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Interview with Richard Montanari - 2007

Image: author Richard MontanariRichard Montanari is a novelist, screenwriter, and essayist. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and scores of other national and regional publications. He is the OLMA-winning author of the internationally acclaimed thrillers THE SKIN GODS, THE ROSARY GIRLS, KISS OF EVIL, DEVIANT WAY, and THE VIOLET HOUR. His latest novel, BROKEN ANGELS, sees a continuation of the acclaimed Byrne and Balzano series set in Philadelphia. Here, he very kindly speaks with Chris High.

Fairy Tales are the theme in Broken Angels. Were they something you read as a child and did they scare you then?

I did read them as a child, and did find some of them rather frightening. But that’s the kick, right? There’s something terribly spooky about walking into the dark woods. I knew one day I would write about it.

Josh Bontrager is Amish. What made you decide on this and how much research into the religion did you have to undertake to get his “character” right?

A great deal of the Amish population in the States is centered in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. Having grown up in Ohio, I had some knowledge of Amish customs, but still needed some research to get it right. I made a trip to Berks and Lancaster Counties in Pennsylvania (the film Witness was shot partially in Lancaster) to stand on the land, observe, and get the flavour.

The novel also “touches on” the issue of vigilantism and the dispensing of arbitrary justice. Did you think of this as a risk?

Not especially. I think that, outside of pure madness, which does not need rationale, there are only a handful reasons for murder – greed, passion, revenge. Read any modern crime novel – cosy, thriller, detective, romantic suspense -- and the killer’s motive will usually fall into one of these broadly defined categories.

The novel is Broken Angels in the UK and Merciless in the US later in the year. Why the title change?

These were decisions made by the publishers. I’m only the writer.

Both Jess and Kevin – in fact all of the characters – are beautifully drawn. Are they based on real people?

Thanks for the kind words. Both Kevin and Jessica are composites of people I’ve met on the Philadelphia police force, although finding the male 20-year veteran was a lot easier than finding the younger female detective. In homicide police, it is still pretty much a man’s world. The generous cooperation of the PPD is why these books exist. They welcomed me, allowed me inside, and I hope it shows on the page.

Broken Angels – as are both Rosary Girls and The Skin Gods – are very dark novels, lightened by snappy and, at times, quite snappy dialogue. Do you find that tension is something difficult to maintain? Are you ever tempted to write in another genre?

In suspense fiction, as in suspense filmmaking, the tension is created in the editing process. After the first draft, it is a lot easier to see where the story might be flagging, or might be too dark for too long. I don’t think any writer could, or would want to, write 400 pages of action or suspense. As a reader, I like to catch my breath. I think most crime buffs are the same in that regard. My desire to write other genres (notably, the supernatural and romance), manifests in my screenwriting.

Are there plans to re-publish your first novels, Deviant Way, Violet Hour and Kiss Of Evil? How long did it take for you to become established as an author?

We are talking to a few publishers right now. As to “established,” I like to think of myself as still being on the way. Keeps me hungry.

How important is the promotion aspect of being a writer. Do you enjoy this part of the job? What do you think is the most important “tool” in the author’s armoury for becoming noticed?

I think promotion is somewhat important, but not the key to success. Every writer wants that big, flashy promo tour, but consider this: if an author does a 30-city tour, sells 100 hard-covers per store (a great night), it would, of course, total 3000 books. This is not enough to get you on any major US list. Consider the exhaustion of travelling to 30 cities! I think the most important tool is reviews. The more reviewed you are, the more you are discussed. On the other hand, if my publisher wants to take out a full-page, four-color ad in the New York Times for me, I won’t stop them.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles facing authors today? Give three tips to aspiring writers.

The biggest obstacle is finding an agent. Major houses won’t look at unagented material, as a rule. Tips? One, the old saw: Write every day. No substitute for this. Two, the older saw: Don’t give up. Three, read everything in your genre. The good stuff and the bad stuff. If it sold before, it will sell again. Genres aren’t trends. Never tell an agent or publisher you have something they’ve never seen before. They’ve seen it …trust me. And they just might buy it anyway.

You are also a respected Screenwriter. How do the two disciplines differ for you as a writer?

It is a matter of language and pace. Plus, screenwriting is far more of a craft than fiction writing, which is, arguably art. There are conventions in screenwriting to which one must absolutely adhere, or the first page will never be turned. In screenwriting, you are creating a blueprint for another dozen people to build on. A book is its own end product.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Watch film, cook, sleep as much as possible, and worry about the next book.

Does the novelty of seeing your novels on shelves and Best Seller lists diminish?

I’m rather new to the lists, but I know already it is something I would like to get used to. As to seeing a book on the shelves: When my first novel was published in 1995, I went to the Barnes & Noble flagship store in Manhattan, in the afternoon, and covertly turned Deviant Way to face the street. A few hours (and a few pints) later, well after closing time, I went back, stared through the window, and there it was. Top of the world, Ma. The feeling has not diminished in the least.

What do you think are the main differences between UK and US readers? Which authors from both sides of the pond do you currently admire and why?

Publishing is so global now, I’m not sure there are that many differences. I get mail from readers around the globe, and it is most gratifying to know that both the story and the language translates. I admire so many writers that I quite honestly don’t think about where they are from. I will say that British crime TV is far better than the US fare. I devour DVDs of Prime Suspect, Cracker, Wire in the Blood, Touching Evil, Messiah, and the like.

What’s next for Richard Montanari? When do you plan to hit the shores and stores of the UK in person?

I am working on the fourth book in my Philadelphia series, as well as a pair of screenplays. As to a jaunt across the pond, we are hoping for early 2008.

Parts of this interview have, or will, appear in other publications and in other formats.

Richard Montanari - Official Website

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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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