Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pro-File: Jon Breen

Pro-File Jon Breen

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

My most recent novel is Probable Claus (Five Star), a Christmas book that came out last February, allowing plenty of time to build toward its eventual status as a holiday perennial. Give it a couple more years. It is a sort of parody of the Big Trial genre in which the official Santa Claus of a Midwestern city (state unspecified, so I didn't have to worry about keeping the law accurate, and I was never good at geography anyway) goes on trial for murder of his Scroogish brother. I've always had humor in my writing, but this was my first try at a full-scale comic novel. Some of my critical writing is gathered in A Shot Rang Out (Surinam Turtle/Ramble House).

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

Two book-length projects I might eventually finish. My third novel about bookdealer Rachel Hennings, working title First Edition, has existed in chapters and synopsis form for a few decades, and if I ever write the whole thing, I'll go the Sue Grafton route and keep the setting in the 1980s. The other one is a humorous classical detective story based on a cruise to Antarctica my wife and I took around New Year's 2000. All I need here is a plot. I always have a few short stories at various stages of completion, including a sequel to "The Missing Elevator Puzzle," the only short story of mine ever to get awards nominations.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Some writers claim to hate reading their old stuff because they find flaws and realize it didn't live up to its potential. Others like me enjoy reading their own work when it appears in print or years later. As I've often pointed out, this is no indication of merit. Some great writers are in the first category, while some lousy writers undoubtedly find every word golden. The main pleasure, though, is not satisfying myself but entertaining others. The audience doesn't have to be huge, and may only be measured by the fact someone was willing to pay for the work, but I can't imagine writing something without the idea in mind that someone will read it and enjoy it.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

Always having had a day job, thus never having to depend on writing for my livelihood, I've probably dodged most of the greatest displeasures. I've also had good luck with editors and agents. Horror stories are few.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Treat publishing like a business but not like a multinational corporation.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see
in print again?

A lot more than that, and the mystery field is better than average at honoring its past. (Thank you, Rue Morgue, Stark House, Hard Case Crime, Crippen & Landru, Ramble House.) Charlotte Armstrong, one of the finest crime novelists of the past century. Helen McCloy, an underappreciated American classicist. Anthony Berkeley/Francis Iles, as important a figure in the British Golden Age as Christie or Sayers. Thomas B. Dewey and William Campbell Gault, two first-rate private-eye writers of the '50s and '60s. Ed Lacy, one of the most prolific paperback writers of that same era. It's astonishing that Ellery Queen is mostly out of print in this country, though still appreciated in Japan.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget
that moment.

The novel that became Listen for the Click (British title Vicar's Roses) was first-drafted early in the 1970s, went nowhere in its first incarnation. My wife and in-house plot doctor Rita offered a solution for the main problem: bland and boring male lead, shrewish and unlikable female lead. Picture someone you know in the roles, she advised. I picked two acquaintances (a fellow mystery writer for Jerry Brogan, a colleague at college for Donna Melendez), used them in a way that they would never recognize themselves, and it turned out much better. After a couple more rejections, including Harlequin's short-lived Raven House line, the novel sold to a wonderful editor who launched many mystery writing careers, Sara Ann Freed at Walker and Company.


Todd Mason said...

It's still a pity that his mass-market Best of the Year is gone...or for that matter that yours, Ed, only had the one abridged edition. There should be a place for such.

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting. A Shot Rang Out is a terrific book.
I have never read Charlotte Armstrong, but perhaps I ought to.