Thursday, May 03, 2012

New Books: False Negative by Joseph Koenig

False Negative

Ed here: By the time I finished False Negative one word lingered in my mind: Edgar. The milieu, the voice, the style and the narrative attack sweep you up in a twisting plot, some great serio-comic moments and as unique a story as I've come across in years. Grab it fast.

Joseph Koenig his provided the following facts about himself:

Born in Brooklyn, went to Erasmus Hall H.S., and NYU, where I played on the football team with Bill Polian, former president of the Indianapolis Colts. Reporter on the Providence, Rhode Island, Journal and Evening Bulletin. Left to go to Haight-Ashbury. Associate editor and managing editor of Front Page and Inside Detective at Dell Publishing. Then, for many years, I traveled around the country covering murders for those magazines, and also for Official, Master, and True Detective. Published four novels between 1987 and 1993, and then I pulled my 20-year bunk (a better story) and you pretty much have the parts fit to print.

Pro-FGile: Joseph Koenig

1 – Tell us about your current novel or project.

False Negative is the story of a young reporter on a daily newspaper in Atlantic City who loses his job as the result of excessive cleverness, and ends up writing true crime pieces for a pulp detective magazine. It's set not long after World War II, when magazines like Real Detective began the long, painful decline that ended with their extinction. The story is ostensibly focused on the murders of beauty queens linked to various pageants on the Jersey coast. It's also about a young newsman figuring out a few things about becoming a serious human being.

Coincidentally, I left newspaper work to write for fact detective magazines at a time those magazines had one foot in the grave.

2 – Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on now?

My new agent, Pamela Malpas at Harold Ober Associates, liked my writing about race and jazz in False Negative, and advised that I do more of it. The result is a story I'm 90 percent done with about a creole trumpeter from New Orleans in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941. It isn't noirish, but not all of my books are. During my 20-year vanishing act I completed about a dozen novels, some hard-boiled, others not so much, that went directly inside a trunk.

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

The greatest pleasure for me as a writer is doing the work. I love everything about it, the intellectual challenge, the satisfaction of getting something down on paper that reads good to me, the hunt for the right word, and then a better one, even the agonizing stuff. When I wasn't publishing, my friends would say, "Why are you wasting your life? Do something productive, or at least that pays." It was impossible to explain to non-writers that I was writing better than I ever had, and enjoying it even more. That publishing is not at the heart of the process of writing. It never occurred to me to stop doing something that I was getting better at.

4 – The greatest displeasure?

The greatest displeasure in the writing process is the seclusion that I find essential to deep concentration. It is also one of the most pleasurable aspects.

5 – Advice to the publishing world?

It would be presumptuous of a writer whose early books are presently ranked at number three or four million on the Amazon best seller lists to tell the publishing world what to do. However, I wish there was less emphasis on what can be marketed easily, and more on literature. If there were fewer series characters, and more good writing available to genre fans, perhaps they would come to appreciate artistry rather than look for what is familiar.

6 – Are there any forgotten writers you’d like to see in print again?

The forgotten writer I'd most like to see in print again is . . . You're asking this of a writer who hasn't published in 20 years? I'll let your readers take a wild guess as to the answer.

7 – Tell us about selling your first novel.

I had a hell of a hard time selling my first book. Floater was a novel about a serial killer written before the term 'serial killer' entered the lexicon. On top of that it is told mainly from the point of view of the bad guy. For the longest time I couldn't get an agent to represent it. I realized I was onto something when Knox Burger took me on as a client. But even he had trouble finding a publisher. Floater received more than 20 rejections. Knox told me that when it found a publisher I should run all the rejection notices as an addendum to the text. The rejections weren't encouraging. Many were brutal. Editors hated the book. Female editors hated me. One told Knox that I must be a serial killer myself for writing as expertly about the murder of women as I did. Knox said, "This is great. She was moved by your book, but too stupid to realize it." It didn't feel great.

After adding a chapter that focused on the hero, I received four immediate offers for Floater, and it went to Otto Penzler at the Mysterious Press. It received excellent reviews, and was nominated fror an Edgar award, a Macavity, and also at the Bouchercon that year for Best First Novel. (My second book, Little Odessa, a comedy, went to the movies for a lot of dough, but that's another story.)

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