Debbi Mack interviews crime fiction author Dave White on the Crime Cafe podcast.
The transcript is below, if you’d like to read it.
Debbi: Hi! This is the Crime Cafe. Your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I am your host, Debbi Mack. Before I bring on my guest, I’ll just remind you that The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set and The Crime Cafe Anthology are on sale at all major online retailers for $1.99 and $.99 respectively. So, just go to my website debbimack.com. That’s debbimack.com and click on Crime Cafe and you’ll find the links for the books, as well as how to subscribe to this podcast. And with that, I’d like to introduce now, it is with great pleasure that I introduce now my guest, Dave White; the highly acclaimed Dave White.
Debbi: Thanks for being here Dave. It’s great to have you on.
Dave: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. We’ve been talking about this for a while, so this is nice.
Debbi: This is awesome! I’m so glad you could be here because I’ve seen you so often at conferences and I’m such a shy person, I don’t know why I didn’t just walk up to you and say, “Hi Dave, I’m Debbi”.
Dave: I’m shy too. It takes a lot for me to introduce myself to people, so I get it. I understand. Hi Debbi!
Debbi: Hi Dave! And you’re from New Jersey. I am originally from New York, so that’s all the more reason why would should know each other.
Dave: Exactly, exactly.
Debbi: So, you’re the author of the sixth book so far series, correct? The Jackson Donne books.
Dave: Right, there are five Jackson Donne books and one standalone called Witness to Death.
Debbi: Oh, Okay! That’s a Jackson Donne also then?
Dave: No, Witness to Death is a stand….wait, now I gotta count my books. There are six books total and five Donne.
Debbi: Ok, five Donne done.
Dave: Yes, exactly!
Debbi: So, tell me a little bit more about the character Jackson Donne.
Dave: Jackson Donne is a, we can go through a long history here. He’s a former private investigator. In the first novel, When One Man Dies, he was a private investigator, mourning the death of his fiancé and asked to solve a hit-and-run where one of his close drinking buddies was killed. And from there, the series kind of grew because Donne clashed with his former cop partner, Bill Martin, several times throughout the series and Martin kind of became an arch enemy for a couple of the books. Since then, Martin took Donne’s private eye license, got it taken away, Donne kind of became a freelancer and tried to go back to college and he was very much like, you know they pull me back in. Every time he thinks he’s out of the private eye or the crime business he gets pulled back in. He’s been on the run to Vermont at one point. He was in prison. He’s had quite the five-book life.
Debbi: Oh my goodness! I was going to ask you about his journey as a character. It sounds like he’s had a rather rough one.
Debbi: I think of this right away. His fractious relationship with the police. What was it that caused that rift between himself and the police?
Dave: In the books, Donne was a narcotics agent with…there was a New Brunswick police narcotics committee I guess you would call it as part of the police force and they were corrupt. They were stealing drugs, they were doing drugs, they were skimming money off the top anytime they busted someone up and what Donne finally realized was he was going down this dark hole, he became a drug addict (that sort of thing), so he turned in the narcotics force; everybody except his partner, Bill Martin, who he kind of let off easy. He kind of destroyed the narcotics force, but Martin was able to keep his job. The rest of them went to prison and Donne left and become a private investigator. So that’s kind of what started it because now all the cops kind of hate him for turning in these guys and Martin really holds a grudge because even though he got off easy and Donne thought he was doing him a favor, Martin really resents Donne for what he did.
Debbi: Ok, yeah! What inspired you to write these stories?
Dave: I guess…the first Donne novel actually came out in like, not novel story, came out in 1999, with The Thrilling Detective website that’s run by Kevin Burton Smith. It’s a great website if you haven’t checked it out. But that first story, I was reading Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, and a ton of Robert Parker and I wanted to try my own hand at it. I was actually in college and I had taken a creative writing fiction class and tried writing the first Donne story and it kind of went from there.
Debbi: Wow! So the character is not based on anybody or any incident in particular?
