Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pro-file: Tom Piccirilli

This is a good time for Tom Piccirilli. The International Thriller Writers gave him the award for The Midnight Road and now his novel The Cold Spot had been nominated for an Edgar (best paperback). Tom is well on his way to well-deserved major stardom.

1 Tell us about your current novel.
THE COLDEST MILE hits bookstores in four weeks. It's the follow-up to THE COLD SPOT and continues on with the dubious adventures of my getaway driver Chase and his stone cold killer grandfather Jonah. In this one, Chase gets on the wrong side of the mob while hunting his grandfather for their inevitable showdown. When they do meet face to face, the situation is much different than Chase expects. Hopefully I've managed to amp up the noir atmosphere even more than it was in TCS.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?
A novel called THE UNDERNEATH, which is a sort of crime novel-suspense hybrid, about a young thief from a family of thieves who returns home after several years away to meet with his brother who's on death row. The brother murdered a number of folks in a meth-fueled rage, and though he admits to the charges, he swears that he didn't kill one person attributed to him. So off goes the brother on a strange investigation that takes though an underworld he's familiar with and straight world he's not, where every brick he turns over brings another secret to the light of day, including several involving his own family.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
The satisfaction of having created something that is wholly my own and yet somehow manages to be a part of the overwhelming grandness of literature. Most of us get into this racket because literature itself has had such a profound effect on us. It's given us a kind of love, entertainment, excitement, joy, enlightenment, fulfillment that only books can give us. And becoming a writer is joining with that, becoming a part of it, and passing it on to other readers. I don't know, it's the kind of thing that bibliophiles will understand, and anyone who doesn't read simply won't.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?
No real security. No health insurance, no 401k, no pension. Living check to check, hand to mouth, and always the possibility that your best work is behind you. And if you're a lazy , then the sedentary life just cranks up the potential for weight gain and heart trouble and all those similar health concerns. But as soon as I finish this double cheeseburger I intend to lose 120 lbs, train intensively for 18 months, and enter the Iron Man competition.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
Treat every book as a potential bestseller. Give them all your very best where encouragement, publicity, are concerned, because you never know just what will catch fire with a little push. On any bestseller list there's at least a handful of books that appear to be uncommercial in the extreme. Julia Leigh's DISQUIET is a kind of surreal literary novella, and it's up there. Roberto Bolano's 2666 is a five-book monolith by a dead Chilean writer, and it's up there. You just never know what the public might pick up on, so allow even the most uncommercial work to have a chance, because it might just pay off.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see inprint again?
Hard Case Crime has done a wonderful job of bringing back some of my faves, but at a last looksee the likes of Fredric Brown, Bruno Fischer, and Peter Rabe were still mostly out of print. Or at least not as widely available as they should be. I'd love to see those guys back on the shelves, right up front with the bestsellers. Any fan of noir/hardboiled fiction will go apeshit for them.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that
It was a trip. Even though I have a total love-hate relationship with my first novel (because it blows, don't read it, don't hunt for it, don't torment me with it at conventions) it was the one that carried me into the game. I made every mistake I could with it, both in the writing and in the submitting, but somehow it got picked up by Pocket Books. Jesus, I sent three chapters in over the transom when all I had were the three damn chapters. How stupid. But I was a kid, and the fates shined down on me.

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?
I just got an Edgar nod this week. That's pretty close to the top. Other highlights usually involve my literary heroes. Exchanging letters and email with great folks like Dean Koontz, Donald Westlake, Chuck Palahniuk, James Rollins, Stewart O'Nan, Ken Bruen, and Richard Matheson. It's a validation of the work and, as I mentioned, since we're all here because we're fans, it just tickles me to no end. The friends and fans you make are really what count most.

9. How about the low point?
Oh Christ. If I start thinking about them all I'll spiral into a fit of depression and it'll take me a month to climb out of the ditch. But losing contracts, getting dumped by publishers, having books I slaved over get dumped by publishers without any distribution or fanfare or reviews, years going by without seeing my books on the shelves, getting ripped off on royalties. It's so easy to feel like a complete failure in this game, no matter how many accolades or sales you may have racked up. There's always a boot on your back. It's hard to fight and it's hard to ignore, but if you don't make some kind of peace with it, it'll drive you right into the ground.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?
I'd say folks can either start with THE MIDNIGHT ROAD or THE COLD SPOT. They're two of my most recent titles and pretty much show where my head, heart, and art are at the moment.

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