While many people like to imagine authors as studiously bent over desks and piles of paper by candlelight since the age of five, the truth is that for many of them, the dream of getting published comes a bit later in life… even if that life is spent in the domain of writing.
Earl Javorsky, author of Trust Me , Down Solo and Down to No Good, has gravitated in this realm for decades before finding his way into the open market, and subsequently critical acclaim. In this email interview we have conducted with him we discuss the strange paths his career choices have pushed him into and his astute perspective on various other topics in the world of authorship.
Q: Though you have been educated and working in the domain of writing for many years, you have only recently begun publishing your novels. What exactly pushed you down this path? Was being an author something you had always been striving for?
I wanted to write ever since I was in my mid-teens. In high school, I did best in my journalism and English classes. In the eleventh grade I got the meanest teacher in the school; she kicked five people out of class in the first five minutes, and I was almost the sixth. I did poorly on my first essay but decided to step up and got an A on the next one, and in the class. I finally knew I was good at something. I had a few writing gigs after high school, including – for a minute – a job at Rolling Stone in London, but then got sidetracked pursuing music.
Q: How did you find the inspiration and motivation needed to write your first novel? Were there any notable obstacles standing between you and the realization of your goal, from its conception to the publishing?
I took a class at UCLA with a very good teacher named Tom Filer. He got me started on writing short stories. Then I ran across a guy in the LA recovery community who turned out to be a sex predator. He was an older guy, a shrink, and he would take attractive young women under his wing as a sort of mentor, but then he would seduce them. It was gross and it was wrong, and eventually it became the basis for my novel Trust Me.
Q: Now that self-publishing is very much on the rise with the advent of digital books, would you say it is easier and/or more profitable for new writers seeking to enter the business? Do you see self-publishing as a positive trend that will catch on even more, or just a fad that will die away in the years to come?
The consolidation at the top of the industry, with corporate bean counters making decisions about creative processes, same as the film and recording industries, is the primary challenge. They control too much of the marketplace and they know a Tom Clancy (or Tom Cruise, or Lady Gaga) vehicle is something they can take to the bank. On the flip side, you’ve got the self-publishing world, in which there are some very good writers but the reader has to be cautious because in the absence of a gatekeeper there’s no telling what you might stumble into. “Gatekeeper” includes an agent to select which novels might interest a publisher; an editor who has determined a book has merit and that it meets some criteria useful to the reader, such as plot integrity, character development, originality, and satisfying resolution; and copy editing and proofreading to ensure that the reader has a truly finished product. The solution may lie in the middle: as with film and music, the indie world provides a filter for discerning readers.
Q: Every writer has their own specific style they develop over the course of their lives… how did you come to develop yours? Are there any words of personal wisdom you can share with aspiring authors looking to gain some definition?
Well, reading is paramount. I work as an editor, and of all the novels I’ve worked on the two with the least sense of voice came from people who admitted they weren’t big on reading. I told them that was like trying to create a song when you don’t really listen to music. Find out what you love to read and stay rooted in that, but branch out to other styles and genres as well. I love Raymond Chandler, and there’s a continuum to contemporary writers that reflects a commitment to the style and structure but also to an evolution. Inhale it all and it will take root organically, but also study it formally so that the rules of the game become clear. It helps to be in a culture of writers and not try to exist in a creative vacuum. Read Strunk and White. Own a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. Know the rules so can break them. Be satisfied with the intimacy you can create with whoever reads your work and hears you as you want to be heard.
Q: Which authors do you feel have influenced you the most throughout your career? What are some of your favorite books to have stuck around in your mind since the first time you read them?
Well, there’s Elmore Leonard, and then there’s the anti-Leonard, James Lee Burke. Elmore Leonard is mean and lean, street-smart, and elegant in his sparseness; Burke is densely descriptive and has deep insight into the workings of human nature. Each is a master of plot. Other than that, there are too many to mention; if I could have produced one book in particular, I would like it to have been Michael Gruber’s Tropic of Night, a Detective Paz mystery. Fabulous, the way it walks a tightrope at the edge of plausible reality.
Q: Though he has only appeared in two books so far, Charlie Miner is quietly and consistently carving a place for himself in this niche, and it’s quite apparent you have greater plans for him. How would you qualify your own relation to this character (for instance, Agatha Christie famously despised Hercule Poirot)? Was he inspired by real people you have known? Do you have any regrets about him, or areas in his development you are particularly fond of?
I may do a third Charlie Miner book. I have one plotted, with extensive notes. He’s really too much fun to leave behind, and I’m personally fond of him as a character. Actually, I’m currently translating the first book into a pilot for a proposed TV series—I’m thinking along the lines of Jessica Jones, dark, moody, and nourish but with the fantastical element of Charlie’s predicament.
Q: How about the characters in your books more generally-speaking, are they based on real people you do or have known throughout your life?
