Monday, November 16, 2015

Talking with Germany's Polar Noir magazine (Part One)

Sonja Hartl from the German crime fiction magazine/website Polar Noir interviewed me indepth recently on a whole array of topics, tied to the release of the first Crissa Stone novel KALTER SCHUSS INS HERZ (aka COLD SHOT TO THE HEART) in a German translation from Pendragon Verlag.
The German translation of the interview can be found here. What follows is the original English version.

SONJA HARTL: How did you develop the idea for COLD SHOT TO THE HEART? Why is your protagonist female?

WALLACE STROBY: I’d always wanted to write an entire novel from the point of view of a career criminal, but someone with whom the reader might have a certain amount of sympathy. Part of my third novel, GONE ‘TIL NOVEMBER, was written from the perspective of an aging black hitman, while the rest was from the point-of-view of a female sheriff’s deputy and single mom in a rural Florida town, the only woman in an otherwise all-male department.
With COLD SHOT TO THE HEART, I wanted to combine those two ideas, and have my criminal also be a woman in an overwhelmingly male environment. That raised all kinds of interesting possibilities.

SH.: I have to admit that I am a little skeptical when male crime authors have female protagonists. Was it difficult for you to write a crime novel with a woman as a main character?

WS: Actually, I found it freeing in some ways, because a woman in that position would handle things differently than the traditional lone wolf male protagonist. She’d make alliances, would have relationships, and would refrain from violence unless absolutely necessary. I’m neither a woman nor a professional criminal, but I did find common ground with her nonetheless. She’s careful, hyper-alert and painstaking to a fault, but at the same time capable of bursts of near-recklessness.
On the more practical side, my first reader, my agent and my editor were all women – and single moms at the time as well – so they were able to supply some guidance when needed.

SH: I like Crissa a lot because she is a woman in a very natural way and does not have to emphasize her “femaleness.“ How would you describe Crissa Stone? And how would you describe the role her mentor and lover Wayne has in her life?

WS: She’s a self-made woman to a certain extent. She had a rough upbringing in a small Texas town, was involved with drugs and petty crime, and thanks to Wayne was able to leave all that, and in the process become part of his world of high-level professional thieves. In COLD SHOT TO THE HEART, all Crissa’s actions revolve around trying to get Wayne out of prison. By the second book, KINGS OF MIDNIGHT, she’s starting to realize that isn’t going to happen. So I think in the four books it’s been a process of her accepting that she’s on her own now. In the most recent one, THE DEVIL’S SHARE, she’s ostensibly become Wayne, setting up the heist herself, recruiting a team to carry it out, etc.

SH: And what about her daughter's role in her life?

WS: Her daughter Maddie is a reminder of what might have been. Part of Crissa’s income goes to her cousin, Leah, who’s raising Maddie as her own. Through much of COLD SHOT, Crissa’s aspiring to a semi-normal life, imagining Wayne out of prison and the two of them raising Maddie. By the end of that book, she realizes the life choices she’s made will never allow that.

SH: In many heist books (or films) the big robbery is in the center of the story. But COLD SHOT TO THE HEART is more like a novel about a certain time in Crissa’s life. Why did you choose this style?

WS: Reading about heists – or watching them on film – can be fun, because it’s like watching machinery at work. At the same time, personally I’m much more interested in the people involved, the run-up to the crime and the aftermath. I'm less interested in the heist itself than the conversations between the thieves immediately before and afterward.

SH: In one dialogue, the importance of paying taxes for thieves is emphasized. What is the background of this?

WS: The classic example is the prosecution of gangster Al Capone in the 1930s. He was one of the nation’s largest bootleggers and mob bosses, who had orchestrated countless murders, but prosecutors could never win a case against him. That was until the Internal Revenue Service was able to prove that he hadn’t paid sufficient taxes on any of his income – legal and illegal – in years. That eventually earned him a long prison sentence.

SH: The first lines are – in my opinion – very important for a book. Why did you choose this particular opening?

WS: I’m very big on opening lines, and I spend a lot of time on them. I worked on this one until it felt right. I wanted something straightforward and direct, but which also raised questions – who is this woman, what is she doing, why is she armed? At the same time, it drops the reader right into Crissa’s world, in the middle of a robbery.

SH: I would like to know something about your writing process: When you write novels, do you develop the plot in advance? What does your writing routine look like?

WS: I don’t plot in advance, because that takes a lot of the energy and fun out of it for me. I think it’s just a question of what works best for your process – there’s no hard and fast rule. With me, I find if I know who the main characters are and what the story is, I can start writing. Then, as I go along, other things – specific scenes, etc. – will present themselves. Sometimes, when the story is complex, I have to work out plot points in the middle of the writing process, but I generally never do that beforehand.

As far as my routine, I try to write every day – if only for an hour – but don’t always succeed. Life sometimes intervenes. I almost always write at night though – usually ten p.m. to two a.m. or thereabouts. Fewer distractions then.


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