Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Conversation with Crime Novelist J. L. Abramo

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with J. L. Abramo

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

J. L.'s new "novel in stories", Brooklyn Justice (Down & Out Books; February 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats), is an interconnected novella and five short stories spanning a period of ten months in the dangerous life of private investigator Nick Ventura.

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with J. L. to talk more about his work.

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Omnimystery News: How would you generally categorize your books?

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

J. L. Abramo: Crime fiction, film and television are extremely popular among readers and viewers worldwide. Fiction writers are often categorized, known for their particular genre; be it crime, mystery, romance, horror, science fiction and so on. Genre is defined by Merriam-Webster as a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.

However, giving a work of fiction a genre designation is often vague. The label crime fiction, for example, could be used to describe some of the great classics of literature — Crime and Punishment, Les Misérables, Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Letter — to name a few.

Joyce Carol Oates said: "In genre fiction there is an implied contract between writer and reader that justice of a kind will be exacted. Good may not always triumph over evil, but the distinction between the two must be honored." I agree with the sentiment, but it is so broad it could easily include The Count of Monte Cristo, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bible as genre fiction.

Categorizing is a double-edged sword. Calling something crime fiction can pigeonhole the work and serve to discourage readers with no taste for the genre or to, on the other hand, attract diehard fans.

The Jake Diamond novels are basically Private Eye mystery, Gravesend a thriller and police procedural, Chasing Charlie Chan is somewhat a period piece, and Brooklyn Justice is noir. But hopefully readers will find the themes, human interactions, and the choices made by my characters in dealing with adversity transcend genre classification.

OMN: How important is the setting to your stories?

JLA: I have always been partial to literary works with a strong sense of place — from the London of Charles Dickens, to the Paris of Victor Hugo, to the Boston of Dennis Lehane and the Washington D.C. of George Pelecanos. I find well-drawn settings to be important characters in fiction.

Location is therefore a significant element in my work — from the San Francisco and Los Angeles of Jake Diamond and Jimmy Pigeon to the Brooklyn of Nick Ventura and the detectives of Gravesend's Sixty-first Precinct.

I believe when you are writing real locations, beyond trying to give the reader an intimate feel for the place, it is critical to get the geographic details accurate. There is nothing that can throw readers off more quickly than finding in your book a street intersection in a city they know well which does not, in fact, exist.

With places where I have lived, and particularly when writing locations I am less familiar with, I do my homework. Research is essential, and educational. In fact, a great catalyst for writing Gravesend was to re-explore the area where I was born and raised — and I learned a lot. 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 did you go about selecting the titles for your books?

JLA: The titles of the New York books came naturally. When I decided to write a book set in Brooklyn, after three novels set in California, I chose Gravesend — the name of the neighborhood where I grew up. Brooklyn Justice describes exactly what it is — six stories dealing with the need, at times, to take the law into our own hands when the existing legal system fails to do the trick. These titles were set going in.

The titles of the Jake Diamond mysteries came organically. If there had been a working title for Catching Water in a Net, it would probably have been Jake Diamond, Private Eye. Jake's inability to make progress in his investigation — the one step forward, two steps back dilemma — inspired me to try capturing that illusiveness in the title. I wanted to maintain the theme in the second book in the series, which became Clutching at Straws. I noticed that, quite accidentally, both titles began with a gerund starting with the letter C. In choosing titles for the subsequent additions to the series, I gave myself two criteria — allude to the challenge of the task at hand, and use the C word. Counting to Infinity and Circling the Runway were the results of the adopted convention.

OMN: How involved were you in the design of your covers?

JLA: I have been very fortunate to work with fine artists and designers who welcomed my input.

With Catching Water in a Net, Gravesend and Brooklyn Justice, J.T. Lindroos deftly incorporated photographs of Brooklyn and San Francisco that I had personally taken during my visits to the scenes of the action — including Molinari's Salumeria in San Francisco's North Beach, Totonno's Pizzeria and the Boardwalk in Coney Island, and Harold's Pharmacy in Gravesend.

J. L. Abramo, Gravesend

J. L. Abramo, Brooklyn Justice

With Chasing Charlie Chan, which includes action from Las Vegas and Hollywood of the 1940's, we wanted to capture the feel of the pulp novels of that period. I worked closely with Jason Smith throughout the development of the front and back covers — and his work was all hand painted. You will find an in depth look at the process, here.

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

JLA: It began as a short story that went too long but didn't want to be a full length novel. What resulted was a novella called Pocket Queens. When it was done the protagonist, Nick Ventura, would not let me go. He drove me to write five short stories involving him: Buick in a Beauty Shop, The Last Resort, Walking the Dog, Roses For Uncle Sal, and The Fist. Following Pocket Queens, they appear sequentially, covering a period of less than a year, and featuring many recurring supporting characters. Call it what you will. A collection of shorter fiction. A novel in stories. Or simply Brooklyn Justice.

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J. L. Abramo was born in the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler's fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel.

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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Brooklyn Justice by J. L. Abramo

Brooklyn Justice by J. L. Abramo

A Crime Novella and Five Short Stories

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

A wild ride through the streets of the Borough of Churches in six parts.

Private investigator Nick Ventura knows trouble — but not how to keep his nose out of it. A pool of blood spreading across a casino poker table, a Buick plowing through a storefront with a dead detective aboard, a fatal rendezvous in the shadow of a Coney Island landmark, a childhood friend gunned down walking his dog in the wrong place at the wrong time, a film distributor who thinks he can get away with murder through intimidation and violence, a mob boss assassinated leaving a neighborhood restaurant, and the particular brand of retribution necessary to level the playing field in the fourth largest city in America.

Brooklyn Justice by J. L. Abramo. Click here to take a Look Inside the book.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for having me visit. As usual, your insightful questions inspire answers that make it seem as if I know what I am talking about.


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