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Sean Doolittle

Sunday, April 23, 2006


: Gerald So
jamesrwinter: Jim Winter
jamiee5001: Jamie Engle
sean_doolittle: Sean Doolittle

sean_doolittle: Hey Gerald

g_so: Hi, Sean. I'm having a good time with BURN. I like that each of your books has seemed different enough from the last.

sean_doolittle: Oh, great. Glad to hear it. Thanks for the nice words on Rain Dogs in your e-mail, by the way. I don't know if I ever said that.

sean_doolittle: I'm glad you like that; I think there's a chance it can work against you in terms of building a readership quickly, but it's been very creatively satisfying.

g_so: Yes.

sean_doolittle: How long have you been overseeing this group?

g_so: I started it in late April of 2000.

sean_doolittle: Pretty good run, then.

g_so: Yup, I lucked out with a good bunch of people.

g_so: Here's a starter question: What's your writing process like?

sean_doolittle: Probably harder than it needs to be :) With short stories, the process usually starts with a character or a small idea that I can grasp fairly completely. With novels, the process has varied somewhat each time out, and each book has taught me something new about how to write novels (or how not to write novels). In general, though, I'm not much of an outliner. For me, the writing process is largely the process of discovering the story. I usually start with a few ideas, and I often try to map out a chapter or two ahead, but that's about as much of an outline as I seem to be able to create.

g_so: I know the feeling. Novels seem daunting to think about all at once.

sean_doolittle: Yes. I swear, with The Cleanup (most recent manuscript), there were times, as the deadline loomed larger and darker, that I desperately would have liked to just map everything out to the very end and just type the sucker. But I don't seem to be able to do it. I've tried. It's just not the way my creative mind works, I guess.

sean_doolittle: But there's a wonderful, exhilerating process of accretion that can happen writing novels that way. On the other hand, it feels like working without a net sometimes, too..

g_so: How would you describe The Cleanup? I ask because I've found it difficult to summarize your other books (I mean that in a good way).

g_so: I think that process of discovery is the best part of writing and reading alike.

sean_doolittle: I'd say The Cleanup might be the most categorizable of all of them (though I hope that doesn't make it more like everything else :)) It's pretty much a straight-up urban cop thriller. If you ever happened to read the short story "Worth" in PWG, you know the premise: A disgraced midwestern city cop, busted to night patrol at a supermarket, falls for a checkout girl who kills her abuser. The cop decides to cover up the crime instead of arrest the girl. That's the short story. The novel is everything that happens after Worth makes that decision.

sean_doolittle: Man, what's with that laughing mouth? I thought I typed a smiley :)

g_so: The Smiley with an extra closed parenthesis makes a bigger smile.

sean_doolittle: Ah. Such a chat novice.

sean_doolittle: If I were pitching to a movie exec, I might say The Cleanup is The Shield meets Fargo.

g_so: Ah, I've heard good things about the PWG story.

g_so: Hmm...that makes an interesting combo to say the least. :)

sean_doolittle: Though I sort of hate boiling stuff down to that sort of pitch-speak

g_so: Yeah, if I had my choice, I'd leave it up to readers to decide what a book/story/etc. was.

sean_doolittle: Exactly.

sean_doolittle: Hey, this is starting to feel like the crowd at some of my book signings.

g_so: It's great when readers have a reaction even the writer doesn't plan.

g_so: Sorry about the turnout. Hope you don't mind this being a semi-interview.

sean_doolittle: :) No problem at all. About the difference between reader perception/writer intention, I agree. It's always fascinating to see how other people read things, whant they bring to it. And sometimes somebody will point something out, and it really feels like that element was there all along, and you just never consciously realized it.

sean_doolittle: Sounds good.

g_so: Who/what are some of your influences on your writing?

jamesrwinter entered the room.

g_so: Hi, Jim.

jamesrwinter: Hello. Where is everyone?

g_so: This is it so far :)

sean_doolittle: Hey Jim. Thanks for saving my dignity :)

jamesrwinter: We're writers. We have none.

