Interrogation—Brian Thornton

Who: Brian Thornton

What: Author of nine books, including THE BOOK OF BASTARDS and THE BOOK OF ANCIENT BASTARDS, in addition to serving as collection editor for the crime fiction anthology WEST COAST CRIME WAVE. His short fiction has appeared in such venues as ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and the Akashic Books anthology SEATTLE NOIR. A native Washingtonian, he is currently serving his second tour as Northwest Chapter president for the Mystery Writers of America.

Where: Seattle

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

You and I met at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago when we were both guests on the Noir on the Radio podcast. Tell me about the short story you read that night.

“Half Smart, No Nerve” is both the shortest thing I’ve ever written for me, and my first paying fiction. I wrote it over a decade ago, in response to a notice on the venerable Rara Avis Hard-Boiled & Noir Fiction email discussion list that a new British publication called BULLET UK was seeking contributions of stories 1,000 words or shorter in length. At the time I was trying my hand at short stories, having already gotten my first “mistake” novel out of the way.

It had never occurred to me to even try to write something that short, so I gave it a whirl, spent three hours on it, emailed it to BULLET UK, and was delighted when they accepted it. I got 25 pounds for my trouble (still have the check.). Easy peasy.

WCCWWhat’s the most recent short story you published?

My most recently published one, a historical prison break story set in and around 1581 Istanbul, was published a couple of years back by THE BIG CLICK. In the interim I wrote a lot of nonfiction because I couldn’t turn down the money. Along the way I managed to shoe-horn a couple of shorts placed with ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and one sold to Akashic Noir for their SEATTLE NOIR anthology.

When did you start reading crime/mystery fiction? What drew you to the genre?

I suppose you could say I got started with The Hardy Boys when I was still a boy myself. From there I graduated to Hammett and Chandler, branched out even further from there. My parents read widely, and when it came to fiction, my mom read nearly every genre of mystery there was out there, whereas my dad pretty much stuck to thrillers.

Tell me about the anthology you edited, WEST COAST CRIME WAVE. What did you learn as a writer by serving as the editor? Any plans to do it again?

It wasn’t my first rodeo collecting and editing an anthology. Back in 2007 my nonfiction publisher approached me about collecting and editing a group of short memoir pieces for a collection called TEACHER MIRACLES (teaching is my day gig). It was a LOT of work. Highly rewarding work, but WORK. Especially getting people to tweak their pieces to the standards we’d set. I asked one guy to rewrite his pieces *thirteen* times and he came back and did it every single time, until we got it right.

BastardsEditing WCCW was a terrific experience from start to finish. I had the most supportive publisher I’ve ever worked with  (Mike Wolf’s BSTSLLR), some really interesting submissions in response to my cold call, and a group of writers in mind whom I invited to submit, and boy did they come through. Steve Brewer writes funny, and he didn’t disappoint. Bill Cameron wrote an elegy for a woman who may or may not be a sea nymph. David Corbett wrote a second person, present tense, stream-of-consciousness story because he’s that good. We also managed to publish a number of emerging voices. I am particularly proud to have been involved in publishing the first paying fiction work by writers such as Scotti Andrews and Jim Thomsen, and several others. Also cool as hell was a blind submission I got from Nick Mamatas, a horror writer I’d never heard of who was trying his hand at crime fiction. Second person, present tense. Freaking epic.

As for what I learned about myself as a writer? I guess I learned that I’m not nearly as untalented as I tended to think I was during my low moments, nor anywhere near skilled enough to pull off believable second person present-tense stream-of-consciousness stuff like Corbett and Mamatas!

I have little doubt though that I emerged from the experience with better chops than I had going in. And I’d welcome the opportunity to collect and edit another anthology if the circumstances warranted. So feel free to pass my contact information around to your amigos at All Due Respect.;-)


Do you have plans to write a novella- or novel-length crime fiction?

I’m glad you asked that. As a matter of fact I have a couple of novellas launching in the next couple of months. They’re both expanded editions of short stories I sold previously. PAPER SON is set in Seattle’s Chinatown in 1889, around the time of the Great Seattle Fire. SUICIDE BLONDE is set in 1962 Las Vegas, and features a mob consigliere as its protagonist.

As for novels, I’ve got two in the works. One a longer-term project that I’m looking to wrap this summer, and another I’ve begun researching, and on which I’ll be breaking ground this summer. Looks to be a busy year.

Paper Son - EBook 1570 x 2500 2016Who is publishing your novellas?

Me. Commissioned smoking new cover art and I’m putting them up on Amazon, maybe Smashwords, and elsewhere, too.

You have also published several non-fiction books including THE BOOK OF BASTARDS and THE BOOK OF ANCIENT BASTARDS. What was the inspiration for those books? Is there a third book planned?

There were plans for a third BASTARDS book, but the publisher passed on it. I very much wanted to write one called THE BOOK OF BUSINESS BASTARDS, dealing with the robber barons of the current age. My co-writer on that project and I may well revisit it once we’ve both got less on our plates. Could self-pub it if nothing else.

How does your approach to writing non-fiction and fiction differ?

Maybe it’s just the refugee from academia in me talking, but for me anyway, there’s a lot less challenge to writing nonfiction. Infinitely less. There’s also more money to be made faster writing it. That said, fiction is where my heart is. It’s what I’d write if I didn’t need the money.

Ancient BastardsYou are also the Northwest Chapter president for the Mystery Writers of America. What do organizations like this one offer writers?

Networking opportunities. Mentorship. It has been my experience that writers as a group tend to be incredibly generous with their advice and their time. MWA gives you a starting point for meeting other people who suffer from our particular affliction.

What advice would you give writers breaking into crime/mystery fiction?

Aside from what I included in this blog post, just a few things:
  1. Embrace imperfection. Write it, and move on. I know WAY too many emerging authors who never take flight because they spend decades tweaking and re-tweaking the same novel. Write it and let it go. Follow Nabokov’s famous dictum: “We do not finish books, so much as abandon them.” Don’t be afraid to move on and let others (editors, critique group, agents, etc.) help your book the rest of the way along on its journey.
  2. Don’t sign anything contract-wise until you’ve got an agent to look at it. If you’ve got a publisher offering you a contract, trust me, you’ll be able to find an agent to vet it. I know a particular crime writer who signed away the rights to a potential series character when publishing his first (critically acclaimed) novel.
  3. Network, network, network!

Find Brian Thornton: WebsiteFacebook, SleuthSayers (alternating Thursdays)

Previous Interrogations:

CROSSWISES.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available now from Down & Out Books.



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