Interview with Michael Simon

Hi Michael Simon and welcome to the Crimehouse. For those of our readers out there who is not familiar with your and your work, how would you like to introduce yourself?

I’m a writer. Mostly a crime writer. Occasionally an actor. A former academic. And I never begin an interview in Sweden without mentioning your heroic rescue of thousands of Danish Jews from Nazi persecution in late 1943. Thanks for that.

When did you first realise that you wanted to write books?

I’d been writing little things since I was a child. Essays, short plays. My brother and I wrote one play that was produced in New York. A literary agent met us and smelled money. She convinced us that thrillers were the way to fame, fortune, and more importantly, immortality.

Was it the detective, or crime genre that interested you the most?

I’d always been interested in both detective and crime fiction. The difference, nearly as I can tell, is whether the main character is a detective or a criminal. In my thrillers, the main character is a detective, but there are multiple characters, multiple points of views, as in a film. Many of these characters are criminals. What’s exciting isn’t “Who did it?” but “What’s going to happen next?”

Do you read a lot and what sort of books do you prefer? Do you have any favourite authors?

I tend to read what I shouldn’t. Literary fiction if I’m writing crime fiction. Some of my favorite authors, in no particular order: Grace Paley, Vladimir Nabokov, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, William Kennedy, Richard Russo, David Sedaris, Damon Runyon. I could go on. I probably prefer what I call “light literary fiction.” Worth reading twice, but with some humor.

From what I’ve understood, you’ve worked as a parole officer in Texas. Do you think it might have inspired you?

I was a probation officer, which is like being a parole officer except the clients haven’t been to jail or prison yet. It was my first exposure to law enforcement. I couldn’t have been less qualified for the job. (My academic background was in theatre and literature.) So when that first agent suggested writing thrillers, I looked back on my brief time as a P.O. and figured I’d write a crime thriller.

Your four books about Reles take places in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. What made you choose this particular period?

Per your previous question: I started writing the first book, DIRTY SALLY, in New York in, I think, early 1998. I decided to set it in the time and place where I began working as a probation officer: Austin, Texas. Early September, 1988.

One of my absolute favourite characters from “Bone Scissors” (I think she was in Dirty Sally too but since I can’t find the book I can’t say for sure) is the female “hit man” miss Anything, Debbie Kubasik, mainly because she isn’t the usual femme fatales that usually figure in literature. Where did you find the inspiration?

You may be the first journalist to ask me about Anything. Thanks for asking. She’s one of my favorite characters. She seems to have no connections. She’s sexually alluring, but not in a traditional sense. (She’s short and chubby.) And she has a very unusual set of morals.

I was on an independent movie set in Austin in 1987. A woman working on the set handed me her business card. It showed simply her name, phone number, and the words “I’m not proud.” She meant that she wasn’t too proud or egotistical to accept different types of work that other people might consider humbling. She figured this was a good way to get into the movie business. I think she crossed my mind years later when I invented Anything, whose business card was a scrap of paper with the word “anything” scrawled on it over a phone number. Though in the latter case, “anything” usually meant removing the air from someone’s lungs.

Since we’re talking about your characters, I would like to know the inspiration behind Dan Reles and James Torbett.

Main characters are difficult. They have to be compelling, multi-facetted, and dynamic. With Dan, I started with a simple character, then added and changed: “Taller. Add 75 pounds of muscle. What if he trained as a boxer? Why? His father was a boxer. Then what? His father boxed for the mafia, was forced to throw a fight, and then became a mafia enforcer. What about his mother? He doesn’t have one. Why? She left.” And so one. Keep asking questions and answering them until you have a character you believe.

Torbett began as one of several supporting characters. It’s okay to take individual traits of other people for a character, but not an entire person. Physically, I modelled him on the African American actor Joe Morton, who Swedish audiences might not even know. And again I started asking questions. Because he’s about 39 in 1988, he grew up in segregated Texas in the 1950s and 60s. The police were no friends to African Americans then, or for that matter, many argue, even in 1988. So he has a daily struggle.

Your books have a very high tempo and I’ve noticed that once I’ve started to read them I find it hard to stop because the action is non-stop. Do you prefer to write books with that pace?

A fast pace is part of what defines thrillers. I’m playing by the rules of a particular game.

Since your books are very action packed, do you think one of them will be a movie in the future?

I certainly hope so. It’s obvious that movies have influenced literature. Thrillers are cinematic, mine especially.

And speaking about the future: what does the future hold for you?

I’m finishing up my newest book, in a different genre. More on this as it develops.

 

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