First, Love Is Murder, a fine small mystery con always held the first weekend in February, right around Valentine's Day, hence the name of the con. This year in Wheeling IL, north of Chicago.
You can learn all about it by going to the web sites. I took a bunch of pictures, some of which will show up here and on my website over the next few weeks. Gotta get back to writing.
Michael Allen Dymmoch agreed recently to put up with my nosy questions and she even answered most of them. In the spirit of disclosure, we are friends of long-standing and I happen to think she’s one of the best writers of Police Procedurals alive today.
When someone asks you what kind of book do you write? What’s your answer? (The famous elevator speech)
Mysteries or police procedurals.
When did you know you were going to be a mystery writer?
I knew I was going to be a writer when I read the book, Maybe You Should Write a Book (by Ralph Daigh, 1977), the premise of which is “If you have an idea for a book, why not write one? Somebody writes books.” I knew I was going to be a mystery writer when The Man Who Understood Cats was published and my editor, Ruth Cavin, asked if I was going to write a sequel.
Tell us a little bit about your family background.
Large family, otherwise not ordinary. Congenital readers on my mother’s side.
What is your educational background?
B.S. in Chemistry. Dropped out of Grad school to avoid writing a thesis. Got an associate’s degree in Law Enforcement at my local community college while researching police procedure for my books.
Talk a bit about your present family situation.
I live with cats.
What did you read as a child?
All the animal stories in my school and local public libraries, animal stories, beginning with Lad, A Dog (Albert Payson Terhune, 1919), Greek mythology, and books about dinosaurs. Then I went through everything I could get my hands on by Jack London, A. Conan Doyle, P. C. Wren, Rafael Sabatini, Alexandre Dumas, Baroness Orczy, Mary Stewart, and Dick Francis. In high school, I read Crime and Punishment, and everything on the high school reading list that sounded like an adventure story.
What’s your daily routine when you aren’t touring?
I turn on Oprah to see if she’s doing anything I can stand to watch, eat breakfast, check my e-mail, go out for a paper (Chicago Sun-Times or Sunday Tribune), run errands—shop, recycle stuff, mail out books that someone requested or that I think someone should read. After lunch I work on projects—organize my photos, my desk, my computer files, water the plants, clean the house, get the mail. At 4:00 pm, I check to see if Dr. Phil is doing a program I can tolerate. If he’s not, I watch the news or Charlie Rose. After dinner I watch TV (except Mondays, when I go to Libby’s for a writer’s meeting). After the 10:00 pm news, I recycle for an hour or two (I’m the recycling volunteer for my building), then watch Tavis Smiley and other PBS shows until bedtime. Occasionally, I break my routine and write something.
How much touring do you do?
I‘ve only done one tour—with Libby (Hellmann, another fine crime fiction writer).
What surprised you most about the writing community once you became a part of it?
Until I started to meet other writers, I thought I was a little weird. I was amazed to discover that other writers are similarly odd.
What’s the hardest thing about being an author?
Let’s talk about promotion and marketing.
I suck at both so I tend to avoid them whenever possible. I never turn down a school appearance, a request for a signing (within reasonable travel distances), or a library gig. I tend to say yes to Libby Hellmann when ever she asks me to do something with her because Libby excels at promotion and marketing and she’s very generous with praise and advice for other writers.
Do you blog? How frequently? Is your blog a group or single effort?
I belong to TheOutfitCollective.com, a blog group also including Sean Chercover, Barbara D’Amato, Libby Hellmann, Kevin Guilfoile, Sara Paretsky, and Marcus Sakey. With so many in the group, each of us has to blog only once every two weeks.
How frequently do you organize or participate in book tours?
Organize never. Participate once.
What kind of events or signings do you do?
See promotion and marketing above.
In a typical year, how many times would you appear for your book?
I don’t have typical years. I had two books out in 2006, none in 2007, one in 2008. I did nine or ten signings in 2008, some for the Chicago Blues anthology, and six conferences.
How many fan conferences such as Bouchercon will you typically attend in a year?
Six or seven—usually Love is Murder, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, Mayhem in the Midlands, Bouchercon, Magna cum Murder, and Mayhem & Murder in Muskego.
Any specific recommendations?
Love is Murder, Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, Mayhem in the Midlands, Bouchercon, Magna cum Murder, and Mayhem & Murder in Muskego. Sleuthfest is also good, though I seldom attend.
Do you have a web site and/ or other Internet places you routinely participate in, such as Good Books or Face Book?
Web site yes, MichaelAllenDymmoch.com. Face Book, etc. no.
What surprised you the most when you became a published author?
Writing a book is only 10% of being a successful author. You also have to be a business person, researcher, and advertiser.
Do you think you’ll change direction or spread out a bit? Write a different kind of crime novel? If so, what kind.?
I may try a thriller at some point. St. Martin’s classifies my stand alones as thrillers, but they’re really romantic suspense.
Especially since 9/11, how do you respond to the accusation that you are trying to make money on a phenomenon in society we call murder? Or heinous crime?
I don’t make any money writing about anything. (I’d do better working at McDonald’s.) I write about murder because it’s the extreme of aberrant human behavior, with the highest stakes for offender and victim. Compared to the exploitation of crime perpetrated by “news” programs, most crime novelists are innocents. (Which is not to say some crime fiction isn’t pornographically exploitive.)
If you could be anything else in the world, have any other career, what would it be?
What career would you least like to do, if writing was to become impossible?
Answer the phones at Citibank Master Card or any major airline.
Have you ever collaborated on a novel? Would you consider it?
No. I have collaborated on a screenplay, and I’d consider collaborating on a novel or non-fiction book if I really got along well with the other writer.
