Friday, April 24, 2015

A Conversation with Crime Novelist J.L. Abramo

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with J.L. Abramo

We are delighted to welcome author J.L. Abramo to Omnimystery News today.

J.L.'s new mystery is Circling the Runway (Down & Out Books; April 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats), the fourth in the series which began with Catching Water in a Net, the winner of the 2000 St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for Best First PI novel. We recently had the chance to catch up with the author to talk more about the series.

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Omnimystery News: How have the cast of characters in the Jake Diamond series changed and developed since since they were first introduced?

J.L. Abramo
Photo provided courtesy of
J.L. Abramo

J.L. Abramo: In the Jake Diamond mystery series there are a number of characters who make appearances in all or some of the installments. Diamond and the major recurring characters change as influenced by events, and are developed as more is revealed about their past experiences and their present circumstance as each individual book, and as the series, progresses. Although Diamond turns forty at the end of Catching Water in a Net, he has a lot of "growing up" to do — as, I suppose, so did I. The only way Jake and his gang do not mature, is in age. All four novels cover a span of four years beginning in 2000 — even though the new book Circling the Runway was written ten years after the previous series novel, I set it in 2004. I made a decision to have my characters grow wiser, if not much older.

OMN: You've also written a stand-alone novel. Tell us a little more about it.

JLA: Gravesend was a reworking of a novel I had written long before bumping into Jake Diamond. Going back to it was inspired by a desire to return to the place I had come from, and where Jake had come from, but it needed to be set in Brooklyn and Diamond was elsewhere. So a new set of characters and relationships were introduced and developed, revolving around three detectives in a Gravesend police precinct.

OMN: Tell us something about Circling the Runway that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

JLA: Counting to Infinity was written in 2003 and hit the street a year later. It was the third Jake Diamond novel published by St. Martin's Press. When SMP decided the books, though well received by the readers and critics who discovered them, were not what they considered financially viable, they opted to discontinue the series. Without the obligation to come up with another Diamond mystery, I worked on the stand-alone and completed Gravesend … and later had the idea for a Jake Diamond prequel featuring Jimmy Pigeon. Over a period a decade, although making a cameo appearance in Chasing Charlie Chan, Jake Diamond was on sabbatical and during that time I received countless inquiries from fans asking if and when Diamond might return … so I decided to resurrect the character. My concern (it was frankly a bit scary) was would I still know Jake and his sidekicks after so much time. In writing Circling the Runway I discovered to my surprise and delight that I knew them all very well … and it was like reconnecting with old friends. And I need to credit Eric Campbell and Down and Out Books for making the reunion possible by giving Jake Diamond a new lease on life.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

JLA: When I begin a new project I very rarely, if ever, know where it will end. When I face the blank first page I approach it as a quest and try in time to reach some hidden treasure by the end of the excursion — with many detours and side steps along the way. I do not know the final destination when I begin — the characters are developed through a composite of people I have known and by human reactions to events. The plot develops as a consequence of how these characters react and interact, since it is the people in a story that have always interested me most as a reader — and I get to know these characters more and more clearly as they move through the story. I begin with a scene — one that will hopefully be recalled throughout the book, by myself and by the reader, as the circumstance that launched the expedition. Plotting is extremely challenging, but when the theme of the work finally dawns on me, when I finally realize what it is I am actually writing about, it offers direction. When I finally understand where the story is headed, I often need to back up, retrace my steps so to speak, to find the path I need to be on to get there.

OMN: Have there been any particularly exciting or challenging topics you've come across while researching the plot points of your stories?

JLA: At the very start of Catching Water in a Net, Jake Diamond discovers that his friend and mentor, Jimmy Pigeon, has been killed. Pigeon is mentioned in subsequent books, through Jake's memories of what he learned from Jimmy and in his occasional internal query: "What would Jimmy do?" I became more and more intrigued with this character who was gone before I ever had the chance to know him. So I turned back the clock to 1994 and did what only God and writers can do — I brought Jimmy Pigeon back to life in Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Diamond series. In the course of writing that novel I did a lot of research, on the Internet, about Los Angeles in 1994 and about Hollywood in the 1940s. It was challenging in that it was a great deal of work, and it was exciting because it was so entertaining. With Gravesend I was writing about the neighborhood where I was born and raised and, as much as I thought I knew it, I learned a great deal more about the place in my research — and that was thrilling. As T.S. Eliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

OMN: How true are you to the settings of the books?

