OK. Here’s the thing just right away as we get started: before binge-watching was even a thing, I was binge-watching Walker, Texas Ranger. (Also, incidentally, since you know how much I love all seventeen uses of the comma in SWE, the title-as-appositive here has always been a sincerely dear favorite of mine since I learned what an appositive was. As it seems to my memory, this was even an example my 7th grade English teacher (Mr. Faltiech, whose name I am sure to have misspelled, and who almost decapitated himself in front of a room of twelve-to-thirteen-year-olds while teaching Steinbeck’s The Pearl) used to teach us what an appositive was.
Anyway, why am I telling you this, you’re asking? There is a point.
See, back before this contemporary day of binge-watching, back before Mr. Faltiech was jumping off desks and trying to drill into my school the same level of grammar basics in English as I had in French, my cousin Ken (then, Kenny) and I would watch taped episode after taped episode of Walker, Texas Ranger, probably while playing with sticks and wiffle-ball-bats.
We have each grown up to be (relatively) productive members of society. This is probably because of the time devoted to Walker (among..well…many other things).
You would probably also assume this was the case had you just had all of your questions answered by writer John Lansing. (FYI: he was a Walker writer and executive story editor…see, it all eventually ties together.)
In his long line of career endeavors, Lansing has recently added crime novels. He begins what is sure to be a devoured-by-the-masses series with The Devil’s Necktie—which I read, and then asked many, many questions about. (AKA: binge-questioning.)
In complete honesty, I think this was right at the top of favorite interviews I’ve ever done. Please, glean the wisdom with me, my dolls:
Laura Hallman: Briefly describe your writing process.
John Lansing: My writing process really starts in the late afternoon when I read over my most recent work. I usually bang out about three pages a day. I’ll do a polish, uncover areas that need further exploration, and come up with a game plan for the following day. If I have questions, they’re usually solved by the time I roll out of bed the next morning. I’ll type in my fixes, carry on for a bit, grab some breakfast, walk the dog, and sit down for a few hours of work. I don’t write using a formal outline and so I’m flying by the seat of my pants, allowing my characters and events to move the story along. It’s an exercise in trust, but it seems to work for me. I try and take a short break after I’ve completed a first draft. It allows me to attack my work dispassionately in the rewrite and hopefully take the book to the next level.
LH: Much like your protagonist, you also made the move from New York to California. How has the experience been for you?
JL: I’ve been living in Southern California for so many years I’m almost a native. I’ve got no complaints. Perfect weather, interesting people, and great food. With one of the world’s largest economies, there’s no shortage of compelling news stories. And if you’re going to be in the television industry, living in LA is almost a must.
LH: Where did the character of Jack come from?
JL: I’ve been writing police procedurals for many years. Jack is the amalgam of all the great detectives I’ve read about, written about, seen on television and on film and maybe wanted to be. I’m attracted to flawed characters on the precipice of change.
LH: What was the first part of this story that came to you?
JL: I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship between law enforcement and confidential informants. A beautiful Colombian informant from Jack’s past shows up on his doorstep running for her life and asking for help. After a night of unbridled passion, Mia turns up dead and Jack’s the only suspect.
LH: Seems like you’re setting up for a sequel—even a series. Yes? No? Maybe so?
JL: The second book in the series is already written, waiting on an edit. I’m knee deep into the third book.
LH: How much research into gang life and the inner workings of mafia hierarchies did you have to do?
JL: Research is an important part of the writing process, but not the end all. The story is paramount. But Google changed the research process. I used to spend hours in the library combing news and magazine articles on whatever subject I was writing about. Now, I can sit at my computer and pull up information as needed.
LH: “Retired cop accidentally pulled into an investigation that means something to him personally and winds up putting him in mortal danger” seems to be coming a more regular fare. Did this concern you? Did this annoy you? Did this keep you company?
JL: I was really excited by one question. How does a man, who spent twenty-five years of his life taking down drug dealers, killers and thieves, think he could retire and go quietly into the night? That notion was enough motivation for me to create Jack Bertolino and write The Devil’s Necktie.
LH: What is different about your book?
