Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dick Lochte

Dick Lochte

Born in New Orleans in 1944, Dick Lochte worked several years as a magazine writer, film critic and theater reviewer in Los Angeles before publishing his first mystery novel, "Sleeping Dog," in 1986. It was nominated for an Edgar Award, and won the Nero Wolfe Award; and, in 2000, "Sleeping Dog" - which featured the innovative teaming of a veteran gumshoe named Leo Bloodworth with the smart if obstreperous 13-year-old Serendipity Dahlquist - was named "one of the best 100 mysteries of the twentieth century" by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.

The book's successor, "Laughing Dog," followed in 1988. Since then, Lochte has written several more novels, including four in collaboration with attorney Christopher Darden.

Readers and reviewers have praised Lochte's deft combination of humor and serious detection. Critic Sharon A. Russell cited the author's ability to "combine interesting technical innovations in the genre with a careful exploration of some of its more traditional elements." Lochte, she said, writes "with a style that acknowledges the past. At the same time he develops his own voice, combining wit and insight in his depiction of the present."

Modern hard-boiled, with a wry sense of humor: a mixture even the hard-to-please Raymond Chandler could admire.

1 Tell us about your current novel.

My current novel, Croaked!, which is actually over a year old now, is a semi-autobiographical comedy-thriller set in a men's magazine in the mid-1960s. I spent a good portion of my youth working at Playboy during its go-go years. It was part goofy fun and part serious business and sex was a key element in both. I tried to put all that into the book, along with several murders and what I think is a tricky, but very fair play who-done-it finale.

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

I can't say too much about it, not merely because I'm paranoid. I can say it's a comedy-thriller and the start of a new series, written in collaboration with a very entertaining gent (who shall be temporarily nameless). He knows considerably more about the locale and the milieu than I. But I think I probably know more about the villain, a world class assassin, than he.

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

In the two decades or so since I wrote my first book there have been many changes in publishing that have undercut the pleasures of the writing life. One pleasure that remains is the joy I get from putting words on paper (or more precisely on the monitor) that say exactly what I wanted them to. Maybe it's dialogue that has the right ring, or a description that does the job in a unique way. Or a chapter that ends on precisely the right note.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?
I'm not comfortable with the non-writing aspects. I have a great agent, which means I don't have to deal with the peddling of the manuscripts. But it's some of the post-publication chores that get me down. I like to appear on panels and to show up for events like book fairs. Store visits are hit-and-miss. If readers show up, great. If they don't, it's downright painful. Most painful of all for me is self-promotion. I'm not lacking in self-confidence, but doing a sales pitch for your book, and consequently, yourself, seems cheesy. I've friends who are better salespeople than they are writers. More power to them. I'd rather put my efforts into the writing. It's one of the things that makes collaboration so appealing.

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

Considering the recent spate of consolidations and firings, it seems as if current business practices aren't working. Maybe it's time to return to the grand old days when quality trumped quantity and a strong editorial staff was held in higher regard than bottom line accountants.

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

At least three. Craig Rice would be at the top of my list with her fast and funny adventures of Jake and Helane Justice and John J. Malone. The books were popular enough for Rice to have been the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time. (Have there been any since?) Frank Gruber's tales of book salesmen and con artists Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg are clever mixtures of fast patter, fair play detection and unique backgrounds. Each novel involves a specific enterprise, from Las Vegas casino operation to comic strip syndication to shoe manufacturing. Of the endless number of private eyes following in Philip Marlowe's footsteps, none comes closer to filling them than Howard Browne's Paul Pine. Browne wrote the first three Pines under the pen name John Evans, but for the forth and last he used his own name. That should tell you that it was the best of an excellent quartet, all of which deserve to be back in print.

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

I was very, very lucky. I'd quit Playboy and traveled west in search of movie gold. While panning for those elusive nuggets, I fended off starvation by writing freelance reviews -- a theater column in Los Angeles magazine, films in the L.A. Free Press and books in the L.A. Times. The Times liked to identify writers with a one-line description. "Just say I'm working on a screenplay," I suggested to the then-editor of The Book Review, Digby Diehl. He replied that everybody was writing a screenplay. This was The Book Review. Wasn't I working on a book. "Sure," I lied, and because the scripts I'd been struggling with were all crime-based, I added, "I'm writing a mystery novel." That misinformation ran almost every week in the paper. A few months later, I received a phone call from Ashbel Green, Ross Macdonald's editor at Knopf. He was in town meeting with Macdonald and wanted to see my novel. I told him it still needed a little work. I replaced the phone and began writing my first book, Sleeping Dog. Six months later, I sent the ms. to Mr. Green. He sent it back, saying it was too talky. Three days later, my agent sold the book to the first publisher on his list.

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?
I suppose it had to be the success of that first book. Sleeping Dog went into three printings in hardcover, two in paperback. The reviews were absurdly good. Publisher's Weekly said it surpassed the California novels of Chandler and Macdonald. I wasn't delusional enough to believe that, but it was lovely to see. The book was nominated for all of the awards and won the Nero Wolfe. It was picked up by publishers throughout the world. And now, twenty-three years later, it's still in print, here and in Japan.

9. How about the low point?

That involved Sleeping Dog, too. The movie. When the film companies came calling, against the advice of agent, editor, just about everybody, I signed on to adapt the screenplay. Five versions and fifteen months later, the movie hadn't come together. And I was way, way past the deadline for the literary sequel. By the time I'd finished the ms for Laughing Dog my original publisher had been gobbled up by Morrow. New publisher. New editor. New publicists. New attitude. Because of the three-year interval, the good will and positive reaction to Sleeping Dog had dissipated. I was back at square one. Laughing Dog received good notices and, because its initial print run was larger, sold more copies in hardcover than Sleeping Dog. But the script-writing diversion, in spite of its financial rewards, took its toll on my literary career.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?

Sleeping Dog should be the pick, especially since it's still in print. But The Neon Smile is my most ambitious book and my best, I think. It contrasts the New Orleans of the turbulent 1960s with the city in 1995, when the novel was published. I liked the idea of seeing how the city and a set of characters changed over a thirty-year period, with the link being the detective, Terry Manion, re-examining a series of murders that took place when he was a little boy. Every now and then I wonder what happened to Manion when Katrina struck. Maybe I'll find out some day.


Anonymous said...

My favorite books of Dick's are the Terry Mannion books, The Neon Smile and Blue Bayou, set in New Orleans. Good, straigtforward P.I. stuff.


Cap'n Bob said...

Coincidentally, I recently found Blue Bayou and am about 30 pages from finishing it. A grand job that I'm enjoying immensely.