JOSEPH PITTMAN, California Scheming - Author Interview

It’s Thriller Thursday (another should-be-hashtag on Twitter), and who better to chat with today than my old friend Joseph Pittman, author of the Todd Gleason crime novels?

 Joseph Pittman

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: The second Todd Gleason novel, California Scheming, is now available. For my newer readers, remind us who Todd is, and where do we find him at the start of the new novel?

JOE: Todd Gleason is a con man.  Once a small time con, he only stole from the rich, but never gave to the poor…unless you count him.  He’s doesn’t like to talk about himself, his past, and definitely not the father who walked away when he was five.  Todd lives alone in an apartment in Manhattan—though he does have a pet frog, named Toad.  Todd has a habit of speaking first, acting second, thinking last.  It usually lands him in a lot of trouble.  After his successful con in LONDON FROG, Todd is taking a sojourn on Bermuda, relaxing in the arms of the lovely Lana Davies.  But this being Todd, his idyllic holiday can’t last.  Trouble comes looking for him.

The plot revolves around a noted bank robber named Fast Cash, who disappeared seven year ago…never to be heard from again.  His “widow” has him declared legally dead—and that’s when the dead bodies start turning up.  What Todd needs to do is rescue a long-time friend of his from a loan shark and the only way he can imagine is finding the missing cash that Fash Cash stole all those years ago…all three million.  Let the fun begin…

ANTHONY: I hear you had some interesting adventures researching the new book. So dish!

JOE: Not sure “adventure” is the right word. The early chapters of the book are set in Bermuda.  I was going to use the Bahamas, but I’ve never been there.  Bermuda I knew, so I picked that.  There’s a bar in SCHEMING modeled after a local watering hole in the main town of Hamilton.  For the Los Angeles sections, I visited LA twice.  One of my visits had me staying for 10 days at The Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, just so I could soak up the sun, the atmosphere, and the attitude.  There was lots of all.  I also got as close to the Hollywood sign as they’ll permit, and did a visit to Marina Del Rey, because there is a scene on a yacht that launches for there.  Otherwise, I drew on experience of driving around West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Palos Verdes, all setting for the book.  For a guy used to walking all over Manhattan, car culture was a cruel shock.  Part of making the LA scenes successful was getting the lingo down—“Take the 101 to the 10 to the 405.”  I actually know what all that means, now!  There are also some scenes set in Manhattan—when you read the “Raven” bar scene, please remember this book is fiction.

ANTHONY: I’ve already recognized one of my favorite NYC diners in the early pages of the book! For new readers, is it vital to have read the first Todd Gleason novel, LONDON FROG, before diving into CALIFORNIA SCHEMING, or does each book largely stand on its own?

JOE: No.  Each book is designed to stand on its own—new characters and cons are introduced in each book.  So far I haven’t yet had a recurring character other than Todd…and Toad, the frog.  He’ll be in each book for sure.  There are recurring themes about Todd’s character, what has helped shaped him.  But I haven’t explored all that yet.  Maybe Book #5 in the series will reveal a bit more about Todd’s past.

ANTHONY: I know that like me, you’re not a huge fan of outlining. Did any plot twists take you by surprise while writing CS?

JOE: In between the first draft and final draft, there was one big change.  The killer.  Something just wasn’t sitting right with me about the ending, so I had to go back and think.  Maybe that’s where an outline would have come in handy, but what’s the fun in knowing what’s going to happen?  I like to go by Todd’s instincts—he has to think on his feet when a problem occurs, so that’s how the writing goes too.  I had some other fun things in the book, but they ended up on the cutting room floor.  I think I was twisting the plot one too many times, so something had to go.  There was a great scene with Beverly Mills of Beverly Hills, my blowsy, big-bosomed real estate lady, executing a scam poolside in West Hollywood.  In the end, I cut it and it hurt.

ANTHONY: Maybe the Beverly Mills con can be a short story! Speaking of which, tell us a bit about “The Perils of Penelope Pittson,” the first Todd Gleason short story. Where and when is it appearing, and where does it fall in Todd’s chronology?

JOE: Perils will appear in the anthology, CRIME SQUARE, to be published in the coming weeks.  There is no chronology with this story with FROG and SCHEMING…it just exists.  The story takes place on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, where Todd is protecting a woman.  But he imagines himself back in the 50s, what if he were a P.I. and she a damsel in distress.  The two plotlines end up having many parallels.  I wrote the story in the style of an old detective movie, so some of the lines and dialogue are flat out funny.

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ANTHONY: How is the third book, which takes Todd to the south of France, progressing?

JOE: Ah yes, the long-rumored third book, THE CANNES CON.  I’m writing it, but I’m also toying with switching that book to #4 in the series and writing another idea I have.  That one is set mostly in New York City and environs and it’s called BROOKLYN HEIST.

ANTHONY: Man, I love your titles. Other than Todd’s adventures, what else are you working on right now?

JOE: The next Linden Corners “windmill” novel comes out in October from Kensington Books.  It’s called A CHRISTMAS HOPE.  Then in Spring 2013 is BEYOND THE STORM, a stand-alone novel with new characters and town.  More Linden Corners books are in the works, too.  My big suspense novel, THE ORIGINAL CRIME, may see publication as an original ebook later this year.  Still working on those details.  I don’t lack for ideas…just time.  But I’m having fun writing about these worlds I’ve created.  I hope readers are enjoying them.

ANTHONY:  More for me to read! And now my usual closing question: what is your favorite book (by someone else) and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

JOE: My favorite book?  It’s an oldie, but a goodie.  THE PRIZE, by Irving Wallace.  It’s set in the world of the Nobel Prizes and features a huge cast of characters.  It’s pure storytelling, absolutely riveting.  A big, old-fashioned read.  Wallace was one of my early favorites and I still have all the hardcover editions of his novels in my collection.

You can find out more about Joe’s projects by checking in on his website. Joe also occasionally appears on Twitter as @JosephPittman13, and he also has an author page on Facebook.  You can also find my earlier interview with Joe right here.