JL: I wasn’t concerned about being different. What’s the old saw? There are only seven stories in the world. My only concern was creating a compelling story told from my point of view. I happen to enjoy developing and spending an inordinate amount of time on my bad guys. Your hero can only be as strong as the criminals he goes up against.
LH: Who is your favorite of all the “bad guys?” (Most fun to write, made you feel proudest on the page—however you want to take it.)
JL: In The Devil’s Necktie, it would have to be Hector Lopez. He was going to be a peripheral character, but he took on a life of his own and developed into a major player, devoid of feeling, a perfect killer. I like having him on the page.
LH: Does seeing anyone near you wearing a Panama hat make you nervous these days?
JL: Ah, Arturo Delgado. Another one of my favorites. Delgado is a man who hates, and lives to share the joy. When I’m immersed in my story I tend to be hyper aware of my surroundings, but I’m not paranoid by nature.
LH: Has Jack been tending his tomato plants all this time just to be able to make Leslie sauce at the end?—-OK, that’s mostly a joke, however the tomato plants on the balcony serve a very real purpose in narration to watch Delgado spy on Jack. Did you conceptualize details like that immediately, or did you have to go back and add them in?
JL: I’m not that structured when I start a book. I set up the game board, and then see where the pieces of the puzzle take me. The tomato plants and cooking Italian are a strong part of Jack’s personal narrative. The fact that I could use the plants to a positive effect at the end of the book was pure gravy.
LH: Writer, producer, and actor: the triple threat. That’s quite a lot to accomplish. Lenny Kaye, another triple threat (musician, record producer, and music journalist), once told me that as an artist you learn the difference between what you’re doing for rent and what you’re doing for art—especially if you are working in different aspects of your craft. Do you find the same? How does this play out for you?
JL: Tough question. I think all of the experiences you accumulate in your lifetime, inform whatever art form, or business for that matter, that you find yourself engaged in. I never really worried about money, unless I was without, but it wasn’t my motivating factor for any of my pursuits. If the work was good, the money followed.
I was compelled to be an actor as a young man, and overjoyed to discover that I could write, and create characters instead of interpret them later in life. If I was fortunate enough to earn a paycheck, so be it.
LH: You started with acting. Was that your first love?
JL: Yes, it was a marvelous experience to be able to get out of one’s own skin and inhabit another. There’s something primal about working in the theatre with the immediacy of a live audience.
LH: Plenty of people know your writing and might not even know it—you spent time writing for Walker Texas Ranger. This is a strong memory of my childhood and plenty of other people—not to mention a strong pop of pop culture. What was this experience like for you on the other side?
JL: It was exciting, it was a grind, and it taught me the discipline needed to be a professional writer. There were times that my partner and I had to knock out a script in a week because another script had fallen out of production. It was my first time on a writing staff and I learned from my mistakes as much as from my successes. I’m thankful for the experience.
LH: How many Walker Texas Ranger questions can people ask you before you are annoyed?
JL: I’m happy to talk about the show and love the Chuck Norris quotes flying around the Internet. “Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice.”
(Note: I decided not to push my luck…though I’m regretting it now.)
LH: Who are your literary influences?
JL: I write thrillers and mysteries because that’s what I enjoy reading. I’ll buy anything written by James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Walter Mosley and Dennis Lehane to name a few.
LH: You have been building your writing career over the last fifteen years. Has the rise of social media changed anything for you—especially in terms of communication and exposure?
JL: It’s easier to interface with my readers and that’s a good thing. It’s still very new to me and I’m working hard to stay abreast of the new technology.
LH: What is the biggest compliment you have received about The Devil’s Necktie?
JL: “Once I picked up your book, I couldn’t put it down.”
LH: What is the biggest criticism?
JL: “Meh. Not my cup of tea.”
LH: How did you get involved with pubshelf?
JL: A friend of mine referred me to the company.
LH: What has it been like working with pubshelf?
JL: It has been a great relief. The pubshelf group consists of experts in social media and the publishing world. Working with them frees me up to do what I do best, and that’s writing. And my sales have gone through the roof.
LH: What advice would you give writers trying to break into the business?
