Interview with Bill Crider
Jon: Would it be safe to say that you are a big fan of the mystery genre?
Bill: I'm a big fan, all right. I was the Fan Guest of Honor at the 2002 Bouchercon in Austin and at ClueFest in 2003. Long before I was selling stories and novels, I was writing articles and reviews for fanzines like The Armchair Detective, The Poisoned Pen, The Not-So Private-Eye, The Mystery FANcier, and many others. I contributed letters to all 20 issues of Cap'n Bob Napiers Mystery and Detective Monthly. And when Billy Lee was publishing Paperback Quarterly, I wrote many of the articles and even helped him put the magazine together.
Jon: In addition to mysteries you also write westerns and some horror. Which is your favorite genre to write?
Bill: Mystery is my favorite, but I've enjoyed writing just about everything I've done. I'd love to see the western and horror markets make a big comeback so I could do a few more novels in those genres.
Jon: you did some writing with Willard Scott. How did that come about?
Bill: The Willard Scott deal was arranged by a third party. Doing those books was a lot of fun, and I'm sorry the series didn't continue past the second book. I think Willard enjoyed them, too.
Jon: In addition to writing you also teach on the university level. In fact, wasn't your dissertation on the PI genre?
Bill: I retired from teaching in August 2003, so I'm now dependent on the kindness of book-buyers. In addition to my years as a graduate T.A., I taught for two years at Corsicana High School, twelve years at Howard Payne University, and 19 years at Alvin Community College.
Yes, my dissertation was THE PRIVATE-EYE HERO, and it was a study of the Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. While I was working on it, Robert B. Parker was writing his dissertation on a similar topic, though I didn't know it at the time. I've never read his, and I'm sure he's never read mine.
Jon: Do you collect books?
Bill: Either that, or I just accumulate them. I've had to rent a large air-conditioned storage room for the overflow. My real interest is in paperback original mystery novels, and I got started back when hardly anyone else cared about that sort of thing. So I got things cheap. I bought most of my Jim Thompson novels for half the cover price or less, and a guy just gave me a copy of John D. MacDonald's WEEP FOR ME. I was limited mostly to the things I could find in used-book stores and flea markets, so sometimes the condition wasn't great, but I didn't care about that. These days, eBay has made all kinds of things available, but sometimes the prices amaze me. I have pictures of a few of my favorites on my webpage at www.billcrider.com. You can also see some of my baseball cards there.
Jon: What are some of your favorite paperbacks in your collection?
Bill: Well, I like all my Harry Whittington firsts, my Jim Thompson firsts, my NM copy of Black Wings has My Angel, my John D. MacDonald firsts, my Charles Williams firsts . . . this could go on for a long time, but I have to mention my Ace Doubles, my Ace Singles . . . .
Jon: What would you say are key elements that a mystery should have for it to work?
Bill: The answer to that, for me, would be plot, characters, and style, not necessarily in that order. I don't need a great plot if I like the characters or the writing, and I don't need great writing or characters if there's a great plot. But even with a great plot, the writing has to be at least serviceable, and the characters have to be a little more than cardboard.
Jon: Which would you say is closer to your way of thinking, do the research and get it right, or it's fiction and it only needs to feel right?
Bill: I'm more of a "if it feels right, go with it" kind of guy, though I've done a lot of research for certain books, like THE TEXAS CAPITOL MURDERS and WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER, the new one with Humphrey Bogart. I guess it depends on the book.
Jon: What kinds of things inspire your story telling?
Bill: I'm inspired to write by lots of things: newspaper articles, things people tell me, things I see on TV, things that occur to me when I'm out jogging. That doesn't mean I'll always write about something that strikes me as worth writing about, however.
Jon: What made you decide to make Bogart the co-star of your new series with Terry Scott?
Bill: I was asked by the publisher (iBooks) to write the book. I believe iBooks has a deal with the Bogart estate to use the character and the image. At any rate, I felt really lucky to be asked to do the book, as I've been a fan of Bogart's movies for a long, long time. It was a treat to put him into a story and try to remain faithful to the image I have of him and at the same time make him a real person.
Jon: I've heard the expression "write what you know." Is that the genesis of the Professor Sally Good books?
Bill: I've written a couple of "academic" series. Sally Good is the current one, but Carl Burns came first. (There's a new Carl Burns book, Dead Soldiers, coming out next year from Five Star, and St. Martin's will be publishing the third Sally Good book, A Bond with Death, next year as well.) Both Carl and Sally are English department chairs, and both of them remind me a little of me. Some of the experiences they have, and some of the student papers they grade, are awfully close to reality. The murders, of course, are all made up.
Jon: Being a fan of the genre, is your taste in reading material similar to what you write?
Bill: Most of the books I write aren't hardboiled, but probably most of the books I read are. I love the old Gold Medal paperbacks, and I'm a big fan of the private-eye novels of Hammett, Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. But my writing doesn't seem to turn out like theirs. When I was a kid, I read SF by the metric ton, and I still read quite a bit in that field. But I write it only very rarely.
Jon: Do you write every day?
Bill: For years I wrote every day, including all the major holidays and my birthday. I've slowed down some, but when I'm on a deadline, I still write just about every single day.
Jon: In terms of marketing and reaching readers, would you say that the internet has had an impact on publishing?
Bill: I thought the Internet would have a bigger impact than it has. There are pretty good reasons why. For one thing, it's hard to find a paying market on the 'Net. And then there's the problem of getting people to read what's out there. I think most readers still prefer the conventional book, especially for novels. Short stories are easier to read on the computer, and there are lots of sites out that publishing them.
Jon: What are some of the movies you could watch over and over?
Bill: Two of my favorites are Casablanca and The Big Sleep. Rio Bravo is another one. I watch A Christmas Story at least once every Christmas.
Jon: What are you working on now?
Bill: I'm working on a Sherlock Holmes story for an anthology. When I finish that, I'm starting a Sheriff Dan Rhodes novel.
Jon: Was there ever a time when you considered a different career path?
Bill: When I was in the fifth grade, I was sure I was going to be a major league baseball player. The fact that I had 20/200 vision, lousy coordination, and poor bat speed, plus the fact that it takes me about five minutes to run the bases pretty much put an end to that idea. By the time I got to high school, I knew I wanted to teach and write, and that's pretty much what I've done. And felt very lucky to have had the chance.
Jon: Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Bill: I'm a morning person. I like to get up and get things done early. I always taught eight o'clock classes, and now that I've retired from teaching, I'm out on the road for my morning run before eight every day.
Jon: Do you read all your reviews? Are there any that really bothered you?
Bill: I read whatever reviews the publishers send, or at least glance at them. All the bad ones bother me because when I write a book, I always do my best to do a good job. Usually when I'm finished, I think I have done a good job, so it's disappointing to find out that somebody doesn't agree. But, hey, if I like the book, and if I did my best, there's not much else I can do.
Jon: What is the one thing always in your refrigerator?
Bill: Dr Pepper.
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