Monday, February 20, 2012

Whammer Jammers - Need I Say More?

Author Interview Steve Liskow (
1.) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? I was young. My family read a lot and I saw my father typing up his sales reports. An aunt and uncle were newspaper reporters, too, so the idea of writing was something I took for granted. When I was about ten, I discovered the Hardy Boys and wrote my own stories, one wide-ruled page for a chapter, and my mother typed them up for me. Seeing my words in print was a huge thrill. That probably did it.
2.) What type of genre do you write in? Generally crime stories. I wouldn’t call them all mysteries, but there’s usually a crime involved somehow. My characters seem adept at making bad choices that have worse consequences and things grow from there.
3.) What inspires you to write in this genre? Well, my parents read golden age mystery writers—Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Erle Stanley Gardner, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, etc.—so I was used to mysteries. I like the idea that at the end of a mystery, everything makes sense, too. A mystery discovers or re-invents logic in a way that’s comforting to the rational part of us. At least I like to think so. Justice and logic seem to be fading in the real world, so I try to remind myself that those things still exist.
4.) Where to you get your ideas for your writing? Everywhere. Several of my stories are based on things that really happened to me and got major revision. Sometimes I see a story in the newspaper or see a person who interests me for some reason. My recent novel The Whammer Jammers came from my daughter’s (who also runs my Web site) telling me that she had joined the roller derby team in New Hampshire. The more I looked into roller derby, the more I knew there was a story in there somewhere.
5.) Who are your favorite authors and why? Naming all my favorites would take days, but I admire Dennis Lehane and Robert Crais because they plot so well and create complex characters. They also write excellent dialogue and can balance darkness and humor. Linda Barnes, Carol O’Connell, John Hart, Laura Lippman, Lynne Heitman, and Tana French all write terrific prose. So did Ray Bradbury at his peak in the fifties and sixties. Don Winslow has a great voice and uses brutal irony. Kate Atkinson weaves plots together with her characters and takes her own sweet time doing it. The late Ariana Franklin blew me away with her work, and I usually don’t care about historical fiction. For more literary stuff, I admire Ann Patchett and Cormac McCarthy, especially his Border trilogy and Blood Meridian. Is Chuck Palahniuk literary or genre? I taught high school English, so I still go back to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lardner, Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner, and Steinbeck often. I did a lot of theater, too, and directed six of Shakespeare’s plays during that part of my life. That’s a start. I won’t bother to mention Cather, Wharton, the Brontes, Austen, Dickens, Crane, or Conrad.
6.) In your opinion, what key parts of a story make it great? I tend to remember characters and language much longer than I remember plot. Great dialogue sticks in my head and I have to be careful not to steal it for my own stuff. I recently caught myself reading Karin Slaughter’s dialogue out loud because it felt so right.
7.) What activities do you undertake for inspiration? Most of my stories use song titles because I used to play guitar and (even more badly) bass in a band. I love blues and listen to music whenever I’m driving. Lots of titles or song lyrics give me ideas, and jazz or baroque can help me find the right mood. I try to get to the health club several days a week; repetitive physical exercise—an arc trainer, elliptical, or bike, for example—allows me to let my mind wander. I do some of my best editing on a cardio machine.
8.) Do you belong to any writing communities, or critique groups? I’m a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and their subgroup The Guppies (“Great UnPublished,” although that’s a misnomer). I’m also in a critique group with a half-dozen other writers in various genres that meets every two weeks. We discuss each other’s work for about three hours at a clip, so there’s lots of good feedback there. I really need other people to test whether or not my writing works. I know what I meant, but I can’t tell if it comes across.
9.) Do you have a day job? I taught high school English for thirty-three years and still substitute occasionally. I read the newspapers to the visually impaired on radio every Friday morning.
10.) If you could do it over again, what aspects of the writing/submission process would you change before becoming published? I never took a creative writing course in college or grad school. While I have no desire for an MFA, I wish I’d taken some classes to learn about plotting and character and pacing more efficiently. On my own, I wrote five novels (all of them terrible) over the course of eight years before I figured out my most efficient process. It took me a few more years of reading books on writing and going to workshops and conferences before I began to understand how to do it adequately.
11.) What is the title of your upcoming/newly released novel, and where can we find it? The Whammer Jammers, a thriller about roller derby and urban cops, is available on Amazon as a trade paperback and as an eBook from either Nook or Kindle. It came out October 1. I have a short story in Dead Calm from Level Best Books coming in November, another story in Vengeance, edited by Lee Child for the MWA next April (?), and an article in Now Write! Mysteries, coming in late December. I plan to re-edit and re-publish my earlier novel Who Wrote The Book of Death? later this year when my contract with my present publisher is up, too.Thank you for participating in my author interview and good luck with all your future projects!


  1. Good interview, Steve. I enjoyed reading about your writing progress. I grew up in a family of readers,too. I think that's the best preparation for becoming a writer.

  2. This comment is strictly for Mandi. You're the winner of my prize, offered on Marian Lanouette's blog on Tues-Wed {2/21-22}. Please contact me at:

    Maz. ^j^