JL: Write every day. Write what you know, write what you love, and finish a first draft. You can’t get a job without product, without material. Walter Mosley has a great book on the subject, This Year You Write Your Novel.
LH: With so much success in different arenas, does setting hopes and goals become easier or harder?
JL: My career choices have never been easy. This isn’t a complaint, more a fact of life. Working in the arts, in any discipline, and garnering success is not for the faint of heart. Setting the goals is the easy part, completing the mission is a bear.
LH: What are goals you have now—work or life related?
JL: My present goal is to complete the third book in the Jack Bertolino series. I’m not great at multitasking and so it’s putting one foot in front of the other, doing one page at a time, until I’m done.
Well, what can I tell you? I am bored and uninspired this week. (Maybe I’m just too excited about the Bromfield reading we are doing on the other blog to worry too much about anything else.)
Here we are, cuddled under blankets, listening to the accumulating ice outside, searching and scheming the internet for the best ticket prices to flee back to my beloved New Orleans.
Do you have any tips for us there?
Oh, nevermind, it might be too late by then.
I know—we’ve been talking about people complaining about weather, and people complaining about people complaining about weather. I’m not doing either. But I am lost in this listless middle region. Part of me is embracing winter, part of me is detesting winter; most of me is panicked about driving in winter weather to the office (I have had two accidents while driving in storms to work, neither of which should have had to happen).
Also, mostly more, I just want to go to New Orleans. And maybe for some hot chocolate. (The latter is easier to accomplish.)
What do you want, mostly?
Hey. Superbowl. What happened?
I know, I know, the Internet has been flooded this morning with references of the same. And hey, I’m not talking reality TV here on this reality Monday?
Well, I think we kind of are.
Sports are reality TV in quite a way, aren’t they? I think so. It’s reality. It’s in the moment, it’s (supposed to be) unscripted, viewers get very caught up in it—it dominates conversations after the fact.
The Superbowl is the epitome of this. It’s all fanfare. There’s months of games and planning until the big day. BAM! We all get together, we watch the game, and half of us don’t care—the other half really care.
And then, sometimes, a game like last night happens. Chef—who is a devoted Colts fan of the last two decades, and therefore a forever-fan of Peyton Manning—asked to turn off the Superbowl midway through the third quarter. We did, we worked on our never-ending process of cleaning out the DVR. I thought to myself, “Boy, I don’t think I ever turned off a Superbowl before.” So while scrolling through Facebook, I was slightly stunned to see the same thing. Everyone (that’s a huge exaggeration) also turned off the Superbowl.
So what happened?
What led to the memes (Mom, come get me…Beyonce, turn out the lights)? Who was that man out on the field? Is there a way I can talk about him without being so hard on him?
Good golly, I just don’t know anymore.
What was I supposed to be talking about again before I kept getting so distracted by the obvious? How sports are like reality TV? Oh, right.
How did you find your Superbowl?
Back to our regularly scheduling blogging next week.
1) I wish some birthdays. This is a big time of year in my circle of family and friends for birthdays. I hope everyone has a great birthday. I hope they all know how much I love them. I hope they feel loved on their birthdays and every other day.
2) I wish the groundhog, this morning, did whatever he was supposed to do to end winter soon. Few things about this: yes, I live in Pennsylvania and I’m not even completely sure how the custom goes. Also, I realize it has no bearing and is basically an inversion of the same sentence. However, have you ever seen the celebration in the middle of PA? It’s like a rave all night. I don’t know why we don’t try to get more tourism out of this. (Note: I do not live in the middle part of PA; that part scares me. If you’re reading this and live in the middle of PA, you are certainly not one of the offenders.)
3) I wish we can just have a considerably thorough cure for cancer. I just don’t know what to say. We just keep getting hit with bad news after bad news about this terrible disease. (I’m including you in the “we”, because I sadly know too well that it could be happening to you too.) This week, in our Pulitzer reading (over on my other blog, where that link takes you), there was a medical researcher and a lot of talk about how he should get around to curing cancer. I’m sure that while penning this Sinclair Lewis could not have dreamed we would still know so very little in 2014.
What do you wish for?