Thursday 29 January 2009

An Interview - Reed Farrel Coleman

Brooklyn born and bred, Reed Farrel Coleman is the former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. He’s published ten novels—eight under his own name and two as Tony Spinosa—in three series. His eleventh novel Tower, co-written with Ken Bruen, is due for release in September 09. Reed’s won the Shamus(twice), the Barry, and Anthony Awards. His been twice nominated for the Edgar Award as well. He was the editor of Hardboiled Brooklyn. His short stories and essays appear in Wall Street Noir, The Darker Mask, Brooklyn Noir 3, and many other publications. He is an adjunct lecturer in creative writing at Hofstra University and he lives with his family on Long Island. Visit Reed at

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

That would be telling! Sorry. I’m about 110 pages into the first novel in a new series. It features a protagonist who is a psychologist, but who suffered a mental breakdown and lived hard on the streets for several years. He’s put his pieces mostly back together again and returns home to New York for the final act in his recreation. That final act revolves around the attempted solution of a long forgoten crime. He has quite a unique perspective on things and a really strange skill set.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Reed Farrel Coleman’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

Sure. First, you’re not far off on the ideas thing. I am positively flooded with ideas for books. I’ve often said that I could not live long enough to write the books I get ideas for in a single day. It’s funny how readers think the ideas are the difficult part. But basically, I get up around 7 AM, drink two cups of coffee while reading the local rag—sports first—and doing the crossword. Then it’s down to my home office to answer emails. By about 8, I put in three straight hours. I start with rereading the previous five pages to give myself a running start and momentum. I need that as I never outline and it helps me edit edit edit. I’ve only ever produced one draft of a novel, but by the time it’s done, I’ve reread it a hundred times and edited it to within an inch of its life. I’ll usually take a break and come back an edit some more, add a little bit, edit. The bulk of the work gets done in that early rush and the rest of the time throughout the day is devoted to polishing. Still, I write pretty quickly. My last novel, The Fourth Victim, written as Tony Spinosa, took only 3 months from start to finish.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

In warm weather, I play basketball for about two hours a day five days a week. I love the movies and go quite often with my sixteen year old son. I read less than I wish I could. I do all the cooking in the house as well.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

Sit your ass down and write. I find too many of my students and hopefuls spend way too much time worrying about marketing and agents and dreaming about spending their advances. It’s what’s on the page that counts. The rest is an issue of control. But you have to learn the writing is the only part you can ever really control, so focus on that. The most important advice I can give is that a writer should fall in love with writing and not with what he or she has written. The latter is a major roadblock to success.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

Besides the usual suspects like Ken Bruen, SJ Rozan, Megan Abbott, Daniel Woodrell and the like, I discovered that I like Archer Mayor a lot and Gabriel Cohen has come back very strong. I liked Declan Burke and Christa Faust very much.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading an ARC of Megan Abbott’s next book, Bury Me Deep. And I just finished James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Plans is too strong a word for a writer. I will always write and I’ve got some projects in mind. I have at least one more Moe Prager book in me for which I have an idea. I’ve been working on a meta book for two years now in my spare time and have a sci-fi book that I want to finish.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

I’m not a regretter. So while there are things that I might do differently had I the chance, I don’t waste a second rueing my missteps or mistakes.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

The list is so long... I’m joking, really. Let me think. See I don’t perseverate on the bad stuff. Okay. I turned in a novel to my editor and he or she was terribly frightened by the subject matter and many of the motivations I had for my characters acting in the way they did. My agent was quick to jump on my editor’s bandwagon and they both sort of forced me into making changes in the book I shouldn’t have made. What I got was a good enough product, but not the book I wanted. The book didn’t do well and I think some of that is because it wasn’t the book I originally wrote. It was largely ignored by critics and readers. To go back to the previous question, I think I should have pulled the book.

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

I always find that to be the most difficult question of all. I guess I’d like you to ask about Tower, the novel I co-authored with Ken Bruen. It was the most difficult work I ever did and the best I ever did. When it comes out in September from Busted Flush Press here in the States, I would highly recommend it as a pretty unique reading experience.

Thank you, Reed Farrel Coleman!


adrian mckinty said...

This is another good get, Ger, very impressive IV and response.

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Thanks. The authors do all the real work in these things, as you know. I just send out the begging letters. I'm lucky enough that most of them are generous with their time.


Michael Stone said...

An inspiring set of answers. I liked this thought in particular:

...a writer should fall in love with writing and not with what he or she has written.

Inspiring advice.

adrian mckinty said...

One of my favourite Brooklyn jokes:

One day, during lessons on proper grammar, the teacher asked for a show of hands from those who could use the word "beautiful" in the same sentence twice.

First, she called on little Suzie, who responded with, "My father bought my mother a beautiful dress and she looked beautiful in it."

"Very good, Suzie," replied the teacher. She then called on little Michael.

"My mommy planned a beautiful banquet and it turned out beautifully."

She said, "Excellent, Michael!"

Then the teacher reluctantly called on Brooklyn Tony.

"Last night at the dinner table, my sister told my father that she was pregnant, and he said 'Beautiful, just fucking beautiful!'"

Michael Stone said...

Haha! What prompted that, Adrian, me using inspiring twice in my comment? I saw that after I posted but this darned blogger doesn't let you modify your comments.

I'm kinda glad I didn't now. :D

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - It is a damn good interview, isn't it?

Adrian - Nice.


adrian mckinty said...


A little. But I like guys from Brooklyn - though one thing I've noticed is that they never stop telling you that they're from Brooklyn.

Another slightly cruder joke:

What does a woman in tight jeans and Brooklyn have in common?


Michael Stone said...

Adrian - trust you to lower the tone of CSNI. :)

Jacob Miranda (book publisher) said...

Such an inspiring post, thanks very much - I liked the writing advice in particular.