Our Interview With Author Jim Thomsen

Michael Wolf asked each of the authors to share a little bit about themselves, talk a little about the story they contributed to West Coast Crime Wave, and tell us their thoughts about e-books.  Today we talk to longtime newspaperman and author Jim Thomsen.

Tell us about yourself.

I spent twenty-four years in newspapering, as a reporter and an editor, with at least a few thousand bylined stories to my credit. But I’ve always had an interest in more narrative writing, both fiction and nonfiction, and where that came from was a story I probably should have waited years to read: “Helter Skelter,” by Vincent Bugliosi. I read my mom’s copy soon after it came out in 1976, when I was all of eleven years old, and the tale of the Manson family “creepy-crawling” through a murder spree gave me the creepy-crawlies as well. But it wasn’t the superficially morbid details that grabbed me so much as the desire to understand what makes a person turn to killing as a way to find his or her place in the world. What choices does a person make, or not make, to put them at one end or the other of a knife blade or a handgun? And there’s something about the cat-and-mouse game that takes place after a murder between a suspect and the police that fascinates me — the sprint to gather enough evidence before the suspect can wiggle away for good. Ever since, I’ve been drawn to well-told tales of crime, true or otherwise, that place character and motivation a little — but not a lot — ahead of plot. Now that my newspapering days are behind me, at the ancient age of forty-six, I’m going all in as a narrative writer. “The Ride Home” is my first-ever published crime story, and there is plenty more in the hopper.

Tell us what makes your city/location a unique and interesting setting for crime fiction.

It’s simple. Kitsap County has been largely ignored in crime fiction. Most authors of Seattle crime books look at this just-west-of-Seattle locale as strictly flyover country. That’s changed a bit, with South Kitsap author Gregg Olsen paying particularly close attention to the area in recent years, in his suspense fiction, his young adult novels, and the true crime books for which he’s best known. But there’s room for more, and I think Olsen, who’s been a good friend — almost a patron of mine — would be the first to agree. It’s a fascinating melange of cultures. There’s the land-poor folks whose families go back generations in the area, the largely transitory Navy folks who ensure most of the county stays middle-class through the submarine base, carrier base and shipyard, and the wealthier newer residents who make up most of the population of Bainbridge Island (home to a great many literary authors). I grew up on Bainbridge, but was strictly middle-class, and spent years living all over the county afterward. Beyond that, there’s abundant and yet somewhat desolate natural beauty, with lots of coves, inlets, stretches of woods, and ferries plying the waters. I’ve lived there on and off all my life, and the area’s pockets of pure inscrutable semi-rural weirdness still fascinate me to no end.

Tell us a little bit about the story’s main character.

I actually wrote the first draft of this story in 1998, long before “Breaking Bad” came on TV. But now that I’ve been following that program, I realized that the 16-year-old goth girl in my story reminds me strongly of Walter White. One, she’s almost as dumb as she is smart, and she’s very smart; and two, she learns that she has the capacity to be a serious criminal, and she’s freaked out that she’s not as freaked out by that as much as she thinks she should be. And three, her once-settled life has unraveled around her in a number of ways. Like Walter White, she can either deal with that, or she can not deal. She finds it within her to deal. Like any adult male writer would feel, I had a lot of doubts about my ability to write authentically in a teen girl’s voice, and I’m still not sure I pulled that off as well as I could have. But the few women I’ve let read the story gave me high marks, so getting that validation gave me the motivation I needed to redraft the story and bring her into sharper focus.

This anthology is an e-book from a new publisher. In general, how do you as an author see the opportunities in publishing changing with the growth of e-books?

The opportunities as as incredible as they are prolific! I want to be there in the front rank, marching squarely and pragmatically toward the future. I firmly believe that a writer should a) being able to publish whatever he or she wants as often as he or she wants; and b) have the fair potential to be fairly compensated for their work. That’s never going to happen in traditional publishing, so I have no plans to bother trying to shove my round pegs into their square spinchters. Of course, I believe that anything independently published — electronically or othewise — needs to go through the same quality-control torture testing that traditionally published fare gets. So I’m glad to see that the loudest voices in indie crime publishing — people like J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Scott Nicholson and our own Simon Wood — calling for stringent standards in writing, editing, layout, design and marketing. And, if for no other reason, I’m glad to see us control freaks get our chance to step out. I would have a hard time living with a title or a cover design I didn’t like.

Tell us what’s in store for you over the next 6 to 12 months.

Oh, lots of stuff. I’m polishing some more short stories for the writing-contest season, including one titled “A Splatter Of Trust.” My long-in-progress Kitsap crime novel, “The Last Ferry Of The Night,” continues its glacial plod to the finish line. And I’m planning to give true crime, sort of, a try, in the form of some long-form narrative-journalism stories of crime, punishment and redemption as gleaned from the files of Washington state’s Clemency and Pardons Board. The plan is to put out one of those a month on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and elsewhere for 99 cents apiece. I hope to have the first of those ready to roll by year’s end. And, in between all that, I have a fairly steady stream of authors clients for whom I provide copy-editing and proofreading.

If you want to read Jim entertaining short story The Ride Home, you can find it and 17 other great crime fiction shorts in West Coast Crime Wave. You can find West Coast Crime Wave at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble today.  

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