Dick Lochte's terrific, award winning, and incredibly well-reviewed novels SLEEPING DOG and LAUGHING DOG are being republished by Brash Books in September.
1. Tell us about your book / books that Brash is publishing.
Brash is bringing back my first two novels – SLEEPING DOG and LAUGHING DOG. They’re comedy-noir thrillers that team Leo (The Bloodhound) Bloodworth, a hard-drinking middle-aged Los Angeles private eye suffering from hypertension and a low tolerance for precocious teenagers and Serendipity Dahlquist, a bright and strong-willed schoolgirl of fourteen who’s been raised by her actress grandmother. The books are narrated by both Leo and Serendipity. The justification for what was then a fairly unique device was that they each wrote separate accounts of their adventures that a bottom-line publisher insisted be jumbled together. I like to think of it as a mashup of Raymond Chandler and Judy Blume. Humorous, but with some pretty dark elements. SLEEPING won the Nero Wolfe Award and was short-listed for every other crime award that year. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association named it as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. LAUGHING went into four printings. I should note that of all the covers the books have had in this country and internationally, the Brash editions feature the best I’ve seen.
2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?
In the past I’ve focused on one book at a time, but now, because of the digital revolution, I find myself with three projects. I’m preparing an eBook collection of the twelve Leo and Serendipity short stories that I’ve written. I’m working on a novella, tentatively titled WET WORK, that introduces a new character, Quinn O’Connor, the owner of a Marine Construction Company in Florida who’s having a bit of trouble with the members of a homicidal Santeria offshoot. And, most important, probably, I’m about two-thirds into a sequel to the novel BLUES IN THE NIGHT that was nominated last year for the Shamus.
3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
I guess the greatest pleasure is when you’ve finished proofing that last paragraph of the book. But, that aside, you get a pretty good feeling when the pages it took you a day to grind out still make you smile the morning after.
4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?
It’s the phone call you get from your editor – the one responsible for your three-book contract -- telling you he or she is leaving the publishing house. Your new editor may be even better, but at that moment, even if you don’t tend toward pessimism, you’re not feeling rosy.
5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
No question but that publishers are going to have to continue to play nice with Amazon.com. But they should also be much more inventive and helpful in marketing their product to the dwindling independent booksellers who, though in an apparently losing game of Monopoly, are still capable of influencing bestseller lists.
6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?
First up would be Frank Gruber, whose Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg novels are like B-movie classics, fast, funny and full of action, with the added element of unique insight into an aspect of Americana, be it California history, comic-strip creation, shoe manufacturing, wedding planning. All treated to Gruber’s breezy style. In any discussion of writers influenced by Dashiell Hammett, Thomas B. Dewey’s novels featuring the PI known as Mac should be near the top. The early ones are the best – hardboiled, lean, beautifully constructed. My third choice would be Howard Browne, whose novels about Chicago PI Paul Pine aren’t just Chandler-like, they read as if Chandler wrote them. Browne used the pseudonym John Evans for the first three, but THE TASTE OF ASHES, the best of the bunch, carries his real name. So does the stand-alone, THIN AIR. In it a weary husband, wife and daughter, on their way home after a car trip stop at a roadside diner. They drive home and the wife suddenly disappears. A neighbor says he’s seen her getting into a cab. Later, she’s found dead. What the heck? The ingenious premise has been used, with credit, in just about every Universal TV mystery series, including Rockford and Simon and Simon.
7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget
Well, the actual selling was something of an anti-climax. I was a columnist for the Book Review section of the L.A. Times. The editor liked to add a biographical line at the bottom of each article. I suggested “Dick Lochte is working on a screenplay.” But Digby Diehl, the editor didn’t like that. “This is a BOOK review,” he said. “Aren’t you working on a book?” I told him I could be, adding, “Make it a mystery,” since that was, and is, my favorite genre. So it went, until about six months later when I received a phone call from Knopf editor Ashbel Green who was in Southern California to meet with his writer Ken Millar (Ross Macdonald). Digby had mentioned my “mystery novel” and he was eager to see it. I explained that the manuscript wasn’t quite ready, but that I would be happy to send it to him as soon as it was. That’s when I started writing SLEEPING DOG. Seven months later, the manuscript was completed and in the hands of a top NYC agent. He sent it to Green at Knopf and . . . Green sent it back, saying it was too talky. I’d barely had time to slump in my chair when the agent was back with an offer from Arbor House. It wasn’t Knopf, but I wound up a published mystery writer, sharing Arbor House’s fall catalog with the likes of Elmore Leonard.