Dave: No, I think Donne at the beginning of the series is very much the archetypical private investigator, you know. Mourning the death of his fiancé, drinking too much, that sort of thing and when I started to realize that as I wrote When One Man Dies, I tried to really take him away from that and kind of make him his own kind of person. So he’s not so much that archetypical, you know, that prototype private investigator. So, I’d think by now, he’s really not, but at the time it was just, I want to write a private eye story, this is what I know about private eye stories, this is what I like about private eye stories.
Debbi: Exactly! Yeah, question is, what can you use to set a private eye apart from all the others out there? And so I’m always very interested in hearing how people do that.
Dave: Yeah, I think that’s interesting because I had actually written George Pelecanos long time ago through e-mail when I was in college. I was telling him about writing this private eye story and I was never thinking about setting it apart from other private eyes, and he said in the e-mail, “The last thing the world needs is another private eye story.” What he was trying to say was like write from the heart, you know, write what you know and that sort of thing. I wasn’t thinking that way at the time, but that line in that e-mail kind of stuck with me as I really started to think a little more deeply about what I was doing with Donne and how I could change who he was and kind of separate him out from the pack.
Dave: And make it organic at the same time.
Debbi: Yes, exactly! Something that reflects your voice and your outlook on the world and concerns, I assume?
Dave: Yeah, I think there are a lot, you know not even past deals with kind of New Jersey’s struggle with public education in a way when Chris Christie took over and then I started playing with a lot of Donne’s past, you know the narcotics stuff was never really clearly defined so I kind of dug into that a little bit and some of my thoughts with violence and that sort of thing and how violence affects us.
Debbi: Yes! These are all very topical and important issues and it’s the kind of thing I think that can be very well explored in crime writing. How do you feel?
Dave: Yeah, I think that’s what people do best. The best crime fiction, and I’m not saying I’m the best crime fiction, but you know somebody like Laura Lippman looks at a school shooting and does a fantastic job with it or Pelecanos and the way he looks at the streets of Washington D.C. and it’s not a political thriller, it’s a hard boiled crime story and that deals with his concerns and that sort of thing. So, yes!
Debbi: That’s what I like about them. You know, being from the same area, I can really relate with those stories very well and I love the way that Pelecanos takes D.C. and portrays it as a city as opposed to the capital of the U.S.
Debbi: I like that about him.
Dave: Yeah, I agree.
Debbi: Where do you anticipate taking the series in the future? Any thoughts on that?
Dave: Not at the moment. I’m actually…the last book, Blind to Sin, kind of leaves Donne and his on-again, off-again private eye partner, Matt Herrick, who was introduced later in the series, kind of in a place where we can take a break from them. I’m looking to try my hand at some other standalone thriller type things. One that I actually wrote about for your blog; I’m revising it. I’m not even ready to tell you what it’s about just because of the revision that lies in front of me. But, I want to take a look at some things in history that I’ve always been interested in like the shark attacks of 1916 is something that I want to write about eventually. So I’m taking a little bit of a break from Donne for now. We’ll see where he and the rest of the kind of side characters in the series are when I’m ready to come back. But for right now, I needed a mental break because the series got very dark.
Debbi: Sometimes you need to do that.
Debbi: Do something different. Kind of cleanse you mental palate, sort of speak.
Dave: Yeah, I’m trying to write a fun book.
Debbi: That would be fun. I would love to write something comedic.
Debbi: Let’s see. I was going to ask you…thrillers…how do you go about writing a thriller as opposed to like a mystery series? How do you approach that?
Dave: I have had a lot of trouble with standalones. I think it’s because with the series, and with Donne, I know him so well that I can kind of anticipate his moves and kind of fill in the other characters around him. So, I can write those books without outlining and without, you know, not ten revisions but like three or four drafts where I’m happy with it. My standalones have become massive re-writes every time. Witness to Death, I think I took two years to re-write, and it’s mostly because I have to figure out who the main character is and that takes me awhile to learn this new character. A lot of times who I think he or she is in the first draft, is not who they are in the last draft. And that was certainly true with Witness to Death. And now, I’m kind of going through that with the book I’m working on now. It hasn’t strayed as far as Witness to Death did. Witness to Death was supposed to be a funny little spy novel and it turned into an action-packed thriller. The book I’m working on now, the vision is still there, the structure is still there. I just have to figure out the main character and get him to work the way we’re happy with, you know. Kind of figure out who he is. Not get him to work; I don’t want to say I’m shoving him into this plot, but you know, figure out the book from who he is.
