This week, we get a bit shady with crime fiction author Joseph Pittman.
JOSEPH PITTMAN was born in the borough of Queens and lived there for the first seven years of his life, before his family moved to Upstate New York. A graduate of Fayetteville-Manlius High School, he then went on to get his Bachelor of Science at SUNY Brockport, where he majored in communication, with a concentration in journalism. While attending Brockport, he was an editor for “The Stylus,” the school newspaper, where he had a weekly book review column.
Upon graduation, he returned to New York City, where he began his publishing career. After short stints at Putnam Children’s Books and at Viking Penguin, he landed his first editorial job at Bantam Books, where he assisted with such authors as Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Palmer, Rita Mae Brown, actress Ali MacGraw and General Norman H. Schwarzkopf. He moved to NAL as an editor and worked with authors such as Max Allan Collins, Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Martha Grimes, Jeff Abbott, Joan Collins, Judith Gould, and many other best-selling and acclaimed names. His career has also taken him to the world book clubs (Doubleday Book Club), and small presses (Alyson Books). He is currently Editorial Director of the new Vantage Point imprint.
His novels include TILTING AT WINDMILLS, WHEN THE WORLD WAS SMALL, LEGEND’S END, and A CHRISTMAS WISH. His crime novels featuring Todd Gleason are LONDON FROG and CALIFORNIA SCHEMING. He’s at work on several other projects.
ANTHONY: LONDON FROG is the first Todd Gleason crime novel. Todd is not a crime kingpin, but he’s also not completely on the side of the angels. He feels a bit Robin Hood or Bernie Rhodenbarr. Give us a little insight into his character and his moral code.
JOSEPH: Todd is complex. Yes, he feels the world owes him something, but he’s willing to work for it. Even if the work is slightly on the wrong side of the law. He never takes from those who would suffer greatly from his schemes. He’s a petty thief with champagnes tastes. Big crimes like murder he would never be involved in—unless it’s stopping them. Like in “Frog,” he stumbles upon the murder plot and does all he can to stop it—but he also wants to make his money, too. So he’s always playing both sides, working them to his advantage. Don’t call him a crook. He likes sneaky opportunist. I suppose Bernie Rhodenbarr was a bit of an inspiration. I was Lawrence Block’s editor for those books and perhaps some of Bernie rubbed off on me. The ninth book in that series, THE BURGLAR IN THE RYE, was dedicated to me—an honor I would love to pay it backward.
A: What makes the reader root for Todd despite the fact that he’s a criminal?
J: I think it’s those damn dimples. No, seriously, Todd is just trying to make his way in the world and if he’s got some warped view of achieving that, well, that’s the fun of writing such a character. When it comes to describing the Gleason series, I always say that while Todd is a con man, he’s also the nicest guy in the book. Trust no one is my motto when it comes to the crime novels. But Todd is always handy with a smart-ass remark, and that helps endear him to readers. They laugh with him, not at him.
A: LONDON FROG was originally released in 2007. If I remember correctly, it got good press and was a Mystery Guild monthly selection. Vantage Point has brought it back in trade paperback format in anticipation of the sequel, CALIFORNIA SCHEMING, due out in 2012. Can you give us a hint at what to expect in the new book?
Yes, good reviews in hardcover and a Mystery Guild “editor’s choice.” That was a cool honor. As for “Scheming,” it picks up about six months after the action in “Frog.” Todd is relaxing (hiding out?) On the island of Bermuda when he is approached by an old flame, Cindy Scanlon, asking for his help. How she knew to find him there is but one mystery. It all revolves around Fast Cash, a notorious L.A. bank robber. Three million dollars is missing, so is Fast Cash, and if Todd finds the money he can help his friend…and pocket some cold hard cash. It comes out mid-January from Vantage Point Books, with the same great cover look as LONDON FROG. Pre-order it now! (the author asks nicely…)
A: Unlike the fantasy and SF genres, crime and mystery fiction series don’t seem to favor the “long arc,” where characters age and grow and change, concentrating instead on stand-alone mysteries in long-running series. Where do Todd’s adventures fall, and how far ahead have you plotted/planned?
J: Oh, Todd will age. He won’t like it, either. I figure each book takes place six months after the last. I’ve got solid ideas for books three and four, but we won’t be any closer to finding out what makes Todd tick. He’s got a past, for sure, as indicated at the end of LONDON FROG. Not all is as it seems. Perhaps book five will explore the whole issue of Todd’s father—the guy who left to buy cigarettes when Todd was five. There’s a backstory there, and it also helps explain why the pet frog. Toad is the keeper of many secrets.
A: And when, after CALIFORNIA SCHEMING, can we expect to see him again?
J: You’ll see Todd again in his very first short story, “The Perils of Penelope Pittson,” to be published in a volume called CRIME SQUARE, edited by Robert J. Randisi, the founder of the Private Eye Writers of America. It comes out in March 2012. The story finds Todd imaging himself as a 50s gumshoe, coming to the aid of the imperiled Penelope. The next full-length novel, THE CANNES CON will appear early 2013…but I have to finish it first. Setting is the south of France, and truthfully, I didn’t mind the research for that one at all. It all begins, though, at the Vroadway opening of a revival of ‘Can-Can’.