Who are the authors who you feel have had the most influence on your writing career?
Mary Stewart, John D. MacDonald, Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman.
Tell us one or two authors or books you absolutely universally recommend.
Crime and Punishment. The Book of Lost Things. Dandelion Wine. (So I can’t count. But how can one list only two? Or three? Or 73?)
Who is your favorite mystery author?
You’ve got to be kidding!
Where do you want your career to go?
I retired from my day job. I don’t want a career. I just want to write the stories I have in my head.
To what organizations related to your writing career do you belong?
The Authors Guild, Society of Midwest Authors, MWA, Sisters in Crime, IACW, The Illinois Academy of Criminology, ACLU.
Who is your publisher? What’s your current book?
St. Martin’s. M.I.A.
I’ve started sequels to White Tiger and Death in West Wheeling, and have a stand-alone nearly finished. I could write four or five more stories in my original series and five more West Wheeling novels. If I live long enough.
Are you agented?
What’s your take on the rise of electronic publishing?
I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion.
What’s your favorite word?
Are you serious?
What’s your least favorite word?
Utilized, a weasel word if there ever was one.
Yes, I was serious when I asked for your favorite word. Do you have one?
I don't think I have a favorite. Words are tools, each with a specific purpose. And they stand in for objects, concepts, emotions... So I guess the favorite--at any give moment--is the one that expresses what I'm trying to say (assuming I can recall it).
If you could change one thing about the world what would that be?
A decent education for every child. (Not to be confused with the sausage factories that pass for most public schools.) No one should be allowed out of school without reading and writing well and without being able to: construct a resume (and have something to put on it); fill out a job application; balance a checkbook; identify his own internal organs and specify what function each performs; change a diaper (and a tire if he’s going to drive); tell you who represents him at all levels of government; make travel reservations; make change without a computer; read a map, tell north, south, east and west without a GPS, and locate all fifty states and the countries most often in the news on a world map. Students should be required to spend a morning in traffic court and a week observing criminal court and to write accurate reports of what transpired. Schools should also teach sex education and basic psychology because parents don’t.
Do you have any pithy (or other) words of advice for aspiring authors?
Writers write (whether or not they become authors). Writers who persist and keep improving become authors.
Now I want to know a little more about research. What kind, favorite sources, how much do you do for any given novel? like that.
Alex Matthews insists that I only write to justify my research. She may be right. I read something like 40 books for White Tiger, saw every Vietnam War movie and at least one Vietnamese film. I also went on line to some Vietnam Vet sites for first-hand experiences and talked to a few vets about their experiences.
When I was rewriting the MS for The Man Who Understood Cats prior to submitting it to St. Martins, I took courses in Police Operations and Criminal Law. For subsequent books I've taken other Law Enforcement courses; gone to Citizens Police Academy; attended seminars on Gunshot and Stab Wounds, Toxicology, and Forensic Nursing; interviewed arson investigators; visited morgues to observe autopsies; taken gun safety courses; and done ride-alongs with police. I've also made friends with a number of police officers and former cops who've been generous with their advice and information. For The Fall, I took courses in SLR photography and darkroom techniques.
For books like Death in West Wheeling, I collect weird stories from the news and actual dialog from anyone foolish enough to use idiosyncratic grammar in public.
For general information, I go to the locations I intend to use in the book and take notes and photographs. For specific information, I try to contact an expert after I've learned enough about the subject (usually at the library) to ask reasonably intelligent questions. (I once called NASA and had an interesting conversation with a scientist about what would happen if you stepped out on the moon without a spacesuit.) Most people who love their jobs are happy to share their expertise. Cops are no exception, though you have to earn their trust before they'll open up.
You began with The Man Who Understood Cats and did several more featuring the cop John Thinnes and his growing relationship with Psychiatrist Jack Caleb. They are identified as Police Procedurals. Then came Cymry Ring, fairly characterized, I think, as a Fantasy. From where did that spring?
Both started out as ideas for a movie. I took a screenwriting course and needed to write about something. I'd just seen “Lethal Weapon” and thought they mixed up the second reel of the move with that of another movie. So I thought I'd take a shot at writing a police procedural. No one would read the finished screenplay so I novelized it. Cymry Ring was born when I saw “Time After Time,” a movie in which H.G. Wells (Malcom McDowell) pursues Jack the Ripper (David Warner) into the future in a time machine. Since I'd recently seen Sean Connery in something, I put together the story of a cop pursuing a killer who's fled into the past (no statute of limitations on murder so the past is a safer haven for killers than the future). The time period to which the killer fled turned out to be Roman Britain because a National Geographic article on Celtic art got me interested in the Celts and the Boudiccan uprising was an interesting event in Celtic history.
And then of course, came the very funny Death in West Wheeling. Again, a departure from either of the earlier genres. Why?
I loved Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke. And my parents lived on farms at various times of their lives, so I grew up hearing rural stories. I also visited friends and relatives whose lives on farms were so different from my urban and suburban experiences that they made a great impression on me. Many of my stories are meant to celebrate the beauty or inventiveness or difference of people and places I encounter.
Will Jack and John reappear in another Police Procedural?
If St. Martins accepts the proposal I submitted a year ago.
How much intrusion on your real life do your characters appear to have?
What do you mean by intrusion?
I mean do you feel or register their presence in your room when you write?
Do they "talk" to you?
Sometime I hear them talking in my head--to each other.
Do you miss them when a book is finished?
Not really. They're always there, between the pages.
Do they suggest story developments?
The characters don't, but researching a book always produces more ideas than will fit in one story.
Do you like to travel?
If you could spend two weeks anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go?