Interview with Sam Waas
By Cherie Jung
Q. Please introduce our readers who may not have read BLOOD STORM yet to Mitch King.
A. Mitchell (Mitch) King is a modern Houston private detective. BLOOD STORM is the second novel in the series. The first novel was BLOOD SPIRAL. BLOOD STORM was released in paperback and Kindle formats in late 2011 and is available from Amazon and other venues.
In the Mitch King mysteries, I've tried to create a story line that bridges the gap between old-fashioned hardboiled private eyes (PIs) and the modern 20th Century literary creation of flawed antiheroes.
Unlike most stereotypical PIs, Mitch is highly educated and comfortable with today's technology. He's definitely not retro. Mitch even jokes about fictional PIs who keep all their notes on the inside of matchbook covers from boxing gyms, search for ever-disappearing pay phones, then gripe when the calls cost more than a dime. By contrast, Mitch is handy with iPhones, iPads, and even owns a small Internet startup company.
Despite his apparent sophistication, however, Mitch is deeply conflicted and agonizes over his personal motives and goals. These internal struggles often surface as Mitch attempts to exert influence over his clients and friends, and this can quickly lead to tragedy.
So I'm combining a strong action-oriented mystery with a protagonist who's up to his neck in a swamp of his own creation. On one hand we've got a modern thriller, but it's balanced with a more literate internalized dialogue about morality and failures inherent in our human society.
This will appeal to fans seeking an exciting story as well as readers who're looking for more complex issues and reflections into classic literature. It's this combination of conventional thriller with the antihero protagonist that makes the Mitch King series different from other, more typical PI novels.
Q. Why write a P.I. series? Why set the series in Houston?
A. I've always enjoyed mysteries, particularly the more gritty novels. PIs are just part of the tough-story formula. And Houston? I've lived here many years and know the city fairly well. It seems that every PI otherwise lives in NYC, Boston, or LA. So Houston is unknown territory and mainly unexplored in the mystery genre.
Q. Were you ever a P.I. yourself?
A. Nope. And I've never worked in any mode of uniformed law enforcement or served in the military. Civilian stem to stern. I have, however, known several PIs and had many law enforcement friends.
Q. The details in your writing always seem to ring true. How and where do you do your research for the books?
A. First, thanks. I suppose my penchant for accuracy results from my "day job" career in science and engineering, plus a collegiate background in biology and chemistry. The hard sciences were my first love.
I also try to create very realistic situations in my novels. Of course, a real-life PI never has the experiences that Mitch, er, enjoys, and would end up in prison if he did. That's just literary license. That aside, I strive for authenticity. I choose character names that are believable, use actual Houston street names and occasionally, real business locales.
Although my novels aren't police procedurals, I also research law enforcement methods and processes carefully. Same goes for vehicles, clothing, pop trends, computers, firearms, you name it. In my upcoming novel I've got some recreational sailboating, and being totally blank on this subject, I'm burning the midnight oil to get it right.
Regarding accuracy, a sore point with me is mystery writers who don't depict firearms correctly. I mean, it's one thing if a mainstream author has a gun mistake, but it's incumbent on mystery writers to know the ropes of their genre. I get a little tired of reading someone who "cocks" a Glock or puts a live round under a revolver hammer so he'll have the first shot (when the trigger's pulled, revolver cylinders turn one notch before the hammer drops). Things like that.
Q. When did you start writing? Do you only write novels? Do you also write short stories? Movie scripts? Your writing style would be popular in all kinds of writing projects.
A. I've written all my life, I suppose. I've strung for newspapers, contributed articles for magazines and weeklies, too. The Mitch King series are my first novels but I've written mainstream, horror, and SF short stories. And yes, a couple of screenplays. None optioned, sadly. Regarding my style, I've tried to maintain a middle-of-the-road scenario. I avoid both the "fists and macho" slant as well as the "high and mighty" snooty hauteur.
Q. How long did it take you to write BLOOD STORM from the original idea to finished book? Do you start with specific incidents in mind and/or a detailed outline of the book or do you begin writing and see where the character and story lead you?
A. Each novel took me about a year. I was able to write faster and with fewer false starts the more experience I gained. I'm about average for most authors regarding an outline, only sketching out a general theme and some high points, but not in much detail. Then I just start writing, save everything (even the bad stuff) on disk, and plunge ahead.
A hint to new writers. When I first began, I tried to make my characters say and do things, like marionettes. And the result was just as wooden. As I learned my craft, I now create believable characters, put them into situations, then sit back and simply take notes on what happened, like an impartial observer. Allowing characters to "think for themselves" creates in the author's mind a separate personality for each, and greatly expands verisimilitude.
Of course, I pretty much know where the story will eventually lead, but only in general ways. The details seem to work themselves out as I actually write the novel. And another hint. If you get "stuck" on a particular chapter, don't stall out. Just skip ahead and write a new chapter that occurs further on in the story. Later, you'll fill in the gaps more easily.
Q. Do you have a planned or limited series in mind for Mitch King or is there no end in sight for this series? Readers are of course hoping the answer is the latter! Are you currently working on the next book?
A. I hope Mitch will continue to have entertaining adventures for years to come. I'm currently writing the third novel in the series, BLOOD TURF.
Q. Besides being an amazingly talented writer, why do you think your books appeal to readers who don't normally read P.I. books?
A. Amazingly talented? You must be confusing me for a real writer! But seriously, let me reiterate the dual nature of the Mitch King novels. I'm trying to tell an exciting story and, at the same time, present a complex, modern, antihero. Some sections of the novel are full of action and graphic crime violence. Other passages are reflective and philosophical.
