Q. How many rejection slips did you get before your first novel was published?
A. At least 100.
Q. Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
A. No. Once I am committed, I will find a way to make it work.
Q. Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
A. It is. But because I am working on the next mystery when my current novel comes out, I can get confused when asked about my “new” book. In my mind, the “new book” is the one I am working on at that moment.
Q. Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
A. A little of both. I keep making notes on the next Mapstone book even when I am working on a Cincinnati Casebook and vice versa. But when it’s time to get started on the next book, I get “pregnant” with it as the ideas really start to come and I am actually writing scenes in my head. Then I know it’s time to write.
Q. Do you have entire story arcs mapped out when you begin a series of related books?
A. No, and I have tried so hard to become a plotting machine. But that’s just not me. I know pieces of the story. I assume it has already occurred and my role is to find out what happened, guided by the characters and circumstances.
Q. Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
A. Sometimes, but a book can surprise the author. That’s one of the (few) happy parts about the drudgery of writing. I didn’t know how “Powers of Arrest” or “South Phoenix Rules” would end, and that, along with my feeling-my-way-style of plotting makes is pretty hard to figure out where one of my books is going. Readers like that.
Q. Do you have to enter a different mind-set to write different stories?
A. I like the Henry James quote: “We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” That’s where I am mentally, emotionally and physically when I am writing fiction, which is very different from the times when I am just committing journalism.
For the two series, I try to inhabit the characters and settings to keep each one very different from the other. Even so, I drink martinis like Mapstone despite working on a Cincinnati Casebook where the protagonist drinks good Cincy beer.
Q. Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
A. How much time do you have? I would love to find a publisher for a serious novel I wrote about my experiences as a paramedic. I’d love to write history and biography. The problem is time and finding a publisher.
Q. If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
A. Everything. I would have accepted that I was condemned to be a writer early on, and tried to go to school in the Northeast or get into another program that would help me get an “in” to the New York publishing world. I would have worked much harder and sooner to learn and perfect my craft. On the other hand, I might have missed the many adventures that inform my work. It’s too late now, so I’ll ride the wave as long as I can, even though I started, as a Yale-educated professor friend once said, “from too far back.”
Besides being a published novelist with nine books to his credit, Jon Talton is also an economics columnist for The Seattle Times.