Debbi: Exactly! Sometimes, you’ll get an idea for a character and you’ll want to create the story around them, but you’re not sure what that story is.
Debbi: As least it works that way for me sometimes.
Dave: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true.
Debbi: You have a great idea, but you don’t really know the character.
Dave: Yeah, I mean with both books I had an idea, kind of like an elevator pitch and kind of an idea of who the character was, but didn’t really figure who they were until the third or fourth draft, which is kind of where I’m sitting right now.
Debbi: How much research do you do before you write or while you’re writing?
Dave: It depends on the book. Some of the Donne books; the research has kind of happened organically in my life and have inspired the books. I remember once when I was, just before I started working, I worked at a concert and I worked with state troopers. And these state troopers had just been to a workshop learning something about criminals and they just couldn’t wait to share it with whoever was around. So, they told me and my friend about it and I’m like, that’s going in the book. You know, whereas, the book I’m working on now, I’ve done a whole lot of research and I’m still researching, four drafts in. Just to get an idea of the world I’m working in. The book I want to write about, the shark attacks, I read two non-fiction books, plenty of news articles and Wikipedia and everything, just to get myself in a place to start writing. So that’s kind of the amount of research I do. Plus, I try to read a little bit in the genre; in the thriller genre, in the PI genre. Something just to get my head right before I start to write.
Debbi: Yes, yeah, I know where you’re coming from there. I think I have a general idea, but for the benefit of the listeners, please give me an idea of the writers who have most inspired you to become a crime writer.
Dave: Oh wow! Robert Lee Parker is probably my number one influence. Laura Lippman has always been somebody I’ve followed for a long time and read everything she writes. Lou Archer, the Lou Archer series. Russ Macdonald was somebody I read a lot of and I kind of made some conscience changes to not re-do Lou Archer. I wanted to make my character more a character in the book, but those ideas of family secrets in the past coming back, I think kind of shines through in my books as well. So, those three I think are people who really stick out to me.
Debbi: Those are great choices, too, because the whole notion of family secrets is so wonderful. It’s such a wonderful theme and topic to plumb in the crime fiction area.
Dave: Yeah, I think you can really mine a lot from character and secrets, you know.
Debbi: Absolutely, I agree. So, tell us about the comic book that you’re working on.
Dave: There’s not too much I can say. We’re writing…I’ve been hired to write a book for Dark Circle, the Archie Imprint, called The Web. It’s about a girl who ends up with superpowers, basically. A New Jersey high school sophomore who ends up with superpowers and saves the world.
Debbi: Well, of course!
Dave: Of course, why not! And that’s kind of where we are right now. I’m just kind of waiting to hear back from Dark Circle and you know, we’re ready to go, we’re just waiting for the go ahead. So, there’s not much I can say about it other than what’s already out there on the Internet.
Debbi: Well, it sounds like a cool concept. Is this geared toward a younger audience?
Dave: I think Alex Segura and I kind of view it as like a dark, young adult novel in a way. You know, something a high school kid could pick up or an adult could pick up and read and get enjoyment out of it kind of thing. If you read the other Dark Circle stuff, they all kind of do their own thing. Duane Swierczynski’s Black Hood was like a dark crime novel. The Shield by Chuck Wendig and Adam Christopher was like a political thriller. The Hangman was a horror story. So, I think they’re trying to mine different genres and still fit the mold of that realistic superhero too.
Debbi: Interesting! Yeah because the young adult crime fiction market is an interesting place to get into, I think.