I think readers will be pleasantly surprised at how literate and entertaining a PI novel can be. They'll enjoy the mystery and also be fascinated by the internal turmoil of the protagonist. As an example, I'd like to quote briefly from BLOOD STORM as indicator of the more introspective portions that may engage the interest of the general literary fan and also demonstrate my narrative style:
(Mitch and his friend Homicide Detective David Meierhoff are having a leisurely Sunday breakfast when Meierhoff receives a call from his boss, Lt. Joe Duggan:)
He crooked the phone against his ear while he scribbled notes on a napkin. "Yeah? When? Damn. Okay. Damn. Yeah. He's here. Sure. Okay. Half hour."
Meierhoff put the phone away and drummed his fingers on the table, staring fixedly at the parking lot as though central truths of life were somehow revealed by interpreting a pattern in the way the cars were haphazardly parked.
"Problem?" I asked.
"Supposed to have the day off but y'know how that goes. We caught a felony one murder and Duggan apparently wants my little Hebrew self for the lead." We both chuckled, then Meierhoff squinted at me. "Wanna come for the ridealong?"
Meierhoff got up, brushed some invisible debris from his spotless sweatpants. "Besides, Duggan wants to talk to you."
"Whatever. Let's go."
Meierhoff looked disparagingly at the congealing mass of greasy leftovers on my plate. "Thing is, you maxed out at the food trough this morning."
Meierhoff's mouth tightened into a narrow line and he looked at me with solemn dark eyes. "Might be a rough ride. This isn't just your garden variety homicide. They found another one."
"It's the Slicer."
* * *
(after arriving at the apartment complex and meeting with the other police:)
So we all trooped upstairs in hesitant pilgrimage to apartment 14B where Rhonda Willett had lived. And died. ...All seemed to dwindle as I advanced, the sound reduced to a narrow well, rendered far less important than the object of our journey, the walkway now a foreshortened tunnel, sucking me into a chasm with the Vertigo effect, like Jimmy Stewart trying to crawl up the mission belltower stairway.
We took our time because nobody was particularly eager to see what had been done to one Rhonda Willett, white female, divorced, age forty-six, now very much deceased.
Sadly, a great deal had been done to her.
Rhonda Willett lay on her back on the kitchen floor, she was naked, and she had been methodically cut to shreds.
(Mitch reflects on his young client's remark:)
"...I'd be happy to just go back to the way things were before."
So would we all, I thought. But Stephen Hawking says that time's inevitable arrow presses us forward. Always forward, never back, irreversible entropy our eternal nemesis. And Thomas Wolfe presaged Hawking when he told us that we can't go home again. Both of them were right, too.
(Mitch musing over how suffering seems almost deliberate:)
It was ironic, this juxtaposition of disparate fates. Yet such are the circumstances and vagaries of existence. Despite Einstein's admonition, God does indeed play at dice with the universe. And with us. Especially with us.
(Finally, Mitch considering his own personal plight:)
Failure was to haunt me even more than the ghost of my dead father. Hamlet had it easy. We both had the spirit of a departed father to prod us on, but Hamlet at least had a tangible foe on whom to vent his revenge. I had only phantoms.
I also knew that I would continue to strive for the goal of satisfying these strict and austere specifications because I was duty bound. How much more pain would I cause, I wondered. How many sacrifices, how many ashes would I continue to heap upon that cold and silent altar?
Q. Who/what do you read? Mystery/crime authors? Non-mystery/non-crime authors?
A. My favorite mystery writers are Bill Pronzini, Robert Crais, and John Sandford. I've recently enjoyed Sandford's "Virgil Flowers" novels.
For mainstream fiction, I like James Joyce, Umberto Eco, Thomas Pynchon, and Cormac McCarthy. My favorite novel is Joyce's Ulysses, which I've read many times.
I also read nonfiction books about cosmology, quantum physics, general science, history, and biography. Most recently, I've been studying Roman history and highly recommend Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy.
Q. Have any writers influenced your writing style?
A. Not directly. Writers whom I admire the most are masters of their art and I can only stand back in admiration. I have nevertheless been inspired to combine an action-oriented theme with a deeper, more literate underpinning by Cormac McCarthy's frightening and near-biblical epic BLOOD MERIDIAN, which presents to us the single most nightmarish character in modern fiction, "The Judge." Use of the word "blood" in our book titles is however coincidental.
Q. I think Mitch King would make an interesting and fun TV P.I. — ala Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. — any chance of that happening in the near future?
A. I wish. Having a screenplay or TV series optioned and produced from the novels would be a dream come true. Much as I admire Selleck, I guess he's a bit long in the tooth these days for Mitch King, but he recently and expertly portrayed Sandford's Lucas Davenport, so I'd gladly accept Selleck or anyone else. Okay, maybe not Ryan Seacrest. Let's face it, most of us would turn handsprings to see our books become a movie.
Q. Besides private detective fans, what about your writing might appeal to readers of other mystery genres?
A. Although my novels are legitimate private eye stories, they lack the shabby, broke, and usually drunken PI whom we have seen in most hardboiled steamy tossoff books. My stories contain a good deal of reflection and background, intelligent dialogue, and provide an offbeat yet engaging protagonist.
Books by this author include:
BLOOD SPIRAL (July, 2011) — Originally published as FULL CIRCLE (May, 2009) (reviewed) BLOOD STORM (January, 2012) (reviewed)
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