Sunday, June 25, 2017

This Just In: Jungle Reds Swoon over Spencer Quinn

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We are swooning at Jungle Red today!  You may know our guest as Peter Abrahams, the internationally acclaimed and bestselling thriller writer. (Seriously, one of the best in the world.) Or as Spencer Quinn, the internationally acclaimed and bestseller author of the adorable Chet and Bernie mysteries. And many other terrific books.  (“The Edgar-winning author of 36 novels” as his bio says.)

Yes, I am absolutely unabashedly gushing. He is one of my favorite authors ever.  

And now he (as Spencer Quinn) has a new book out in two days, THE RIGHT SIDE.  It’s a different incredible...well, now I am gushing again.  

HANK:  I'm in the midst of your wonderful book right now (oops, still gushing)--so don't tell me the ending. But I'm fascinated by what you said on your website--how  sometimes a character grabs you and won’t let go. you said: "This character – a figment of your own imagination but not wholly under your power – demands to be brought to life."  So that's what happened with your main character in THE RIGHT SIDE, LeAnne? Tell us about that. who is she, and where did she come from?  

SPENCER QUINN: Publishing - what a crazy business! On the outlet end, it's more and more data and numbers driven all the time, as though the product was sheet steel. We workers back at the inlet end deal in feelings, dreams, emotions, zeitgeist. Strange things go on in that pipeline. LeAnne Hogan came to me suddenly, out of the blue. The Chet and Bernie mysteries - and Bowser and Birdie for kids - which have been occupying me for almost the past 10 years are probably essentially comic in tone. And I love writing them! But what I think happened is that things going on in the world that are not comic came barging in and couldn't be ignored.

 LeAnne lives in this dangerous, baffling, violent world which I must have been grappling with subconsciously and when she popped up in my imagination I knew had to write about her. I'm not saying she's humorless - far from it, I hope - but she's been in terrible situations that brand you forever. In THE RIGHT SIDE, she is forced to solve two mysteries, one macro, one micro.

LeAnne's highly capable of doing that, or at least she was. She's a soldier and a warrior, beloved and respected by her comrades; but then her patrol wanders into a mysterious set-up in an Afghan village, and it all comes undone.

I've explored the idea of a highly capable person forced to carry on with suddenly diminished abilities once before in OBLIVION, but this turned out quite differently. And one of the reasons for the difference is the strange dog who enters LeAnne's life when she really needs her, even if LeAnne doesn't know it at the time.

HANK: But even though you’ve written riveting standalone thrillers, and the smart and (okay, adorable) Chet and Bernie mysteries, and the Bowser and Birdie YAs (and more--I adore your Echo Falls books) --but this book is so different. It has a different tone, and a different...aura. Did it feel different to write it? 

SPENCER QUINN: Good question. That aura thing came up in a conversation with my editor. He said reading the book reminded him of the feeling of getting swept along in a piece of music by Philip Glass. I'm no expert on Philip Glass, but chose to take it as a compliment. There were a lot of technical challenges in the writing - it's part war novel, part mystery, part road book, and moves back and forth in time - but I wasn't really aware of them until I was done. Thank God! Those challenges can be intimidating. Better not to know.

 As for the feeling of writing it - well, I'm not sure. There are always surprises. For example, when I made LeAnne a high-school pole vaulting champion, I had no idea there'd be that scene in Afghanistan where she tries to teach the schoolgirls in their burqas how to pole vault. And how, much later, she tries desperately to remember their names. One thing I do know is that the writing process never gets easier. That seems unfair. After a dentist has filled 1000 cavities or so, autopilot must set in. Why can't we have that?

HANK: Well, it’s good, really, isn’t it? Because to have the joy of a new idea, or a new insight. People have said to me—“After 40 years as a reporter, don’t all stories seem the same? Like how many ways are there to cover a fire?” And that’s so—wrong. Every situation is astonishingly different. In fiction, there are even more possibilities. And having a good idea is the best thing that could ever happen.

Speaking of good ideas...this sense you have about dogs, and their place in the world, and in people’s lives. There’s a dog on the cover of THE RIGHT SIDE—did the dog appear to you when LeAnn did?  (And we won’t tell the dog’s name.)

SQ: Well, I knew from the start that I wanted a dog in the story - but not a narrating dog! THE RIGHT SIDE is all third-person close. And this dog had to have been through something bad - although we never know exactly what - and like LeAnne, bears the scar. And like her, the dog is not in a cuddly mood, at least in the present. As for the future, I hope readers see the ending as an up note.
HANK: there’s such a layer of melancholy and sorrow and loss at the beginning of the book. Was that difficult—more difficult than writing always is anyway—to write?

SQ: The truth is the parts of a story with heightened emotions, like the beginning of THE RIGHT SIDE, and heightened action, are easier to write, at least for me. It's the getting to them that's hard, often a slog. In this book, I tried to simply jettison most of that slogging.

HANK: Jettison the slogging! Ah. My new mantra.  Talk about that title—so multi-layered! Did the story come first, or the title?

SQ: The moment I picked the side of LeAnne's face that would be damaged, I had the title; and all the metaphoric ripples got set in motion. 

HANK: And not to bury the lede, but you have reached blurb nirvana. Stephen King said “Brilliant. Deeply felt, but totally under control. I loved it.” Not to be sappy, but okay. How did you feel when you read that? The totally under control part is so fabulous. And, yeah, brilliant is good.

SQ: I was very glad to see this blurb. The implication is so right: simply having the deep feeling is not enough. Someone (and of course it's the same dude!) who's almost stern has to be at the controls. 

HANK:  That’s such a terrific image—flying high, but under control. Have a great time with the new book! So exciting.

 So, Reds and readers, who’s your favorite dog in fiction?  

And a copy of THE RIGHT SIDE to one lucky commenter!      


Peter Abrahams is the Edgar award winning author of thirty-six novels.  Among his acclaimed crime thrillers are Oblivion and The Fan (filmed starring Robert De Niro). Under the name Spencer Quinn, he writes the New York Times bestselling Chet and Bernie mysteries and the middle-grade Bowser and Birdie series. The Right Side – the story of a wounded female vet – comes out June 27, 2017.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Take the Jungle Red Seatmate Quiz!

Hank over Chicago without Steven Spielberg
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah well, traveling.  It can be wonderful, it really can. A fun window seat over a cool recognizable city like Chicago. Sitting by, say, Steven Spielberg. I mean, it could happen. It didn't, though. Yet. 
Oh, now, this isn’t what I was going to write, but hmm. Who would I love to sit by, more than anyone?  Not counting any of you, of course,  because that might really happen. But what if you got on the plane, sat in the widow seat, got organized and say (because this is a fun thing), you looked really great. And as you settle in,  you hear a little rustle. And you look up. And about to take the empty seat beside you is—WHO?
While you contemplate, say hi to our Jungle Red stalwart pal, the fab David Burnsworth! He travels. A lot.  And he can take the seatmate quiz, too. Right after he gets his luggage back.

DAVID BURNWORTH:  I travel for both my day job and my writing. And, as I’m sure with most of you who travel, I have some stories. Some of them good. Some of them not so good. I happen to be on a trip to South America as I write this, so the challenge of travel is fresh on my mind.
My first trip outside of North America, I was to meet a friend in Customs in the Brussels Airport. My departure was from Knoxville and he was flying standby from Atlanta. A problem for him, and soon for me, was this was the same time that the World Cup was being played. In France. And he was flying standby. See the problem here? So, my first time out of the country I had no idea what I was doing. As the first hour and then the second ticked by while sitting in the airport in another country waiting and he didn’t show up, I started to wonder that there might be something wrong. And there was. He was still in Atlanta. I had to figure out the phone system and make a few calls back to the states. Long story short, it was my first trial in travel and I had to figure it out on my own.
David's actual finicky toiletries
Fast forward twenty years to my current travel challenge. I thought I had everything covered: a four-hour layover in ATL before the long flight, a spare set of underwear in my carry on. Only, and this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this, Atlanta shuts down all ground activity because of lighting and heavy rain. Apparently they value the ground crews’ lives. (Kudos to you, ATL!) So, my fifty-minute flight from GSP (Greenville Spartanburg) took four hours thanks to a few loops over Atlanta and a two-hour stopover in Chattanooga for more fuel. Lucky for me, I walked off that flight, stopped for a quick restroom break, and walked right on my flight to Chile.
The challenge this time was while I made it, my bag didn’t. Turns out I can buy most of my finicky toiletry choices (ed. note: see above) in Santiago which is great. But transferring clothing sizes from US English measurements to metric isn’t so easy. My waist didn’t really just add fourteen units of measurement? Was it that extra pastry on the flight?
I love to travel. But I find that it requires patience and a willingness to be flexible.
My best experience? There’s two: Five years ago, my wife and I got a free upgrade to a suite in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The downside? She likes suites now.
The second great experience? Stuttgart to Atlanta, I got a first class upgrade.
The latest book in my Brack Pelton series, Big City Heat, Brack travels from Charleston to Atlanta to help a friend find a missing woman. He also faces some challenges, some of them a little bit more involved than missing luggage.
Do you like to travel? If so, what are some of your stories?
HANK: Or hey, Reds and readers—tell me your answer to the seatmate quiz! Only one choice.  I’d pick—Stephen King!

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Big City Heat (April 2017, Henery Press) is the third title in his Brack Pelton series. In It For The Money (September 2017, Henery Press) continues the story of Private Eye Blu Carraway from the cross-over novella, Blu Heat (March 2017, Henery Press). Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.