Good question, and one I’ve been pondering of late. A bookseller I greatly respect, Beth Kanell of Kingdom Books in Vermont, said she felt the Brandon Blake series was noir and the Jack McMorrow was traditional. I hadn’t considered the difference but I think I know what Beth meant. PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN, the first Brandon Blake crime novel, was told, in part, from the point of view of the criminals, Joel and Kelvin. Readers knew the bad guys, saw them coming, at least in part. In that sense, it clearly was not a whodunit. We knew who. Brandon didn’t. An omniscient narrator works best here.
The first-person Jack McMorrow series, while not a whodunit in the strictest sense, doesn’t tell the story from the POV of anyone else. Readers may discern something from the actions and dialogue but they aren’t in anyone else’s head. Who dun it? Jack may not know but I haven’t told anyone else, either. It’s a different way of presenting the threat and the crime. Does that make sense?
You mention on your website that you used your own experience of being a reporter in Rumford, Maine in writing the first Jack McMorrow mystery, DEADLINE. Did you ever consider setting the series in the real Rumford, best known for the smell of its paper mills and as the birthplace of Ed Muskie?
DEADLINE was set in the fictional town of Androscoggin, which was a very thinly disguised but reimagined Rumford (see my earlier post on this subject). In the second McMorrow novel, BLOODLINE, I moved McMorrow to Waldo County, as I had left Rumford and was living to the east. I had only lived in Rumford for six months and didn’t plan to return so I didn’t want to set an entire series there. I must say, I also had no idea that I’d be writing so many Jack McMorrow books. I took it one book at a time.
That said, Rumford was a fascinating place. The mills, the people, the cops, the surrounding hills—I loved the place. It was its own world, and I was thrilled to be part of it. I still am very, very fond of Rumford, Maine.
Two reasons for a new series. I did want to write a younger hero (McMorrow and I had been through a lot together) and I really wanted to write something in the third person. I’d been inside McMorrow’s head for eight straight books and I wanted to write a book where I was able to write from multiple points of view. Criminals. Women. Everybody else. There is a very big difference between first and third-person narrators.
Brandon is, ah, considerably younger than you are. Has this created any unexpected problems for you as a writer?
Well, I had to think way back to when I was 22. I underwent hypnosis to recreate that time in my life.
Just kidding, but I did have to think long and hard about what it’s like to be that age, at that stage in your life. I was a rookie reporter then, sort of plunging into life. I was less introspective than Blake but then we come from very different backgrounds.
I also had to tap my personal supply of 20-somethings—my three kids. They told me when I’d written something really lame. They were good first readers for Brandon and Mia’s dialogue. There was some, “Oh, my god! They can’t say that!”
Now I’m going to repeat one of the questions you asked Kate Flora in her interview: Do you think crime/mystery novelists are closet criminals? Or closet cops?
Closet cops, for the most part, though I think we do take particular delight in creating very bad people.
Maine has its share of real murders and I’m sure you’ve written newspaper accounts of some of them. Is there a particular true crime story you can see yourself turning into a nonfiction book?
There was a double murder in Fairfield about 20 years ago. Four young guys in a house, two are shot dead. Both survivors are charged with murder. They’re tried separately and each pin the killings on the other. With an alternate suspect in each trial, the jury can’t say guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Both guys walk. One or both of them did it. Interesting story thus far but I’d like to write about what it was like to be them for the rest of their lives.
What hands-on research has been most helpful to you in creating Brandon Blake?
Time on boats, time with cops, time with my three kids, who are the ages of many of the characters in the books.
The second Brandon Blake, PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE, is due is stores in September. Readers (and editors) of a new series often want “the same thing as book one, only different” in book two. How were the challenges you faced in writing about this continuing character different from those you encountered writing the second Jack McMorrow mystery?
When I wrote the second McMorrow novel, BLOODLINE, I didn’t know there were challenges and I didn’t think about what readers and editors wanted. My first novel, DEADLINE, hadn’t yet come out and I just wanted to have a second manuscript to hand an agent when it did. I was very much unaware of expectations. I was really writing for myself.
When I wrote PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE I was more aware of the marketplace. But mostly I was trying to get a handle on a character who is changing very quickly. Brandon is 22, tough, independent, in some ways very naïve other ways jaded. He’s going through a metamorphosis. So the challenge was thinking about his experiences in PORT CITY SHAKEDOWN and how they would shape him. McMorrow was a more mature character starting out and I found it easier to get a handle on him.
In your blog here on July 7th, “Maine, the way life would be,” you talk about real places morphing into something that only exists in your head. Have you had folks from Portland (or from Rumford) comment on the way you present their home town?
I did a book signing in Rumford once. It was the first signing I had where part of me hoped nobody showed up. But when people did, and they had read the book, they said I’d captured the place pretty well. They meant the allure and mystery of the town, not the dead bodies I’d scattered all over the place.
I’m very interested to hear what Portlanders think of my version of their city because I’ve looked at the city through not-so-rose-colored glasses. I may not be feted by the local Chamber of Commerce but what the heck. It’s crime fiction.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?
The next McMorrow, No. 10. I’m well into the writing of it, and very much enjoying it. McMorrow (and Roxanne and Sophie and Clair) are in the throes of a very difficult situation, trying to keep their lives on track.
I don’t like to talk much about work in progress but this book pecks away at the stereotype of idyllic Maine small-town life. Things are not what they seem.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Discipline, discipline, discipline. Write every day. Don’t write something you don’t love, and then don’t be afraid to throw some of it away.
And, finally, is there a question you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview? Here’s your chance to both ask and answer it.
Interviewer: I heard that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have signed on to play Jack and Roxanne in the new McMorrow movie.