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An Interview with Ed Lynskey

Ed Lynskey
Photo courtesy Ed Lynskey.

Mysterious Reviews: What pathway did you take that led you to a career in crime fiction?

Ed Lynskey: I began seriously writing fiction right at the Internet bubble which fueled many online (and paying) venues like Blue Murder, HandHeldCrime, and other ezines. They provided me the impetus to try my hand at writing the more ambitious novels. I’ve tried my hand at literary and speculative fiction novels, but my interests seem more rooted in crime fiction.

Maybe it has something to do with I liked reading mysteries when I was a kid. I mean that’s when I found reading to be the most fun when I didn’t read to write something scholarly or critical about it.

Do you write from a detailed outline or simply allow the plot to evolve over time as you write it? Similarly for characters; do you construct detailed character profiles or do the characters develop personalities as you write?

I wish I had a definitive answer for this question. It depends, I guess. Sometimes I like to let the plot and characters evolve as I go along, but then I have to go back and do extensive edits. For me, each book differs. The longer projects, say, more than 65K words, force me to map out where the subplots and multiple narrative threads go and then how to tie them together at the end.

The Frank Johnson Mystery Series

The Dirt-Brown Derby by Ed Lynskey

The Blue Cheer by Ed Lynskey

Pelham Fell Here by Ed Lynskey

Locale can be an important element of stories, helping to set a mood or to create an atmospheric setting. Your books take place in the Appalachian regions of Virginia and West Virginia. What methods do you use to bring the setting into the plot, or how do you use the setting to further the story?

Here’s the thing about setting: in Appalachia I can make it vivid, but if I use an urban setting such as in Washington D.C., I’m left scratching my head. I’m trying to figure out what makes D.C. different than any other city in our homogenized nation. What do I use?

Do I mention the Starbucks, Ikea, Wal-Mart, or whatever? I’ve lived near D.C. for almost a decade, and I still haven’t homed in on it enough to adopt it for a setting. Maybe I exaggerate here to make a cynical point, and I’m getting better at creating convincing urban landscapes.

I do tons of research. The Blue Cheer drove me nuts by my contacting a slew of experts to get it right. For instance, a guy selling drones gave me the lowdown for the drone I used in the opening scene. The only thing I knew about already was the Stinger weapon because I wrote the processes building them.

Light and darkness play big components in my books. It’s a lot darker and spookier on a cold, lonely mountaintop than it gets in the city. When Frank tracks the nutso killer to the ridge top in The Blue Cheer, I knew he’d deal with some creepy vibes. Night was a good time to spring The Blue Cheer’s climax. The ensuing morning lightens up things to see the wrap-up coming.

Because the depth and breadth of crime fiction is so varied, it's become popular to classify books by subgenre. Your mysteries are arguably classified as hard-boiled thrillers. Do you think such a description is accurate? If not, suppose you met someone in the elevator and had only 30 seconds to describe your books. What would you say?

John Lescroart called my books “Appalachian noir”. I guess that label works. The subgenre has its own set of writers: Pickney Benedict, William Gay, Daniel Woodrell, Breece Pancake, and Davis Grubb. New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense authors such as Patricia Cornwell, Charlaine Harris, and Nora Roberts have set their books in the region. I guess “hard-boiled thriller or noir” is the best subgenre label to put on my P.I. Frank Johnson series.

We have had the good fortune to read (and review) all three books in the Frank Johnson series. In our opinion, over time, the plots have become sharper and the characters more fully developed with your most recent, Pelham Fell Here, the best to date. Would you agree with this assessment? Or are your books like your children, where you can't favor one over another?

Thanks for sticking with the series. I really appreciate that interest. If I had to pick, I like Pelham Fell Here the least of the three titles. I like The Blue Cheer the most. But I’m glad to hear that you think Pelham is a better book. It’s good to be progressing as a writer. I guess writing fiction for a longer time period accounts for the improvements you mention. The three books have evolved with me as a writer. I know the number of revision cycles for each book has grown steadily

Pelham Fell Here is a prequel, a fairly unusual step for a series writer to take. What prompted you to go back in time and write about Frank Johnson before he became a PI?

In a word: back story. Reviewers and readers were asking about Frank Johnson’s background, you know, where he came from and so on. So, I reverse-engineered his life and came up with Pelham. I knew who the main players were, so I just needed a stage to put them on. And I had the slate of questions I’d gotten regarding Frank’s back story to use as a guide in shaping the plot to Pelham.

Will there be a fourth case for Frank Johnson?

A fourth novel titled Troglodytes is under contract to appear next year. A wealthy lady hires Frank to search for her missing husband in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Cappadocia is where the troglodytes lived in the vast underground cities. This book was fun to write.

It gives the old chestnut of private eye stories about the rich lady client a different spin. Frank loses an old friend and makes a new one. I’m almost sure I’ll write another P.I. Frank Johnson book this fall. The series doesn’t feel stale or repetitive to me, probably because I’ve written several stand alones since I did Troglodytes. I’d like to get his bounty hunter friend Gerald Peyton more involved in the storytelling.

It almost seems to be a requirement for an author to have a website or contribute to a blog, but as far as we can tell, you don't have or do either. Why? Maybe a better question might be, how do you promote your books?

I do have a small blog on Amazon, and my author pages are up at all my publishers. I sometimes wonder if websites, and even blogs, are growing more obsolete. I mean there’s the newer geeky stuff like facebook, myspace, crimespace, shelfari, good reads, library thing, twitter, all to give writers their so-called “web presence”. And I use all of them quite a bit. Plus I belong to at least ten message board groups, including DorothyL and rara-avis.

When you're not writing and reading for pleasure, what kind of books do you read? Is there any author whose books you must buy as soon as they're published?

I find myself reading less and less for pleasure these days. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just too bushed after doing my own fiction. I always look out for the newest Walter Mosley. I’ve read some first-rate retro-noirs. Linda L. Richards, Megan Abbott, and Max Phillips are authors who spring right to mind. Megan’s books are lyrical breaths of fresh air. And I always look on the shelves for the new stuff from Hard Case Crime.

Finally, thank you for having me aboard, and for your continued interest in my P.I. Frank Johnson series.

We'd like to offer our thanks to Ed for taking the time to visit with us. And we'll look forward to reading Troglodytes next year!

Date of Interview: September 2008