It’s been some time since I’ve showcased an author. I took a break to pursue other commitments but when friend and author, Joe Hefferon, told me about his upcoming book, I wanted to share it and do so by way of a Q & A. I have interviewed Joe before, so his name will be familiar.
He’s taken a different approach with his current novel. Find out what he did and why.
(Eden) Hi Joe, great to have you back. Your latest book, The Last Meridian is published by Evolved Publishing, a hybrid small press. Why did you decide to publish with them?
(Joe) For one, they agreed to work with me. I’d been testing the market for traditional publishers and found Evolved. I like the concept behind the hybrid model; it suits the changing landscape of publishing. The short of hybrid is, upfront money that might typically go to the author as an advance is spent on production and larger royalties are afforded the author, post production.
A good model to keep in mind, thanks Joe. I’m intrigued by the setting of your book. Why did you set The Last Meridian in the sixties in Los Angeles?
It’s a time of wonderment for me. As a kid, movie stars intrigued me. They lived in a glamorous world I could only glimpse on Oscar night, a huge television event. I loved movies. I like the styles of the sixties, that Mad Men look. I like the suits, the hats, the highballs, the smoking of cigarettes that seemed cool. I like the mid-century modern style of houses, though I prefer the updated version, wired for the internet. Although there is, politically speaking, good reason to leave the past where it is, the pre-war sixties are alluring. I love crooners like Tony Bennett and Sam Cooke, bourbon over ice and a cigar on the veranda. It seems simpler.
Not a fan of cigars, but I love Sam Cooke! Tell us about the book’s main character, Nina Ferrer. What inspired you to write her story?
It started almost as a lark, a kind of writing exercise. I wrote some hard-boiled dialogue just for fun and decided to see where I could take it. I began to wonder who this woman is, driving to Bakersfield with the top down. What’s her intention? Why does she need a private eye?
I have an adopted son and any adoptive parent will tell you they’ve often wondered about how or why the child’s life took such a dramatic turn. I wondered if the mother might ever think about him. I spoke to a number of women of various ages and backgrounds and they all told me the same thing. You’d never let it go. Somewhere inside, you would care. It started the stone rolling.
Nina is a complicated woman, like many I’ve met in my life. She’s tough, witty, wicked smart and creative, but she has secrets and demons that keep her up at night. She can be almost cruel, but it’s to keep you from being cruel to her. She’s had a hard life, was raised poor and she isn’t going to let anyone take what she’s worked so hard to build for herself. She’s funny, and has a soft spot, I think and that makes her likeable.
I like her already. Are any of the characters based on people you know, and how did you develop them?
They all are, either directly or in the round. Nina is a combination of a couple of women I’m close to with a little Joan Didion wisdom thrown in to challenge me. After twenty-five years in police work, I’ve met all the characters: good, bad or pretending to be one or the other. I once read everyone has a public, a private and a secret life. There’s a lot of truth to that.
They develop over time as I form a mental picture of them, the way they walk or respond. Dialogue helps. As I’m putting the plot together the characters reveal themselves. It come from their motivation for pushing the story one way or another. Each character has their own goals and working to achieve or acquire those things within the context of the story drives the action.
I love that saying about how we all have three lives. What is the central theme of your book?
Loss. Nina had given up her newborn son for adoption and suffers quietly with the remorse she feels over having done that. Her marriage is failing and both spouses have lost the desire to fix it. There is also an underlying yearning to make something right, that perhaps, whatever that turns out to be, will have a halo effect on other aspects of her life.
Your book is considered a hard-boiled mystery. How do you define this genre and who have been your favourite authors of it? What is it about their work that influences your writing?
Hard-boiled is defined by the noir aspect but also by the character archetypes; femme fatales, battle-worn-bourbon-swilling private eyes and slimy bad guys. I love the old movies and the classics of the genre, such as, Raymond Chandler. I also like Elmore Leonard and gristly newspaper men like Jimmy Breslin. In fact, my reporter’s first name is Jimmy; that’s for Breslin, although the character is nothing like him. I’m influenced by the no-nonsense style. I write much like a musician who plays by ear. I may not have had the formal prose training, but I know people.
