I've known Jason Starr for years. He's one of the most likeable, and most respected, mystery authors working today.
His new novel, The Max, is co-written by the equally talented and likeable Ken Bruen.
The Max is available today, from Hard Case Crime, the publisher that specializes in classic and current noir and surprised the world when it released Stephen King's The Colorado Kid a few years ago.
JA's advice: If you love mysteries you must buy every title by Starr, and by Bruen, and by Hard Case.
I caught up with Jason during a White House briefing. Neither of us were there to meet the President--we just go because they have an awesome free snack table. Since I brought along my tape recorder as a prop to fool the Secret Service, I decided to use it to ask Starr a few questions about The Max in particular and self-promotion in general.
JA: Damn, this cracker dip is tasty. Is that dill? I think it's dill. So what's the new book about?
Jason: It's called THE MAX and it's the third crime novel I've co-written with Ken Bruen in what we are now calling "The Bust Trilogy." The previous books are BUST and SLIDE and they're all published by Hard Case Crime.
JA: I already said all of that in the intro. But you hadn't actually read that at the time of the interview, so please continue.
Jason: In THE MAX our two main protagonists, Max and Angela, are imprisoned in different parts of the world--Max at Attica and Angela in a prison on the Greek island of Lesbos....and that's just the opening. We introduce a lot of new characters in the book and Laura Lippman makes a cameo as herself and there's a character, a charming con man who's a dead ringer for Lee Child. You don't have to read them in order but I think it's a good idea and, hey, they're only 6.99 each so all three are less than the price of the average hardcover. How can you go wrong?
JA: I like Lee Child. He's dreamy. I bet he works out. What's your collaboration process with Bruen?
Jason: Well, Ken and I write solo novels as well of course and our individual styles are so different the big challenge is always to make it seem like the books are written by a single author. So we alter our styles--I write in Ken's style and he writes in my style. Then we'll go back and forth and polish it a few times until we think it's seamless.
JA: Do you leave each other's prose alone?
Jason: We don't switch off writing chapters, each of us work on all the chapters, and we send them back and forth over the Internet. It took some trial and error but we've reached the point where even we aren't sure who wrote what. Ken wrote me the other day saying he re-read part of The Max and complimented me for a particular line and I wrote back, "You wrote that, Ken." And he wasn't even drinking at the time.
JA: What are you doing to promote this book?
Jason: This is it, Joe. All your readers better buy this f'in' book or we're screwed.
JA: All my readers? I hope you've got at least eight copies in print.
(Jason and I both chuckle, then I start choking on a shrimp ball and the Secret Service has to give me the Heimlich.)
Jason: But, seriously, we promote these books differently than our solo books. Hard Case Crime gets a ton of media coverage because they're a niche publisher with a strong fan base. But they can't afford to send their authors on tour and we need to promote our solo books as well. So we do a handful of bookstore events (the launch party for THE MAX is at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York on Thursday Sept. 4 at 6:30 and all of your readers are invited), but otherwise it's a lot of blogging, a lot of promotion on My Space and Facebook, interviews, fan conventions etc.
We're fortunate that Hard Case (ie publisher Charles Ardai) has gotten us some great publicity though. Although the books are mass market paperbacks, many major newspapers have reviewed the books and BUST even made Entertainment Weekly's Must List.
JA: Nice. The only time I was in EW was when I cut out a picture of my face and glued it on top of Brendan Fraiser's. It didn't fool too many people.
What kind of promo doesn't work for you?
Jason: I'm not sure how much radio interviews have done for me. I've done a lot of them and I've never seen a big bump in sales. I'm not talking about NPR, I'm talking about local radio. I'm just not sure it's the best way to target the book-reading audience.
JA: I concur. Never had much success with radio, though I dig it.
Jason: I think any publicity is good publicity and the key is to do what you feel comfortable doing. It's all about finding that comfort zone where you can thrive.
JA: Boxers or briefs?
Jason: Come on, Joe, you know I go commando.
JA: I tried that once. it was sexy, until I chafed. Who do you like to read?
Jason: Most of my reading these days is books I'm asked to blurb and my friends' books. Luckily I've been blurbing some excellent books and my friends are great writers. I heartily recommend Alison Gaylin's new novel Heartless and Ken Bruen's standalone Once Were Cops. I recently read your story in the Thriller anthology and it kicked ass. All your stuff kicks ass.
JA: Yes. Yes it does. Didn't the new Indiana Jones movie suck?
Jason: Didn't see it yet, but I'll take your word for it.
JA: I was really excited about it, because the trailer was awesome, but then I went to see it and didn't like it. Also, theater popcorn makes me retain water. I suspect that's Lucas's fault.
What's next for Jason Starr?
Jason: My latest hardcover from St. Martin's Press, THE FOLLOWER, is due out as a mass market paperback on December 2. I'm really excited about this because it's my eighth novel, but my first mass market paperback (the others have been in trade).
JA: I liked The Follower, but now I'm annoyed I bought it in hardcover when I could have waited and gotten it cheaper. What else is on the horizon?
Jason: Next year I have a few books out. St. Martin's is publishing my new thriller in the spring and I'll be posting a lot on this over the coming weeks at http://www.jasonstarr.com/. Later in the year, DC Vertigo will publish my original, full length graphic novel (more details TBA at the Bouchercon convention in October on the graphic novel panel). I've been working on this graphic novel (with a wonderful artist in Italy) for the past two-plus years.
JA: You've been busy.
Jason: Also next year, in the fall, Hard Case Crime will publish the first American edition of my novel FAKE ID. I wrote FAKE ID several years ago and it's a hard-hitting crime novel in the Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford tradition, but set in the present day.
JA: Now you're just showing off. Lemme have that party info again.
Jason: Everybody's invited to the launch party on Thursday Sept. 4 at 6:30 pm at Otto Penzler's lengendary The Mysterious Bookshop on 58 Warren Street in New York City.
JA: Will Bruen be there?
Jason: Yes. And Alison Gaylin will launch her latest, Heartless, at the same event, and there will be drinks and food and we're giving away lots of door prizes including bottles of booze and a 50 dollar store gift certificate.
JA: Drinks? Now I gotta go...