Dave: Yeah, I mean John Grisham wrote one. Harlan Coben has a series out there. There’s a lot of crime fiction authors who, or crime fiction that’s out there for middle school and high school level kids that’s fun to read. As a teacher, I love putting books in the hands of students; those kinds of books in the hands of students because I think it’s not what they expect a lot of times.
Debbi: Umm-hmm. That’s cool!
Debbi: You’ll have to give me some recommendations after this podcast.
Dave: Definitely, definitely.
Debbi: You can give me some recommendations now if you’d like.
Dave: Well, I can think of the Harlan Coben series. It’s Myron Bolitar’s step-son or long lost son. I don’t remember exactly. His series is very well done; the Harlan Coben one. And John Grisham’s Theodore Boone are the two that stick out. It’s like kid lawyer. Those are the two that stick out that we gave to a lot of students that they really liked.
Debbi: I read that one actually. The first one, I guess. I don’t know if he has any more.
Dave: I think there are three of them.
Debbi: Three of them. Okay, yeah. I’ve read one of them.
Debbi: Yeah, I liked it a lot. It was fun and it was good.
Debbi: I love the legal angle of course.
Debbi: Being a former practitioner.
Dave: Right, right, right.
Debbi: So, if you could pick anybody to play Jonathan, I’m sorry I mean Jackson Donne in a TV series or movie, who would you imagine playing the part?
Dave: Oh wow! Ten years ago when the first book came out, we’re coming up on the ten-year anniversary. We’re like sixteen days away.
Debbi: Well, congratulations!
Dave: Or eighteen days away. Thank you! I always pictured like a young Ben Affleck who grows into grizzled Ben Affleck, kind of as he has done. Not sure of modern … who would be a good fit. I’m trying to think. Somebody…I’m forgetting his name. I can see his face and I’m forgetting his name. He was in LaLaLand. Gosling, Ryan Gosling. I think would have been a good fit a few years ago. He’s got that kind of that kind of way to carry himself, but there’s probably…I always like when movie casting goes with and against type at the same time. So like Casey Affleck as Patrick Kenzie I thought was, on the surface really not a good choice. But once the performance came in, he turned out to be perfect for Patrick in Gone Baby Gone. And I think about like Chris Evans was such a silly, you know the Human Torch, the guy from Not Another Teen Movie and yet he plays this Captain America now as such a stand-up guy. So, there’s probably someone out there that I don’t expect or picture as Donne that would probably do a really good job with the role.
Debbi: Well, that’s interesting. What about Matthew McConaughey?
Dave: Matthew McConaughey a little old, I think. He’s a little too grizzled, I think. He’s a little old. Donne is…now Donne is in his thirties. He started out as like a 27, 28-year-old.
Debbi: Oh, Okay.
Dave: He’s just a real beat up 35-year-old.
Debbi: Oh my. I think I’m going to bring things to a close. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
Dave: I’ll push the giveaway again that I wrote about for your blog. Feel free to e-mail me Dave@davewhitebooks and just enter “Blind to Sin giveaway” in the subject line and we’ll pick someone to give the latest Donne novel to or maybe a couple people. I think I have a couple copies. So, that’s the big thing. Blind to Sin is out now from Polis Books.
Dave: Yeah! Feel free to pick up a copy.
Debbi: All right, Dave!
Dave: Thanks, Debbi!
Debbi: Well sure thing Dave. It was great talking to you.
Dave: You, too!
Debbi: Thank you so much for being here.
Dave: Thanks for having me. Next time we see each other, we don’t be too shy to say hello.
Debbi: Absolutely! The next time I can get to Bouchercon…
Dave: Yeah, same here.
Debbi: In any case, thank you everyone for listening and before we go, again just a reminder to check out the Crime Cafe link on my website, where you can find the buy links for The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set and The Crime Cafe Short Story Anthology, as well as the sign up buttons to subscribe to this podcast.
Debbi: Thank you! And with that, I will simply say thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you in two weeks.
And don’t forget to get your copies of The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set and Crime Cafe Anthology. Not to mention subscribing to the podcast! Just click here for all the links! 🙂
While you’re at it, grab a coffee mug! 🙂