Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Writing crime: easy money the hard way

What made you decide to write crime & mystery fiction? And if you hadn’t been an author, what would you have been doing?

by Dietrich

When I started writing fiction, I wrote short stories and dabbled in different genres, and by the time I found a steady rhythm to my words, I was writing stories inhabited by marginal characters that often ended hip-deep in committing some crime or other. I think my lean toward dark humor had a lot to do with it too, something that I think goes hand in glove with good crime fiction. There’s nothing funny about crime or violence, but there is a certain levity that humor brings to the tension found in that kind of story. And I like writing my characters, some who are desperate, some living by their wits, some lacking wits altogether, but all of them just wanting to make easy money the hard way.

The first three novels were set in present time and close to home on the west coast, surroundings I’m familiar with. Then I tried a period piece because the timeframe suited the story I was working on. At first I wondered about all the research that would be needed to pull it off, writing about a time and place that I hadn’t experienced. But, once I got into it, I found that I really enjoyed doing the digging and sifting. After that novel, I let my settings land in whatever period in time that best suited the story, some in present time, some back in time.

Writing dialogue sure isn’t exclusive to crime fiction, but I enjoy letting the characters tell their story through their own words. The characters that live in my novels always seem to be working some kind of angle, and what they’re not saying often conveys more than the words that they are saying.

When I get a fresh idea for a story, I just start cranking out the pages, letting the first draft take its course. I don’t plan much. I just type away, trying to stay out of the way of the characters, letting them steer their own course and tell their story. 

And I don’t try to guess what readers will be buying. Sure, I’d love to nail a million-seller as much as the next writer, but I don’t believe I’ll get there by guessing what’s going to sell. I just try to stick to what works best for me.

Over the years I read a lot of fiction: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Orwell, Salinger, Thompson, Bukowski, Burroughs, and so on, and I guess the best of it kept that dream alive inside me, inspiring me long before I started writing. And I still read a lot and still draw inspiration by some of the greats writing today.

The second part of the question, about what I’d be if I hadn’t become an author … Well, I had a career in commercial art, and that came long before I finally started writing. Writing was that something that I just always wanted to do going back to when I was in my teens. Yeah, it took a long time before I started doing what I always wanted to do. But, once I finally did make the jump and got serious about it, I’ve never looked back, and I’ve been loving every minute of it. 


Paul D. Marks said...

Dietrich, sometimes we need dark humor or gallows humor to lighten up tense/intense situations, so I think that's a good tack to take. And it's always fun and interesting to see how other writers answer these kinds of question, what would you have done if you weren't an author, etc. Probably being a commercial artist also helps you visualize scenes when you're writing I would think.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Paul. Yes, I guess the same skills used for creating graphics helps me visualize scenes when I'm writing.

Brenda Chapman said...

Most writers seem to have that drive from an early age as you did, Dietrich. I enjoy reading about your process and how you got to where you are now.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda.