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March 2, 2009

Riding the Coldest Mile

Okay, maybe that should be “writing THE COLDEST MILE,” but if you can’t take poetic license with the header on a blog, just where can you?

A couple of weeks ago the Mystery Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring excellence in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2008. And it is with complete jaw-dropping awe that I learned that THE COLD SPOT made the list in the Best Paperback Original Novel category.

Although I had written three mysteries early in my career, and though some of my later titles such as THE DEAD LETTERS and THE MIDNIGHT ROAD are offbeat thriller-noir fusions, THE COLD SPOT was my first real crime novel.

As a genre, Crime was the last that I tackled both as a reader and a writer. I’d been a staunch fan of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields, but it wasn’t until I plucked Raymond Chandler’s THE LITTLE SISTER off the shelf about 20 years back that I really started my deep reading into the field. Odd that it should take me those 20 years to really dive in and write it.

THE COLDEST MILE sequel to THE COLD SPOT officially hit bookstore shelves about a week ago. The story follows the continuing adventures of my protagonist, thief and getaway driver Chase, who left the bent life after he found his true love, Lila. For ten years he walked the straight and narrow—until Lila was murdered. Now Chase is looking for his grandfather, Jonah, the stone-cold-killer con man who raised him. In returning to his criminal roots, Chase hopes to save Jonah’s infant daughter from the life that Chase himself can’t escape. Chase scores a nearly powerless mob family that’s being run out of New York and soon winds up on the wrong side of a Mafia princess and her main hitman named Bishop. It’s just more bad news and bad blood as Chase prepares for the showdown with Jonah.

Several folks have asked me recently about what kind of process I use when writing. Whether I outline in detail or just dive in and sink or swim on my own. For me, the process is very organic. It needs to be a journey of surprise and discovery, otherwise I don’t see the point of writing at all. I’m here to discover something about myself, my values, what has meaning to me, what I do understand of life. And what I don’t. The only way for that to happen is to start the story and then see what new places it leads me. Once I’m on some different ground, I have a different perspective. If my perspective wasn’t always changing, I’d just be telling the same story over and over.

The great southern grit lit writer Harry Crews once said that he didn’t much admire “science fiction and detective stories” because they weren’t close enough to the “blood and bone” of life. I suppose that’s why it took me so long to come to writing Crime. Early in my career I was more eager to get away from the real world and create my own than to tackle deeper issues that my mid-life crisis has recently hurled me into. We all have doubts and questions about our lives, especially when we start to hit the hill. We fear the wasted past, we fear the inevitable future. We search for answers about our own morality and mortality. And I can’t think of a better genre to delve into those issues than in Crime.

Not because it’s a field that deals with issues in black and white, but because it features a much wider horizon of gray. It’s a much more authentic parallel of the real world. This is where the frustrations, flaws, failures, and fears are pared down. To one mission, one cause, one ambition. Whether it’s to score a bank or take your righteous revenge, the world is focused. As a writer, I suppose that that’s my favorite element of the genre. I can distill all my hopes, loves, pains, and regrets, and I can plant them into a story where someone has a halfway decent shot of figuring the world out. Even if he does so from a prison cell or a police station or a morgue slab. In the end, he gets his answer. Or at least has a chance at it.

I hope that everyone who gives THE COLDEST MILE a go really enjoys it. Feel free to comment here or drop me a line. Send me a link if you blog about it or write a review (good or bad). Nowadays, novels live or die by word of mouth as much as by anything else.

Some blurbs for the Cold series:

“[Tom Piccirilli’s] prose has the visceral punch of the best pulp writers of the past century….”—Eddie Muller, San Francisco Chronicle

“Hard-boiled crime writing … {The Coldest Mile} is pedal to the metal for 352 pages. Don’t miss it.”—Booklist

“Prepare for a journey as thrilling as it is provocative.” —James Rollins, author of The Judas Strain

“Blackest noir, the most minimal kind of minimalism, and at the same time deeply emotional: this is not easy to do.”—Peter Abrahams, bestselling author of Nerve Damage

“[The Coldest Mile] roars off the line with all the force and forward velocity of two tons of Detroit muscle car and never lets up on the pace. Crime novels don’t get faster or grittier than this one, and in Chase, Tom has created a character who’ll stick with you for years to come.”-Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore

Tom Piccirilli

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