When did you begin writing, Albert? Did you write short stories?
In the mid-1980s I became fascinated with medieval Roman history, especially the tenth century and the story of Marozia. She ruled the city of Rome for several years until her own son overthrew her in 932. (In fairness, she was conspiring to kill him.) I wrote about fifty pages of a novel (on paper with a manual typewriter). I’m afraid now to go back and look at it.
In the summer of 2000 I was suddenly single and looking to make changes. I signed up on a whim for a fiction writing class at the Union County College in Cranford NJ. Tom Cantillon was the teacher. I thought I would work on Marozia, but I took a detour. See below.
I wrote three Diana Andrews novels before deciding that a publishing resume might help me sell them. I got into short stories and have published almost 100 of them. I guess I like them!
Any favorite crime authors?
Ross Macdonald converted me from science fiction to crime. These days Michael Connelly, the Abbotts, Patricia and Megan, Jen Conley, Todd Robinson, Kevin Catalano, just for starters. I’m leaving out more than I can include, or we’d be here all day.
How did you create the Diana Andrews character?
One of Tom Cantillon’s weekly assignments was an action story. From somewhere came a mental picture of a man and a woman standing by a car parked on the shoulder of a deserted highway. I decided she was a prostitute and he a cop, and just to make it interesting I made him the bad guy. He wanted to kill Diana (I knew her name immediately), and she had to stop him.
But I couldn’t think of a motive that would play in 1500-2000 words until I made the cop a woman also, and the motive became sexual jealousy. A man is paying Diana and ignoring the cop.
Yes, I failed the Bechdel test before I even knew it had a name. I hope I have made up for it since, though.
That story because the first chapter in my Diana novel DO OVERS, still unpublished.
How do you add a gritty realism to your writing?
It turns out I picked a good theme for that, because prostitution is inherently gritty. It’s just a matter of finding the telling detail.
In 2006 I met a young woman in the business. (I found her online. The internet has completely remade the business of prostitution, but that’s a topic in itself.) I planned to interview her for an hour or so, but I ended up meeting with her about a dozen times until she left the business in 2008. She gave me such great material that I’m still living off it. Quite a few of my short stories come straight from her casebook.
She told me, for instance, about a realtor client who always had her meet him at whatever property he was showing that day. The idea was to come as close as possible to getting caught. Of course I had to use that, and of course Diana and her client had to get caught. (The story is “The Full Hour,” in the anthology Black Coffee.)
She also read my stories and commented on them—on her own time. I doubt many women would have done that, and it shows how lucky I was to meet her. Above all, I learned that within fairly wide limits I couldn’t get it wrong. If something sounds plausible, it is plausible, and someone in the business does it or would do it if the situation arose, whether it’s a sexual practice, a business practice, or a way of relating to a client.
In my Hawaii stories I get a lot of mileage from inserting Hawaiian Pidgin phrases into my dialog. Which is more evocative—“They have good food,” or “They get da ono kine grinds?” I use Pidgin sparingly, largely because I am not an expert in it, but I think it zeroes the reader into the setting.
What will your next book be about?
The next book in my Big Island of Hawaii/Detective Errol Coutinho series is tentatively titled Blood Like Rain. I’m starting to enjoy the ensemble cast of these books as much as Diana herself, and that’s saying a lot. They give me two more tough chicks to write about, criminal defense attorney Agnes Rodrigues and Officer Jenny Freitas, and that’s what I live for.
Any favorite crime/pulp authors?
’ll name a few and undoubtedly feel like crap when I leave someone out: Jen Conley, Patti Abbott, Anonymous-9, Paul Brazill, Todd Robinson, Kevin Catalano, Kristen Lepionka, for starters.