of his novels Earl Emerson dispensed with a villain at a dog-food processing plant. I thought that was pretty cool.

10. You have published one short story in Ellery Queen, and you are now working on a novel. What is the most difficult or challenging difference between short stories and novels?

They’re totally different animals. A short story is an idea or incident that is distilled into its essence and unveiled to the reader in the most efficiently elegant way possible. A novel is a series of characters and events woven and expanded toward resolution into something new. That’s what “novel” means, after all. Something new.

11. Your young, idealistic rabbi… (name?) How much is he like you? How much do you wish you were like him?

Jake is a lot like I was at 28. I wouldn’t mind being 28 again, but other than that, no. As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve become more like Santelli, the madman with the lynx.

12. How many Yiddish words (if any) will you have in the book? You do not need to give the exact number, rounded off to the nearest one-hundredth is fine. I hope you use oy vey at least thrice, fahrklempt (sp?) verklempt (sp?) at least once, and schmuck no less than a dozen times. Have you read much if anything on Yiddish? It fascinates me. This question is more for my own curiosity than for the interview.

Ironically, the person most likely to use Yiddish in my story is the Italian mountain man. I didn’t want the book to turn into a parody of a “Seinfeld” episode. I didn’t want to get caught in Jewish clichés. When a Jew is chomping on a bagel while speaking Yiddish between spittle, it’s cliché. It’s much more interesting when a Korean or a Pakistani calls someone a putz or a shlimiel. An excellent recent book about Yiddish is Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex. It’s informative and clever, and so funny I could almost plotz.

13. I’d like to know more about the transition from theologian to your, ahem, “life of crime”. What do you wish to share? (Not sure how personal this might be and I don’t want to overstep my bounds…)

I rediscovered mysteries while I was attending a seminary in Jerusalem. I found a copy of The Big Sleep and I never looked back. Distilled down to their essences, detective fiction and theology are about the same stuff: chaos and order, crime and justice, and a little sex and intrigue thrown in for good measure.

14. Open ended final question: what else would you like readers to know about you/your writing/your character/your experience in and exposure to the world of crime fiction?

Nothing I can think of. Thanks for the opportunity to chat.

For more on Steven Steinbock, check out:

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