Dana King has two Shamus Award nominations for books in his Nick Forte series. (A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window.) His new book, Resurrection Mall, joined its predecessors Worst Enemies and Grind Joint in his Penns River series from Down & Out Books in May. During the trumpet-playing phase of his life, Dana performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, played Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore, and participated four times in the annual Fourth of July concert at Stone Mountain GA for audiences of about 250,000 each.
SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
DK: I can’t point to a book way back when that I “remember” reading that had much influence on me one way or the other as a writer because I never thought much about writing until I was almost forty years old. I always loved to read and I always appreciated a great story told well, though I couldn’t break down why I liked it other than to say it took me to a world I had little experience with. The Jungle Book and The Call of the Wild come to mind, as well as John R. Tunis’s baseball books, and, of course, the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes.
The first book I can point to as having shaped me as a writer is David Simon’s The Corner. I was already writing then, and it’s a non-fiction book, but it showed me that there was another level I could get to if I paid attention, and that the way to make a point in a book was not to beat people over the head with it. Just lay things out as honestly as you can. If the point is valid, people will get it. If it’s not, then no amount of dressing it up can change that.
SR: What’s your new book about? What inspired you to write it?
DK: The work-in-progress is about what can happen to a small town when a crime occurs that overtaxes the available police force and budget. It’s really two stories told side-by-side, where one creates such pressure on the police another criminal sees an opportunity with the town’s police force already overwhelmed.
SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.
DK: New religious mall
Shotguns and death in food court
Are drug gangs to blame?
Police have few leads
Creativity their strength
Will they be in time?
SR: Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?
DK: American Tabloid, James Ellroy
The Queen of Patpong, Timothy Hallinan
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
The Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James
The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
Get Shorty, Elmore Leonard
The Great Bridge, David McCullough
The Choirboys, Joseph Wambaugh
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett, Nathan Ward
SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?
DK: In the Penns River series it’s actually character names. They’re a big deal to me for keeping the reader in the setting, which is key to getting the feel of the books. I don’t like to do too much description and I write a lot of dialog, so having a name that sounds like someone who lives there is a good way to keep people grounded in Penns River.
SR: What genre trope are you most tired of seeing in fiction? Why?
DK: The whole “We got one saliva sample from the seal of an envelope that was fished out of the trash and ran it back to the lab wrapped in a paper towel and got the DNA results back while we waited and that, combined with a thirty-second computer search, told us not only who the killer was, but where he is right now” school of CSI BS. Why? Because that’s not how police catch criminals. I want to read science fiction, there’s…well, actually, I don’t read much science fiction.
SR: What strategies do you use to keep your books fresh? Particularly writing a series character, how do you keep them consistent without retelling the same content book to book?
DK: The town of Penns River is the primary continuing character in my series. True, Ben “Doc” Dougherty is the primary human, but he’s there to serve as the eyes through which the reader views the town. Since Penns River is what the stories are about, there are always people coming and going, new businesses springing up and old businesses leaving. The local paper for the real towns Penns River is based on provides a steady stream of new ideas. The trick for me is not to address the different problems in too similar a manner, such as not to let every book end with a climactic gun fight. (Though I do feel as though the time for another is coming on. Maybe in Book Six.)
My apologies for the delay in presenting our Q&A with Dana King. I’ve been busy behind the scenes working on updating the site and dealing with some technical issues. Now that those problems are (fingers crossed!) resolved we hope to resume regular posting.