JLA: I use real settings — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Brooklyn. I try to make the setting important to the story being told. I am very careful about getting the geography correct. There is nothing that will throw a reader off quicker than reading about a place they are familiar with and presenting the intersection of two streets that do not cross in the real world. Readers are only willing to take suspension of disbelief so far. In the Jake Diamond novels, Jake is always reading a classic — and the book he is reading somehow relates to his narrative. In Catching Water in a Net, Diamond is reading A Tale of Two Cities and, in Jake's world, San Francisco and Los Angeles stand-in for Paris and London.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest cricitism — you've received as an author?

JLA: I considered being likened to Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain high praise. I consider the suggestion that my work is derivative of these writers harsh criticism. For me, these and other great practitioners of crime fiction are an inspiration, not a source for ideas. I do not try to copy style, but I am certainly influenced by particular ways of creating dialogue with wit and intelligence. What I have learned from all of this is to try not to be defensive, although I did a good job of it above. The best advice I ever received from other writers, and the advice I would give aspiring authors, is keep writing. We write to satisfy some need in ourselves to examine or release inner thoughts and ideas. If our writing strikes a chord with others, it is a bonus but not an intention. When Van Morrison was asked what he would do if he never sold a song he answered without hesitation that he would not stop writing because, he confessed, "I can't not write."

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

JLA: I am a crime novelist and, as contradictory as it may sound, I am also a cynic, a realist and an optimist. I see criminal activity more as reaction than action. I do not condone it, but try to understand it. I don't believe in born criminals.

Or do I believe in saints. There is usually a reason why one chooses evil and another chooses good — and either may be choosing for the wrong reason. It is motivation and consequence which most interest me as a reader and a writer.

OMN: How do you come up with the titles for your books?

JLA: The first two books had no titles going in. I might have referred to the first as Jake Diamond, Private Eye for awhile, and the second as Jake Diamond Returns. Somewhere into that first book when Jake is attempting to explain his frustration in getting nowhere in the investigation of Jimmy Pigeon's death, the difficulty and elusiveness of the enterprise, he says it's like trying to catch water in a net. And there it was. In the second book, again faced with questions that elude definitive answers and beg instinctive guesswork, Jake finds himself clutching at straws. After that, a theme emerged. I chose titles going in that described the intricacy if not near impossibility of finding easy solutions to complicated problems, the feeling that Jake might never snatch answers that keep slipping through his fingers or keep him in a holding pattern trying to touch ground. I also noticed that the first two books had titles that began with words that started with the letter C, and were also gerunds. So, Catching Water in a Net and Clutching at Straws led to Counting to Infinity and the new novel Circling the Runway. Then I saw to it that the title of the book, at some point, was reiterated by a character in the novel.

OMN: Have any specific authors or books influenced how and what you write today?

JLA: Like Jake Diamond, I have always been a big fan of, and have naturally been influenced by, classic literature. (Jake is himself reading A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in Diamond novels). Fiction from my generation that I greatly admire and have been inspired by include Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, Norman Mailer's An American Dream, Richard Price's Clockers and James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss — just to name a few.

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J.L. Abramo was born in Brooklyn on Raymond Chandler's fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo earned a BA in Sociology at the City College of New York and a Masters in Social Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. His first Jake Diamond mystery, Catching Water in a Net, was the winner of the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel. J.L. lives in Denver, Colorado.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Circling the Runway by J.L. Abramo

Circling the Runway by J.L. Abramo

A Jake Diamond Mystery

Publisher: Down & Out Books Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)

Private Investigator Jacob Diamond and San Francisco Detective Sergeant Roxton Johnson are famous for not getting along. Cats and dogs. Oil and water. Liston and Ali. Jake and Rocky.

When an assistant district attorney is murdered in his high-rise apartment building, and Johnson suspects his lieutenant may have something to do with it, he can think of no one else to turn to for help — no one he can trust—except Jake Diamond.

If the mismatched duo can avoid stepping on each other’s toes long enough — they may be able to stop circling the runway and land on the villain's doorstep.

Circling the Runway by J.L. Abramo

1 comment:

  1. It is a pleasure to do an interview when the questions are provocative and informed—thanks to Lance Wright.



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