November 26, 2014

Dead Dogs Wag No Tails: an interview with Dick Lochte, author of "Sleeping Dog"


A New York Times Book of the Year, A Nero Wolfe Award Winner 

An Edgar Award Finalist, A Shamus Award Finalist and an Anthony Award Finalist 

Named by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century. 

This beloved, comedy-noir thriller teams up Leo Bloodworth, a hard-drinking, middle-aged Los Angeles PI with hypertension and a low tolerance for precious teenagers, with Serendipity Dahlquist, a bright and strong-willed roller-blading 14-year-old searching for her lost dog. But things quickly escalate, plunging the oddest of odd couples into the dark underworld of sunny Southern California and pitting them against one of the biggest, and most brutal, organized crime families in Mexico. 

"Outclasses, in many ways, the tales of Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and other renowned California mystery writers." Publishers Weekly 

"Dick Lochte is a superb craftsman." Sue Grafton 

“Sleeping Dog is funny and strong and a joy to read." Robert B. Parker 

Gef: Where did you get the inspiration for SLEEPING DOG?

Dick: There was a story in the Los Angeles Times about  horsenapping.  Racehorses were being stolen from small stables and transported into Mexico where they were run to death at rural tracks in that country.  I envisioned a novel in which a young boy’s horse is stolen and he and a trainer travel to Mexico to reclaim the animal.  Then I remembered the film THE BLACK STALLION, based on Walter Farley’s classic novel about a boy and a horse. Rather than give up the concept, I changed the young boy to a precocious teenage girl whose dog is taken by her estranged mother and her new boyfriend,  the operator of a statewide dogfight circuit for a crime family. The girl and a very reluctant middle-aged private eye travel across California,  encountering corpses and dodging a killer as they search for the dog and the wandering mother.

Gef: What kind of a gear shift is it writing-wise or marketing-wise or otherwise since the advent of digital publishing?

Dick: If you’re asking how much digital publishing has changed the writer’s job, my answer would be, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the ultimate, about a 9. I’d hope that, creative writing-wise, we’re still doing the best we can, even though our time to create has been narrowed by the comparatively new demands of the job.  Everything else is totally different  for all writers except for those at the very top of the bestseller lists and even they may be doing a bit more publicity these days. For those who are published, marketing hasn’t changed very much.  For the self-published,  marketing is one more thing eating up the time we’ve saved by Googling rather than camping out in libraries.  The big monster now is promotion – self-promotion. Most writers, working under contract or self-published, are stuck with the same problem—how to get the word out that your book is special.  You’re rewarded with a sense of completion when you’ve finished writing the book, but, since digital books never go out of print, you’re never finished with the promotion or publicity.   

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Dick: Where fiction is concerned, I’m not a big fan of research.  Even when I’m reading  other books I tend to skim over the minutely-detailed descriptions of how things work.  Just use the gun or crack the safe, don’t bother me with literary schematics unless they figure in the plot.  I do believe in getting things right, however. As much as is possible,  I write about stuff I know (cities I’ve lived in, places I’ve worked, people I’ve met). When the story takes me to places or situations that are new, I read what seem to be reliable essays on the subject, then try to find a knowledgeable expert to question.  For SLEEPING DOG, as soon as I realized I’d be dealing with dog fights, I pulled up a series of articles the L.A. Times had run on the subject and got even more info, along with heavy atmosphere, from a typically fine Harry Crews account of a fight in Boca Raton.  An LAPD friend arranged for me to meet with a guy who raised fighting pit bulls, but I wanted to be as knowledgeable about the “sport” and its language as possible before that meeting.  I think that worked out fairly well.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the crime genre?

Dick: The strength of crime fiction is that, unlike much of so-called mainstream fiction, it is about something the reader understands  on a psychological and an emotional level. Every crime story is  a depiction of the fight between good and evil, usually in terms of law enforcers vs. lawbreakers.  A smart, dedicated cop tries to find the murderer of a young woman. Or a larger-than-life adventurer sets out to thwart an international  band of terrorists. Regardless of the who or the why, and there are limitless variations,  the important thing is that the crime story could happen, and if the writer is skillful enough, he or she can put the reader right in the middle of the action.

Gef: What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Dick: I’m not sure they’re  the worst, but the least helpful are several of  one of my all-time favorite novelists Elmore Leonard’s famous ten rules of writing.

Rule 1: Never open a book with weather. Never? Really? Case against: Chandler’s opening of “Red Wind” with its description of a desert wind so hot and dry it makes “Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” 

Rule 2: Never use a word other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Never? Not even ‘whispered’ or ‘mumbled’?  Rule 3: Avoid detailed descriptions of characters or places.  Aw, c’mon.  Leonard also advises us to avoid prologues, but at the end of his list he praises Steinbeck’s SWEET THURSDAY, noting “I’ve never forgotten that (book’s) prologue.”  So, maybe the list was just him being playful or facetious.  In which case, as Emily Litella would have said, never mind.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Dick: Guilty pleasures?  Maybe The Tim and Eric Awesome Show on TV. Or Steven Sagal movies.  For me, UNDER SIEGE  or HARD TO KILL is appointment TV.

They don’t make me feel guilty but I do enjoy pulps from the 30s (Black Masks, especially), old time radio crime shows from the 40s (Spade, Marlowe, Richard Diamond, etc.) and TV private eye series from the 50s and 60s. I also like Golden Age comic strips, like Rip Kirby, Charlie Chan and ,especially, Dick Tracy, which has not only survived but is currently experiencing something of a renaissance with terrific comic artwork worthy of the strip’s creator Chester Gould  and very clever scripting that finds other Chicago Trib Syndicate characters from long-deceased strips like Little Orphan Annie, Terry and the Pirates and Alley popping up to give Detective Tracy a hand.

Gef: We’re coming up to the end of the year, which means everyone and their mama is writing a year-end lists. So what book, movie, game, show, song, or dirty limerick has found its way to the tippy-top of your favorites this year?

Dick: Best book: THE ACCIDENT by Chris Pavonne. Nasty and tricky crime story that takes place in cut-throat world of publishing (my favorite setting)

Best audio:  PERFIDIA by James Ellroy, read by Craig Wasson. 28 audio hours of dark, hilariously outrageous  wackiness in the company of Ellroy’s driven, insane 40s-era L.A. cops and their ladies (including Bette Davis), all performed by the author’s best interpreter, Wasson.

Best movie: Well, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, right? Unless we’re talking about the best, non-comic-book-adapted movie and that, in my opinion, would be THE DROP, a very dark, superbly acted crime drama, directed by Michael Roskam, written by Dennis Lehane and starring Tom Hardy, Noomi  Rapace and James Gandolfini.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Dick: I’m currently trying to cut about 30,000 words from a sequel to my Shamus-nominated BLUES IN THE NIGHT and I hope to finish the first new novel in twenty years to feature the duo from SLEEPING DOG and LAUGHING DOG, Leo Bloodworth and Serendipity Dahlquist, sometime before the middle of 2015.

News of these and my other shenanigans, and a fine Irish word that is,  may be found on my website, . My blog crashed a couple months ago, taking nearly twenty or so posts with it. I hope to put another one up eventually, if I ever find myself with a few spare hours, which seems unlikely.

Thanks for your interest.

And thank you, Dick. As for the rest of you, you can find Sleeping Dog and more in the Leo & Serendipity series at

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