As I mentioned, Trust Me is based on a real character. The protagonist, Jeffrey Fenner, a two-bit coke dealer at the nadir of his pathetic career, bears a strong resemblance to yours truly back in the day. Now, the cop in Down Solo has a secondary role in that book but becomes a primary character in the sequel. His name is Dave Putnam, and he’s based on a real character with the same name. The real Dave Putnam is a fine writer and was a cop—patrol, homicide, gang unit, narcotics, and SWAT—for thirty years. He’s a friend, and he graciously let me use his name and persona in my books.
Q: Do you draw inspiration for your novels from the world around you, or is it more or less exclusively all coming from your own imagination? How important do you feel it is for a good writer to be able to do both the former and the latter?
Clearly I have to draw from the well of my experience, but that’s just raw material for the brew. The character in Trust Me the predatory shrink is based on a real person, but the real person didn’t kill anyone (that I know of). In the Charlie Miner books, Charlie’s a plausible personality who in the first book gets tangled up with scam artists in the precious metal investment arena—an area I have tangential experience with, but the idea of him waking up looking down at his own body on a gurney at the morgue, that’s drawing from a different well. I suppose the source we need to tap is the one of myth, of archetypes.
Q: While your novels are primarily here for entertainment, there is no denying that you take the time to touch on issues very much present in the real world, such as drug addiction. How important is it for you to shed light on this topic as well as other difficult ones? Are there any messages you’re trying to get across in your literature you would perhaps like to share here?
I believe addiction is a medical issue and that the need for diversion and treatment is paramount. The idea of fighting a war on drugs has proven to be futile, but it still has traction. If you take the money out of the game, the players have to go elsewhere. And nobody I know started out as a kid saying, “I plan on becoming hopelessly strung out on drugs and alcohol, breaking a lot of laws, and winding up in jail or on the street.” For me, it started out innocent and fun, and then it metastasized over the years. The fascination with intoxication is a cultural problem that requires a multi-pronged solution.
Q: Despite the overall dark subject matter of your novels, they are lined with a pretty sizable dose of humor, something not every author can easily achieve. Laughs are often much more difficult to elicit with the written word rather than the spoken one; could you provide some guidance as to how you manage to be successful at it?
I really have no idea how to answer that. A funny idea will pop out of nowhere and seem right for the story.
Q: In your biography it is stated that you’ve worked a number of different careers, including university music teaching, copy editing, and writing for Hollywood entertainment periodicals, amongst a few others. How much do you draw on the knowledge you’ve accrued over the years in these industries when writing your novels? Do you feel your novels would have still been successful without this experience to back them up?
You left out the “middle-management in the chemical entertainment industry” part. Was that deliberate? I was in the “recreational drug” business for a lot of years. It dominated my life, and believe me, it’s a full-time job. And yes, it informs my writing, as has the recovery process, which has forced me into a continuing introspection that tells me not only about myself but about human nature in general—which is clearly helpful in portraying characters and giving them believable motivations.
Q: Having worked as an editor for big publishers such as BelleBooks, The Story Plant, The Learning Company and The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, you have undoubtedly seen the best and worst the English language has to offer. What are some of the most glaring and common errors committed by professional writers you’ve come across in your years? Are there any particular mistakes which drive you mad with their continued occurrence?
Oh boy! Some really good writers are clueless about punctuation, which makes for a lot of nitpicky work. In fact, I wrote an article called “Nits Worth Picking” that lists a few. Here’s an example of a new one I’m seeing a lot of: Sam walked back to his car, lit a cigarette. That could work in dialogue, but it really bugs me in narrative. I suspect it’s an affectation in the hard boiled genre and that some people take it further than I care for.
Q: What would you say is the greatest sin a writer can commit in regards to their work? Is there any hope to avoid it?
If you asked me that about music, I would say the same thing: there is no sin. But tune your guitar.
Q: So far all three of your books have fallen under the umbrella of hard-boiled mystery with some fantasy and/or paranormal elements included. What exactly attracted you to this very specific genre? Would you consider exploring different realms of literature in your future writings, perhaps even those of non-fiction?
Just to be clear, Trust Me is a fairly conventional mystery, neither hardboiled nor supernatural. But crime stories fascinate me. I gravitate to crime drama in the films and TV I watch: Bosch, True Detective, The Limey, etc. They seem to be about the polarity of good and evil, but it’s the gray area in between where the interesting stuff happens.
Q: Would you care to discuss the next writing project you’re working on?
I have two in the works. One, as I mentioned, is #3 in the Charlie Miner series, simply because he’s so much fun (in a very dark sort of way) and I already have it plotted, with notes. The other is a more serious book, also plotted and begun, called Sink or Swim. It’s a father-son story based on a true and nearly tragic event.
By the way, my writer friend Dave Putnam and I just did a talk and book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. The theme of our talk was Two Writers: Opposite Sides of the Law. Dave was a cop for over thirty years. We’ll be doing that at some local libraries, then who knows?
Earl Javorsky is a German writer who immigrated to the United States where he has gone through a gauntlet of professions including delivery boy, musician, university music teacher, copy editor for publishers such as The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, and finally, a novelist.
So far he has published three books, all of them earning some noticeable critical acclaim. They include: Down Solo , Down to No Good, and Trust Me.