Tuesday, August 5, 2008

dave white

He was just nominated for a Shamus award for this first book, When One Man Dies (2007) and we were able get Dave to come to Jungle Red to talk about his new book, The Evil That Men Do. He is among the youngest winners of the Derringer Award, and has contributed to many anthologies and collections, including The Adventure of the Missing Detective and Damn Near Dead. Dave lives in my hometown in New Jersey, and has the courage to teach middle-school English.

JAN: Tell us about your protagonist, Jackson Donne, how you dreamt him up and how he has evolved through your two books? He seems to be a reluctant investigator, which for me makes him more interesting. Why did you develop him that way?

DAVE: Jackson Donne was born when I was in college. I was trying to do things a little different, show that Jackson was younger. So--thinking I was REALLY clever--I had him have a dead fianceƩ instead of dead wife.

I liked writing stories about him in a college setting and, since I went to Rutgers, it was easy to research. That's how he started, at least.

Donne's evolved since then, through the short stories, and then through the two novels. By the end of When One Man Dies, he's been stripped of his PI license, so he can't really work. Something has to draw him into a case.

So, yes, he's very reluctant in The Evil That men Do--even more so than he is in my first book. And there are lots of reasons for that. My guess is that if you're a PI, and you've been involved in as many deaths and shootings that Donne had been in the short stories, you're going to get some press. And not good press. The people that knock on your door are going to be looking for someone to help with the dirty and violent stuff. Not something you want to be involved in on a regular basis.

And since the last case he gets into before The Evil That Men Do basically destroys whatever shreds of life he has left, I don't think he'd be willing to do that sort of thing again. He's learning from his cases. He's learning that they only screw him up.There are three things I'm looking to explore with Jackson Donne. His family's past, his relationship to the cops he put away, and his mental state. The first two novels do both of those things. Fortunately, I feel there are still more of those aspects I can explore. So, Donne will keep evolving.

JAN: Dave and I are almost related, in that his uncle was one of my brother’s best friends and helped me clean up after wild parties when my parents went away. When I read Dave’s first novel, I was transported back home. Tell us how you exploit New Jersey as a backdrop.

DAVE: New Jersey is a GREAT place to set a crime novel. First of you have everything -- big cities (Philly and NYC) nearby, farms and forests to the south, (we are the Garden state) and bustling suburbia --which is what I like to write about. You can almost set anything in this state. And NJ is wonderfully corrupt in certain areas, so a crime novel is not a stretch of the imagination. That said, I'd love to be able to push some images about NJ across that show it's better than what people say about it. Which I believe it is. I love NJ and wouldn't want my stories to take place anywhere else.

JAN: Since you are an English teacher, did you toy around with Shakespearean plays or other writing first? Or did you always know you wanted to write mysteries? Also, since you started with short stories, tell us the pluses and minuses of the two forms of storytelling.

DAVE: Ha! I never tried my hand any plays or poems or anything of that nature. Every once in a while I'd sit down and say "Okay, this is going to be my coming of age love story. Not a crime story." And then ten pages later, I have a dead body. It just keeps happening. I love the crime genre. The first story I ever had published was a Sherlock Holmes story I wrote in fourth grade. It got published in the school literary magazine, and I dug it up 3 years ago and published it on my blog. If you want to read it, get ready to cringe, but here's the link (http://jacksondonne.blogspot.com/2005/03/fourth-grade-fiction.html)

The plusses of short stories are two fold. I wrote them first and to be honest, they got me some attention. It was a way to attract readers, build somewhat of a buzz. (Not a huge buzz, but hey every little bit helps.) Plus, when you do one well, you get some nearly instant feedback. But novels, man, novels are so much more fun to me right now. I love following characters along for a year or so. And I love getting to that point where the novel climaxes and you can put some wacky twists in there, really try to surprise the readers.

Both short stories and novels are difficult, and rewarding, but in their own ways.

JAN: Do you write during the summer months when you’ve got a break from middle schoolers or do you write all year long? How do you produce a novel a year?

DAVE: I write whenever I can. It's a yearlong process. I try to get a lot done in the summer, but it's still the 1,000 words a day thing. I just don't feel as much pressure in the summer. During the school year I have to treat it as a second job. Get out of school at 3:30, go running, sit at home and write for two hours. I'm trying to write fast, but I would much rather write well. Having both would be key.

JAN: Well, I think all the awards and nominations you’ve been receiving would attest to the writing well part. I’m wondering, what do your students think about having a teacher who writes mysteries. Are they impressed? Do you include it in the curriculum? Or use mystery to help their writing??

DAVE: It's tough to tell. My students are a sarcastic, fun bunch (8th graders? Sarcastic?), but they don't really give a lot away about what they think about the writing stuff. I hope they think it's cool. I know a few of them went out and bought it. I do use mystery to help their writing and reading. We compare short stories in the genre. I use it to show the form of writing a story. There are lots of things I use it for.

JAN: Your blog (http://www.jacksondonneblogspot.com/) is hysterical, and if I remember correctly, you had a blog long before you had a novel. Did it help you develop an audience or find a publisher? Any advice for writers trying to break in?