That’s a good segue into my next question. Has your profession as a former law enforcement officer helped you to read people? And did it help in writing this book?
Yes. It helped in the interrogation scenes and the police procedures but more important, it helped in developing a dislike for phonies and people who lie to your face while screwing you. I’ve met and worked with them all—they’ll all find their way into The Last Meridian or in one book or another. Writing is great revenge. In police work you see people at their best and worst. It’s definitely made me more cynical, but also wiser and it’s broadened my view of the human animal.
Writing is definitely great revenge, and you won’t get jailed for it. 😉 What do you think crime fiction readers will like most about The Last Meridian?
I hope they like the characters and the dialogue. I tend to write visually. By that I mean I should probably write screen plays. I see each chapter as a scene from the movie, so the prose is less important than the action and dialogue. Everything about a person is revealed in what they say and how they say it. In life and in fiction, nothing is by accident.
I tend to agree. What was the most difficult part of writing this book? And the easiest?
Short answer? the plot was the hardest, because it’s not so much about the murder mystery but about how the characters react to what life throws at them, be it a philandering husband or a murder suspect. I knew I had something to say, but finding the right mechanism was difficult at first.
The easy part was the dialogue. Once you know who is speaking, what they say comes naturally.
Yes, your dialogue flows smoothly throughout the book. What’s next for you, Joe?
I’ve just completed a draft of an action novel called (tentatively) Countdown to Osaka. This is my homage (French accent please) to Elmore Leonard. It’s all action and dialogue peppered with comedy, no philosophy (well, perhaps). It follows Koi, a Yakuza enforcer who wants to leave her clan. She’s given one last mission, but it’s her most dangerous—tracking and killing the elusive Le Sauvage, the world’s most notorious gunrunner. Le Sauvage holds the codes to a secret cache of gold hidden after the fall of Osaka Castle, but Interpol is closing in on him. She must get to him before the law. If Koi fails, her dying mother will pass without honor. If she succeeds, Koi will kill her father.
Countdown to Osaka is due to drop on Cyber Monday, 2017. I had a lot of fun writing it and can’t wait till it’s ready to roll out.
Sounds amazing. This short blurb has me intrigued already!
Thank you, Eden, for making the time for me I had fun speaking with you.
And me with you, Joe. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.
Readers, find out all more about Joe’s upcoming book below. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.
The Last Meridian – crossing it was her only choice.
A telegram sets off a chain of events that destroys five lives, throwing Hollywood insider Nina Ferrer’s life into turmoil. The infant boy she gave up for adoption in Chicago sixteen years earlier has been arrested for murder. A plea from the boy’s adoptive mother pushes her to act, but Nina has a big problem—she never told her husband about the boy.
Nina must come to terms with her guilt, while accepting the reality of her fragile life and her cheating husband, who’s embroiled in another deadly plot. As her life unravels, the boy’s fate grows ominous. Set against the backdrop of the Hollywood heyday of the early 1960s, the quick-witted, smart-talking Nina, a designer for the well-heeled of Los Angeles, hires a private detective to uncover the facts about what happened back in Chicago, and save her boy. Maybe… just maybe… he can save her, too.
Or perhaps Nina will have to save herself, the most frightening prospect of all. To do that, she must cross The Last Meridian, the place beyond which life as she knows it will no longer exist.
About the Author
Joe enters the writing world after a 25-year law enforcement career in the city of Newark, NJ. He’s written for several online publications, including over thirty profiles of high-achieving women from around the world for About.com. He has an inexplicable curiosity about Texas noir, and set two short stories in the southeast corner of the state between Laredo and Corpus Christi. Many of the awful things his characters inflict on one another are based on real events from his former career. The sarcasm is in his bones. Joe lives in New Jersey but enjoys learning about other cultures and perspectives. He’s fascinated by human motivation, and doesn’t believe much happens by accident. He often listens to movie soundtracks when writing to help with visualization.