Monday, August 07, 2006

WORDSLINGERS: J.A. Konrath




This “Wordslingers” entry marks a first for “The Wildcat’s Lair.” For this author interview, I actually met with the subject in person. In the middle of his 23 state/68 day book tour, mystery writer Joe “J.A.” Konrath stopped in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

Joe’s first novel in his “Lt. Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels” series was published in 2004. That book, Whiskey Sour, landed him a three-book contract with Hyperion. He fulfilled that deal this past July with his third book, Rusty Nail. Fans will get plenty more of Joe’s mixed concoction mysteries. Last year, he signed on for three more books about Jack Daniels’ investigations, which are made from one-part comedy and one-part thriller.

Joe joined myself and my fellow aspiring writer (and blogger-extraordinaire) Patrick of “Patrick’s Place” and “A Stop at Willoughby” for dinner this past Sunday (You can read the blog entry with Patrick's impressions here). Joe arrived in Richmond a few days behind schedule, but he didn’t look too road-worn from the many miles he’s driven in his black Suzuki Sidekick. His tour started a little more than a month earlier in Phoenix, Arizona, at the first ThrillerFest held by the International Thriller Writers. Patrick and I hooked up with Joe outside the Books-a-Million just a few blocks from my house and headed straight for the Asian Grill, one of my new favorite chinese restaurants.

Patrick and I were both a bit apprehensive. Yes, we’ve ventured quite a few times to Joe’s blog, but you just never know what kind of person you’ll find face-to-face. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we didn’t need to worry. Over inexpensive, oriental cuisine, Joe proved a rather straight-to-the-point kind of guy but without being abrupt. His expression didn’t change much, and in this dry manner, he easily switched back and forth from discussions on the publishing industry to some great one-liners. I could see how a guy like this could walk into a bookstore, unannounced, and instantly make friends with the booksellers and customers. His webpage for this tour, which calls for stops at 500 bookstores (likely more), describes these stops as “the publishing equivalent of a drive-by.” The strategy is simple, make strong impressions on everyone he meets to generate as much word-of-mouth as possible. Having been a former bookseller, I know just how much of a difference it can make when the writer of a book on my store’s shelves is more than a picture on the cover jacket.

Joe wrote nine, unpublished books before he started work on Whiskey Sour. I asked Joe about those unpublished books, thinking back on a few on the many unpublished books I’ve written during the past fifteen years (many of which I hope never see the light of day). Is he glad those books aren’t published? He never really said he was glad, but he didn’t express any regrets either. “That it took so long (to be published) probably made me appreciate it more,” he said. “If I’d been published when I was younger, I’d have probably had a sense of entitlement.” Joe is one author who carries the majority of the promotional weight for his books on his own shoulders. You’re more likely to find mid-list authors bemoaning the lack of promotion and support from their publishers. You need only look at Joe’s website, his blog and the tour which brought him to a dinner table with me and Patrick to see he doesn’t expect success handed to him.

Perhaps one of the most interesting anecdotes he offered involved a pair of tattoos. After writing his first six books and still unpublished, Joe was close to giving up, but his wife talked him out of it. She told him she wanted to buy him something, a tattoo. “That’s a very white trash thing for you to do, honey.” He said this to us with a laugh as he recounted the tale of the sad face tattoo on his right shoulder. That tattoo offered him a challenge to keep going, and when he sold his first book, he celebrated that success with a second tattoo, a smiley face on his left shoulder.

During dinner, Patrick and I asked how he managed to get any writing done while on the road. To our surprise, Joe said he wasn’t writing anything. He employs a strategy that’s not unlike the infamous NaNoWriMo which challenges would-be-writers to punch out a fifty thousand word book in the thirty days of November. Only in Joe’s case, he does his own annual, one-man NaNo challenge during the shortest month of the year. He doesn’t enter into February unprepared, though. His publisher requires an outline of the book he plans to write, which in itself can run as long as forty pages. “I just fill in the dialogue and the action.”

Books by J.A. Konrath:



Perhaps the most important thing Joe had to say was a painful truth about the publishing industry. “It’s a business.” There’s more to getting published than a well-written book. He told us about his notebook filled with more than four hundred rejection letters and his first agent who only pitched Joe’s work to two publishers in a span of nineteen months. His blog and website have both sported the statement, “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up: published.” After talking with Joe about his career, I realize that’s his one-sentence biography.

5 comments:

Sandra Ruttan said...

Dinner with Joe? Aren't you brave! Sounds like you had fun - I look forward to meeting Joe at B'Con.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Sandra, it was a lot of fun just having three writers at one table to talk about the art and the business of writing. I'll be curious to read your face-to-face impressions of Joe.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, we'll see if I'm daring enough to share them! I've evaded some aspects of my face to face meetings with others...

H.E.Eigler said...

Great post Bill, and interesting pics too - love the tattoo concept!

The outline concept sounds really scary to me. I can't imagine working that way.

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