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Jeff Shelby

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Harry Hunsicker
Jeff Shelby
Gerald So

Gerald: I guess we'll start with some background on how you came up with Noah and the story, maybe some details of how the book came to be published.

Jeff: Sure. I've always been a PI fiction fan, but it took me a long time to realize I wanted to write one. I read all the usuals - Parker, Chandler, MacDonald, Paretsky, et al - so I've always loved those books, those characters, those worlds. But I wanted to do two things differently - make the PI a bit younger and use a different place.

Gerald: Parker's were the P.I. fiction I connected with most to begin with.

Jeff: Yeah definitely - there's something about Spenser, particularly in the early yrs, that has this great appeal to young male readers I think.

Gerald: I liked that your guy was younger. It made him less predictable.

Jeff: I think making him younger makes him less predictable and much more capable of making mistakes - which to me makes for more interesting reading. He's still a kid trying to figure out how to grow up, I think.

Gerald: right. No one wants to read about someone who never screws up.

Jeff: Yeah and I think his youth really lends itself to him making some dumb mistakes. While not as dramatic, I know I did at that age. And I think - assuming series continues - it gives him a lot of room to grow.

Gerald: I think some of the older P.I.s have become less fallible as a result of their bodies of work. It's hard to believably screw up after a long career.

Jeff: Yeah - I think most readers would freak out if Spenser made a mistake at this point in his life.

Gerald: I also don't like how Spenser has had to be frozen in middle age. That takes a lot of realism away.

Jeff: No not at all - its like reading in a vacuum. Grafton's books, while not my favorite, at least deal with time in a realistic way. And I think that's key for most serious readers.

Gerald: true.

Jeff: In a lot of ways, Parker cursed himself with so much success.

Gerald: I think he's into a routine where he can't stop.

Jeff: He created this fantastic character at the outset and twenty plus years he's still around and we all expect more every time out. Exactly. Would be great to see him ride off into the sunset. (and he could take Susan with him:)

Gerald: I heard a rumor he wanted to end the Spenser series with Valediction, have Spenser take a bullet.

Jeff: man, that would've made so much sense.

Gerald: his editor had him revise the ending.

Jeff: LOL well sure

Gerald: and I guess he didn't mind continuing.

Jeff: seems he likes money. a lot.

Gerald: What's your writing process like? Do you plan ahead at all?

Jeff: No outlining - I started with Noah and put him in San Diego and then just kind of let it fly. I'd prefer to be an outliner and to plan ahead, but to this point, I just don't see it that far enough ahead.

Jeff: I write every day and I write pretty quickly - I can usually get through 8-10 pages a day.

Gerald: Ah. That surprises me a bit because the book seemed really well plotted. I would have guessed you outlined.

Jeff: well thanks - there were a lot of holes that had to be plugged and my editor made some great suggestions along the way that helped a great deal.

Gerald: I see.

Jeff: i tried to put together a rough outline for the second book, but it completely stalled me.

Gerald: I've tried both outlines and no, and both methods scare me. :)

Jeff: It's more mental than anything else, I'm sure, but haven't been able to get past it yet.

Jeff: I have zero fear in starting on page 1 of the novel - but if it's an outline, I will struggle to get a paragraph out.

Gerald: I'm not the see-far-ahead type, either.

Jeff: Seems like most mystery/crime writers aren't - only one that comes up off the top of my head is CJ Box - he writes a massive outline.

Gerald: I think Crais used to outline, maybe still does.

Jeff: oh that's interesting - i could see that though - his plots are for the most part pretty tight.

Gerald: How much of your own background did you use in creating Noah. I know he shares some of your educational experience.

Jeff: i usually say "Not much" but there's probably more there than I see...

Jeff: Certainly growing up in the same areas in San Diego, surfing that kind of stuff...

Gerald: It's interesting and problematic to try and figure how much of an author goes into a character, especially with first-person.

Jeff: it really is - but i look at Noah like this - He's pretty isolated and immature and while he doesn't hate his life, he hasn't really figured it out yet either - but for me...

Jeff: I had a very stable family life growing up, plenty of friends and support and I've always been pretty happy.

Gerald: I see.

Jeff: I've never really had that "How do I fit in?" thing going on.

Jeff: But first person does make the issue confusing at times. First time I went to NY to meet the publishing folks, they were all surprised - and said so - that I looked nothing like Noah:)

Gerald: :)

Jeff: I was like "You know I'm not really a P.I., either, right?"

Jeff: was very funny, but i think a lot of people carry that perception.

Gerald: First-person is a great way to seduce readers.

Jeff: For me as a reader, it's always been the most accesible voice.

Gerald: the "I" gains trust quickly.

Jeff: Definitely. It just comes across the page so much differently than third person. It takes a really great couple of first pages in third person to hook me.

Jeff: There's a certain intimacy that can't be replicated in third person.

Gerald: yes. it's like different camera angles.

Jeff: right - that's a great analogy. Andd there are drawbacks to using it - but I think you'd find that in any voice.

Gerald: yes.

Jeff: trend now seems to be to bring in a third person pov at some pt in the book and that always feels a little like cheating to me.

Gerald: first is a natural fit for the P.I.--someone who doesn't know everything off the bat.

Jeff: yeah i think so.

Gerald: I have trouble with books that switch POVs. It's jarring unless done really well. But as you say, it's popular these days.

Jeff: I agree and it is a really tough thing to do well - few are able to pull it off. I think when Crais dropped it into LA Requiem, everyone decided they'd take a shot at it. And most of the time, at least for me as a reader, it doesn't work.

Jeff: And I know I'm not skilled enough as a writer to even try it yet.

Gerald: Seems that way. Crais's subsequent multi-POV stuff doesn't work as well for me. Can't keep going to that well.

Jeff: I agree - again - I think its the burden of great expectations - it was really well done in LAR - but that was a different kind of book, too. It served the story in LAR - but you can't keep going to it just to go to it.

Gerald: yes, nothing else had as much scope as Joe Pike's story.

Jeff: Right.

Gerald: How do you feel Noah has changed from book one to book two, if at all?

Jeff: good question...

Jeff: for one, he had to grow up a lot at the end of KS - he thought that whole thing was about him and ultimately, it wasn't...

Gerald: right.

Jeff: and I think he's learning that he just can't impose his will on people. So much of living in your twenties, particularly for men, is acting bullet-proof and invincible to everything, and I think he learned that he's no longer at a stage in his life where he can act like that.

Gerald: he's in his early thirties if I recall.

Jeff: right - i see him at about 31 right now.

Gerald: Is Carter the same age?

Jeff: yep - he, however, has no such concerns about growing up:) at least not yet...

Jeff: he will at some point - just not sure when.

Gerald: I see.

Jeff: i wanted Noah to have a sidekick, but I don't want him to always be a bozo.

Jeff: It's crossed my mind to have Carter be the one that grows up first - but I'm not sure I'm ready to do that to either of them.

Jeff: But ultimately - to stay out of that vacuum - they will both have to move on to more responsible stages of their lives.

Gerald: Hmm...It's usually the main protag who grows up. That would be interesting.

Jeff: i agree with that on the main protag - so that's why its occurred to me to flip it and see what happens.

Jeff: are you a baseball fan? (i have a point here)

Gerald: yes.

Jeff: okay - so eric karros and mike piazza in their twenties, when they played in LA were best friends and did a lot of carousing together...

Gerald: Harry Hunsicker says hello. He's having trouble getting into the room.

Jeff: Tell Harry he has to be smarter than the chatroom to get in:)

Jeff: anyway - piazza and karros are best friends - then karros gets married, starts a family and they completely drift apart...

Jeff: and I've seen interviews with both of them where they both described that it was like they forgot how to be friends...

Gerald: Hmm...

Jeff: and that, to me, would be really interesting territory to explore in the books.

Gerald: Yes.

Jeff: and they're friends again now - but it really only happened after piazza got married, grew up and now has a child on the way.

Jeff: to me, it would be interesting - and challenging - to do that same kind of thing with Noah and Carter.

Gerald: and different from what's been done already.

Jeff: i think so, yes.

Gerald: Noah and Liz's relationship has some nice spark.

Jeff: thanks - it was one of those things that wasn't going to be a huge part of Killer Swell, but it just wouldn't go away and forced itself into the book.

Gerald: that's neat.

Jeff: that relationship concerns me a lot because that's the one I fear could so easily fall into cliche, though.

Gerald: right, so I was glad to have them at odds at the end of KS.

Jeff: yeah i just didn't want everything happy go lucky at the end - and the more my editor and i talked about it, we decided it was the right thing to do.

Gerald: we do not want to approach Susan territory, the way Crais did with Lucy. :)

Jeff: no exactly - but at some pt, they have to decide - together or not together - and both are problematic.

Jeff: having her exit would be tough, but i'm not sure how you keep a relationship like that alive in fiction.

Gerald: yeah, I guess they will have to settle on friendship.

Jeff: it almost seems that way, i think - because i'm not sure anything else is fair to readers.

Harry entered the room.

Harry: Hello, all.

Jeff: well, its about time... :)

Gerald: Great, Harry!

Harry: Darn Microsoft

Jeff: LOL

Gerald: go ahead with your questions, as the suspects say.

Jeff: yeah like "Did you get lost on your way home from the Borders in Ft. Worth?"

Jeff: the answer would be yes:)

Harry: What happened?

Jeff: i have no idea - i missed an exit or a turnoff or something

Harry: Here's the solution:

Jeff: gerald - i went to see harry at a signing last weekend and still not knowing my around down here yet, i get lost everywhere i go.

Gerald: My brother has a Garmin. Excellent.

Jeff: man, i so need one of those.

Harry: If you hit Oklahoma you've gone too far.

Gerald: :)

Jeff: LOL thanks

Harry: Did you get on a panel for B-Con?

Jeff: yep - Thur at 10:30am when no one has arrived yet - but its a good one - with peter spiegelman, jula spencer fleming and marcia talley - you?

Jeff: oh and kathy wall who was in birmingham with us.

Gerald: I've met Peter Spiegelman. Good guy. There's a chat with him in DT's archives about Black Maps.

Harry: The Architecture of Murder, Saturday 1.00 pm. The moderator sent a really nice, professional email so I think it's going to be a well run panel. I think everybody must have read Eisler's Moderator's Manifesto

Jeff: cool

Gerald: I'm aiming for the Baltimore B'con in 2008.

Jeff: i think that's gonna be a good one, with Ruth getting started so early on it.

Gerald: yeah.

Harry: That will be a good one. Judy and Ruth are gonna do a bang-up job on it.

Jeff: last yr was my first and it was totally overwhelming but a lot of fun, too

Gerald: Baltimore will be my first.

Harry: Last year was my third and STILL very overwhelming. Too much of everything. You never get to talk to anybody for more than 30 seconds.

Gerald: that's not hopeful...

Jeff: yeah - that's exactly it - all these people to say hello too and its "Hi and goodbye..."

Harry: Thrillerfest was a nice in-between conference. Big enough and with a lot of industry types but you could still connect with people.

Jeff: so bummed i missed that

Harry: Gerald, if you go to Baltimore, set up a DetecToday Breakfast or lunch one day. That way you'll get to see people for more than a second.

Jeff: thats a GREAT idea

Gerald: definitely will do that.

Gerald: "I thought Gerald would be taller and sound more like Darth Vader."


Harry: Hehe.

Harry: You working on No. 3, Jeff?

Jeff: well i'm working on it - not sure if anyone's buying it though:)

Harry: I understand how that goes.

Jeff: let's just say the reaction in nyc has been cool

Jeff: so who knows? frustrating but nothing i can do about it.

Harry: The whole biz is frustrating at times.

Jeff: very

Gerald: is there anything else you'd like to try writing? Different character or POV, that sort of thing?

Jeff: oh man - lots of things really - i'd love to try and write a family saga in the vein of Pat Conroy and i'd love to do a non-fiction thing on high school basketball.

Gerald: sounds neat. I'm a basketball fan who's cooled on the NBA.

Jeff: i'm playing with a couple of things now still related to mystery, but haven't figured them out enough to know if anything's there.

Gerald: I see.

Harry: Do you outline?

Jeff: couldn't tell you the last time i watched an nba game - coached high school ball for awhile and i miss it.

Jeff: no no outlines - i'm horribly undisciplined and inefficient.

Jeff: i just can't see the story clearly enough at the outset to do it.

Jeff: do you?

Harry: The last two, yes. A basic plan. The first one, no.

Jeff: how long were the outlines?

Harry: 8 to 10 pages

Jeff: did you have to or did you want to?

Harry: It was publisher-mandated. Which I certainly understand from their POV.

Jeff: Sure. Definitely. I got lucky with Wicked Break - it was already done when they asked for the outline so i just sent the manuscript.

Harry: Yeah, that was a good stroke. My second book will never see the light of day.

Jeff: wait a minute - didn't i just buy the second book?:)

Gerald: I am similarly confused. :)

Harry: I started a second Oswald book before selling STILL RIVER

Jeff: oh gotcha

Harry: When they asked for an outline for the second book. . .

Harry: I realized it wasn't what I wanted to send out so I came up with something new.

Harry: called NEXT TIME YOU DIE

Jeff: wow

Gerald: ah.

Harry: I didn't write the message too long message. AOL did that for me.

Jeff: they did that to me earlier, too

Gerald: I didn't see that here, but I've done it myself.

Jeff: its what we get for being long winded

Gerald: the ellipsis is the way to go.

Harry: . . . .okay . . .

Jeff: the ellipsis has gained new life in the electronic age...

Gerald: yes, used too often it makes people sound absentminded.

Gerald: I didn't say that...she said it...then she hung up...

Jeff: right but now we've all learned it just means "I'm not done yet!"

Gerald: :)

Gerald: Thanks again for chatting, Jeff. Glad you made it, Harry. Next time we do an AOL chat, you'll have to remember to turn off your popup-blocker.

Gerald: and turn it back on after...

Jeff: LOL hey my pleasure - thanks for having me. and thanks for battling to get on Harry:)

Gerald: most welcome.

Jeff: I will now go watch Cinderella for the 403rd time with my 3 yr old daughter - goodnight guys:)

Harry: Enjoyed it. Let's all do it again soon. Jeff, isn't about time you worked on the lawn?

Jeff: LOL stop it:)

Harry: :-)

Gerald: 'Night.


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