A: LONDON FROG. CALIFORNIA SCHEMING. THE CANNES CON. How long can you keep up these city-inspired puns?
J: You’d be surprised. I have seven titles, even if I don’t have the plots for all of them. As long as I’m having fun with the series, I’m sure the titles will come to me. I had interest from a Japanese publisher and as a way to entice them I said I would write a Gleason story set in their country. Tokyo Ruse was the title. It didn’t sell. But I’d love to write it.
A: I’m always curious about process. How do you approach a Todd Gleason adventure? Do you outline fully before starting the work?
J: I hate working from outlines—I find them very limiting. I have a general synopsis that I work from, with characters specified, but the plot unfolds as I write it. You can’t plan twists and turns, they happen as you write. And that’s the fun of it all. Once I’m into the story, I may plan the next two or three chapters ahead, just to give me a sense of where I’m going. But no, I never have a full outline. It’s all structured in my head.
A: Do you approach the Todd Gleason books differently than your other books, which are not crime fiction?
J: Same approach, in terms of outlines/synopsis/characters. But the writing of a book like TILTING AT WINDMILLS takes more time. The language is different—the tone, the energy. Those books are more poetic, while the crime fiction is very…well, snarky. There’s a looseness to the Todd Gleason series that is not present in the general fiction. But I love switching the voice—whether first person or third, sweet and heartfelt, or suspenseful and sarcastic. It’s all about getting into the main characters’ head, and then trusting your instinct.
A: Speaking of those other works: Your Linden Corners books are back. TILTING AT WINDMILLS is back in print from Kensington Books, and you’ve heavily revised the sequel, A CHRISTMAS WISH. Tell us a little about those books.
J: TILTING AT WINDMILLS was my first published book, done by Pocket Books. It didn’t so terribly well on first publication—at least, not the U.S. version. It was a hit in Italy! Some readers though wondered what happened after that book ended, so I wrote A WISH UPON THE WIND, a Christmas-themed sequel. Both a re set in Linden Corners, which is located in the Hudson River valley. Both revolve around this old-style windmill, which inspires the people of the town. “Windmills” is back in print with a beautiful new cover.
A: Why “completely revise” WISH for its official commercial release? How long did that process take?
J: The publisher asked me to revise it. The original version was only 45,000 words. The published version is now closer to 70,000. I’ve added new scenes, expanded existing scenes with new descriptions and dialogue, and then also added to some of the subplots. But I think it’s pretty seamless; it’s hard to tell what’s been added. It was only about a month of rewriting to get the book into its final shape. We also agreed on a title change. So A WISH UPON THE WIND became A CHRISTMAS WISH. Booksellers do better with books when the word Christmas is in the title.
A: Are there any future Linden Corners novels planned? Or does WISH conclude Brian and Janey’s story?
J: We will revisit Linden Corners next year. Brian and Janey have had their big moment, so it’s time for some other characters in the town to take center stage. I am under contract with Kensington for another Christmas-themed book to be set in Linden Corners. Brian and Janey will play supporting roles in the book—the main character is Nora Connors Rainer, one of Gerta’s daughters. And a man named Thomas van Diver, whose family originally owned the windmill decades ago. They have both returned to Linden Corners just in time to help the town prepare for another holiday. It’s called A CHRISTMAS HOPE. Then Kensington will publish the stand-alone novel BEYOND THE STORM—new town, new characters, same dramatic tension as “Windmills.” But I think they plan to publish the next Christmas book first. That’s their decision. Fortunately, BEYOND THE STORM is already written. A CHRISTMAS HOPE is on my computer now, I’m just now getting into the writing. Not sure what comes first, finishing it…or Christmas itself.
A: And my standard final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them to read it?
J: You want me to choose my favorite child? Haha. Actually, the two books of mine we haven’t discussed are WHEN THE WORLD WAS SMALL and LEGEND’S END. “Legend’s” is a family favorite, especially my mom. She always mentions “Legend’s” as her favorite. But I think WHEN THE WORLD WAS SMALL is my personal favorite. It’s the book that took me by surprise, in terms of the writing, its themes, and the fact that it spans twenty years. Usually I like a more concentrated timeline, like with “Frog,” which takes place in a matter of weeks. “World” was a big challenge to me, and I just love the symbolism through the story. Both “World” and “Legends” are new to Kindle—and at a 2.99 price, it’s hard to beat. Sorry to play salesman at the end of this interview. But I hope readers will give me a shot—whether they like mysteries or family drama or heartfelt tales of love, my books have something for everyone.
A: They really do. I can say that, having read pretty much all of them. And you know, I’ve never known Rosemary Pittman to be wrong. (Yes, I am bucking for an invite to Christmas dinner, haha)
You can most easily find Joseph Pittman, and all of his books, on his website.