sean_doolittle: Gerald, influences: always such a difficult question to answer. I think I honestly don't know the answer. But if I had to rattle off a list of probably influences, I'd say, Stephen King, Robert Bloch, David J. Schow, S.E. Hinton, Wilson Rawls, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Amy Hempel, Joe R. Lansdale, Dennis Lehane, Gerald Shapiro. . .um, probably tons more. . . .

sean_doolittle: Richard Russo, of late

sean_doolittle: Though I'm trying not to be influenced TOO much at this point. . .more like inspired. . . .

g_so: I know what you mean, it becomes a balancing act once you find your own voice.

g_so: Amy Hempel, brief but powerful prose.

sean_doolittle: Great, great short stories.

jamesrwinter: I thought BURN was a lot more complex than DIRT, though I loved them both.

g_so: The bystander protagonist is always fun, IMO.

sean_doolittle: Thanks, Mr. Winter. I take it as a compliment. I hope that's true with each new book (but that the prose/execution actually becomes simpler, more efficient). I noticed recently that each book has taken longer to write, but ended up shorter, than the last. That seems like writing uphill :) But I hope it's a sign of growth.

jamesrwinter: I would assume it's what the story calls for.

sean_doolittle: Though I NEVER want to write a book that took as long to figure out as The Cleanup. That was brutal.

jamesrwinter: Then again, I'm the guy that wrote a first draft in 13 days.

g_so: Have a question for Sean, Jim?

sean_doolittle: 13 days. A patent impossibility in my world. I so wish I could do that. . . .

jamesrwinter: Well, it was only 54,000 words and had a detailed outline. The actual work took more like 3 months. About the time it takes to write one from scratch.

jamesrwinter: I blame Ardai, and he doesn't even have a slot open now.

sean_doolittle: Still, an impressive output.

jamesrwinter: Yeah, but you haven't read the book. :-)

sean_doolittle: I liked what John Connolly wrote recently on his blog about "hitting the wall." Much of that depiction of his process really resonated with me. . . .

jamesrwinter: Around the 2/3 mark?

g_so: I've been meaning to try Connolly. Any books of his you'd particularly recommend?

sean_doolittle: Different places in different books, it seems. And not necessarily just once. But the frustration and despair is the same. To go back to Gerald's process question, though, I find that this is where a LOT can happen, creatively, at these crossroads.

sean_doolittle: I'm not as current on John's recent stuff as I really should be. I quite liked the earlier Parker books (I think THE KILLING KIND was the last I read, which I found to be nice and tightly-wrapped gothic thriller). I've had BAD MEN sitting in the stack for awhile. John, if you ever see this, I am shamed. I'll catch up.

jamesrwinter: I remember reading that and thinking there's always a point I hit where I start worrying the story's going to come up too short.

sean_doolittle: Jim, I had the same worry with Cleanup and Rain Dogs both. But somehow things worked out. I really believe that there's a subterranean process at work, and if you're doing the work the way you should be, the surprises happen and things come together.

jamesrwinter: Plus a little Tom Waits never hurts.

sean_doolittle: I'm a big Waits fan, though I came late to the party. Starting with MULE VARIATIONS. (still my favorite. . .so it goes)

sean_doolittle: Never let the weeds get higher than the garden, and always keep a diamond in your mind. What more do you need for life advice than that?

g_so: Have you always come up with the titles yourself, Sean? Or did your publishers have input?

jamiee5001 entered the room.

jamiee5001: Hi, sorry I'm late.

g_so: No worries, Jamie.

sean_doolittle: So far, all the titles have been mine. People have made much of the one-word title thing with Dirt and Burn, which was sort of intentional but not really planned. Dirt seemed to present itself very readily as a title. And I guess I was struggling for the next title, so I used Dirt as the pattern (hence Burn). At one point I told UglyTown I'd do a Blow and they'd have an Earth Wind and Fire box set. Alas. Hi, Jamie.

jamiee5001: :)

jamesrwinter: I saw "Burn" and I kept thinking of David Coverdale's first song with Deep Purple.

g_so: Question for Sean, Jamie?

sean_doolittle: Ha. The writer Nathan Walpow once cursed the title for putting "Disco Inferno" in his head.

jamiee5001: I'm afraid I'd ask something already done.

g_so: go ahead anyway. :)

sean_doolittle: What the hell, Jamie, thow it out.

jamesrwinter: Thankfully, I'd long since ditched my copy of Saturday Night Fever by the time that book came out.

jamiee5001: What brought you to noir?

sean_doolittle: Probably there's something in my underlying personality that responds to much of what I find there (though I would say that my overall worldview is more optimistic than nihilistic). I started out writing horror short stories as a teenager. And I still find something of a shared sensibility between that and darker or "noir" crime fiction. I'm not really interested in black hats and white hats, typical "heros." It's the gray areas of life that most fascinate me.

jamiee5001: I think that's what I like about it too. Were you at Malice this weekend?

sean_doolittle: That said, I've had life pretty good, and I always try not to strap on attitudes that aren't mine for the sake of shock value or "edge." No, I wasn't at Malice. How was it?

jamiee5001: I wasn't there either.

sean_doolittle: People seem to like it, but there's a small regional con here in my home town of Omaha, Mayhem in the Midlands, in May. So I generally hold back for that one.

g_so: The hour is up, but we can keep going if Sean is willing.

jamesrwinter: Actually, I have an outline to get to. Sean, good talking to you again.

sean_doolittle: Thanks, Jim. You too. Good luck with everything.

g_so: Thanks for attending, Jim.

jamesrwinter left the room.

g_so: Other questions, Jamie?

jamiee5001: This was probably asked, but what's next for you?

sean_doolittle: Well, the next book, THE CLEANUP (a cop thriller), will be out in November. And I'm about ready to start working on something new, but it's in the early stages, too fragile to talk about. But Cleanup and the next two after that will all be out from Bantam Dell over the next couple years.

jamiee5001: Very cool. Was Dirt your first book, and if so, when was it released?

g_so: That's good to hear.

sean_doolittle: Thanks, Gerald. I'm happy about it, too :) Jamie, Dirt was my first book. Released in 2001 by an excellent (now lamented) small press called UglyTown. I think there's a 2nd edition still available, but I heard it's getting harder to obtain.

sean_doolittle: Dirt, then Burn, then Rain Dogs (January 06), next The Cleanup

jamiee5001: Did Uglytown or Bantam Dell do Rain Dogs?

sean_doolittle: UglyTown did a hardcover edition [of Burn], [a] very fine hardcover edition, I might add. Those guys knew (know) how to put books together. [T]hen Dell reprinted [Burn] in mass market paperback. Rain Dogs was published only by Bantam Dell. There are no UglyTown hardcovers of that novel floating around.

jamiee5001: I see.

jamiee5001: [UglyTown] folded though?

sean_doolittle: I think "suspended publication" is the official status. I'm not sure what the future holds. But I'm traveling to LA for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books next weekend, and I hope to catch up with the guys there at some point.

jamiee5001: Is writing your full time job?

sean_doolittle: Not yet. I still have, in the words of Michael Madsen, a regular job-type job.

sean_doolittle: Hopefully one day.

jamiee5001: Know what you mean :)

jamiee5001: Thanks for hanging around and answering my questions.

sean_doolittle: No problem, Jamie. Thanks for dropping in.

sean_doolittle: Gerald, thanks, man. I should probably get going. It's Jack's bedtime :)

g_so: All right. Great having you, Sean. Good luck.

sean_doolittle: Talk to you later,

jamiee5001: Have fun in LA!

g_so: Bye,

sean_doolittle: Thanks!


Anonymous said…
Geez. I just glanced through this transcript and realized I blew an answer completely.

To revisit Jamie's last question, Rain Dogs was published only by Bantam Dell. There are no UglyTown hardcovers of that novel floating around. Sorry, Jamie, I didn't read your question closely enough.

Besides that, thanks for having me, Mr. So. I had a great time.

Gerald So said…
Again, great having you, Sean. I've edited the transcript to reflect your clarification of Rain Dogs' publishing history.
Bill said…
Thanks for posting this, Gerald. I was out of town and couldn't get in on the chat.

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