DAVE: To be honest, I don't know how much the blog helped. It must have helped somewhat. It was definitely a way to get my name out there. I mean, I've had my share of blog stalkers. Two people impersonating Abe Vigoda (including on who started a blog "100 Reasons I Hate Dave White") and PlotBabyPlot (plotbabyplot.blogspot.com) who apparently are out to get me. I have no idea who they are, but I find it hilarious. I love that sort of stuff.

It also helps me because it puts the real me out there. The books are dark and at parts very humorless.That's not me. I'm a total goofball, and I want a way to put that out there too. And what's interesting is, publishers, agents, fans see that sort of thing, that people are reading and I'm sure that helps.

But my advice for up and coming writers is to forget the blog. Don't make that your first thing. The first thing to do is write. Write and finish some short stores, get them out there. Publish them where ever you can. Webzines, Magazines, anthologies. Whatever you can do. Then blog The writing is the most important part. You can attract agents and publishers with the quality of your writing. The rest is fun.The rest is hoopdedoodle. The hoopdedoodle comes last. Being a writer means sitting down, doing it, and most importantly FINISHING IT. You'll never get half a novel published. So, the key--obviously--is to write it.

JAN: Thanks Dave, for visiting Jungle Red and more importantly, for teaching me the word hoopdedoodle. (it's a great word)

And to show what a good sport, he is, Dave agreed to take the Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
It’s always been Poirot for me. Pretty much because he’s the French version of the Penguin. Instead of “awk awk”-ing, he say “haw haw.” And he’s smart.

Sex or violence?

Heh. In books or in real life? I mean… the answer’s kind of obvious isn’t it? In terms of real life. However, in books, since I write noir-ish/hardboiled crime fiction, I like me some violence.

Pizza or chocolate?

Thin crust pizza from any Jersey thin crust pizza place. (The Emerson Hotel gets my nod.)

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

As Bond? Daniel Craig. As a sex symbol… er… I don’t really have a choice, though in the later Bond movies, Pierce was starting to get a martini gut.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

Considering the only movie with either of them I’ve seen all the way through is Charade, I’m going with Audrey. Plus she’s hotter… and when she talks, she doesn’t sound like a car struggling to start.

First person or Third Person?

Originally first, lately third.

Prologue or no prologue?

No prologue. Unless you’re a writer who can pull it off. AKA, Dave hedges his bets. Your favorite non-mystery book?Well my two favorite novels are THE GREAT GATSBY and THE SUN ALSO RISES—both of which you can probably argue are some sort of hardboiled story in a way.

Making dinner or making reservations?

I like to grill… bratwurst, burgers, steak, chicken, turkey burgers. But I also like to go out. Man at this point, I’m just really bad at picking one thing, aren’t I? I’ll go summer time—make dinner—winter time, go out to eat.

And now, the part everyone was waiting for:

Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll search for the fraud.
1. I’ve been banned from entering Canada
2. I really stink at beer pong.
3. I like the movie You’ve Got Mail.
4. I spent the night in jail for breaking a business shop’s window.


  1. Dave! Count me among your new and devoted fans. I read your Sherlock Holmes story, and can't stop smiling.

    1. It's hilarious.
    2. It's adorable. I keep picturing little you writing it. And that's just too wonderful. You really got it, you know? The voice, the tone, the rhythm. It's all there. Fantastic.
    3. A CHIPMUNK! I'm laughing out loud.
    4. Can't wait to read your grown up books. Thanks Jan!

    Your servant..

  2. Welcome to our blog Dave. I'm going to keep this short because now I feel guilty about blogging rather than writing...

    Anyway, I'm from Jersey too! Born in Hackensack and raised in Berkeley Heights. And my hat's off to you--really--for teaching 8th graders. Can't wait to get reading.

  3. Must be something in that New Jersey that nurtures evil imaginations.

    Welcome to Jungle Red, Dave. Blog stalkers...that's a new one on me. But why not?

    - Hallie

  4. I'm going for curtain #2 - "I really stink at beer pong."

    What is beer pong, anyway?

  5. I agree with Gin (as always..)that I have no idea what beer pong is. But I bet you're good at it.

    Hmmm. Banned forever from visiting Canada? Or just once?

  6. Beer Pong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beer_pong

  7. Are there variations, like champagne pong?

    Dave, if you really have been banned from Canada, I can top that. I have been blacklisted by My Space, which I have come to view as a badge of honor. Makes me feel like quite the reckless ne'er-do-well. (I did nothing wrong, honest. I asked them to delete my account and I guess it was easier for someone to hit the blacklist button than do as I asked. It all just didn't seem worth complaining about so I remain an outcast.)

  8. There definitely SHOULD be champagne Pong, except a lot of champagne would get wasted. I know what Beer Pong is -- actually I have a Beer Pong scene in Teaser. This is because I have teenagers --my son recently contracted mono from Beer Pong. The game involves aiming ping pong balls at beer filled plastic cups.

    Anyway, my guess is that Dave is very, very good at Beer Pong, and that maybe he just doesn't like the movie "You've Got Mail."

  9. All right guys... it's the next morning so I'm gonna tell you:

    I never spent a night in jail.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Uh, you can't stop there, Dave. How did you get banned from Canada?

    (You never spent a night in jail, so that's not the connection.)

  12. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Canada Story: