Interview of Neil Low,
author of THICK AS THIEVES
author of THICK AS THIEVES
Interviewed by R. Murry
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m a career police officer, having joined the Seattle Police Department as a cadet at age nineteen, forty-five years ago. I’ve risen through the ranks, making captain about eleven years ago. I still love police work, figure I’m contributing to society, and I currently serve as the Night Commander, which means I’m in charge of all police emergency services when all the other brass are in bed—like being a battalion chief at a fire department. I’ve been interested in writing since reading Joe Wambaugh’s New Centurions, when I returned from Naval Service in Vietnam. After reading Wambaugh’sa stories, I vowed that I would write someday, but first I had to go out and gather experience and then learn to write. I did just that. I went back to college in 1995 and graduated cum laude from the University of Washington Bothell in 2003.
Do you remember the first story you wrote?
While in Vietnam I lost my lucky hat, when it fell overboard, off the ship I was on. I dramatized the telling of this non-event to my mother, implying that it was a best friend who had died at sea. She was completely taken-in by the story and didn’t find out until the very end of the letter that it was just my blue cap I was missing. She told me I had a writing talent worth pursuing.
Were you inspired by someone or something?
When I first read Joe Wambaugh’s New Centurions and The Blue Knight, I was impressed that here was someone who understood police officers and could tell our story, something people wanted to hear, if told well. Joe was an active L.A. police sergeant at that time, with a Masters degree in English. I had read detective novels before this, but I think Wambaugh was the first to capture what real police officers dealt with when working the street. It was much grittier and true to life than Adam 12 or Dragnet had ever been. Later, when I went back to college, a professor encouraged me to write a paper on Raymond Chandler and his crime fiction novels, and that was the spark that changed my whole perspective on what and how I wanted to write. I had been a police detective for several years by then, and I was very impressed with Chandler’s style and his craftsmanship in telling stories. I decided to emulate him while telling my own stories. He continues to be my inspiration. I think I’ve read or own everything he’s ever written.
What do you like about writing a story?
When I first started writing, I enjoyed the storytelling process. I write organically, meaning I do not use an outline; I let my characters tell me their story. But as I say this, I know that I have a built-in boiler plate, knowing what is necessary for a criminal case to go to trial. For a novel to be complete enough for publication, it has to meet the same standards as a case for prosecution. All the leads must be followed, and the facts have to logically point to a satisfactory conclusion. I love sitting down at the computer with the hint of an idea and then typing out what I’ve learned by paying attention to my characters interacting with each other. BUT—this is only part of the fun. I have since learned that there is a lot of pleasure to be had in the rewriting and polishing of the novel, if you are into craftsmanship. I appreciate the creation of a well-turned phrase, and I love adding foreshadowing and alliterations, as well as metaphors and similes. I love the feedback I get when a fan/reader tells me how much they liked my story, and they quote a passage back to me. Makes me feel like Raymond Chandler. This is probably a good point to mention that I have an art background and am a very visual person. I try to write so my readers see what I see, appreciating the detail that makes a story feel real to them and me.
Can you tell us about your book?
THICK AS THIEVES is at its heart a revenge story. Young Alan Stewart has lost his private detective father, who dies in his arms, following a beating, and Alan vows revenge for the murder, even though he’s not yet sure who did it, why they did it, or how he will possibly achieve his goal. As fate would have it, Alan gets hired by his dad’s former employer when he turns twenty-one, and he starts uncovering details of his father’s shadowy life and then learns who killed him. Fate intervenes again, and Alan has a chance to exact revenge on the same men who killed his father--at the exact place where they dealt their death blows to him, while he also protects a friend and mentor, who has helped him become a detective. There is also a factually accurate tie to the Lindbergh kidnapping, which drives this plot forward, and there is a very angry corrupt police official who desperately wants what Alan has found. Blackjacks, beatings, machine guns, pistols, secret passages, ransom money, dark secrets, car chases, and lust.
How did you come up with the story?
While working on another story, involving a vault burglary, I started doing the back story on two of the main characters, which took me away from the outline I was working with. While fleshing in Alan Stewart, I added information a friend had told me about concerning the death of his dad in the 40s, dying of injuries suffered from a beating at a union meeting. When I asked him if the police caught whoever killed his father, he said, “I think it was the police who killed him.” Since we were both police sergeants at this time on the same department, I asked how that could be, and he told me, “It was a different era back then. We had corruption like we’ve never seen in our careers!” Before long, Alan’s back story stretched to eight chapters, and of course it begged the questions: Who killed Mackie Stewart and why? So I followed my instincts and went with the story, letting my characters explain what happened to them. I felt like I was merely the recording secretary of a story being told by ghosts.
What genre best fits for the book?
I write noir murder/mystery.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
THICK AS THIEVES led to a sequel, SIGN OF THE DRAGON, and I’ve followed that with UNREASONABLE PERSUASION, and UNHOLY ALLIANCE. My fifth in the Alan Stewart series is DEADLY ATTRACTION, and it’s due for release mid-November. All five have been published by Kristen Morris of Tigress Publishing (Seattle and L.A.) who has been a joy to work with. She’s been very active in the book designs, promotions, editing, and concept development.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Learn as much as you can about writing. Read Stephens King’s On Writing, Robert McKee’s Story, and everything else you can find on your craft. I started reading Writer’s Digest, and now read blogs on writing. And as Ray Bradbury has already said, I urge would-be writers to start writing and make it a habit. Bradbury suggests starting with short-stories, completing one a week, which is what he did, and it’s also how Stephen King honed his skills. I also took every college class I could find on writing or literature, because it is all about learning your craft. I’ll also reiterate what other authors have said: If you want to write, you need to read. Read everything you can and expand your taste in reading. Educate yourself.
Which authors inspire you?
I started with literature and read that before popular fiction, so let’s start with that: Mark Twain, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, and O. Henry. Moving to crime fiction, I started with The Hardy Boys as a kid, reading every one of their mysteries. And since then, it has been Joe Wambaugh, James Elroy, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, among others. Currently, I’m on a Michael Connelly jag, reading everything I can of his. He does a particularly great job of capturing courtroom drama. Having spent a lot of time in court as a detective, I’m impressed how an outsider can gain such keen insight into how the “system” works/doesn’t work, while explaining it in an entertaining manner.
Where can people go to read your work?
My novels are available in print, and all bookstores can order them through Partner’s West Distributing. Or, they can order them at discount through my website: http://neillow.com/ I’m also available on Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/Thieves-Detectives-Stewart-Deward-ebook/dp/B004XQWQVS/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1345782046&sr=8-3
Where can people find you on the internet?
Face book, under Neil Low, and
Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
For would-be writers, I would encourage them to make their stories as perfect as they can before trying to submit their work. There really is no such thing as a perfect first draft that comes as a gift from the gods. Everything authors write can and should be improved upon. A writer has an implicit duty to do this before submission. Make it as tight as possible, and if they’re still serious about submitting their work or publishing it electronically, hire a professional editor to go over it first. I would also urge authors to search out the right publishing arrangement that works for them, helping them create something they will be proud to see on a book shelf. Personally, I’d be concerned about a company that just wanted to slap a cover on the first draft they saw, having no marketing plan, and leaving the writer disappointed with a garage full of books s/he can’t sell. If your followers have technical questions on writing, detective work, or publishing, they can contact me through my website, or message me at Twitter, providing contact information. As long as I’m not overwhelmed, time permitting, I’d be glad to answer their questions.